It was three years in coming and three full days in the making, but last night's Mardi Gras dinner went off without much of a hitch. Kevin and I are members of a gourmet potluck group that gets together once a month at a different member's home for a themed dinner. Up until now, we've always bowed out of hosting because I was either too pregnant or had a new baby at home. But even though I am seven pregnant right now and have a rambunctious toddler, I figured it was now or never if we were ever going to host. And once a Mardi Gras-themed evening came up in rotation, I leapt at the chance to host it--Creole food being one of the few cuisines I don't find at all intimidating. So here's a brief recap of all the things that went into making a Mardi Gras dinner in northern Canada--and yes, I realize Mardis Gras isn't actually for another three weeks, but as hard as this was for me at seven-months pregnant, I knew it would be impossible at eight.
The Decorations: Rather than go with all the green-purple-and-gold kitsch that was available at the party supply store, I made use of what I had lying around the house: peacock feathers from our wedding reception, stained-glass masks from the Christmas decorations box, some Venetian masks from--where else--Venice, and a voodoo doll from ... well, everyone has one of those lying around, don't they? I did have to buy some Mardi Gras beads because my collection got recycled into one of my mother's costumes recently. But other than that, the only purchases were some purple orchids for the mantle and about $40 worth of votive candles from Ikea. The candles were essential, since we ate in what is actually our living room--it being the only room in the house large enough to accommodate 15 people at one table. They also helped distract form the fact that were were eating in the living room and that our living room could really use a fresh coat of paint.
The Place Settings: In keeping with the Southern Gothic flair of the evening, I pulled out the good china and the sterling flatware. In truth, I had no choice, seeing as how I don't have enough of the everyday stuff to seat 15. And if you're going to all the trouble to pull out the china and polish the silver, you might as well use all the good linens, too. Although, I may regret that decision once I have to wash and iron 20 yards of linen. In the end, though, I think it was worth it. It is certainly the Southern way of doing things. I have never once been to a dinner or cocktail party in the South where the contents of a lady's hope chest were not put to use. Besides, what's the point of moving all this stuff from home to home if it's going to sit in boxes, unused? Furthermore, it distracted from the fact that my house is incredibly tiny, and, again, could really use a fresh coat of paint.
The Playlist: No Mardi Gras evening would be complete without a well-crafted playlist. Mine wasn't as well-crafted as I would have like, but it got the job done. On rotation were Kermit Ruffins and Louis Armstrong, Buckwheat Zydeco and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as well as the awesome soundtrack from Season One of the HBO show Treme. I haven't actually seen Treme yet, but if the soundtrack is any indication, this show is awesome.
And last but not least, The Menu: Had the menu been left up to me, I probably would have just made Jambalaya and flown in a King's Cake from Randazzo's, but my friend Peggi is actually in charge of the group and, as a major foodie, she helped step thing up a notch. Now, these are not the New Orlean's dishes that I grew up on, but they are more or less authentically Creole, and they were all delicious. As hosts, Kevin and I were on the hook for the entrees--fried catfish with pecan butter and shrimp etouffée, and we will certainly be making these again. I even created my own recipe for shrimp etouffée this time, and I thought it rather better than either of the recipes I normally follow.
Mardi Gras Mojitos and Mint Juleps (served in my silver julep cups, thank you very much!)
Bacon Wrapped Cajun Jalapenos
Black-Eyed Pea Salsa with Chips
Sauteed Fresh Mushroom Bruschetta
Merle's Spinach Balls
Crab Cakes with Roumalade Sauce
Gumbo with Southern Biscuits
Fried Catfish with Toasted Pecan Butter Sauce
Jalapeno Cheese Grits
Red Beans & Rice
Mama's Candied Yams & Apples
Galatoire's Grapefruit Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
Chocolate Doberge Cake
King Cake (Peggi even made the King Cake from scratch, God bless her!)
And believe it or not, no one had a heart attack before the meal was over. In fact, a few people even asked for seconds, although it was approaching midnight and we'd been dining for five hours. So, I guess you could call the night a success. I'm not sure that Kevin and I will be hosting one of these dinners again any time soon. The only way we were able to pull it off this time was because I stayed up late every night this week prepping and because we sent Remy to the kennel and Colin to the babysitter's for the night. Now, I love a fancy dinner party as much as the next Southern girl, but these days I'm loving my incorrigible little boy even more. Check out Colin "helping" me earlier this week with my Mardi Gras beads. Is there anything cuter than that?