Mardi Gras RV Style

Smoke rises from huge pots of gumbo and chili. Purple, green, and gold flags flap in the wind. Authentic Cajun music blares from the nearest speaker.

The Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold
The Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold, and the official Mardi Gras song is “If Ever I Cease To Love.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Carnivale season and RVers join the revelers in RV parks and campgrounds along the Gulf Coast from Pensacola, Florida, to Galveston, Texas—and beyond. Many others join tailgate parties at various locations throughout the area.

Mardi Gras remains a big deal across this region, usually with more than 20 parades each year throughout the Carnivale season that begins in January.

Confused by the terms?

“I’m going to Mar di Gras!” we say, when we’re actually going to see parades the week or two leading up to Mardi Gras. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which ushers in Lent, a period for 40 days of fasting, and Carnivale is the season that begins on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi is the French word for Tuesday. Gras means fat. Thus, Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday. The day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning confess.

To the uninitiated, Mardi Gras may seem a bit odd. Here are some of the whys and what fors.

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation. For different people it’s different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, piece of history, state holiday, or a million parades and countless memories. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why is there a Mardi Gras?

The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Celts get the credit for Mardi Gras and Carnivale season.

Mardi Gras is rooted in a rather rambunctious 3,500-year-old Greek spring fertility festival called Lupercalia. Masking and overindulgence were commonplace, but once in Roman hands, Lupercalia became an orgy in which facemasks were necessary to hide wrongdoing.

The Roman Catholic Church tamed and Christianized it when converts refused to set aside pagan ways. In the Middle Ages, the Church indicated that during Lent no meat was to be consumed. Only fish was allowed. So, on Fat Tuesday people would eat the last of their meat because if it wasn’t eaten, it would have to be discarded.

Mardi Gras spread from Rome across Europe where it then crossed the oceans to the colonies of the New World. Historians believe the first American Mardi Gras occurred in 1703, one year after French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established Fort Louis de la Louisiane in what is now Mobile, Alabama.

King Cake
King Cake — which is a wreath shaped purple, green, and gold cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As New Orleans and Mobile grew, Mardi Gras was turned into something uniquely American, and the entire Gulf Coast jumped into the fray.

By the 1730s, New Orleans and other French settlements took to marking the holiday with masked balls, lavish dinners, and wild street parties. The first parade in New Orleans is thought to have occurred on Fat Tuesday in 1827.

You’ll noticed the colors purple, green, and gold everywhere.

The three Mardi Gras colors first appeared in 1872 on a Rex Carnival flag specially designed for the visiting Grand Duke of Russia. He came to New Orleans just for Carnival, and the universal colors remain his legacy.

Rex, the New Orleans monarch of Carnival, later assigned a meaning to each color. Purple signifies justice. Green represents faith. Not surprisingly, gold stands for power.

The colors are now used on nearly every Mardi Gras decoration, including the millions of beaded necklaces that have been tossed along the parade route since the 1870s.

My favorite Mardi Gras tradition is the crown-shaped King Cake which evolved from the Twelfth Night or Epiphany pastry of Louisiana’s early French settlers, who brought the tradition with them from Europe.

King Cake
King Cake usually has a baby Jesus baked into it, and whoever eats the piece with the figurine is believed to have good luck for the rest of the year. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our modern versions of this cake, an extra-large rich breakfast-type pastry is decorated with the three Mardi Gras colors and inside each cake is inserted a tiny, naked plastic baby. In the early days, a real bean, not a baby, was secreted into the cake. Tradition tells us that the “bean finder,” the person who gets the slice with the baby, receives a year of good luck and is treated as royalty for that day—and  must supply the next day’s king cake. There are as many different flavors of the tasty pastry as there are throws at a parade.

So few days in Mardi Gras season this year and so many king cakes to try.

Mardi Gras 2015 falls on Tuesday, February 17. Enjoy the party!

Worth Pondering…

Mardi Gras is in our soul.

—Kim Priez

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Mardi Gras & History of Doughnuts

The history of doughnuts is intrinsically linked to the celebration of Mardi Gras with Fat Tuesday featuring dough deep-fried in fat as a main staple.

Polish paczki are dense yet puffy fruit-filled doughnuts that have become a Fat Tuesday mainstay in Polish communities. (Credit: Emily Hilliard/ npr.org)
Polish paczki are dense yet puffy fruit-filled doughnuts that have become a Fat Tuesday mainstay in Polish communities. (Credit: Emily Hilliard/ npr.org)

Over the centuries the period of penitence and fasting known as Lent, gave rise to varied decadence in the days leading up to it, from parades to masked balls to sinfully rich foods.

During medieval times most Christian European traditions developed a version of fried dough for Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. The rich treats presented a way to use up all of the butter, sugar, and fat in the house prior to the self-denying diets of Lent.

Traditionally it was an opportunity for indulgence, a day when, once a year, communities would go through the labor-intensive process of deep-frying in order to enjoy a luxurious treat.

The English made pancakes, the Poles jelly doughnuts called paczki, and Germany women fried up doughnuts called fastnachts (German for “Eve of the Fast”).

In Poland and Polish communities in the United States, such as in the Midwest, Fat Tuesday is known as Paczki Day, referring to the dense yet puffy jelly-filled doughnuts enjoyed on the occasion. Paczki were traditionally filled with rose hip jam or a stewed plum concoction called powidla, though today they often contain a variety of different jams and custards.

Fastnachts (or fasnachts) are yeasted doughnuts of German descent that bear the same name as the traditional pre-Lenten celebration, which translates as fast night. (Credit: Emily Hilliard/ npr.org)
Fastnachts (or fasnachts) are yeasted doughnuts of German descent that bear the same name as the traditional pre-Lenten celebration, which translates as fast night. (Credit: Emily Hilliard/ npr.org)

The history of colonization and immigration from the Old World to the new can be traced through the evolution of doughnuts such as paczki. These celebration foods were important, and were both preserved and altered as they interacted with new ingredients and other influences in their new homes.

Portuguese malasadas, also enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday, or Malasada Day, were another such confection. The raised doughnuts were brought to Hawaii by sugar plantation workers in the late 1800s. Though originally they had no holes or fillings, they have evolved there to include fillings with Hawaiian ingredients such as guava and coconut. They are also popular among Portuguese communities in New England.

The German take on pre-Lenten doughnuts, fastnachts (or fasnachts), bear the same name as the traditional Carnival celebration, which translates as “fast night.”

Traditional fastnachts are fried in lard and, like malasadas, do not have a hole or contain filling. Most German fastnacht recipes consist of milk, sugar, shortening, yeast, eggs, and flour.

The Pennsylvania Dutch version generally includes mashed potatoes in the recipe, making a heartier and denser doughnut. A rectangular shape was usually specified, which after cooking was sliced in half like a bagel and spread with syrup or molasses—something to stick to your ribs until the end of Lent.

Others followed the German tradition of making all sorts of shapes, from knots and braids to pretzels and ladder-like rectangles. The pretzel itself has a Lenten derivation, and according to legend, the shape was invented by a seventh-century monk who wanted it to symbolize two arms crossed in prayer.

In Maryland, the same doughnuts are called kinklings.

Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. (Source: joepastry.com)
Beignets are like a sweet doughnut, but the beignet is square shaped and without a hole. (Source: joepastry.com)

Beignets (pronounced bey-YAY) are the most widely known Mardi Gras doughnut. The word beignet comes from the early Celtic word bigne meaning “to raise.” It is also French for fritter. The recipe for the light and eggy pillows of fried dough was brought to Louisiana by the Acadians when deported from Nova Scotia during the 18th century.

They’re made with deep-fried choux paste, which differs from a traditional yeast-based doughnut dough because it relies on moisture in the dough to create steam as the leavening agent, rather than yeast.

Beignets are usually about two inches in diameter or two inches square. After being fried, they are sprinkled with powdered sugar. When served hot, they are absolute perfection.

Beignets were most often enjoyed with café au lait. In New Orleans, café au lait is strong dark roast coffee and chicory, served with equal part hot milk. Originally used as a cheap way to boost coffee during the Civil War when the bean was scarce, chicory is still blended into coffee because it tastes good, and, well, it’s tradition.

But what exactly is it? The root of endive lettuce, believe it or not, which is then roasted and ground to soften the bitter edge of dark coffee. The chicory also created a smoother, richer brew.

At Café du Monde, there is only one food item you can order—beignets. (Credit: theeatenpath.com)
At Café du Monde, there is only one food item you can order—beignets. (Credit: theeatenpath.com)

The most famous place to get a plate of beignets is the iconic Cafe du Monde.

The original Cafe du Monde coffee stand was established in the New Orleans French Market on Jackson Square in 1862 and still operates today. The cafe is considered a New Orleans landmark that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

At Café du Monde, there is only one food item you can order—beignets. Beignets come in orders of three on plates completely covered in powdered sugar. Expect to wait in line if you arrive during peak hours—and even longer if you want a table.

In 1986, beignets became the Louisiana State Doughnut.

Again, all you need to know: Beignets are delicious!

Worth Pondering…

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.
—Ernestine Ulmer

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Think You Know Mardi Gras? 5 Things You May Not Know

Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or the origin of Mardi Gras? Here you will find 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnivale the best!

mardi-gras-2014Think you know Mardi Gras?

Spectacular parades with beautiful and creative floats begin parading approximately two weekends prior to Mardi Gras Day.

1. Carnivale is a season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to Mardi Gras!” we say, when we’re actually going to see parades the week or two leading up to Mardi Gras. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which ushers in Lent, a period for 40 days of fasting, and Carnivale is the season that begins on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi is the French word for Tuesday. Gras means fat. Thus, Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday. The day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning confess.

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church indicated that during Lent no meat was to be consumed. Only fish was allowed. So, on Fat Tuesday people would eat the last of their meat because if it wasn’t eaten, it would have to be discarded.

2. Mardi Gras Began In Mobile

mardi-gras-schmorgesbord-from-mobile-alabama-1374793588Mardi Gras spread from Rome across Europe where it then crossed the oceans to the colonies of the New World. Historians believe the first American Mardi Gras occurred in 1703, one year after French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established Fort Louis de la Louisiane in what is now Mobile, Alabama.

By the 1730s, New Orleans and other French settlements took to marking the holiday with masked balls, lavish dinners, and wild street parties. The first parade in New Orleans is thought to have occurred on Fat Tuesday in 1827, while the first official parade took place 10 years later.

3. Mardi Gras Krewe

Mardi Gras Krewe (pronounced in the same way as “crew”) is a private carnivale club or organization that puts on a ball and participates in the Mardi Gras parades. They usually have a theme for each year and select a king and queen to represent the Krewe in the parades, Twelve night, and Royal Gala.

The word is thought to have been coined in the early 19th century by an organization calling themselves Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus, as an archaic affectation; with time it became the most common term for a New Orleans Carnival organization. The Mistick Krewe of Comus itself was inspired by a Mobile mystic society, with annual parades in Mobile, called the Cowbellion de Rakin Society that dated from 1830.

4. Mardi Gras Colors

mardi gras beads downloadThe official colors of Mardi Gras are:

Purple which signifies justice.

Green which represents faith.

Gold which stands for power.

The traditional Mardi Gras colors were not chosen arbitrarily. Rex, the King of Carnival, selected this scheme in 1892, declaring purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The colors are now used on nearly every Mardi Gras decoration, including the millions of beaded necklaces that have been tossed along the parade route since the 1870s.

And the official Mardi Gras song is “If Ever I Cease To Love.”

5. Mardi Gras Is Legal Holiday

mardigrasIt really is! Despite the preponderance of what might seem like illegal activity, Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana, and has been since 1875, when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part article

Part 2: 5 More Things You May Not Know About Mardi Gras

Worth Pondering…

It [Mardi Gras] is a thing that could hardly exist in the practical North….For the soul of it is the romantic, not the funny and the grotesque. Take away the romantic mysteries, the kings and knights and big-sounding titles, and Mardi Gras would die, down there in the South.

— Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1896)

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Louisiana Brewery Trail: NOLA Brewing Company

Following Hurricane Katrina, Kirk Coco contemplated how to give back to the city he loved most. He realized that the city lacked breweries, which used to be numerous in New Orleans, and he wanted to bring at least a part of that back.

NOLA Hopitoulas
NOLA Hopitoulas

NOLA Brewing Company, standing for New Orleans Lagers and Ales, took shape in 2008 with the help of Peter Caddo, who formerly worked as a brewmaster at Dixie Beer. Knowing the long history of New Orleans as one of the brewing capitals of the South only further fueled the fire to bring craft beer back to the Crescent City.

NOLA began with its flagship Blonde Ale as well as their refreshing Brown Ale, a beer light enough in body to drink in the Louisiana heat but still dark in color with plenty of malt presence. NOLA Blonde Ale was the very first ale created by the NOLA Brewing team. Originally released in March 2009 this is the most popular and widely distributed beer. NOLA Blonde is a medium-bodied traditional American blonde ale, golden in color with floral and citrus hop aromas. Available on draft and in cans!

NOLA Brown Ale was one of our first two flagship ales. This brewery favorite is a light-bodied, full flavored English dark mild ale with notes of chocolate, coffee, caramel, and nuts. High malt flavor and low hops, this is a great session beer with a 4.0%ABV and smooth finish.

Before long the company added several more beers to their mix.

Hopitoulas is an IPA named after the famous New Orleans Street on which the brewery lives: Tchopitoulas.

Hopitoulas was the third addition to our year-round beer portfolio. This 6.5%ABV ale is a West Coast style India Pale Ale that combines six malts and six hops with additional dry hopping for three weeks. It takes about a month and a half to make each batch and we think it is worth the wait. Hints of pine and citrus with a powerful, yet balanced hoppy flavor, Hopitoulas packs a punch that you won’t forget. Available on draft and in 16 ounce cans.

Their summer seasonal, the Hurricane Saison, is of course named after Louisiana’s notorious hurricane season.

hurricane-saisonola nHurricane Saison, NOLA’s Summer seasonal ale, gets its name from the Flemish word meaning “season”. Brewed with five different types of malts, including un-malted raw wheat, pilsner, and aromatic malts, Hurricane Saison also contains three types of hops: Sterling, Kent Goldings, and Styrian Goldings.

Hurricane Saison is only served during the Summer months. Look for it on tap between June and September wherever NOLA is sold.

Seventh Street Wheat, made with fresh lemon basil, gets its name from the Seventh Street Wharf right outside the brewery.

7th Street Wheat started out as a summer seasonal, but cue to its popularity has made its own place in our year round ales. Named in honor of the 7th Street wharf across the street from the brewery, this filtered wheat ale is light-bodied American style with pounds of fresh lemon-basil added after fermentation. The light citrus taste with a hint of spicy herb on the back goes well with almost any seafood dish, and from what we hear, is a favorite at bars as a stand alone refreshing beer.

Irish Channel Stout is an American style stout that has sweet malt flavors of caramel and chocolate, complimented by a crisp bitterness produced by roasted barley and American Hops. It was named after the neighborhood that the brewery is located in, the Irish Channel. The complex malt bill of pale and roasted malts result in this well balanced stout that is smooth, rich, dark, and delicious!  And watch out – ABV 6.8%!  Due to its extreme popularity, this brew has been moved from a winter seasonal to a year-round beer.

Another standout beer for NOLA is the Mechahopzilla, an Imperial IPA that Coco admittedly did not think would fly in the Bayou State. The brewery actually lost money on the first batches of the beer. NOLA brewed enough of the extremely hops-forward beer for what they thought would last six months, but three weeks later Coco and Caddo found themselves needing to brew a second batch. The Mechahopzilla had been unleashed, and Louisiana proved thirsty for more.

Smoky Mary is NOLA’s fall seasonal ale. Smoky Mary is named after the steam engine that ran on the second oldest railroad in the United States and it has been stopping people in their tracks since its release in early September 2011. We’ve stepped out of the boxcar and created our own take on a German Rauchbier (Smoke beer). Instead of using Beechwood, we have selected the indigenous pecan wood and smoked a munich malt in our homemade malt smoker.

Smoky Mary has a subtle smoked flavor that pairs well with barbeque and just about anything straight off the grill. She clocks in at 5.3% alcohol by volume, which makes it a nice sessionable smoked beer.

NOLA Brewing takes great responsibility in upholding the brewing traditions of New Orleans, as well as matching the culinary talents of the city.

NOLA-smoky-mary-bigTourists flock to New Orleans from around the world to eat. Mardi Gras, festivals, and sporting events are only excuses to travel to the greatest culinary destination on the planet, so brewing beer to match the cuisine is not a challenge taken lightly. NOLA crafts each brew with the purpose of matching audacious flavor with consistency and greatness.

Currently, the brewing company is hoping to start bottling beers to allow for a greater distribution and an expanded market. NOLA can be found in cans and kegs throughout Louisiana, in Alabama from Montgomery to Mobile, and throughout the Florida panhandle.

Tours are available at the brewery Fridays from 2:00 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. for $5.

A gift shop is located at the brewery, and merchandise can be purchased at nolabrewing.com (SEE link below).

Please Note: This is Part 19 of an on-going series on Louisiana Cuisine/Travel Ideas

Details

NOLA Brewing Company

Address: 3001 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130

Phone: (504) 896-9996

Website: nolabrewing.com

Worth Pondering…

I recommend….bread, meat, vegetables, and beer.
—Sophocles (on a moderate diet)

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50 of America’s Most Spectacular RV Trips

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Mystic Seaport, Connecticut

Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea includes three major components for visitors: a re-created 19th-century coastal village with historic ships, a working preservation shipyard, and formal exhibit galleries. It consists of more than 60 original historic buildings, most of them rare commercial structures moved to the 37 acres site and meticulously restored. Founded in 1929 Mystic Seaport also boasts four vessels that are designated National Historic Landmarks.

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is country music and all that goes with it—glittering rhinestones; cowboy hats; red, white, and blue leather boots; and songs with titles like Thank God I’m a Country Boy and On the Road Again, Country Roads and I Fall to Pieces.

Also known as “Athens of the South,” downtown Nashville is set around magnificent Greek revival architecture. But the Greek revival lost out to country music when radio station WSM began broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry, making Nashville “Music City, USA.” Downtown, the Ryman Auditorium is known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” And just around the corner is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

New Orleans, Louisiana

When most people think of New Orleans, images of beads and floats and Mardi Gras may come into mind. Others may think of great food, cool jazz, and fabulous architecture.

New Orleans is one of the most visually interesting cities in America and of significant historic importance.

The phrase “Laissez les bon temps rouler”—Let the good times roll—is exemplified by Bourbon Street’s non-stop party atmosphere. But for many visitors to New Orleans, it’s all about the food. Seasonings are the lifeblood of good New Orleans cooking.

Newport, Rhode Island

Driving around Newport you can’t help but gawp at the turn-of-the-20th-century mansions—Italianate palazzi, Tudor-style manors, faux French château, all set in elegant formal landscaping, with imposing gates or walls to keep out hoi polloi (for example, you).

It’s incredible to imagine the sort of wealth that built these homes, even more incredible to realize that these were just these families’ summer houses—offhandedly referred to as mere “cottages”.

If you tire of Newport’s spectacular coastal scenery, awe-inspiring architecture, there’s always shopping in thriving downtown Newport. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park’s true distinction lies in its stunning diversity. Few places on earth have so much of everything: human and natural history, unusual flora and fauna, utter wilderness, and spots for every kind of outdoor recreation.

The park divides neatly into three major areas—the glaciered mountains and high country of the interior; the lush rainforest of the west-facing valleys; and the rugged wilderness coastline. It’s a landscape that renders a quick visit nearly impossible.

The Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Wright Memorial Bridge is just three miles long, but by the time you’ve crossed it you realize that you’ve arrived in an entirely different place. The bridge spans the Currituck Sound, connecting mainland North Carolina to the 130-mile string of narrow barrier islands known as the Outer Banks.

Along the way are historic sites, quaint villages, a variety of recreational activities, breathtaking views, and acres of unspoiled beauty. Because the waterways and coast along The Outer Banks is in constant motion, its wide variety of climates, wildlife, and landscape are ever changing.

Please Note: This is Part 6 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.

—Mark Twain

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