Greater New Orleans
One humid spring night when I was pushing 3 or 4, I aimed my finger skyward and asked, agape, “What’s that?” My mother then introduced me to the fat platinum moon that beamed over New Orleans in an indigo sky. Not long after, she took me into our parish church of Incarnate Word and introduced me to God. I kept calling the altar “Walter” after one of my grown-up cousins, but I got the overall gist of what she was teaching me: that He lived above us in Heaven. For a long time I thought the markings on the face of the moon were the shadow of Christ the King sitting in profile and surveying the Crescent City from heaven, a lonely Christ hiding in a silver moon.
The month of May was designated by the Catholic Church to honor the Blessed Mother, and it was the tradition for each class at Incarnate Word School to take daily turns laying flowers before the blue-robed statue (whose dainty foot lay firmly on the head of a serpent). We all sang, “Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today.” In May, my family’s front yard was filled with white and yellow Shasta daisy blossoms that reminded me of the rising sun bobbing on dense Christmas-tree-green stems and leaves. Both my brother’s and my bouquets for the Blessed Mother were cut from this flower bed by Mom, who allowed no one but herself to touch her daisies. While we were living in Incarnate Word Parish, my father died when I was 8. Each May 15, his birthday, I lay daisies on my father’s grave. It just seems fitting to do so.
Shasta daisies were named by Luther Burbank in 1894 because their pure-white petals reminded him of the snowy peaks of Mount Shasta in California. Burbank’s favorite flower had been the wild oxeye daisy, and he was determined to breed a similar-looking perennial. He first cross bred the old oxeye with the English field daisy but disliked the resulting size. His next attempt crossed the flower with the Portuguese field daisy, and from there he crossed it with the Japanese field daisy. Burbank was then happy with the result of his efforts, which gave us the Shasta, a botanical moniker that sounds like a new Mardi Gras super-krewe. Daisies are strong little critters, raising their sunny heads high after being pelted flat by New Orleans rainstorms. The daisies that grew in our old front yard faced west dead center and withstood the onslaught of the afternoon sun like troupers, fearing neither drought nor humidity as long as they’re planted in well-fertilized soil.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Rocky and Carlo’s restaurant down in “da parish” of St. Bernard qualifies as one of my favorite kind of eateries: Slightly disreputable in appearance, it wears no makeup to the public eye, but its hospitable owners serve heaven-sent manna on an overloaded plate. Boisterous and filled with customers, this St. Bernard institution survived Katrina and returned to bless us with its incomparable cheesy pudding of macaroni and cheese, tender veal parmigiana covered in rich, garlicky crimson sauce and overloaded poor boy sandwiches washed down by bottles of original Barq’s root beer with the blue label. To a native New Orleanian, no other explanation is required. Diving into the deep red ocean of its rolled brucciloni almost seems like a miracle. Plates are filled to overflowing with prices that are extremely recession-friendly. For Easter Sunday dinner, some may prefer restaurants washed in spring-like patinas of soft colors, but if you didn’t come from “da parish” but pleasantly remember Mother’s Day dinners in the fried chicken heaven that was Jim’s Restaurant on Carrollton Avenue and Earhart, saunter into Rocky and Carlo’s on Mother’s Day for some serious feasting. There’s no better way to celebrate Mom than with cooking –– almost –– as good as hers!
Rocky and Carlo’s Restaurant, Bar & Sicilian Room; 613 W. St. Bernard Highway; Chalmette; (504) 279-8323