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.

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Grazie mille!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Give Up Bacon? WHO Says!

A Far Cry From The Mass-Hysteria Media's Headline Grabbing, “WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”

Just in time for Halloween comes the latest fright: the WHO has spoken and bacon is a killer. Now, we're not talking about the rock group that gave us “Tommy” back in the sixties. No, the World Health Organization is making this proclamation (although Messrs. Townsend, Daltrey, Entwhistle, and Moon could probably have done it with greater entertainment value). Of course, various learned groups and individuals have been warning us about the dangers of processed meats for years, but the scientists who populate the halls of this prestigious Swiss-based institution have gone so far as to include bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, etc. in the same class – Class 1 – as tobacco, UV radiation, and diesel fumes. That's serious stuff. And red meat – you know, those big juicy steaks and chops you so love and enjoy – are in the next class down. In the black and white eyes of the WHO, steak might kill you and bacon definitely will.

The thing is, this is not the first time the WHO has issued this edict. They've been bashing bacon, hammering hot dogs, and reviling red meat for years. This latest hyperbolic scare tactic is just an amped-up version of what they've already said.

To be precise, this time the pocket protector crowd says that consuming just 50 g (1.76 oz) of processed meats per day – or 100 g of red meat – will increase the likelihood of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. For those of you who are metrically impaired, 50 g equates to about two strips of bacon. And because it's a slow news week, the media is all over it.

One of the things the headline writers aren't adequately emphasizing, however, is the relativity of the situation. The fact is that the average person has only a 5% chance at developing these cancers to begin with. So if said average person were to consume the “deadly” two strips of bacon every day for the rest of his life, he would be increasing an actual 5% chance by a relative 18%, thus raising his overall actual shot at developing cancer to 6%. Granted, such an increase is still an increase, but it's hardly a reason to declare a total moratorium on pork products.

Which leads to the other thing the alarmists are overlooking: moderation. Boys and girls, I l-o-o-o-ove my bacon. But my love is limited to two or three slices of it on a Sunday morning. If I go really wild, I might crumble a piece over a baked potato a couple of times a month and I might add an additional strip or two to a grilled cheese sandwich once in a blue moon. As for other processed meats, I also enjoy a ham sandwich now and then – one or two a week, I suppose – so I'm probably doubling my risk to a little over half of what the WHO considers dangerous. In short, I'm not too concerned.

What I am concerned about is where did these guys go to school? And were they all absent for the discussion on "correlation does not imply causation"? Unless all other variables are controlled for, impossible except for in the strictest experimental conditions. For example: It can be stated that sleeping with your shoes on is strongly correlated with waking up with a headache. Therefore, sleeping with your shoes on causes headaches. The problem here is that this plays into the “correlation implies causation” fallacy by prematurely concluding that sleeping with your shoes on causes headaches. Was any consideration given to a third factor, i.e. you went to bed dead skunk drunk? No? So the conclusion is false. Kind of like, “man eats bacon. Man develops cancer. Therefore, bacon causes cancer.”

The big bad in all this is nitrites. I'm not usually good at quick explanations, but here goes: A long, long time ago, man discovered salt as a preservative for meat. The most commonly used salt for the purpose is a naturally occurring one called sodium nitrate (chemically NaNO3). About a hundred years ago, it was discovered that when sodium nitrate interacts with bacteria in meat it forms a new compound. This is sodium nitrite (NaNO2). Sodium nitrite is the substance that protects us by inhibiting the growth of some really bad baddies like listeria and botulinum. It also keeps the fat in meat from going rancid. All good so far, right? It didn't take long for food processors to eliminate the middleman and start using sodium nitrite directly in preserving food, especially through the use of curing salt or “pink salt” which is 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% common table salt. Well, then around 1970 or so, some other researchers discovered that when you heat up sodium nitrite in food to temperatures above 266°, it joins up with organic compounds called “amines” and converts yet again into something called nitrosamines. And it's these nitrosamines that are thought to be carcinogenic.

Still with me? Here's where it gets really funky. All these nitrates and nitrites and stuff don't just hitch a ride into your body on strips of bacon and beef jerky. Nitrites are naturally occurring substances in the human body. Your saliva, for instance, is loaded with the stuff. Scientists say that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight you carry, your body naturally produces about a milligram of nitrite. And nitrosamine formation is inhibited by the presence of ascorbic acid – good ol' Vitamin C. Thus, the USDA limits the amount of nitrites added to cured meats and they require all products containing nitrites to also include vitamin C.

The real kicker is that we don't even get most of our daily dosage of nitrate/nitrite/nitrosamine from processed meat. Nope. Only about 6%. Around 80% of our nitrate consumption comes from vegetables. Good old healthy celery, leafy greens, leeks, parsley, beets and a host of other dietary delights are packed with it because the soil they grow in is packed with it. You know why? Because we dump tons of the stuff on fields as fertilizer. And when you eat those nitrate-laden veggies, guess what happens? Ding, ding, ding! The bacteria in your mouth converts the nitrates to nitrites! Just like it does with those aporkalyptic processed meats. Further, a recent British study found that nitrates can actually improve cardiovascular function by thinning blood and widening blood vessels, lessening the risk for clots and stroke. The bottom line here is that your body doesn't differentiate between the nitrates you ingest from meat and those you ingest from vegetables, water, and other sources. And chemical substances in our bodies – like Vitamin C – prevent the combination of nitrites and amines. No combination means no nitrosamines, the scary carcinogen about which the WHO is all exercised. But there's no “breaking news” in that, so we get the hyped up version instead.

Does that mean you can eat a pound of bacon for breakfast, a package of hot dogs for lunch, a slab of steak for supper and an entire sausage for a snack and expect to be healthy? Come on. Use a little common sense. For decades, eggs were considered little ovoid cholesterol bullets aimed directly at your heart. Better science now says that's not the case. But that doesn't mean I'm going to pillage the neighborhood chickens and eat a dozen eggs a day. I'll stick with my two scrambled on Sunday and be content in the knowledge that they're not really going to kill me after all. Not that I ever thought they would, but now I've got the nutrition nerds on my side.

Dr. Andrew Chan, associate professor of medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health, says, “The epidemiological data supporting an association between processed and red meats and colon cancer is very strong. There is definitely some reason for caution about the consumption of red and processed meats.” And then he opens the other side of his mouth and says, “It’s pretty clear that the link between consumption of meat with cancer appears to be dose-related. The more you eat, the higher your risk.” He goes on to state that it is “reasonable” to continue to include red meat in a balanced diet, provided it is done in moderation. Even the people responsible for this latest outburst, the researchers at the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have fessed up to the fact that moderation is the key. The head honcho on the study, Dr. Christopher Wild, acknowledged the nutritional value of meat and stopped well short of saying people should avoid it altogether. Instead, the WHO soft-pedaled the advice that government agencies should “balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and provide the best possible dietary recommendations.” That's a far cry from the mass-hysteria media's headline grabbing, “WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”

Besides, as I was writing this, I noticed that, in the face of a worldwide backlash, the WHO has already back-pedaled on the whole affair, releasing this statement: “The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats, but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer." Watching people back-pedal in lockstep is really quite amusing.

Am I going to give up bacon, the sublime porcine substance I have often referred to as “ambrosia”? Not likely. In the same way that I never bought into the media-hyped cholesterol myth that has now been so thoroughly discredited, I'm not going to believe that Porky Pig lurks in the darkness of my colon waiting to do me in. He hasn't done so in sixty years of consuming slightly less than a pound of bacon a month, even with the help of the double death-dealing whammy of fewer than a dozen eggs. And did I mention I use real butter?! So I will continue to exercise common sense and moderation, and, with careful driving, I may actually make it to 90 or 100 like my mother and my great-grandmother. (My poor grandmother only made it to 85.)

As for the WHO, maybe they should actually consider teaming up with The Who. It would make their next dire prediction really rock.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Deadly Bread Additive And A Killer Bread Recipe

The “Staff Of Life” May Be Trying To Kill You

I make no secret of the fact that I don't buy bread. Haven't in many, many years. Oh, maybe the very rare “emergency loaf,” but even then I buy it from the supermarket's bakery section. At least it's closer to being bread that way. The plastic-wrapped bread-like substances that inhabit grocery shelves are not welcome in my kitchen. I don't like the taste – or lack thereof. I don't like the gummy, pasty texture. And I really don't care to be embalmed before I'm dead by all the preservatives. The idea that I can buy a loaf of “bread” that will still be “good”.....well.... intact anyway....after several weeks in my breadbox is frankly horrifying. Like the bread my mother made when I was growing up, the bread I make today begins to mold after about a week. Less in really hot, humid weather. And that's what bread is supposed to do. It's not supposed to last until Gabriel's trumpet blows. This store-bought Franken-bread that seems to live forever is just plain unnatural.

And now the word is the stuff can kill you.

A lot of cheap, store-bought breads and other baked goods are often made with bromated flour. That is flour to which potassium bromate has been added. This additive is used to strengthen dough, increase its rise in the oven, and to impart a nice white color to the bread. Tests on lab animals also indicate that it causes significant increases in kidney, thyroid, and other cancers. A recent (2011) study shows that potassium bromate can damage human DNA and cause oxidative stress. Potassium bromate is nephrotoxic in humans, meaning it has a poisonous effect on the kidneys when it’s taken orally. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified the substance as a “potential human carcinogen.” And potassium bromate has long been banned as a food additive by the European Union, the U.K., Canada, and Brazil. Here in the U.S. – where we have the best monitoring agency big corporate money can buy – the FDA allows the stuff to be fed to us, although they do set a limit of seventy-five parts per million. Short of banning potassium bromate outright, as other countries have done, our FDA “urges” bakers to “voluntarily” stop using it. And a lot of the major national bakeries have done just that, opting to use other “safer” additives to achieve the same effect. But many of the smaller, local “mom and pop” bakers still use the stuff because it's cheap and easy. Check your labels. To date, only California requires warnings to be posted on bromated products. Everybody else has to read the fine print.

Watch your flour, too. If you bake at home, beware of bleached and bromated flours. Bleaching and bromating are not the same thing, although they do serve much the same purpose. In bleaching, a chemical like benzoyl peroxide or calcium peroxide is introduced to the flour to aid in gluten development and to make it nice and white. Both of which are entirely unnecessary. And benzoyl peroxide and calcium peroxide are hardly lily white (sorry) when it come to health. The former has many researchers questioning its effects on the human digestive system and the latter, like potassium bromate, has been banned nearly everywhere except in the U.S. Bottom line: buy flour that is clearly labeled as “unbleached” and “unbromated.” I prefer King Arthur and use it exclusively.

Bread has long been called “the staff of life.” How curious and somewhat ironic, then, that modern-day store-bought, conveniently sliced and packaged bread may be trying to kill us. I know that's a bit hyperbolic, but honestly, between the scary preservatives and the possibly carcinogenic additives, it's not far from the truth. All the more reason to make it yourself.

Omar Khayyam waxed rhapsodic about a jug of wine and a loaf of bread. On the subject of bread and "whine," here's my favorite: “I don't have the ti-i-i-i-i-i-i-ime.” Or maybe, “It's too ha-a-a-a-a-ard.” Both are completely specious and bogus excuses. Whether for catering or home use, I bake all my own breads. French baguettes, crusty Italian loaves, pizza crusts, grissini, garlic knots, dinner rolls, sandwich rolls, or just plain old white sandwich bread – I bake 'em all. None take more than a couple of hours and none are at all “ha-a-a-a-a-ard” to make.

One of the easiest and most delicious bread doughs in my repertoire is made up of three ingredients and it doesn't even require kneading. It's a “slack dough” recipe, meaning it produces a very wet dough, and your refrigerator does most of the work. Best of all, the dough keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks. Make up a loaf today and when you use it up, reach into the chill chest, grab another handful of dough, and bake up another loaf. It really is that simple.

A couple of phenomenal bakers, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, produced a wonderful book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." A lot of other bakers, including yours truly and the skilled artisans at King Arthur, have adopted and adapted their recipe for a delicious “no-knead” crusty artisan bread. You'll never find an easier or more delicious bread than this one.

One quick note: American bakers are the only ones in the world who still use “cups” as a standard of measurement. Everybody else weighs their ingredients. Digital scales are dirt cheap and I use mine for everything. If you're going to get serious about baking (or cooking), rustle up a scale.

For this recipe, you're going to need 907.2 grams (32 ounces; 2 pounds) of unbleached all-purpose flour. Again, I recommend King Arthur, but if you have another preference, just make sure it's unbleached. If you insist on using cups, allow for 6 ½ to 7 ½ cups. The difference is in the method of measuring you use. If you are a “sprinkle and sweeper,” that is, if you kind of fluff up or aerate your flour by scooping it out of the bag and into a cup, then leveling it off, you'll use the greater amount. If you are a “dip and sweeper,” one who dips a cup into the bag, tamps it down and sweeps off the excess, you'll use the lesser amount. If you want to do it right, you'll just weigh it.

You'll also need 3 cups (24 ounces) of lukewarm (about 105°F) water, 1 tablespoon (14 g; ½ oz) salt, and 1 ½ tablespoons (14 g; ½ oz) of instant yeast.

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix everything together until a very rough, very sticky dough forms. I wouldn't try this one in a bread machine. For one thing, two pounds of flour will overwhelm most of them. Same goes for cheap, low-powered stand mixers. If you don't have a KitchenAid or something of equal power, just mix it by hand using a big wooden paddle or spoon or a dough whisk. If you do have a decent stand mixer, about a minute at medium speed with the beater blade rather than the dough hook will do the job.

Now you just let it rise. My advice would be to invest in a restaurant quality six-quart food grade plastic container. You can get one at a restaurant supply store for five or six bucks. And you can use it for a ton of things besides bread dough. Otherwise, come up with a large sealable plastic container of some sort. You don't have to grease the container, but a shot of Pam will help in the long run. Transfer the dough from the bowl to the prepared container, cover it loosely (don't snap the lid on airtight) and let it sit at room temperature for about two hours. Then stick it in the refrigerator for at least two hours before you try to use it. Overnight is best. The beauty of this is dough is that it can actually live in the fridge for up to two weeks. One week is recommended by some sources, but others say two weeks works. Because of the volume of bread I bake, mine has never lasted more than a week so I don't know from personal experience. The longer you keep it, the more flavor it will develop. Don't be surprised if it tastes a little like sourdough after about a week.

To make bread out of this mass of dough, just reach in there and pull out a big hunk; about ¼ of the dough. If you have a scale, it should weigh in at about one pound, give or take an ounce. You might want to flour your hands a little bit if the dough is really sticky. Hold the dough and dust it with a little flour, then quickly shape it into a ball. Try to get a nice tight surface by stretching the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating ¼ turns as you go. Don't worry if it's not perfect.

Place the shaped dough on a parchment lined peel. “Wait a minute,” you ask, “who's got one of those?” Well...I've got two. But a flat, rimless baking sheet works as well. Cover the dough loosely with a towel and let it stand in a warm, draft free place for about one hour or until the dough is slightly puffed up and no longer feels cold.

Thirty minutes before you're ready to bake, place a baking stone on the center oven rack. “Baking stone?” Okay, don't worry about it. Just use the flat baking sheet. And you know that broiler pan that came with your oven that you never use? Time to use it. Stick it on the bottom rack. Now preheat your oven to 450°.

Dust the top of your loaf with a little more flour and, with a very sharp knife, make two or three 1/4-inch deep slashes in the top of the loaf. Then either slide the loaf with the parchment paper onto the baking stone or just slip your parchment lined baking sheet into the oven. Quickly pour a cup of water into the broiler pan (to create steam) and close the oven door.

Bake for thirty minutes or until your loaf is a deep golden brown. If you have an instant read thermometer, your bread should temp at 190° to 200°. But the old “tap it and if it sounds hollow it's done” trick works, too. Cool your boule (that's French for “ball,” which is what you've got) on a wire rack and you've got delicious, nutritious, preservative-free bread. How nutritious? I'll tell you: an average slice contains 80 cal; 0 g total fat; 0 g unsaturated fat; 2.5 g protein; 16.5 g carb; 0 mg cholesterol; 135 mg sodium; .5 g fiber.

There you have it: a killer recipe for bread that won't try to kill you. Enjoy!

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Please Don't Break the Pasta

“Every Time You Break The Pasta An Italian Cook Cries.”

Do you remember these famous “cause and effect” sayings: “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” or “Every time a child says 'I don't believe in fairies' there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead”? Or that old standard, “step on a crack, break your mother's back”? Well, I've got a new one for you: “Every time you break the pasta an Italian cook cries.”

For some unfathomable reason, American cooks love to take a handful of innocent, inoffensive spaghetti and viciously snap it in half before throwing it into a pot of boiling water. Apparently they don't realize that under such torture spaghetti emits a high-pitched scream that can only be heard by Italians. You don't believe me? I was watching an episode of “Chopped” when some bozo thoughtlessly broke the spaghetti in half. Scott Conant and I both visibly winced and I said to my wife, “Scott's gonna call him on that one.” Sure enough, he did. And the pasta abuser wound up losing, too.

Folks, don't break the spaghetti. And don't ask me why you shouldn't break the spaghetti because I don't know why you shouldn't break the spaghetti. All I know is that you shouldn’t. It's an Italian thing. (Actually, I do know why. I'll get to it in a minute.)

I was at the home of a friend of a friend and I was in the kitchen as dinner was being prepared. I almost came out of my chair when I saw the cook grasp a bunch of spaghetti in both hands. Everybody must have thought I'd gone pazzo when I shouted, “DON'T!” as she was about to snap it half. The cook looked at me like I'd grown a third eye and said, “We always cook it that way.” That's when I also learned that they never salt the cooking water and that they add oil to it. I just left the kitchen, weeping.

Don't break the pasta. Some Italians believe it's bad luck. Most agree it's bad manners and any Italian cook will tell you it's bad technique. The Chinese believe long noodles represent long life. You wanna risk half your life?

In case you think I'm parlare dal mio culo, allow me to cite some examples: besides the aforementioned anti-breakage chef Scott Conant, Mario Batali has gone on record as saying that breaking pasta is an insult to all those nonne who spent decades perfecting their long, thin noodles, engineered to hold the sauce in just the right way. The late queen of the Italian kitchen Marcella Hazan, in her bestselling “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” says, "Do not break up spaghetti or any other long pasta into smaller pieces." Another doyenne of the Italian kitchen, Lidia Bastianich, emphatically commands, “Do not break your pasta (noodle types like spaghetti, linguini, etc) before adding it to a pot of boiling water. It’s bad luck!” The folks at Real Simple unequivocally state, “Don't break pasta to fit it in the pot. Let the ends stick out until the submerged sections soften, about 1 minute. Then stir to bend the pasta and push it underwater.” Under the heading “Pasta Cooking Basics” the authorities at say, “let spaghetti and long strands soften for a minute before stirring. Don’t break pasta in half.” Food writer Dominic Armato lays out the “Ten Commandments of Dry Pasta” on his Skillet Doux website. Here's number VI – “Thou Salt Not Break The Pasta. I have absolutely no logical reason why. I just know you don't do it. You don't do it. It's a cardinal sin. If your pasta doesn't fit in your pot......well......get a bigger pot.” The Epicurean Table states, “never break long pasta to fit into the pan. Apply gentle pressure as the pasta softens and bend the strands. Wait a few moments and give a stir.”

Had enough, miscreant pasta breakers? Or shall I continue flagellating you with an unbroken wet noodle until you repent of your evil ways?

I know why a lot of people break pasta. The sad thing is they don't have to. It's a rookie cooking move. People who break pasta do so for two reasons: one, they think it fits better in the pot and two, they think it's easier to eat after it's cooked.

Addressing the second excuse first, let me be brutally honest: if you can't handle eating long pasta without breaking it or cutting it, may I respectfully suggest “SpaghettiOs?” C'mon! Only Italian children have their spaghetti broken or cut for them. And then only until they're about five years of age. After that they're expected to eat like adults, and adults never cut or break their long pasta. It is the ultimate breach of etiquette. That's why pseudo-Italian restaurants provide amateur eaters with those stupid big spoons. Even sitting there like an infant using a spoon to help you twirl the strands onto your fork is preferable to cutting it up. Breaking or cutting long pasta just isn't done, either before or after cooking.

And as far as fitting the pot goes, just learn how to cook. Okay, I get it. An average strand of spaghetti is just a smidge over ten inches long. The interior diameter of an average five-quart pot measures just under ten inches. Something's gotta give, right? So you bust up the spaghetti into five-inch pieces, right? So that they fit into the pot, right? WRONG! As the people cited in the earlier paragraph correctly instruct, put the pasta into the pot whole and unbroken. Sure the stuff is gonna stick out of the pot a little bit – for about thirty seconds. After that the noodles will have softened enough that a little gentle stirring will bring them all together into the pot nice and neat. Everything fits and no breaking required. Do you think Italian pasta manufacturers are stupid. Do you suppose they make pasta ten inches long just so that you can bust it into five-inch pieces? They call it “long pasta” for a reason. And if you don't want or like it long, buy short pasta! Leave the long stuff alone! Uffa!

Hey, it's a free country. And as Julia Child famously said, “If you're alone in the kitchen.......who's going to know.” Break the pasta in half. It's your dish. Heck, Barilla markets a pre-cut spaghetti called “Fideo.” It's about 3/4-inch long. That ought to fit in your pot and on your fork. And Mueller's wimps out with something called "Pot-Sized" pasta. Whatever. But if you want to prepare and enjoy spaghetti, linguine, and other long pastas the way they are intended to be prepared and enjoyed, leave them in their natural form.

Don't break the pasta. Grazie.

Buon appetito!

Friday, October 9, 2015

More On (Moron?) Mispronouncing Italian Food Words

Not A Solitary Voice Crying In The Wilderness

I write a lot about the topic of mangling the Italian language. A whole lot. But that's largely because there is much to be said on the subject, especially when it comes to Italian food words. Up until now I was afraid I was alone in my Sisyphean struggle, but it turns out I am not a solitary voice crying in the wilderness. Enter Kaylin Pound, writing for Elite Daily, and her article, “25 Of Your Favorite Italian FoodsYou’ve Been Saying Completely Wrong.”

Now, what set Ms. Pound's epistle apart from many of the others I've seen online – and there are many others – is her perspective: she was once a clueless teenage waitress, one of the prime offenders. She writes, “Normally, waitresses are supposed to be pretty knowledgeable about the food they’re serving. But somehow, I managed to finagle my way through two rounds of interviews and get the job without ever having to say the name of a single dish — and thank goodness because I basically had no idea how to say anything on the damn menu.”

Well, at least now I know why there are legions of clueless teenage waitresses out there.

But Ms. Pound has reformed, now opining, “If you ask me, it’s about time we actually learn how to pronounce the things we eat.” This is a point I have been hammering on and yammering about for years. So it's refreshing to see someone who agrees with me in print – even if she does inexplicably close her treatise on Italian food with the words, “Bon appétit!” instead of “Buon appetito.”

Seriously, I have friends and dinner companions who brace themselves in anticipation when a server asks me about “mare-uh-NARE-uh” or “broo-SHET-uh.” It has the old “nails-on-a-blackboard” effect on me. It is said that Italians are generally too polite to correct people who mispronounce their language, but in my case, my Italian heritage is overshadowed by my French and I'll damn sure straighten somebody out. Politely, of course. Oddly, although Ms. Pound included “bruschetta” in her pronunciation guide, she neglected to mention “marinara.” Either she forgot that one or perhaps it doesn't make her skin crawl like it does mine. Otherwise, I agree with her choices. She even thought of of few that I hadn't. Kudos.

I'll drag out the old soapbox and the dead horse here, mounting the one while vigorously flagellating the other. And just in case the thought was running through your mind, no, I don't often confuse the two. Spanish is Spanish, French is French, German is German and Italian is Italian. There is no such thing as “the American way” to pronounce a foreign word. Oh, you can say “mare-uh-NARE-uh” instead of “mah-ree-NAH-rah” all day and call it “the American way” of saying it.......but it's still ineffably wrong! Anglicizing Spanish, French, German, Italian, or Chinese words does not make them “right”; it just makes them badly pronounced and reflects poorly on the one mispronouncing them, as if said speaker was simply too lazy or too stupid to learn and employ the proper pronunciation, opting, instead, to say it any old way and calling it “close enough.” Anatole France once said, “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” Repetition or “common usage” does not equal correctness.

And the linguistic double standard that comes into play is particularly galling. When someone with a foreign accent mispronounces an English word, what happens? People laugh at and deride him and automatically assume a lesser intelligence is behind his inability to correctly pronounce common English words. There's no room for an “Italian way” to say an English word, now is there?

Call me judgmental or curmudgeonly – I'll answer to both – but if you are my server in an Italian restaurant and you come at me with some godawful anglicized rendering of an Italian food word, you've lowered your IQ by ten points. Just like you would do to me if I said “HOM-boog-ehr” in a thick accent. “Jeez, that guy's too stupid to know how to say 'hamburger'”. The shoe's a little tight when it's on the other foot, isn't it?

Look, I don't expect perfect conversational Italian out of English-speakers who often struggle with speaking proper English. Heck, my own Italian isn't all that good. What I do expect, however, is enough respect for a culture to not butcher its language.

And why is it that Italian always gets the rap? Everybody seems to know that “que” in Spanish is pronounced “kay” and that a double “l” makes a “y” sound, hence when you order a “quesadilla” you don't ask for a “kwes-ah-DILL-ah.” So why is it so hard to fathom that a “ch” in Italian is a hard “k” sound and that “bruschetta” is pronounced “broo-SKET-tah,” not “broo-SHET-uh”? Why is it incomprehensible that the “a” in almost every language other than English has an “ah” sound, correctly rendering “marinara” as “mah-ree-NAH-rah” rather than “mare-uh-NARE-uh”? What's so hard about that?

And even if proper pronunciation is inexplicably beyond the linguistic capabilities of the common Italian restaurant patron, it most certainly shouldn't be beyond the abilities of the people cooking and serving the food. Talk about a lack of respect! How long do you think you'd last serving at a Mexican restaurant if you said “TACK-oh”, “NATCH-oh”, “jal-uh-PEE-noh”, and “buh-RIT-oh”? Yet you can slaughter Italian food words in an Italian restaurant and nobody says a thing because “that's the way Americans say it”? I don't think so.

Okay. The soapbox is sagging under the strain and the horse is still just as dead, so I'll quit stumping and flailing.......for now. Besides, I'm getting callouses on my fingertips from pounding the keys. But just give the idea a little thought, huh? Try to see the logic. Stop making Italian into Rodney Dangerfield. Give it a little respect.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The “Portable Pizza Pouch” for Pizza Anywhere, Anytime

The Latest Thing You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without
You can wear a lot of things around your neck. Necklaces, obviously. Identification cards suspended from lanyards. Wine glasses suspended from lanyards. (My wife picked one of those up at a wine festival.) Doctors and nurses wear stethoscopes around their necks. Elvis once exhorted his girl to “wear my ring around your neck.” And now, thanks to the creative genius of the folks at, (no, I'd never hear of them either), you can wear your pizza around your neck. To tell the world you're weird, by heck. (Sorry, Elvis.)

Now, I'm not talking about some cutesy piece of pizza-shaped costume jewelry. No siree-bob. We're talkin' an actual slice of pepperoni pizza here. Or whatever your pizza preference might be. The “Portable Pizza Pouch” is a wedge-shaped plastic zip-locked bag with two sturdy grommets at the top, to which are clipped the ends of a lanyard, thus enabling you to slip a slice into the bag, seal it up, clip it on, and hang it around your neck for the ultimate in consumption convenience. The device gives whole new meaning to the terms “carry-out,” “take-away,” and “to go.” Now you can pick up a slice of your fave at your neighborhood pizzeria, grab a bit or two, and save the rest for later. Or take a quick snack to that upcoming meeting. Use it at the ballpark. Or conjure up an impromptu picnic. Your pizza is ready when you are! If you're really hungry, buy two: wear one in the front and sling the other down your back as a backup. Kinda like a scapular. (If you're not Catholic, look it up.) Also great for a date: his and hers “Portable Pizza Pouches.”
“Always fresh and ready,” declares the Stupidiotic website, adding, “BONUS: Just wearing this Pizza Pouch will instantly make you more popular and attractive. It’s a bold (and delicious) fashion statement.” I mean, one look at the guy to the right should convince you of that. They're also touting it as, “the best invention since delivery.”

Which begs a question: have you ever noticed what happens to your pizza – specifically to the toppings – if the box gets tilted a little during delivery? Ten degrees off plumb can be catastrophic to the cohesiveness of your pie. Can you imagine, then, what hanging a slice vertically around your neck is going to do to it? I'm sure the Stupidiotic engineers have considered this rather messy issue, but they don't mention it in the marketing.

If you just can't live without this latest thing you didn't know you couldn't live without, (they also market “air guitar strings”) it'll set you back eight bucks from the website at

Napkins sold separately.