New Orleans has always held a special place in my heart, maybe because it is a short trip from Houston and was a frequent destination for me in my youth, and also because I met my husband there, right in the Pat O's courtyard where I was sipping a mint julep in front of the flaming fountain. I have always found the Crescent City to be especially intriguing and mysterious, with its ancient, moss-dripping trees, its clanging streetcars, and its French and Spanish history - a great place to set a work of fiction.
The food's not so bad, either. In fact, I am currently drafting a short story set in New Orleans, so what better inspiration than the Mardi Gras season?
Although NOLA has plenty of events and festivals throughout the year, I think it's safe to say that Mardi Gras is its biggest and most well-known. Mardi Gras extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Twelfth Night and Epiphany Day), up until Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday," the day before the start of Lent. The first Mardi Gras is said to have occurred in 1699 when French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in Louisiana. They camped about 60 miles away from where New Orleans is now, and dubbed the spot Pointe du Mardi Gras since it was Fat Tuesday when they arrived.
There are not many Mardi Gras celebrations going on out here on the West Coast, but Tom and I like to remember it in our own special ways, usually with a shrimp pie and a King Cake for dessert.
The King Cake takes its name from the three biblical kings, celebrating the Epiphany and the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. It is traditional for a plastic baby, representing Jesus, to be baked into the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the baby inside is supposed to throw the next party or bake the next cake. This never seems to happen in our house when Tom gets the baby, however. He usually tries to stuff it into another part of the cake, but he's not fooling anyone!
When we first moved to San Francisco and Mardi Gras season rolled around, I called several bakeries asking if they carried King Cakes. None of them knew what I was talking about and one of them even asked me to spell it. I was forced to take matters into my own hands and make my own. Since you can find anything on the internet, I found many recipes and settled on an easy one that I can handle as a non-baker.
This year, we were invaded by a flock of masked ducks who helped us celebrate. And I added a new tradition to our celebration - King Cake coffee!
Do you have any special traditions for Mardi Gras or Lent? Do you plan to give up anything for Lent? Let me know in the comments!