Friday, March 4, 2011

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

IMG_0824 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

During the week between Christmas and New Year, one hundred of our closest relatives descended upon New Orleans for a big family reunion. I learned during this trip that rather than taking down the Christmas tree and relegating to it to the sidewalk, a true New Orleanian simply replaces the Christmas ornaments with Mardi Gras beads. The tree's next incarnation is symbolic of the seamless transition from Christmas and New Year's straight into Mardi Gras season. It seemed à propos then, that George Schiaffino led a small group of his cousins to Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World.

Blaine Kern is the self-proclaimed "Mr. Mardi Gras" and biggest float manufacturer in the world. His warehouse is open to the public and showcases the larger-than-life props used on Mardi Gras parade floats.

IMG_0809 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

A closer examination of the props reveals the foam interior of these sculptures. 

IMG_0810 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

Our tour guide explained that production begins with the sculptured blanks.

IMG_0822 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

The vast majority of the blanks are made of polystyrene because it is economical and easily tailored with a small chainsaw.

Designers dress the sculpture using styrofoam sheets.

Next comes the layer of color. Sometimes texture is applied in sheets...

IMG_0818 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

...but other times life is breathed into the characters with a masterful application of paint.

IMG_0851 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

IMG_0847 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

The characters are then installed into the float, complete with a throne for the guest of honor.

IMG_0846 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

The warehouse has no shortage of float accessories to complete the look and also to hide the mechanics of the vehicle.

IMG_0821 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

Floats are commissioned by Mardi Gras krewes. A krewe (pronounced "crew") is the organization that produces a parade and ball for the Carnival season. Historically, only the privileged were allowed to join a krewe. With a desire to serve the general populace, the Krewes of Endymion and Bacchus marked the dawn of a new era by dropping the requirement to be part of the New Orleans social elite. Blaine Kern rose to the occasion when Owen "Pip" Brennan, Jr., Captain of the Bacchus Krewe, told him: "We want the biggest. We want the best."

IMG_0829 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

IMG_0843 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

Today, the Kern family runs an empire that creates floats for parades all over the world...

IMG_0849 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

 ...including this one for the Orpheus Krewe.

IMG_0844 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

The Kerns work with the krewes, drawing inspiration from Hollywood pop culture...

IMG_0807 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

IMG_0848 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

...but also from the stories Blaine Kern heard in his childhood, like those from the Bible...

IMG_0845 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

...ancient history...

IMG_0806 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

...or Asian folklore.

IMG_0834 Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World

This coming Tuesday will be Mardi Gras, followed by forty days of Lent. Lent is possibly the only time in New Orleans without a big celebration, but don't worry, everyone can look forward to the New Orleans Jazz Fest the weekend after Easter.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Favorite Beverages of the Winter 2011 Fancy Food Show

IMG_2133 Vignette Wine Country Soda

Judging from the number of beverages Tracy and I chose to taste at the Winter Fancy Food Show, I must conclude that we must have been very thirsty. Here is a sampling of our favorites.

Vignette Wine Country Soda

If you are looking for a sophisticated alternative to sparkling cider, Vignette Wine Country Soda is an elegant solution. This non-alcoholic, sparkling soda is made with pinot noir or chardonnay wine grapes.

IMG_2130 Vignette Wine Country Soda

It has a clean, refreshing taste that is not overly carbonated and not too sweet. In fact, it has no added sugar and does not contain the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup.

IMG_2131 Vignette Wine Country Soda

The rosé  has a gorgeous bright color and would be perfect to serve for a baby shower. The mother-to-be can still join in the fun and drink her "wine".

Beer Salt

Image from Twang

I remember the first time I was in Mexico, a local bartender instructed me to lick salt sprinkled on top of my closed fist before drinking a swig of beer and then finishing it off by biting into a wedge of lime. This trifecta comingled into a perfect burst of flavors. Twang has now offers tiny six-packs of lime-flavored salts designed to be sprinkled directly onto the neck of the beer bottle. No more sticky hands and lime pulp between the teeth.

They also carry a line of very attractive rimming salts. I would love to try the Sour Apple or the Bloody Mary Chili Lime sea salt flavors. 

IMG_2121 Beer Salt

IMG_2123 Cocktail Sugar

Republic of Tea

Mel and Patricia Ziegler didn't rest on their laurels after they sold The Banana Republic to The Gap. In fact, they decided to move mountains of tea leaves when they founded The Republic of Tea in 1992. The company's current Minister of Tea, Ron Rubin, continues to run the highly successful business in a socially and environmentally responsible fashion.

IMG_2134 Republic of Tea

With close to 250 items in their product line, there is a tea to suit even the most selective tea lovers.

IMG_2136 Republic of Tea

Sportastic Sports Drink

IMG_2129 Sportastic

We didn't get a chance to taste the Sportastic sports drink, but Tracy and I are looking forward to recommending this attractive drink to a client for an upcoming bar mitzvah with a baseball theme. Fortified with B vitamins and with only 4 grams of sugar, instead of Gatorade's or Powerade's 35 grams, the parents should be pleased with this healthier alternative.

One Fresh Cup Coffee

IMG_2115 One Fresh Cup

One Fresh Cup is the ideal product for the any traveler to kick-start a morning with a great cup of coffee in the hotel room. The disposable, built-in filter makes it convenient to brew a cuppa from real ground coffee, which I'm sure will taste far superior to drinking dissolved instant coffee granules. I was most impressed that they offered  my favorite coffee variety, Sumatra, along with my husband's favorite, French  Roast. I can't wait to try my Sumatra sample on my next trip.

Now that I'm fully hydrated, I'm going to look for something to eat.
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