Fugitive Fish

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A new study has found that farmed Atlantic salmon are escaping their net pens and interbreeding with their wild cousins. This is a problem because it is suspected that interbreeding results in lower reproductive success and individual fitness. Escapees compete with native populations for food. In addition, farmed fish have higher rates of illness and parasites than wild salmon do, making it more likely that a fugitive could infect the wild population. The study of Norwegian waters found that 50% of wild populations had some farmed fish among them.

However, there is a general dearth of information regarding multiple generations down the line. The Atlantic salmon raised in Norway is only about 40 years removed from the wild, and are not yet a different species. The genes selected for include growth, filet size, and more efficient utilization of feed. While farmed salmon may mature faster and grow larger than their wild cousins, it is unknown whether these traits would endure after a few generations of interbreeding.

The study didn’t mention the aspect of the story most interesting to a home cook, however: Do the fugitives and their hybrid offspring regain the flavor that makes wild salmon so wonderful (and farmed salmon so disappointing)? Wild salmon feeds on krill, plankton, and algae, none of which are part of farmed salmon’s fodder. That’s what provides the flavor and gorgeous pink color that are so lacking in farmed salmon. A population of fish that combines wild taste with farmed size sounds like a chef’s dream.

Now for some cozy things I liked today:

Long read of the day: Mary Roach writes about Project Headgear, the top secret plan to turn sharks into suicide bombers.

Cooking video of the day: Brigadeiro, Brazilian candy

Room of the day: I like everything about this article on a home built in the 1640s

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Animals in the Kitchen

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My grandmother was a stickler for cleanliness. Vegetables were usually homegrown, but washed in soap and water anyway. Dishes were done with bleach as well as detergent. Her floors were cleaned multiple times a week–when she lived alone. She never allowed her pets in the main house, housing them in a cooled “Florida room” instead. She was a wonderful, kind, generous woman who drove us crazy when she lived with us.

My cat has free reign over the house, which I keep pretty clean, if not visit-from-Grandma ready. I have adopted some of her compulsions and aversions, however. He’s only allowed on the beds and living room furniture, no desks or kitchen surfaces. If I know someone keeps a dirty house or lets their animal on the table, I avoid their food at potlucks and barbecues.

But I’m kind of a hypocrite because my favorite YouTube channel is Cooking with Dog, in which a Japanese woman demonstrates recipes while her poodle Francis snoozes beside her on the counter. Or dances beside her, if he’s really into the dish being prepared. Many of their videos have comments from viewers expressing dismay at this. But the relationship between the two of them and her high skill level are enough to keep me from being too grossed out by the potential germs in her kitchen.

Keeping animals off of work surfaces might be a minority view, however. I did a pretty unscientific poll of my friends and found that most of us allow our pets on furniture, including kitchen furniture. I even received a note from a friend of a friend telling me that people who don’t keep their pets clean enough to have on the counter top shouldn’t have pets at all. I can hear my grandma screaming now.

Now for some cozy things I liked today:

DIY of the day: Hanging water garden

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Cleaning tip of the day: Use rubbing alcohol to shine and remove water droplet stains from bathroom fixtures. If you have hard water the stains will come back after a few showers, but your weekend guests won’t know that.

Good news of the day: In a trial, 8 paralyzed patients have regained some movement using VR technology

 

Freemium Isn’t Free (and other basic life truths)

I spent part of my morning soothing a relative whose favorite celebrity tablet game recently went in a more money-grabby direction. For two years, players were able to participate in challenges without spending real-world currency. Coming on the heels of a Snapchat in which the game company’s CEO joked about getting the eponymous celebrity her own private island, it left a bad taste in players’ mouths. This meant the relative and others were unable to participate and win clothing for their character, which is a big deal to players. In her case, she paid to enter, but could not keep paying to finish the contest in time.

I think that anyone who has played more than a couple of freemium games has run into something similar. Maybe you’re not locked out of a challenge, but it might not be possible to win unless you pay for advantages like extra dice or more energy. I have a friend who could probably buy every single Sims game for PC or console for the amount she has spent on Freeplay. I’ll even admit to spending $40 on a desert island game I barely remember. For every freemium game that allows players to easily grind for goals (like Dragonsoul or WWE SuperCard), there are several more that are impossible to do well at without spending.

The problem with spending money on freemium games is that your energy or premium currency runs out all too quickly. You’re ready to keep going, the game is ready to offer you a frictionless one-tap refill. It feels a bit like a slot machine. And players might feel like they have to continue because they’ve spent all this time and money, even though those are sunk costs that they will never recoup.

laxtarmacThe next thing on the horizon might be an increase in subscription-based games. Apple and Android both recently announced that app makers who develop apps with a subscription model would get a higher percentage of sales than those who develop apps with more traditional freemium or up-front payment models. The more generous split would occur after the subscriber had used the app for a year, which will encourage app makers to up the quality of their offerings.

I would love to hear what readers think of freemium games. Do you play? What are your favorites?

Now for some cozy things I liked today:

Cooking video of the day: Homemade Iced Popsicle Recipes

Theory of the day: Neanderthals went extinct because they didn’t wear animal skins?

Gardening idea of the day: How to Espalier

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Taking food allergies seriously

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Today’s blog is a mini-rant. Food allergies affect up to 15 million people in the United States. Every three minutes, someone in the US seeks emergency services for a food allergy. Yet it seems like people don’t take allergies seriously, urging allergy sufferers to “just take a bite.” I once had someone assume I just didn’t like shellfish. They assured me that there was only imitation crab (usually made from pollock, a finned fish) in the dip they had made. I did not need to seek emergency care, but was too ill to work the next day, costing my employer sick pay.

This week, a Canadian server is facing charges because he failed to write down a customer’s order. The man told the waiter he had a seafood allergy, but was served a salmon dish. Due to the low lighting in the bar, he failed to notice this fact until he had taken the first bite. This single bite put him in a coma for two days.

I think the reason people don’t take food allergies seriously is because so many people use “I have an allergy to that” as an excuse to avoid food they simply dislike. Whether this stems from social anxiety, their desire to avoid offending the cook, or an inability to use their big girl words, it has real consequences for people who actually do have food allergies.

In my case, my shellfish allergy began in adulthood and I didn’t initially realize I had one. I had begun getting rashes after eating shrimp, although I did not initially make that connection since I had never experienced symptoms before. It took someone pointing out to me that my hives and swelling looked like an allergic reaction for the lightbulb to come on. The four times that I have experienced an allergic reaction have increased in severity of symptoms and a fifth time could find me in a hospital.

I ask that those hosting parties and working in the food service industry take allergies seriously. It’s possible that the guest is a hypochondriac or expressing their dislike of a food, but with grave health consequences for them and criminal charges for you on the line, it’s not worth taking the risk.

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And now for some cozy things I liked today:

Cooking video of the day: Chorizo and Chicken Tray Bake

Good news of the day: Stray pup who kept showing up at flight attendant’s hotel finally adopted

Cute pet of the day:

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5 Strange Potato Chips

Before the barbecue Saturday, I asked the host what I should bring. “Maybe some bags of chips that aren’t plain,” he responded. I try to avoid that aisle entirely so it’s been a while since I really inspected what was out there. Tzatziki? Szechuan Chicken? Ketchup? What a time to be alive.

Flavored potato chips have been with us since the 1950s, when Joe “Spud” Murphy and Seamus Bourke produced Cheese & Onion, Salt & Vinegar, and Barbecue chips for Tayto in the Republic of Ireland. The concept soon went global and eventually went very, very local. I have rounded up some of the stranger flavors available overseas. Note: I didn’t carry out a ton of research in my local grocery store so it’s entirely possible some of these can be found in the US.

  1. Beef and Onion (Northern Ireland)

Maybe this isn’t so strange after all. The first recorded potato chip recipe, in 1817’s The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, did call for frying the potatoes in lard or meat drippings. Tayto, mentioned above, licensed their name to a Northern Irish company that chose to put this flavor out instead of the original Cheese & Onion. I first learned of this flavor from someone at the barbecue who said it had a very strong hamburger taste.

2. Lobster Hot Plate (Thailand)

The artwork on the bag depicts a whole lobster on a bed of cooked greens. An online reviewer says it smells like foot and tastes like an amorphous seafood barbecue. Sounds amazing, darn this shellfish allergy of mine.

3. Red Caviar (Russia)

Like Lobster Hot Plate, this flavor is produced by Lay’s. One blogger said it tasted like caviar (but complained that it lacked the slimy texture), while another described the taste as one of “salty butter.”

4. Maple Moose (Canada)

These won a Lay’s contest but were only on the market briefly before being discontinued due to low sales. One reviewer described it as having “an acrid mustiness that’s just unpleasant.” At least the guy who submitted the recipe is $50,000 richer.

5. Builder’s Breakfast (United Kingdom)

From everything I’ve been able to find, these were only available for a limited time and the flavor of eggs has not been replicated by any other chip brand. It sounds so horrific, and reviewers were so turned off by the sulfuric smell, that it deserved a mention here. “Like a rotten Egg McMuffin you found in the trash” was another take on it.

As for the Lay’s flavors I ended up bringing to the barbecue, the Tzatziki had a pretty strong cucumber taste and the Szechuan Chicken had a little heat with a soy-garlic flavor. I didn’t pick up on the chicken although everyone else did. I don’t think I would buy either flavor again, but the Tzatziki was a big hit with everyone else.

And now for some cozy things I liked today:

Long read of the day: Bee Wilson wrote a really lovely piece about her sister’s anorexia

Gardening idea of the day: How to make a wheel herb planter

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Cooking video of the day: Pull-apart Pizza Muffins

 

“Friends”

Social media this morning had a lot of shares of articles with clickbaity headlines like “Do Your Friends Actually Like You?” These shares were usually accompanied by anxious jokes (that vagus nerve in action!), but my feeling upon reading the study was one of relief. The study involved 84 Chinese business undergraduate students aged 23-38. I have been an adult in an undergraduate course and I recognize that there are many reasons why people in that environment would have a lopsided view of one another. Person A frequently asks Person B to explain a concept; Person A probably likes Person B more than the reverse. Person C always smiles as Person B but secretly thinks they’re a know-it-all; Person B only sees the smile and thinks they’re friendly. And so on.

But I’m not feeling relieved because I think the environment in which the study was conducted inherently breeds lopsided relationships; I’m also relieved because I can think of times when I’ve realized my relationships weren’t perfectly reciprocal. A woman I barely remember playing with when we were children recently introduced me to her boyfriend as her childhood best friend. I was incredibly hurt to learn that someone I thought I had been pretty close to couldn’t stand me. And I still feel guilty for not going to a funeral to support someone who had expected me to be there for her. I simply didn’t realize I occupied that place in her life. It’s comforting to know these feelings are universal.

When you’re in the company of someone who truly is a friend, you know. You’re more relaxed and less concerned about saying or doing the wrong thing. You don’t go home and analyze your interactions. When you send them a text that mentions a mutual acquaintance, you don’t worry about them screenshotting it to send to that person. It’s incredibly hard to get to that level with someone, especially in a classroom environment.

The study did change my perception of one thing, however. I used to detest the way Facebook throws around the word “friends” when most of the people on our lists are acquaintances. Now I realize it’s probably kinder that way.

Some cozy things I liked today:

Cooking video of the day: Dairy-Free Sweetened Condensed Milk

Cute kitten of the day:

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Long read of the day: The Washington post has an article about homeowners building second homes on their lots, either for relatives or to rent–and the lawsuits being filed by their neighbors

 

Rotten Potatoes

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When I walked in the door, a nauseating wave of odor hit my face. Someone had either died or experienced terrible gastrointestinal distress or undergone both at once. Pulling my sweaty T-shirt over my nose, I tried to locate the source of the stench. This led me into the kitchen. Sometime in the few hours that we had been away, the potatoes had gone off.

But why are rotten potatoes so uniquely awful? The brown muck that forms inside bags of prewashed celery or the swarm of fruit flies that hover over bananas aren’t nearly as bad.

The fault seems to lie with a trio of organosulfur compounds. Methyl mercaptan can be detected in concentrations as low as one part per billion. Dimethyl trisulfide has an even stronger smell, detectable at 1 part per trillion, and attracts insects. Dimethyl sulfide is the reason potato odor is sometimes described in piscine terms, as it is responsible for the smell of the sea as well. The microbes that produce these compounds create such foul odors, in part, because they have longer to work. Spinach, bananas, and other produce are usually tossed before the microbes that create their stench have a chance to make themselves noticeable. Even when the butyric acid produced by those microbes has a chance to ferment, the smell is less pungent.

I suppose we can consider ourselves fortunate, in light of what happened to a Russian Tatar family in 2013. Four members, ranging in age from 18 to 63, were overcome by the gas from rotten potatoes stored in their basement. They went down there one at a time to rescue other family members. All perished, but the last family member to go down to the cellar left the door propped open, allowing the fumes to disperse. Similar accidents have been recorded at storage facilities where grain has fermented in the United States, but most cooks store potatoes in quantities that are too small to have a similar effect at home.

This blog will resume on Monday. Here are some cozy things I found interesting today:

Tech story of the day: Mozilla Firefox will start replacing 404 links with archived images, when available

Cooking video of the day: Peach Cobbler

Gardening tip of the day: August is a good time to fertilize Florida’s sandy soils in preparation for planting in the cooler months of fall

Interior of the day:

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Rustic Tuscan kitchen

Cute cat of the day:

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This little guy was found here

 

 

Throwback Thursday/Summer Jams Edition

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(DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, via Pinterest)

A lot of keys have been mashed by bloggers discussing the elusive perfect summer song. I’m not going to bring you yet another post about the right amount of syncopation or the correct level of bass. I’m not going to praise DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime,” a song that makes lists because of lyrical content and not musical quality. Instead, I’m going to reach back in my memory and bring you a list of every song that has defined summer for me, personally, since 2000. Does it flow as a mixtape? Absolutely not. But it’s my list and I’d love to hear other folks’.

2016-Rich Chigga-“Dat $tick” Brian Imanuel is a 16-year-old Indonesian kid who taught himself English via YouTube and discovered rap music on Twitter.  In the video, he wears a pink golf shirt, khaki shorts, and a fanny pack. He pulls odd faces, makes strange hand gestures and doesn’t dance so much as jerk around. The lyrics are sprinkles with ethnic slurs and casual homophobia. And it is the hardest song I have heard all summer.

2015-Visage-“Fade to Grey” This song came out in 1981 but got a little bit of airplay after Steve Strange’s death, which is how I heard it. I played it more than anything else that came out last year. And check out that video–the low budget was spent entirely on makeup and the result is beautiful.

2014-The Horrors-“So Now You Know” I think Luminous was the best record of 2014. No one else I know agrees. Bright synthpop and deep lyrics combine to make one of the loveliest and most inspirational records I have ever heard.

2013-Tegan & Sara-“Closer (Morgan Page Radio Edit)” 2013 was a rough year. Vampire Weekend came out with a record all about mortality and that was the very last thing I needed to hear. The Strokes came out with a record that found them sounding completely exhausted. Some of the records I would swear I listened to in 2013 came out in 2014. In short, summer 2013 isn’t really defined as clearly as others for me. But this song was a jam.

2012-Merchandise-“Time” I would love Merchandise even if they weren’t from Tampa. This song is so melancholy that I feel like I need to remind anyone reading this that these are songs that evoke specific summers, not necessarily actual jams.

2011-Nicki Minaj-“Super Bass” Aside from having one of the most visually arresting videos ever, this song is hella fun. I’m not the only one who rapped it on the way to the beach, right?

2010-Lady Gaga-“Bad Romance” What was I doing in 2010? Working constantly and going to summer school at UCF. I barely hung out with anyone. I barely listened to new music. Oh well. We were all listening to Lady Gaga back then, right?

2009-The Dead Weather-“Treat Me Like Your Mother” I had slept on Alison Mosshart, who found success long after she left her hometown of Vero Beach. Having never listened to her band The Kills, this song was a revelation.  I didn’t know how I would like a band that Jack White was in but did not front, and the answer was better than anything else he has ever done. Honorable mention: Vampire Hands-“Safe Word

2008-MGMT-“Electric Feel” The ubiquity of this song was so obnoxious I didn’t bother checking out the rest of their music for months. Eventually, it grew on me and the opening bars take me back to the cheesy tourist bar my friends and I made our second home that summer. (Why? Because one of us was dating the bartender and free drinks overrule any objections to the music.)

2007-Amy Winehouse-“Rehab” I hate that she spent the last years of her life as a punchline. I hate that she was so tortured, even as she was so talented. I hate that this song, which was a flippantly defiant party track in 2007, is now more often cited as part of her legendary substance abuse problem. But I could never hate or get tired of this song.

2006-Arctic Monkeys-“I Bet That You Look Good on the Dancefloor” I remember there had been a big debate about guitar music dying when this came out. As always happens when there are Cassandras predicting the end, a monster hit emerged. They managed to make the concept of two guitars, a bass, and a drummer fresh again. Even if they did swipe that riff from Stabbing Westward.

2005-Sol Seppy-“Slo Fuzz” I spent a lot of time on MySpace and actually recorded a lot of songs from the site, tragically lost when I failed to back up my hard drive. (Damn you, Seagate!) Most bands break up within a couple of years of formation so most never uploaded their music to YouTube or elsewhere. So I am happy that this gorgeous, dreamy piece of music (Mazzy Star vibes) is up.

2004-Jay-Z-“Dirt Off Your Shoulder” It came out in fall 2003, but it was all over the radio that summer. I remember blasting it each night after I left my much-hated job at a hotel.

2003-Interpol-“Roland” I went from being underwhelmed by “Obstacle 1” to being blown away by Turn on the Bright Lights over this summer. I went on a solo hike that summer when I became aware that there was a bear near me. We stared at each other for a moment and then I began singing “MY BEST FRIEND’S A BUTCHER HE HAS SIXTEEN KNIVES/OH LOOK IT’S STOPPED SNOWING” at the top of my lungs. It had the desired effect.

2002-Built to Spill-“Strange” This song was released the year before, but I didn’t hear it until a much-cooler friend ripped it onto a blank CD for me that summer, after attempts to send it to me via AIM failed due to my dial-up connection.

2001-Weezer-“Hash Pipe” I saw Weezer that fall at Tampa’s Ice Palace, my first stadium gig. This was after I had spent the entire summer poolside jamming out to what was known as “The Green Album.” I stopped caring about Weezer after they released three disappointing records in a row, but I don’t regret the intense love I had for them at the time.

2000-Missy Elliott featuring Nas, Eve, and Lil Mo-“Hot Boyz” I had a super-intense but brief friendship with a girl who had the coolest attic bedroom I have ever been in. Every nook had a plant or a caged pet, the walls were covered in a riot of textiles she’d managed to thrift, and she had an actual seating area in her bedroom, as opposed to just hanging out on her bed and desk like everyone else’s bedroom. Even though she had an impressive music collection, all we listened to was Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill. Who else did we need, really?

Now for some cozy things I liked today:

Long read of the day: Not that long, but the Intercept looks at Microsoft’s image recognition API–and how it could be used for crowd control at political rallies.

Cooking video of the day: How to BBQ Pizza

Garden idea of the day: Pam Thompson posted this chair made from reclaimed oak fencing

Sitting Pretty!

 

Cut the lawn? Nah, I mow the weeds

Well, we’re in the part of the year when weekly mowing is a must. And as I push the mower, I wonder what it is I’m actually cutting. Most of my yard is grass, but I don’t spray herbicides on the weeds that creep in. Today, I’m taking a closer look at some of what’s growing out there:

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Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Native to Europe, this plant has formed a mat in one corner of my yard. I’ve just learned, from the source linked above, that the leaves, stems, and seeds are all edible. I wouldn’t mind having this as ground cover all over, as the flowers are pretty and i would never, ever have to mow again.

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Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

I have found conflicting information as to whether this plant is native to Florida. In my yard, it has volunteered on the edges of plants I water (I do not water my lawn). This is another plant that is edible, but bitter-tasting according to the source above.

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Sandspur (Cenchrus echinatus)

An evil species that is (mostly) no longer in my yard, thanks to three springs’ worth of diligent digging and burning. Evil because every fall, those seeds dry up and become weaponized. Sadly native, I found a great many images on an Italian forum. Sorry we gifted you, world.

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Goosegrass (Eleusine indica)

Or as it’s known in my yard, grass. Native to India, this seems to be the scourge of farmers and golf courses. I can see why–the woody roots are hard to pull once they’ve established themselves. I would never try to eradicate this plant, though, because Ollie (our cat) loves eating it and helpfully goes for the tall blades by the fence that I can’t mow.

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Spurge (Euphorbia maculata)

This is a rapidly growing sticky ground cover. The poisonous sap can cause a rash and is carcinogenic. The flowers are tiny. I pull it whenever it makes an appearance. Native to Florida.

This list doesn’t represent most of the plants that I have/have had in the yard, just some of the more memorable ones. If there’s any interest in this post, I’ll do another installment.

Here are some of the other cozy things I like today:

Cooking video of the day: Nashville Hot Chicken

Link of the day: Stunning photographs of sharks by a Michael Muller

Watermelon recipe of the day (since it is National Watermelon Day):

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Watermelon, Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Chili Salad

Neapolitan Summer

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I’ve had a strange and specific craving over the last few weeks, and I don’t know how to fulfill it. When I was a child, Neapolitan ice cream came in a carton, arranged in order to worthiness: the slightly chalky chocolate, the sweet-but-not-too-flavorful vanilla, the heavenly artificiality of the strawberry. The colors of the pastel brick informed my dress sense on at least one occasion. As adults, we put away childish things in favor of stunningly overpriced pints of gelato and trays of mochi. We discover that chocolate ice cream shouldn’t require chocolate syrup, that vanilla isn’t bland, that strawberry ice cream with real strawberries in the mix is divine. If we’re really ambitious, we move on to making our own ice cream, free of the gums and stabilizers that plague commercial products.

But what if, even as we load up on ripe peaches and raw cream or plan trips to the one store that stocks Jeni’s, we want something a little less adult, a little less natural, and a lot more nostalgic? Well, we elbow the mochi out of the way and pick up a carton of store brand Neapolitan. Opening it up brings disappointment–the chocolate and vanilla are as under-flavored as ever, but what have they done to my strawberry, the flavor that once bore only a tangential resemblance to the fruit? Biting into what I assume is a real strawberry shrouded in ice crystals, I am disappointed. The pop of fake flavor that ruled my childhood has been replaced by a dull scrap of reality. They were pretty stingy when they put the strawberries in (this food is terrible and the portions are too small!!), and the ice cream is fairly indistinguishable from the Breyer’s strawberry flavor I wouldn’t bring home if it was the last product on the shelves.

One of the sad truths of adulthood is that real strawberry ice cream is almost impossible to make. The high water content of the berry means you’ll be chewing squishy ice, you have to use the best and most flavorful berries (none of those giant berries they sell you at Publix in June–Floridians need to head to a U Pick It in February or March), and cooking the berries into a sort of coulis loses the fresh strawberry flavor that really makes the experience. These problems are not unique to home cooks, but are experienced by small stands and big chains alike. So it’s no wonder that food manufacturers of the late 20th century gave up entirely on the idea in favor of creamy, delicious, not-at-all-authentic strawberry flavor.

It’s probably just as well. None of the junk foods that were beloved and rare in our house growing up taste as good as an adult. Better not chase down the ice cream man, I couldn’t bear to know what Powerpuff Girls ice cream pops really taste like.

[Image Source]

Now for some cozy things I liked today:

Cooking video of the day: 3 Grilled Pizza Recipes

Long read of the day: A heartbreaking account of two Japanese men who learned to dive–so they could find their loved ones, who went missing after the tsunami

Interior of the day:

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A mudroom as part of a larger space usually looks unattractive in practice, but it’s lovely here. Source