Down here in the heart of Acadiana, Mardi Gras is no mere imitation of the one in that city three hours east; there’s not even a nod to those good folks. We held our own Twelfth Night Promenade, a Royal Gala, a Queens’ Pageant, a community dance, a Merchant’s Parade, a Krewe of Omega Parade, a Krewe of Barkus (dog) Parade, a Taste de la Louisiane, a Zydeco dance, a Children’s Day, a Children’s Parade, a Lighted Boat Parade, a World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook-off, another Royal Gala, a hotrod/bike/classics parade, and a Krewe of Krewe’s Parade.
The many local and excellent donut shops have been competing to make the best King cakes; it’s still gumbo weather, and the start of crawfish season. It’s time for friends, family, and partying, and everyone got three days off school and work this week to help make that happen.
(The Lighted Boat Parade may be my favorite event, if only because it’s so perfectly symbolic of our times: The wealthy decorate their yachts and power sailboats, motor close along the dark lakefront, and throw plastic jewelry and hard candies at the faces of everyone else admiring them from the boardwalk.)
Celebrating Fat Tuesday is great, especially if you fast afterward. But I’m finding the good times roll pretty much any time, and some of my eating has been occupational. At the start of the month, our program took a visiting poet to an unpretentious restaurant that relocated here after its previous location, three miles from the Gulf, was destroyed in Hurricane Rita. It was a relaxing evening at a long wooden table held up by stripped-log posts. There was good conversation and a live band playing in the next room. The seafood cook heard from our server that someone at our table was in from New York, so he sent out a platter of crawfish on the house, then came out to discuss them. I had the gumbo with rice and potato salad (you put the potato salad and rice in the gumbo), crab rolls, and a Caesar salad. Other people had the fried shrimp, catfish bites, and crawfish étouffée; onion rings, regional beer, bread pudding, fried bread pudding with mounds of whipped cream and caramel sauce, and fried Oreos. I was those other people.
My department head playfully backhanded my abdomen the other day at the punch line of a joke, did a double-take, and patted me again more slowly. “Are you gaining weight?” he asked delightedly. Our program director has a brilliant phrase to describe what happens when you take a new job in a place known for good food: Still eating like a tourist. The trick is to realize you’re not on vacation.
Luckily, despite perfect 60-70 degree days all winter long, and nights just cool enough to have a fire, snow cones are seasonal too. My sons and I discovered their delights last August, when we arrived in the worst of the summer heat. Like donut shops, snow cone stands are everywhere, each with a dizzying choice of flavors and add-ons, like sweetened condensed milk, but they're shuttered now. I could eat a snow cone every day. Which is why I was happy to learn that the drive-through daiquiri stands are open year-round. There’s one on the way home from campus, right after the supermarket with the good boudin and smoked sausage. It’s Fat Saturday; let’s eat!