How to Eat Like an Italian: Fundamentals of the Mediterranean Diet

You’ve probably heard about the “Mediterranean diet”, and know that it involves a lot of carbohydrates, olive oil, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables, as well as lots of good red wine.

So what does a typical Italian meal look like? A restaurant meal may involve up to four courses: an antipasto, primo (first course), secondo (second course), and dessert. The antipasto and dessert are optional and often skipped, but to make a comfortably full meal you’re likely to want both the first and second courses. The first course is where you get the bulk of your carbohydrates, in a dish of pasta or rice (in the form of risotto).

A word about pasta: I have occasionally (reluctantly) eaten in trendy Italian restaurants in the US, at the behest of colleagues who thought it would be a treat for me. I do appreciate their kind intentions, but… It’s positively alarming what Americans will do to pasta! No matter what the menu claims, any single pasta dish that involves too many ingredients (sun-dried tomatoes, olives, tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, etc.) is not likely to be an “authentic” Italian dish. Furthermore, Italians don’t eat much chicken, and I have never seen an Italian put chicken in pasta. And feta cheese, being Greek, is not typically found in Italian pasta dishes.

…where was I? Ah, yes. The second course is where you get your proteins. It usually consists of meat or fish, very simply prepared, for example grilled over a log fire. You will also want to order one or more contorni (side dishes), such as vegetables, salad, or potatoes, since the meat usually arrives completely unaccompanied.

If you’re vegetarian, there’s not a lot of choice at most restaurants, but grilled scamorza (smoked cheese) and grilled vegetables are often available, and always yummy. There are some traditional vegetarian dishes such as melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan) but, if you are a very strict vegetarian, you should ask, as often apparently vegetarian dishes do involve meat, e.g. a risotto with mushrooms will likely be cooked in meat broth.

Italian cooking is mostly very simple. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, because the basic ingredients are so good that it would be a shame to cover up the foods’ inherent flavors with heavy sauces and spices.

You can also have a cheese course after the second course, then dessert and/or fruit, then coffee. Coffee is not served with the dessert unless you specifically ask. Caveat: ordering a cappuccino after dinner is the sure mark of a tourist (if the waiter offers it, you’re in the wrong restaurant!). Italians rarely drink cappuccino after 10 am, and never after a meal.

A friend in Milan on business went alone to a restaurant for dinner. He overheard the couple at the next table – clearly Americans. When he answered his cellphone, they realized that he, too, was American, so they said hello. “The food is good here,” they said, “but the servings of pasta are really small!”

Yes, portions are small in Italy. Or, from the European point of view, portions in America are enormous! (And Europeans often add: “No wonder so many Americans are fat!”) That’s why in Italy you generally order a first course and a second course, as well as side dishes. A meal made up of a single course is called piatto unico (single plate), but these are not common.

Website Content & Management

Some of my work on the Adaptec/Roxio sites can still be seen, courtesy of the Wayback Machine (not quite in their original form – graphics may be missing – but you can get the gist). I personally wrote most of the material for these sites, except for the marketing brochure-type pages (product datasheets, etc.).

The CD-R section of the Adaptec site (which in those days got about 70% of total traffic to the Adaptec site) included technical and support information, and included applications such as:

  • The CD-R database, to help users choose a CD recorder with specific capabilities, and find out which version(s) and features of our software were supported with specific recorders.
  • The CD-R Media Bargains board, an ante-literam Web 2.0 application. This was a custom-designed database where anyone could post information about where to buy CD-R media – deals they themselves were offering, or had found elsewhere.
  • The Disc Reading Troubleshooter, a wizard-style web application that helped users determine why a disc they had recorded could not be read/played (there were many possible reasons) .

CD-R Central was a separate community/marketing site used to support various marketing campaigns, with a different look and feel from the main Adaptec site.

I led the design and development of the first Roxio site – pre-spinoff (January, 2001) – which included a user community area, and other features that would now be classifed as “Web 2.0.”

Comments on Adaptec/Roxio Sites

9/21/98 – Found every solution for my CD-RW. Keep it up.

7/26/99  – As CD-R/CDR-W’s grow in popularity, so does the need for information. The Adaptec Web-site has become a one-stop invaluable resource for novice, as well as expert PC users. Its extensive wealth of information is not only comprehensive and up to date, but well designed.

8 Jan 2000 – I operate a professional recording/mastering and CD design/manufacturing company. I am completely amazed with your website. Particularly the fact that you have links with full details of blank CDR media with prices etc. This is VERY cool… we found blank inkjet printable CDRs at a fraction of what we have been paying which means we can pass the savings on to our customers… and we have you to thank for this.

3 June 2000 – I’m new to digitizing audio, so I found your web site very informing and useful. I went through most of the articles listed on the music page. Very easy reading.

Your troubleshooting section is easy to navigate and very helpful.  What a refreshing change from a lot of others!

Thanks very much for an excellent Website.  The article “Capturing and Encoding for VideoCDs” provided me with all the information that I needed for capturing from an NTSC video source. Your Web Authors and Content Providers have produced a very informative and user friendly site.

Fanmail (I’m Blushing)

8 Nov 1997 – There are heaps of useful information on the Adaptec web site, though if you start out at the main home page it’s hard to find the CD-R/CD-RW stuff. If you want to look at it, try this URL: http://www.adaptec.com/support/cdrec [link no longer works]

It gives you rundowns (not always complete or consistent, but better than I’ve found elsewhere) on Adaptec’s software. Perhaps more important, it gives basic information about which software supports which hardware, which filetypes are supported in which operating systems, and like that. When the time comes, that’s also where they post patches, upgrades, and such. The honcho is a Dierdre something who has a presence in the newsgroups as well and has demonstrated a great capacity to ignore the flack, keep her cool, remain cheerily offhand, and focus on constructive substance. We need more Dierdres.

Having just started a job with a PR agency (I’m a former magazine editor), I’m acutely aware of the value of the abovementioned qualities. Please keep up the good work.

Subject: Adaptec in trouble ?
20 Nov 1997
From: nobody@REPLAY.COM (Anonymous)
Newsgroups: alt.philips.cdr.discussion

Are things going bad for Adaptec Software Products ? Why is it that “Adaptec CD-R (Deirdre’ Straughan) adaptec_cdr@wnt.dc.lsoft.com” (who also monitors a mailing-list for Adaptec Software Products) in all his replay’s includes a URL to the Adaptec Software Products site on the WWW.

I have heard about direct marketing, but is lurking around in usenet trying to drag CDR-users with some problem’s to a commercial-site not somewhat overdone ? Is this the way to stay alive for a company ?

Some research:

Author: “Adaptec CD-R (Deirdre’ Straughan)” <adaptec_cdr@wnt.dc.lsoft.com> 179 unique articles posted.

Number of articles posted to individual newsgroups (slightly skewed by cross-postings):

  • 68 comp.publish.cdrom.hardware
  • 46 comp.publish.cdrom.software
  • 22 alt.comp.periphs.cdr
  • 21 alt.cd-rom
  • 4 alt.2600.warez
  • 2 comp.sys.ibm.pc.hardware.cd-rom
  • 1 alt.binaries.warez
  • 1 alt.philips.cdr.discussion

All these posting’s contain one or more links to the Adaptec Software Products site on the WWW. I doubt if the advice given by this person is objective.

Subject: Thanx
Sat, 29 Nov 1997

Dear Ms. Straughan,

Just a few lines to thank you and your company for an excellent product in CD Creator Deluxe. One of the contributing factors in buying the program was seeing your intelligent and informative responses almost daily in the various newsgroups. It’s rare these days to see such dedication and interest given to the average consumer. Keep up the good work, and may I take this opportunity to wish you and the team a happy and prosperous New Year.

EMail Encounters: Anecdotes of a Professional Life Online

I’ve spent probably half of my working life answering email. And therein lie a number of tales…

Some people were convinced I had to be mailbot, because I answered so quickly. As I told them: “If we had a mailbot this good, we’d be selling that instead of CD-R!”

The Unexpected Response

It seems that when people write to a general address at a company, they don’t necessarily expect a response, and are surprised when they get one.

I often received extremely abusive messages from people who were angry about products, service, or whatever. I usually managed to respond calmly and politely. Most of the time, the second email from these people was a great deal politer, and a few even apologized for their previous harsh tone. On two memorable occasions, the answer was: “Ohmygod, I’m so sorry! I never thought a real human being would read that!”

Which is a sad statement about how some companies handle their email – how has it happened that this medium, which was supposed to help companies communicate with customers, is routinely used so badly that, when customers write, they don’t even expect a reply?

Bringing in the Big Guns

Perhaps this is why many people, in their very first contact with a company, come in with  bazookas blazing: “If you don’t make me a happy customer, I’m going to sic the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and a pack of lawyers on you.” Or “I’m going to write to all the major magazines about how rotten you are.” As if they had to greet me with a kick in the teeth in order to get my attention.

Again, many of these people backed off as soon as they got any sort of polite and semi-competent response from the company. But it makes for a tiring workday, being barraged with abuse from people who assume that you won’t help them unless they’re nasty.

Perhaps we’d all suffer less stress if we started from the assumption that the people whose job it is to help us actually want to do so, and only escalate to threats if they fail to take that job seriously.

There were two types of aggressives who made me laugh:

  • “I’m going to put up a nasty website about you. You obviously don’t understand the power of the Internet!” (The second sentence is an actual quote that I remember very clearly – I received that message a few years ago, but, even then, trying to tell me about the power of the Internet was a clear case of ‘trying to teach Granny to suck eggs.’)
  • “I’m a journalist and write for [blank] magazine – you’d better make me happy or your name will be mud.” (Not an exact quote, but the gist was clear.) These were both amusing and irritating. By the time I left Roxio, my own newsletters had a combined circulation of over 190,000. I think that qualifies me as a well-read journalist, no? But I always bit my tongue and handed those guys over to the PR folks,  who would give them whatever special treatment they deserved.

Myself, I never treated anyone special. Or rather, I treated everyone the same. I truly felt that all customers deserved the same consideration, and all of their problems and gripes should, as far as possible, be resolved.

This runs counter to the current wisdom of “Customer Relationship Management,” which says that you should use fancy software to determine who your most valuable customers are (those who have bought the most and are most likely to buy again), and make sure that they are kept happiest (offer them special deals and so on – the same principle as frequent-flyer mileage).

Many times, the sheer fact of my answering the email kindly, even if all I could say was that I couldn’t help, reversed the customer’s attitude towards the company and “saved the day.”

Discussion List: Early Experiences in Online Customer Communications

“People want to discuss your product or service online. If you don’t give them a way to do it, someone else will.”
User to User Support by Derek M. Powazek – on WebTechniques

The Adaptec discussion list was created in about 1996 as a way for users of Adaptec CD-R software to help each other. It was actively moderated, meaning that every message was approved by a moderator (initially, me) before being posted to the whole list. This took a lot of time, but spared the community some of the worst aspects of the Usenet (trolls, flamers, spammers, obscenity), and ensured that discussion stayed on topic and didn’t get personal. There were clearly delineated policies about what would and would not be posted. There were complaints from time to time about “censorship,” but these always simmered down with the clearly expressed majority opinion that active moderation was desirable for the list. We actually censored very little, allowing all comments, no matter how negative, about the company and its policies and products. As long as people didn’t rant on repetitively or attack each other, we let them post – if anything, we erred on the side of leniency, and other list participants would let us know when they had had enough of a ranter.

The list was widely held to be an extremely useful forum for help and support with all aspects of CD recording. However, in email-only format and with a high level of activity (up to 75 messages a day!),  it could be a bit much for ordinary mortals. So people began to request a weekly newsletter as an alternative – and they loved it.

In 2002, Roxio replaced the email-format discussion list with Web-based discussion groups.