One of the greatest lies foisted on the unsuspecting computer shopper of ten years ago was "You can use it to keep your recipes." Yeah, sure. Essentially no one ever kept their recipes in a database file because it’s not a simple task. I’m pleased to report that the days of avoiding the computer for recipe keeping are over, thanks to Upstill Software’s Mangia.
Mangia is essentially a muscular relational database dedicated to making it easy to enter, find, and display recipes. The problem with keeping recipes on the computer was not the database engines, but the interface. I saw an alpha version of Mangia about a year and a half ago, and thought it was awful. Then, when I ran into Steve Upstill’s booth at Macworld Boston, I was stunned – the ugly duckling had turned into a swan! Steve cleaned up the interface, simplified the controls, added color judiciously, and polished Mangia almost beyond recognition.
I cook, I cook a fair amount, and people tell me I cook pretty well. Nonetheless, I don’t like spending time looking for recipes. Over the years, Tonya and I have found a system that ensures we make dinner even when we are too tired think of anything to cook. Every weekend, we make a weekly menu – just a list of days and the meals we want to eat. Then we make a shopping list and buy everything we need for the next week. The beauty of this system, aside from avoiding grilled cheese every night, is that we can look back through old menus for inspiration.
Mangia arrived and I dove in, gasping with delight at the nice touches, including the manual, which takes the unique approach of "two-minute lessons" that occupy a single page each. This technique works well in that most tasks are covered in a two-minute lesson, and the manual has an engagingly informal tone that keeps you reading once you start. The only drawback is that when something isn’t covered in the manual or online help, you’re on your own.
When you launch Mangia, it presents you with a Recipe Browser window that shows the recipes in open cookbooks (of which Mangia ships with two, Mangia Miscellany and Cooks Redux, a collection of recipes from the late Cooks Magazine). A file to Mangia is a cookbook, and you can have a number of them. Within the Recipe Browser the recipes are sorted alphabetically, but you can specify dividers to differentiate by type of dish, main ingredient, season, and so on.
If you want to find a specific type of recipe, or recipes with specific ingredients, Mangia includes several powerful methods of doing just that. Once you’ve found one, double-clicking on the name displays the recipe (nicely formatted, and you can pick from multiple formats or design your own), so you can see if you want to make it, and dragging it to (or clicking on) a Recipe Clipboard button adds it to the Recipe Clipboard. You use the Recipe Clipboard as a temporary corral for recipes until you print a shopping list. You can also define what Mangia calls "meals" in the Recipe Clipboard – calling them "menus" would have been too confusing. Because of our system, I define a meal for each day of the week.
Once you have selected a number of recipes and added them to meals if you wish, you can select some or all and ask Mangia to print a shopping list. The time-honored problem with shopping lists is that the Mac has no way of determining what’s already on your shelves. Mangia isn’t omniscient, but it uses an clever method of limiting the problem. When you generate a shopping list, the ingredients are listed for each recipe, and an asterisk appears next to those in your pantry. You then scan down the list and mark each item as to whether or not you actually have it. Needless to say, once you mark something as existing in your pantry, it’s still there the next time you use Mangia. Once you’ve identified all the items you need to buy, you can select the pantry items and delete them from the list before printing the list with items optionally sorted by section of the store (you can modify this for your store) and with the recipe name and quantity needed next to each item.
This works wonderfully if you can limit yourself to the recipes Mangia provides, but we all have some favorites that won’t be in Mangia’s repertoire. Although Upstill Software is working on releasing more cookbooks (actually turning paper cookbooks into Mangia files) for the moment, there aren’t many out there. I’ve typed in about 30 of our main recipes, and someone posted a set of 10 recipes of Irish Mist Desserts to the Internet. If you wish to enter recipes, it’s easy – just a matter of filling in various data entry screens. The tricky part is that to ensure the capability to track the Pantry and to scale recipes, Mangia requires that you use (or add) specific terms in its dictionary. That means if you come up with an ingredient that isn’t in Mangia, you must add it manually. However, because Mangia knows how all of its ingredients are spelled, it has a clever feature that tells you graphically when it knows the ingredient you’re trying to type and can finish it for you. If you want to use a menu instead, Mangia shows the ingredients hierarchically, which would be clumsy without Mangia’s sticky menus option to simulates a click-lock.
Mangia isn’t perfect. It’s a bit slow, and there are a few interface lapses here and there in the program, such as the Enter key not selecting the default button in a dialog. The program is not the most stable I’ve used, but it’s generally OK and since it saves everything all the time, it’s hard to lose data (still, back up personal cookbooks, just in case). There are a few drawbacks to the philosophy as well – for instance, most people don’t just buy food at the grocery store, but Mangia can’t tell you when you’re out of tissues, for instance, unless you do like we did and make a recipe called Regular Shopping Items that contains ingredients for the non-food miscellany that we buy frequently. We’ve come up with a few other workarounds such as empty recipes called Dining Out and Leftovers, since we want place holders for meals we don’t cook but don’t want anything appearing in the shopping list.
It’s not perfection that I ask for these days, but responsiveness, which Steve Upstill has provided in spades. One of the first things I did was try to print a list of my meals on a single page, and I couldn’t. I sent Steve email asking about it, and he responded by sending a new version within a few days – it seems that the necessary button had somehow moved offscreen in the Print dialog. That’s what I call customer service, and Steve has been open to suggestions and comments along the way.
Right now, Mangia suffers mainly from a lack of cookbooks. There’s a solution out there. It’s called the Usenet Cookbook, and consists of a large number of recipes submitted by Usenet readers over the years. I have no idea of the details surrounding it, but I noticed that you can search it via WAIS and that all the recipes have a rigid format. It would take programming work, but Steve said he’s willing to help out with a conversion program if anyone wants to figure out how to convert these text files into a Mangia cookbook.
In any event, Mangia is by far the best cooking program I’ve seen. If you’re looking for the perfect present for a Mac chef, I highly recommend Mangia. You can find a demo that I uploaded a while back on <sumex-aim.stanford.edu> as:
Mangia sells for the idiosyncratic price of $49.93 (plus $3 shipping and sales tax in California if you order direct from Upstill Software).
Upstill Software — 800/JOT-DOWN — 510/486-0761