Sunday, January 25, 2009

Celebrating Mardi Gras

If you live in the south, you know all about Mardi Gras, but for those in other areas of the country, the distinctly Southern celebration remains a bit of a mystery. This Mardi Gras FAQ will explain it all.

What is Mardi-Gras?
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday is the celebration leading up to lent. Mardi Gras season officially begins on Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, and concludes on Shrove Tuesday, just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. Traditionally it is a time of feasting and celebrations before the onset of the upcoming sacrifices. In the old days, and to many Catholics today, this mostly meant the eschewing of meat. Hence Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, which in years past was known as Boeuf Gras.

Boeuf Gras? But doesn't Emeril say Pork Fat Rules?
Superstar chef Emeril Lagasse may think "pork fat rules" but the Creole ancestors who inspired his cuisine evidently thought higher of beef fat. Mardi Gras was originally known as Boeuf Gras, in homage to the last feast of meat before the culinary austerity of the Lenten season. In other areas of the world, the celebration is known as Carnival, from the Latin for "farewell to flesh."

From 1872-1901 a live ox graced New Orleans' Rex Parade. Today, a papier mache symbol of Boeuf Gras takes its place.

Where did Mardi Gras begin in the U.S.?
Most people would answer New Orleans. Is that their final answer? Probably yes? New Orleans, final answer, thanks for playing, sorry no million dollars!

The correct answer is Mobile, Alabama where Mardi Gras is still celebrated in grand style today -- there are thirty-five events listed on Mobile's 2000 parade schedule. Visitors to Mobile can view dazzling Mardi Gras costumes as well as other Fat Tuesday historical memorabilia, year round, at the Museum of Mobile located at 355 Government Street (334-208-7569).

Where else is Mardi Gras celebrated in the U.S.?
New Orleans, of course, but you can also find parades and festivities in most of the towns that dot the gulf coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and even east Texas. Families will especially find some the smaller celebrations more appealing than the wild and crazy debauchery of The Big Easy.

What's so different about a Mardi Gras parade?
They're interactive and you get stuff. Masses of screeching parade enthusiasts, arms outstretched like beggars clamoring for a last meal, beseech Krewe members to throw barrels of trinkets -- colorful plastic beads and imprinted aluminum doubloons. CAUTION: Mardi Gras parades can cause temporary insanity and people will do things for a worthless piece of plastic that defy reason. So, be prepared to be somewhat aggressive if you want loot!

Oh, so you won't look like a tourist, the proper Mardi Gras parade cheer is "Throw me Something Mister!"

What is a King Cake?
A king cake is a traditional Mardi Gras treat, brightly decorated in the colors of Rex: purple, green and gold. The cake, which is similar to a rich sweet bread or coffee cake, contains a special surprise-- a tiny baby doll hidden within one of the slices. Custom dictates that the "lucky" recipient who gets the piece with the baby throws the next Mardi Gras party (or bakes the next King Cake).

King Cakes have become a Friday afternoon tradition for many offices in the south. Click here for my King Cake recipe (you'll find both traditional and bread machines version at this link).

How does Mardi Gras differ for locals as opposed to tourists?
Mardi Gras is actually the height of the Southern Social season. It is accompanied by endless rounds of formal balls, proceeded over by elaborately costumed courts. Each ball is sponsored by a "Krewe" which also foots the bill for a parade or float in a larger parade, depending on the size and budget of the krewe. The word "krewe" was supposedly chosen to give an "Old English" feel the clubs.

Can I go to a ball?
Sorry Cinderella, Mardi Gras balls are private affairs and by invitation only. However, you could get lucky and meet someone in the krewe who might just invite you. Your chances increase significantly depending upon your sex. Many balls follow the 5-1 ratio tradition. In other words, if it's a men's krewe, each male member invites five women to the ball. The reverse is true if it is a women's krewe. Those Southerners know how to party! Also, keep in mind that, just like other Mardi Gras events, there are plenty of balls outside of New Orleans.

Being formal events, each Mardi Gras ball's merriment is presided over by the King, Queen and Court, all attired in elaborate, obscenely expensive costumes. Each court member's gown has enough beads and jewels to outfit an entire cast of Vegas showgirls, and possibly a drag show or two to boot. Mardi Gras, when you play at this level, is a mighty expensive proposition.

So extravagant is the spectacle of a ball, that each member is also allowed to distribute a given number of "viewing passes." The pass doesn't entitle the bearer to actually participate in the party, but they are allowed the privilege watching it from the sidelines. That's right, no cocktails, no dancing and (horror of horrors), none of the incredible banquet that seems to stretch for miles! Nonetheless, if you have the chance to view a ball, grab it. It is an unforgettable experience.

What is Mardi Gras like in New Orleans?
It's a wild party for a month or more leading up to the big day. On the day before Mardi Gras or Lundi Gras, the kings of the Krewes of Rex and Zulu travel down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to prepare for the celebration. For New Orleans society, the day ends just before midnight at the Krewe of Comus ball and the "meeting of the courts." When Rex and his Queen arrive, the orchestra will traditionally play his theme song "If I Ever Cease to Love." Comus and Rex each escort each other's queens around the ballroom floor, before being seated on their thrones. At the stroke of midnight, Rex will wave the royal scepter and Mardi Gras is officially over until next year.

For the common folks wallowing in the midst of the French Quarter, the Witching Hour brings the official clearing of the streets. Entire lines of mounted police slowly march down the center of the narrow, litter strewn, French Quarter thoroughfares and clear the crowd. The spectacle is as impressive as any parade and I highly recommend finding a good sidewalk cafe, or even better, a balcony from which to observe.

More on Mardi Gras

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Language of Flowers -- Let Your Bouquet Express Your Emotions

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I though it would be a great time to explore the traditional symbolic language of flowers, so you can create a bouquet for your loved ones that truly expresses how you feel. These came from an old magazine, circa early 1900s, found at my grandmothers house when I was a kid. It seems the language of giving flowers was quite complex back then.

Flower and Its Emotion

Abatina -- Fickleness

Acacia -- Friendship

Acacia, Yellow -- Secret Love

Alyssum, Sweet -- Worth Beyond Beauty

Amaranth, Globe -- Unfading Love

Ambrosia --Love Returned

American Linden -- Matromony

Amethys -- Admiration

Azalea -- Temperance

Bachelor's Buttons-- Celibacy

Bluebell -- Constancy

Bridal Rose -- Happy Love

Carnation, Deep Red -- Alas, My Poor Heart

Carnation, Striped -- Refusal

Carnation, Yellow -- Disdain

Chrysanthemum, Red-- I love You

Chrysanthemum, White -- Truth

Chrysanthemum, Yellow -- Slighted Love

Clover, Four-Leaved -- Be Mine

Coreopsis Arkansa -- Love at First Sight

Cranberry -- Cure for Heartache

Daffodil -- Regard

Dahlia -- Instability

Daisy -- Innocence

Daisy, Garden -- I Share Your Sentiments

Daisy, Michaelmas -- Farewell

Dittany Of Crete -- Passion

Fern -- Facination

Fleur-de-Lis -- Flame -- I Burn for You

Forget-Me-Not -- True Love

Honey Flower -- Love, Sweet and Secret

Honeysuckle -- Generous and Devoted Affection

Iris -- Message

Ivy -- Fidelity, Marriage

Jasmine, Spanish -- Sensuality

Jasmine, Yellow -- Grace and Elegance

Jonquil -- Desire and Affection

Laurel -- Glory

Lavender --Distrust

Lemon Blossoms -- Fidelity in Love

Lilac, Field -- Humility

Lilac, Purple -- First Emotions of Love

Lilac, White -- Youthful Innocence

Lily, Day -- Coquetry

Lily, White -- Purity, Sweetness

Lily, Yellow -- Falsehood, Gaeity

Lily Of The Valley -- Return of Happiness

Lotus Flower -- Estranged Love

Magnolia -- Love of Nature

Mallow, Syrian -- Consumed by Love

Marigold -- Grief

Marigold, African -- Vulgar Minds

Marigold, French -- Jealousy

Mint -- Virtue

Morning Glory -- Affectation

Motherwort -- Concealed Love

Mugwort -- Happiness

Myrtle -- Love

Narcissus -- Egotism

Nasturtium -- Patriotism

Orange Blossoms -- Purity and Lovliness

Orange Flowers -- Chastity, Bridal

Orange Tree -- Generosity

Osmunda -- Dreams

Pansy -- Thoughts

Peony -- Shame, Bashfulness

Peppermint -- Warmth

Periwinkle, Blue -- Early Friendship

Periwinkle, White -- Pleasures of Memory

Pheasant's Eye -- Remembrance

Pink, Carnation -- Woman's Love

Pink, Single -- Pure Love

Poppy, Red -- Consolation

Primrose -- Early Youth

Purple Clover -- Provident

Quince -- Temptation

Raspberry -- Remorse

Red Catchfly -- Youthful Love

Rose -- Love

Rose, Bridal -- Happy Love

Rose, China -- Beauty Always New

Rose, Deep Red -- Bashful Shame

Rose, Dog -- Pleasure and Pain

Rose, Single -- Simplicity

Rose, White -- I Am Worthy of You

Rose, Yellow -- Decrease of Love, Jealousy

Rose, White & Red Together -- Unity

Rosebud, Red -- Purity

Rosebud, White -- Girlhood

Rosebud, Moss -- Confession of Love

Rosemary -- Remembrance

Scabious -- Unfortunate Love

Snapdragon -- Presumption

Snowdrop -- Hope

Sorrel -- Affection

Spanish Jasmine -- Sunsuality

Strawberry Tree -- Esteem and Love

Sunflower, Dwarf -- Adoration

Sunflower, Tall -- Haughtiness

Sweet Basil -- Good Wishes

Sweetbrier, Yellow -- Decrease of Love

Tulip -- Fame

Tulip, Red -- Declaration of Love

Tulip, Variegated -- Beautiful Eyes

Tulip, Yellow -- Hopeless Love

Violet, Blue -- Faithfulness

Violet, Sweet -- Modesty

Violet, Yellow -- Rural Happiness

Water Lily -- Purity of Hear

Zinnia -- Thoughts of Absent Friends

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Punch Art Heart Tag

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. I can't believe how quickly it all came and went. now it's time to look forward. Today's project will give you a head start on Valentine's Day.

If you have a shape templates, or a tool like the Fiskars Shape Cutter, it's easy to cut shapes in bright colors and layer them to make interesting gift tags like this one, which would be perfect for Valentine's Day, or any romantic or loving occasion. For added interest we used a corner punch with a removable guard for the lacy punched edge.

You Will Need:
  • paper scraps in 4 colors (we used neon green, dark green, red and pink)
  • shape cutter tool and/or templates (I used Fiskars Shape Cutter with the square and heart templates)
  • adhesives (I used a Xyron adhesive machine, you could also use spray adhesives or glue sticks or adhesive runners)
  • decorative photo corner punch with removable guard (mine is by EK Success)
  • round hole paper punch
  • narrow strip of red paper

Step 1. I used the Fiskars Shape Cutter with the square and heart templates to cut the shape for this tag. You can make your tag any size you like. The tag in the photo measures 3 1/2 inches square. The inner dark green square measures 2 1/2 inches. I then cut two small hearts to layer inside the smaller square.

Step 2. Use the punch to punch the corners of the outer square. Remove the corner guard from the punch and punch once in the center of side of the square.

Step 3. Weave the small dark green square into the punches to old it in place.

Step 4. Spray the back of the hearts with spray adhesive or you can alternatively run the pieces through an adhesive machine like those made by Xyron.

Step 5. Glue the larger heart on the center of the inner square and glue the smaller heart on top of the larger heart.

Step 6. Use a round hole punch to punch a hole in the center top edge of the tag. Thread a narrow red paper strip through the hole in order to attach it to the gift.