62 Christmas Trees, 4000 Gumballs, and the White House Winter Wonderland

December 18, 2015

To get to the place where you’re about to be shown one of the first family’s favorite recipes, you’re first escorted down a hallway with a ceiling made of snowflakes, past the first dogs—Sunny and Bo—playing fetch. (They get the run of the house.) Casual.

After your lucky encounter with the real McCoys, you stumble on two larger-than-life replicas of the dogs, husky yarn structures made from seven thousand yarn pom-poms lovingly crafted from fifty-five thousand feet of yarn. Through a grand hallway and up the stairs past the presidential portraits (these rotate per term, like the national, wall-art version of musical chairs); then through the State Dining Room and past the almost 500-pound gingerbread house. (It has electricity. It has East and West wings. You briefly consider asking if you can have a tour of this, too.)

This year's house was built with *over* 250 pounds of gingerbread dough.
The epic gumball tree, left; the epic teddy bear, right.

It’s been 20 minutes, and you’ve passed many glitzed-up trees (at least 7 of the whole house’s 62, plus one constructed entirely from gumballs, four thousand of them), probably 100 ornaments (of the whole house’s 70,000), and you-don’t-even-know how many representations of holly or pointsetta or other such festive, bushy Christmas plants. You’ve seen a 6-foot teddy bear and a family of penguins in glittering sleighs (they fancy) and enough garland to string the distance from D.C. to New York and back again. This is the White House, and you are in its holiday wonderland.

We weren't kidding when we said they had their own sleighs.
The aptly-named Red Room, left; an 18 1/2-foot Fraser Fir on display in the Blue Room, right.

It’s a little like Narnia, with more security: Instead of entering through a wardrobe, you find your way through a few gates—at one of which you dial a number quickly dictated to you into a phone hidden behind its own little door—and down the front drive with an escort. And it’s just as disorienting, at times: You are inside for a moment, looking at yarn dogs and Paul Bunyan-sized trees, and then you are outside, walking through a corridor, and then you are back in. You might ask your guide how long it took her to learn her way around the grounds; she’ll probably laugh and say she’s been here years.

And then you’re standing in the kitchen of the White House with executive chef Cris Cumerford and she’s making you cauliflower mac and cheese, full of multi-colored florets and an exuberant amount of cheese and a little bit of mustard for good measure. Cris helms the kitchen through the epic marathon of White House parties: 12,000 guests in 20 days, she’ll tell you. She’ll steam the cauliflower while telling you she’s been cooking at the White House since the Clinton administration; while the water boils, she’ll let you in on why this recipe is so good: It's all about the breadcrumbs you blanket over its top. The kitchen hums in the background. The 20 days aren’t yet up.

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The mac and cheese she’s making is requested by the first family often; it’s also perfect for the quiet moments after the house—White or otherwise—is restored to its pre-holiday state. When the decorations are down and the guests have gone on their merry way. But if that day feels a little too distant, put it on your holiday table—who says cheesy pasta doesn’t belong? If your family protests, just tell them it’s a direct order, straight from the White House.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Saffron3
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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Saffron3 January 18, 2016
I liked the article, copied the recipe. I also know that many of the Christmas decorations, trees, other generic holiday items and all are mostly gifts to the White House. State Councils of the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, national, state garden associations and clubs, various clubs and schools from states; all these organizations are judged to be part of the White House celebration. I suggest many folks would be very proud to do that. America is a democracy of creativity and tastes. Kudos to everyone represented for such festivities.
daffy December 20, 2015
Yarn 'dogs', 'gum ball' Christmas tree? Who thought THOSE were 'good ideas' & got PAID for them?
daffy December 20, 2015
GOOD FRIEF! I don't know if it's just me, but was this article a classic example of REALLY BAD writing? Who 'helms' anything?
kpeck December 20, 2015
So thrilled to see where my hard-earned tax money from my three jobs is going...yay Government!