Krewes on floats parading down Bourbon Street, potent red Hurricane cocktails in revelers’ hands and beads flying everywhere. There is nothing like Mardi Gras.
Unfortunately, whether you are in the French Quarter or Northern Virginia, this year has to be different. But you can still laissez les bons temps rouler on Feb. 16, with a few lucky people in your Covid bubble.
David Guas, chef and owner of Arlington’s Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery and a proud native of N’awlins, has captured the spirit of the city in one surprise-filled package. His Mardi Gras in a Box ($135) is filled with supplies including a Mardi Gras Murder Mystery Dinner Party Game for eight players, 24 tri-colored Mardi Gras beads and doubloons, eight Mardi Gras masks, a Mardi Gras boa and a bottle of Pat O’Brien’s Liquid Hurricane Mix–just add your spirit of choice.
Perhaps the most sought-after inclusion in the box is Guas’ 16-serving King Cake with cinnamon and Creole cream cheese filling, which has garnered accolades from The Today Show, The New York Times and The Washington Post; the latter publication deemed it “One of the Top 5 King Cakes in the Country.” His Danish-style cake comes with a DIY decorating kit to keep it fresh; decorate it with the white icing, then dust it with purple, green and gold sugars, the customary colors of Carnival. You can order the Mardi Gras in a Box online to ship anywhere in the country.
In a “normal” year, Guas would be hosting Mardi Gras Extravaganza, DC’s biggest gathering to celebrate the holiday, which brings together hundreds of natives as well as those who just have a soft spot for NOLA. This year, he says he struggled with finding a way to capture some of the same spirit in a pandemic-era–until he remembered a Mardi Gras-themed Murder Mystery Party he attended years ago at his friend (and food writer) David Hagedorn’s house.
“It stuck with me how incredibly creative and festive the evening turned out; we drank and ate to our heart’s content, I had my beads, drinks and food right there and I did not lose my voice from shouting to friends on floats or wait in long lines to use the restroom,” he recalls. “It was civilized, but we still kept the spirit and brought on some memorable raucous.” Guas decided to think out of the box by putting the celebration into the box.
To host your safe and fun Fat Tuesday party, Guas suggests setting up everything on a back porch or in a room with lots of open windows and decorating with purple, green and gold lights or tinsel. Use old-school TV dinner tables to promote social distancing among guests–or wrap cardboard boxes in purple, green and gold wrapping paper like a float. If food is served as a buffet, ask guests to go up one at a time to get their plate, using new individual utensils. Set up an open bar for DIY hurricanes, adding a separate area for chilled bottles of Abita beer. Keep sanitizer around at all times, and in addition to the included masks for your eyes, encourage guests to dress like their characters by decorating a mask for your nose and mouth that fits the part.
The holiday is all about indulging before Lenten fasting–and for Guas that means at least two to three guilt-free slices of King Cake. His award-winning pastry is airy and moist, with no preservatives and the perfect combo of ingredients. “Back in high school I used to eat a whole King Cake before my swim practice,” he says. I” like to think that the sugar high kept my timing on par with some of the best scores in the state for my age.”
He’s hoping his party in a box brings a little bit of NOLA happiness. “My favorite part of Mardi Gras is that it is the one day in the year that anything goes,” Guas declares. “We are all going to miss that connection this year, [but] I have found a way to still take part in that ritual in a small way with a select few of my closest friends and family.”
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