It is only Jan. 10, and I am already sick of King Cake. This is probably because I – OK, I’ll admit it – just don’t like King Cake all that much to begin with. And yet, I eat it excessively this time of year, both because I feel an obligation to as a loyal New Orleanian and because I eat when I am bored. Around 3 p.m., I start to get restless at work, and I inevitably wander into the office kitchen to see if something delicious has magically appeared. Throughout most of the year, there is nothing in the office kitchen at 3 p.m. except cold coffee and dirty dishes. Throughout Carnival season, however, there is nothing delicious in the office kitchen, but there is usually King Cake, and so I eat it. In the past four days, I have sampled King Cakes from Manny Randazzo’s, Nonna Randazzo’s, Sucré, Tartine, Haydel’s, and (purportedly) McKenzie’s. They’ve all been as good as King Cake ever really is in my opinion, but I am not dying to eat more (although I undoubtedly will).
Maybe I am misremembering, but McKenzie’s was always my favorite growing up, and it was probably my least favorite of the bunch listed above. (I also have fond memories of cafeteria red beans and chili dogs, so it is possible that I just had bad taste as a kid, but I am fairly certain that this was not the original recipe. For one thing, there were no candied cherries!) But I honestly wasn’t crazy about any of them – I don’t like icing, and I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon, so King Cake is just never going to be my thing. I love desserts, don’t get me wrong, but I would rather spend my calories on ice cream, panna cotta, or dark chocolate anything.
Ruby, though, the girl who has requested a cinnamon cake for three birthdays running and would eat cinnamon rolls for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, and snacks if I let her, is just delighted at the proliferation of King Cakes. She is a traditionalist, though, and won’t touch a stuffed King Cake, which I think is bizarre because she orders bagels just to lick the cream cheese off of them and yet turns her nose up at the notion of one of her favorite foods stuffed into another one of her favorite foods. (No word on her thoughts on turducken as of press time.)
In any case, she is pumped. That’s one of the best things about being Ruby specifically and living in New Orleans generally: She is never bummed after her birthday is over because Christmas is just four days away, and no one here ever really gets too bummed about Christmas being over because it’s immediately Carnival season.
Parades aren’t happening quite yet because it’s a late Mardi Gras this year, but there are King Cakes in the grocery store, and that’s festive enough for Ruby. There are now weekly King Cake parties at her school, and although that is causing some hand-wringing among the parents who don’t want their kids eating too much sugar, I am happy about it. Full disclosure: I don’t really worry that much about what my kids eat. I try to throw veggies and fruit at them on a semi-regular basis, but I also feed them Oreos and chicken nuggets, which according to some parents is just a small step up from feeding them ground glass and roughly equivalent to feeding them poison. But whatever. I am not turning food into a battleground, and I am not scouring Pinterest for creative ways to hide vegetables in meals. They rarely eat fast food, they are both active, and they’re not even close to overweight – that’s the best I can do. In the meantime, I am excited to see the King Cake party tradition continuing amongst our youth.
I loved King Cake parties as a kid, for pretty much the exact same reason I eat King Cake now: It was a break from the monotony of the rest of the day.
My tastes may have changed, but my need for a little excitement hasn’t – in fact, that’s still one of the main reasons I live here. (That and largely escaping the horrifying effects of the Polar Vortex.)
Happy Carnival, everyone!