SPONSORED: Christmas On The Hill

Christmas spirit and good cheer may abound this time of year. There are beautiful trees of gargantuan proportions tinseled and trimmed, and the White House takes on a merry façade.

But it's also Washington D.C.,  so the show must go on.

The work on the Hill this tie of year often goes right up to the brink. Then, the city often takes a collective sigh — and for a few days, things calm down.

“You know how in places like Lafayette, traffic changes this time of year? It can be horrible," said Emily Bacque, The Picard Group’s director of federal affairs, who has been in the nation’s capital city for nearly two decades. "D.C. is different. It clears out and it’s so nice. Really, no one is from here and no one sticks around — so for a few days, it’s much easier to get around.”

The Lafayette native has often made it home for the holidays. But, with a new baby and recent trip south for Thanksgiving, she and her Bostonian husband decided to stay put this year.

“It is really festive here. My running group ran last Friday to see decorations,” she said.

They checked out the Capitol Christmas tree and the trees on The Ellipse – the 52-acre park just south of the White House. They enjoyed the beauty of the famed Willard Hotel, which has an impressive gingerbread house inside.

“And there’s City Center, which is a newer area – high end shopping – and they have a huge tree, kind of like Rockefeller Center. On weekends, they have musicians playing,” she said.

While Bacque will be miles from home for this season, her mom is bringing a bit of Acadiana to her.

“My mom is traveling with food – crawfish and Hebert’s chickens for Christmas Eve. My husband loves Cajun food, and my mom always travels with an ice chest when she comes,” Bacque said.

Rodney Alexander, TPG’s senior director of federal affairs and a congressman for years, will be spending Christmas where he does every year – his hometown of Ruston.

Even in the years he served as a legislator, he managed to make it home where he and his family enjoy his wife’s home cooking.

“I got home at 2 in the morning last night. It’s where all the kids are, and I’ve always been able to make it home for Christmas Day — even on the times where we worked right up until Christmas,” Alexander said. “I’m just an old country boy. My wife tries to change it. We’ve been married 50 years, and she’s one of the best cooks there ever was. She watches the Food Channel now and tries to do things different. But, I’m just a sweet potato and ham guy. There’s nothing better than creamed potatoes with gravy.”

Alexander said he’s familiar with the plight of members of Congress working down to the wire with the most recent tax bill. There’s no rest for the weary this time of year. It’s business as usual, both he and Bacque said.

“As we get deeper into December, there’s a desire from members to get out of town to their family. As soon as they pass the tax bill, it’s my guess they’ll be heading out of town,” Bacque said. “I think of the staff who are here, whose jobs revolve around Congress, are ready for Congress to go home and for things to slow down. For the Affordable Care Act, they were here voting on Christmas Eve.”

When Bacque talked with us she was enjoying the view of one of her favorite traditions in Washington – the holiday market.

“I can see it from outside my window by the National Portrait Gallery. There’s a great holiday market that starts right after Thanksgiving and runs until Dec. 23, with 20 or so vendors, every day from noon to 8 p.m. With the Christmas music and stage, it’s really festive. We go there every year to do Christmas shopping.”

While Bacque and Alexander enjoy newer traditions like the holiday market, they also appreciate the city’s long-held holiday festivities, history and even old favorite menu items — including this one that reportedly dates back all the way to Martha Washington!

Martha’s Spoon Bread

3 cups milk

¾ cup cornmeal

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

2 egg yolks, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Scald the two cups of milk in the top of a double boiler. Mix the cornmeal with the remaining milk — gradually add to the scalded milk, stirring constantly. Place over hot water (in the double boiler) and cook, stirring frequently 30 minutes. Cool five minutes. Beat in butter, salt and egg yolks. Stir in baking powder. Fold in beaten egg whites. Turn into a greased 1½ quart baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, or until brown and set. Serve with a large spoon. Serves six to eight people.

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