Monday, February 27, 2006

Everybody Ready for Mardi Gras? AH-YEEEEE

Well I've been busy as a busy bee getting my stuff ready for Mardi Gras tomorrow. I'm not the best Catholic, by far. Being a convert is my excuse, and I'm sticking to that.

I've been celebrating Mardi Gras since before I became a Catholic though. Of course, I had heard of the Carnival in New Orleans; but I had never "celebrated" it as a day until I was working at USA TODAY. Our New Orleans' office would send us a King Cake from Gambino's with all the goodies each year. (I didn't link to Gambino's because the last couple of times I ordered from them, I wasn't satisfied with the quality.) I remember my boss once said "I wondered why you were wearing such tacky jewelry, your taste is normally quite traditional." ha. Oh yea, we all wore as many beads as could be distributed evenly among the office staff. It was such a fun day.

Since converting to Catholicism (because the hub was raised Catholic), I've learned more about the meaning of Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and the forty days of Lent. Basically, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday; but for us party animals it starts with Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras in French) which is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday in preparation for fasting and abstinence (no meat and little food) that day.

Catholics also go to Mass on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes on their forehead in the shape of a cross--thus the name. I always wondered growing up why some people would walk around with dirt on their foreheads. Live and learn. During the forty days of Lent, we sustain from eating meat on Fridays and, normally, give something up for the entire season--sweets, chocolate, etc. I like to rather do something extra, try and help the church more, say more prayers, etc. I think that has a much more positive influence on the kids.

Another tradition that I have come to practice is the making of Pysanky during Lent. Since I married into a Ukrainian family, I felt it was my duty to carry on as many of their rich traditions as I could. One Ukrainian tradition that I started right away was making Ukrainian Easter Eggs (pysanky). No one in the family made these, and being one who has always been "artsy," I decided I would start making them each year and pass the tradition on to my kids. I took a class at the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine in DC the year the hub and I got married. I've been making them ever since--with a break after we moved to Tennessee though. I will write more about that tomorrow, since that is the official day that I bring everything out of storage and blow the cobwebs off and get cracking--well, hopefully not cracking per se.

Anyway, I went out today and got my King Cake. I always wait until the last minute. I've said that before, I know. Some years, when I have my act together early, I order the King Cake from one of the bakeries in New Orleans. I didn't this year, so I found one at a local bakery here, Merridee's. We'll see how good it is. I've been disappointed in some King Cakes in the past. You can get them at several places in DC including Sutton Place Gourmet. Ok, WHEN did Sutton Place turn into Balducci's???? Oh well, let it go Rosa. Sooooo, as I was saying, all set on the King Cake. We normally slice it first thing in the morning to see who gets the baby. The tradition is that person buys the next King Cake the following year. My tradition is the person who gets the baby is King or Queen for a day. I used to take a cake in to each of the kids' classes with all the beads, doubloons and a crown. The child who got the baby wore the crown all day and was able to take it home with them. It was a lot of fun when they were younger. They've grown out of that, sadly.

I also pulled all my recipes out for our Mardi Gras including the luscious red beans and rice, which I traditionally serve each year. I order most all the ingredients-- that conveniently come together--from Gazin's in New Orleans. I tried to link it, but their site is down. I don't know if it has anything to do with Katrina or not. Their phone number is 504-482-0302. You can even order the French bread from there, but I never have. I'm going to give you the recipe tonight in case you're interested in making it. You need to soak the beans over night.

I can't wait until the morning. I think for dessert tomorrow night, I'll make some beignets from a mix I have used before. Yum yum. As you can see from my pic, I have my beans and Louisiana rice ready to go. I purchased the rice here locally at a shop in Nashville. Their rice is sooo good. Oh, and the "Community Coffee" is a traditional coffee served in New Orleans. I received it last year from Gazin's as a lagniappe--a little something extra. What a sweet tradition.

Red Beans and Rice
  • 2 lbs. red beans
  • 2 C minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 T minced parsley
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 2 lbs. seasoning ham, cubed (I use tasso)
  • 1 large ham bone (I use a frozen ham bone from Honey Baked that I rinse well)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • 1 package red bean seasoning (hmmm, comes from Gazin's--use judgment on other cajun spices)
  • 1 smoked sausage, sliced (summer is good)
Soak beans overnight in cold water. Put drained beans in large (LARGE) pot with all other ingredients except sausage. Add water to cover and bring to oil over high heat. (I also use a container of chicken broth). Lower heat and simmer for 3 hours until beans are tender and have formed thick natural gravy. Stir and scrape sides of pot every 1/2 hour. They should be mushy.

Brown sausage in skillet and add to beans 1/2 hour before finished. If gravy becomes too thick, add 1/2 water. Serve over rice.

I'll post tomorrow pics of the process. This is so good.

1 comment:

John Ivey said...

Very informative! I never knew that Mardi Gras was based on a Catholic holiday, kind of like how I did not know the origins of Halloween had been from Catholicism until relatively recently. Hallowed eve, I believe it was called. But, anyway, great writing as usual. Keep up the good work.



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