by Kate Heyhoe
If you live in Louisiana, or just about anywhere in the South, the phrase "Laissez les bon temps roulez!" needs no translation. But for those outside the Mardi Gras zone, it means "Let the good times roll!" and this week, that's exactly what happens.
Throughout Louisiana, Mardi Gras arrives on Tueday, bringing with it elaborate costumes, parade floats, a certain degree of debauchery, and copious amounts of food and drink. Towns in other Southern states also celebrate Mardi Gras with great flourish, and some of the most spectacular events are held in Brazil, where the celebration is known as Carnaval. In smaller towns, the festivities are more like family get-togethers (nothing rougher than PG ratings). But at other venues, anything goes, shamelessly and with total abandon. At Mardi Gras, the term "pressing the flesh" means more than just a handshake.
Mardi Gras translates from French as "Fat Tuesday." For Catholics, it's the last day before Lent, which is a period of fasting, atonement, and living a humble life, often devoid of meat or luxuries. So Fat Tuesday is the last chance for letting loose, and like Halloween, has now become a popular secular celebration. I doubt that many of today's revelers actually prove to be as pious after Fat Tuesday as the original holiday intended.
Not planning to be in the South, or South America, this week? Too bad! But you can still let the good times roll with a Mardi Gras party at home, featuring everything from Commander's Palace oysters to Emeril's sparkling Royal Cup, found in the recipes below. To set the stage and the atmosphere, here are a few tips and tidbits about Mardi Gras:
Official Colors—Purple = Justice, Green = Faith, Gold = Power
Beads—For me, Halloween meant accumulating the biggest bag of candy. At Mardi Gras, it means catching the most beads, tossed to the crowds from the parade krewes, and wearing them around the neck, wrist, ankle, and every place you can.
Throws—The assorted trinkets, such as beads, cups, and doubloons (coins stamped with the parade krewe's insignia), tossed from the floats to the crowds during Mardi Gras parades. To get throws, people holler "Throw Me Something, Mister!"
Costumes—Maskers is the term for anyone dressed in costume. In this respect, Mardi Gras is better than Christmas for Louisiana retailers, especially shoe stores and apparel outlets. According to the town of Alexandria, Louisiana, "it is estimated that Krewe members and their guests spend a minimum of $315 on apparel, shoes, and hair to attend central Louisiana's Mardi Gras Balls. That is a significant impact with over 2,000 people attending private Mardi Gras balls. Add in dinner beforehand and party favors for their guests, is another significant expense."
King Cake—This coffee cake, a carnival tradition, is served at parties late into the evening. New Orleans residents wouldn't think of making their own King Cake; that's what bakeries are for. The bakeshops add paper crowns, plastic beads, toy coins, and other trinkets to the cake box, creating a ready-made Mardi Gras hostess gift. A King Cake is made from brioche dough or puff pastry, filled with sweet nut pastes, fruit, pastry cream or cream cheese, and baked in a ring. It's often iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (for justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power). Hidden inside, according to custom, is a plastic toy baby, which symbolizes the Christ child. Whoever gets the baby in their slice must buy the next King Cake and throw the next party.
Krewe—A Carnival organization's members, the folks who sponsor, plan, create and work the parades, floats and grand balls. The captain is the main force. Kings and queens are selected as ceremonial ambassadors.
As they say in the Big Easy, "Pass a good time, cher!"
Emeril's Royal Cup
Commander's Palace Anchovy-Garlic Dressing
Burgundy Street Red Beans 'N' Rice
New Orleans Shrimp Creole
Beignets with Mississippi Blueberry Sauce
Classic Southern Pralines
Mardi Gras King Cake
Other Menus and Recipes
Kate's Global Kitchen for February 2004:
02/06/04 Candy is Dandy! But Is It Politically Correct?
02/13/04 Food Fights For Fun and Love
02/20/04 A N'awlins' Mardi Gras Meal
02/27/04 James Beard's Protégés
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2004
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