Family Fun: Mardi Gras Dinner

I know that I no longer have young children in the house but some habits die hard and family fun traditions are one of them! I like to look at it as keeping the traditions and either adjusting their meaning or tailoring it to fit the age of its participants. There are many occasions to make the everyday a little more fun between Valentine’s Day and Easter and one of these days I just might write a book of all that we have done in my twenty five years of parenting to make some of the little occasions a bit more fun bringing spirit to those long winter days that in this area of the country, we usually experience. This has not been so this year, as the weather has been unusually warm and we have only had one snowfall, the daffodils are already popping their green stems out of the ground to a scary height and the spring budding flowers that usually appear in late March and April are here. Makes one want to spend time in the garden, not inside as we usually have to do. Wherever you are spending your days, another occasion for celebration is coming up next week so in this post I will be sharing some tried and true ideas that we use to celebrate Mardi Gras and in particular Fat Tuesday.

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Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the forty day period of time called Lent where Christians prepare for Easter which includes fasting and the giving up of some things that you might indulge in on a regular basis. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and is basically a carnival period celebrated in many European and South American Catholic countries and as we all know, right here in New Orleans. We celebrate a much tamer version here and have always shared in a Mardi Gras themed dinner at home which of course includes decorations in our house. We will be doing so again this year even though the three kids that are still home are 25, 18 and 15.
DSC_0646-1Here are some ideas to make a pretty, colorful and fun tablescape that you can do with your kids of any age but the young ones really enjoy them.  The basic materials can be found at either the dollar store or your local craft store. The primary material used in most of this tablescape are foam sheets which your craft store sells in the perfect size to make placemats without cutting it down.

To Make the Placemat:

 I had found a kit years ago from the quintessential online catalog of Oriental Trading Company, a great source for trinket type birthday party favors and craft materials in bulk.

Since then, I have run out of most of the materials over the years so I have just started cutting my own patterns out of the craft foam. To make the placemats, you can give each child a sheet of foam and the assorted shapes and have them glue them on their placemat in whatever fashion they see fit. You can add tiny little bells, sequins and glitter for some sparkle and little bits of cut ribbon. 
DSC_0670-1Party stores are always great places to get fun accessory and decor items to make your table top decor even more fun! 
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Here I added table top sequin type pieces that are in the proverbial Mardi Gras patterns of masks, crowns and music, as well as paper party cups. The beads were purchased at The Dollar Store and I always seem to acquire more from year to year. Mix them all together on the table top and you have a sparkly base for your table setting.
DSC_0681-1Stuff the cups with more beads and chocolate covered candy coins or any other candy and you have a treat to add to each place setting.
DSC_0696-1To embellish the table even more and add another project that you can do with the kids, you can use the shapes you cut out earlier to make napkin rings or pins for the kids to wear. 

Napkin Rings ~ Just add a thin piece of velcro that has been glued to the back of layered shapes. For a pin, just glue a pin to the back of the layered shapes. I use a low temp hot glue gun for this kind of gluing for I find it sets much better. You can use one with your kids with assistance.
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Tuck a Mardi Grass napkin inside the napkin ring or a solid colored one and doesn’t that make a pretty addition to the table? 
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Jester Hats

You can use those same sheets that you purchased for the placemats for these jester hats. Again, I had purchased the original materials from Oriental Trading Company years back but I now cut my own. 

To Make:

  1. Cut 6 triangles out of the foam sheets. I used the traditional colors of Mardi Gras, purple, gold and green. 
  2. Cut one long strip of foam about 3 inches high by the length needed for your child’s head.
  3. Cut two strips of coordinating ribbon (optional) to then glue on the top and bottom of the long strip of foam to wrap around the head.
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  4. Glue the 6 triangles around the head band of the hat and then the ribbon and add little bells and colored coins if you can find them at the craft, party or dollar store as well.DSC_0718-1

The Mask

If making the mask is the direction you want to go, there are pre made masks in a variety of places or if you have the time you can make this with the kids.  For the foundation of the mask, you can either cut out the shape of the mask you would like from the foam, purchase plain plastic type masks or paper ones or whatever you can find again at the above mentioned stores and embellish them with sequins, feathers, and glitter. Regular Elmers glue can be used to adhere these materials. You can use a glue gun if so desired as an alternative.DSC_0732-1

If your mask already has an elastic string on it that is great! If not or to add drama, you can glue a wooden dowel onto the side of the mask and it becomes one you can hold in your hand as well as a decor object for your table top.

 

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Here I used the masks with dowels as the centerpiece for the table by inserting a few of them into a vessel that you already have that has been filled with Mardi Gras beads. I then scattered more beads around the base. 

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Here is your finished product!  Child friendly plastic silverware can be used for the littles and paper cups and bamboo plates. Of course any dishes you have will do but paper is definitely the way to go if you want to add the colors of Mardi Gras to your place setting. Think of the ease of clean up as well!

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There has been a year or two in the last twenty five that we did not get to celebrate in our traditional fashion for Fat Tuesday but we have always had a Kings Cake. Some years I have bought them at the grocery store if I can find them or a bakery. I have made them from recipes that I have found and below I have a hack for a Kings Cake that I found a couple of years ago that has become my go to, due to time.

 Here is a history of the Kings Cake compliments of Wikipedia. What started out roughly 300 years ago as a dry French bread–type dough with sugar on top and a bean inside now comes in many varieties depending on the country. Some king cakes are made of a sweet brioche dough in the shape of a hollow circle with a glazed topping sprinkled with colored sugar. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in New Orleans during the Carnival season. In other countries, king cakes are made with a puff pastry, filled with one of several fillings (e.g., almond, apple, chocolate/pear, etc.), and have a small figurine hidden inside. The figurine changes from bakery to bakery and often represents a hit movie or other cultural icon.

The cake often has a small plastic baby (to represent the Baby Jesus) inside or underneath; and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations.[

Kings Cake Hack

Ingredients:

1 can of cinnamon rolls, any kind will do

The glaze from the package of cinnamon rolls will do or white icing if you want extra icing. The icing here is the Royal icing left over from our gingerbread house project. If put into a covered container, it can last in the fridge for a week or two.

Purple, green and gold sprinkles, edible glitter or sanding sugar

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To assemble, unwrap the cinnamon rolls and line the outside of a pie plate or large round baking pan with the rolls to make a circle. Bake as directed on the package.

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Bake until nice and golden.

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Frost with the glaze or the icing.

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Sprinkle the edible glitter, sugar or sprinkles on the cake in alternating bands of purple, green and gold.

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Isn’t that a pretty and very quick and easy way to make a Kings Cake? The kids love it and don’t forget to tuck a plastic baby into the cake! You can use another figurine as well in lieu of the baby if you cannot find one. Any way you slice it, there are a variety of ways to add a little weekday fun on a Tuesday evening with a little preparation and thought put out ahead of time. A couple of tips that have helped me through the years in managing upcoming holidays, theme days and celebrations so that they did not pop up on me and allow me no time to add them to our very busy schedule are the following:

  1. Use a calendar that you input all birthday celebrations, special occasions, and theme days on. Electronic versions are available and the good old paper ones are thankfully as well. I typically, input into my calendar, all of those dates and then beside the event, I pen some ideas on what I might do for them. I just use short bullet points. 
  2. I have plastic storage containers for each holiday in which I store things that I have made for past holidays so that way they are easy to find year to year. Into those containers might go materials that I find throughout the year on clearance that might be able to be used for that occasion such as paper products, candy and little craft or accessory items. Past years materials to be used again and a file folder that has ideas in it that I have pulled from magazines and printed over the years. When the children were little, I would also hang up their past art work for that celebration so those treasured pieces of art are still in my containers ~ I think that was the teacher in me! You can use shoe boxes as well or one plastic RubberMaid container for each season with shoe boxes inside for each occasion. Organization is the key!
  3. I would always integrate teachable moments into these fun celebrations where a lesson or value was emphasized so any ideas on those topics would be included in these bins as well.

When I was teaching full time and as the children grew and their schedules did too, all of this became increasingly difficult as you can imagine. I am sure some of you might just be rolling your eyes at some of this while saying to yourself, “Is she crazy?” but let me assure you, when you take a few minutes at the beginning of a week or month to plan, lets say when you might plan whats for dinner for that week and integrate the two, you can accomplish it. If you don’t have a crafty bone in your body, you can do it as well. There are plenty of online resources available now that you can get ideas from and don’t feel bad if its not all hand made!!! It does not matter… it is the idea behind what you are doing and why. In this increasingly busy and disconnected world, it is in my opinion, essential that we create concrete hands on activities that engage our kids, our families and our communities that connect us, create experiences that we share together and that begins in our own homes and then moves out from there.

Most of all have fun with it and Happy Mardi Gras!

~Meg 

 

 

  1. Sharon says:

    Awesome thank you! Looking forward to your St. Patrick’s Day ideas!