I have no idea where I’m taking my eighty-seven year old mother for Mother’s Day this year. Last year was taxing, to say the least. When it comes to eating food she hasn't prepared, Mom is as cautious as Howard Hughes. She doesn’t like breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner unless it’s a slice of meat between two pieces of bread. She hates sauces or condiments, preferring cold meat served the “natural way.” When she says this I imagine meat brought down by a pack of hyenas on the Serengeti, clad in fur, twitching and covered in flies.
Last year Mrs. Chatterbox and I came up with a great idea. The only thing Mom loves more than coffee is coffee with booze in it. We have a restaurant in Portland that specializes in Spanish coffee. Here, baristas with fingers longer than Edward Scissorhands put on quite a show. They’re dressed in black and circle the restaurant like matadors while creating the concoction for which the restaurant is justly famous.
First, a cart with mysterious ingredients capable of giving an alchemist a wet dream is wheeled to your table. The barista opens a book of matches, removes a match and lights it, all with one hand. With the other, he mixes a wonderful blend of liqueurs in a brandy snifter, using the lit match to ignite the mixture. He then raises a pot of Spanish coffee as high as he can (which is pretty high) and pours a cascade of coffee into the snifter, which he delivers with a flourish. I don’t generally like coffee drinks but this one is good enough to trade your mother for, especially if your mother is as unpleasant as mine. So last Mother’s Day we took her to this restaurant. Mom was seated with her back to the room, and even before her fanny touched the chair she barked at the hostess, “Bring me a cup of coffee.”
The lovely young lady smiled at her, passed out menus and said, “Your server will be here in a moment to take your order.”
When she disappeared I said, “Mom, don’t ask me why, but please don’t order a cup of coffee.”
She glowered at me, “Why not?”
“I told you not to ask. Just trust me.”
Aside from Spanish coffee, this restaurant is renowned for its steaks and seafood, so of course Mom ordered a chicken breast. She told the server, “I want it natural. Don’t let the cook do anything to it. No fancy spices or sauces, or I’ll send it back.”
“It comes with Spanish rice or rosemary potatoes,” said the server.
“Bring me a baked potato. Nothing on it. I’ll add my own salt and pepper.”
Mrs. Chatterbox and I ordered our meals and the server disappeared. Good thing Mom was such an enthusiastic talker (I had to pick it up someplace) because it seemed our surprise was going down the toilet: the restaurant was packed with moms being treated to Spanish coffee, including the one at the booth directly behind us. Mom blithely chatted away about an unpleasant incident in a restaurant that occurred before I was born. She didn’t notice the coffee version of Cirque du Soleil taking place right behind her. For the next forty minutes we ate our meal (except for Mom who complained that her chicken and potato were dry and flavorless) and I pretended to hang on Mom’s every word to keep her from turning her head and witnessing everyone else in the room being served Spanish coffee.
When our plates were cleared away Mom announced she was ready to leave.
“We have a Mother’s Day surprise for you,” I said when the server arrived to ask if we wanted dessert. “My mother will have a Spanish coffee.”
“Very good sir,” he said to me.
I’ll admit that Mom appeared fascinated by his skill and dexterity; she even managed a brittle smile when the steaming snifter of Spanish delight was placed in front of her. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said, when he’d gone. “Have you?”
Since everyone in the room had ordered the same thing, I wanted to say something snarky like, “Actually, I’ve seen it thirty times—TODAY! But I held my tongue.
Mom sipped the coffee. “Ooch…too hot. It burned my tongue. Now I won’t be able to taste for a week.”
That was the one and only sip of Spanish coffee she took, and she still blames me for that time we took her to that dreadful restaurant where they served coffee so hot it blistered her tongue. That old saying is certainly true: No good deed goes unpunished.
Happy Mother’s Day