“Ok, you can open your eyes.”
The sunlit sidewalk in front of New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery reappears, and I blink in the brightness. Nash slides the plate toward me across the table. On top of it is something that looks like a donut covered in a drizzle of bright frosting. Purple, green, and gold – Mardis Gras colors.
I twirl the fork between my fingers as I pick my entry point before stabbing in. Nothing but delicious raspberry and cream cheese filling. Same with the next few forkfuls.
My concentrated eating is interrupted by a sing-songy bellow: “I HAVE BANAAANAAAS! I HAVE GOOD BROC-CO-LI!”
A colorful truck pulls up across the street, driven by a gray-bearded black man chanting into a loudspeaker. “Mr. Okra”, the side of the truck says, along with what I assume is his slogan: “Be nice or leave!”
Someone emerges from one of the shotgun homes and starts loading fruit directly from his tree into Mr. Okra’s truck. Mr. Okra continues to sing the names of all his fruits and veggies, and the women at the table next to us jump up to buy some.
By the time Mr. Okra’s song fades away, my cake has dwindled down to a sliver. I’m getting suspicious.
“Is it even in here?” I eye Nash. “Or did you pocket it to trick me into eating the whole thing?”
Nash shrugs with a knowing smile. There’s only one thing to do. I keep eating.
There it is: a shiny little plastic leg!
I turn into a sweet-toothed paleontologist, brushing away crumbs to excavate the King Cake Baby. I pop the figurine into my mouth to clean it off.
“You did such a good job hiding it!” I mumble around the baby, and Nash laughs.
I spit the baby out and hold him up to the light. He’s dark brown with little seams down his sides. What should we do with him?
We could take him on a tour of all the city’s most famous voodoo establishments… But I don’t think it’s the best idea to mix African spiritualism with our stand-in for baby Jesus.
How about bar hopping in the French Quarter or jazz clubs on Frenchmen Street? No, that’s even more irresponsible.
Still, it’s our last full day in New Orleans. It’s time to pull out all the stops.
I think back to Mr. Okra reciting the names of vegetables… That’s it!
We will raise this Baby to be vegetarian and take him to the best vegan/vegetarian restaurants in New Orleans!
After weeks in smaller towns in the South, where we’ve been living off diner breakfasts and grocery stores, cities are an oasis for vegetarians. We’re already off to a great start for the day. New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery has an entire vegetarian section on their menu, so our breakfast was a feast of biscuits with mushroom gravy and a bowl of grits.
To work up an appetite again for lunch, we walk the three miles from the Fouberg Marigny Neighborhood to the Garden District. We wrap up our walk with a delicious meal at Seed.
There, I finally get to try the famous po’boy, only this French bread is full of fried tofu nuggets instead of the traditional roast beef or seafood. The vegan mac-n-cheese isn’t half bad, either!
We can barely squeeze into our pants, but should we try to squeeze in another meal? Hell, yes!
For dinner late that night, it’s off to Carmo, a fusion of tropical cuisines from around the world. Almost anything on the menu can be made vegan, so we have Creole-seared avocado and rice and beans with meatless sausage.
It’s ridiculously flavorful – no wonder the place is packed! It’s a good thing the Baby is the size of a fingernail, because we would have had a hard time getting a table for three.
My dad texts me saying that we can’t spend a weekend in New Orleans without having a Hurricane. We almost never drink alcohol, so this sweet and fruity rum drink sounds about as appealing as toilet water.
Still, I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so we head to Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, at the very end of the drunken mess that is Bourbon Street. The bouncer lets our King Cake Baby in without comment, even though he’s clearly under twenty-one.
There, standing in a building that’s been around since the 1720s, we guzzle down a Hurricane. It’s strong. I grimace at every sip of the overpriced beverage in the souvenir cup, but there you go – we drank alcohol in New Orleans!
We don’t like the feeling of the alcohol pulsing in our temples, so we walk the baby back to our lodgings. We’re staying with a local in what used to be the pastor’s quarters, at the back of an old church-turned-community-art-space. I fall asleep clutching the King Cake Baby in my hand.
The next morning, it’s time to say goodbye to our baby – he belongs here in New Orleans, his home. But I also want him to continue his vegetarian pseudo-life, so I set a plan in motion. We head to the New Orleans Healing Center, home to a food co-op, yoga studio, and interfaith center. There might as well be a sign saying “Here there be vegans.”
I uncover a geocache in the parking lot and place the baby inside the canister before hiding it away again.
Hopefully, some tree-hugger will pop it open and find a little bit of luck and a new friend.