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'Eternal' Yogurt Theoretically Lives Forever, Tastes Great

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Family heirlooms, those precious objects handed down from one generation to the next, can vary wildly in their value. Whereas an article of jewelry might fetch a handsome price at auction, other inheritances carry only sentimental value. One Indian-American immigrant mother’s gift to her daughter falls somewhere in between: a simple batch of plain yogurt, but one unmatched by any store-bought variety. According to NPR, this 40-year-old yogurt has been regenerated over decades, its taste preserved and passed down.

Though grocery store shelves  are stocked with enough varieties of yogurt to try a new type every day for weeks, the supply available in Oklahoma in 1970 wasn’t quite so diverse. As a new arrival from India, Veena Mehra was disappointed to discover that American yogurt was drastically different from the thick, rich, homemade variety she had taken for granted. A trip back home to Mumbai sometime around 1975 reminded her tastebuds exactly what they were missing out on, and Mehra resolved never to go without again. Before the days of strict TSA security checks, the solution was simple: she simply packed herself a portion of yogurt, placed it carefully in her purse, and flew back to American soil.

The fact that a container of yogurt survived a 21-hour flight un-refrigerated might have remained a fleeting curiosity—a souvenir from home quickly consumed and forgotten. That is, if not for one crucial property of yogurt: it is, in a sense, immortal. With a community of live bacteria—Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, to be specific—constantly working to turn the lactose in milk into the lactic acid that gives yogurt its tang, Mehra’s one-time import could serve as a ‘starter’ for theoretically infinite batches of yogurt. The process she uses is simple, and requires only that she save as little as a spoonful of yogurt from a previous batch to make a new one. NPR got the inside scoop on how she does it:

She takes two cups of whole organic milk out of the fridge and lets it get to room temperature. Then she warms it over medium heat on the stove for 2.5 minutes. Next, she pours it into a plastic tub and adds a spoonful of yogurt from the old batch to the warm milk, mixing them together. Then she covers it with towels and puts it in the microwave (not to zap it, just to get it out of the way). The next morning, she's got her yogurt, and it goes back in the fridge.

According to microbiologist Rachel Dutton, Mehra’s unchanging method means that even four decades later, whatever’s sitting in her fridge now is probably a very near relation to the contents of the container she brought back so long ago, in terms of both taste and bacterial culture. That’s good news for all the Indian families she has shared it with over the years, not least her own. Her daughter admits to thinking that store-bought American yogurt “is really gross” in comparison, and her grandson is growing up with Mehra’s yogurt as a kitchen staple now, too, so the original bacteria is still going strong. Unfortunately, industrially produced yogurt won’t regenerate quite as reliably, so aspiring dairy DIYers will have to get their hands on a good heirloom starter to kick off their own never-ending yogurt supply. Maybe Veena Mehra will share a spoonful of hers.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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