This is the time of year that I become highly unfocused and slightly annoyed. As a transplant to Saratoga from New Orleans, I feel it is my inalienable right to enjoy myself during the Carnival season, but unfortunately, it’s a time of year that goes relatively uncelebrated here in upstate New York.
Despite what you might see on the Travel Channel, the whole season isn’t just fraternity brothers drinking on Bourbon Street. It’s actually one of the best all-inclusive community celebrations on earth. There’s parades, families costuming, eating great food, and joining together before Lent. You find yourself talking to folks you never met before while waiting for the parades to roll. Real fun, real community.
One of the greatest community memories revolve around king cakes, those round sugary coffee cakes loaded with purple, green and gold sugar. When I worked at a furniture manufacturer, hotelier, restaurant, and contractor uptown (a classic New Orleanian company) there was an elderly bookkeeper named Evie. She was from da’parish (Chalmette) and insisted there be king cake all carnival long. Not only was there to be king cake every day, but she would prefer
you purchase yours from Randazzos, also in Chalmette. Yeah, she was picky, but she was such a classic southern lady and hard to resist. I made the long drive to Chalmette to buy the right king cake when I “got the baby”, meaning it was my turn to buy. Once I bought one from Mackenzies, a since closed New Orleans bakery, and it was cheese filled. I never heard the end of it from dear old Evie. For seven years she reminded me not to buy those nasty things from Mackenzies.
Every year I hear tales told of some places in the upstate area making king cakes, and I wait and try to find one on Lundi Gras. One local bakery will make one if you pre-order, but I’ve yet to figure out when the pre-ordering is, and after 4 years, they still never make an extra or want to tell me when I might need to pre-order to get one. Their loss.
I’ve also heard tales told that some Price Choppers make them, and last night I almost missed it when I was “makin’ groceries”, but saw this on the way out.
Yes, pretty anemic. Not the exciting brightly sugared cake I was looking for, but still. It said “cream cheese” on the package, so I figured it had cream cheese filling. Not Evie’s cup of gumbo, but good enough. This morning, I was so excited for that Fat Tuesday bite, I cut into it, and nothing. No filling, no cinnamon. Just a round hunk of bread with some frosting. Not how I wanted to bring my co-workers into this community tradition.
By 8:45, my hopes were dashed, and the parade photos started rolling in via Facebook. I am working on Mardi Gras and my king cake is a bust?
Enter Rick and Olga Gile. We had discussed the king cake tradition in the previous weeks, and they had mentioned seeing them at Bella Napoli. And there it was, a lovely, beautifully decorated king cake!
The frosting was a multi-colored drizzle, a little New York affectation, but the taste was right. The look was right. The dough was hand rolled. At last, Fat Tuesday in New York was happening, and the best part of the carnival season was alive and well in upstate New York!