Steve Woods

Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Trail Mix : A Short History

In What Day is it? on August 31, 2009 at 9:30 am
A simple trail mix variety

A simple trail mix variety

Next time you are standing in the grocery isle, contemplating a healthier snack option, take a moment to ponder upon the timeless trail mix.  I say timeless, because trail mix is thousands of years old. Ancient nomadic tribes used to mix up dried berries, fruits, nuts and meats together. Trail mix was (and is) high in energy, needs no specialized storage, and does not require cooking prior to consumption.

Later, explorers continued the use of trail mixes, for the very same reasons, taking the high-energy food with them on their travails over many a trail, mountain or ocean. Native Americans had a special spin on trail mix, which they shared with those explorers they had good relations with. Their mix was called pemmican, and consisted of dried buffalo, moose or caribou, mixed with animal fat and berries, and lasted for months. Pieces were often broken off and used to make a stew, called rubbaboo, by adding flour, water, and maple sugar.

Despite this long, storied history, two separate companies, Harmony Foods and Hadley Fruit Orchards of California, state that the name “trail mix” was invented in 1968 by surfers who mixed together peanuts and raisins to keep their energy levels up during more “gnarly surf” periods. They hold to this statement despite a 1958 novel by Jack Kerouac mentioning trail mix by name.

Trail mix is also known in America as GORP (Good Old Raisons and Peanuts, or Granola Oats, Raisins and Peanuts.) Down under, trail mix is known as scroggin, and in Germany as Studentenfutter (“student’s food”.) Today’s trail mix often includes fruit, grain cereals, nuts, flavorings, chocolate or carob, coconut, pretzels, and sometimes crystallized ginger.

Want to make your own special trail mix? Here are over 80 recipes, at,1-0,trail_mix,FF.html

World Sauntering Day

In What Day is it? on August 28, 2009 at 12:46 pm
Two gentleman sauntering in the city.

Two gentleman sauntering in the city.

Webster’s English Dictionary labels a saunter as “a leisurely stroll, or walk.”  I like to think of sauntering as a wayward, happy movement, without need for either direction or purpose. You need no reason for where you are heading, or for the pace at which you are going – just make sure it is designed to maximize your enjoyment of the time you spend sauntering.

World Sauntering Day was founded in 1979 by William T. Rabe of Mackinac Island, Detroit, and was one of many publicity stunts Mr. Rabe created as Public Relations Director for the Grand Hotel.  Mr. Rabe wanted people to spend more time enjoying Detroit, a city he was very proud of, and as a reply to the rapidly growing health fad of jogging.  The idea of a Sauntering day took hold quickly, and years later was officially declared on the steps of the very hotel it was founded at. As the years progressed, other countries began to celebrate the holiday, making it “World” in status.

Other unusual holidays promulgated by Mr. Rabe and celebrated on Mackinac Island annually are Snowman Burning Day, to celebrate the end of Winter, and Unicorn Questing Month, wherein people get together and hunt unicorns all around the island.

Sadly, William passed away on April 5, 1992, and to this day, there is no holiday celebrating his birth. While taking a saunter today, and in his memory, ask yourself why you stopped believing in unicorns, take a furtive glance or two amongst the trees, and make a choice to begin searching again…

Petroleum Day

In What Day is it? on August 27, 2009 at 9:59 am
An oil pump

An oil pump

Around 2000 BCE, Herodotus and Siculus wrote that an asphalt-like product was used to hold together the walls and towers of ancient Babylon.  Tablets have been found showing the use of petroleum for lighting and medicine in ancient Persia.

The word “petroleum” was first used in a 1546 treatise called De Natura Fossilium, published by Georg Bauer, a mineralogist.

Based on chemical similarities found between organic biomass and oil, it is understood that petroleum comes from deposits of biomass at the bottom of deep waterways, covered slowly with layers of sediment over millions of years.  Each layer added on created more pressure and frictional heat on the waste areas, until the waste was converted into hydrocarbon materials—namely oil and natural gas.  Depending on the composition of materials to produce it, crude can be a variety of colors, from dark black to even yellow.

When an oil drill’s piping pierces the layer of oil/gas, it provides an empty tube of much lower pressure, allowing the gasses to drive the oil upward. As the reservoir diminishes, a pump and/or gas injection is needed to continue this process.  An uncontrolled stream is called a “gusher.”  Once a gusher is under control, the next problem is transferring the product elsewhere for use. When oil was first pulled from the ground in Pennsylvania in the 1860s, people would grab any kind of container they could to capture the black gold. Barrel-makers began to standardize the size and type of barrel in order to mass-produce them. The chosen size was 42 gallons, based on old English rules to diminish deceitful practices in the fish trade.  The 42-gallon measure stands to this day, although most oil never makes its way into an actual barrel.

All crude oil is typically refined, as the original product is virtually unusable. Originally, contraptions similar to alcohol stills were used to refine oil. Many old-style moonshiners in Texas moved their businesses over to the more lucrative oil industry. More simple refineries remove basic impurities from crude. Today’s advanced behemoth refineries separate crude into its constituent products, by heating the oil in mixers. Different parts of the oil vaporize at different temperatures, releasing them for capture.  Additional processes known as “cracking” and “conversion” actually change the molecular structure of the newly-separated fluids for specialized uses. Basically, the more changes required, the more expensive the output will be.

Today, oil is largely harvested from underground sources; however, new technologies have allowed for retrieving petroleum from other sources, including sand deposits in Canada and Venezuela. It is estimated that trapped in these sands is more than 36 trillion barrels, about twice the known volume of drilled sources.

National Cherry Popsicle Day

In What Day is it? on August 26, 2009 at 12:08 am

Popsicles in Flavor VarietyPopsicles of all flavors have long been cherished in America by children. They should be, since the popsicle was invented by one of them.  In 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson left his homemade combination of fruity soda powder and water outside during a record cold night in San Francisco, with a stir-stick in the glass.  Later discovering his soda in the frozen state, he pulled it out of the glass and discovered it to his liking.

18 years later while running a lemonade stand in Oakland, Frank reminisced about this experience, and decided there was money to be made from it. He quickly moved to patent his “frozen ice on a stick,” calling it an Epsicle Ice Pop and originating with 7 different flavors.  His children especially loved the concoction, calling it “Pop’s Sicle.” The name Popsicle soon stuck.

In 1925, Frank sold his patent to the Joe Lowe Company, which in turn passed it on to the Good Humor Company, who currently own the rights to the Popsicle brand name and makes over 30 flavors. While holding the patent, Frank earned royalties on the sale of over 60 million popsicles.

After WWII, families in the suburbs of America realized they could afford in-home refrigerators, and the Popsicle took off, emerging in grocery stores everywhere.

Make your own fruit juice popsicles…