4 Steps to the Best Mardi Gras Party Ever!

Down in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras season leading up to Lent culminates on Fat Tuesday with colorful parties, rowdy parades, and loads of good, soul-satisfying Cajun and Creole food. Get in on the fun: Follow our simple tips, rally some friends, and let the revelry begin.  

Create a custom playlist. For a true Mardi Gras bash, say no to contemporary pop. Instead, embrace the sounds of Louisiana and include lots of New Orleans–style jazz and blues. 

For décor, think: bright! Paper garlands, feather boas, and anything shiny (including crowns, strings of beads, and masks) hit the mark. Be sure to look for the classic Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold, which represent justice, faith, and power, respectively. (Party stores have surprisingly large Mardi Gras selections.) Before guests arrive, light a few candles to fill your home with a lively, fresh scent and set the mood with ambient light.

Cook like a Cajun. Serve spicy boiled crawfish or bite-size crab cakes, and steamed rice with Louisiana-style gumbo that’s loaded with chicken, sausage, and shrimp. Wash it all down with traditional or alcohol-free Hurricanes, the cocktail of choice on Bourbon Street. Don’t get the blues over a messy cleanup—toss dirty napkins and aprons in the wash with a great smelling detergent with stain boosters and revel in the super clean, nose-pleasing results.

Serve a royal treat. The signature Mardi Gras dessert is a ring-shape cake—called a “king cake”—covered in white icing and colored sugar. Traditionally, a tiny plastic baby is hidden inside. The guest who gets the slice with the baby in it has certain obligations, like buying next year’s cake, and also gets some VIP treatment, like being crowned the king or queen of the fête. Ask your local bakery if they’ll make one, or bake one yourself!

Hibernation Nation!

Ah, winter. The frigid temps, the icy roads, the post-holiday malaise—all fantastic reasons to stay home. But if you fear the cabin fever that comes with too many days spent indoors, these ideas will keep you busy all season long (or at least through the next snowstorm).

Binge watch a TV series. Between white-knuckle thrillers, charming period dramas and coming-of-age comedies, the small screen is really good right now. Take advantage—and turn it into a social affair—by inviting your neighbors over for a TV marathon. Provide blankets and comfort food (caramel corn drizzled with dark chocolate, anyone?).

Serve breakfast for dinner. Prepare everyone’s favorite a.m. meal, but have them do their part too: Each family member must come to the table dressed in their wackiest sleepwear. (Extra bacon for the zaniest PJs!)

Get your craft on. Pull out the glitter glue and construction paper and let your kids create. Make a snowman out of an old cereal box, or help your kids learn about reading temperatures and then make a thermometer out of Popsicle sticks, toothpicks, and glue.

Tackle a project you’ve been putting off. Hey, you’ve got all afternoon! Why not start that jigsaw puzzle that’s been sitting in the box for months (and months!), or pick up your knitting needles and begin that hat you’ve been meaning to make? Or simply grab a blanket and a hot mug of something, and curl up with the book you’ve been trying to read for months.

Date Night—No Reservations Required

 

DIY Pizza Night

 

 

Turn the kitchen into a pizzeria, complete with drippy wax candles and checkered tablecloths. Make individual pizzas to suit your tastes. You’ll need some toppings separated into bowls (try a variety of sauces, cheeses, veggies and fruit, and meats), two portions of dough, and two baking sheets or pizza stones. To make your own dough, plan ahead one hour so it has time to rise, or take the easy way out and buy it at your grocery store. Once you’ve kneaded out the dough (don’t worry about a perfect circle) and topped the rounds with your choice of ingredients, pop them into the oven and wait for the crusts to start to brown and the cheese to bubble. Presto!

 

 

 

His & Hers Double Feature

 

 

He picks his movie. She picks hers. Before you press play, make popcorn and set out other theater-style snacks to munch on during the movies. Bring out plenty of blankets and pillows for the couch before you settle in for the evening. Throw on a comfy sweater and a pair of soft leggings.

 

 

Game On

 

 

Games aren’t just for kids—kick date night up a notch with some healthy competition. Think: poker, a silly truth-or-dare board game, a video game; as long as you’ll laugh over it, it’s perfect. Lay a soft blanket on the floor and set out the games. Keep score on a pad of paper—loser has dish duty!

 

 

Break a Sweat

 

 

Don your play clothes for this date night. After all, a couple that sweats together stays together, right? Warm up with a short jog around the neighborhood to get the blood pumping. Then return to the house to attack your list of moves. Try a rotation of jumping jacks, sit-ups, lunges, push-ups, and planks. Take turns holding each other’s legs steady during the sit-ups. Finish the workout with a few soothing yoga moves, focusing on breathing and form, and relax with a post-workout snack.

 

 

Picnic Indoors

 

 

Bring the picnic inside during the cold winter months (and leave the ants behind). Cozy up on the floor—no shoes allowed—on a pallet of blankets and pillows. Pack a picnic basket with your dining essentials, including cheese, fresh fruit, and fresh bread. Feel free to feed each other. Yes it’s goofy, but it’s not something you’d do with just anyone. Fill an ice bucket with the beverages of your choice so there’s no running back and forth to the kitchen. If you’re able to set up by a fireplace, bring s’mores supplies for a yummy treat. Use shish kebab skewers to toast the marshmallows, and keep a stack of chocolate bars and graham crackers in the picnic basket.

 

Crazy for Cocoa?

When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing like a steaming mug of cocoa to warm you up and lift any winter blahs. For a real treat, give the classic homemade version a try. Start by heating four cups of milk (whole milk, skim, or try almond milk) in a saucepan, then whisk in 10 ounces of your favorite sweetened chocolate baking bar, cut into small pieces (chocolate chips work, too). When the chocolate melts, pour into four mugs and serve.

Once you’ve mastered the classic version, kick it up with different flavors.

• Stir a half teaspoon of vanilla extract or a tablespoon of a chocolate-hazelnut spread into the pot.

• Like mint? Place a candy cane in each mug as a stirrer.

• Sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a dash of ground nutmeg—both of which are loaded with health-protective antioxidants—into your mug.

• Perk up the flavor (and your brain) by adding a shot of espresso.

• Keep your eye out for bakeries that sell flavored gourmet marshmallows for a flashy, yummy finishing touch.

Sounds good, right? Just be sure to enjoy it in your cup, not on your shirt. If you do spill your cocoa, simply rinse the stain in cold water as soon as possible, then pour liquid laundry detergent directly on the stain and let it set for 20 minutes. Afterwards, wash the garment in warm water with liquid laundry detergent. Taking your cocoa to go in a thermos? Tuck a stain remover in your bag, to be safe. Before treating any garment, refer to the instructions on the care label. Always test the solution on a hidden area first. If treating washable silk or wool, follow basic instructions, but hand wash.

Incoming Holiday Guests! 5 Ways to Prep the House

 

Sweet dreams

 

 

Holiday travel can be exhausting. Spread some cheer by providing a warm, comfortable place for weary travelers to rest their heads. Launder the bedsheets and guest towels so they’re fresh, soft, and warmly scented. Does the comforter need refreshing? After washing, slip a scented fabric softener sheet into the dryer with it. 

 

 

Comfort test

 

 

Before everyone arrives, spend a night in your own guestroom. There’s no better way to gauge whether the room is too hot or too cold, evaluate the comfort level of the mattress (just right or way too lumpy?), and get the general feel of the room. Take note of how sunny it is in the morning. If it’s blindingly bright at 6 a.m., you may want to invest in blinds or curtains. If you can hear the kids shouting through the walls at oh dark thirty, you may need to institute a quiet rule while guests are in residence. Go the extra mile and leave an alarm clock, magazines, and a few bottles of water on the bedside table.

 

 

Hospitality 101

 

 

You’ve scrubbed the floors, dusted every room, and vacuumed up the pine needles on the carpet, but anticipating the items that guests might appreciate while they’re away from home is the sign of a truly thoughtful host. Have backup toiletries, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, sample-size shampoos, and liquid soap, available for visitors who may have forgotten to pack something. Keep cozy throws for snuggling in living areas and bedrooms, and leave an index card with your Wi-Fi code for guests. Bonus points for having puzzles or coloring books for kids.

 

 

Holiday Central: the kitchen

 

 

What are the holidays without delicious treats and goodies? Supplement the cookies and sweets with graze-friendly snacks your guests can help themselves to. Homemade baked goods are easy to self-serve (a buttery pound cake or crumb cake can be breakfast, a snack, or dessert). A large wedge of cheese everyone can slice and enjoy is smart; include fruit, crackers, and a basket of snack-size chips and pretzels for kids, as well as coffee, teas, and an assortment of bottled water and sodas.

 

 

Party time

 

 

Plan for a fun activity that gets everyone together. Let your family’s interests be the guide: Cook a large meal together, pull out a favorite board game (or a new one to level the playing field), schedule an outing to a local museum or park, or go sledding if the weather allows.