Monday, December 19, 2011

Evening of Joy: "In Service to the Parents"

Each Christmas for the past few years, Elliot and Oliver have given up their December Event with me in order to do something special for their parents. "In Service to the Parents," is how Oliver put it one year and it stuck.

I would have to say that this year's event was inspired by years of unobtrusive influence on my guys, plus months of planning on their parts.

The influence part came from the magic that is Buon Giorno Ristorante Italiano, on 17th Avenue in Calgary. I first took the boys there when they were quite small, because I thought it would be an unintimidating place for them to practise their manners and etiquette and where they would be treated with dignity and kindness by the waiters who have been there for as long as I can remember.

We went back initially because, well, do you know how much glee can be obtained for an eight-year-old when he says, with all the insouciance he can summon, "I think I'd like some hot buns ..."

The waiter, with great aplomb but with a twinkle in his eye, responded, "Right away, sir." And in less than a flash he was back: "Hot buns for you, sir!"

We kept going back because the boys as they matured noticed how the waiters talked directly to them; how they would discuss the food and explain the dishes; how they were never too rushed to pay attention to the little things. Besides, that, the food was good ... and there were those buns ...

So when we started planning this year's event back in June, the boys, currently on a Billy Joel kick, decided that "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" would be the theme - and the "Italian restaurant" had to be like Buon Giorno. 

Of course, R&D had to occur. The three of us, along with their Bop, went there for lunch this summer to decide on a potential menu. By the end of the meal we knew for sure that we wanted the strachiatella soup and the tartufo ice cream.

Next we worked on the guest list and what we would say on the invitations. We decided that six couples would be a nice number, and that it would be a surprise send-off for their parents. The invitations were duly written out by hand the weekend the boys spent with their Bop; I think it was Auntie Deb who came up with the headline on the invitation: Ciao, Baby ...

Clothes had to be purchased - Debs tracked down black trousers, long-sleeved white collar shirts and red bow-ties. Real bow-ties. (On the afternoon of the event we realized that none of us knew how to tie real bow-ties ...)

All five couples the boys had invited accepted with pleasure.

Even my boss, Lisa, was in on it. I could find no better resource for all food Italian than Signorina Marrello, who sent me recipes for bruschetta, risotto, and suggestions for antipasti.

And then a couple of weeks before the Event, a real blow: the boys' Granny informed me that she had spent several days at their house and all the dishes, with the exception of one everyday set, were now packed. I would have to lug dishes from Trois Lumps to Hawkridge ... What if Granny hadn't been in on the packing up and we had arrived to find we were eating off paper plates?!

But as if to mitigate that minor set-back, Tereasa, one of the invited guests and someone who is as kind as she is lovely and artistic, volunteered to track down and bring three tables and some decorations.

Friday the 16th finally arrived. Bronwyn and Paul had been told to evacuate the house by no later than 2 p.m. and not to return until the appointed time. I had taken a vacation day so I did only a couple of hours' work for Carswell before getting into party mode. A quick trip to Chinatown to get small oval platters for the pasta course, and a somewhat longer trip to Lina's Italian Market - a shopping experience I have come to love over the years - plus a stop at Superstore, and I was ready to head to the house. 

Caite and I met there shortly after 2, and the boys came straight home from school in order to start getting the place ready. Tereasa, good as her word, arrived armed with tables, dark table cloths for under the green-checked gingham I had bought to match Buon Giorno's, candle lamps and Italian tiles for the table. She also brought fairy lights that she thought might look beautiful strung around the room.

Furniture was moved ... Christmas decor was packed away and the tables were put in place and sparkly lights set up.

Caite took over, getting tables and chairs organized (the napkins were folded by Oliver just like they have them at the restaurant!) and starting the chopping of vegetables and the preparation of hors d'oeuvres.

I had to run out to pick up the soup; when I got back, late ("I'm sorry, young lady, I thought you said ONE order of soup! We'll need a few more minutes ..."), I met Karl and Dave in the driveway - they were going to provide music for the hors d'oeuvres hour before dinner.

Somehow, despite the craziness, when the first couple arrived - followed immediately by the second, third, fourth and fifth; thank you, all of you, for your great punctuality! - we were starting to pull together into a semblance of promise that the evening might be able to be pulled off. Because of a little miscommunication coupled with a dead cell phone, B and P arrived a little later than we had anticipated. But Karl and Dave entertained the guests (one of whom commented to Bronwyn later that the music was so amazing, even if B and P and taken longer, the guests would have been content just to sit and listen to Karl and Dave!); while Deb, the angel of all Christmas and other parties, arrived with dessert and an assortment of various parts of the meal. She took in the pandemonium in the kitchen at a glance and immediately started in on the risotto while I tackled the chicken breasts wrapped in pancetta. The Waiters, meantime, with bow-ties - expertly tied by Bernie; thanks, Bernie! - circulated with plates and the antipasti platter.

When Bronwyn and Paul arrived they were utterly surprised to see a group of their closest friends waiting to fete them. Paul asked how I knew whom to invite. "The boys chose who," I replied. He scooped both of them into a hug: "My boys ... you know your parents very well!" he exclaimed tenderly.
Not too too far behind schedule, the Waiters were able to usher the guests into the next room for the meal.

After welcoming everyone and thanking them for coming, they invited one of the Jameses to say grace; and then they truly sprang into action. The soup was served, followed by Caesar salad. 

Pretty pleased with yourselves, guys?!
Then came the pasta course (spinach-stuffed cannelloni with a rose sauce) and when those plates were cleared, the Waiters carefully carried out the delicate glasses containing the palate cleanser, an acerbic yet refreshing limoni gelato. As the guests scooped the last of the tangy ice out of their glasses the boys carefully garnished the main course plates with lemon zest, grated earlier by Elliot, and prepared to serve their guests the roasted chicken breast accompanied by risotto.

Waiters getting into the sauce ...
"I'm so hungry!" came one small plaintive cry early in the proceedings. "Forget it - you're here to serve," snapped their hard-hearted Auntie K; and from that moment on there was no mention of hunger or their own needs. They were the waiters from Buon Giorno, chatting amiably with their guests, making sure that everyone had food, that no one's glass was empty, that each person was having a good time.

When the last people had finished eating ("How can you tell if they're finished or if they're just taking a break?" came the urgent whisper), tables were pulled back slightly and for a few brief moments the boys sang for their guests. Elliot started off with the reason for the theme, playing the piano and singing Billy Joel's Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. Oliver followed it with his delicate guitar playing and a moving rendition of Jason Mraz's Bella Luna - one of my favourite Mr AZ songs. Elliot followed this by a rousing crowd pleaser - I Saw Her Standing There, which got people singing along - on his electric guitar; then Oliver brought the entertainment part of the evening to an end with Hallelujah: Cohen's angry anthem had never sounded so sweet or so vulnerable as when that 12-year-old bent his head over his guitar and murmured "Love is not a victory march; It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah ..."
Elliot playing "Scenes ..." Unfortunately Oliver's
picture came out far too dark; he was a huge hit.
I stood in the space between the kitchen and the makeshift cafe, listening to them and thinking, "Oh, my boys, I am going to miss you so much ..."

When the applause stopped,dessert was served. Deb had created Panettone Bread Pudding with Amaretto Sauce; a slice of triple chocolate tartufo was placed next to it and, with a whirl of whipped cream and three raspberries arranged artfully by the Waiters, the last course was served.

Coffee and biscotti wrapped up dinner; and as the boys thanked their guests for coming they presented each one a tiny box containing two Callebaut chocolates.

At 11:30 p.m., Auntie K was the first to leave the party, shockingly ...

Elliot got the last word this year: "I didn't have a lot of expectations for this Event, to be honest. But now I really think that it was the best Event we've ever done for them..."

Grazie, Elliot and Oliver, for a wonderful evening. Arrivederci; torna presto!


  1. What an awesome party. Wish I could have been there being a 1/4 Italian myself.
    Love, Chloe

  2. I don't know if it's because I'm tired, but it almost made me cry. I hope that our boys grow into thoughtful young men, like your two nephews. Sounds like a wonderful evening:). They also have awesome aunts. Willing to help them get everything together like that!

  3. Nice work -- whatever will you do for events while the boys are away!

  4. The "years of unobtrusive influence" came directly from you, dearest Karyn, even if Buon Giorno's had a glorious part. Thank you for leading the boys in paths of service. The result was astounding! First we saw Elliot and Oliver, resplendent in bow ties, shining through the Christmas window, and we couldn't wait to get inside! We entered the charming, whimsical front room cafe, and were whirled into the heart of the home by Karl and Dave's music, to see, amazed, all those beautiful friends with raised, glowing glasses - a vision we'll treasure, truly, for a lifetime! Then came the magnificent dinner which filled up our senses (I loved the oval plates, but even more, the cannelloni on them!). And the service! Courteous, smiling, quietly attentive ... clearly modelled by the best! You, dearest, were outstanding - by, as usual, being in the background, along with the splendid DJ and Caite! Thank you, lovely Karyn, for that unobtrusive influence that breathes magic into all our lives.

  5. Andy ... as they say, "Next year in Jerusalem!" It will be our turn to host soon, I hope! ... Are you reading this, Karyn??!


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