mardis gras, kings cake, king cake, king cake baby
File:King Cake Baby.jpg - Wikipedia

In my humble opinion, the Mardis Gras king cake is by far the coolest holiday dessert. It’s got a little bit of everything: a fun design, bold colors, a rich history (more on that later).

Made with yeasty cinnamon flavored dough—and heaps of symbolism—this regal pastry-cake hybrid is usually oval shaped to resemble a crown, along with tri-colored icing in gold, purple and green to represent power, justice and faith.

And let’s not forget the piece de resistance: that miniature plastic baby, destined to be found by one lucky individual. Lucky in the sense that finding it means they now have the honor of providing the cake for next year.

However, there wasn’t always a baby hiding in the dough. Like most traditions, this one has evolved and adapted over time. And, of course, it began with pagans.


Many historians believe that the king cake has much older origins, beginning with the Roman winter festival Saturnalia.

File:Saturnalia by Antoine Callet.jpg - Wikimedia Commons commons.wikimedia.org

During this winter solstice celebration, Saturn—the Roman god of agriculture—would be honored by using the gains of the season’s harvest to make ceremonial cakes. And instead of a miniature baby, one singular fava bean would be placed inside. And whosoever should find the bean would be named “king of the day.”

Which is a bit odd, considering in ancient tradition fava beans were regarded as omens of death. But other sources note that favas were considered magic and even used for voting. Certainly makes that infamous Hannibal line take on a whole new context.

In addition to baking, the festival would involve a raucous good time of booze, dancing, gambling and other, ahem, adult group activities.

Fast forward to the rise of Christianity, the ritual adopted a more religious context in France.

File:Edward Burne-Jones - The Adoration of the Magi - Google Art ... commons.wikimedia.org

In Roman Catholic tradition, the Epiphany denotes the day when the three kings first saw the baby Jesus. The king cake came to represent this day, even taking on the name of Epiphany cake.

So it stands to reason that if this sweet treat became associated with the celebration of baby Jesus, then of course the plastic baby was originally intended for such representation, right?

Wrong.

The baby wouldn’t make its appearance until the mid-1900s, and it was thanks to a clever salesman in New Orleans.

File:Mobile Mardi Gras Carnival, 1900.jpg - Wikimedia Commons commons.wikimedia.org

By then, the king cake had already been a prominent Mardi Gras item.

The owner of one of the 20th century’s most famous bakeries, Donald Entringer of McKenzie’s, was approached by a salesman carrying a surplus of tiny porcelain dolls from France, according to food expert Poppy Tooker in an interview with NPR.

"He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,’” Tooker told NPR.

Though a simple case of supply-and-demand isn’t terribly exciting, the way this simple concept has advanced to become the dish’s golden standard is pretty remarkable.

Plus, the fact that this Louisiana tradition is steeped in history of bawdy hedonism and sacred spiritualism, all with a healthy dose of capitalizing on the combo … I mean if that’s not New Orleans in a nutshell, I don’t know what is.

It’s not just beans and babies either.

Pecans, jeweled rings, gold coins and small charms have also been used. Some bakeries have even made their own customized trinkets. Others have started avoiding placing them inside altogether, attempting to thwart potential lawsuits. Baking with plastic is a tad more frowned upon these days.

Though most of us are familiar with the NOLA style of the king cake, other countries have their own versions.

There’s the French galette des rois, which is less colorful but oh-so-flaky, topped with a golden paper crown.

Also there’s Spanish rosca de reyes, flavored with lots of orange and topped with dried fruit.

There’s even a Greek version, vasilopita, that’s very similar to coffee cake. Not that you couldn’t have any of these cakes for breakfast, but there’s an excuse baked right into this one.

No matter what style you try, or whether or not you find that plastic baby, the king cake—along with its festive history and captivating lore—is definitely worth celebrating.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

It's hard not to lose hope. It would be easy to let the fuming rage consume every bit of joy and calm and light that we so desperately want and need. But we have to find a balance.

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