The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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November 14, 2012

At a White House Thanksgiving, tradition is a presidential thing

WASHINGTON — Traditional. Traditional! TRADITIONAL!!

Oh how many times Cristeta Comerford hears that word around this time of year. So many times that the White House executive chef breaks into song to explain — ever so briefly, ever so cautiously.

"I feel like belting out, 'Traaaaaaaaa-di-SHUN!' " she trills, tossing an arm into the air, channeling her best Broadway-songstress vibe.

Here in the snug, stainless-steel kitchen of America's most famous home, generations of White House chefs have heard the same request for adherence to tradition that first lady Michelle Obama has delivered to Comerford since 2009. Our presidents and their families are forever asking for a Thanksgiving meal that will feel familiar to them, and, it goes without saying, to the American people.

But tradition is a funny creature. It has a certain elasticity. Look beyond the predictable roasted turkey and the pies, peer around the not-so-stunning stuffing, and you'll find presidential Thanksgiving menus that provide fresh little insights about each first family's tastes and about the way Americans eat.

The Obamas plan to celebrate at the White House on Thursday for the fourth year in a row. Logs will roar in the fireplaces on the first floor of the White House. Family and staff on an undisclosed guest list will gather. The host couple reflect their times, an era of organic-this and local-that. So, this Thanksgiving their menu features a kale and fennel salad, the main ingredients harvested from their history- and headline-making White House Kitchen Garden, that potent symbol of the first lady's healthful-eating crusade just steps away from the White House stoves.

No creamy, gloppy, fattening dressing, either. Their fresh produce will be dappled with a dressing that would make a dietitian beam, blended from shallots, lemon juice, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

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