November 17, 2017

Weekend reads: The tale behind pumpkin pie's 'founding fruit'

Daily Briefing

    Ben Palmer's reads

    A tastier Rosetta Stone? New study says alcohol could aid foreign language skills. In good news for foreign exchange students everywhere, moderate alcohol consumption could improve foreign language skills, according to a small new study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. For the study, researchers assessed 50 second-year German students at the Netherlands-based Maastricht University, which requires foreign students to pass a Dutch exam before enrolling. Fifteen minutes after drinking either cold water or enough lemon and vodka to generate a blood alcohol concentration of roughly 0.04%, the students were asked to discuss animal testing in Dutch for two minutes. The students' language skills were evaluated by two native Dutch speakers and the students also were asked to submit a self-assessment. The researchers found that while the students who drank alcohol thought that they had performed worse than those who drank water, the alcohol drinkers actually received better scores from the judges than the water drinkers, especially on pronunciation.

    Why do mosquitos bite some people but not others? It's not your imagination: Some people really are more attractive to mosquitos, according to entomologist Joseph Conlon, an advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association. Speaking with TIME's Anthea Levi, Conlon said there are several possible reasons why some people are more appealing to the insect: Mosquitos, for instance, like carbon dioxide, which means they might target women in the later stages of pregnancy, who tend to exhale more CO2 than others. Sweaty people are also possible targets, Conlon said, because sweat is how the body excretes lactic acid—another attractant for mosquitos. You might also be at risk if you have type O blood or have recently had a beer, two things mosquitoes find attractive. Last but not least, it might just be your genes—some studies have shown that certain people naturally produce mosquito repellants, while others aren't so lucky.

    Rachel Schulze's reads

    The tale behind the pumpkin pie's 'founding fruit.' The origin of the pumpkin, the "founding fruit" of the popular Thanksgiving dessert, goes back to an ancient gourd that originated in Asia tens of millions of years ago, Amanda Foreman writes for the Wall Street Journal. Fast forward to the mid-17th century, and Europeans were starting to try out the stalwart gourd—often stewed or used to make beer—in dessert form. In the 19th century, the humble pumpkin acquired a more luminous reputation: According to Foreman, northern abolitionists revered the "virtually self-growing" gourd as "the antithesis of the slave-grown planation crops." Abolitionist Sarah Josepha Hale, who campaigned to create the Thanksgiving holiday, called pumpkin pie "indispensable" for "a good and true Yankee" version of the holiday. Nowadays, of course, the pumpkin makes appearances in all sorts of treats, from pie to lattes to other flavored desserts around the world.

    What makes a father-daughter bond. Writing for the New York Times' "Well," Amy Carleton tells the story of how her relationship with her stepfather evolved from begrudging acceptance to one of love—that's even bound by blood. Carleton's stepfather was a long-haired "hippie," unlike "the macho men" in her Italian-American family.  Nonetheless, Carleton's stepfather "embraced the role." But despite her stepfather's affection, Carleton as a young adult regarded him as a "step" father—and not her "real" father. However, when Carleton's stepfather needed a kidney, she was ready to give. She realized that she "needed him" and that "his quiet support for all of those years [had] kept [her] afloat." And, she adds, "because of the transplant, we were connected by blood."

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