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[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Of all the holidays which are left over from the days of Papal world domination, Carnival is my favorite. Also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, Carnival was traditionally celebrated in order to squeeze in one last bacchanal before the long days of Lent began.

These days Carnival is celebrated by people of all denominations who are joined together simply by the desire to have a good time. Venice, Haiti and New Orleans are just a few places where you can experience Carnival at its best. But this year the place I'd most like to be is Brazil.

Because one day of partying isn't enough, Rio Carnival 2011 will stretch from Saturday, March 5 to (Fat) Tuesday, March 8. The highlights of Brazilian carnival are parades with elaborate costumes and even more elaborate floats, all heralded by live music and dancing. Because revelers are so busy having fun, they'll often eat from street vendors throughout the day rather than sit down to one long meal. If, like me, you can't make it to Rio this year, you can still recreate the food and fun with this Carnival Cocktail Party.

The drink of choice at any Carnival party must be caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil. Made with Cachaça, a liquor distilled from sugar cane, these drinks are cold and sweet yet still refreshing thanks to a muddled lime.

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Pão de queijo is a type of popular Brazilian cheese bread. Serve these bite-size versions while they are still hot and chewy as a perfect salty foil to the cocktails. These are made with tapioca flour, so they're gluten-free.

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Marinate some shrimp in Vinha d'Alha sauce and then quickly sauté them just before your guests arrive. This "garlic wine" is a popular marinade for beef, chicken, and seafood. The freshly ground black pepper, garlic, and onions provide a spicy bite that's elevated from a hit of Tabasco. The white wine mellows out the marinade and tenderizes the shrimp, and the lime juice pairs nicely with the caipirinhas.

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If you're giving up sweets for Lent, choosing just one dessert on Fat Tuesday can be hard. I'd choose this coconut cake because its sweet coconut flavor transports me to the tropics. Cut the coconut cake into squares and serve them in brightly colored cupcake wrappers for an extra festive touch. Note: this cake is also gluten-free.

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