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 becoming a follower. I'd really like to know who you are and what your thoughts are on what I'm doing. 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!

Friday, August 31, 2012

September (2012) Fun Food Holidays

Autumn is finally upon us. Cooler days are on the horizon and the beauty of fall is at hand. Having survived August, September allows us to turn our thoughts back to food and eating, rather than focusing on air conditioners and sweating. September, so named because it was the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar (up until 153 BC), boasts of a number of great food celebrations, so let's start celebrating!

Paramount in the part of the country in which I live, September is National Biscuit Month. Coincidentally, it is also National Breakfast Month – although any Southerner knows that biscuits are not just for breakfast anymore. September is National Chicken Month. Ever had a good chicken biscuit? Honey, mushrooms, papaya, potatoes, rice, and whole grains are also celebrated all month long. And we mustn't overlook California Wine Month and National Bourbon Heritage Month, either.

Don't forget, oyster lovers, that September is the first “R” month and many folks also acknowledge September as the kickoff not only of football season, but of wine season, as well.

Foods that get their own weeks in September include waffles and biscuits and gravy, both during the second week of the month, and wild rice gets the fourth week.

This year, September starts off extremely well because International Bacon Day, a floating holiday that occurs on the Saturday before Labor Day, falls on the first. (In preparation, you're all invited to read my article on how to cook bacon.) Not to be selfish, bacon shares the day this year with National Cherry Popover Day.

Speaking of things that pop, how about National Blueberry Popsicle Day on September 2.

National Welsh Rarebit Day is September 3. It's frequently called "Welsh Rabbit," but trust me, there are none of Bugs Bunny's kinfolk involved in this dish of cheese sauce poured over toasted bread.

If you're nuts for macadamias, September 4 is your day to shine.

After International Bacon Day, September 5 is my second-highest holy day, National Cheese Pizza Day. (I wonder if topping it with bacon from the previous holy day would be sacrilegious?)

Coffee ice cream has its day on September 6 and the lowly acorn squash gets elevated to national attention on the 7th.

Do you crave date nut bread? Your day is at hand. It's September 8.

Don your lederhosen and knock back a few brewskies as you revel in National Weinerschnitzel Day on September 9.

Let's all flash back to 1953, the year when Swanson first introduced the TV Dinner. Grab a few at the store, heat 'em up, tune in an old “I Love Lucy” rerun, and park in front of the tube for the perfect celebration of National TV Dinner Day on September 10.

Have you had a good hot cross bun lately? Well, September 11 would be the appropriate day to do so.

I, personally, will hold out for a chocolate milkshake on National Chocolate Milkshake Day, September 12.

Mr. Peanut would like to invite y'all over to Jimmy Carter's place for National Peanut Day on September 13. (Just kidding, Mr. President.)

Now, you can double up on September 14. It's National Eat A Hoagie Day and also National Creme-Filled Doughnut Day. (Fortunately, there's a Krispy Kreme shop right around the corner from the deli.)

If you like your spaghetti flat, there's National Linguine Day on September 15.

For the uninformed among you, May 5 or Cinco de Mayo, is not Mexican Independence Day. That distinction goes to September 16. How that relates to National Guacamole Day, I leave to your judgment.

Consume celebratory apple dumplings on the 17th, cheeseburgers on the 18th, butterscotch pudding on the 19th, and wash it all down with rum punch on the 20th.

Go bananas on the 21st for the International Banana Festival. Or you can celebrate the day with a pecan cookie. Both are appropriate.

Legend tells us the ice cream cone was invented on September 22, 1903 at the St. Louis World's Fair. Of course, the Fair didn't open until 1904, but why screw up a perfectly good food holiday. September 22. National Ice Cream Cone Day. Go forth and celebrate.

White chocolate, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, “don't get no respect.” It's not really even chocolate, you know. But on September 23 it all comes around for National White Chocolate Day.

Okay, anything you have to flambé is worth celebrating. Enjoy National Cherries Jubilee day on September 24.

The controversy rages: some food experts claim Shrove Tuesday as the only official Pancake Day. Others say National Pancake Day occurs on September 26. Why can't we all be friends and celebrate both, hmmm?

Try this duo of food celebrations on the 27th: Corned Beef Hash and Chocolate Milk. Maybe not.

According to some sources, September 28 is Drink Beer Day. You mean there's a day for that? It's also Strawberry Cream Pie Day, although I'm not sure the two go together very well.

National Coffee Day follows the next day on the 29th. Maybe you could just hold the strawberry cream pie until then.

And finally, in anticipation of the mellow fall month of October, enjoy National Mulled Cider Day on September 30.

Un brindisi alla vita dolce!

Thursday, August 30, 2012 Is Definitely Worth A Look

I just stumbled upon a "new" website I thought I'd share;

Judging from the fine print at the bottom of the home page, Labelwatch is not really "new." It's copyrighted 2007. But it's new to me and I've already added it to my favorites. (I've also added a link from this blog and you can get there from here:

As much as I advocate fresh food and cooking from scratch, everybody winds up using canned and packaged goods at some point for some things. And that's where Labelwatch is such a boon. There are a couple of features that you may or may not be interested in, i.e. the "Smart Living," "Smart Shopping," and "Smart Recipes" tabs, although there's some good information there. What I found most useful were the "Product Comparison" and "Glossary" areas.

"Product Comparison" gives you the lowdown on labels. You can search a variety of categories, such as "Canned Soups/Meals," and find label information on ingredients and nutritional values of most major brands. For example, I chose "Ingredients" and entered "Campbell's" in the search box. I got the ingredient labels for a hundred Campbell's products ranging from broths and soups through Spaghetti-Os.

The "Glossary" tab is an indispensible tool. Ever wonder what "Acetylated Mono and Diglycerides" are? Or "L-glutamic Acid"? Or "Agar Gum"? It's all there, with easy definitions and descriptions as well as color-coded categories advising whether the ingredient is "Beneficial," "OK," or "Cautionary."

Check it out today. It'll be bookmarked in your "Favorites" too.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remembering Elvis

I might have gotten more hits on this post had I put it up yesterday (August 16). But that's not really why I'm writing it. I don't just remember Elvis Presley one day a year. To borrow from one of his hits, he is “always on my mind.” And it is still officially “Elvis Week,” so I guess I'm covered.

For me, yesterday was a mix of happy memories and melancholy thoughts. Happy because I grew up on Elvis and hearing his music, especially his early tunes, takes me back to an idyllic time in my life. I was a toddler when Elvis hit the music world like a hurricane. Scratch that. It was more like a tornado. You can see hurricanes coming and predict their paths. Nobody saw Elvis coming.

My older sister was a true member of the Elvis cult and it was through her that I initially connected with the burgeoning “King of Rock and Roll,” a title, I'm told, that he really disliked. But I soon came to be a fan all on my own. I distinctly remember being in about the second grade and belting out “Return to Sender” whenever it played on the radio. I couldn't quite get all the words in those days, but it was the thought that counted.

In our increasingly deranged modern world where people have to wear body armor to movie theaters, it seems impossible that I, as an eight, nine, and ten-year old kid, used to walk to the theater by myself to see “Kissin' Cousins,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and “Girl Happy.” And the movies I didn't see on the big screen, I later watched over and over again on the small one. I even went to see Elvis' big dramatic opus, “Charro,” when it came out in 1969. The only movie I ever missed was “Stay Away, Joe,” and having watched part of it on TV the other day, I realize that I didn't miss much. Elvis should have told that overblown carny con man, “Colonel” Tom Parker, to take a hike years before he ever got dragged down so low.

But even when he was wallowing in an artistic misery that you could usually see in his face, I stood by him. I was a fan. I gloried in the “return” of Elvis heralded by what we now call the “'68 Comeback Special.” And I shared the triumph other true believers felt when Elvis captured the world live from Hawaii in 1973. Whether he liked it or not, he was “The King.”

And then the crown began to slip. Oh, later “Vegas Era” hits like “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “Burnin' Love” proved that Elvis still had it. But that he was struggling to keep it was obvious. Even my sister, a loyal and devoted fan since Day One back in 1956 found it difficult to watch the sweating, overweight specter slurring and stumbling through his greatest hits. She nearly walked out of one of his last concerts. It was, indeed, painful to watch him in his last years. A failed storybook marriage, a constant battle with his weight, an increasing dependence on prescription drugs, and a career that was careening into parody all took their toll on a man who, at heart, was still a wide-eyed country boy from the poor side of Tupelo, Mississippi. And that's where the melancholy thoughts overtake the happy memories.

Elvis could have had so much more and he could have been so much more. You may ask, incredulously, “He was the most famous person in the world! What more could he have had?” How about happiness? Love? Personal satisfaction? I like to say, “Money can't buy happiness......but it can sure rent a lot of it.” Elvis rented a lot of happiness. He paid for a lot of love and devotion. But I don't know that he ever owned much. There was a sad loneliness about Elvis in his last years, a palpable emptiness that he sought to fill with the affections and attentions of sycophantic hangers-on who were more than willing to be there to benefit from the largess of the King, but who were, in truth, nothing more than shadows; present in the light but quickly fading when the darkness came.
And when the final darkness came for Elvis, it came not in a bright setting surrounded by the presence of loving friends and family, but behind darkened shades, alone in a bathroom. The tragic image of a bloated Elvis fallen from the toilet and dying in a pool of vomit is not one I like to entertain, but it is there, nonetheless; an eery parallel to a wasted king fallen from his “throne.” That's why, as much as I “loved” Elvis as a fan – and still do – it sometimes makes me sad to think about him.

I was driving down Virginia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk, Virginia on the afternoon of August 16, 1977. It was a hot summer day and my air conditioning wasn't working well, so I had the windows open and the radio cranked up pretty loud. The “cricket” and fanfare that preceded the “CBS News Special Report” got my attention. The report from Memphis struck me like a blow. I was momentarily stunned to the point where I had to pull into a parking lot to recover. Elvis is dead? There must be a mistake. Elvis can't be dead. He's only 42. Wasn't it just yesterday that I was singing “Return to Sender” with him? Didn't he just get out of the Army? Didn't he just marry Priscilla and have Lisa Marie? Isn't he still standing, Phoenix-like, in a bejeweled white jumpsuit in front of a camera beaming his image via satellite to hundreds of millions of homes around the world? He can't be dead. For if he's dead, part of my youth has died, too.

Ten years later, I devoted my entire afternoon radio show to Elvis. I pulled out obscure soundbites and familiar mega-hits. I talked to the folks at Graceland. I even had my sister on for awhile and we discussed the influence Elvis had on us. Then I opened up the phone lines and let my listeners share their thoughts and memories. It was a profound and moving experience. The power and the impact of one man and the mark he made on countless lives was simply stunning. Ten years after the fact, some people were still crying.

I've read a lot about Elvis in the years since his death. I've read ridiculous theories about Elvis being alive and performing as “Orion.” I've read self-serving garbage from people whom Elvis called “friends.” I've read the “tell-all” memoirs of his ex-wife. I've read biographies of every stripe, including “Last Train To Memphis,” Peter Guralnik's two-volume tome. I've watched televised specials and retrospectives until my eyes were sore. I came away from all of it with the same sad feeling.

Nearly twenty years after Elvis died, I made a brief acquaintance with Charlie Hodge. Charlie was a member of the so-called “Memphis Mafia.” Watch some of the footage of Elvis in concert. You'll see Charlie. He was, as he referred to himself, “the scarf guy” – the one who kept Elvis draped in the scarves he used to give away to adoring fans. Charlie was a longtime friend to Elvis, going back to their Army days at Ft. Hood, Texas. He never reveled in the glory reflected from Elvis. He quietly and gratefully accepted it. He was one of only a few who was always there for Elvis, in good times and in bad. He truly cared for Elvis and looked out for his best interests when most others were busy looking out for themselves. He was a true friend.

We moved in the same social circles for awhile and Charlie freely spoke about Elvis, defending him against all manner of what he called “rumors.” It was through Charlie that I learned of Elvis' enlarged heart and of his liver condition, apparent genetic traits he shared with his mother and an uncle, both of whom died relatively young as a result. Charlie talked of glaucoma and hypertension and of three apparently undiagnosed heart attacks that Elvis had suffered prior to his death. And he revealed bone cancer as a cause for much of the pain Elvis suffered and for which he took many of the pharmaceuticals that most point to as the ultimate cause of his death. Charlie hated the word “drugs” in relation to his friend. He always referred to the “medicine” Elvis took. He also spoke of Elvis' deep religious devotion and said that Elvis seemed happiest when he was singing gospel music. And Charlie remained amazed all those many years later at the breadth and depth of Elvis' generosity, much of which has been documented, but much more of which is only known to those involved. Charlie showed me the precious diamond “TCB” necklace given to him by Elvis. Elvis ultimately gave a lot of those lightning bolt symbols away to friends and business associates, but Charlie's was one of the original twelve Elvis had made when he took a liking to the Bachman - Turner Overdrive song, “Takin' Care of Business” and adopted the phrase as his personal motto. Charlie didn't wear the piece like junk jewelry. He preferred to reserve it for special occasions. He proudly displayed his affection for Elvis, but was averse to ostentation and the inevitable questions the necklace usually brought about.

Even though I only knew Charlie, who has since passed away, for a brief time, I was able to come away with a deeper insight into who Elvis really was as a result of the acquaintance, and for that I am very grateful.

It doesn't seem possible that it's been thirty-five years since I sat in a Norfolk parking lot waiting for word that a mistake had been made. The concert from Hawaii happened the year I graduated from high school. Elvis strutting in black leather on NBC-TV only a few years earlier and standing in a tuxedo looking like a nervous groom only a year before that. And it certainly can't be fifty years since we sang “duets” on the radio. It just can't be.

This one still makes me cry like a baby.

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind,
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine.

Quiet thoughts come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet.
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories”

The King is gone. Long live The King!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Remembering Julia Child

Julia Child, the Grand Dame of French Cooking in America, would have turned 100 this week (August 15). The daughter of John McWilliams, Jr. and Julia Carolyn Weston was one of the most recognized – and parodied – personalities of the 20th century. TV Guide magazine once named her one of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

And yet........

Who is Julia Child?” I heard that question while standing in line at a local bookstore. The response the questioner received from her companion was just as startling; “I don’t know. Some cook, I guess”

The pair of twenty-somethings was standing near a display of Julia’s cookbooks. That these two young ladies – who surely would have instantly recognized Paula Deen or Rachael Ray – were clueless about Julia Child is a sad and telling comment on our modern era of “instant celebrity.” But Julia had already made her enormous contribution to contemporary society and was well on her way to becoming a much-revered cultural icon years before these women were born.

In the first fifty years of the twentieth century, America had survived a world war, a crushing economic depression, and still another world war. Now that the Second World War was over and prosperity was roaring back, Americans were ready to put all the hardship behind them and move on into the modern world in a big way. For women especially, this meant no more slaving in the kitchens as their mothers and grandmothers had. It’s the 1950s! Everything we need to feed our families can be found in a box, in a can, or – wonder of wonders – fresh from the freezer! No more muss, no more fuss. Who needs to know how to cut up a chicken, how to mash potatoes, how to cook peas? Messrs Swanson and Birdseye have done it all for us and put it in conveniently compartmentalized containers right in our freezers. And should we desire to make “real” mashed potatoes or “real” macaroni and cheese, we have boxes full of them in our pantries and cupboards and all we need do is boil up some water. Throw off the chains of kitchen drudgery, ladies! The Jolly Green Giant has set you free!

Enter Julia Child, an American woman who discovered French cuisine while living in Paris and who subsequently set out on a mission to share her new-found passion with other Americans. Realizing that the “heat and serve” generation in America was going to need instruction and recognizing that there were no authentic French cookbooks written in English, Julia collaborated with a pair of French cooks and authors to bring about the tome of more than 700 pages that became “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Through over 500 personally tested and concisely written recipes, Julia de-mystified haute cuisine and made it available to average home cooks. An instant hit with upwardly mobile young women who wanted to seem trendy and sophisticated by preparing dishes they couldn’t properly pronounce, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” soon became an indispensable tool for the serious-minded cook who wanted to master not only French cooking, but cooking in general. The detailed, insightful, and most importantly, practical tips and techniques Julia imparted to her readers/students could easily be adapted and applied to nearly any cuisine.

But Julia’s influence in American kitchens had only begun. In a world without a twenty-four hour a day cable network dedicated to food, Julia Child became the first true “celebrity chef.” Her live-to-videotape program, “The French Chef,” which aired on National Educational Television (forerunner of PBS), was such a stunning success that markets around the country frequently reported running out of the ingredients for whichever dish Julia was preparing that week. Utilizing recipes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” Julia not only brought her book to life, but did so in a delightfully entertaining way.

The gods must have thought it amusing to take a somewhat gawky 6-foot 2-inch figure and pour THAT voice into it. With a delivery and demeanor that sometimes left viewers wondering whether she had been sampling the sherry a little too much, Julia made learning to cook fun. Anybody could stand in front of a camera and prepare a recipe, but nobody could do it like Julia Child could. Even her mistakes – and since the program was taped live, there were more than a few – were turned into “teachable moments.” An apocryphal tale tells of Julia’s dropping a chicken (duck, turkey, leg of lamb) on the floor, picking it up, dusting it off and returning it to the pan with a cheery, “Remember, you’re alone in the kitchen, so no one will know.” The closest verifiable incident of this type occurred when Julia was flipping a potato pancake a bit too vigorously and some of the mixture slopped out of the pan and onto the stove or table, causing Julia to admonish viewers to “just scoop it back into the pan,” and continue cooking it.

It was Julia’s easy confidence in the kitchen that made such a tremendous impact on fledgling cooks and chefs. As she matter-of-factly made her way through dishes of varying complexity, she made the home viewer – the home cook – believe that he or she could do it, too. Many of today’s Food Network “stars” attribute their early inspirations to Julia Child. Although not the first televised cook – a distinction claimed by James Beard – Julia Child was certainly the most widely viewed and the most influential. By the time she died in 2004, just two days shy of her 92nd birthday, Julia Child had authored more than a dozen best-selling cookbooks, had hosted a dozen televised cooking programs, had been awarded numerous Peabody and Emmy awards, and had founded the educational American Institute of Wine and Food in Napa, California. She also received the French Legion of Honor and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Johnson and Wales University, and her alma mater, Smith College.

The late Nora Ephron's 2009 film “Julie & Julia,” a work based on Julia’s autobiographical “My Life in France” and on blogger Julie Powell’s recounting of her efforts to cook her way through Julia’s magnum opus “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by preparing 524 recipes in 365 days, helped introduce Julia to a new generation. She is portrayed with uncanny aplomb by actress Meryl Streep, whose mimicry of her unique, warbly voice and slightly dotty mannerisms is so eerily accurate as to make one think that Julia herself is up there on the big screen. Although I agree with many critics that the movie should have eliminated the superfluous Ms. Powell and been simply “Julia,” it is, nonetheless, an entertaining film.

As a dedicated Italian cook I spare few opportunities to take potshots at the over-preening haughtiness of the purveyors of French cuisine, but Julia Child is bulletproof. I only wish she had discovered her passion in Naples or Rome instead of Rouen, but c’est la vie.

As to the two young ladies in the bookstore, I’d advise them to go ask their mothers or their grandmothers. Or maybe just pick up one of Julia’s cookbooks for themselves.

I usually sign off my little epistles with “buon appetito,” but maybe, just once, in honor of a great lady, it wouldn’t hurt to say “bon appetit.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Giada De Laurentiis Pork Chop Recipe My Wife Says Is "A Keeper"

I was scrounging around for something to fix for dinner the other night. I had neither the time nor the energy to hit the produce market, the meat market, or the grocery store -- even though none are more than five minutes from home. Lazy, huh?

So I took a look in the freezer and found some wonderful pork chops and then skimmed through my collezione di ricette to find something delicious to do with them. This slight modification of a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis was definitely it. My wife paused her eating only long enough to pronounce it "a keeper" before renewing her membership in the "clean plate club."

(Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops)

2 large eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs, seasoned with Italian seasoning
3/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 (1/2 to 3/4-inch thick) center-cut pork loin chops (each about 10 to 12 oz)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
     Lemon wedges, for garnish

Set up a 3-pan breading station. (I actually have a 3-pan breading station. If you don't, use pie plates or shallow dishes.) Whisk the eggs lightly, to blend, in one pan. Place the seasoned bread crumbs in another pan. Place the cheese in the third pan. Season the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Dredge the chops in the cheese first, making sure to coat them completely and patting to adhere. Then dip the chops into the eggs, then finally coat them completely with the bread crumbs, again patting to adhere.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add pork chops, in batches if necessary, and cook until golden brown and the center reaches 150°, about 6 minutes per side.

Transfer the chops to plates and serve garnished with lemon wedges.

Serves 4

I served these with a side of herbed oven-roasted potatoes and some sugar snap peas (one of my wife's favorites.) A nice Merlot rounded out a perfect meal.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Social Media Reviews: A Comment on a Comment

I was alerted this morning to a comment posted on one of the content sites for which I occasionally write. It was a comment on my post about Urbanspoon and other social media review sites; a post that originated on this blog and can still be found here.

The comment – from “Sinduja,” a female, judging by the icon – went like this:
“Dear Ron,

Are you in any way, associated with the Italian restaurant? Even otherwise, I am sorry but this write-up has been very disappointing, not that I believe you would care since you do not seem to hold much respect for others anyway. And yes, this comment might be strewn with grammatical errors but I do not think it is much of a factor to criticize someone about, like you have done.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion Ron. Even the 'dumbest', 'worst palate gifted' folks. And if I did not like the food in a restaurant, I did not like it. Period. Of course, I 'ought' to check if my disliking the food was more because of personal taste preferences or the quality of the chef but consumer behavior is not all about 'ought to'. Everyone has a right to voice their views and like you said, the best judgment always somehow comes out fine - a few wrong ones are outnumbered by the apt reviews.

In fact, your article seems more like a paid promotion to me.”

Because of my noted lack of respect for others, I seldom comment on comments like this, but this one was too good to pass up. I wrote back:

Il mio tesoro, Sinduja.

At the time I wrote the article, I had no connection whatsoever with the restaurant. I have since established a relationship with the owner, but only because he was grateful for my having taken on somebody who was obviously out to damage his small, family-owned and operated business with an ignorant, baseless "review."

You are right, of course, that everybody is entitled to an opinion, but I stand by my statement that if one is to promote that opinion on a worldwide forum, it had best be an informed opinion. Anyone who states as fact that "the food was nothing but overpriced box mixes" without knowing that for a certainty is doing an egregious disservice not only to the restaurant, but to the integrity of the website upon which they are venting their uninformed spleen. "The food TASTED like overpriced box mixes" is a statement of opinion. "The food WAS nothing but overpriced box mixes" is a statement of fact -- one proven not to be true in this instance.

Take, for further example, your statement, "In fact, your article seems like a paid promtion to me." That is an excellent statement of opinion. It's wrong as hell, of course, but it's an appropriate statement of an opinion. Your use of the words "seems" and "to me" render this a reflection of your opinion. Again, you're completely incorrect. Nobody paid me a dime; I just wanted to stand up for a little guy who had been wronged. Why? Probably something to do with my lack of respect for others. But if you had chosen to state that my article WAS a paid promotion, our conversation -- which would include legal representation -- would have a very different tone.

Just my opinion, to which I -- and you -- are entitled.”

Actually, now that I look at it, I am the one with grammatical errors.

But anyway, the point stands; a professional – or at least an experienced – reviewer knows how to express the difference between opinion and fact, between a blanket statement and a specific point. “The food here sucks” is a blanket statement – unless you have, indeed, tried a sampling of all the food. “I tried the Parmesan Chicken and thought it sucked” is an appropriate statement. Not one I'd ever use, of course, but still an appropriate statement of one's opinion of a specific dish. It is simply irresponsible to state that everything on the menu “sucks” – I really despise that term – because you didn't like one dish.

Notice in my reviews that I never dine alone. My wife is always with me and we are frequently accompanied by at least one or two friends. We all order something different, thereby enabling us to come to a consensus opinion of the overall food quality. That means I can write – say it with me now, boys and girls – an informed opinion. And even though “Sanduja” says “consumer behavior is not all about 'ought to',” a reviewer's behavior “ought to” be based on fact rather than on supposition. When I dine out with the intention of writing a review, I question the waiter about the dishes I am eating. I sometimes ask to see the chef for specific details. I ask about quality, freshness, ingredients, techniques. Why? So I can write – what was that term again? – an informed opinion.

It is Sanduja's indubitable right to like what she likes and to dislike what she dislikes. And it is her right to share those likes and dislikes with like-minded (pardon the pun) people. But does she have the right to make irresponsible blanket statements that could be damaging to a family's business just because she didn't like a particular dish? I don't think so.

The old country saying, “If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all” is one to which I ascribe. I always try to make my reviews positive. I don't go out of my way to say nasty things about somebody's livelihood. Not that I can't write an unfavorable review. On rare occasion I have done so. I just don't like to. I would rather tell people about good places and pleasant experiences. Bad places and negative experiences are plentiful enough without my having to point them out.

I guess this proclivity toward positivity really makes me a poor critic, but that's just the way I am. That, of course, is because, as Sanduja says, I don't care or seem to have respect for others. “Seem.” At least she qualified it as an opinion rather than a statement of fact.