Here’s a true story about a little girl (and her mother)Â who almost made me lose my good manners. Mercy!
There’s nothing more exciting to a Southern woman than a good theme party, and Mardi Gras is the perfect time to gather friends and let the good times roll – all with a coordinated color scheme. I enjoy having friends over and making gumbo with a platter piled high with muffulettas. I make a great bread pudding, and have even tried my hand at a Moon-pie bread pudding which was off-the-chart sweet, but the number one highlight of any good Mardi Gras affair has got to be the traditional King Cake.
The ring-shaped King Cake can either be a dried-out grocery store version, or you can hunt down the real thing, made by locally owned Gulf Coast bakeries who have baked them for generations. It’s actually a dessert I’ve never tried to make myself, because it tastes more delicious knowing its authentic pedigree. The tiny plastic baby, hidden somewhere in the flaky pastry, always brings shouts of joy to the one who finds it in their slice, and ensures it’s a dessert you’ll never forget.
At one of my Mardi Gras soirÃ©es in the past, a mix of people we knew from the neighborhood, church and the boy’s schools came over for a pre-parade dinner. Everyone was still having fun in the family room when I slipped out to put the food on the table. As I carried the bowl of rice into the dining room, I was stunned to see a woman calmly watching her 9 year-old daughter tear-apart the King Cake! The girl tip-toed up to reach the cake on the sideboard, and with her grimy little hands and her ding-bat mother looking on, was shredding my twenty-eight dollar and forty-seven cent cake that I had driven all the way to Mobile to pick up.
It wouldn’t normally bother me if I found a little kid poking one tiny finger in my cake. I’d actually think it was pretty funny, because whom among us hasn’t done the same? But this was an act of confectionery vandalism, which along with the mother who was standing there encouraging the girl to “try over there!” sucked the good Christian woman right out of me.
About that time, the other children at the party opened the back door and the dogs came skidding around the corner. The girl let out an ear-splitting squeal because of course, she didn’t like dogs (which is a sign of a person’s true character) and the biggest hound wanted nothing more than to lick her sticky fingers, while the beagle almost knocked her over, performing her family job of keeping the floor clean.
Knowing I needed to act quickly, or risk losing the last third of my dessert, I wiped the look off my face that said, “I’m goin’ to yank a knot in your tail” and reverted to the more appropriate “Southern hostess” look, which combines the smile of a beauty queen with a mug shot of a steely-eyed criminal.
“Oh, darlin’, you’re getting your precious little hands all messy! Gracious, let me help you wash up!” I took the child (firmly) by her sugary fingertips and led (dragged) her to the kitchen while the mother babbled the obvious, “She was lookin’ for the bayy-bee.”
“Well, isn’t that a fun thing to do? And it takes all the worry out of someone choking on it (or having any fun at all). Aren’t you a sweetie?”
But while I was saying the right things, I was blinking subliminal Morse code for, “Do not grow up and date my son.”
Like the co-ed who stood on the front porch of the Phi Mu house during sorority rush and thought it would look cool to light up a cigarette, this woman was N.I.B. or “Not Invited Back.”
We take King Cake seriously around here. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all, and I hope you find the bayy-bee.
This story first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers..
To see great images from Mardi Gras all along the Gulf Coast, click HERE to see my Mardi Gras PinterestÂ page!