Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kiss My King Cake

Thank you all for all the supportive comments on the Geodon Insomnia post.  I couldn't believe all the support.  I'm better in that I feel better, I can think straight, but it is two in the morning again.  I woke up at midnight.  I'm waiting for two sleeping pills to kick in so I can make it to my therapist tomorrow.

Update:  I couldn't make it to my appointment because some of the flu-like side-effects that can come from Geodon - which I was blaming them on turned out to be a really bad genuine cold, so I'm sorry I didn't get this post up earlier.  I've been working on it little bits at a time for a few days:

As for kissing King Cake:

I got a present yesterday. [Now already three days ago.] This was worth getting up out of my semi-coma.  (See my red insomniac eyes behind the feathers of my profile pic).  

You probably didn't notice that the fog streak of my blog header title desription ends with "homesickness."  (Or that the first two words of the first post of this blog are "Greta Perry." 

Well,... fellow Shameless Lion awardee, blog owner of Kiss My Gumbo, Greta Perry, Queen of homesickness relief care packages  - (she runs the Louisiana chapter of the national organization Soldiers' Angels which matches volunteers with specific soldiers to send care packages and letters to - more later in this post about that) - sent me a heavy Mardi Gras care package consisting of Orpheus parade beads, newspapers from New Orleans proper and Northshore of Lake Ponchetrain (where she lives in Mandeville), feather mask, and a KING CAKE! addressed to my blogger user name "caretaker."

My camera is still sticky from taking the  pictures while it lasted.  
If there are any New Franciscan San Orleneans  other than me you might appreciate an ad page advertising "A NEW WAY TO SAY LOVE ME" sale at "thehimstore," on the same page as Rouses King Cakes ("KING CAKE HOTLINE" 1-800-5998.)

For those of you who don't know, New Orleans was my first home, and stays my "heart home," and as good as San Francisco has been at keeping me alive, if New Orleans had the medical care, and if I could contribute more than my needs would cost it, New Orleans would be where I lived now, even though my relationship to it is really a child's.  I know street names, but not how they fit together from the driver's seat.  I haven't gone back much until this last summer when I went twice, once to visit, once to house-sit for a cousin, and gut and built houses for families still living in their front yards (or stuck in Houston)  or separated from each other strewn around the country in other easier places that will never be the same.  (Another plug:  I you ever want to volunteer in New Orleans for a week - or a long weekend or whatever, and you want your hard work to go to the greatest effect, no matter who you are or what you believe, it's the churches that have their shit together, specifically Episcopal Disaster Relief. You will be trained and put to work at the same time and you will fall into an effortless and overwhelming state of Love.  Click the link just to see the picture.  I worked on that house.  The kids got to pick out any colors of paint they wanted. 

So besides linking you to the history of King Cake through Wikipedia here, which I'm not going to read till I write this, [Update: definitely interesting and worth reading] I'm going to tell you my eight-year-old understanding of it.

First of all, as a child Mardi Gras was at least as important as Christmas.  And much richer and more complex a tradition than anything like Girls Gone Wild in PART of the French Quarter - which is not all Girls Gone Wild either - not that I have anything against girls gone wild (I wish them good luck, health, and wellbeing) - it's just not at all representative of Mardi Gras tradition and culture.  (Look up the Indian Parade if you want to know a fascinating aspect of the culture that lasts year round to show itself for a couple days, and then tears itself down for reassembly bead by bead generation after generation, same beads - look it up.  I didn't have luck finding a good enough site.  They're secretive.)  It's sacred.  

As an adult I don't know where we are in Lent, (and I don't know if King Cakes end at Ash Wednesday, or skip over it to Fat Tuesday or if they're supposed to end at Epiphany), but I know that according to the King King Cakes website, there are 14 days 22 hours 51 minutes and 29 seconds to be done with it (Lent) on their Mardi Gras countdown clock  as I write this.
As a child I knew that every Sunday between Christmas and Mardi Gras at our church, Christ's Church Cathedral's after-service coffee hour there would be giant King Cakes - big loop shaped cakes that were more like bread-like than cake (the "traditional" King Cake has apparently undergone many changes in my long life-time.)  King Cake always tasted the same, and had the same texture my first eight years.  There was no filling, no frosting, just this big loop of bread with purple, gold, and green sugar on top delineating where the pieces should be cut.  (Purple, gold, and green are the official colors of the city of New Orleans - not of Mardi Gras or Carnival - mistake in Wikipedia  on that).  

There was one  little plastic baby Jesus baked inside the cake in an in an unknown piece, and whoever got that piece, got the baby Jesus and everybody clapped and  that person was King for the week (it didn't matter if you were female) until the next week when the King brought the next Sunday's Cake, and so on.   And on Mardi Gras we had reserved bleachers in the front yard of the church on 2912 St. Charles Avenue, or I sat on my father's shoulders to catch colorful light plastic flutes and whistles and little toys, and doubloons were the real prize, but what I loved is, way back then, not all the beads were plastic.  They still threw some of the old Checkslovakian glass beads.  (I don't know anything about the history of why the original glass beads were Checkslovakian, but they were.   They were all stripey and clear.  Or smokey.  And my father would put me down to put them around my neck.  

I wasn't told, when I was moved to Houston right before my eighth birthday, that Mardi Gras wouldn't exist.  I thought it happened everywhere like Christmas, and losing it was at least as traumatic as losing good child-Christmas would have been.  My family celebrated it, Mardi Gras, to some degree anyway in Houston - our big bowl of doubloons from different Krewes different years on the coffee table.  Probably cocktail parties I don't remember, or all blurred into one long vague memory.  Almost always good food.  (All year.  Gumbo sometimes.  Shrimp Creole fairly often.  Bread Pudding with Rum sauce.  Spoon Bread.  Grits which we called little "hominy".  We thought people who didn't know what it was called it "grits".)  But no Mardi Gras.  Just like that.

So opening Greta Perry's Mardi Gras care package, now three days ago, was like opening a big fat Christmas stocking (which was even more needed since I skipped Christmas this year.)  The King Cake was not what I expected  - with all the icing and cinnamon like a big sweet roll,  (according to my brother that tradition was starting in the early nineties when he and his wife were living in a trailer in the nutra-rat swamps of Thibodeaux while he was serving a stint for Teach For America - one more plug squeezed in - not for the nutra-rats).  

Back to this King Cake:

This little 2008 Greta Perry anatomically correct King Cake Baby was stuck to the outside of the Cake instead of baked into various misshapenness on the inside.  Maybe it's a liablity thing.  They don't want anyone dying choking on the baby Jesus.  Although that kind of liability sounds more San Francisco than New Orleans - which I'm pretty sure still has drive-thru Daquiri stands.

Here is the King Cake baby Jesus as he came, clinging for dear life on his way to San Francisco:

Here is the 2008 Greta Perry anatomically correct baby Jesus compared to a saved cooked old-fashioned one.  It even has a belly-button:
(They come in white, pink, and brown.  I'm hoping for a brown one next time. - I'm hoping to BE there next time.)

I'm ending this post now, without creative transition, by saying that care packages really matter.  And the work that Greta Perry does to make sure soldiers away from home get them really matters.  It's about caring and homesickness.  I said in the beginning of this blog that I would sign up for it.  The commitment is to send a letter a week (and we're all pretty-regular writers out here anyway), and to send a little - or big heavy one like mine - care package either once or twice a month (I can't remember) for a predetermined stint of time.  I am not going to commit to this way of doing it because I am having such difficulty doing basic living in a reliable way, and I wouldn't want to fail at honoring that resposibility  - but Greta said there was a baking group, and I love to cook and don't because I don't have anyone to cook for, so I'm going to see how that works - if you can be just a kind of on-call baker.

Soldiers' Angels had really good support over Christmas, but, sadly, right now they have a lot more men and women serving signed up on a waiting list, than they have volunteers willing and able to give them what they are asking for. (Soldiers' Angels motto is "May No Soldier Go Unloved.") If you are at all interested in either committing to do this for six months or so, OR are interested in getting the word out there that it is needed, please check them out at Ignore anything you might not like about any of it and remember the simplicity of what it is for.    


Merelyme said...

wow...the king cake is way cool. oh and look at you miss missy with your feathered self! you looking mardi gras shnazzy! love it! and this was an excellent post.

come on over to my place...i am having a love-in.

susan said...

I have never been to New Orleans, but I felt as if I was there reading your blog.

Did the cake taste fantastic?

Can you email me? I need to send you some photos.


+PHc said...

I'm only wearing this mask for Greta Perry.

+PHc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
about jenji said...

Yay! You got a King Cake! A festive King Cake experience can make any girl a happy girl. You are workin those feathers!

I just finished rummaging through my studio to see if I could find the Baby Jesus that I successfully seized one year at an underground event, as I thought I might post his picture as well. He is quite peculiar.

However, he seems to be mysteriously MIA and I suspect that Harold--Mister I sleep like a rock kitty--has probably stashed him away beneath a piece of furniture, along with various hair accouterments and other anomalous trinkets.

Long story short, after I won the title of Queen for a Day, an envious friend of mine stole my Baby Jesus and to my great despair and overwhelming horror, thrust him into the flame of a candle! Can you believe the nerve? She jammed my Baby Jesus into the depths of an eternal, waxy Hell! What a Judas.

Luckily, I rescued him in time to preserve the integrity of his other three limbs—his left leg wasn’t so lucky. In fact, it’s a little soupy, if not slightly liquefied. Sorry I couldn’t share the picture with you.

So, guard your Baby Jesus, as there are a select few who will try to bring harm upon him simply because you are Queen for the Day. The envious can be wicked little trolls.

I'm happy to report that my tiara was in fact edible (it was a vegan King Cake party, which made the structural integrity of my tiara weak at best) and therefore digested before anyone could dare knock it from my head. Merciless fools.

Enjoy your day!
be well,

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Great post PH!

When I was in college I got the baby Jesus and was told that whoever got it was supposed to throw the next party.

And to think I could have been king!

laughingwolf said...

superb post, hon!

i'm plugging 'soldiers' angels' :)

susan said...

PHC, thanks for your comments on my bloggie.

I asked for your email addy to send you some jpegs I thought you might like to see, I don't know how to post them!

tati said...

I know I say 'let's do' about a lot of things, and then don't do, but if you want to think about a mardi gras trip next year... it's around my birthday, and lil M would love it. girl's trip?
i've been thinking about a family volunteering trip anyway.

you've inspired me yet again, as you do. i'm going over to soldier's angels right now.

Jim said...

I have not been to New Orleans but my parents have and I know somewhat about the culture history. However, I have learned alot from this and thanks !!!

I am glad you are feeling better.

Hugs, Jim

Greta Perry said...

You made my week too. I am happy to share a little piece of your home with you. As for Soldiers' Angels - you are one. Just by writing about them and encouraging others to come aboard - you are doing very important Angel work!

I am Jewish and with my warped sense of humor, found it funny that my kid brought baby Jesus home from school last year as I was informed I had to buy a cake for his class. LOL - the irony.

Just bought my 3rd King Cake for school. 3 kids and they each had to bring one so far. And now they don't come "with " the baby in them - lawsuits and such.

It even tastes good stale in the microwave. Have fun!

+PHc said...

Jenji, I'm sorry about your "envious troll," and that you lost Jesus. Be well and happy, too. Thank you for commenting.

Whimsy, the baby goes to you. It is a (((HUGS))). You are King.

Laughingwolf, Thank you for plugging Soldiers' Angels on your blog. Did you read Greta's comment? That makes you an angel. We got a king and an angel out of this.

Susan, You're welcome, and I look forward to seeing your pictures!

Tati, Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Jim, Thanks for hugs.

Greta, Plastic "trinket-ing" of any comparable Jewish symbol would seem even worse than ironic to me. To me whatever the King Cake Baby is called (my fully-Christian, partly-New Orlenean mother just told me it hadn't occurred to her that it was supposed to be Jesus at all till I just called this one that to her, hello?), - to me it's a baby which represents innocence, and its arms are wide open which represents generosity of spirit. And it gets passed around sweetly, and it's as simple as that. And in my life, the specific people who have been most generous of spirit (and everything else) to me started out Jewish, whatever they ended up calling themselves later.

That really pisses me off that in a city that has so many real reasons for real lawsuits they can't cook the baby in the cake, and if I lived there (or will live there again) I'm buying the King Cake mix kit at the Cafe Du Monde gift store and I'm cooking my goddam Jesus in the batter. Sue me.

Do they ever do them like they used to be? The bread kind? It wasn't like a sweet roll at all before. And yes I don't even have a microwave, but they always taste good if they last long enough to get stale. I shared mine with my cat sitter and the person he house sits for when he's in town because it's almost her birthday so my part didn't last long enough.

Thank you so much. And I'll let you know if any more new angels come from this.


Sarah said...

Great photographs of the babies, cake, colors, beads, feathers! Greta's an angel. As I remember, King Cake season is from Epiphany (12th day of Christmas, Jan. 6, symbolizing the three kings' arrival in Bethlehem) till Mardi Gras (Feb. 5 this year). Lent is from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, to Easter, March 2. I'll get out my beads and doubloons and send you much love.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Thank you! :-D