For an impromptu dinner party this weekend, I needed a theme. Luckily, Mardi Gras is right around the corner and what's more fun than carnival? With only a few hours to throw it together, I reminded myself that it didn't have to be perfect and that it could be simple. So I gave myself a budget of $20 at the 99cent store and scored these quite lovely masks, a bag of feathers and (thank god) Mardi Gras beads. Fifteen minutes of scattering the infamous beads onto a few cake stands, plus, feathery masks at each place setting, and, voila, a very festive and colorful table. For dinner, a cornmeal crusted fried oyster, served on a bed of spicy greens, was inspired by the po'boys Greg and I enjoyed in New Orleans. Then a quick sautee of diced celery, peppers & onion (the heavenly Southern trinity) with tomatoes and shrimp--paired with cheddar-enhanced instant grits--yielded a New Orleans classic. Finally, to represent the theatrics of the parade: flaming bananas foster. And what would a Mardi Gras celebration be without some cocktails? Greg and I drank our fair share in the big easy (truth: we did little other than stumble around the French Quarter) so I went with our favorite--a classic--the Sazerac. As tempting as a Hurricane was (cocktail, not Katrina), I wanted to spare my friends the inevitable Hurricane hangover. Just having masks made the night silly & fun and really reminded me that a little goes a long way. I hope this inspires a batch of gumbo or shrimp & grits for Tuesday...there's always something to celebrate. It makes life more fun.