October 30th, 2014

Halloween Safety

I have such fond memories of special Halloween celebrations with my two kids, who are young adults now. We would make “scary” treats, homemade costumes, attend school parties, trick-or- treat on beggar’s nights, etc.  I’m not sure who had more fun – the kids or me?

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control to help make the festivities safe and fun for all:

alphabet letter sSwords, knives, and other costume accessories should be short, soft, and flexible.

alphabet letter aAvoid trick-or-treating alone. Walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

alphabet letter fFasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see you.
alphabet letter eExamine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before eating them. Limit the amount of treats you eat.


alphabet letter hHold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help you see and others see you. Always WALK and don’t run from house to house.
alphabet letter aAlways test make-upExternal Web Site Icon in a small area first. Remove it before bedtime to prevent possible skin and eye irritation.
alphabet letter lLook both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.
alphabet letter lLower your risk for serious eye injury by not wearing decorative contact lenses.External Web Site Icon
alphabet letter oOnly walk on sidewalks whenever possible, or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.
alphabet letter wWear well-fitting masks, costumes, and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips, and falls.
alphabet letter eEat only factory-wrapped treats. Avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers.
alphabet letter eEnter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult. Only visit well-lit houses. Never accept rides from strangers.
alphabet letter nNever walk near lit candles or luminaries. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.
Keeping these suggestions in mind while planning and celebrating your holiday will help ensure everyone enjoys themselves and makes it home safely.  Happy Halloween to all!
jill sig









Child Development, Consumer Management, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Textiles

A Mouse in the House?

October 27th, 2014

mouse white background2Cooler weather makes us think about winter and all the things we have left to do before winter strikes. Mice are not unlike people in this aspect; as the weather cools they begin to look for a way to spend the winter inside your home.

The two most effective methods of ridding your home from mice are exclusion and trapping. You can exclude mice by plugging cracks and holes in the siding or foundation of your home that are ¼ of an inch or larger. Mice need a hole or crack only as large as their head to enter your home.  Since mice are excellent climbers, pay attention to loose windows and holes that contain pipes or cables.  Stuff steel wool into cracks and holes to prevent mice from entering.  Remember that you will not only prevent mice from entering but you may also be lowering your heating bill by tightening up the outside of your home.

Trapping mice is the only way to eliminate the species of mice that spends all it’s time inside your home. Traps set in the center of a room will not be very effective.  Set traps along walls or in the small spaces that mice use to travel inside the home.  If you notice mice droppings, or have seen a mouse moving in a space then you will want to place a trap there. You have a choice between live traps and kill traps.  The simple, cheap snap traps are an effective way to kill mice.  If you want to be more humane, choose a live trap. You may want to set multiple traps to increase the odds of catching a mouse. Peanut butter, moist oatmeal, or chocolate are three of the foods that seem to attract mice.

No matter which style of trap you choose, remember to check them daily. If a snap trap is used, you may need to re-bait or empty the trap.  Live traps should be checked daily; this ensures that you mice will be handled in a humane fashion.  Remember that mice can travel quite a distance and you should release them a good, long distance from your home.





Cleaning, Housing


October 23rd, 2014


Gourds are a fun sign that fall has arrived! They come in all shapes, sizes and colors.   If you would like to use some for decorating here are some steps to preserve them.

FIRST determine how the gourd will actually be used. If they are for decorative use only just until Christmas decorating time, then just go through step 2.  If you want to keep them longer or use them for art projects then continue on to steps 3 and 4.

1 – Gourds should be picked when the fruit are fully mature. At maturity, the stem attached to the fruit begins to dry and turn brown.    Cut the gourds from the vines with a hand shears, leaving a few inches of stem attached to the fruit.  Handle the gourds carefully as the skin is susceptible to bruising or scratching.

2 – Gently wash the gourds in soapy water and rinse in a solution of water and chlorine bleach. This should destroy decay organisms which could lead to fruit rot.  Gently dry each gourd with a soft cloth.

3 – Dry the gourds by spreading them on several layers of newspaper in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a porch, garage or shed. Place the gourds in a single layer, spacing them so that they don’t touch one another.  Avoid sunny areas as colors may fade. Rotate them every 2 or 3 days, gently wiping with a dry cloth to remove moisture.  Promptly remove any which begin to rot.

4 – Drying or curing may take up to several weeks. To hasten drying of large decorative gourds, small holes may be made in the bottom of the fruit with an ice pick or nail. The gourds will feel lighter in weight, and the seeds will rattle when the gourds are fully dry.

Once cured, the gourds may be used in their natural state. The complete drying of gourds may cause them to lose the bright colors.  They may also be painted, waxed, shellacked or varnished for crafts.

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Holiday ideas, Horticulture

Easy Halloween Costume Ideas

October 20th, 2014

Easy Halloween Costume Ideas for busy parents:

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I was usually the homeroom parent for parties in preschool and grade school and would make elaborate costumes for my children and myself to wear to these celebrations. I’m not sure who enjoyed these events more – me or my kids!  Sadly, my kids are college-aged now and create their own costumes to wear to mark the occasion.  I still manage to dress up to hand out goodies to the neighborhood kids on beggars’ night. My weimeraner, Pearl, is now the object of my costume obsession.  She has grudgingly become Princess Leia from Star Wars, a hippie, a crazy Cyclone fan, and more over the years.


image[4]Today, parents are busier than ever it seems, with all of the work and activity demands on them. Check out some simple costume ideas for kids that can be made at home. Many of these can be made from items you may already have.  Think of it as re-purposing and recycling these items.



Have a SAFE, FUN HALLOWEEN everyone!







Child Development, Holiday ideas, Home Environment, Textiles, Uncategorized

Easy steps to planning menus

October 16th, 2014

If it seems like a struggle just to get dinner on the table every evening, consider planning menus in advance. Planned menus can help you organize grocery shopping and speed up dinnertime on those busy nights. Menu planning does not have to be complicated, it can be as simple as choosing a theme for one night a week or a cyclical menu that repeats every month.

If you choose a theme; Italian, breakfast items, or soups, it makes planning easier since you have already narrowed the categories. Think of your families favorite meals and while you are planning, jot imagedown those items you would not typically have on hand. Remember to balance the meal and include fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically there is not much preparation needed with fresh produce, especially if it can be eaten raw. Frozen fruits and vegetables are  also very nutritious and sometimes easier to have on hand, especially if you like to grocery shop only once or twice a month.

Designating one night a week to eat leftovers will help eliminate food waste—unless someone in your home consistently takes leftovers for lunch.

Designing your own cyclical menu may take a bit of time at first, but since you will be reusing it on a regular basis, in the long run it will be worth the time invested. Remember to work on your grocery list as you plan the menu. Cyclical menus typically repeat once every month to six weeks.  You may want to plan a cyclical menu to have on hand and vary the routine by planning menus for several weeks between uses of the cyclical menu.


Food Preparation, Nutrition, recipes

Canning Apple Pie Filling

October 13th, 2014

Canning pie filling is a fun way to preserve apples that are abundant right now. Each quart jar will make one 8-9 inch pie.

apple pie filling1

Table 1. Apple Pie Filling.
Quantities of Ingredients Needed For
1 Quart 7 Quarts
Blanched, sliced fresh apples 3-1/2 cups 6 quarts
Granulated sugar 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp 5-1/2 cups
Clear Jel® 1/4 cup 1-1/2 cup
Cinnamon 1/2 tsp 1 tbsp
Cold Water 1/2 cup 2-1/2 cups
Apple juice 3/4 cup 5 cups
Bottled lemon juice 2 tbsp 3/4 cup
Nutmeg (optional) 1/8 tsp 1 tsp
Yellow food coloring (optional) 1 drop 7 drops


Table 2. Recommended process time for Apple Pie Filling in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 – 1,000 ft 1,001 – 3,000 ft 3,001 – 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints or Quarts 25 min 30 35 40

Use firm, crisp apples. Staymen, Golden Delicious, Rome, and other varieties of similar quality are suitable.  If apples lack tartness, use additional ¼ cup of lemon juice for each 6 quarts of sliced apples.

apples in lemon juice1


Wash, peel and core apples. Cut apples into slices, ½ inch wide.  Place in an anti-darkening solution.  I used ½ cup bottled lemon juice to 2 quarts of water.


blanching apples1

Remove from antidarkening solution and drain well. Next blanch the fruit by placing small amounts in boiling water.  Boil each batch for one minute after the water returns to a boil.  Remove the fruit from the blanch water, but keep the hot fruit in a covered bowl or pot while you prepare the Clear Jel mixture.



pie filling 11


Combine Clear Jel, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large saucepot with water, apple juice and food coloring. Stir and cook on medium high until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.  Add lemon juice to the boiling mixture and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.



pie filling1



Immediately fold in drained apples slices and fill hot jars with hot mixture. Leave 1 inch headspace.



removing bubbles pie filling



Remove air bubbles with a plastic knife. Wipe jar rims.







Put on lid fingertip tight and process immediately in a Boiling Water Bath.  Make sure that the water is at least 1 inch above the top of the submerged jars.  Use the chart above for processing times according to your altitude.



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Food Preservation, recipes

Freezing Apple Pie

October 9th, 2014

 Freezing apple pie is really as easy as 1, 2, 3!


image1.  Prepare the apples–peel, core, slice. Place in a bowl and cover with water and lemon juice; this prevents browning while you make the crust. When filling the crust, add 1 extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch. This will help prevent leakage of filling during baking.

2. Prepare the crust, roll and place in pan. Add the top curst but DO NOT cut vent holes. You will do this just before baking.

3.  Wrap the finished pie well, or place in large freezer bag.


When you want to use the frozen pie, follow these directions for baking:


1.  Cut vent holes in the frozen crust.

2.  Put pan on cookie sheet.

3.  Bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until top crust is brown. Enjoy the taste of the freshly baked pie.




Food Preparation, Food Preservation, recipes

Freezing Eggs

October 6th, 2014

Callers often ask if it is possible to freeze eggs.Yes, you can easily freeze eggs for later baking or scrambling. You have the choice to either freeze whole eggs or separate the eggs and freeze yolks and whites by themselves.

Whole eggs inside the shell should not be frozen.  If you have an egg freeze accidentally, discard eggs that crack. You can safely use a whole, frozen, uncracked egg.  Just store it eggs1in the refrigerator until you need it. It may be best to hard cook that egg as the yolk may become thick and syrupy; this change makes it difficult to use in baking.

If you would like to freeze eggs at home, you will need to add either sugar, corn syrup, or salt to the egg yolks or whole eggs. Add 1/2-1 Tbsp. light corn syrup OR 1/2-1 Tbsp. sugar OR 1 tsp. salt to every dozen eggs you freeze. Addition of the salt or sugar prevents the yolks from thickening and allows you to use them in baked products. The end use of the eggs will help you determine which ingredient (salt, corn syrup, or sugar) to add to the eggs.

Blend the mixture gently; avoid whipping air into the mixture. Package the eggs and freeze. Add the previously listed amounts to either whole eggs or egg yolks that have been separated. If you choose to freeze the whites alone, they do not need to have any salt, sugar, or corn syrup added.

Thaw any of these frozen eggs in the refrigerator. Stir or shake them before using. You must use the thawed eggs within 3-5 days.



Food Preservation, Food Safety

Preserving Winter Squash

October 2nd, 2014

winter squashIf you have winter squash and are wanting to preserve it remember that you can NOT home can pumpkin or winter squash puree. If you want it pureed then you should freeze it.  If you want to can it, it must done in a pressure canner and only when cut into 1 inch cubes.

According to the Elizabeth L. Andress, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Extension Food Safety Specialist, Department of Foods and Nutrition, home canning is not recommended for pumpkin butter or any mashed or pureed pumpkin or winter squash.  In 1989, the USDA’s Extension Service published the Complete Guide to Home Canning that remains the basis of Extension recommendations today, found in the September 1994 revision. The only directions for canning pumpkin and winter squash are for cubed pulp. In fact, the directions for preparing the product include the statement, “Caution: Do not mash or puree.”

Some of the factors that are critical to the safety of canned pumpkin products are the viscosity (thickness), the acidity and the water activity. Pumpkin and winter squash are also low-acid foods (pH > 4.6) capable of supporting the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria which can cause the very serious illness, botulism, under the right storage conditions. If the bacteria are present and survive processing, and the product has a high enough water activity, they can thrive and produce toxin in the product.

To process using a hot pack, wash pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds. Cut into 1 inch slices and peel.  Cut the flesh into 1 inch cubes.  Add to a saucepot of boiling water, boil 2 minutes.  Pack the hot cubes into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace.  Fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling hot cooking liquid.  Remove the air bubbles.  Wipe jar rims, adjust lids and process.

Table 1. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a dial-gauge pressure canner.
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 2,000 ft 2,001 – 4,000 ft 4,001 – 6,000 ft 6,001 – 8,000 ft
Hot Pints 55 min 11 lb 12 lb 13 lb 14 lb
Quarts 90 11 12 13 14


Table 2. Recommended process time for Pumpkin and Winter Squash in a weighted-gauge pressure canner.
Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size Process Time 0 – 1,000 ft Above 1,000 ft
Hot Pints 55 min 10 lb 15 lb
Quarts 90 10 15

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Food Preservation, Food Safety

Are my old cans still safe to eat?

September 29th, 2014

One of the questions we hear a lot at AnswerLine is: How long can I keep cans of food? Often, these callers are doing some spring cleaning or moving an elderly relative into a new home. They discover a number of cans that are several years old and wonder if it is still safe to use those cans.

photo 4The way cans are stored will affect the life of the food inside the cans. If foods are stored in a cool, dry place with a stable temperature they will last longer than cans stored in places where the temperature fluctuates widely. Damp storage areas can cause the can to rust which will also shorten the shelf life of the can.

Acidic foods, like fruits, have a shorter shelf life than low acid foods such as meat or vegetables. Dented, swollen, or rusty cans are an indication that the food inside the container is no longer safe to consume. This may also be an indication that the botulism bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, are present. Even a tiny exposure to these bacteria could be deadly. Discard these cans safely, in a spot where no other person or animal will be tempted to eat the food.

I was surprised to find this can in my own pantry.  The best if used by date was February 15, 2010.  Generally speaking, commercially canned food will be at good quality for photo 22-5 years after the best if used by date.  This can was peach pie filling, so the acidic nature of the filling shortened the shelf life of the product. We would advise you to use home canned foods within the first year or two at the most.

If the lid or inside of the can appears corroded when you open it, the food inside should still be safe to eat. Acid foods can cause this reaction during storage time. The taste, nutrition, and texture of foods will decline over long storage times. Remember to bring the older cans to the front of the shelf as you put groceries away after a shopping trip. This kind of inventory control can help prevent food waste.








Food Safety