(Those who eat well are close to God.)
A non-Italian friend of mine visited my blog recently. I asked him what he thought of it and he said “it’s all about food.” That’s not entirely true, of course, but I do have a number of posts dealing with food because, well, that’s what Italians do. We cook. And we eat. (I have a gym membership to prove it!) And we talk about food. Other cultures do that, too, obviously, but we do it a certain way. It defines us- our parties center in the kitchen, lots of bodies packed, standing around eating and talking. For most Italian Americans I know, the kitchen is the most popular room in the house, even if it's not time to eat. It reminds us of family, holds memories, and is the center of activity. Our dinners are complete- an entrée, two sides and lots of animated conversation. My mom never just served us pizza when I was a kid- always a salad and soup with it. Even our barbecues are big productions. They are almost just like a regular party except the food is different and it's more work because we have to haul everything in and out.
A typical Italian-American barbecue at the homes of any I know consists of the following menu, typically: plates of appetizers, home-made hamburger patties- big, thick, seasoned ones, grilled sausage and peppers, pasta salad (not macaroni salad, although that could be there along with the pasta salad), bakery-style rolls, marinated & grilled chicken, sides of sweet peppers, hot peppers and onions, a salad of some sort, grilled eggplant, corn on the cob, insalata caprese (mozzarella, basil leaves and tomato slices in olive oil), at least 4 desserts- a cake, a pie, a jello mold with lots of other ingredients in it, a tray of cookies… the list goes on. You’ll find the soda and beer plus pitchers of fresh iced tea, lemonade and a mixed drink. No store-bought frozen hamburger patties and bagged rolls in my family. You also won't find store-bought potato salad. If it happens to be there with the other stuff, someone made it at home.
We break out the bocce set or the horseshoes, the soccer ball or kick ball and like non-Italian families, if there is a game on tv, the men will try to get away with watching it if we don’t make a big fuss- which we generally do.
People tend to speak more loudly when they are outside and in Italian families we all try to talk over each other. But nobody just “talks.” Our hands are always involved- it’s no secret that Italians are incapable of communicating without their hands. And we laugh and talk LOUDLY. I used to complain about our “off the boat” neighbors from Italy when they had parties outside, which was frequently, because I could hear their conversations (which I never understood since it was in dialect) and their raucous laughter. Then one day a non-Italian friend said to me “Your family is just as bad and twice as loud!” It’s true. We’re a loud bunch.
After everyone is stuffed and has given up on activities, the women take a few things each into the house to help the hostess, then we say goodbye for 15 minutes, for one person cannot just say goodbye and leave. As we say goodbye, we must have a litany of last minute comments on when we’ll see each other again, which is the best road to take home, warnings to be careful, instructions to call when they get home all while we are kissing the same people goodbye more than once because it takes so long to get out we forget who we started with. Of course, someone always lingers for a cordial (Sambucca, Anisette, Tuaca). When the barbecue is over, and all clean-up is done and the supplies and leftover food that has not been sent home with guests are wrapped up and taken inside, the hostess usually plops on a chair and swears that is the last outside party she’ll have. Until the next one!