Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mardi Gras

The 2 ½ years that we lived in Louisiana changed us in many ways. One of those ways is Mardi Gras. Before living in the New Orleans area, I knew that Mardi Gras was a holiday, but that was about it. No one around me really celebrated it because it was mostly for the partying, bead-wearing folks in New Orleans – and honestly, I kind of had the impression that to celebrate Mardi Gras was kind of an indication of being a little on the wild side.

But then I was thrown into the culture and I learned. Mardi Gras is for everyone. It’s actually a religious holiday – Fat Tuesday, which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Folks party because the next day they will begin fasting for 40 days. (Ideally, anyway.) If you want the drunken, partying kind of Mardi Gras, you can get it. Especially down “across the lake” and even more so in the French Quarter. There are parades upon parades upon parades upon parades for weeks.

Up on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain where we lived, Mardi Gras was still a big deal. The kids still got the entire week of Fat Tuesday off from school, and there were also several parades. But they were not nearly as crazy, even having non-drinking family sections along the sidelines. Some good friends invited us to attend a parade with them the first year that we were there. I’m so glad we went – it was unlike anything we had ever done before.

So we went to the McMullen’s house and ate some jambalaya and King Cake (more on that in a minute). Then we walked a couple of blocks over to the parade route.

Lots of people had these crazy ladder things with seats on top of them. Usually it was kids that you would see sitting in those seats. That way the parents didn’t have to hold them up the whole time, and they were still up high enough to see – and catch beads. That would have been nice. At the time, Micah was just shy of one, and Conner was about 3 ½. But luckily, Micah ended up sleeping in Mr. Ed’s lap the whole time, and Bret and I were having so much fun that between the two of us, that holding up Conner the whole time really wasn’t too bad.

We quickly learned though, that being the one holding the kid up didn’t just mean that you were holding them up to catch beads. You were also responsible for protecting them – shielding them and ducking for them when a strand of beads came a little too hard and fast. Getting whacked in the face with a stray strand of beads really hurts. And although there were tons of them, it wasn’t just beads that we were catching. There were stuffed animals and balls and stuffed swords and cups and all kinds of crazy junk. So much so that our friends told us to make sure and bring a backpack or bag of some kind for each member of our family.

They weren’t kidding – we stood there with them best of ‘em, waving our hands and yelling, “Throw me something Mister!”…and ended up with tons of loot. It was really a lot of fun.Now, back to the King Cake. We had heard folks everywhere talking about them. We had seen all of the grocery store bakeries full of them. We had even tried one, and after tasting it, to be honest we didn’t really understand what all of the hype was about. The cake had been described to us as kind of like a cinnamon roll shaped into a ring, sometimes containing cream cheese and/or fruit filling. It was then covered with icing and mounds upon mounds of green, gold, and purple colored sugar. We had been told that there was a little plastic baby inside each cake, and that if you got the piece containing the baby, you were responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party…or your class at school or office break room the next week. But we didn’t really think the cake was that good.

Then thankfully the McMullen’s filled us in! You don’t buy the cakes at WalMart (which is, of course, where I had bought ours). You go to a local bakery. You’d pay more for it, but it would be worth it. They weren’t kidding – that cream-cheese filled King Cake that they brought home from Mandeville Bakery was an entirely different animal from the non-filled, half-the-price thing that I had gotten at the national super store.

We were hooked. Mardi Gras was fun. And yummy!

So when we moved back to Texas, and our first post-Louisiana Mardi Gras rolled around we actually found ourselves missing the parades and the King Cake. So I looked up a recipe for a homemade version online, and we had our own little Mardi Gras celebration with the Chappotins. It was settled, our family will be having jambalaya and King Cake on Mardi Gras every year. It’s just a part of who we are now, and to go through that ritual and remember that little part of our history is fun.

This year, with the Saints in the Super Bowl, I made the big, all day ordeal, homemade King Cake for the Super Bowl party. So today when Fat Tuesday rolled around, I just wasn’t feeling like going through it all over again. So I decided to try another homemade version that I had learned about.

Ummmm, yeah. It was definitely delicious. Probably not quite as good as that first homemade King Cake that I had made last year, but quite a bit better than the disappointing, dough-just-wouldn’t-rise-for-me thing that I had turned out a week or so ago.

This new, quicker and easier version of King Cake is a Pampered Chef recipe. It’s crescent roll dough laid out in a ring, and filled with a cream cheese/powdered sugar/apple pie filling mixture...and then topped with icing and green, purple, and gold sugar.
Then we took it over to Robert and Jodi’s, ate some jambalaya, gorged ourselves on the cake, and watched Lost. There were no parades to go to, and I was the only one wearing beads today, but it was still fun. We always have fun with Robert and Jodi. :)

And what’s an evening without a Wellsbrother knocking loose a tooth or two? Good grief, if these boys make it to adulthood with enough teeth to chew their dinner with, Bret and I should definitely be up for some kind of prize or something! Joey was running up and down the hall having a good time by himself, Micah decided to join, they both turned the corner at the same time but going opposite directions, and BOOM! Micah’s tooth on Joey’s head. Thankfully, hard-headed Joey made it through fine, but another one of Micah’s teeth is definitely loose now. And he’s even got a fat lip to go with it.Hopefully it will tighten back up on it’s own. Even though we’ve already lost three teeth, it’s by the grace of God that it’s only been three. We’ve had lots of others ones knocked loose, but tighten back up on their own…

So happy Mardi Gras, everyone – Wellsbrothers style!

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Bonnie said...

You're also convincing the rest of your family to celebrate Mardi Gras, too. This kind of multi-cultural edcuation is certainly enjoyable!

Heidi said...

Thanks for inviting us into the fun tradition...and for sharing the yummy food! I for sure have to try the new version of King Cake!!