The Food that Built America

Seamlessly blending historian interviews with dramatized re-enactments, The History Channel’s three-part series on The Food that Built America offers a surprisingly riveting look at what might sound like some mundane topics.

A few things I learned:

  • Tomato ketchup, historically known as tomato catsup, is a tomato-based variety of “catsup sauce”, other varieties of which include fish-based sauce and walnut-based sauce. The original purpose of all of these “catsups”, tomato catsup included, was to mask the unpleasant flavor of rotting meat, as most meat at the time was not kept very well, but people felt compelled to eat it anyway, rather than let their expensive food go to waste.
  • The Heinz Company, purveyor of quality tomato catsup, successfully lobbied the United States government to establish and enforce food preparation regulations, in order to push out of business low-budget competitors who were making inferior tomato catsup on the cheap.(Perhaps had Heinz done this first, meat would not have been served rotten, and we never would have needed tomato catsup in the first place!)
  • The Kellogg brothers developed breakfast cereal initially as a quasi-medicinal product, to help people suffering from poor digestion and other stomach ailments. (Maybe from eating too much rotten meat?) One of their patients was C. W. Post, who “borrowed” the idea and launched breakfast cereal to the general public. William Kellogg eventually followed suit as a competitor, though his doctor brother was at best reluctant to market their “medicinal” breakfast food as a commercial product.
  • Milton Hershey launched his chocolate business before he had even figured out how to make chocolate, including building housing for employees and hiring an executive salesman to market something that did not yet exist. He was confident that he could develop a usable recipe, and that, once that part was compete, milk chocolate would be a runaway success.
  • In the midst of the Great Depression, when many people lacked the resources to buy much food, Hershey halved the price of his allegedly protein-rich, peanut-filled Mr. Goodbar chocolate, touting it as a meal substitute with the same nutritional benefit as a pound of meat.

The series was enjoyable to watch, well-acted, well-produced, and left me both wanting to learn more about the origins of these everyday products, and maybe wanting to eat some more of them.

American Airlines: This Page Has Taken Flight

I was recently trying to book a flight on American Airlines using accumulated miles/points. Every time I got to the end of the booking process, I reached a page that said “This Page Has Taken Flight”, and I lost all of the booking information I had entered thus far.

Eventually I found the solution on a web forum posting. Apparently, despite having flown on American Airlines many times, my account had gotten into a state such that my home address was not on file. Entering my home address into my account details enabled me to complete the flight booking.

This error message was very mysterious, and nothing about it even remotely suggested what the problem was. Sharing this tidbit here in case it helps anyone else!

Nixon Now

IMG_2938I was recently at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. Having never before taken the time to learn much about Nixon, my impression of him, molded by superficial academia and mass media, was that he was corrupt, disgraced, and most definitely a “crook”.

Perusing the exhibits, I learned for the first time about what might have been one of the best presidents in United States history. His accomplishments both within the country and in relations with other countries are numerous and impressive. Why has his reputation been watered down to Watergate? Even there, it seems that what actually happened is not be as bad as what the general public has been led to believe. Nixon himself offered in 1978:

Some people say I didn’t handle it properly and they’re right. I screwed it up. Mea culpa. But let’s get on to my achievements. You’ll be here in the year 2000 and we’ll see how I’m regarded then.

Now in 2018… it seems that he remains best-known for Watergate.

He also had some amazing campaign songs:

Thanks to the great exhibition displays at the museum, I look forward to learning more about our 37th president. Happy Election Day!

Sherwin Williams Porch and Floor Enamel vs. Border Collie

IMG_0724Samantha the border collie was easily house trained, and remained so for five years in our previous house. The current house has a basement utility room with an unfinished cement floor, and Samantha apparently decided that relieving herself on the cement floor was acceptable. Of all of the floors in the house, I agree with her choice, but after two years of this, I wanted something easier to clean up than unfinished, porous cement.

Ceramic tile, vinyl tile, and laminate flooring were all reasonable choices for a basement utility room, but I really didn’t want to go to that extent if not necessary. I’ve seen basement floors that were painted, and seemed pretty resistant to spilled liquid, so I trundled down to the home improvement superstore and bought a can of Rustoleum concrete paint.

I painted a small test area, let it dry, and then went through the motions of cleaning it with a wet paper towel. The paint rubbed off the cement floor onto the paper towel; clearly this was not going to be a good solution to the problem!

[Did I etch the cement floor prior to painting? No. Had I etched it, would the paint have adhered better? Maybe, maybe not. It seemed pretty resistant to scraping, and to scrubbing with dry paper towels. Only with wet paper towels did any significant paint come up off the floor. I am guessing that etching would not have made a big difference here, as the paint was just too water-soluble for what I needed.]

So I went over to the local Sherwin Williams paint shop, hoping that their staff of paint specialists could offer a better solution. The employee I talked to also had a dog, and recommended their porch and floor enamel paint. He showed me an area of floor in their storage room where they themselves had applied this paint, and it appeared durable. I bought a gallon.

Back home, another spot test came back with good results: the paint seemed to stay adhered well when cleaned, so I cleared and cleaned the utility room floor and painted away. For two days, Samantha did not relieve herself at all in the house. Excellent! But I was still curious how the paint would hold up to a more intense scenario. The next day, a thunderstorm rolled through, and a certain anxious border collie relieved herself multiple times on the painted floor.

Clean up from the comparatively smooth, non-porous surface was trivial. Damp spots from the cleaning solution remained, but within a few minutes the floor looked as if nothing had happened. A tiny bit of paint appeared to come up on the paper towel, but may have been some tiny clumps of paint left from my not-completely-smooth painting job. In any event, this paint is much more durable than my first choice, and even if an occasional touch-up is needed, no big deal.

The floor looks nicer and is much easier to clean, offering daily time savings. Thank you Sherwin Williams!

[Note to self for future touch-ups: color selected was Pewter Cast (SW 7673).]

Photography Rules Around the National Mall

IMG_0626The last time I was at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., I took a mediocre photograph of the very dimly-lit Declaration of Independence on ISO 400 film. A couple of weeks ago I was back, armed with much higher ISO on a Canon 6D digital camera and lens with image stabilization.

To my dismay, the National Archives no longer permits photography of any of their exhibits. They used to allow photography without flash, as flash could promote deterioration of their rare artifacts, but too many people ignored the no-flash rule, either intentionally or unintentionally, and they have now banned photography altogether.

How strict are they about this? I witnessed a guard pounce on a tourist with a mobile phone camera sneaking a picture of the Archives’ copy of the Magna Carta:

“No photography!”

“I’m sorry.”

“You can delete that picture.”

Of course, deleting the picture after the fact doesn’t solve anything regarding artifact deterioration…

Meanwhile, in the third-floor observation deck overlooking the main reading room of the Library of Congress, where photography used to be banned, flash-free photography is now allowed. Sitting inside the reading room, waiting for books to be delivered, I couldn’t help but notice some flashes going off, and it was indeed kind of distracting, but the library didn’t seem as intense about enforcing their newly-loosened rules as the National Archives was about enforcing their increasingly strict rules.

Speaking of rules, I would not have thought that these words would have ever had to be spoken, by a National Archives guard, to a child next to me: “Excuse me, there’s no sitting on the Declaration!”