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The forgotten gas stove wars

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Black-and-white photo of two women in a 1950s kitchen with a gas stove.
Concerns about whether stoves are safe are nearly as old as gas stoves themselves. | Chaloner Woods/Getty Images

We’ve been fighting over gas stoves for decades.

Forty years ago, the federal government seemed to be on the brink of regulating the gas stove. Everything was on the table, from an outright ban to a modification of the Clean Air Act to address indoor air pollution. Congress held indoor air quality hearings in 1983, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were both investigating the effects of gas appliances.

Backed into a corner, the industry that profits from selling consumers natural gas for their heating and cooking sprang into action. It filed comments to agencies disputing the science. It funded its own studies and hired consultants to assess the threats it would face from further regulation.

To prove that voluntary action was effective and regulation unnecessary, utilities produced their own literature for consumers, like Northern States Power Company’s warning that “Homes Need Fresh Air During the Heating Season.” And it nervously eyed media reports, like Consumer Reports’ conclusion in 1984 that “the evidence so far suggests that emissions from a gas range do pose a risk” and “may make you choose an electric one.”

The research on gas stoves’ health effects was “provocative, not conclusive,” concluded a 1984 Energy Bar Association report drawn up by gas industry consultants.

Ultimately, the US did not pass new regulations. Instead, natural gas became even more embedded in American homes and lives, in 2020 supplying fuel to 70 million homes. All the while, scientists continued to warn that gas can produce a range of emissions and pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and particulate matter, among others. The methane from gas is a growing contributor to climate change.

Now, the US runs the risk of repeating history, and natural gas utilities find themselves in a similar position to the one they were in four decades ago. We have dozens of studies and better quantification of exposures and risks than ever, but the industry, dependent on selling fuel to tens of millions of homes, is reprising an age-old playbook used by any industry that finds itself on the defense over public health.

The gas industry takes a page from tobacco to dispute gas stove science

Even in the early 1900s, the natural gas industry knew it had a problem with the gas stove. At the time, people who didn’t have gas stoves largely used coal or wood, but new competition was on the horizon from electric stoves. Both coal and wood were known to cause health issues, but while gas companies would later position themselves as a clean alternative to these fuels, the industry was already aware it was far from clean.

At the second annual meeting of the Natural Gas Association of America in 1907, gas representatives debated how to approach the issue of ventilation around the stove. “I believe the association will go on record on that point: no gas of any kind should go into a heating stove without a flue connection,” which vents into the air outdoors, according to published minutes from the meeting.

One attendee noted, “This method of burning gas should be condemned merely from the fact that we get the gas direct and there is danger to life in getting any gas direct in your room, to say nothing of all of the by-products.” The most obvious danger of the time was carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Gas grew regardless of these problems. Over the next few decades, electric and gas stoves went to war with marketing campaigns — a pre-presidential Ronald Reagan appeared in a marketing campaign for General Electric’s all-electric household in 1958, while in 1964 the Pennsylvania People’s Natural Gas Company recruited film star Marlene Dietrich. She professed in her ad, “Every recipe I give is closely related to cooking with gas. If forced, I can cook on an electric stove but it is not a happy union.”

By the 1970s and ’80s, the science had become far more nuanced. One of the seminal reports from the EPA’s appointed Committee on Indoor Pollutants published in 1981 showed, “an association between gas cooking and the impairment of lung function in children.” While many questions were unanswered, the NAS was convinced by the evidence it did have that gas appliances posed a “sufficient threat to the general public health to justify remedial action.”

The gas industry has latched onto these small uncertainties to undermine the larger body of research. The American Gas Association still heralds the federal agencies’ lack of action since the 1980s and 1990s as an argument in the stoves’ favor.

In 1986, though, the EPA sent a report back to the CPSC. The executive summary said gas from cooking or heating “is not a risk factor of great magnitude in comparison with a factor such as cigarette smoke,” but still noted the amount of research needed to understand more: “Unfortunately the majority of epidemiological studies include no information on N02, and among those that do have actual measurements, the number of homes and characterization of concentrations are very limited,” the report continued. “This suggests that better quantification of exposure is a major need in future studies.”

The EPA also kicked the issue of nitrogen dioxides to the CPSC to determine the level of emissions coming from these appliances, asking for “further efforts ... to assess the health risks associated with indoor use of kerosene space heaters and other sources of nitrogen dioxide emissions.”

None of this appeared to happen.

The EPA did issue emissions standards for wood stoves and fireplaces in 1985, but never took up gas. The prospect of any more EPA action faded from the public debate. Agencies apparently backed away from the issue. Tobacco was becoming a bigger priority, and the EPA and Housing and Urban Development started voluntary initiatives for healthier homes.

There were marginal improvements in stove and oven technology in the intervening years. The biggest change was phasing out pilot lights, a flame that would always burn gas but also is dangerous when it goes out. These helped some severe safety issues with gas appliances, like lowering the chance of an explosion, but didn’t address air quality issues when the stove was on or off. Building codes throughout the country also began to mandate lifesaving carbon monoxide detectors.

One key gas industry technology that could have improved the safety of the stove was developed around the same period, in the 1980s. It was an infrared burner device that uses less gas and lowers nitrogen dioxide emissions, one of the most concerning pollutants that comes from gas and causes asthma. According to NPR’s reporting, the idea was shelved in part because there was no demand for it; it would even do away with the iconic blue flame that made the stove so popular.

The déjà vu of the gas stove debate

As these debates have resurfaced, the gas trade groups have echoed similar lines to the ones they used in the 1980s. This time, in addition to drawing attention to the uncertainties that remain, the industry has directly disputed the scientific consensus.

Some of the defenders of the gas stove are the same consultants who have defended tobacco and chemicals industries in litigation over health problems.

A hearing in November in the Portland-area Multnomah County in Oregon on gas stoves as pollution hazards offered a glimpse of that strategy. Doctors and public advocates testified against gas appliances because of the NO2 they emit. The gas appliance had its defenders as well, including Julie Goodman, an epidemiologist employed by the consulting firm Gradient who argued that “longer-term average NO2 concentrations in homes with gas cooking are not of a potential health concern. Importantly, it is well-established that ventilation mitigates cooking emissions, regardless of the source of the energy used.”

Goodman’s firm had been hired by the American Gas Association to dispute the research on gas stoves, according to a letter to the American Medical Association temporarily published on the association’s website. The letter noted, as of September, that AGA had hired Gradient for consulting. In a recent interview in the New York Times, Goodman added, “when considering the entire body of literature, the available epidemiology evidence is not adequate to support causation with respect to gas stoves and adverse health effects.”

A similar pattern has emerged in the gas industry’s pushback on gas stoves. AGA’s replies have emphasized that there is no conclusive evidence that gas cooking poses harm, and no clear causation between asthma and pollution from the stove. After all, it’s not the only source of nitrogen dioxide or other pollutants that we’re exposed to.

But for all the talk about uncertainty around risks from gas appliances and the gas stoves in 70 million American homes, there are plenty epidemiologists, pediatricians, and other scientists feel confident about. Gas produces pollutants, and without any ventilation it can be dangerous to one’s health. Even when gas is ventilated, the emissions don’t go away; it just contributes to outdoor smog instead of poor indoor air quality.

Republicans have claimed the recent gas stove news is a front or a distraction spun by a Biden administration intent on taking people’s freedoms away (to repeat, neither Biden nor the CPSC is banning the stove). Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) tweeted on Friday, “Maybe if the Biden Administration wasn’t so worried about banning your gas stoves, they would have seen this Chinese spy balloon coming.” In a recent letter to the CPSC, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) called the gas stove a “newfound ‘hidden hazard’ that rests on limited research.” And right-wing forums are full of conspiracies, including the theory, “The Gas Stove Ban was to keep Biden’s Mishandling Classified Docs out of the news.”

None of it is true. The pollution concerns are practically as old as the gas stoves themselves. There’s less debate over the gas stove than the natural gas industry and its allies have implied.

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fxer
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Bend, Oregon
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Victoria man rescued by U.S. Coast Guard wanted in 'Goonies' house fish incident, U.S. police say

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USCG rescue

A man saved by a Coast Guard rescue swimmer in the Columbia River on Friday is wanted for a bizarre incident at the Astoria, Ore., home featured in the classic 1985 film, The Goonies, Oregon police say.

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fxer
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> Kelly said that the suspect had "some sort of infatuation" with the Goonies.

"There's a part in a movie where this guy and it's famous, he says, 'Hey you guys!'", Kelly said.

"That's what the suspect said to the deputies when they arrested him."
Bend, Oregon
dreadhead
1 day ago
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Wild in more than one way.
Vancouver Island, Canada
fxer
1 day ago
Jack a boat and try to sail out the fuckin Columbia Bar, graveyard of the pacific
DMack
19 hours ago
"the goonies house fish incident" sounds like a ska band
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Wind chill on Mt. Washington NH minus 108, temp -46, wind 98 gusting 107

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Weather data is not currently available.

Though we are still collecting data, we are not able to transmit to the website at this time. The page will update when the connection is restored, so please check back soon.


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fxer
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Amazon Q4 2022 Financials

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For the last couple of years, each quarter I’ve been posting a quick analysis of Amazon’s quarterly business results in a Twitter thread. I don’t use Twitter much any more, and Mastodon doesn’t make it easy to post threads, so the blog it is. Summary: Amazon’s retail business loses money (as usual) but the AWS and Advertising businesses are huge, throw off lots of cash, and continue to grow fast. They subsidize the money-losing retail operation in a way that seems deeply unfair to me.

Source: Q4 2022 Earnings Release.

Looking at Amazon as a whole, quarterly sales are up 9% year-over-year to $149.2B, annual sales also 9% to $514B. The company as a whole had a GAAP profit of $0.3B in Q4 and loss of $2.7B for the whole year; operating incomes were $2.7B and $12.2B respectively.

“Profit” is an accounting abstraction, what concerns me more would be the negative free cash flow of $19.8B over the course of 2022. Perhaps someone more finance-literate could offer a good reason why this shouldn’t be a worry?

AWS

What a story: Quarterly revenue growth of 20% year-over-year to $21.4B, annual revenue growth of 29% to $80.1B. The quarterly operating income was $5.2B, $22.8B annually. That income increased hardly at all, and annually was “only” up from $18.5B in 2021, so the margins, while excellent, are falling a bit.

AWS is now considerably bigger than IBM and much more profitable.

Every time I report these AWS numbers I stop and shake my head; a combination of top-line total, continuing growth, and sustainable margin at this scale is mind-boggling.

Other stuff

Advertising quarterly revenue is up to $11.5B, that’s 23% year-over-year. Note that they don’t report income, but my bet (without any inside information) is that the margin is even higher than AWS’s.

The internal structure of the retail operation is broken out, highlighting that third-party seller services is a monster business, running over $36B in the most recent quarter, growing at 24%.

Owning the store everyone shops at is a good business.

Take-away

Amazon as a whole isn’t really very profitable. Its retail sector loses money, and that loss is made up by the tens of billions of gravy coming in from AWS and Advertising.

Why is this business structure considered rational? And why is it legal for Amazon to be the prime competitor of the economy’s whole retail sector while not having to make a profit?

Obviously, foregoing profit for the sake of growth is a tried-and-true business strategy, and laudable within limits. But it seems obvious to me that Amazon is way, way past those limits.

As I’ve said since the moment I walked out Amazon’s door in May 2020, AWS should be spun off. The best time to do that was three years ago. The second best time is now.

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fxer
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Donkey Kong cheating case rocked by photos of illicit joystick modification

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Mitchell (right) at the 2007 FAMB convention with former Twin Galaxies referee Todd Rogers and what appears to be a <em>Donkey Kong</em> cabinet with a modified joystick.

Over the years, King of Kong star Billy Mitchell has seen his world-record Donkey Kong scores stripped, partially reinstated, and endlessly litigated, both in actual court and the court of public opinion. Through it all, Mitchell has insisted that every one of his records was set on unmodified Donkey Kong arcade hardware, despite some convincing technical evidence to the contrary.

Now, new photos from a 2007 performance by Mitchell seem to show obvious modifications to the machine used to earn at least one of those scores, a fascinating new piece of evidence in the long, contentious battle over Mitchell's place in Donkey Kong score-chasing history.

The telltale joystick

The photos in question were taken at the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers (FAMB) Convention, which hosted Mitchell as part of its "80s Arcade Night" promotion in July 2007. Mitchell claims to have achieved a score of 1,050,200 points at that event, a performance that was recognized by adjudicator Twin Galaxies as a world record at the time (but which by now would barely crack the top 30).

In his defamation case against Twin Galaxies, Mitchell includes testimony from several purported witnesses to his FAMB performance. That includes former Twin Galaxies referee Todd Rogers (who was later also banned from Twin Galaxies), who testified that the machine used at the event was "an original Nintendo Donkey Kong Arcade machine as I have known since 1981."

Another angle showing Mitchell, Rogers, and Ritch Workman in front of the seemingly modified <em>Donkey Kong</em> cabinet.

But the pictures from the FAMB convention, made public by fellow high-score-chaser David Race last month, raise additional questions about that claim, thanks to what Race calls a "glaringly non-original joystick" seen in the machine shown in those photos.

Original upright Donkey Kong arcade cabinets were shipped with a distinctive short joystick with a prominent black ball atop a silver metal stick (close-up available here). But the machine behind Mitchell in the recently released FAMB photos clearly shows a taller joystick with a red ball and stick.

The joystick shown in the FAMB photos (left, zoomed in for detail) vs. the joystick on an unmodified <em>Donkey Kong</em> cabinet (right).

Use of a non-original joystick would violate Twin Galaxies' Donkey Kong rules, which require games be played with "an original stock 4-way Donkey Kong arcade joystick, or a replacement 4-way joystick of exact size and shape as the original Donkey Kong arcade game joystick." Twin Galaxies' also requires "a wide image of the game’s control panel" in any record recording to verify this. And archived rules discussions also suggest that players of that era knew cabinets with aftermarket joysticks were known to be unacceptable, even if the core arcade board had authentic Donkey Kong software.

A taller joystick might actually be a hindrance for high-level Donkey Kong play since it requires more physical movement to get the same in-game results. But that disadvantage could be worth it if the controls in question were an eight-way joystick rather than the standard four-way joystick Nintendo shipped on original cabinets. An eight-way joystick mod could give a player an advantage by letting them enter diagonal inputs (e.g., up and left simultaneously), which could speed up transitions after climbing ladders, for instance.

Mitchell also testified in court documents that his FAMB Donkey Kong performance was "visible on a TV above the cabinet to give the guests greater viewing capability." But while a VCR can be seen above the cabinet in the photos—presumably to record the performance for later verification—no such external display can be seen (though it conceivably could have been brought in for added visibility when Mitchell was actually playing).

In that same testimony package, technician Robert Childs testified that the FAMB score was achieved using "my same Donkey Kong Arcade machine," which was purportedly used by Mitchell to set a 2004 record of 1,047,200 points in Childs' warehouse/showroom. Assuming that's true, the non-standard joystick could also further jeopardize that performance's place in the record books.


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fxer
2 days ago
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Bend, Oregon
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The Inventor of Cult-Fave ‘Cascatelli’ Pasta Has Dropped 2 New Pasta Shapes

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Every so often, there’s a moment of hype so powerful that it actually makes history. Such was the case in 2021, when food podcaster Dan Pashman, host of the incredibly popular culinary podcast The Sporkful, took it upon himself to try to create a totally original pasta shape (and sell it). He documented the challenging, years-long journey—which involved wheat academics, rare pasta die manufacturers, and even a professional linguist—in a series called “Mission: ImPASTAble,” concluding with the release of his new shape, cascatelli, through artisan pasta company Sfoglini. The series landed The Sporkful on The New York Times’ list of the best podcasts of 2021; unsurprisingly, the show has also won a Webby, and has made Pashman a two-time James Beard award winner. 

Pashman’s quest to create a perfect pasta shape revolved around an obsession with finding the nexus of his three most important pasta ideals: “forkability” (how well it stays on a fork), “saucability” (how well it holds sauce), and “tooth-sinkability” (how pleasurable it is to bite and chew). This is just a bunch of made up words and metrics, you might be thinking. And you’d be exactly right—that’s why Pashman is one of the most entertaining culinary figures in the game today. Instead of retiring as a modern pasta legend after the success of cascatelli—which found its way to everywhere from fine dining menus and meal kits to being bootlegged by Trader Joe’s—he set his sights on partnering with Sfoglini on two new shapes: vesuvio and quattrotini.

Unlike cascatelli, these new pastas were based on already existing Italian shapes, but ones that are difficult (and in some cases impossible) to procure in the U.S., making this Sfoglini drop a pretty exclusive and landmark event for pasta-heads around the country. Quattrotini—based on Sicily’s cinque buchi shape—is a Sicilian shape involving four tubes connected by a rectangle (it makes sense when you see it), and is manufactured and served only in Italy for one week a year. Vesuvio is the pasta incarnation of a coiled bike tire tube that has become a hat (or a volcano, hence the name). As of January 24, both are now available at Sfoglini

VICE caught up with Pashman and Sfoglini co-founder and CEO Scott Ketchum to discuss the new shapes and how to prepare them, the legacy of cascatelli, and their favorite Sfoglini pastas to keep on deck. 

VICE: Scott, when you started Sfoglini, how did you decide which pasta shapes and flavors you were going to produce? Did you envision creating original shapes, or bringing ones that were virtually unknown in the U.S. into the market?  

Scott Ketchum: When we first started Sfoglini in 2012, there were not many unique pasta options available in the U.S. You would commonly find standards like penne, rigatoni, and spaghetti, but if you wanted something different, you would likely have to visit a specialty market. We wanted to bring more interesting and exciting shapes to the pasta aisle to capture the interest of pasta lovers and help us stand out. We worked directly with a die maker in Brooklyn, Maldari & Sons, to supply us with the bronze dies for these interesting shapes, and we also spoke to them about new shapes we could develop, but the idea of creating something new kept getting pushed back as we continued to grow the business. 

How did the public and the food world respond to cascatelli?

Dan Pashman: It’s been crazy. It occurred to me a few weeks after it launched that this is going to be the headline of my obituary. This is the thing I'm going to be known for the rest of my life. It’s a little weird to be in your mid-40s and think, Oh I may be peaking right now. I may never accomplish anything in my career quite so memorable and special as this. On the other hand, if that’s what you’re going to be known for, that’s pretty good.

Scott: Cascatelli had a great impact on Sfoglini. Besides being an incredible and inspiring project to work on, it helped get Sfoglini pasta the exposure we needed to continue to expand our audience and distribution around the country.

Can you tell me about quattrotini and vesuvio? What attracted you to these two shapes? 

Dan: Basically, I wanted to try to find shapes that checked all my classic boxes, those same boxes I used with developing my original shape, cascatelli: forkability, saucability, tooth-sinkability—how well does it stand the fork, how well does it hold sauce, and how satisfying is it to bite into it? I wanted something that would achieve those things in different ways. You look at these three shapes together and they’re kind of all beautiful, but they’re also different from each other. 

Are there many other producers or vendors in the U.S. that make or sell either of these shapes?  

Dan: So, vesuvio—I don’t know if it’s being produced in the U.S. You can get it—there certainly are specialty stores that import vesuvio, but you’d have to really hunt to find it. I'd say it’s safe to call it rare in the U.S. 

In terms of quattrotini, that one’s even more rare. That one’s modeled after a shape called cinque buchi—it means “five tubes.” That shape is almost impossible to find, even in Italy; it’s only made in Sicily, and only during Carnival. It’s almost impossible to find outside of that time and place. I saw a picture of it and I was trying to get my hands on it to try it, but there’s only one company in Italy that makes and ships it, and it was going to be like $100 to get it shipped to my house from Italy, which seems crazy. I asked Sfoglini to add ridges to the outside and cut it a little longer than the original shape, and we renamed it quattrotini—cinque buchi means “five tubes,” but to me, when you look at it you think four, you don’t think five. 

As a big fan of your cascatelli journey, I’m curious whether this one was as challenging. Obviously you didn’t have to create these shapes, but I’d think getting set up to produce them the right way would still be pretty demanding.

Scott: It was definitely an easier challenge to take on, but every shape has its own unique problems that it presents. The more intricate or ornate the shape is, the more it can cause issues with drying or packaging (which is why many companies do not attempt to make them). If shapes are too long or have too many ruffles or twists, then it can get caught up in machinery and be very frustrating to produce. Yields can be smaller as well if the shape is thicker and needs more time and space to dry. So far, we've only had some small issues with packaging the quattrotini, but we should be able to work those out as we continue producing more. 

Dan: These shapes already exist, so we know that they can be produced. That was a big hurdle. The other thing is that because we’ve done it once—Sfoglini and I have rolled out a pasta product—so we know how to do that. Any big creative project, the second time around is going to be smoother. That being said, it was still plenty stressful. There were a lot of delays, supply chain stuff, waiting for new equipment and the equipment crashed, the dies took longer to get to us than we wanted it to. And the most stressful thing was that i committed to quattrotini without having tasted it! As a self-admitted control freak who puts a lot of thought and careful study into these kinds of decisions, the idea of committing to something so important without ever sampling it made me very nervous.

If you were cooking a meal with vesuvio or quattrotini pasta, what would you make? Are there any favorite sauces, dishes, or recipes that you’ve tried?

Dan: I did share on Instagram that I did a shrimp and andouille mac and cheese that I'm testing for a cookbook that I'm working on, and that was great. In general, I think the idea that there’s one perfect shape for every sauce and vice versa is a little bit overdone. I think all three of these shapes will work well with anything that’s thick, creamy, has a lot of small bits or has a lot of chunks.

Scott: The Sporkful collection shapes were selected for their great sauceability, so my first recommendations are for thicker sauces like a Bolognese or sausage- or meat-based ragu. But we also like to develop recipes that focus more on vegetables for a healthier meal. These shapes also work well with eggplant or pestos. We're developing recipes now and will have them added to sfoglini.com soon. 

What are your favorite Sfoglini pastas in the overall lineup?

Scott: Our top seller, year after year, is our trumpets. The ruffled edges and flower-shaped design appeals to a lot of our customers. My personal favorite has always been our reginetti. It's basically a small lasagna noodle that can work well in so many different recipes. But what I like most of all is that we have so many unique shapes that I seem to rediscover one every now and then. Lately I've been obsessed with our radiators

Dan: I like their reginetti. That one’s similar to one called sagne a pezzi by a company called Rusticella in Abruzzo. It’s, like, just the ruffles. I don’t know if you remember when Captain Crunch did [a cereal] called, “Oops! All Berries”; I feel like with the reginetti and the sagne a pezzi, it's like, “Oops! All ruffles.”

Cascatelli, vesuvio, quattrotini, and more incredible pastas are available on Sfoglini’s website.


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