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Mardi Gras Celebration - From Decorating to Dinner In Minutes

I must admit, Fat Tuesday has crept up on me this year. Yes, I’ve seen photos of New Orleans revelers in the newspaper and there’s a Mardi Gras parade in town this week, but my calendar is pretty packed, so it’s still going to be a last-minute celebration in our house.
 
Nevertheless, celebrate we will, for I take every opportunity to turn everyday meals into a mini-occasion. A few decorations, a recipe that features the flavors of New Orleans, a bit of candlelight to make things sparkle and voila! Instant Mardi Gras!
 
The decorations are easy. I have a colorful selection of masks I’ve acquired through the years, most recently during a trip to New Orleans for a culinary conference. The masks create a festive display on the breakfast room table, and with the addition of Mardi Gras beads and a 9-foot gold, green and royal purple tinsel garland I purchased during my last visit to a party store, along with a sprinkle of gold confetti from the stash I always keep on hand, the table will be decorated in no time. Hint: Purchase small bags of confetti in multiple colors and themes whenever they go on sale. When you need a bit of festivity for a birthday, promotion at the office, or someone who needs cheering up, scatter confetti on the table, hang curling ribbon from the chandelier, and light some candles. It’s a party-in-minutes!
 
To create the Mardi Gras tablesetting you see pictured here and on my homepage, I first gathered all my Mardi Gras decorations together so I could see what I had to work with. Remembering the green woven placemats I bought for summer gatherings, I knew they would complement the green garland and Mardi Gras beads, so these became the foundation for each place setting. Jumbo gold chargers came next, topped with smaller purple chargers and casual gold stoneware dinner plates. I accented the setting with inexpensive green water glasses, used to hold loosely-gathered napkins garnished with strands of beads. A single strand of beads was nestled into wine goblets for guests to place around their necks once they were seated.  Green glass votive holders and pale green tapers in crystal holders completed the tablesetting. Total time? About 15 minutes.
 
With such a beautiful table, everyone will have a grand time so the menu can be quite simple. I cooked a huge pot of spicy chicken gumbo topped with jumbo shrimp last month and we invited several friends to share it with us. (The busy woman in me is thinking, “Too bad I didn’t freeze some for this week”!) So, I’m thinking Jambalaya with chicken and elk sausage would be quick and tasty for this festive Fat Tuesday celebration with a Rocky Mountain twist. To make this easy, traditional dish, I sauté chicken strips, sausage, green bell pepper, celery, and onion together in a tablespoon of canola oil until the vegetables are crisp-tender; then add in Cajun seasonings and Tabasco sauce to give the dish some heat. I pour in chicken broth and long grain rice, cover, and cook the mixture until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Served with a green salad and a loaf of artisan bread, the jambalaya is a perfect solution to a last-minute Mardi Gras celebration. Enjoy!
 
-Christy