Me: Is everyone finished with their soup?
Hank: I am! I am so excited for the masa (pasta). Did you make the sauce?
Me: Claro (of course).
Pai: (spoon feeding Molly the last of her soup) Your mama’s pasta sauce is the best.
Hank: So are her meatballs.
Me: No, meatballs tonight, I’m afraid. I love that we are cutting down on meat-eating in this house. Saving both money and…
Hank: The planet.
Me: True story.
Hank: Didn’t you eat a lot of masa (pasta) when you were a vegetarian.
Me: Soooooo much pasta, but I was lazy and used canned sauce.
Hank: That is lazy.
Me: When I first moved to Portugal I remember going to the grocery with my dictionary and after searching ever single isle working up the courage to ask where they sold the pasta sauce and, no joke, the woman at the grocery took me to the produce section handed me tomato, onion and garlic and explained rather slowly and with exaggerated gestures that I was to take these vegetables, added salt, olive oil, cook and then blend and I would have sauce.
Pai: But that wasn’t what she asked for. (dishing out Molly’s dinner)
Molly: MASSINHA!!! (cute pasta)
Me: I didn’t want a cooking class I wanted my life to be convenient like in America where I just open a jar and BAM dinner.
Pai: Ten years ago you could barely find a frozen pizza let alone jarred sauces and pre-cooked factory foods in Portugal.
Hank: Things are changing, but not at my school. The cozinheiras (cooks) at my new school make the best food. It is all fresh and so good.
Me: One of the main reasons we decided to raise you here. Did I ever tell you about the time I went to my first fancy restaurant spaghetti dinner?
Hank: Um… (taking the opportunity slurp pasta into his mouth)
Pai: This story is a classic.
Me: When we still lived in Illinois my grandmother called and informed my mother that she wanted to treat us all to DeRienzo’s for a spaghetti dinner on our upcoming Ohio visit. Now, you have to remember my Grandma Hof was super fancy. She was the town’s music teacher and the presbyterian choir director so she was fancy annnnnnnd she had a reputation for being fancy, so we wild children simply could not go to DeRienzo’s and slurp our spaghetti, not in public, no way so my mom had to give us spaghetti twirling lessons.
Hank: Oh yah! You had to learn to spin the spaghetti on a spoon.
Me: We did and we all worked very hard because my mom promised us that we could have meatballs which were as big as a softball…
Hank: What is a softball?
Me: (eyes wide in shock)
Pai: Your son is European.
Me: (deep sigh) A softball is like a baseball…
Hank: (still no clue)
Me: Only bigger (gesturing the size so he finally understands the reference).
Hank: Those were some big meatballs.
Me: You only ordered a few for the table and everyone shared and the bread was fresh and pillowy and my grandmother charmed the waitress into giving her a to-go cup full of their poppy seed salad dressing and we kids twirled our spaghetti on our spoons and tried our best to be as fancy as my Gram.
Hank: Can we go there?
Me: Absolutely, next time we’re in America and if you can twirl your spaghetti I will buy you a Shirley Temple from the bar.
Hank: What is a Shirley Temple?
Pai: It’s a mock-tail.
Me: My parents would never let me order a Shirley Temple, but when I used to go to the Golf Club with my friend, Quinn, for dinner her parents would order us both a Shirley Temple from the bar and it was just the greatest.
Pai: Seriously, at a golf club?
Me: Yup, at the Salem Country Club. You had to be a member.
Pai: Like in the movies?
Me: Exactly like in the movies.
Pai: Now, I am excited.
Me: DeRienzo’s had a separate bar from the dinning room and a backlight, clam shell, mid-century modern, Botticelli Birth of goddamn Venus phone booth annnnnnnd wooooood paneling.
Hank: I don’t know what that is, but let’s get on a plane right now!
Me: I will invite Quinn and all your Ohio family, but you’re gonna have to learn how to twirl your spaghetti on your spoon. We Hofmeisters have a reputation to uphold.
Pai: You realize, Hank, that Italians don’t swirl their pasta on spoons before they eat it.
Hank: Then why…
Pai: The only place I ever saw people twirling their pasta on spoons was in Germany and you are ¼ German.
Hank: WHAT? (hand to his chest shocked) I’m German.
Pai: ¼ German, 1/4 British Isles and 1/2 Portuguese.
Me: My parent’s family lineages come from German and the countries that make up the UK and probably Ireland, but I’m not sure and they all settled in the Midwest as immigrants to America, so we are culturally American, but genetically European.
Hank: Riiiiiight, because you aren’t Native American. They’re the only American Americans because they are the people of the first nation.
Hank: So mom, you ate pasta like Germans in an Italian restaurant in America?
Me: And well, if we’re being culturally specific, DeRienzo’s serves an Americanized version of Italian food; meatballs are strictly an Italian-American thing.
Hank: (mind blown) What?!
Pai: I also never saw a meatball in Italy.
Hank: I don’t know what to do with my life now!
Me: (riots of laughter)
Pai: You’ll get over it.
Molly: (slathered in tomato sauce, oblivious, slurping up pasta strand by strand)