The Home-Made Yogurt Routine

yogurt container pattern
yogurt container pattern

My plastic container bin used to be loaded with 1-quart yogurt containers, and I felt packaging guilt whenever buying a new tub, even when it was local and organic.

I knew that it wasn’t too hard to make yogurt at home — I had mental images of electric yogurt makers from the 1970s — but a “coincidence of information” (i.e., a series of web articles) showed me that I didn’t need an electric device or any fancy equipment.

Homemade yogurt is not as easy as grabbing a tub at the market, but there is something satisfying about doing it yourself, and it’s a chance to reduce your use of plastic.

Warm, Heat, Cool, Mix, Wait

Making yogurt at home is relatively easy but requires some organization and time. The process can be summarized as warm, heat, cool, mix and wait.

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Mmmmm…Rye Bread Ice Cream, or Solving the Mystery of “Ice Cream, Bisque of Black Bread”

Updated, June 2016, May 2017, July 2023

When I saw “Ice cream, bisque of black bread, a la Delmonico” on an old menu, I knew I needed to track down its story. Usually when this happens I lose interest or get nowhere finding the answer, but sometimes lightning strikes and I find the answer.

The bisque of black bread was one of these lightning strikes1.

This mysterious item was on the menu of the infamous whale meat luncheon at the American Museum of Natural History in 1918.  When I first saw the menu item, I wondered “What the heck is a bisque of black bread? That sounds bizarre.”  But as I think about it more, I recall bread and chocolate, bread pudding, the use of rye flour in sweet pastries in Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, so perhaps it isn’t such a bizarre idea.

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Two User Interface Design Features That I Hate

I sometimes wonder if software designers really use their product, because there are some very bad interface designs out there. To be sure, what is “good” and “bad” is highly subjective, and my denoting something as “bad” is the result of my collection unique quirks and foibles, and perhaps there are many users who just love these design decisions.

This post looks two annoyances: 1) Gmail’s changing subject line and 2) Evernote’s note save alert.

As I planned this post, I was reminded of a classic Peanuts cartoon that I read as a child, in which Charlie Brown and Linus discuss the phrase “it is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness,” and Lucy strongly disagrees1.

Gmail’s Changing Subject Line

I’ve been a user of Google’s Gmail for too many years to count, and although it’s one of those things that people love to hate, I find that it has many useful functions that help me dig out the Augean Stables that is today’s email world. For example, the email categories (Primary, Promotions, Social, etc.) are essential.

In any case, I am probably stuck with Gmail, as switching to a new email service would be a months-long project to move my subscriptions, inform everyone, deal with the archive, and so on.

I hate that Gmail’s composition window doesn’t stay still. I start writing a new message with the To: block, next the subject line, and finally the actual message. While I’m writing the message, Gmail switches the subject line between what I originally typed and “Draft saved.” This happens at random intervals, perhaps based on the number of characters typed, or a time interval. It’s annoying.

When I’m drafting emails, I’m definitely not writing the Great American Novel or something that historians will study in the future, but I often need to concentrate. A blinking subject line doesn’t help.

I wonder: Do I really need such an alert that my message has been saved? Is the mighty Google and its Gmail team so nervous that I’ll lose faith in their product that I need to be bashed in the eyeballs so frequently2? Couldn’t it be a small graphical element that is green for saved, red for not saved?

The two annotated screenshots below illustrate this. (The screenshots don’t show another annoyance, where the subject line in the listing of Draft messages also changes now and then, something that is visible when I have a small message on the bottom of the screen.)

Two screenshots from Google's Gmail with annotations showing user interface design that I hate:  the changing title of the window as drafts are saved

If there is a “less screen motion” setting somewhere in Gmail’s long set of menus, I’d love to find it. In the meantime, a decent method is to pop out a reply, then view the draft in full screen mode, as this makes the blinking subject line relatively smaller. A better solution might be related to my recent discovery of Microsoft’s Power Toys application. One of the toys is “Always On Top,” which locks a window to the top of the ‘pile’ on your screen. I stretch a folder window so it is short and wide, use the “Always On Top” feature on that window, then put the window over the “Draft Saved” area.

Evernote’s Save Alert

Evernote is another one of my essential software products (and one that I pay for with an annual subscription fee). For many years it has helped keep me organized, free my mind of distractions (like shopping lists), record what I cook and bake, save random articles, and more. Evernote is great tool, but has design element that drives me crazy: the user is constantly reminded of the save status of the note, often every second or so, with alternating “Saving…” and “All changes saved” messages (in the Desktop and Browser versions). These are illustrated in the two annotated screenshots below.

This is especially annoying on the Desktop version, because the program has continuous access to a hard drive ready to save a zillion notes. There are almost never connectivity issues like a spotty WiFi connection.

As with Gmail, when I write on Evernote I’m not writing life-and-death legal briefs or the next great novel. But I’m paying an annual fee for the service and would like it to be less annoying.

As with Gmail, do I really need such an alert that my message has been saved? Is the Evernote team so nervous that I’ll lose faith in their product that I need to be bashed in the eyeballs so frequently? Some quick theories: this annoyance is created by the 20-something designers who are so immersed in digital technology that they don’t notice changing text; showing the current text is the easy thing, a few programming steps, compared with a much longer process to make something less noisy (plus updating the documentation to explain how the save alert works, e.g., “When the circle in the lower right is a dull yellow, it means that your changes haven’t been saved. When it is a dull green, the changes have been saved”).

I have searched the Evernote options many times, and have yet to find a “turn off save update” option. Perhaps I have missed it, and would love to know where this option is found. My current method of hiding the changing text is the following: 1) Settings…Notes…Note width – Optimize readability, 2) Make the Evernote window wide, 3) Move the Evernote window so that the update text is off the screen. The result of all of these changes is an Evernote window that has its annoying update message in a place that I can’t see (some virtual Windows screen). I hope that someday Evernote will change how message status is announced, and that I’ll be able to put an “Update” at the top of this section.


Celery Bonus: Did Jane Austen’s Mister Elton “simply love celery root”?

Drawing of celeriac (celery root) from "The standard cyclopedia of modern agriculture and rural economy, by the most distinguished authorities and specialists under the editorship of Professor R. Patrick Wright", Volume III, The Gresham Publishing Company (London), 1908.
Celeriac (Celery Root)

Today brings some bonus celery content.

Poster for the Emma film (1996 version) adaptation of Jane Austen's novel of the same name

Last year, one of my pretty-good ideas was to go through my small collection of DVDs and look up the release date of each film, and then try to re-watch the film near the release date1. Back at the end of September 2022, the film of the week was the 1996 version of Emma, an adaption of Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (the release date according to IMDB was August 30, 1996).

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Sarah Hale’s Campaign for a National Thanksgiving Holiday

Portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale in Woman's record, or, Sketches of all distinguished women
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, National Portrait Gallery
Silhouette portrait of Sarah Josepha Hale by Auguste Edouart, 1842, National Portrait Gallery

If you love Thanksgiving, you should learn the name Sarah Josepha Hale.

Starting in 1846 and continuing until her retirement in 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) used her position as editress1 of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine — one of the most popular and influential magazines of the time — to campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday in November. For many years, she wrote two editorials each year in the magazine explaining the benefits of a national Thanksgiving holiday and encouraging her readers to pressure public officials to establish the holiday. She also wrote thousands of personal letters (by hand!) to elected officials, to the influencers of the day (other magazine editors, prominent preachers, etc.), and to her wide network of friends and family.

When Hale started her campaign, Thanksgiving wasn’t a new concept in America. Towns, villages and states held harvest festivals that included a late-morning trip to church for a special service, followed by a feast2.  But there was no national Thanksgiving Day — every town chose its own feast day. In 1789, President Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that set forth “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” but this was a one-time event.

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You Like Tomato, I Like Tom-ah-to, Dr. Kitchiner Likes Apples

Pizza with Mock Tomato Sauce (Mock Tomata) from the Cook's Oracle by William Kitchiner
Pizza with Mock Tomato Sauce (Mock Tomata) from the Cook's Oracle by William Kitchiner
The pizza sauce isn’t yellow because I used yellow tomatoes, it’s because I used a “mock tomato sauce” made with apples

After posts on 19th century complaints about plagiarism and the evolution of recipe writing style, we finally get to the recipe that originally attracted me to William Kitchiner’s 1818 book, The Cook’s OracleMock Tomata Sauce [sic].

When I first saw Mock Tomata Sauce on my screen, I had a few thoughts. First: ????. Next: I need to try this. And then: this reminds me of the delicious mostarda spread / sauce in the Gjelina cookbook (a concoction of lightly fried apples, coarse mustard, rosemary, etc.), so it will probably taste good.

Here’s Kitchiner’s recipe (mid-sentence capitalizations and “tomata” in original):

Mock Tomata Sauce. — (No. 293.)

Reduce sharp tasted apples to a pulp as in making apple sauce; pound them in a mortar with as much turmeric as will give them colour, and as much Chili vinegar as will give the same degree of acid flavour that the tomata has; add to each pint a quarter of an ounce of shallots shred fine; put all into a well-tinned saucepan and mix them well together, and give them a gentle boil; when cold, take out the shallot1 and put the sauce into small stone bottles; your sauce should be of the consistence of a thick syrup 2; this may be regulated by the Chili vinegar.

Obs. — The only difference3, between this, and genuine Love-apple Sauce, is the substituting the pulp of Apple for that of Tomata, and colouring it with turmeric.

Unfortunately, Kitchiner doesn’t explain why he includes this mock recipe (or any of the others — there are more than 15 “mock” recipes in the book).

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Old Restaurant Menus for Christmas, New Year’s Day, and a Gathering of Bankers

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu

The Buttolph Collection of Menus at the New York Public Library shows what people were eating in restaurants decades ago. It contains tens of thousands of menus, with the bulk from the early 20th century, when the collection’s creator, Miss Frank E. Buttolph, was actively collecting menus.  In this post, I’ll highlight three seasonal menus and a creative menu for bankers.

A Stocking Menu from Detroit

The Christmas Spirit moved the Griswold House’s menu designer in 1900, leading to a stocking-shaped menu. Based on my reading of menus from around 1900, this one is fairly typical. It is loaded with French cuisine, and also has some game (roast canvasback duck and stuffed roast opossum). And celery, of course (restaurant menus of that era often had celery in the salad or appetizer section).

Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu
Cover and interior of Griswold House 1900 Christmas Menu (a much larger picture of the 1900 Griswold House Christmas menu, ~4 MB)
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San Francisco in the Movies: Taking Goldfish To The Ocean

Photo of the apartment building used in the Dark Passage film, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco
Photo of the apartment building used in the Dark Passage film, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco
Apartment building used in Dark Passage, Montgomery and Filbert, San Francisco

A escaped convict is on the run in San Francisco, one step ahead of the police, trying to prove he didn’t commit the crime that sent him to prison. The only person he trusts is a wealthy woman who lives in a lavish apartment on Telegraph Hill.

That’s a basic mostly spoiler-free summary of the plot of Dark Passage, one of the great “San Francisco films.” Released in 1947, Dark Passage is notable for its use of location, notably the apartment shown above, and for its unusual use of the film’s biggest star — Humphrey Bogart — for the first third of the film. And like other San Francisco films, it has quite a bit of geographic weirdness. For example, when Sam the cab driver (Tom D’Andrea) tells Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) a story about a fare who got in the cab carrying a bowl with goldfish in it.

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A Google Books Ngram of Pumpkin Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice

Halloween postcard, circa 1908, showing four pumpkin creatures cutting a cake and celebrating. From Huron County Museum's Flick Commons collection
Mother Earth's children; the frolics of the fruits and vegetables (1914) - from Internet Archive on Flickr

We are at the edge of pumpkin and pumpkin spice season, with the peak still ahead of us, so I thought it would be fun to run three pumpkin terms through the Ngrams Viewer from Google Books:  pumpkin pie, pumpkin pie spice, and pumpkin spice.  For those not familiar with the tool, The Ngrams Viewer tool searches the Google Books library of digitized printed materials, which is mostly books but also includes periodicals, for the terms you request (with numerous variations allowed, as explained in the documentation).

Pumpkin Pie, Pie Spice, and Spice

Here is the Ngram chart for the three terms (link) from 1800 to 2019:

Not surprisingly, pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin spice do not appear until the mid-to-late 20th century. Pumpkin pie spice was probably created by one of the big spice houses (like McCormick), while pumpkin spice is a much more recent creation of the food and drink industry.    

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What is the First Movie to Mention Pizza?

Google Books Ngram of Pizza - pizza pie, pizza pie 1950-2008

Updated, 8/29/21 with an earlier sighting

I’m a big fan of old movies — film noir, musicals, the epics of the 1950s and 60s. I recently watched The Band Wagon, a 1953 musical directed by Vincente Minnelli1, one of the last huge and lavish MGM musicals. In a scene that follows the out of town premiere of the “show within a show” that stars Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) and Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse), the cast and crew are having a party to reduce their sorrow after the out-of-town premiere did not go well. Soon after Hunter arrives, one of the cast members offers him “some pizza pie.”2

Screenshot from The Band Wagon movie, where Fred Astaire's character is offered pizza pie
At a post-show party, one of the performers in the show offers Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) some pizza pie. Screenshot from The Band Wagon (released on August 7, 1953).

That “Want some pizza pie?” line made me wonder: in which Hollywood movie was pizza first mentioned? Could The Band Wagon be the first one?

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B.T. Babbitt’s Soap Factory and a New Shoreline for Lower Manhattan

Image of a soap and saleratus factory for the B.T. Babbitt company. From Industrial America or manufacturers and inventors of the United States, 1876. Via-NYPL
The B.T. Babbitt company’s soap and saleratus (baking soda) factory in Lower Manhattan, 1876 (note Trinity Church in the background)

My previous post about B.T. Babbitt and his soap company provides a brief sketch of his life and soap company. As I looked closer at his company it turned out that the location of his factory is also an interesting story (to me anyway).

Babbitt’s New York City soap and saleratus (baking soda) factory was near the southern tip of Manhattan, occupying about 20,000 sq. ft. (1,848 sq. m) of land on 1/2 of the block bordered by West St, Rector St, Washington St, and Morris St (41-44 & 46-51 West St, and 64-82A Washington St). The first map below shows that it was just a few blocks from Battery Park (“The Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down”, as the “New York, New York” song in “On The Town” goes). The second and third maps show other views of the area.

Its riverfront location was probably not by accident, as the facility produced more than 100,000 pounds (~45,000 kg) of soap, and a large amount of baking soda each day. This required a lot of raw materials from outside of New York City, and therefore, having the docks close by was an advantage.

Today the Babbitt factory site is covered by residential buildings and a large parking garage.

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