Best Guests: entertaining Mardi Gras visitors is an art
The Christmas lights are down, you drag your tree outside and you’re finally over the holidays. Then, as you close the front door, the phone rings.
“Hi, this is Melanie,” says the voice on the other end of the line. “You remember me from the second grade? I was the one with braids. I’m coming to New Orleans this year for Mardi Gras and I was wondering if we could stay with you.”
“We” being the unknown. “We” turns into every pillow and blanket you own under or on someone you have never met who’s now sleeping on your floor.
So, you have no hot water for your shower, you can’t move your car out of the driveway and you’ve got a house full of ravenous out-of-towners. Here are some ways to get through Mardi Gras and still have fun!
Food is the first thing everyone wants as soon as they get in from a parade. Restaurants are always a good option if you plan ahead, but they are usually really crowded and require long waits. We cook big pots of food that are easy to serve such as red beans, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya and gumbo. These dishes can be cooked weeks in advance and frozen. Serve this with French bread and a salad and you have a meal.
We also keep lots of sliced roast beef, ham and turkey in our fridge. Also, chicken or tuna salad is great to have on hand. I send my husband to the store everyday for French bread, because po-boys are quick and easy to put together and your guests can handle this on their own if you’re not around. Other quick tips for food are yogurt and bagels for breakfast as well as fruit and cereal. On Mardi Gras day, we have the traditional New Orleans meal: cold fried chicken. We pick up chicken the night before. If you have time, there is nothing better than cold home-fried chicken.
In addition to food, our guests frequently are in need of toiletries and other essentials. That’s why we always keep little bottles of shampoo and other stuff from various hotels and airplane trips in a basket. When we are expecting loads of guests, we put together little packages of things people may forget to bring, including shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, lip balm, aspirin and lotion. This saves a stop at the drugstore as you are dashing to a parade. We also keep extra pillows and blankets cleaned and ready in case your college roommate’s teenage son arrives in town and hasn’t arranged for accommodations.
We make sure our guests attend as many night parades as possible. This gives us a couple of free hours to do laundry, catch up with our family or just do nothing. If we have enough advance notice, we try to get our guests to make reservations for a few nights at one of our many great eateries. We also reserve tickets to live music events. One thing we finally figured out is to encourage guests to rent cars if they fly in so that we don’t have to chauffeur them around.
The real key is to do as much as you can ahead of time. You don’t want to miss every parade or not enjoy carnival. Seeing old friends during one of the city’s premier events can be fun if you just make sure your guests have activities independent of yours and you take the time to prepare for their arrival.