Monday, February 23, 2009

Throw me some beads, mister!

When we moved to Baton Rouge in December, 1990, it was like moving to a different planet. The customs and traditions were so different from what I knew, coming from a small Ohio River town, more a hillbilly than a midwesterner. The only thing I had in common with the people in Louisiana was the fact that I knew how to say "y'all" without sounding like an idiot. As hard as it was for me, it was even harder for our kids, who at that time were 15, 11, and 9 years old. They were thrust into a lifestyle they weren't born into and, believe me, there was a lot of adjusting to go around.

One thing we didn't have trouble adjusting to was King Cake. I had never heard of it before, and everyone we met told us how great it was and we would have our chance to try it on January 6. Now, I, being ingorant of Catholic holidays and holy days, had no idea why that date was significant. In the small Baptist community in which I grew up, we didn't mark the Day of Epiphany, or Shrove Tuesday, or Ash Wednesday. I had a lot to learn.

When the kids all went to school after the Christmas break, they came home talking about this King Cake. The tradition in all the schools and offices and just about anyplace where more than 3 people congregate on a daily basis was to bring a King Cake once a week. The teachers usually started the ball rolling. In the middle of this cake there is a miniature plastic naked doll representing the Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby is responsible for bringing in the next round of cake. Sure enough our turn came around pretty soon.

At that time, I didn't have a recipe, and besides it's waaay too much trouble just to send it to school to be devoured by hungry brats children. So off we went to the nearest grocery store to pick up a King Cake. Every store and bakery sells them. Heck, the bakeries will even ship them for you overnight. I bought two so we could try it out. At home I discovered that it isn't really cake, per se. It's more like a large oval cinnamon roll and it comes in many different flavors. Trademark decorations--sugars in the royal colors of purple(justice), green (faith), and gold (power)--honor the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas. It was delicious and we bought many of them over the almost five years we lived there.

Of course, everyone knows what all this eating of King Cake leads up to....Mardi Gras! Or Fat Tuesday. When you live within driving distance of New Orleans, everyone you know with an inclination for travel wants to come visit during Mardi Gras. So we went to Mardi Gras. Now, contrary to what most people think, the parades are not just on Fat Tuesday. They spread them out over a course of two or three weeks. There are so many Krewes that they could never cram all of them into one day and night. And Mardi Gras doesn't just happen in New Orleans. Most of the larger cities on the Gulf Coast have their own celebrations, as well as lots of little Cajun towns that do their own versions. It's just party, party, party!

Only one time did we go on Fat Tuesday and it was with a group from David's work on a chartered bus driven by an armed a knowledgeable and very large driver. A restaurant on St. Charles Avenue was our base, so we could come and go as we pleased. It's supposed to be the "family-oriented" parade route. Well, if you consider drunken fools shoving you in front of a float pressing up against you from behind and normally reasonable women flashing their boobies to get more beads thrown at them, then, yeah, it's family oriented. I really don't like crowds.

This is a picture of one of the floats with Harry Connick, Jr. as King of the Krewe. Yes, I was that close to him.  
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Look at the ladders in the background. With the boxes on top. Children and small women with big boobies sit in these so they can see better and, therefore, be seen. They get lots of throws. Sometimes the women even have enough beads to cover their nakedness.

Here is my version of King Cake borrowed from Southern Living Magazine.

I couldn't find any purple sparkling sugar and it really doesn't work trying to color your own with food coloring. It turned out a lovely shade of charcoal. There's a reason they don't give you the formula for making purple Easter egg dye on the back of the food coloring box. Anyway, I had to substitute purple beads. I think it looks just as pretty.
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So, have a slice of King Cake and as they say in New Orleans, laissez le bon temps rouler. Let the good times roll, baby!


Char said...

I love Fat Tuesday!!! Now I just have to think of what to give up for Lent.

Susan said...

My friend Lynn always gives up Swedish Fish, or whatever her "go to" candy of the moment happens to be. Luckily, I don't have to give up anything, though I should be giving up lots of things!

Oliag said...

I was fortunate enough to go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras once in sister was going to Tulane University at the time and my parents and I went to visit her...we had a ball!

I thought those photos came from a magazine when I first saw them ...great shots!

Ruth said...

Hahaha, I can just see you all blinding your eyes to all those boobies, hehe. Really, a lot of them do that?? Not just one or two?

We drove through New Orleans on our way west to California (the south then west route), and we definitely saw some of those bare chests when we walked down Bourbon where the bar doors were wide open and the dancers were, well dancing. And that wasn't anytime close to Mardi Gras.

I LOVE Harry Connick, Jr.

The King Cake looks scrumptious, and very pretty with the purple beads. Fun!

Susan said...

Thank you, Oliag! Mardi Gras is definitely an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives.

Amy said...

I read your Mardi Gras description with great interest. But nowhere did I get even a hint of whether or not you were ever one of those little ladies sitting on top of a ladder! Hmmmm??? Do tell!

That cake looks scrumptious, purple sugar or not! If it's rolled and iced, it has to be good!

Susan said...

Ruthie, yeah baby, there are boobies galore. The drunker they get, the more they show 'em!

And Harry, luscious lips Harry...sigh. It makes me mad every time I see 'Hope Floats' listed in the TV guide and it only gets 1 star. I love that movie and watch it every time I can just so I can see Harry and Sandra Bullock two-stepping around that dance floor. Man, he can dance. Oh yeah, and he can sing pretty, too.

Susan said...

Amy, surely you don't think I would admit it if I did the Mardi Gras Flop, do you? Let me tell you, if I ever got on top of one of those ladders, it would be a mighty big fall to the hard ground! I ain't exactly petite, cher!

The cake was yummy and I'm pretty sure I've gained another 5 pounds from it. Must. Stop.

VioletSky said...

There is so much I don't know about Mardi Gras. I do know about the bands, beads and boobies, though not the food.

I'll help you eat that King Cake. If there is any left.

Susan said...

Sanna, Louisiana cuisine is in a world of its own. My favorites are seafood gumbo, crawfish etoufee, red beans and rice and jambalaya.

I saved the biggest slice of King Cake just for you, so come on down!

To enjoy Mardi Gras, you have to get in a little bit of a raunchy mood. It helps to get a little drunk, too. :)

Natashya said...

It really is a whole different world. I have seen king cakes on tv, but didn't know what the insides looked like - I didn't realize that they were like cinnamon rolls.
Thanks for the introduction to Mardi Gras!

Susan said...

Natashya, if I make it again, I will use a lot more cinnamon and sugar. It was a little lacking in that department for my taste, but otherwise very good.

VioletSky said...

I'm still curious about that miniture baby jesus ... where is it in this cinnamon roll type thing?

oh wait, as I type this, I think I'm getting it - like a blanket? he's swaddled in cinnamon scented cake. ooohhh what a thought, lovely.

Susan said...

Sanna, they didn't have any miniature baby Jesus figurines at the local WallyWorld, so in my cake he's imaginary. :) It never actually occured to me to question the why of it, but it does sound nice when you describe it that way. I suppose the Magi had to search for BJ in the manger and the KC represents the manger? I dunno.

When you buy a commerically made KC, they only put the BJ in the middle. Too many lawsuits from people getting choked on BJ, I guess.

I can see right now that you will have to go to N'awlins for Mardi Gras someday, so you can have the experience yourself. It's hard to explain to someone who's never been there. Too bad I don't still live down there, then you could come and stay with me. Then I would teach you, Grasshopper, the ways of the Mardi Gras. :)

JackeeG4glamorous said...

Ya know, I'm gaining weight with all your food pictures. I love them, but they make me hungry!

Susan said...

Jackee, tell me about it! You should be here helping me eat them and thereby saving me a few of those calories!

Sandy said...

WOW, THAT CAKE looks wonderful!

and love your banner photo.

Susan said...

Sandy, thank you! The cake tasted just as good as it looked!

I took all the photos at my house, except for the lower left which was on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the upper right which I took at San Simeon in CA.

tipper said...

Yummy cake!

dutchbaby said...

My husband hails from New Orleans so we go there a lot. I like going there about a week or so before Mardi Gras. It has all the benefits of Mardi Gras: the parades, bead catching, music, food, dance, decorations... without the throngs of humanity pressing into a giant glob on Bourbon Street. The lewd behavior seems to escalate as it approaches the actual day. Post-Katrina, the city is not a frenetic as it used to be (very nice!).

Your King Cake looks perfect, like the real deal! Congratulations! I'm too lazy to make one myself. I see yeast in a recipe and my eyes roll to the back of my head. I found a great French bakery in Stanford that will make me a Galette de Rois. It has a lot more almond than the NOLA-style King Cake. I found a wonderful post about Galette de Rois in Paris:

Thanks for the tip about the ladders and boxes. How can I make sure my daughter doesn't get hoisted up on one of those boxes... What? I have no control any longer? Yikes.