A Mardi Gras Trip to New Orleans

A month ago, my mom invited me to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  She hadn’t been back for Mardi Gras since she was pregnant with me, so it only felt right that I should be there if she was going.  I said “YES!”  And so did Joey and we were beyond excited.

I think a MAJOR misconception about Mardi Gras, is that it all takes place on Bourbon Street and that you have to take your top off to get beads and while that sort of thing is happening on Bourbon, most of Mardi Gras takes place elsewhere and it’s family-friendly.  I saw so many families, with kids, having the best time together and look, we never even set foot in the French Quarter.   Let me tell you what we did instead.

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We maybe took a Spirit flight that got into Nola at 1 AM, but it was cheap so oh well!  I’m sorry for the dark and blurry picture, but let me explain.  Back in 2012, my sister and I attended our first Mardi Gras and, after taking us to a balcony party on Bourbon where we threw all the beads our hearts could desire, my Uncle went to drive us back home but we literally ran into a barricade.  He got out of the car and proceeded to move it, when a cop showed up and they had a brief argument, before she made us turn around.  Once back in the car, I reminded him that he was wearing a jester’s hat.  I requested that he wear that exact hat when he picked us up from the airport and to my SHEER DELIGHT, he did! 😛

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We slept in the next day, then headed to breakfast at Surrey’s Uptown because I could not get those Shrimp & Grits out of my head.  Happy to report they were just as good as I remembered.  Emily joined us!  Afterward, the three of us walked Magazine, stopping into a pop art gallery, Fleurty Girl and finally, the Craft Beer Cellar, where I more or less forced Joey to get a beer because he had taken like 10 work phone calls during our walk and seemed very stressed.

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It got pretty rainy that evening so we figured our Muses parade plan was done for and went to dinner at Blue Oak BBQ instead.  I thought it was so good!!!  We wanted it all so we got the “all meats, all sides” to share and man, that rib felt like changing.  By this point, the rain had cleared out, so why not head to Muses??

All the floats are ridden by women and they occasionally throw out a shoe they’ve decorated.  It’s a hot commodity and I went home with one!!!  I was so happy and so covered in glitter.  Also, there was a group of men all dressed as Freddie Mercury and seeing them all walk by, singing along to “We Will Rock You” was just too much fun.  This was Joey’s first ever Mardi Gras parade and I think it was a good introduction 🙂

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On Friday, we grabbed a quick breakfast then hit the road to run some very important errands.  First up, KING CAKE!!!  Not any King Cake, though, a Dong Phuong King Cake, specially ordered by my uncle.  I held this box on my lap and it smelled SO GOOD.  We also picked up crawfish, then the rest of the supplies at an outrageously busy Walmart.  My uncle has boiled us crawfish twice now and it is so amazing.  I feel so lucky!  This batch was seriously so good.  Spicy and flavorful and those crawfish were a real nice size.  Don’t worry, we had room for King Cake afterward.  We maybe all ate two pieces, except my mom, who ate three.  I love her!

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Saturday!  Endymion Day!  Joey and I walked over to District Donuts to grab breakfast and I ate a “taco” that was basically a baby burrito and was not mad about it.  So good!  The big parade on Saturday is Endymion and you best be prepared for it.  My uncle has access to a lot on the parade route (THANK GOD), so we showed up around noon and the place was packed already.  We walked around before and got to see bands playing on front porches, parade ladders (guys, I want one!) and all the floats lined up!  We also ate muffulettas for lunch and more on that later but it tasted really good at the time.

Endymion is just so cool!  Flo Rida was on one of the first floats and Joey caught a football he threw!  Not going to lie, the float riders were straight CHUCKING beads and frisbees and footballs and I was maybe doing more ducking than catching, but it was still fun.  I think my favorite part was my mom yelling “throw lighty things!” once the sun went down.  Don’t worry, we got some glow stick necklaces.

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We went to Bacchus on Sunday night and even though it was cold and I started to not feel very good halfway through, I think this might be my favorite parade!  Plus we managed to tag along with my uncle’s friend and neighbor Laura to the most beautiful house, with an epic view of the parade.  I didn’t mind it one bit!

This is sadly where this vacation must come to an end, because I got sick that night, my uncle got sick that night and my mom got sick that night.  I figured it was food poisoning, but the only thing we all overlapped on was that muffuletta and Joey, who didn’t get sick that night, ate the most BY FAR.  We were all bedridden the entire next day and I was still struggling when we flew home on Tuesday at 6 AM (ugh!).  I barely got off the couch, once we were back home and I don’t think I really started to feel better until Friday or Saturday.  So that’s a sad ending to an otherwise wonderful trip.

Mostly though, I want to remember (almost) everything about this trip.  I want to remember having dinner with my mom and Joey at Root Down inside DIA before our flight.  I want to remember hearing someone order a burger with extra lettuce (???) while we waited at the terminal.  I want to remember the humidity and the smell of New Orleans that hit me when I got off the plane.  I want to remember seeing that jester hat.  I want to remember standing in line at Fleurty Girl with my mom.  I want to remember looking back while we were at Muses and seeing my mom and uncle standing together.  I want to remember asking my mom to hold my parade loot and seeing her stuff it all inside her coat.  I want to remember using a light-up ring as a flashlight.  I want to remember all the arrangements my uncle made for crawfish and Endymion and how he did it all, even though he wasn’t feeling well.  I want to remember eating that King Cake.  I want to remember putting glitter on my mom and Joey’s faces and thinking how much better my sister would have been at it and missing her a lot.  I want to remember having breakfast at District Donuts, just Joey and I.  I want to remember the float with the band from Michigan rocking out at both Endymion and Bacchus.  I want to remember all the families, camping out, just enjoying themselves before the parades.  I want to remember how beautiful those floats were in the daytime.  I want to remember seeing Harry Connick Jr. visiting his dad’s house across the street (OMG!).  I want to remember being able to share this fun experience with the people I love best ♥ 

A Homemade King Cake

I live life in the future.  As in, my body might be in the present, but my mind is one week, two weeks, three weeks, A MONTH in the future.  Lots of times, this is not ideal.  Like when I’m turning onto the highway, thinking about what kind of Oscars snacks I wanna eat and completely miss the fact that the highway is at A DEAD STOP and I should have noticed BEFORE I got in the turn lane because now it’s too late.

But other times, like when I stumble across a King Cake recipe two months before Mardi Gras, and have ample time to buy plastic babies online, locate purple glitter and carve myself out an entire day to make said cake, then my tendency to live in the future really comes in handy.  It just means I’ve got my shit together  I’m mentally and physically prepared for stuff.  Or that’s what I’m telling myself, at least 🙂

Anyway, I found this King Cake recipe on Joy the Baker’s website and though she’s not a New Orleans native, she lived in the French Quarter for a bit, which I think accelerates your NOLA cred, AND I felt good about getting a cake recipe from someone with “the Baker” in their title.  Also, she adapted her recipe from John Besh’s and I feel like he probably knows his way around a King Cake.  This is all to say, I felt like this was a recipe I trusted.  And after using it with success, I 100% recommend it.

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What, you don’t have butter softening on your kitchen shelf?

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Yeast scares the heck out of me but this dough rose just as it was supposed to and OH MY GOD, it smelled HEAVENLY.  Better than the $1 cinnamon buns smelled at IKEA the day before.

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I tried mixing the filling (with perfectly softened butter!) with a spoon and then said “forget it!” and used my hands.  It was oddly satisfying and also felt like the best sugar scrub when I washed it off afterwards.  

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The dough didn’t give me ANY trouble when I rolled it out, spread it with cinnamon-sugar butter and re-rolled it.  HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF.

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Would you believe this was my first braided bread attempt?  Okay, my end connecting could use some work, but otherwise I was pretty proud of myself.  I let this rise for half an hour and took myself on a run, because: balance!

 

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Baked it for about 5 minutes longer than the recipe said and it was nice and toasty looking on the outside but so tender and soft on the inside.  Bakers always be saying “don’t be afraid to let your dough get some color” and I was afraid but it all turned out just fine.

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Once it was fully cooled (and my house smelled fully intoxicating), I mixed up the glaze, which honestly seemed just a tad too thin, and poured it over.  Cut to Joey and I spooning it from the sides back over the top for several minutes.  There was a glaze jacuzzi in the middle that I wanted to swim in.  Then sprinkles, sprinkles, sprinkles.  They were all different coarsenesses (is that a word?), but whatever!

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Joey directed me where to cut the first piece and I hit that baby, even though I was the one who put it in and should have known exactly where it was.  Doh!

Honestly, I was so excited for this little King Cake project and it couldn’t have gone better.  It was surprisingly easy and totally paid off because this tasted so good!  I’m trying to think back on all the King Cakes I’ve eaten in this life — no joke, when my sister and I went to Mardi Gras in 2012, we ate something like five different King Cakes — and I feel like most have been of the soft bread-y texture.  This one definitely had more of a crispy exterior, but I kinda LOVED that about it!  Mostly, I’m excited to know I don’t have to debate shelling out a bunch of money to ship myself one from NOLA every year, because I can just make one myself.

Also, I had lunch with my mom yesterday and gave her a big old piece and it made my heart so happy to share a piece of New Orleans with the person who passed her love for that city down to me ♥