The King Cake: Crowning Jewel of My Heart

 I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana at The Touro Infirmary during the month of February. Those born in that month do suckle breast milk or even get formula from a bottle, but rather we

 I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana at The Touro Infirmary during the month of February. Those born in that month do suckle breast milk or even get formula from a bottle, but rather we NOLA natives also fall out of our mother’s womb cavity gnawing King Cake clutched in our tightly clenched fists.  It’s simply the way you survive when you are born into this magical city during this incredible season.

Although tradition does dictate eating King Cake on January 6 each year in honor of Twelfth Night marking the arrival of three wise men who delivered gifts to Baby Jesus, nowadays, King Cake is a food group at the beginning of each New Year. You see, King Cake is tattooed into our hippocampus at birth and whether your teeth have been extracted, subtracted, or capped as shiny as a Harry Winston diamond, we natives all have a sweet tooth that twinges distinctly for this delicious celebratory confection.

In the 1960’s, King Cake was an oval-shaped braided cake with cinnamon tucked inside the braids and the top coated with icing, sprinkled with gold, green and purple sugar on top. Inside…surprise! Placed deeply within the sweet bread-like layers is a plastic baby Jesus. Whoever got the baby after cutting the cake, had to host the next King Cake party. Of course, some never admitted to it and some ended up cracking a tooth.

Image from www.pinterest.com

But it’s Carnival Time 2019 and the lowly little braided cake has morphed into the “ultimate extreme King Cake.”  It is even better now, ooh, hunny yes I said it, than ricotta-and-chocolate-stuffed pastries in Rome. Forget cinnamon and sugar, we natives now live in the fast lane for King Cake favorites. Since Katrina, some mad scientists have entered King Cake World. There’s apple and goat cheese King Cake, bananas and bacon King Cake, chocolate and peanut butter flavored, or simply puffed pastry with uber decadent almond filling (better known as gallete des rois). And the plastic baby can be cradled in dozens of addictive flavors.

This romance I have with my city has made me resilient against unprepared horrors in life awaiting me such as Katrina, when I lost everything except memories and later, a serious cancer diagnosis. Living a lifetime in this amazing, paranormal place called “The Big Easy “fashioned a coat of armor of sorts around me – I learned early to savor the finest “poor man’s foods” like okra, red beans, rice, sausage, French bread, Chicory coffee, pralines and the everyman’s blues and jazz were my lullabies. But it all began with a sliver of King Cake. It made me strong and invincible.

You can’t possibly grow up in the 1960’s in NOLA as a child catching glass bead strands from floats, seeing risqué costumes in the French Quarter, eating hot dogs (heavy on the mustard) from the hot dog cart on Bourbon Street and taking to the streets each carnival wearing masks and jester outfits without having survival skills. Carnival is a sacred time in my life each year. Most of the NOLA population didn’t even work several weeks before Mardi Gras. Who can work when there are more important things to be done: What will be my costume? Gotta stock up on red beans and rice and Bourbon for friends and parade goers stopping by unexpectedly! Must coordinate the parade schedule! Ooooh, child, have we run out of gold spray paint? Throw the furniture in one room of the house and make an instant dance floor for we natives start dancing before we walk and our rhythm keeps our bodies strong as we age! No one nevah evah stands still during carnival.

When my colorful, exciting world came to a halt after my ovarian cancer diagnosis, creating art became my therapy. As the child of a Carnival Ball Captain, I had always been surrounded by fabulous fabrics, sequins, marabou and bouffant wigs. Those memories helped me pass the time during 6-hour chemo intervals. I loved Voodoo and drag and was inspired by the fabrics my mother used to design costumes. So with that in mind and an exhausted body, I used all those remnants and created whimsical art with a twist of the weird. In spite of cancer, the spirit of New Orleans was in my DNA. Every piece of art I created had a remnant of my turban fabrics that I wore while bald. I created drag queen kitchen bitches that would bring good juju to a home. There were sequined bug critters and alligators coated with beads and stones from streets of New Orleans long ago. Each art piece I constructed had to have smeared lipstick and a mani-pedi, after all, it was not a time to be refine.  (You can see some of my creations on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/KREWEOFODDITIES and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/familysequins/)

So even though life has led me away from my beloved city, I can still smell the sweet and savory aroma anywhere in the world when I think about King Cake. I’ve ever yet met a river as angry and mean as The Mississippi. There has never been jazz since I moved. Never in another city had I felt that emotional high or excitement. So, with this said, put NOLA on your bucket list in RED. You can’t relocate to your celestial transformation without knowing you had the best time of your life in New Orleans.

 

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Cindy Small
Cindy Small arrived in N. Alabama following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A native of New Orleans, she graduated from Tulane University with an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Masters in Historic Preservation Studies. She spends her spare time writing a weekly “Spotlight” column for The Decatur Daily as well as reading her non-fiction short stories on NPR. Published in various literary journals, her writings are always humorous added with a speck of arsenic.