My first trip to Mardi Gras was as a freshman at Ole Miss in 1982. I grew up on the coast of Mississipppi just a couple of hours away. We made regular trips to New Orleans (mostly to go to the dermatologist). Those jaunts generally included lunch somewhere downtown -- Mother's and the Bon Ton were two of my parents' favorites -- as well as a stop at the bar in the Ramada Inn in Slidell on our way home for a Gin & Tonic to go. But Mardi Gras was way out of bounds. So when a guy I had met sailing the previous summer invited me to be his date for a couple of balls the week before Fat Tuesday, I jumped at the chance. My good friend Kevin-the-Son-My-Dad-Never-Had lived in an apartment on Prytania Street, a block off the parade route, and was happy to have me as his house guest. We grabbed beers and went out to watch Babylon as soon as I arrived, and then I did a quick change into my formal and dashed downtown in a cab ahead of the parade for the ball.
The next year, I organized a group of my sorority sisters to join me at Mardi Gras, and invited my BFF Jeana to come over from Tallahassee. We spent Thursday night at my parents' house on the coast and then headed to New Orleans for the weekend. I have so many crazy memories of that weekend -- the kind that still make me smile almost 30 years (ouch!) later. Jeana and I were supposed to be staying out in Metairie with my sorority big sister, but we got hopelessly lost trying to find the house. We ended up back at Kevin's and wound up staying there the rest of the weekend. The proximity of his house to Fat Harry's was a good thing. After that, we were regular guests for the weekend leading up to Fat Tuesday.
I graduated early in December of 1984 and moved to New Orleans. Unfortunately, my new employer, Arthur Andersen, had a different idea about how I should spend my first Mardi Gras as a resident -- auditing Callon Petroleum in Natchez, Mississippi. I arrived home from Natchez on the Friday before Mardi Gras and partied hard off until I had to go back to Natchez at 5:00 AM on Monday morning. I was completely worthless for the the next couple of days (although some might argue I was always pretty worthless at that job!) and that was the beginning of the end of my career as a Big Eight public accountant.
My boyfriend for the first couple of years I lived in New Orleans was a Galatoire. David knew good food and he knew where to find it. We dined out a lot, and I think of this as the period when my palate came of age. I started cooking occasionally around that time,but eschewed anything basic. Forget spaghetti and pot roast, I wanted to make stuffed shells with marinara and Beef Wellington! I didn't start cooking regularly until DH and I started dating about 10 years later. He grew up in New Orleans and my food is very much influenced by the six years I spent living and dining there. In the past year or so, I've blogged about some of our favorites: Shrimp and Grits, Muffaletta Chopped Salad, Crabmeat Maison, Red Beans and Rice, Gumbo and Potato Salad and Creole Buttermilk Salad Dressing. Over the next couple of days, I'm going to celebrate Mardi Gras not with excessive cocktails (although there will be some red wine involved), but by making a couple of Creole dishes I've never made before. When I was in Louisiana visiting family at Christmas, I picked up a package of frozen turtle meat that is now thawing in the fridge. I bought it because I wanted to make some Turtle Soup, but since I have more turtle meat than I need for that dish, I decided to make Turtle Sauce Piquant as well. I'm also planning to make a family favorite that has never made it on to the blog, Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya.
My BFF Jeana's daughter is a freshman at Ole Miss this year and is in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this weekend. We are both kind of sad that we are not there too. My sister's house a couple of blocks off the parade route in the Garden District has empty beds. I have the week off because it is my University's Spring Break. We can't really figure out why we aren't there because, while we are a bit older and wiser, we love a good party now just as much as we did in 1983.