Every Tuesday night our family gets together with our Mountain People for a Pizza Night. We rotate Host Houses so that there is one night a week for a month that we don’t have to cook! The adults are tired of pizza and so the hostess usually tries to cook up a little something different for the adults and the kids get the pizza.
Last night was my night and it had been previously noted that this Tuesday would be Fat Tuesday.
“We should have gumbo!” Caren suggested.
Always a sucker for a theme, I ran with her idea. Over the weekend I researched gumbo recipes and shopped for decorations.
Man picked up a package of little plastic babies. “We have to have a King Cake,” he reminded me.
Trying to host this little shin-dig has enlightened me to just how regional Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday traditions are so I will explain King Cake. King Cake is often a braided cinnamon roll type pastry; shaped in an oval ring. Somewhere inside the cake is a tiny plastic baby that represents Christ. The story on the cake box reads:
“At long last our journey was joyfully fulfilled. The star we followed shined brightly over the stable where we found the holy baby Jesus. This is now known as the 12th Night of Christmas, January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. With much revelry, this is now the beginning of Mardi Gras Season and is celebrated with the oval-shaped King Cake commemorating our journey and decorated in the carnival colors of green for FAITH, yellow for POWER, and purple for JUSTICE. As it is served, look for the baby doll inside representing ‘our finding the baby Jesus’, for you who gets the symbol buys the next King Cake for the next party. In the name of Tradition, the Three Kings: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.”
“Yeah, I plan to just buy one of those,” I told him as I returned the little babies to their place on the shelf.
There was a discussion of Hurricanes but then we decided that was not a good drink for a Tuesday night. We could stick to our usual offering of wine and beer.
Tuesday morning, Caren called to see if there were any ingredients she could pick up after her work out down the hill.
“I would love it if you could pick up the shrimp. I’m going to start the gumbo at 1:30. Including the prep time. its supposed to take nearly 4 hours to make it! I hope I don’t screw this up.”
Caren assured me it would go well and promised to bring her knife and to help get everything started. (She hates my knives…)
After my work out I headed to the King Sooper store to get the other ingredients. In the bakery of the grocery were boxes of King Cake. I grabbed one. The 9×13 box housed a cake about half the size of the box. It looked like a giant cinnamon roll. Sitting on top of the “cinnamon roll,” in a tangle of Mardi Gras beads, was the baby. In plain sight! I took the offensive pastry up to the bakery counter.
“Excuse me, do you have full-sized King Cakes?”
The lady peered down through the cellophane window of the cake box, “That’s all we have.”
“Hmm…they are usually bigger then this. Typically they are the size of this box and the baby is on the inside, not on top.” I gave a brief explanation about the fun of who finds the baby.
“Really? We’ve never made these before. We called another store for direction and they told us to only use half the dough. That’s why it’s small. We might still have some of the dough. I can ask the baker if we can make you a bigger one.”
“Oh, would you? That would be great! Would you ask her if the baby could be put inside the cake for us?”
I continued my shopping as the baker was in a meeting. I asked the butcher for andouille sausage. He directed me to where there were 4 packages. Only 4 in the whole store. I was not sure if this was all they provided or of it meant that lot’s of people were making gumbo. In the spice aisle I hunted until I found the one container of File in the whole store. I then scoured the frozen food section for okra. None. I started having flashbacks of shopping for tamale ingredients when we lived in Missouri.
About this time the gal from the bakery found me.
“The baker said we can’t bake the baby inside because it’s a choking hazard.”
“Ah, yes, but I would KNOW that the baby was inside and it warns on the box that there is a choking hazard.”
“She also said we could make the cake bigger but it won’t be ready until tomorrow.”
“Boo. That won’t do. Fat Tuesday is today.”
I thanked her for looking into it and decided to go to our other grocery, Safeway. I would also be checking Safeway for okra.
Then I got a text from Caren:
Caren: getting shrimp. Need anything else?
Me: Soopers does not have frozen okra and their king cake is puny. About to check Safeway.
Caren: I’ll look here.
I headed to Safeway and went straight to their bakery. Nothing.
Text from Caren: No okra or king cake at sunflower.
Me: No king cake here either. Never even heard of it. Stinkin’ Colorado.
Caren: Maybe just get two from Soopers or I can try to find a recipe.
So Caren. She’ll just whip one up.
Me: Yeah, that’s what I am thinking. The other thing is that the baby is sitting on top of the cake. I will have to shove it up there somehow…
Caren: That will make your day. How about okra? None at the Vitamin Cottage.
Me: No okra.
We decided to check for canned okra.
Me: If we make this work I feel we will be bringing a little culture to the mountains. Maybe not fine culture…
I went back to Soopers and bought two of the saddest, ugliest King Cakes I had ever seen and several cans of okra.
Caren met me at my house and together we prepared the gumbo and decorated with Mardi Gras beads and masks.
We popped the baby off of the top of the cake and shoved it up in the thickest part of the pastry. Once everything was started Caren headed out and gave me instructions on the final parts for the gumbo and a reminder to cook the rice early because it takes a really long time to cook here.
“Man it smells good up in here!” My Man announced when he got home from work.
I told him all about the hunt for okra and showed him the King Cake.
“It’s so small…”
“Yeah. And the baby was on TOP. Caren and I poked a hole in the bottom and stuck him up in there. Poor Baby Jesus…”
Here’s ours after we hid Baby Jesus:
Like me, Man was coming to realize that this was new to the Mountain. Suddenly he was all gung-ho.
“Write out the ingredients for Hurricanes.”
“Remember, we talked about that. Too strong a drink for Tuesday night.”
“We have to show them how it’s done!”
“We are not Cajun. We’re Mexican. Sort of.”
“We are Southern. Give me the list. I’m headed to the liquor store.”
He then threw a bunch of cd’s at me with instruction to create a Fat Tuesday playlist. Finally, Man set out to the liquor store as an ambassador of the South.
Our gumbo recipe was found here: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/good-new-orleans-creole-gumbo/detail.aspx I picked it because they ended it with an “Ayee!” Here is how ours turned out:
Man’s Hurricane’s were a huge hit as well. To make them you mix 1 oz vodka, 1/4 oz grenadine, 1 oz gin, 1 oz light rum, 1/2 oz 151 rum, 1 oz amaretto, and 1 oz triple sec with equal parts grapefruit juice and pineapple juice. Garnish with cherries.