The app-art of the dinner party - BlueStone Press
February 16, 2019
BSP Culture

The app-art of the dinner party


Histamine intolerance, fructose malabsorption, gluten sensitivity, vegan, ovo-lacto-WHAT?!?  Did you discover that long-lost recipe for Grandma’s triple berry banana nut cake you can hardly wait to share with your BFF’s? Are you throwing a dinner party, but find planning the menu might be downright toxic to certain individuals, but can’t remember who?

Introducing “Verna,” the first app that keeps track of your loved ones’ special food requirements and preferences, and then some.  It is simple to use and set up. The app accesses your Contacts list, with your permission, so you can easily create a unique profile for each of your friends and family members. You can even note their occupations, the names of their pets or children, birthdays or any little quirks about them you need to remember … but always forget.

Why “Verna”? Because our very own Verna Gills, ethnomusicologist, freelance producer and feta cheese omelet maker extraordinaire, created it! Verna is a longtime resident of Kerhonkson. She purchased her property with her first husband, Bradford Graves, in 1978 as their weekend retreat from NYC. After Bradford died, Verna relocated to Ulster County full time in 1999. At the time, she was collaborating with Roswell Rudd, who joined her in Kerhonkson in what she calls “the middle of somewhere.” The two lived and worked together until Roswell’s death in December 2017.

Gillis grew up in a musical household. Her uncle was a conductor, and her home was filled with tunes from her father’s vinyl 78s. Ethnomusicology grew out of her love of adventure and desire to “be at the source of where the music was happening.”  Verna completed her Ph.D. dissertation on a Persian ceremony called Zourkhaneh – soldiers exercising physically with weights and spiritually by reciting Sufi poetry. She traveled to Iran, Afghanistan and India in 1972 to do her research. Returning to the United States, she taught at Brooklyn College and later at Carnegie Mellon University.

Among her other credentials, Verna founded “Soundscape,” the first multicultural music performance space in NYC. She traveled extensively through Africa as a consultant for the International Committee of the Red Cross, recording and producing traditional folk music. Twenty-five of these recordings have been released by Smithsonian Folkways and Lyrichord. She has also written two books, was a member of the American International Sculptures Symposium, was nominated for a Grammy in 2000, and performs a comedy show.

So why did Gillis develop an app for food preferences? She believes “there is nothing better than eating together as a community.” Living in our rural area, she says, “People are your greatest resource.” She loves to gather friends and family together around her table, but keeping track of everyone’s special needs and wants has proven to be a challenge. Looking for an easier way to manage this need, the “Verna” app began to take shape. She reached out to Henry Lowengard, app developer in Kingston, and Danny Wasko to create the graphic effects, and “Verna” was achieved.

“Verna” is available to download in your app store for just 99 cents. The first screen will prompt you to give it access to your Contacts list. Simply scroll through the list, or search for the name of the person you wish to access. Tap the name to bring up the details screen, where you can set up or edit their personal preferences. You can choose the options that are the general kind of preference already available such as “alcohol free,” “diabetic,” “no soy,” or easily add specific detailed notes or those certain unique quirks or bits of information you want as handy reminders. You can also add a preference that is not on the list by tapping any of the presets and changing the name. Tap “Save” to confirm the information and return to the main screen. Or simply tap “Don’t Save” to return to the main screen without changing anything.

“Share” will let you export the information as an email, text or VCard file.  For more information, send an email to


Now, who was it that I was not to discuss the duck stock margarita incident with?!?

Verna Gills


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