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Fat Tuesday packs on the snow-day cushioning

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We have an important holiday coming up. A day when it's perfectly appropriate to be lovingly expressive, sassy, indulgent, gluttonous and even hedonistic. That's right, Fat Tuesday, Feb. 16, an excuse to unabashedly stuff our faces. And you don't have to say "I love you" if you don't want to. Or even take your shirt off.

Nothing's wrong with packing on some extra snow-day cushioning now and then, especially if it's for a good cause. Check out the Fat Tuesday Benefit for Meals on Wheels of Wake County at the Raleigh Convention Center. Tickets are $100 for a Mardi Gras night celebration that includes a live and silent auction, a Cajun-style buffet and music from Zydecopious to help you dance off those calories. For more information, visit www.wakemow.org.

Creole cuisine meets Southern home-style cooking at Carrboro's Acme Food & Beverage Company (110 E. Main St., 929-ACME, www.acmecarrboro.com). Fancier versions of jambalaya, gumbo and crawfish fatten up the menu the entire week of Fat Tuesday through Feb. 20th. On Fat Tuesday, and every Tuesday, all entrées at Acme are $12.95 each.

For decadent fare paired with a carnival party, Gulf Rim Cafe (246 S. Nash St., 245-0040, www.gulfrimcafe.com) in downtown Hillsborough offers a Cajun menu including a traditional French Quarter treat called "cochon de lait"—marinated, roasted suckling pig—chicken and andouille gumbo and more. Tickets for the Mardi Gras dinner are $50 per person and include food, beverages, wine and beer. Limited seating; call Gulf Rim for reservations.

Want to keep the hedonism at home? General Manager Andrew Mikkola of Mad Hatter Bakeshop & Café in Durham (1802 W. Main St., 286-1987, www.madhatterbakeshop.com) says the bakery will be happy to whip up special-order king cakes and other festive desserts to "satisfy and excite people for Mardi Gras." The store can fill orders made 24 hours in advance, but Mikkola says more time is appreciated. Call him to order and discuss prices.

February also includes that other holiday, the pink one. If you've been struck by an inexplicable, benign arrow, have butterflies in your stomach and an appetite for romance, here are a couple of budget-friendly options for Valentine's Day. Xios (800 W. Williams St., Apex, 363-5288, www.xioscafe.com) serves a Greek, Valentine's Day dinner package: one appetizer, a bottle of wine, two entrées and a dessert for $65 per couple. Downtown Raleigh's Busy Bee Cafe (225 S. Wilmington St., 424-7817, www.busybeeraleigh.com) steps it up with a bit of haute cuisine in the form of a three-course meal with a beer pairing for each course at $50 per person offered Feb. 12-14. Busy Bee was recently named among the country's top 150 beer bars of 2009 by Draft magazine.

And perhaps my favorite Valentine's Day special: Bandido's Mexican Cafe & Cantina's Hillsborough location (122 S. Churton St., 732-8662, www.bandidoscafe.com) doles out a free heart-shaped sopapilla pastry to every patron on Feb. 14. And you don't even have to conquer El Gigante to get it. ¡Qué lindo!

Know about a fun food happening in the Triangle? Send it to Now Serving at food@indyweek.com.

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