Pages

The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

You can help by leaving comments on posts and by becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. To date, more than a quarter million people have viewed the blog and that's great. But every great leader needs followers and if I am ever to achieve my goal of becoming the next great leader of the Italian culinary world :-) I need followers!

Grazie mille!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Deplorable Demise of Table Manners

People Today Are Rude, Ignorant Pigs

A pig is an animal with dirt on his face
His shoes are a terrible disgrace
He has no manners when he eats his food
He's fat and lazy and extremely rude
But if you don't care a feather or a fig
You may grow up to be a pig

– “Swinging on a Star” by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke –

The word “deplorable” got tossed around a good bit in the recent election cycle. Like so many words made up of more than one syllable, a lot of people don't even know what the word means, but bandy it about nonetheless. In a nutshell, it can mean either deserving of strong condemnation or shockingly bad in quality. Political considerations aside, I think both apply to the demise in twenty-first century life of basic table manners. This passing has come about due largely to the fact that very few people actually sit around a table to partake of a meal anymore. TV tables, coffee tables, desks, car seats, laps – these are the places where the majority of eating occurs these days and rather than being presented on plates, food is often served from a bag. Who needs manners? Just unwrap the comestibles and shove 'em down your throat. It's only food.

I was raised differently. My mother insisted on proper manners in all things. I was taught from a young age to open doors for women. I was instructed to offer assistance to elderly people or to the disabled. When walking down the street with my mom, I was told to always walk to the outside, and a half-century later I can't refrain from doing so. I always leap ahead of my wife to open doors and I simply cannot be comfortable walking with her if I am not on her streetside side. (In case you're curious, this custom evolved as a means of protecting a lady from passing traffic, mud splashing, and such.) Basic manners are so infused into my psyche that I am constitutionally incapable of behaving otherwise. I have to try to be ill-mannered, and that's why it bothers me to observe others doing it so naturally.

Nowhere is this more evident than at the dining table. By the quaint, archaic standards of yesteryear, people today are rude, ignorant pigs.

Now, it must be noted that different cultures observe different customs regarding manners at the table. Some things thought to be disgusting among one ethic group are completely acceptable to another. I was raised to observe essential American and Western European customs, hence it is on those criteria that I will, in no particular order, offer comment. I'm not aiming for high etiquette here. Matters of which fork to use when and what particular items of cutlery should be placed where and which plate is appropriate for what course are all valid points of proper conduct, but I'm more concerned here with the basics.

Like, for instance, chewing with your mouth closed. I am horrified by the number of people who no longer think it necessary to adhere to this most rudimentary point of behavior. The last appetite inhibiting thing I, or anyone with an ounce of civilization, want to see is the contents of your mouth being masticated to mush. I have as little desire to watch the beginning of your digestive process as I have to observe the end of it.

If you've stuffed your pie hole so full of food that you can't help but chew it open-mouthed, you have violated another basic precept. My dog frequently dives in face first and ingests all his food in a few bites. If you aspire to be like my dog, by all means, continue to use your fork like a shovel. Humans may consider you vile, but you'll be king among canines.

Regardless of whether or not you overfill your mouth, empty it before attempting to speak. Speech involves utilizing your jaws, tongue, and teeth in certain patterns to emit intelligible sounds. These are the same parts employed by the task of eating and they are not designed to multitask. Watching the half-chewed components of your meal rolling around on your tongue and either dripping or spewing from between your lips as you attempt to form words is absolutely disgusting. And for pity's sake, swallow your food completely before you take a drink. Nothing repulses your dining companions like watching food particles backwash into your beverage.

Having spent some time on a farm, I can assure you that pigs, cows, horses and other assorted livestock make a great deal of unpleasant noise when they consume their feed. They slurp, they snort, they smack, they grunt, they drool, they dribble, they belch, and they pass gas while eating– very much like some people I have observed. All without so much as an “excuse me.” Ignorant, unsophisticated animals can't help such behavior, I suppose. Neither can pigs, cows, horses, and assorted livestock.

Sometimes Mother Nature will sneak up on you with a sneeze or a cough or a hiccup. There's not much you can do to predict or control such occurrences. A well-mannered person says, “excuse me” after a sneeze or a cough or whatever. If the sneezing, coughing, hiccuping, etc. becomes prolonged, one should more literally excuse oneself and leave the table until the spell has passed. Only an ill bred imbecile forces his extended hacking, gagging, snorting, and spewing on his fellow diners.

Let's pause for a moment and consider the term “fellow diners.” To whom should manners and the rules of etiquette apply? Some people seem to think that such things are reserved for “company” or for formal occasions. Others assume that manners are to be observed when dining out but are unimportant at home with friends or family. Wrong on all counts. The Queen of England, your boss, your best friend, your parents or siblings, and total strangers all deserve the same level of respect. I don't know about you, but it doesn't matter to me if it's an unknown person at a restaurant or my brother-in-law at the family table, I don't like having anybody belch in my face. Such behavior is classless and crude whenever or wherever it is exhibited.

Back to the rules. Napkins are provided as a means of keeping your hands and your mouth clean and presentable. They are not there to use for blowing your nose, wiping your face, or polishing your teeth. A napkin should be placed in your lap at the beginning of a meal. In very informal circumstances, it may be tucked into your collar or shirtfront and used as a bib. Either way, it is to be used discreetly to wipe your fingers or dab at the corners of your mouth. Wiping or dabbing other parts of your anatomy with it is gross beyond description. It is proper, indeed, essential, to use a napkin to cover your mouth and/or nose if you sneeze, cough, or inadvertently burp. A napkin dropped on the floor should be replaced with a clean one. A napkin should not be placed in the seat of your chair if you leave the table. Some people say it's okay to do so if you're only taking a temporary leave. But, seriously, think about the body parts that have occupied that seat and then tell me you're okay with wiping your mouth with an article that has shared the same space. When you've finished with a napkin, it should be placed loosely beside your plate. On the left, if you wish to be exceedingly correct. It should never be wadded up and deposited on your plate or anywhere else.

Opposable thumbs set mankind apart from other animals, but this fact does not permit the unrestrained use of fingers when eating. Certainly, some foods – hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, pizza, crisp bacon – are intended to be “finger foods.” But steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, etc. are not. If you're not sure, err on the side of caution. If you have difficulty getting that last morsel onto your fork, it is perfectly acceptable to use a small piece of bread to help accomplish the task. It is never acceptable to push food onto a fork or spoon with your fingers.

The proper handling of bread is another area in which table manners have long since been forsaken. Breads and rolls should be torn or broken at the table, never cut. Some attribute this custom to seventeenth-century French cultural affectations while others assign religious connotations to the practice. (Bread represents the body of Christ, so you don't take after it with a knife.) You should never slather butter on an entire slice of bread or a whole roll while at the table. Break off a bite-size piece of bread and butter it just prior to eating it. Almost nobody does this anymore, but the rule still stands.

On the topic of utensils, I know I said I wasn't going to go into the arcane details of what to use when, but there is one very basic area that needs to be discussed. Gone are the days when men ate at the table using the same tools with which they slaughtered their food. Therefore, it is not necessary to hold your knife and fork like weapons. Assuming right-handedness, hold the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right. Grip them loosely with your index finger extended along the top edge of each utensil. Don't grip them in your fist as if you are about to stab something. With the tines of the fork curving downward, hold the food in place and employ the knife in a gentle sawing motion to cut off a bite-size piece. You should not have to saw violently enough to shake the entire table. After you have cut your morsel, lay your knife down along the edge of your plate and transfer your fork to your right hand. (This is the American method. In the Continental method, the fork never leaves the left hand.) Never allow your knife, fork, or spoon to touch the table once it has been used. When you set a utensil down, always place it on your plate or in your bowl, in the case of soup.

Speaking of soup, rule number one is no slurping! (Refer back to the paragraph regarding animal noises.) You should fill the bowl of your soup spoon a little more than half-full and, moving the spoon away from yourself rather than towards, raise the spoon to your lips and sip the soup from the side of the spoon. The “airplane” game may have been cute when you were two years old and your mother was trying to get you to open your mouth, but you should never put the whole spoon in your mouth from the front, or from any other direction, for that matter. It's permissible to tip your bowl away slightly to get the last drops of soup, but it is never proper to pick it up and drink from it. And when you return the spoon to the bowl, try to do so as quietly as possible. Loud clanking of cutlery is almost as annoying as animal noises.

Don't slouch at the table. Maintaining good posture is not only good etiquette but good for the digestion, as well. Keep your elbows off the table. Forearms are okay, elbows are not. And don't lean over your plate as you eat. Sit upright and gracefully use your fork or spoon to transport food to your mouth. Leaning in and shoveling up makes you look like a caveman.

One of my greatest pet peeves revolves around coming to the table when dinner is announced. I have witnessed gatherings where the host calls everybody to the table to dine and a few ignorant, lumpen clods, feeling that whatever conversation or pursuit they are involved in is of paramount importance, either dismiss the host with “Yeah, I'll be right there,” or ignore the summons completely. Not only is this base, rude, and insulting in and of itself, it also puts other diners in a quandary.

Acceptable behavior dictates that a meal should not commence before all are seated and the host has given the signal to begin. When you have ignoramuses who just have to watch that last play or that last scene or who feel compelled to speak that last sentence or puff that last puff or whatever else they consider more important than the meal at hand, everyone is discomfited because everyone has to wait on the convenience of a few ill-mannered trolls.

When someone has expended a great deal of effort in order to prepare and present food to you, it is minimally expected that you will have the good grace to come promptly to the table. And the practice of sending one's compliments to the chef is not merely an affectation reserved for people wishing to make good impressions at fancy restaurants. Thanking the person who prepared your meal and complimenting its quality is a mannerly thing to do. Keeping one's mouth shut about any flaws or deficiencies is also the well-mannered prerogative. “Gee, the turkey's a little dry” might be true, but pointing it out at the table is rude.

And I don't know about you, but I have never been present at a meal where starter's pistols, stopwatches, and checkered flags were involved. Eating is not a competitive event. Once a meal has begun, there is no need to race through it with knife and fork flying, because you won't be awarded a trophy for finishing first.

Even if you are Elastic Man and posses the ability to stretch your arm clear across the table, don't. The so called “boardinghouse reach” is inappropriate even in a boardinghouse. When a dish is passed to you, take a portion, and pass the dish to your right. If you would like to partake of a certain item or dish, ask that it be passed to you. When you have served yourself, either place the dish on the table in front of you or, if space is an issue, return it to whomever passed it to you so that it can be returned to its original place.

There are two schools of thought regarding the passing of salt and pepper. The older school advocates passing both the salt and the pepper, regardless of a request for only one of the items. A newer take promotes passing the salt and politely inquiring if the diner would also like the pepper. Personally, I'm old school.

“Please” and “thank you” are always appropriate.

Excuse yourself if you have to leave the table for some reason. And you don't have to inform your fellow diners as to the reason. We really don't care that you're going to the bathroom. A simple, “excuse me” will suffice. Don't make a production of it. Get up quietly, quietly push your chair back to the table, and quietly go on about your business.

If you are one who still clings to the adolescent belief that smoking makes you look “cool,” go look cool by yourself. Smoking has got to be the filthiest, nastiest, most offensive habit on the planet and it has absolutely no place at the dining table, whether before, during, or after a meal.

Dressing for dinner has sadly become a thing of the past. Nevertheless, I refuse to sit at a table in my underwear. While I may not always wear a coat and tie, I will at least wear a shirt. Especially for holidays and other special gatherings. Nothing says “festive” like your Uncle Joe coming to the table in his sweat shorts and a tank top. After all, nothing whets the appetite like chest and underarm hair. And, guys, regardless of how “stylin'” you might be, take your hat off at the table. Trust me, the sky will not fall if you remove your headgear for a few minutes.

Manners are the standards of conduct which demonstrate that a person is proper, polite, and refined. I have outlined just a very, very few basic rules that will help you look like a civilized human being at the table rather than a Neanderthal. If you want to be more excruciatingly correct, Emily Post and Miss Manners both have books that will enable you to do so.

But if you don't care a feather or a fig,
You may grow up to be a pig.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reality Check, Please: There's No Such Thing As “Alfredo Sauce”

So Exactly How Did Poor Alfredo Get Sauced?

It was about a hundred years ago that a guy in Rome opened an eponymous little restaurant. He was doing a good business, raising a nice family. Then his place got discovered by American tourists and the next thing you know, he was sauced. Funny thing, though; after he got sauced, everybody in America knew his name, but he remains largely forgotten in his native country.

I'm talking, of course, about Alfredo di Lelio and the ubiquitous creation that bears his name, “Alfredo sauce.” It stares at you from restaurant menus all over the United States. And not just so-called “Italian” restaurants. Nearly everyplace that serves food serves something in “Alfredo sauce.” It lurks in jars on grocery store shelves and it lies in wait in frozen packages. There are hundreds of recipes for it in cookbooks and online resources.

In reality, it shouldn't even exist. And in Italy – the country of Alfredo's birth – it doesn't.

So how did Alfredo get sauced? In simple, “Clue”-like terms, the actor did it in Hollywood with a fork and a spoon.

Poor Alfredo. His wife was pregnant and having a hard time keeping anything on her stomach. All he wanted was for her to be able to eat something. And so he served her a simple dish bland enough for her sensitive stomach to tolerate. He made her a nice plate of pasta in bianco. White pasta. Pasta without any sauce, just some butter and cheese. Also called pasta al burro, it was a common dish for people in her condition. You gave it to your kids when they had upset tummies.

What do Americans feed pregnant women with morning sickness or kids with upset stomachs? Toast, right? With a little butter? Or maybe some saltine crackers. Something easy to digest that will sit lightly on the stomach. Well, they don't do toast or crackers in Italy. They do pasta al burro.

Does your favorite cookbook include a recipe for buttered toast? I didn't think so. And nobody in Italy had to come up with a recipe for pasta in bianco. It was just something you made by boiling up some pasta and putting a little butter and cheese on it.

Alfredo didn't have it on the menu. What restaurateur in his right mind would make a special out of the equivalent of buttered toast? Alfredo pumped up the butter and the cheese for his wife so the dish would have a little more flavor, but it was still just pasta al burro, only doppio burro (double butter), or maybe triplo burro (triple butter) if Alfredo was feeling generous. Nothing special, okay?

And then Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, honeymooning in Rome, happened upon Alfredo's little place. They saw what he was feeding his wife and they wanted some. “Okay,” Alfredo probably thought, scratching his head, “give the crazy Americans what they want!” And he slapped down a plate of pasta without sauce. Whatever makes i turisti happy.

Now, unless you're ninety years of age or more or maybe a film historian, the names “Douglas Fairbanks” and”Mary Pickford” are likely meaningless to you. But in the silent movie era, he was the “Thief of Baghdad,” he was “Zorro,” he was “Robin Hood,” he was the undisputed swashbuckling “King of Hollywood.” She was his new wife and “America's Sweetheart” in her own right. Along with Charlie Chaplin, they were the movie industry in America, founding members of United Artists studio and of the Motion Picture Academy. By comparison, they made Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie look like relative unknowns.

So when this power couple lifted forkfuls of Alfredo's plain, simple pasta dish to their lips and pronounced it the most unique and delicious thing they had ever eaten.....well, what are you gonna do? They had photographs taken of themselves with Alfredo and they presented him with a golden fork and spoon to mount on his wall. Then they went back to Hollywood and sang the praises of “Fettuccine Alfredo” to everybody they knew – and they knew a lot of people.

Soon, the Hollywood elite were storming Italy in search of “Fettuccine Alfredo.” And unless they went to Alfredo's place – “Alfredo alla Scrofa” – in Rome, nobody knew what they were talking about. “Che cosa รจ questo 'fettuccine Alfredo?'” So they'd describe the dish. Mystified waiters and cooks would look at them strangely and say, “You want the Italian equivalent of buttered toast? What are you, sick or something?” Or words to that effect. Only Alfredo – who knew a cash cow when he saw it – had the good sense to put the dish on his menu. And that's pretty much the way it remains today.

But how did Alfredo get sauced?

Well, Americans have never been much for leaving well enough alone. No matter how good something is, Americans feel it can always be “improved” upon. And so it is with “Alfredo sauce.”

A properly made dish of what Alfredo actually served creates its own “sauce” by means of blending butter and cheese with hot pasta and a little of the water in which the pasta was cooked. The cheese and butter melt together and, when vigorously tossed with the hot pasta and water, coat the noodles in a rich, creamy “sauce.” But Alfredo, to his dying day, never made “Alfredo sauce.” It simply doesn't exist in the Italian culinary world.

So Americans had to improvise. They figured out a way to “improve” Alfredo's common preparation. They added cream. Why? Let me emphatically state something here and now: There is absolutely, positively, unequivocally no cream in an “authentic” preparation of what we know as “Fettuccine Alfredo.” So why the pollution? A lot of it has to do with the quality of butter Americans serve themselves.

Most commercially produced American butter contains no more than eighty percent butterfat and has a water content of between fifteen and twenty percent. European butter, on the other hand, generally contains more butterfat – up to eighty-three percent – and less water, making it richer and creamier.

And then there's the cheese. Alfredo probably never even thought of using anything but Parmigiano-Reggiano. Why would he? It's “the undisputed King of Cheeses.” There are cheaper alternatives being marketed under the “Parmesan cheese” label, but they are just that – cheap imitations of the real thing.

So, after the great discovery by Fairbanks and Pickford, American cooks started getting requests for “Fettuccine Alfredo.” They figured out how to make it – but somehow it didn't taste the same. It wasn't as rich and creamy. And what's the easiest way to make something creamy? Add cream to it, of course! So now, rather than let the rich flavor develop naturally from using high quality butter and superior cheese, American cooks threw together cheap butter and cheap cheese and made it “creamy” by adding cream.

Besides, you can't very well package the results of the intermingling of butter and cheese with hot pasta and a little water, now can you? But if you dump the butter and cheese in a pot, stir in a few glugs of cream and cook it all down, now you've got a “sauce;” something you can put in a jar with a label: “Alfredo Sauce.”

And that's how poor old Alfredo got sauced.

Nowadays, when you visit almost any restaurant in America and order something “Alfredo,” it's a pretty sure bet that the kitchen is going to be pouring “Alfredo” out of a jar or, at best, making it up from a recipe that includes cream. Some places further adulterate it by mixing in nutmeg, chives, and any other number of “flavor enhancers,” simply because Americans have an insatiable urge to complicate simple food in the name of “flavor.” But no matter what they add to it, it bears no reasonable resemblance to the wonderfully rich – and ridiculously simple – traditional dish that Alfredo served to his wife – and later to his patrons – at his ristorante on the via della Scrofa.

If you want the real deal, your best bet is to bypass the restaurants and skip the jarred, frozen, and packaged varieties of “sauce” found in your local megamarket and make it yourself. Here's a recipe, courtesy of Russell Bellanca, owner of Alfredo 100:

1 lb. of fresh, very thin fettuccine noodles
6 oz. butter, unsalted
6 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (aged 24 months), grated

Cook the fettuccine noodles in 1 gallon of salted boiling water for three minutes.

At the same time, cube or slice the butter into a warmed serving bowl. Drain the pasta, reserving a small amount of the cooking water. Pour the pasta into the serving bowl with the butter and immediately top with cheese. Using a large spoon and fork, toss and spin the noodles for two or three minutes, adding reserved pasta cooking water as required, until the noodles are thoroughly coated and a smooth, silky sauce has developed. Plate the preparation and serve immediately.

(Cheese lovers may want to sprinkle additional grated cheese on top.)

You can substitute dry pasta for fresh, of course, but don't cheap up on any of the ingredients. High quality pasta, like De Cecco or Barilla, will taste and perform better than generic store brands. European-style butter, like Plugra or Kerrygold, will impart a richer flavor than store brands or even national brands like Land 'o Lakes. And there is absolutely no substitute for Parmigiano-Reggiano. Domestic “Parmesan” doesn't cut it, and the dry, grated, cheese-flavored sawdust abomination in the green cans shouldn't even be considered. The technical trick to perfect preparation is all in the wrist. The biggest part of the “show” that Alfredo used to put on tableside when serving his dish was the tossing of the pasta with the butter and cheese to form the silky, smooth, rich, creamy “sauce” for which he became famous. Anything less than vigorously tossing and spinning for two or three minutes will result in lumpy, clumpy bits of cheese in a pool of melted butter. If you don't have the time, the technique, or the ingredients to do it right, you're better off with the junk in a jar.

And if you find yourself in Italy don't ask for the culinary equivalent of buttered toast unless you're not feeling well. Or unless you're dining at Alfredo's in Rome. Anyplace else and they'll just look at you funny and say, “stai scherzando? Devi essere ubriaco!” To which you can reply, “I'm not kidding and I'm not drunk. I'd just like to be a little sauced. Like Alfredo.”

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is Anybody Else Sick Of Kids On TV?

What's Next? CSI Junior?

You know the old adage that says, “Children should be seen and not heard?” It seems television these days has really taken the first part of that saying to heart and, at the risk of sounding like the crusty old curmudgeon I am, I'm frankly sick of it.

You can't turn on the blasted boob-tube these days without seeing passels of precocious little pollywogs parading around in some sort of competitive contest. Okay, so maybe the first couple of these programs were mildly entertaining when they hit the airwaves because they were unique. But in its classically derivative, brain-dead, creativity impaired way, television has turned the unique into the ubiquitous, thus destroying any entertainment value the concept might once have possessed. It's like the people who pitch ideas to the networks have decided that slapping the word “junior” on any and everything is a guaranteed sale. And, unfortunately, they appear to be right.

It started with food shows. Somebody got the bright idea that pairing MasterChef's notoriously profane chef Gordon Ramsay, his dour partner Joe Bastianich, and jolly Graham Elliot with a bunch of callow kiddies was going to be “must watch” TV. Who knew? MasterChef Junior became a hit. Apparently there was an itch that just needed to be scratched among American viewers to see a trio of world-class chefs and restaurateurs take a pie in the kisser. And, of course, if Fox could have a hit with a cadre of culinarily clever kids, you know the reigning king of derivative drivel known as Food Network would have to give it a go. So up popped Chopped Junior, and Rachael Ray's Kids Cook-Off, and Kids Baking Championship. There was one entry I (thankfully) missed on FYI called Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown. And I can't quite tell if a You Tube offering called Little Chef, featuring a be-toqued blond moppet named “Tommy Little,” was a serious attempt to cash in on the genre or just a bad parody.

Now get ready, world, because the cooking competition you've all been breathlessly awaiting, Top Chef Junior, is coming to a television screen near you. Oh. Boy. More cute kids in chef coats. Pardon my general lack of enthusiasm. Somebody at Bravo must have a tight grip on poor Curtis Stone's tender parts to get him to host yet another Top Chef spinoff. I would like to say I can hardly wait to watch this one, but actually I can. Eternally, in fact.

And because it's been proven that kids can drive ratings in the kitchen, the next logical step would be to move them out into the ballroom, right? That's apparently what ABC believes as they foist off Dancing With the Stars Junior upon an undemanding world. The pastiche will feature celebrity kids and kids of celebrities paired up weekly with young professional dancers to perform those wonderfully choreographed routines we've all come to love on the original DWTS, or, as I sometimes call it, “Hoofing With The Has Beens.” Count me out from the get-go on this one.

I mean, really! What's next? “CSI Junior,” in which an elite team of underage forensic evidence investigators solve cases at their local high school? The venerable old Survivor series has been in something of a slump. Think of the fun CBS could have with “Survivor Junior!” How about “The Amazing Race Junior” in which teams of tots deduce clues, navigate city streets, interact with locals, and perform physical and mental challenges all while mounted on tricycles and scooters? And wouldn't “Hells Kitchen Junior” be a hoot? I might actually watch that one, if just to see Gordon Ramsay tell a ten-year-old to “piss off.” Or to see how many “bleeps” a prepubescent potty-mouth can fit into one sentence. That's entertainment!

It's gotta stop somewhere, right? No, it really doesn't. Take a look at the unending procession of prequels, sequels, and “reimaginings” being churned out for our consumption on screens both large and small and you'll understand that the people who produce this dreck don't consider derivativeness to be a bad thing. So look for them to keep pushing precocity in our faces until long after today's “junior” stars have become grandparents. I'm afraid we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The ice chips, as it were.

I guess part of the problem for me is that I don't get all soft and squishy over every little doe-eyed, dimpled darling I see, on TV or elsewhere. Admittedly, some of the kids on these shows are simply adorable, but at the same time, there are others that are simply deplorable. Their antics may be seen as “cute” by some, but all they do for me is set off my brat detector, making them very hard to watch. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a “kid-hater.” I raised two of my own and I now have a delightful bunch of grands to enjoy. But too much of even a good thing is still too much, and by forcing ever larger boluses of kid-centric programming down our throats, the TV execs are rapidly approaching satiety.

And then there's the creeping sense I get of being played. Producers would have you believe these wunderkinds are just average kids plucked off the streets and thrust into circumstances under which they perform like seasoned professionals. Come on! If this is “reality TV,” let's get real. When I was twelve years old I could make a mean meal for my family – as long as they liked grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen French fries. Or maybe Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Minute Rice. My eldest son could whip up a nice spice cake from scratch when he was ten. Both of us have since gone on to run food service operations but I doubt that either of us, even today, could construct some of the elaborate dishes these pint-size “home cooks” toss off with such effortless panache. What? You mean your eleven-year-old can't just whip up an almond-crusted Chilean sea bass with wilted spinach and baby eggplant and a curry yogurt sauce? You say they can barely manage fish sticks and tater tots? Where did you go wrong? If a pan seared filet mignon with sauteed shrimp, glazed carrots and mushroom cream sauce is out of your kid's wheelhouse, you've obviously got an underachiever on your hands.

What they don't show you – and I wish they would – is that these kids are getting massive amounts of off-screen instruction from teams of culinary experts who spend all the hours the child labor laws will allow covering ingredients and going over technique, safety practices, plating and everything else a person of any age would be taught in culinary school. Supposedly, the kids aren't actually coached on particular dishes, but they are given access to tons of cookbooks and resources to help them achieve those “restaurant quality” results. And what would be wrong with letting the viewers see some of this? I, for one, think a few “behind the scenes” vignettes would be much more entertaining and would show us more about the real kids than those dreadful interview segments. Sometimes these kids seem more like budding actors than future chefs. They're all too smooth, glib, and witty for my taste. In fact, one MasterChef Junior alum, Oona Yaffe, landed a continuing supporting role on Fox's Sleepy Hollow. How about taking some real kids from real circumstances, kids who can hardly string three words together in front of a camera and who can barely boil water, and letting us watch them grow and learn as people and as cooks? That would be “reality TV” worth watching.

Oh, well. The channel selector on my remote works very well and I'm a firm believer in voting with my eyes. For my part, when I want to watch kids on TV, I look at videos of my grandchildren. They can't make a perfect Beef Wellington and their paso doble leaves much to be desired, but they're all the kid-centric entertainment I need.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Margarine Is Dead! Long Live Butter!

Butter Me Up!

Recently, I wrote about a guy in Massachusetts who sued Dunkin' Donuts for “buttering” his bagels with margarine instead of real butter. (Spoiler: He won.) And that got me thinking: why are we even having this discussion? Margarine is dead. Long live butter!

Distributor US Foods says its butter sales jumped almost seven percent in 2016 and Americans are forecast to eat a projected 940,000 metric tons of butter in 2017, a substantial eight percent more than they did in the previous year. The Department of Agriculture says that's the highest consumption of butter in the US since about 1967, the time when margarine began its meteoric rise in popularity.

Margarine – or oleomargarine – has been around since the mid-nineteenth century when it was developed by a French chemist to serve Napoleon III's army as a cheap substitute for butter. But very few people in their right minds ate the stuff by choice. Butter was abundantly available and relatively affordable if you weren't feeding an army. It remained that way right up through most of the first half of the twentieth century. Then WWII and its rationing programs came along and butter took a real hit. People got used to margarine doing the war years and, fueled by copious advertising dollars, “oleo” sales took off in the 1950s. Margarine was “modern” and fit right in with the trends of the '50s; plastic furniture, plastic toys, and plastic butter. Even butter strongholds like Wisconsin, where margarine was actually illegal well into the 1960s, eventually caved in to the demand for margarine.

Let me ask you a simple question: Why would you buy margarine? Would you buy it because you are health conscious? Would you buy it because you are cost conscious? Or would you buy it because you are simply unconscious? By that I mean you buy it out of habit just because you always have, or because your mother did, or because that's just what somebody on TV told you to do. And if you try to tell me you buy it because you really and truly prefer the taste, I'll call a doctor to examine your single malfunctioning taste bud.

I mean, how many margarines have touted themselves over the years as being “buttery tasting?” How many of them blend themselves with butter so they taste more buttery? Conversely, how many times have you seen butter advertisements that say, “Mmmmm...tastes just like margarine!” Admittedly, somebody who has grown up on the chemical taste and texture of butter-flavored axle grease may believe they actually like it, not knowing any better way. But in general terms, flavor is not a factor in this discussion. So, let's go back to the other excuses … I mean, reasons … for buying margarine.

It's cheap. Okay, if cost is your prime motivator, though it pains me to admit it, you win. There is no doubt that margarine is cheaper than butter. Taste, quality, and cooking performance aside, if your budget is so slim that you have to feed yourself and your family a diet of low quality, cut-rate, processed imitation food products, then that's the way it is. There is no point in your reading any further. I've already lost you and nothing I can bring to the table will change your mind. And I weep for you.

Now, let's bring the health bandwagon to the front of the parade. Margarine is so-o-o-o much better for you than butter! Butter has cholesterol! Butter causes heart attacks! Butter is evil! The road to hell is greased with butter! Margarine is safer! Margarine is healthier! No saturated fat! Heart-healthy! Omega-3! Cholesterol free! It's all Madison Avenue, folks. None of it is Mayo Clinic. In fact, here's a fun quote from the Mayo Clinic; “not all margarines are created equal — and some may even be worse than butter.” To which you gargle, “Oh! Oh! How can anything be worse than butter? All that saturated fat! All that cholesterol!”

Let's have a word about fat. Specifically, trans fat. Again, from the Mayo Clinic; “Like saturated fat, trans fat increases blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fat can lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or 'good,' cholesterol levels.” What's more, trans fats have been shown to make blood platelets stickier. Just what everybody needs, stickier platelets! They clump up and clot so much easier. And you know what? Margarine's loaded with the stuff! Especially the solid stick margarines that most people buy because they are cheap! One tablespoon of cheap stick margarine packs a whopping 3 grams of trans fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.

Now, there are “good” margarines out there. Mayo cites Benecol and Promise Activ. They are fortified with plant stanols and sterols, which can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol levels. But in the same paragraph, the docs at Mayo recommend using whipped or light butter or a butter blended with canola or olive oil “if you don't like the taste of margarine.” Hardly a medical mandate for margarine, eh? Some cardiologists today actually recommend butter over regular stick margarine.

Here's the scoop from Harvard Medical School: “The truth is, there never was any good evidence that using margarine instead of butter cut the chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Making the switch was a well-intended guess, given that margarine had less saturated fat than butter, but it overlooked the dangers of trans fats. Today the butter-versus-margarine issue is really a false one. From the standpoint of heart disease, butter is on the list of foods to use sparingly mostly because it is high in saturated fat, which aggressively increases levels of LDL. Margarines, though, aren’t so easy to classify. The older stick margarines that are still widely sold are high in trans fats, and are worse for you than butter. Some of the newer margarines that are low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat, and free of trans fats are fine as long as you don’t use too much (they are still rich in calories).”

So, it boils down to a matter of picking your artery-clogging poison. Neither butter nor margarine are on anybody's list of health foods. Butter is better than some margarines and some margarines are better than butter. But there's one thing that butter brings to the table, and that's nutritional value. Butter is an excellent natural source of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Not so with margarine, which has very little nutritional value at all.

What caps the issue for me is the fact that butter has been around since the dawn of civilization while margarine was created from a chemistry set about a hundred-fifty years ago. So if I have to make a choice between a good-tasting, natural substance that's bad for me and a bad-tasting, artificial substance that's bad for me – well, just call me “Mr. Natural.”

From a culinary standpoint, there isn't a margarine on the planet that can beat butter's performance in cooking. I know, a lot of recipes call for “butter or margarine.” That's primarily because margarine was being promoted so heavily when most of them were written. But the difference in the results is remarkable. Butter has browning and flavoring characteristics that margarine can only dream about. Butter is more heat stable than margarine. My own education and experience aside, I can't find a single professional chef or baker who prefers any form of margarine over good old-fashioned unsalted butter.

In fact, other than misinformed health nuts, the only people who actively advocate the use of margarine are the people who make it. The food magazines and cookbooks that cop out with the “butter or margarine” option only do so as a result of the butter backlash that began among health freaks in the 1970s. Because the fats in margarine are partially hydrogenated (i.e., not fully saturated), margarine pushers can claim it is "polyunsaturated" and market it as a healthy food.

Hydrogenation became popular in the US because hydrogenated oil doesn't spoil or become rancid as quickly as regular oil and therefore has a longer shelf life. And when it comes to marketing strategy, shelf life is where it's at. You can leave a stick of margarine sitting out for years and neither molds, insects, nor rodents will touch it. Only humans are stupid enough to eat the stuff.

Here's the definition of “margarine” from the Kitchen Dictionary” section of food.com: “A butter substitute made from a variety of different vegetable and other oils. The process of hydrogenation (used to make the margarine hard and spreadable) causes the margarine to produce trans-fatty acids in the body. These acids are known to cause a slew of problems: elevated cholesterol, hardening of the arteries, even cancer. Some margarines contain whey, and thus, are not dairy-free or lactose-free.”And here's a thought from Dr. Dane A. Roubos, D.C., B.Sc., originally published in Nexus Magazine: “To maintain good health it is important that we have the correct intake of omega fatty acids in our diets. Hydrogenated fats like margarine are non-foods with toxic effects and should be avoided at any cost.”

“Non-foods with toxic effects.” Isn't that a ringing product endorsement? Funny, I've never seen that one on a commercial for Blue Bonnet.

From a nutritional standpoint, the '50s and '60s were not good to us. An entire generation of Americans, hornswoggled by unscrupulous, dollar-driven ad men and their pseudo-scientific puppets, grew up believing that it was perfectly okay to consume gallons of sugary, syrupy soft drinks because doing so was “refreshing” and would make them part of a new cool, hip “in” crowd. We were led down a garden path that actually led out of the garden and into a chemistry lab where our food was salted, sugared, processed, and preserved beyond anything our ancestors would have even recognized as food. This was all done in the name of “modern convenience,” of course. Old-fashioned cooking was so passe, after all. It was all about “minute” rice and “instant” potatoes and macaroni and cheese from a box. Worse still, we liked it, or at least deluded ourselves into thinking we did. We so coated our taste buds with chemicals and preservatives that we actually thought the stuff we were heating up from cans and boxes and plastic packages was not only good for us, it was good tasting, too. That's why a man I know, a man brainwashed from birth by Madison Avenue's claims of margarine's health benefits and superior taste, won't have what he calls “that butter crap” in his house.

And now here we sit, obese and ridden with allergies, diabetes, cancer, and all manner of cardiac diseases, wondering how we got here. Thank God butter consumption is up: maybe people are finally learning something.

Look, as I said before, I'm not trying to tell anybody that butter is a health food. It's not. It's purely a saturated fat and every legitimate health organization on the planet recommends limiting your intake of saturated fat. But it's a natural fat. It was created by a cow, not a chemist. And if I'm going to die anyway, I'd rather be killed by Mother Nature than by the bastard step-child of a French chemist whose Frankenstein-like creation was developed in order to win a contest.

So butter me up another biscuit, Betsy, and make sure it's real butter. I don't want any of that margarine crap in my house.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Authentic Italian Food … At Walmart?

Marketing “Extraordinary Italian Taste”

Any Italian cook will tell you the secret to great Italian cooking is fresh, quality ingredients. That said, most will also admit they prefer those fresh, quality ingredients to be Italian ingredients whenever possible.

For example, I can make pasta or pizza dough out of any good quality all-purpose flour, but I prefer “00” flour, what Italians call “doppio zero,” when I can get it. The problem is it's hard to get. I can buy it at Salumeria Italiana in Boston's North End and I can find it in Atlanta at the East 48th Street Market in Dunwoody. I can also order it online or I can use an acceptable substitute in the form of King Arthur's “Italian-Style” flour. But I can't just pick it up at my local grocery store or at Walmart. Oh, wait.....

Normally, I would prefer a root canal to grocery shopping at Walmart. Yeah, they're a few pennies cheaper on most things, but I generally find that the cost is simply not worth the aggravation. Once in awhile, though, if I've been driven by desperation through the doors of “Hell-Mart,” as my wife calls it, in search of something else, I will wander over to the grocery side to pick up a few things. You know, since I'm already there. And it was on one such recent occasion that I found myself in the baking product aisle standing slack jawed and staring at a bag of Antimo Caputo Chef's Flour, Tipo “00.” The same stuff I get at the specialty shops. The same stuff I order online. At Walmart. This is a mistake, right? A fluke? As it turns out, maybe not.

Italian Trade Association president Michele Scannavini and Walmart's vice-president of Dry Grocery, Silvia Kawas, recently inked a deal in Milan in which the two entities will work together developing a Walmart brand of imported Italian food products as part of a broader arrangement between the retail behemoth and Italy’s trade promotion agency to boost sales of Italian food and wines. Yes, friends, the same store that has previously sold you Great Value Parmesan-Flavored Cellulose Powder in a plastic can will now offer actual Parmigiano-Reggiano a few aisles over.

The Italian agency plans to bring Wallyworld execs to Italy for buying trips, allowing them to scope out authentic Italian food items they can stock on store shelves under the “Extraordinary Italian Taste” logo consumers will soon see popping up in Walmart's marketing material. The company says it will increase its purchases of Italian products by sixteen percent annually. This is seen as good news for small-to-mid-size Italian food producers who have not been able to break into the American market in the way that larger Italian companies, like De Cecco, have.

The trade group hopes that by boosting Italian food exports and sales of authentic Italian products to the United States, they can cut down on misleading “Italian sounding” food products that are not made in Italy and that cost Italian food makers billions of euros every year. And therein lies the problem as I see it with the new Walmart alliance: education and overcoming generations of conditioning.

Americans as a whole are not terribly savvy shoppers. Clever marketing has led many a consumer down a low quality path. Nowhere is this more true than with “Italian” food products. Purveyors of bottom shelf merchandise long ago figured out the whole “Italian mystique” thing and started slapping garbage in green, white, and red packaging and labeling it with names that end in vowels. Sure there are oddballs like me who actually read the labels, look for the DOP seals and symbols, and pay attention to the country of origin, but the overwhelming majority of American shoppers just see a vowel at the end of a made up Italian word and automatically think, “Okay, that's Italian.” What I'm saying is that consumers are so accustomed to seeing “Real Italian Flavor” and “Italian-Style” and “Made With Italian Ingredients” and other ubiquitous marketing pitches on the stuff they buy that I don't think Walmart's “Extraordinary Italian Taste” gimmick is going to have much impact. Especially if the real thing is going to cost more than the knock off.

Besides being uneducated shoppers, many Americans are penurious penny-pinchers who gravitate toward the “value” brands in stores because they are a nickel cheaper than the “premium” brands. People with large families and/or limited budgets have to shop this way, I suppose, but a lot of folks are just cheap. I know people who make way more money than I do who shop at bargain barns because they can buy “Craponi” spaghetti five pounds for a dollar. To people like that it's not going to matter if the item in question is a product of Parma, Italy or Parma, Ohio; they're gonna go for cheap.

If Walmart is going to succeed in this “Extraordinary Italian Taste” idea – and I hope they do – they're going to have to do more than slap pretty labels and stickers on stuff. Somebody's going to have to figure out a way to show historically cheap, uneducated shoppers that superior quality equals superior value even if it comes at a superior price. Take my flour find, for example. While I was dancing in the aisle clutching my three-pound bag of “00” for which I was more than willing to shell out about four bucks, there were a whole bunch of people reaching for five-pound bags of Great Value All-Purpose Flour, selling for less than three dollars, and wondering what I was getting so excited about. After all, flour is flour, right? Just like spaghetti is spaghetti. Why would anybody spend three-fifty a pound for DeCecco when they can buy a pound of store brand for less than two dollars? And why should anybody buy that olive oil with the little Italian seal on it for twenty bucks when they can buy a bottle of Violi for five? I mean, Violi's gotta be real Italian, too, right?

Good luck, Walmart. Buona fortuna, Agenzia ICE. I hope the initiative is dazzlingly successful. I look forward to seeing what produtti autentico italiano Walmart markets under its new label and how they fare against good ol' Great Value. It should be interesting.

So I guess now you can look for me in Walmart more often. I'll be the one there at two in the morning wearing a green, white, and red striped speedo and a tank top that says, “Vaffanculo is Italian For Have A Nice Day.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"Kid-Free" Restaurants Are Trending -- And That's Okay By Me

It's Not About Bad Kids; It's About Bad Parenting

I've never eaten at Caruso's Restaurant in Mooresville, North Carolina. But you know what? Next time I'm in the area, I'm gonna make a point of stopping in and saying a big “grazie mille, amico” to owner Pasquale Caruso. Why? Because I would be assured of a peaceful, quiet, elegant dining experience in Pasquale's newly “kid free” establishment. That's right, Caruso's has become one of a growing number of upscale eateries to ban children under a certain age. In this case, that age is five.

Oh, there have been angry cries from aggrieved parents. For example: “Absolutely horrible would not be served because I have a 4 year old son who I might add is actually very well behaved he's not perfect by no means but he knows when we go out to a nice family dinner to mind his manners, me or my family will NEVER return to this place! Out of 5 stars I give it a 0.01 pitiful.” Or this one: “such a anti-humanity snob....wouldn't it be nice if the restaurant banned those who are kid haters..”

With their atrocious grammar (“he's not perfect by no means,” “me or my family,” and “a anti-humanity snob ) and apparent lack of familiarity with punctuation and sentence structure, these people represent a mere smattering of ninny-whiners. In general, reaction to the decision has been overwhelmingly positive. By all accounts, Caruso's has seen what some call a “dramatic” increase in business. “Thank you for taking a stand,” is an oft repeated comment. And Caruso's is hardly standing alone. In recent years, restaurants across the country and around the world have taken what would once have been considered an unthinkable step. Fine or finer dining establishments in Houston, Pittsburgh, Monterey, California, and Alexandria, Virginia, as well as restaurants in Australia, Britain, and Italy, have implemented some form of age restriction.

The reasons behind this movement are simple and perfectly justified: unsupervised or improperly supervised children causing disruptions, creating dangerous situations, and/or doing physical damage to property. One restaurant owner reported $1,500 damage to a wall inflicted by somebody's little darling with a quarter. Waitstaff at other places report near misses or outright collisions with running, screaming, playing children. These workers carry heavy trays full of sharp objects and hot dishes and shouldn't be expected to have to perform balletic gymnastics – often at risk to themselves and other diners – to avoid contact with somebody's brat. And there's the recent tragedy of the 5-year-old child killed in an Atlanta restaurant when he wandered off and got his head caught in machinery that operated the restaurant's revolving floor. Most common, however, are complaints from other diners who should not have to be subjected to tantrums and other disruptive behavior. While not the sole impetus behind Caruso's ban, an incident wherein a little girl had the volume on her iPad cranked up to the max while her parents refused requests to have her turn it down, was kind of the last straw.

“People don’t want to come in and spend money on a nice meal and an evening out when there’s constantly food on the floor, loud electronic devices keeping kids entertained, and small children screaming,” Caruso said. “It was just the right decision for my business.” And it's becoming the right decision for a lot of businesses.

But there's a deeper issue in play here: it's not really about bad kids, it's more about bad parenting.

In Caruso's case, in addition to the child behaving like a spoiled brat, the parents were right up there enabling her bad behavior. The kid was obviously causing a disruption and when asked to correct the situation, the parents refused, clearly believing that it wasn't their problem that everybody else in the place was upset! Go back to the ninny-whiner I referenced earlier; “I have a 4 year old son who I might add is actually very well behaved.” Uh-huh. That's what they all say. The world is full of “well-behaved” children. It's just that some parents' definition of “well-behaved” is quite broad. Even in the case of the Atlanta tragedy, a police spokesman said the little boy was “just doing what kids do.”

I'm sorry, but I disagree. Here I go putting on my “back in my day” hat, but back in my day kids didn't “do” what today's kids do. They didn't behave anywhere near as badly in public as they do now and that's a circumstance I lay squarely at the feet of overindulgent parents. Self-absorbed products of too much privilege themselves, they simply don't see where anything their kids do is wrong or deserving of censure or consequences. So what if little Angelica did $1,500 damage to somebody's property? That's just what kids do, you know. Besides, insurance will cover it. And so what if Billy is screaming at the top of his lungs? Kids will be kids. He's just making a play for attention. He'll get over it. So should you. I don't care that you paid big bucks for your dining experience. So did I and I have every right to experience it on my terms, so suck it up, buttercup.

Remember the brouhaha that swirled around the restaurant owner in Portland, Maine awhile back when she had the temerity to “scream” at a misbehaving child? The little dumpling had been raising holy hell for forty minutes or so while the parents just blithely let it go on. Finally, the owner slammed her hands down on the counter, pointed at the screaming child and shouted, “this needs to stop!” At which point the kid abruptly shut up. And the outraged parents entered the fray, indignantly demanding, “Are you screaming at a child?” To which the frazzled owner replied, “Yes. I am.” And the social media battle was on. All because a stranger had the guts to do what the gutless parents wouldn't.

Screaming, shouting, talking loudly, getting up from the table and wandering around, playing in walkways or under tables, playing with food, throwing it around and making a mess – none of that would have been tolerated by my parents' generation. Us kids would have been snatched up and taken out of the restaurant so quickly it would have left us dizzy. I can state unequivocally that I never misbehaved in a restaurant because I knew better going in. And it's not that my ninety-pound, 4' 9” mother would have beaten the crap out of me. I was just taught better manners at home and I carried them out into the world. I'm proud to say that my two sons, both family men in their thirties now, were frequently praised by restaurant patrons for their deportment as children. I didn't have to flog them to within an inch of their lives. They were simply taught proper public behavior long before they went out in public.

But that's just not the way it is anymore. Today's parents live in a world of their own and are content to let kids live in a similar state. The so-called “adults” plug themselves into Facebook or engage one another in conversation and simply let their kids “be kids,” a sad euphemism for being spoiled, privileged, entitled, overindulged, selfish, thoughtless, hell-spawn brats. And woe betide any foolish enough to take measures to stem the tide of blatant misbehavior. “What gives you the right to interfere with my kids?”

People are tired of it. Comments on the stories about Caruso's and other places that have taken measures to ensure a pleasant atmosphere run probably twenty to one along these lines:

I am glad to know that there is a restaurant that I can go to where there are no screaming children. Adults need a place to go and eat and just to relax.”

I have not tried your restaurant but can applaud your choice. Parents refuse to calm their children down when they are loud and obnoxious. So the owner has to do what's best. I will be encouraging others to visit your place.”

From what I've seen, parents today do NOT contain their kids at restaurants. Leave them home with the sitter and have a date night without screaming, crying and misbehaving kids.”

I thank the owner for the ban of small children. We enjoy the upscale dining, and appreciate the ability to go to a nice Italian restaurant and dine without screaming / unruly children.”

Sounds fine to me. There are plenty of restaurants that allow kids. I don't see a problem with having one that doesn't.”

And that last comment strikes at the very heart of the matter: people who drag an unruly, ill-tempered two-year-old into a fine dining restaurant are the same ones who bring such kids into violent, R-rated movies, formal concerts and theatrical events, weddings, funerals, and even church services. These venues are not designed to accommodate children and posses nothing to hold a child's interest. Hence boredom which leads to misbehavior. But clueless parents don't seem to get the idea that forcing such square little pegs into round holes is something they do to suit their own convenience, not the child's. They are hell-bent on seeking life's pleasures and refuse to be incommoded by a tag-along toddler. So rather than find someplace where their kids will feel welcome, someplace where screams and laughter are permitted and encouraged, they abrogate their responsibility and foist it off on the rest of us. Kid-themed eateries may not be a trendy adult's kind of place, but think about it: is a place like Caruso's really a kid's kind of place? I say start kids out with lower expectations and teach them the ropes as they grow. Starting them at the top is unfair to the kids and to everybody around them.

And before anybody accuses me of being out of touch with the modern world, I have grand-kids now, five of them. All but one would not make the age cut at Caruso's. And that's okay because nobody in my family would think of taking them there or to to any place where they are so obviously out of place. They are, I might add, very well behaved. But what do I know? I'm just a kid hating, anti-humanity snob.

I came across a piece by Rhonda Stevens that sort of ties in with what I'm talking about. It's kind of lengthy and I don't want to minimize the content by trying to condense it. It's a perfect treatise on modern parenting and I wish to hell I had written it because it really mirrors my thoughts on the subject. Check out her excellent essay here and when you finish reading it, meet me at Caruso's in Mooresville, NC. We'll discuss it over a nice quiet, kid-free dinner.