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A Big Easy King Cake for Mardi Gras in California

After my family, what I miss most about Louisiana is the food and the rich traditions behind it. Like making pralines after picking pecans in the fall, or boiling a sack of crawfish for a backyard party in the spring, or making gumbo the day after Thanksgiving with the turkey carcass. For me, these are all family traditions.

But there’s one Louisiana food tradition that I associate with the workplace, not home: the King Cake. In the Louisiana French tradition, Carnival season begins at the Feast of Epiphany (aka Three Kings Day) and runs through Mardi Gras (aka Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lenten fasting begins). During Carnival season, no party was considered complete without a King Cake, a sweet bread sprinkled with sugar with a bean hidden inside. The lucky party-goer who was served the slice of cake with the bean was tasked with throwing the next Carnival party. Are you still with me? I realize this is not a mainstream American tradition.

King Cake

This tradition continues today among circles of friends and in workplaces, although the bean has evolved into a tiny plastic baby. When I was a student working on the LSU campus, our boss brought a King Cake the Friday after Epiphany, then whoever got the baby brought the cake the next Friday and so on until Mardi Gras.

The good news for the person who drew the baby is that King Cakes are easy to buy at bakeries back home. The bad news for me is that I’ve only found one place that sells them in the Bay Area and it’s in San Francisco, and they’re by special order only. A long way to go for a cake plus the challenge of carrying it home on a bike.

For years I’ve toyed with the idea of baking my own, but the traditional recipes sounded like too much work and the easy recipes using place-and-bake cinnamon rolls sounded too sweet. This year I tried again, googling “easy king cake” and behold! An easy recipe with a cream cheese filling and a touch of lemon that passed my discriminating standards. Start to finish, including rising, was about 90 minutes.

Even though I knew my co-workers wouldn’t know what it was, I baked a King Cake and on Mardi Gras last week I brought it to work on my bike. A dish draining rack tied down to my bike’s rear rack made the perfect King Cake basket. All that was missing was the toy baby. For that, there’s always next year.

Do you have traditional holiday foods from back home that aren’t common where you’re living today? Do you cook them yourself or drive far or mail order to get them?

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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Bike Crafts, Recipes

 

Bike Crafts: Panniers from Reusable Grocery Bags

When you want answers, go to a librarian. They don’t know everything, but they know how to find out about everything. Even in the internet age, librarians have the Google-fu to get the information to get the job done, quickly and accurately. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that librarian Emily already had project plans for making bike panniers when she asked me to help at a Shop by Bike program at the Mountain View Library.

After Dick & I lead a discussion on how to get started shopping by bike (with our bikes as assistants), Emily launched into the craft portion of the workshop. By taking two standard reusable grocery bags and doing some snipping, stitching, gluing and tying, the crafty folks in the group went home with a pair of inexpensive but effective panniers. They turned out pretty impressive for about $5 in materials and 30 minutes of work.

A small tie or ponytail band can be used hold the outer handles in place for security.

Emily shared her instructions with me so that I could share them with you. The finished result will fit almost any bike with a standard rear rack with a platform top and a supporting frame on both sides of the wheel.

Materials & Equipment

  • 2 reusable fabric grocery bags
  • 2 pieces of flexible but sturdy plastic, cut to fit upright inside the bags
  • Scissors, straight pins, tape measure or ruler (optional)
  • Sewing machine
  • Hot glue gun
  • 1 or 2 small bungee cords

Step by Step Instructions (click on photos for close-ups)

There are lots of suggestions for modifying or improving this project on this bike forum.

Have you ever crafted your own bike panniers or bags? If so, how did you do it? What would you change in your next iteration of the design?

 
5 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Bike Crafts

 

Bike Crafts: Decorations to Keep the Holidays Rolling

In late January years ago I visited my friend Molly at her flat in Brooklyn, New York. As we strolled through her neighborhood I noticed that rowhouse after rowhouse was decorated for Valentine’s Day: red electric lights, heart cut-outs in the windows and roses. “It starts at Halloween,” Molly explained, “and then it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, then it keeps going to Valentine’s, St Patrick’s and Easter. It’s a Carroll Gardens tradition.”

While I have always decorated for Christmas, I chuckled at the over-the-top holiday exuberance. But that was before I bought my city bikes. Now it seems I’m weaving streamers and mounting lights on my bikes with every holiday, including pseudo-holidays like Superbowl Sunday. I guess my bikes bring out the kid in me.

SF 49ers

The decorations don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but they have to stay on when the bike is moving without endangering the rider. So far I have 100% success in that department, unless you count ripping the crepe paper woven in my spokes when pumping my tires.

While decorating a bike is like a kid’s craft project where almost anything goes, here are my top tips:

  • For virtually free decorations, grab images off the internet and scale and print them on card stock.
  • If you shop at a party store, set a budget before you go in. It’s easy to overspend.
  • If you ride after dark, battery operated lights punch up whatever else you do.
  • Zip ties are the #1 way to attach things, but sticky backed Velcro, rubber bands and ordinary tape work too.

If you want the full how-to and great ideas, check out Sophie’s 12 Ways to Gussy Your Bike. Need a reason to decorate after Valentine’s, St Patrick’s and Easter? Cycle SF is having a costume contest on April 28 as part of their organized ride on vehicle-free streets around San Francisco.

What’s the best bike decoration theme you’ve seen? What’s the most innovative or unusual decoration you’ve added to your bike?

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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Bike Crafts

 
 
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