(OK, this one’s PG…but not really)
Ironically, Italian was the one style of cooking my Irish/English mother did well. As kids, we used to thrill at the prospect of her spaghetti and meatballs dinner. In the intervening hours between her putting the ingredients together, cooking and serving the finished product, we’d rip off chunks from the loaf of Italian bread on the counter and dip them in the sauce (“gravy” to real Italians) she bubbled for hours. That dish was her signature piece, the one that none of us can duplicate, to this day.
To honor her ability in that realm, I brought Dad and her, years ago, to a ‘real’ Italian restaurant on Federal Hill, in Providence, for a celebration. It was a gesture of appreciation for their helping me often when my daughter’s babysitter was unavailable (I was a single working Mom.)
First, we passed under the unique stone archway whose most prominent feature is a giant hanging pineapple of stone (sign of “Welcome”), signaling our entry into Rhode Island’s Appian Way; next, we let the young man who was assigned the valet parking job take our car; and we entered the restaurant, prepared to enjoy the culinary delights for which this restaurant was heralded in none other than Gourmet Magazine.
Our waiter escorted us to a corner table, one appointed with white linen and candle glowing, as centerpiece. We ordered drinks. He was suited up as one would expect waiters in fine establishments. As such, he wore black dress jacket, white shirt, and black tie. Over one sleeve hung a narrow white linen towel, to facilitate his serving wine. He was the epitome of high-end service.
I motioned him closer to ask discreetly: “Sir, I’d like my mother to try calamari, as appetizer, but if they have tentacles, she won’t touch them” (She steers clear of marine animals with appendages– clams, little necks, etc.) “Is it possible to order them just as rings”?
He responded: “Of course, I will make-a-sure you get the calamari just-a the way you like it.”
I sat back and sipped my wine, content at the prospect of affording my parents a culinary treat, without risk of offending.
The heaping plate of fried squid–calamari (with extra hot peppers)– arrived and we devoured most within minutes. I asked my mother how she liked them and she happily reported: “Oh, they were great.”
But, when only a few remained, I noted– to my horror—that a huge calamari sat, center plate, sporting long, curly tentacles with the largest suction cups I’d ever seen. I mean, it was a miniature version of those titans of the deep, the giant squid and octopus wreaking havoc on those aboard ships in the HG Wells’-inspired movie, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
I hurriedly threw my napkin over the plate and pulled it towards me. I called the waiter over and whispered: “Sir, you’ve got to get this out of here…If my mother sees it, she’ll have a fit!”
He peeked under the cloth, nodded, and said, in a voice loud enough for all to hear: “Oh, that’s-a-right…I forgot. She doesn’t-a-like-a the testicles.”
Biddy recognizes humor is all around; it’s all the funnier when unintended.