Not long ago, we had a small dinner party to celebrate Mardi Gras! Most people who know a little about Mardi Gras probably think this is a holiday about beads and boobies. But in fact, the wild parties that you hear about in New Orleans are only in the seedy part of town and there are some really fun traditions that my family picked up when we lived there. Like the food!
Mardi Gras / Carnival is actually a whole season, starting after the 12 days of Christmas and ending the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Traditionally, people would fast or give up a particular food for the Lent season, which lasts until Easter. So the idea behind Mardi Gras is to eat and party as much as possible before Lent starts! In fact, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday because on the last day of the season you eat as much as possible before Ash Wednesday! I really get a kick out of this whole thing, the whole idea just cracks me up... anyway you can read more history here, I'll move on to the food now.
We had jambalaya, which isn't exactly a Mardi Gras specific food, but it is a New Orleans favorite. My parents used to make it from a box, so this was the first time I made it from scratch. We used a recipe close to this, but the only meat we used was sausage. I like it because it is one of those one dish meals - rice, meat, veggies, it's all in there. Also we love our cast iron Dutch oven.
In New Orleans there are a lot of family friendly parade routes where you can watch the floats and try to catch beads, doubloons, and toys. I remember it being really fun, although a little competitive to get the good stuff. The best part was my dad would sometimes hold me up so the people on the float could hand me stuff directly - that usually resulted in stuffed animals. I probably still have a whole bunch of plastic beads at my parents house.
But the absolute best part of Mardi Gras is the king cake! It's basically a delicious cake/bread with a plastic baby Jesus baked inside! Whoever gets the baby Jesus in their piece of cake becomes King/Queen of the party AND they get the responsibility of making the next king cake! It's a cake and a game at the same time - of course I love it! My family actually uses the same recipe as for Christmas Tree Bread, so this is maybe not the most traditional - I think they often have cinnamon or some filling like cream cheese or fruit, which ours did not. But I think as long as it is round and has Mardi Gras colors it is totally fine to call it a king cake.
Especially if there is a baby Jesus inside!! And there was! Obviously. Sandy found it in her piece:
And then I ate a bunch more king cake, yummmmmm. Also, check out Sandy's photos from the event. :)