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Host a Big and Easy Mardi Gras Party as featured on MSN

By: Martie Duncan
Photos: Arden Photography

Break out the beads, it’s Mardi Gras! You may not have the parades, floats, Krewes, and crowds of New Orleans, but you can still have the best of Mardi Gras right in your home---the music, the mood, the food, and all the fun! Hosting a Mardi Gras party is painless because all the components are easy to find or make. We planned our party in just two days. You can, too, even if you’ve never been to “Nawleans.”

Party Basics: Food and Decorations
Gumbo and boiled shrimp can easily be made in large quantities so this is one of the best party themes for a big crowd. We found everything we needed at the grocery. We picked up boiled shrimp and bottled cocktail sauce from the seafood counter. Keep an extra set of bowls and ice in the kitchen. Instead of replenishing the shrimp at the buffet, use a caterer’s trick and replace the entire bowl.

There are two kinds of gumbo: Cajun and Creole. Cajun is darker in color and never contains tomatoes. We found this shrimp and sausage gumbo loaded with authentic Creole flavor in the frozen seafood section. Add a dash or two of Louisiana hot sauce for some extra kick and they’ll never know you didn’t work on your roux all afternoon. We had to educate the deli counter on the art of the muffeletta sandwich: a round loaf of Italian bread sliced in half, scooped out, then slathered with a thick layer of olive salad and stuffed until overflowing with several different meats and cheeses. One run down the rice aisle for boil-in-bag rice (who knew?) and we were all set. Scout in advance to make sure you can find everything. If you can’t, here’s a quick gumbo recipe that isn’t difficult or time consuming. You can make this recipe the day before the party and assemble the rest on party day. One bite foods are always a good idea for a party. Fried oysters are eaten like popcorn shrimp and best served piping hot. Dunk them in a horseradish cocktail sauce so spicy your eyes will water or use them for traditional New Orleans style po’boy sandwiches.

The decorations were even easier than the food. Balloons, string lights, feathered masks, and beads were inexpensive and readily available in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Hand out or toss brightly colored beads from a party supply or specialty store to guests as they arrive. Buy lots of different colors and styles so each guest may wear multiple stands; they put everyone in a party mood! Find unique beads at Emardigrasbeads.com. We found a Bourbon Street sign and street lights at a rental store to complete the feel of the French Quarter. Oriental Trading Company has a great selection of Mardi Gras essentials.

Entertainment
Ask a few musician friends or call your local college for students to play Dixieland jazz as guests arrive to set the mood and bring the flavor of the Big Easy to your living room. Move back or remove most of the large pieces of furniture so guests can parade New Orleans style as they enter your version of the French Quarter. Jazz, blues, and the unique sounds of Zydeco are a big part of any Mardi Gras celebration. Make a playlist of traditional favorites and don’t forget native sons Harry Connick, Jr., Aaron Neville, Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Wynton Marsalis.

Make sure to have a designated photographer on hand to capture the festivities no matter how simple or casual the party may be. You’ll want quality pictures to print and to share. And sharing photos keeps the party going via email for weeks after it is all over, too!

Now you’re all set to join the world’s largest party from the comfort of your own home. No middle seat or layover in Atlanta required!

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Martie Duncan offers ideas for affordable parties, weddings and entertaining and her tips for fabulous but frugal parties can be found on MSN.
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