“Mardi Gras is the love of life.  It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living.  All at once.”  Chris Rose, author of 1 Dead in the Attic: Post-Katrina Stories.

Mardi Gras or Carnival (translated as “farewell to meat”) is celebrated in Catholic and Christian countries throughout the world.

Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries have held celebrations since the 1700s, and European countries have done so as well since the 1200s, but with the exception of New Orleans, Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States have become popular only in the past twenty years, or so.  Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday traditionally marks the last opportunity for Christians to make merry before enduring the solemn and penitential Lenten season.

The appeal of Mardi Gras is easy to understand:

This is one last opportunity to enjoy  yourself before enduring fasting, Lenten sacrifice, prayer and personal reflection.  Over the years, Mardi Gras has developed an air of mystery with masked and costumed revelers parading the streets, enjoying music, dancing with strangers, eating rich foods and consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages.  Mischief abounds as individuals expose themselves for shiny bead necklaces, and other individuals toss the beads from gaudy parade floats.  Fancy king cakes are eaten, and tradition says that if you find the plastic baby in your piece of cake, you purchase next year’s king cake. Mardi Gras societies or krewes, organize elaborate balls and parades and have done so in the Mississippi Delta states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi since before statehood.

This year’s economic downturn, political disquiet, and societal ills can be put on hold for a while as we immerse ourselves in celebrating Mardi Gras on February 21st.  Here in Benicia we can celebrate Fat Tuesday by visiting any friendly bar down on First Street or elsewhere in Benicia.   Deliciously fruity Hurricanes, made with both light and dark rum, or a Ramos Gin Fizz that tastes like a creamy lemon meringue pie are the perfect tonic to this seasonal malaise.  The official New Orleans cocktail is the Sazerac that contains cognac, whiskey, and absinthe.  Dating from the mid-1800s, this powerful concoction features absinthe, an anise flavored, pale green liqueur that was banned in the United States from 1912 until 2007.  Absinthe is also featured in Death in the Afternoon, a champagne and absinthe concoction made famous by the renowned writer and imbiber, Ernest Hemingway.

Although many Benician restaurants feature one or two Cajun and/or Creole menu items, one restaurant specializes in this unique and tasty cuisine.

The Workshop offers a takeout lunch from 11:00-2:30 Tuesday through Friday and 8:00-2:30 on Saturdays.  Several tables provide outside seating, but takeaway is more popular.  There are two drawbacks to this restaurant, but they are easily overcome. First, no liquor is served.  Second, there is only takeout, and they close at 2:30.  However, they do cater, or you can always take your food home and prepare a favorite drink.  The Workshop features a special each day: Wednesday is jambalaya with fresh cornbread, and Friday is authentic and delicious gumbo.  Po’Boy sandwiches are available every day and include brisket, fried shrimp or fried oysters. The Cajun chicken pot pie has had rave reviews, and there is talk of some special dishes and desserts for Mardi Gras!

Even though we might not be able to travel to New Orleans, Rio, or Venice, Italy to enjoy Mardi Gras this year, we can always celebrate here in Benicia and share a good time with friends.  Let the good times roll!