Sunday, January 11, 2009

It’s Carnival Time!

The coming of carnival each year is a time I anticipate more than Christmas. Perhaps because it happens right after the holidays, in the dead of winter when there isn’t a whole lot else going on.
For some carnival is synonymous with Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and refers to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 24. The date can occur on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9 and is always 47 days preceding Easter. So, like Easter the date changes from year to year.

Carnival comes from the Latin carnivale and loosely translated means farewell to flesh. It is the season of merriment preceding its single-day culmination, Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, Carnival begins every year on January 6, the Twelfth Night or Feast of the Epiphany and ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday.

Dozens of carnival clubs in New Orleans celebrate the season by hosting numerous balls, social events and parades. These carnival clubs called krewes are chartered as nonprofit entities and financed by dues and fund-raising projects throughout the year. They take their name from the Mystick Krewe of Comus, New Orleans’ first carnival club established in 1857. Madison has its very own krewe, the Krewe of Madison.

The food most associated with the carnival season is the king cake. In France the king cake or gâteau de roi was a rich brioche or puff pastry served on the eve of Twelfth Night. Baked inside was a bean or coin to represent the Christ child. Whoever got the bean was crowned king with a paper crown.

In New Orleans, king cake is a round or oval coffee cake and almost always comes from a bakery or grocery. It is gaudily decorated with lots of green, purple and gold sugar to represent a jeweled crown. Recently, the filled king cake—cream cheese being the filling of choice—has become favored. Whatever the variety, all contain a small, plastic baby hidden inside. The person who finds the baby has the dubious distinction of buying the next king cake … and in Louisiana during carnival, life is an endless parade of king cakes.

You can actually buy a king cake in Madison at Scott’s Pastry Shoppe in Middleton or Bab’s French Quarter Café (though you do need to order it in advance). You can also have one shipped by overnight air from numerous bakeries in New Orleans (Manny Randazzo’s and Gambino’s are popular with locals). The idea of making your own king cake in New Orleans would be akin to making your own bread in Paris. However, here is a recipe. You can find the prerequisite purple, green and gold—the official colors of Mardi Gras—sugar crystals at Vanilla Bean (6805 Odana Road).

There is always a lot of eating and drinking—especially drinking—going on in New Orleans but even more so during carnival. Beside the many balls and parities, parades are an important part of the celebration. Two local snacks inevitably show up along the parade route: Popeye Fried Chicken and Frito Pie—a bag of corn chips split open and filled with chili and topped with cheese.

If none of this puts you in the carnival mood, perhaps the following will. Laissez le bon temps rouler!


Pat O’Brien’s bar in the French Quarter invented the Hurricane in the 1940s, naming it after its glass that’s shaped like a hurricane lamp. Supposedly, a local distributor forced the bar to buy cases of rum before they would sell them other liquor that they actually wanted. Pat O’Brien concocted the now famous drink which he actually gave away to sailors and soldiers who frequented the bar during World War II.

2 ounces light rum
2 ounces dark rum
3 ounces frozen Hawaiian Punch® concentrate (defrosted but not reconstituted)
1 ounce fresh orange juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice

Orange slice and cherry

Shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a hurricane glass. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

Make 1 drink.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Boy, thank you so much for the Huricane recipe, I was trying to impress my girlfriend with a fine and nice drink but I could not come up with a good and perfect idea. I think you just made my day. Thank you dude. Take care. if69
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