Thanksgiving dinner of today owes debt to cavemen

As you prepare your traditional Thanksgiving feast, you may want to swap out those pilgrim salt-and-pepper shakers with a mastodon and a caveman instead. We owe a lot to this ancient duo. Without them, your mom couldn’t bake your favorite pumpkin pie. Gone would be your sister-in-law Celia’s delicious squash casserole. And your Pinterest-ready cornucopia would be dreary.

Believe it or not, it’s not your grandmother nor is it Martha Stewart who had the most influence on this part of your traditional celebration. It’s your great, great, great-to-the-ten-thousandth grandmother who we should thank for saving the squashes of today from going the way of the mastodon and giant sloth. That’s according to a new study running in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors came to this conclusion after studying something decidedly unappetizing: seeds preserved in ancient animal dung. Yes, what we know about these Thanksgiving favorites came from a probe of petrified poo. Please, impress your Auntie Mary with this Turkey Day tidbit only after she’s finished with the pie course.

Study authors ran genetic tests on ancient seeds for 91 plants of the Cucurbita genus — the fancy Latin name for your squashes, pumpkins and gourds. The really wild version of these baseball-sized plants were a bit like your great Uncle Bill after a few holiday martinis.

“They were small, tough and bitter,” author Logan Kistler said.

Lindsay Wyatt, a plant breeder who did not work on the study, but who grew some of these ancient gourds a few years ago, said they were definitely not fit for your holiday menu (unless you didn’t really like your guests?).

“I had to smash them open with a cinder block to get the seeds out, you could crush them pretty easily but they were not knife friendly,” Wyatt said. “They were also so bitter that even after I washed my hands after handling them, when I’d eat my lunch later in the day it made the lunch taste funny.”

Bitter and hard was not a problem for the megafauna of the era, according to the study. The mastodons and giant sloths were strong enough to get through the tough skin. The authors say the large animals had fewer copies of the bitter tasting gene, meaning to them it wasn’t toxic as it was for smaller animals. These large animals actually encouraged wild gourds to grow, grazing so much there was room for these plants. Unable to digest the seeds, the animals would spread the seeds around as they traveled and essentially pooped in different places.

As these animals started to disappear, these wild gourds did, too. What saved the gourd then from extinction were ancient farmers. Our ancestors didn’t mind the tough skin, as gourds could be used to carry liquid in those pre-pottery days. Fisherman also used them to keep their nets afloat. But they had to do something about the taste. So farmers must have cultivated the gourds that weren’t as bitter.

The growing tradition carries on today. “What we grow changes with personal taste and fads and viability, this is not a static discipline; this is a constant evolutionary process with plants,” Kistler said.

Wyatt, who works for Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine, said even in the last few years market appetite has shaped the variety of gourds.

“I think this is in part because of the Pinterest side of things,” Wyatt said, meaning people want to take pictures of a wider variety of seasonal gourds. “But also with the growing interest in locally grown fruit and vegetables, there is a much wider appreciation of culinary quality these days.”

Her company does what our ancestors did, although the gourds our ancestors grew would likely taste different from the ones Americans like today. Growing fruits and vegetables “is a continual process of improvement,” she said. And tastes vary. Americans like sweeter gourds. Some Asian cultures prefer more neutral tasting gourds with a heavier starch quality that holds up well in cooking.

Daniel Sandweiss, a professor of anthropology and climate studies at the University of Maine, said he appreciated this PNAS study as a reminder of the impact even a tiny population like these ancient ancestors could have on what’s on our table thousands of years later.

“Humans have such a large and sometimes unexpected influence on economies and ecosystems,” Sandweiss said. “The squash we have today are remaining representatives of this genus of plant which otherwise would have been in trouble for survival because of the changing landscape.”

“It’s fascinating to think what impact human intervention can have even through the depth of time,” Sandweiss said.

Climate change, a new technology, your decision to try a different pumpkin pie recipe — all of these factors could change food tradition for thousands of years to come. If that’s too much pressure to think about this holiday, maybe you should consider another current Thanksgiving tradition that has evolved over thousands of years of heavy meals — a nice, long after-dinner nap.

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Thanksgiving dinner of today owes debt to cavemen

As you prepare your traditional Thanksgiving feast, you may want to swap out those pilgrim salt-and-pepper shakers with a mastodon and a caveman instead. We owe a lot to this ancient duo. Without them, your mom couldn’t bake your favorite pumpkin pie. Gone would be your sister-in-law Celia’s delicious squash casserole. And your Pinterest-ready cornucopia would be dreary.

Believe it or not, it’s not your grandmother nor is it Martha Stewart who had the most influence on this part of your traditional celebration. It’s your great, great, great-to-the-ten-thousandth grandmother who we should thank for saving the squashes of today from going the way of the mastodon and giant sloth. That’s according to a new study running in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The authors came to this conclusion after studying something decidedly unappetizing: seeds preserved in ancient animal dung. Yes, what we know about these Thanksgiving favorites came from a probe of petrified poo. Please, impress your Auntie Mary with this Turkey Day tidbit only after she’s finished with the pie course.

Study authors ran genetic tests on ancient seeds for 91 plants of the Cucurbita genus — the fancy Latin name for your squashes, pumpkins and gourds. The really wild version of these baseball-sized plants were a bit like your great Uncle Bill after a few holiday martinis.

“They were small, tough and bitter,” author Logan Kistler said.

Lindsay Wyatt, a plant breeder who did not work on the study, but who grew some of these ancient gourds a few years ago, said they were definitely not fit for your holiday menu (unless you didn’t really like your guests?).

“I had to smash them open with a cinder block to get the seeds out, you could crush them pretty easily but they were not knife friendly,” Wyatt said. “They were also so bitter that even after I washed my hands after handling them, when I’d eat my lunch later in the day it made the lunch taste funny.”

Bitter and hard was not a problem for the megafauna of the era, according to the study. The mastodons and giant sloths were strong enough to get through the tough skin. The authors say the large animals had fewer copies of the bitter tasting gene, meaning to them it wasn’t toxic as it was for smaller animals. These large animals actually encouraged wild gourds to grow, grazing so much there was room for these plants. Unable to digest the seeds, the animals would spread the seeds around as they traveled and essentially pooped in different places.

As these animals started to disappear, these wild gourds did, too. What saved the gourd then from extinction were ancient farmers. Our ancestors didn’t mind the tough skin, as gourds could be used to carry liquid in those pre-pottery days. Fisherman also used them to keep their nets afloat. But they had to do something about the taste. So farmers must have cultivated the gourds that weren’t as bitter.

The growing tradition carries on today. “What we grow changes with personal taste and fads and viability, this is not a static discipline; this is a constant evolutionary process with plants,” Kistler said.

Wyatt, who works for Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Maine, said even in the last few years market appetite has shaped the variety of gourds.

“I think this is in part because of the Pinterest side of things,” Wyatt said, meaning people want to take pictures of a wider variety of seasonal gourds. “But also with the growing interest in locally grown fruit and vegetables, there is a much wider appreciation of culinary quality these days.”

Her company does what our ancestors did, although the gourds our ancestors grew would likely taste different from the ones Americans like today. Growing fruits and vegetables “is a continual process of improvement,” she said. And tastes vary. Americans like sweeter gourds. Some Asian cultures prefer more neutral tasting gourds with a heavier starch quality that holds up well in cooking.

Daniel Sandweiss, a professor of anthropology and climate studies at the University of Maine, said he appreciated this PNAS study as a reminder of the impact even a tiny population like these ancient ancestors could have on what’s on our table thousands of years later.

“Humans have such a large and sometimes unexpected influence on economies and ecosystems,” Sandweiss said. “The squash we have today are remaining representatives of this genus of plant which otherwise would have been in trouble for survival because of the changing landscape.”

“It’s fascinating to think what impact human intervention can have even through the depth of time,” Sandweiss said.

Climate change, a new technology, your decision to try a different pumpkin pie recipe — all of these factors could change food tradition for thousands of years to come. If that’s too much pressure to think about this holiday, maybe you should consider another current Thanksgiving tradition that has evolved over thousands of years of heavy meals — a nice, long after-dinner nap.

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Where to eat in Chicago right now

New York and Los Angeles might occasionally vie for the title, but many experts agree: Chicago is the best restaurant city in America right now.

With a mix of incredible neighborhood spots, one-of-a-kind high-end dining experiences and classic old-school treats, Chicago has the perfect dining itinerary for every single traveler.

But that’s also part of the problem. So much amazingness is happening in Chicago right now that it can be a real pain to navigate all of it and make sure you’re getting the real deal, rather than one of the many imitators or hangers on.

So, from celebrity chefs to roadside stands, here’s your guide to the best of Chicago.

As seen on TV

Chicago is definitely having a moment in the media spotlight. If you’re looking for a meal from a freshly crowned Iron Chef, head to one of Stephanie Izard’s spots, including Girl and the Goat or Duck Duck Goat (though if you’re looking for last-minute reservations, you’ll be better off ordering a foot-tall goat burger at the more casual Little Goat Diner).

Want to experience the magic of Mexico through Rick Bayless? His newest restaurant, Leña Brava, serves up Baja-inspired plates hot off a giant wood-fired grill in the West Loop.

Or, if you’re a Top Chef fan, there’s Parachute, where Season 9 finalist Beverly Kim has created an inspired mix of Korean flavors that has wowed every critic in town.

Izard’s recent competitor for the Iron Chef title (and also a Top Chef finalist), chef Sarah Grueneberg, has Monteverde, offering up homemade pasta dishes that are simply the best, anywhere.

Best of the neighborhoods

Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods, and, accordingly, each neighborhood usually has an amazing restaurant: You just have to know where to look.

If you’re not getting out of downtown, you’re missing out on some great food.

Headed to the Gold Coast? 3 Arts Club Café is a soaring fairyland complete with sparkling giant chandeliers and fountains.

Logan Square? Billy Sunday, a dark bar that feels like old Chicago but boasts the best scotch and amaro selection in town, serves awesome bar bites.

Wandering around Lincoln Park? Boka has your back, with a gorgeous dining room and a blow-you-away menu from culinary rock star Lee Wolen (get the roast chicken, and no, we’re not kidding).

Ravenswood is home to some of Chicago’s best pizza — no, not that kind, the paper-thin Italian kind — at Spacca Napoli.

If you find yourself in hipster-filled Wicker Park, Taxim is dishing up modern Greek-inspired cuisine (spit-roasted duck with yogurt sauce and pickled chard, over-roasted whole Aegean Sea bass with dandelion greens) that is totally unlike what you’ll find down in Greektown.

Brunch ’til you drop

It can be hard to get a reservation at Michelin-starred brewery Band of Bohemia, but neighborhood residents know the secret — go for brunch, which they serve on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when there is rarely a wait. Grab a bagel made with oolong tea, topped with malt-cured salmon, and pair it with an order of their special thick-cut bacon with maple.

Chicago’s got so many amazing brunch spots that you rarely need to stand in line or make a reservation.

Up north at Gather, the best simple omelet in town awaits with brunch potatoes so good, you’ll get an extra order to go (really).

Big Jones, in Andersonville, doubles as a master class in Southern cuisine, as chef Paul Fehribach has scoured antique cookbooks to bring authentic New Orleans dishes back to life. There’s no need to be complicated; just get the shrimp and grits and beignets and sigh with pleasure.

Fine dining perfection

Possibly America’s greatest chef right now, Grant Achatz, is a Chicagoan, and his famous Alinea has led lists of the best restaurants in America for almost a decade.

It’s pricy, but if you can afford it (and if you can get a reservation) you’ll have a mind-bending experience that includes edible balloons, picking shattered pieces of dessert off your table and a whole host of other molecular gastronomic masterpieces.

For something a little bit more low-key, there’s Smyth, where chefs John and Karen Shields (alums of the dear, departed Charlie Trotter’s) serve an Asian-inspired tasting menu with dishes like salted and frozen radish and oyster, lamb with pickled onions and black allium and egg yolk soaked in salted licorice.

Tickets for EL Ideas, an interactive tasting-menu spot in Back of the Yards, guarantee adventure. There, you’ll drink with the chefs in the kitchen, taste chef Phillip Foss’ take on a Wendy’s frosty with fries (it sounds silly, but it’s life-changing) and have one of the most fun “fancy” meals you can find anywhere.

Cocktail hour

In addition to being one of the United States’ best dining cities, Chicago is rapidly becoming one of the best cocktail spots in America.

A good chunk of that is thanks to the efforts of award-winning bartender Paul McGee, and both of his establishments are worth a visit: the tiki temple Lost Lake and the super-exclusive 8-seat Milk Room.

At the Milk Room, you’ll taste bottles that haven’t been opened in decades, including pre-embargo Cuban rum, whiskey from distilleries that closed 30 years ago, and liquor laid down by monks before Roosevelt was president.

If you’re looking for another unique experience, Apogee, the newest rooftop bar from mixer Ben Schiller, serves “cocktail bongs,” drinks inspired by Super Mario Brothers mushrooms and cocktails that come to life with lights and motion.

The reason it works? All this fluff is backed up by some seriously skilled mixers.

For something a bit more chill, try Punch House, a ’70s rec room-themed bar that serves a variety of high-end takes on classic punches through the centuries, including a 1700s-era milk punch that is so tasty, it will have you on the floor before you realize you’re drunk.

Classic Chicago treats

With all this fanciness going on, it’s easy to overlook the classics, and in Chicago that would be a real crime.

It’s always a good idea to visit the Italian Village, where three restaurants (including the 1920s vintage signature spot upstairs, the Village) co-exist under one garlic-scented roof.

A trip down to Hyde Park is worthwhile to visit the 90-something year old Valois, which was visited so many times by President Obama during his Chicago years that it has a whole menu of his favorite dishes.

If you’re willing to drive, Calumet Fisheries is one of the last old-fashioned fried and smoked fish joints left in Chicago. Everything is made on-site in the smoking sheds out back.

And it’s practically against city ordinance to leave without a Chicago-style hotdog (we like Budacki’s) and an Italian beef (go to Al’s Beef).

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Sorority sisters end up in court over service dog

One sorority sister uses a service dog to control her panic attacks. Another suffers from dog allergies that exacerbate other medical conditions. Both live in the Chi Omega sorority house at The Ohio State University.

Now a judge has to decide who gets to stay and who has to go.

“The panic attacks restrict her breathing”

Madeleine Entine, a sophomore, sued the school’s ADA coordinator for forcing her and her service dog to move. She says the school violated the Americans with Disability Act and the Fair Housing Act in making its decision.

Entine says she suffers from panic attacks, ones so severe they interfere with her daily activities.

“The panic attacks restrict her breathing ability and cause her to hyperventilate. They also cause her muscles to lock up and prevent her from walking on her own,” court documents said.

So Entine gets relief from Cory, a service dog. Cory is trained to climb on her stomach and apply pressure. That helps bring her relief so she can restore her ability to breathe and move, court documents say. He also helps her have less frequent attacks.

“The two individuals are at odds”

At the start of the school year, Entine and Cory moved into the Chi Omega house. Just a few weeks later, another sister in the house began complaining about Cory, saying she was allergic to dogs.

Freshman and sophomore students are required to live either on-campus or in Greek housing. Since she’s the Chi Omega chapter vice president, she lives in her sorority house.

Court documents say Cory exacerbates the other sister’s “allergies and asthma, which, in turn, causes a flare-up of Housemate’s Crohn’s disease.” According to court filings, the dog is regularly played with by others throughout the house.

The lawsuit does not name the other sorority sister.

The situation made its way to the university’s Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, Scott Lissner, to intervene. Lissner determined that, “…over time, continued exposure to dog dander would ultimately be untenable and unsafe for Housemate.”

Because of this conundrum, Lissner based his course of action on who signed the lease first: in this case, the sister with the allergy. OSU says they’ve used this same parameter in other cases.

So Entine was forced to decide: either move out of the sorority house or stay in it without Cory.

“Physical parameters” would allow separation

Entine claimed that the proposed solutions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and asked if she could remain at the house, but with “physical parameters” that would allow separation between Cory and the other sorority sister, the complaint says.

In a letter to Entine’s attorney Bart Keyes, OSU said that “Due to room configuration and house mechanical systems, it was determined that restricting the dog to a certain area or assigning the students to different living locations or rooms within the house would not accommodate the disabilities of both students.”

OSU said it provided Entine an “offer of assistance from the University to make alternative housing arrangements, which she declined.”

Ultimately, the university stood by Lissner’s assessment, and Entine was given two weeks to make a decision.

Allergies “are not valid reasons for denying access”

In the federal suit filed by Entine, she maintains that this is a clear violation of the ADA, and quotes the federal regulations.

“Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.”

But Ohio State says the situation is difficult to manage.

The “case is not about whether plaintiff can have her assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation. She can. Instead, this is about how OSU, specifically Lissner, must accommodate two students with disabilities whose accommodations are in conflict.”

Entine’s lawsuit claims Lissner violated the ADA, the Fair Housing Act and other Ohio codes.

U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley heard the case and is currently weighing his decision.

CNN reached out to OSU, but officials said the university does “not comment on pending litigation.”

Calls to the Chi Omega sorority have not been returned.

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Amazon chopping prices at Whole Foods again

Amazon is giving Whole Foods shoppers an early gift for the holidays.

The grocer announced Wednesday it’s slashing prices again, this time on several “holiday staples,” including sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin and turkey.

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll pay even less for turkey: Whole Foods slashed turkey prices to $1.99 per pound (compared to $2.49 for non-Prime members), or $2.99 per pound for an organic turkey ($3.49 for non-Prime members).

To redeem the discount, Amazon is offering a printable coupon only accessible to Prime members on its website.

“These are the latest new lower prices in our ongoing integration and innovation with Amazon, and we’re just getting started,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said in a prepared statement. Whole Foods said this Prime-specific deal is a “sneak preview” for future exclusive deals.

Whole Foods also announced it is cutting prices on boneless skinless chicken breasts, shrimp, Russet potatoes, bagged salad mixes, broccoli, organic eggs and milk from Organic Valley, Applewood hot dogs, and Chobani and Fage yogurt.

It’s the second time Amazon took the knife to Whole Foods’ prices. The company slashed prices on nearly 500 grocery items in August, shortly after its $13.7 billion purchase closed. The cheaper prices led to a foot traffic spike at Whole Foods, with many new customers defecting from its rivals.

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