Family-Friendly Mardi Gras
Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel
Would I ever take my kids to Mardi Gras in New Orleans? No way!
Not with women flashing boobs at every turn, and drunken
revelers stumbling along the streets. But the time before Lent
is important, and celebrated throughout the Christian world. It
may be called Mardi Gras (French for
Carnevale or Carnival, but it represents the merriment that
overflows the weeks before the somber 40 days of sacrifice and
prayer of the Lenten season. So it was reassuring to discover
Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city where families can enjoy the
festive celebration with music, food, spangled costumes, parades
This little boy is representing his elementary school in
the Children's Parade.
When I flew into Lake Charles, I expected a glam-down, more
conservative version of Mardi Gras. But was I wrong! The colors
of Mardi Gras (green, purple and yellow), bloomed in the
airport, on the streets and in shop windows. My hotel, Isle of
Capri Casino and Hotel, was embellished with green, purple and
yellow bangles, beads and neon lights from floor to ceiling, and
Dixieland jazz blasted throughout the lobby.
Lassiez les bon temps rouler! (French for
Let the good
Soon I was off in a party bus with snacks, drinks, music and a
group of people looking for a good time.
Our Alligator Float
I wanted to experience Mardi Gras as fully as I could. A Zydeco
dance lesson with Harold Guillory at the Central School Theater
was arranged. He was a patient teacher, and soon the class was
twirling, swinging their hips and following specific foot
patterns. Guillory explained that Zydeco is a music style that
combines Cajun melodies with African rhythms. He also
emphasized, "Louisiana equals music, food and fun."
Parades take place for several days before the end of Mardi
Gras. Private organizations, or krewes, arrange individual
parades that march though town. It was a thrill to be included
in the Children's Parade. Children who are members of groups get
to ride on that group's float. Our float was decorated with an
enormous, but amiable, alligator. As we drove by crowds of
people yelling, "Throw me something, mister," we hurled strands
of shiny beads at them. Other floats threw candy, moon pies and
trinkets. Kids and adults ran to catch or swoop up the goodies.
The Mardi Gras queens
The most spectacular procession occurs on the day of Mardi Gras
when about 100 floats roll down Ryan Street during the Krewe of
Krewes' Parade. All the participants from the night before at
the Royal Gala ride on their group's themed and decorated float
and display their regalia to the public. The Royal Gala takes
place in the comfort of the Lake Charles Civic Center.
Spectators pay a fee to enter with food and drink and reserve a
long table to eat, party and view the different krewes as they
sashay down a runway and show off their flashy costumes before
the audience and a bevy of Mardi Gras queens. It's the only such
event in Louisiana.
Scrumptious Louisiana food
What we think of as New Orleans' cuisine is found all over
southern Louisiana. See for yourself at Lake Charles Civic
Center where you'll discover the World Famous Cajun Extravaganza
and Gumbo Cook-Off. Sample from pot to pot to taste the
different versions of the spicy, chunky stew. You may have a
tough time deciding on your favorite.
Steamboat Bill's on the Lake offers traditional Cajun cooking,
featuring all-you-can-eat boiled crayfish, boudin balls, shrimp
etoufee, and sausage and chicken gumbo. If you're up to it, try
the fried Gator Bites. Locals fill the rustic cafe from
mid-morning to late night, but you can always find a seat.
Seafood Bill's was voted the number on restaurant in southeast
Raves about boudin balls had reached my ears even before I had
reached Louisiana. – tasty fried morsels consisting of pork,
onions, rice, pork livers, bell peppers and Cajun seasonings.
This dish, like so many Southern dishes, was created to stretch
a little bit of meat to feed a lot of mouths. Nevertheless, the
much-beloved concoction has stirred up the Boudin Wars. So my
boudin investigation led me to B&O's Kitchen and Grocery (one of
the Boudin Wars winners) where shoppers come from far and wide
to purchase boudin and other meat products. I was invited into
the inner sanctum (the kitchen) to watch boudin sausage being
made. The sausage is made by filling pig's intestines with
boudin mixture; boudin balls are simply the mixture rolled into
balls, coated and deep-fried.
I had another behind-the-scenes cooking lesson when I found
myself at Delicious Doughnuts, where sweet smells make your
mouth water. My mission was to decorate my own King Cake. This
doughy treat represents Epiphany (a.k.a. the Three Kings). It's
smothered in white icing, and decorated with carnival colors,
masks, beads and other festive doodads. Hidden inside is a tiny
plastic Christ Child. After you're satisfied with your creation,
Delicious Doughnuts will have it shipped to your home.
Along with families, I enjoyed this wholesome event in
southeastern Louisiana. It had all the bells and whistles
without the raunchiness, and, with Lake Charles' French
heritage, they really know how to "laissez les bon temps
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