Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Yogurt Chronicle: A Submitted Protocol for Frozen Yogurt

I've been making yogurt, and I live in the Bay area. The next logical step, of course, is to freeze it. I bought a personal-size ice cream maker, and it came with its own suggestion for how to make froyo. Here are my comments and revisions.


1/3 cup berry yogurt (I used plain yogurt)
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons sugar (this is a lot of sugar to add to what will become under 1 cup of frozen yogurt, and it will produce a very sweet yogurt. I think this is as much to lower the freezing point as to sweeten. You can probably get away with 1 tablespoon as long as you watch the yogurt carefully and make sure it doesn't freeze too quickly.)
2 tablespoons chopped berries (it's tough to judge how many berries will become 2 tablespoons after they're chopped, so just grab a handful and estimate.)


1. A few hours before you want to eat the yogurt, put the freezy bowl inside the freezer. This is surprisingly critical--if you chill it too long, the bowl will become very cold, and the yogurt might freeze on the sides rather than get mixed; if you don't chill it long enough, the yogurt won't actually freeze. I've found it works well if I start chilling when I get home from work at 4 pm 5:30 pm with the intent of making and eating froyo later in the evening.

2. Gather your berries...

...and chop them.

3. Mix the yogurt, milk, sugar, and berries in a separate container. If you try to mix in the freezy bowl, it will stick to the side and never mix properly. If you want to, add other ingredients--I added a squirt of chocolate syrup to my raspberry froyo, and it was fantastic.

4. Dump the mix in the freezy bowl and immediately start mixing. Mix for about ten minutes; I like to leave it in the freezer as it's mixing both to keep it cold and to keep some of the noise out.

5. Eat some delicious frozen yogurt.


Once I'd nailed down the timing--and the fact that it's absolutely necessary to mix the ingredients outside of the freezy bowl--every batch has turned out fantastic. The blackberry batch tasted a little more of sugar than blackberries, so I toned down the sugar in the next batches, but it was still fine.

Cherry had probably the best flavor of the three, but it was sort of a pain to chop up those cherries without the aid of a cherry pitter.

Raspberry chocolate ended up looking less bright and fresh than the others because of the added chocolate syrup, but I (accidentally) nailed the chocolate:raspberry ratio so it tasted great.

Next up on the froyo agenda: blueberries, plus all manner of stone fruits, especially peaches.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Whither "imply"/"infer"?

Many of us grad-school or academic types have another academic field we're into in our spare time, something that tends to be the polar opposite of what we actually study. My girlfriend's is medieval history, while other friends of mine take up astronomy or music theory or statistics. Call them our academic mistresses, maybe.  Mine is language, specifically usage and the fascinating, constant struggle of proscriptivism against descriptivism.

A popular pursuit in these circles is drawing attention to typical usage "mistakes" that people make and then debating whether it's truly a mistake (a typical proscriptivist position) or simply a reflection of changing language (usually argued by descriptivists). I usually come down on the proscriptive side of things; a good example is the use of "less" and "fewer". Standard English usage holds that "less" applies to continuous quantities, while "fewer" applies to discrete ones. We have less water but fewer buckets, less money but fewer coins. That's a meaningful and necessary distinction that ought to be preserved.

I'm not strictly proscriptivist all the time, most notably in the usage of "whom". Sometimes it's preferable to use "whom" just because it would sound incorrect not to: "to who it may concern" is clearly wrong. Most of the time, though, we don't lose any clarity of information or syntax by using "who" where "whom" really should go, and the language has evolved to figure that out. "Whom are you visiting?" is grammatically "correct" but sounds pedantic and non-conversational; "Who are you visiting?" is "incorrect" but easily understood to mean exactly the same thing. But that's the exception to my rule of grammatical proscriptivism.

The usage issue where I'm most proscriptivist of all, though, is one I didn't even realize was an issue until recently: the confusion of "imply" and "infer". It was odd to me, when I first arrived on the usage "scene," that these words would be confused at all. "Lay" and "lie" are probably the champion pair of incorrect usage, which makes sense because their conjugations overlap so extensively. "Affect" and "effect" present another source of confusion, and that one makes sense too because those words are pronounced nearly identically.

But "imply" and "infer"? Do people actually mess these up? They're clearly not pronounced the same way. Sure, they're spelled a little similarly in that they're the same length and start with the same letter, but by that logic, the English-speaking world should be confusing "brain" and "bloat" too. And they don't mean close to the same thing. To imply is to suggest; to infer is to guess or deduce. Sure, they interact, in that if Adam implies an unspoken opinion, Brian can infer what Adam meant. Again, though, if we're prone to confusing interacting verbs, how come we never mix up "throw" and "catch"?

It seems trivially easy to use these words correctly--much easier than, say, "lay" and "lie"--and until I started paying attention to usage experts, I never knew there was any difficulty at all in using them. Apparently there is: Lexicon Valley, in a podcast about a controversial dictionary, refers to the "imply"/"infer" confusion as if it's a common grammatical mistake. Garner's Modern American Usage, my favorite style guide, has multiple paragraphs on it. A quick Google search of "imply and infer" returns more than seven million hits.

Here's a quote from the second one: "These two words, which originally had quite distinct meanings, have become so blended together that most people no longer distinguish between them." Is that true? Do people really "no longer distinguish" between a pair of words that don't at all mean the same thing? And are there any theories about how they got so "blended"?

Many common usage errors came from somewhere, and it's apparent that, while incorrect, it's conceivable that someone would make them. Some, I'll even condone, if the descrptivist argument is convincing enough. But I can't condone mixing up "imply" and "infer". It doesn't even make sense how it would become so widely done in the first place.

Currently listening: Everything Under the Sun, Jukebox the Ghost

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yogurt Chronicle: Special Report on Filtration

One of the pieces of advice that Cultures for Health includes in their yogurt-making instructions is that if a thicker yogurt is desired, the yogurt could be strained through cheesecloth.  Thicker yogurt sounded pretty good, but really the whole thing sounded too engineer-y to pass up.  I set out to thicken some yogurt.

The first step was to spread the cheesecloth over a small bowl.  This to be a relatively strict filtration with a small fraction of permeate (i.e., the whey).  To make it even more restrictive, double-layer the cheesecloth.  Also, get a larger bowl you can pour you yogurt retentate into afterwards.
Next, pour some yogurt onto the cheesecloth.  It should be a small enough amount that you're still able to close the cheesecloth around it but a big enough amount that you have a volume big enough to filter.

This is the fun part!  Pick up the cheesecloth and let the whey drip out.  If you're doing it right (i.e., the filter is tight enough), you should get a hedgehog-like pattern of whey droplets on the outside, which will then fall into the bowl.  You might need to squeeze it to help it filter, but don't squeeze too hard because it tends to open the pores of the cheesecloth and let too much yogurt through.
Here's what some whey looks like once you've filtered it out.  There's not much of it, but you can improve the separation with a multi-stage filtration.

Now, pour your yogurt into the larger bowl.  It's thick and ready to eat!  If you choose to pursue the "filter it again" method, be sure to get a fresh piece of cheesecloth because it's likely your cloth's pores have opened during the filtration.  With larger holes in the filter, more yogurt gets through, and you don't end up actually thickening it.