Oprah or St. Joseph? Ms. Larda has a choice.

I got to explain. Every March 19, as long as anybody can remember, my mother-in-law has created a St. Joseph altar.

Now, if you got family which originally come from Sicily, like she does, that’s what you do for St. Joseph’s Day around here. You don’t actually get out a hammer and nails and build this altar. You set a statue of St. Joseph on a big, huge table and cover the rest of the table with the kinds of food St. Joseph liked.

Evidently he liked pasta a lot. Anything with figs. Biscotti cookies. Baked fish. Bread loaves shaped like crosses and shoes and chalices. Pasta with sardines (don’t ask). Stuffed artichokes. I think St. Joseph was a lot heftier than the statues of him would lead you to believe. Probably he looked more like the fat Buddha. But I ain’t going to say that out loud.

Every year, Ms. Larda cooks for weeks. On St. Joseph’s Day Father Camillo blesses the altar; there’s a little ceremony, everybody eats and what’s left over goes to the poor.

Then she joined Weight Watchers. Because of Oprah.

Ms. Larda loves Oprah. She was very upset when the show ended. So when she sees Oprah on a commercial saying it’s time to join Weight Watchers, Ms. Larda signs right up.

Now, Ms. Larda has never been exactly svelte, but that never bothered her much. But she’s getting older and her knees hurt, and maybe that’s why she took Oprah’s advice.

The thing is, the rest of us Gunches never had to cook for holidays or birthdays or Saints games or anything. We could count on her. But in Weight Watchers, every food has a point value and you’re only allowed so many points. Ms. Larda is the kind of cook who tastes as she goes along. She would blast through a week’s worth of points whipping up one meal for our family.

So she stops cooking for us. At Mardi Gras we had to get Popeyes fried chicken and for my grandkids’ birthday, we bought a Rouses cake. It ain’t the same.

We tell each other, no way will she say no to St. Joseph. We can put on the feed bags then.

Wrong. “St. Joseph wants me to die with my own knees,” she says.

My sister-in-law Larva calls me. “The family has to step up this year,” she says. “By next year, God willing, she’ll be back to normal. We’ll do as much as we can ahead of time and freeze it.”

Turns out, under pressure, they can all cook. They are Italian; they was born that way. Larva makes biscotti; Cousin Luna does the fish; even my brothers-in-law Leech and Lurch manage three kinds of pasta sauce. Ms. Larda herself will bring the fresh fruit (zero Weight Watchers points).

Then there’s me. I ain’t Italian. My great-grandma came from Ireland with one cookbook, 101 Ways to Boil a Potato.

Me, I specialize in Blue Runner red beans out the can and Keebler cookies heated in the microwave until the chocolate chips are soft.

“You can do the pignolata,” Larva tells me. When I ask what’s that, she heaves a big sigh. “Pine cone,” she says, “to symbolize the pine cones Baby Jesus played with because he was too poor to have real toys. It’s fried.” I guess I can do that. I live over the Sloth Lounge and there’s a deep fryer down in the kitchen. And I can get a pine cone over in the park.
Larva could have explained that it ain’t supposed to be a actual pine cone. It is supposed to be fried pastry balls stacked to look like a pine cone. But she didn’t.

I find a nice big pine cone and wash and dry it and drop it in the fryer. Then I drain it on paper towels, put it in a covered bowl and bring it over. It don’t look too appetizing, but St. Joseph Altar food always looks weird to me.

Ms. Larda opens the bowl. “A pine cone?” she says. “All fried up,” I say, real proud.

After she screeches and cackles and pats her chest a while, she says “Well, it’s zero Weight Watchers points. I can eat all I want.” But she don’t.

Oprah probably wouldn’t either. I don’t know about St. Joseph.