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Are you ready for canning season?

April 9th, 2015

Canning JarsThe weather is starting to warm up, it’s time to start planning what you are planting in your garden and time to get your canners ready to preserve your garden bounty!  Making sure that your canning equipment is in proper working order is required for safe, high quality home canning.

If you have a pressure canner with a dial gauge it needs to be tested every year.  Check with us at AnswerLine to find the closest Extension office or hardware store for testing.  A weighted gauge canner does not need to be tested.  If you have a Presto canner they will also test the gauge.  Simply send it to them, they test it and send it back to you.  Just be sure and do it far enough in advance to have it back and ready for canning season.

The canner’s vent and safety value should also be cleaned.  Use a very small bottle brush or small cloth to run through the holes to make sure they are clean and operating freely.  Next check the gasket if your canner has one.  It should be soft and flexible, not brittle, sticky or cracked.  If it needs to be replaced you can usually find them at hardware stores that selling canning supplies or they can be ordered from the manufacturer.

Then do an inventory of your jars, flats and bands.  Check the jars to make sure there are no small chips or hairline cracks.  Nicks, especially on the top sealing edge of the jar can keep the lids from sealing properly.  Hairline cracks in jars caused by old age and frequent use could cause them to break under pressure and heat during canning.  If your jars need to be replaced start watching for specials on them in stores.  Sometimes stores have sales before the canning season officially starts! The bands can be reused year after year as long as they are not dented or rusty.  The flat lids are only used once so make sure that you toss the old ones and have new lids to use for this year’s canning.

The last thing is to make sure that you have your tested canning recipes ready.  Publications and information is available through us at AnswerLine or at your local county Extension Office.  If you do not have a copy of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service canning book called So Easy to Preserve I would recommend purchasing one.  It is a comprehensive book with information on all types of home food preservation methods.  Remember to look over your tested recipes in advance to make sure that you have all of the ingredients that you will need!

With your equipment and supplies ready to go you will have a head start when your garden starts producing!

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Food Preservation, Household Equipment, recipes

The Many Uses of Baking Soda

March 19th, 2015

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Baking soda is something that everyone has in their cupboards to use in baking but it has so many other uses as well.  Did you know that more than 100 tons of baking soda was used to clean the Statue of Liberty’s inner copper walls during its 1986 restoration?  If it is good enough for the Statue of Liberty just think of the ways that it can be used in your home!

  • Use it to clean off sticky grease on pans or kitchen equipment (ex. waffle maker). The baking soda acts like an eraser to clean off the grease.
  • To clean a drain, pour ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of salt down the drain. Follow with ½ cup of vinegar. Cover the drain and let it work for at least 15 minutes. Finish by pouring a tea kettle of boiling water down the drain.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water in a small container. Apply the paste to your tooth brush to make your own toothpaste.
  • Sprinkle baking soda liberally over dry carpet to remove odors. Leave it on overnight and then vacuum in the morning.
  • If your plastic food containers have picked up a strong odor wash them in hot water and baking soda. Next sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of baking soda inside the container. Cover and let it stand for at least one hour or overnight. Wash as usual and the odor should be gone.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge to erase crayon, pencil, ink and furniture scuffs from painted surfaces. Rinse when the mark is removed.
  • Are you getting black marks on your floor from your shoes? Rub the area with a paste of baking soda and water. Rinse and wipe dry.
  • If you have a small grease fire in your kitchen pour baking soda on it to help put it out.
  • Sprinkle baking soda on baked on pans. Then add a little hot water and dish soap. Let it sit and absorb for several minutes then use a kitchen dish scrubber to remove the baked on food.
  • Do you have an oil spot in your garage? Sprinkle a mixture of baking soda and salt over it, let it soak to absorb and then sweep to remove.
  • Adding ½ cup baking soda to top loading machines or ¼ cup to front load washers help you to reduce the amount of bleach you need by half in your laundry.

With so many uses for both cooking and cleaning I keep a several containers of baking soda handy!

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Cleaning, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Laundry

Pillow Talk

March 16th, 2015

Pillows generally last a long time, so you don’t need to buy them very often. But when you do need new ones, it’s helpful to have a few facts at hand. The most common bed pillow fillings are polyester fiber fill, feathers, down, and molded or shredded foams.  The foams may be latex, polyurethane or rubber. Each stuffing material has a somewhat different feel. Fiberfill, feathers and down all feel soft and cushiony.  Down and fiberfill are more resilient than feathers and return to shape more easily after crushing.

Latex and Polyurethane Foam Pillows:

Polyurethane is stiffer than latex. Memory foams are a type of polyurethane.  These foams return to shape immediately after crushing, but can deform with continued pressure over time.  Shredded polyurethane foam tends to feel somewhat lumpy unless stuffed fairly tight and covered with a heavy ticking fabric.  Latex gradually stiffens and crumbles on exposure to oil and air.  Latex will last about 10 years if coverings are washed regularly.

Down and Feather Pillows:

When purchasing down pillows, look for at least 80% down and 20% feathers.  If you can feel quills, there isn’t much down in the pillow.  Pure goose down can be a real sleep inducer, but it is the most expensive type of down pillow. Often, different kinds of feathers may be mixed in the same pillow.

It is not easy to compare one down pillow to another unless you compare weights.  There should be a label attached to the pillow or in the packaging. Down and feather pillows sometimes irritate persons with allergy problems, whereas polyester and other synthetic fiber and foam pillows do not. Sniff a pillow for odor before you buy it.  If dust or lint appears as you pound or pat a pillow, this is a clue it could cause problems.  Down will last a long time.  They are usually dry-cleaned, but when washable, the pillows need careful drying to prevent mildew.

Polyester:

Fiberfill pillows can be easily laundered.  Stuffing can sometimes shift, but you can expect polyester fill pillows to keep their fluffy resilience at least five years.

Washing Feather Pillows:

If you want to wash your feather pillows, make sure the ticking is in good condition before washing. We would also suggest slipping the pillow into a pillow case and basting the case shut, for additional insurance against the ticking failing and releasing the feathers.  Fill the washer with warm water and the regular amount of detergent for a normal load, gentle cycle, agitate to dissolve the detergent.  (Dissolving the detergent is not as critical if a liquid detergent is used.)  For a balanced load, wash two pillows at the same time or one pillow and enough bath towels to balance.  Immerse the pillows in the sudsy water until they are completely wet.  Wash using the gentle or soak cycle for 10 minutes.  Rinse the pillows twice.

To dry, tumble in the automatic dryer using the warmest setting for one hour; reduce the heat and finish drying.  Or, in warmer weather, hang the pillows on a clothes line in a gentle breeze – occasionally “fluff” or move the feathers around within the pillow.  This will take a few hours – then finish drying in an automatic dryer.

Now you can sleep peacefully, enjoying the fresh scent of your clean pillows.

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Home Environment, Household Equipment, Laundry

Are You Confused About Cooking Terms?

March 9th, 2015

Have you ever been confused about terms that are used in a recipe?  What is the difference between creaming and beating?  How can you tell when egg whites are soft peaks or when they are hard peaks?  Here are some common cooking terms and what they mean:

  • Al dente – this is a term for pasta that is cooked tender but slightly firm.
  • Beat – mixing foods thoroughly to a smooth consistency.
  • Braise – to cook gently in a small amount of liquid in a covered pan.
  • Cream – to incorporate air into the butter, margarine or vegetable shortening and sugar. When creaming have the fat at room temperature and beat at medium speed until light and airy.  The result will be a light fine grained texture.
  • Deglazing – adding a liquid (wine, broth etc.) to remove the bits of caramelized pieces left in a pan after cooking meat. This is the start of a great sauce or gravy.
  • Emulsify – this means to mix two ingredients together that don’t normally combine well like vinegar and oil. Whisk one ingredient very slowly into the other to emulsify.
  • Firm or stiff peaks – continue beating until the volume increases and becomes thick. When the beaters are raised the peaks should stay straight up even if you tilt the bowl.
  • Fold – using a rubber spatula and an over and under motion to combine ingredients without knocking out the air. Add the light ingredient like egg whites to the heavier ingredients and gently fold the mixture over top of itself to combine.  Rotating the pan as you fold helps to mix the ingredients without over mixing.
  • Julienne – to cut food into long thin strips similar to matchsticks. Carrots are quite often julienned.
  • Parboil – to cook a vegetable until it is partially cooked.
  • Pare – to remove the peeling or skin on a fruit or vegetable
  • Pulse – this means to turn a food processor on and off in very short bursts
  • Scald – this is to heat a liquid only until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the mixture. Not to boiling.
  • Sear – browning the meat in a hot pan quickly to seal in the meat juices.
  • Soft peaks – beating on medium speed until the meringue or cream peaks fold over when the beater is lifted out.

If you have a term that you are not sure what it means let us know and we will be glad to explain it to you.  We are only a phone call or email away!

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Food Preparation, Household Equipment, recipes

Time To Get Rid of Your Wallpaper?

March 5th, 2015

After living in our house for 19 years I decided that it was time for a change and undertook the removal of the wallpaper that we had in our kitchen.  I was lucky.  My dad was our wallpaper installer and he used sizing so it came off easily.

That wasn’t what happened in our first house that we purchased when we got married.  There were many layers of wallpaper and it was a much bigger task!

If you have wallpaper and are ready for a change here are the steps to remove it from your walls.

  • Remove all of the electrical face plates, light switches and any nails used to hang pictures. Cover anything electrical with masking or duct tape to protect them from water. It is a good idea to cut the power to the room to avoid water and electricity problems.
  • Place a drop cloth on the floor that is water resistant to keep water off of the carpet, hardwood or tile floor.
  • Test a corner of the wallpaper to see if it easily comes off without taking off the drywall. If it doesn’t come off easily you can use a solvent to help with the removal or you may need to rent a steamer.
  • A solvent can be made at home by mixing hot water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar or hot water and fabric softener in a spray bottle. The important thing to remember is that hot water is needed to work with the vinegar or fabric softener to dissolve the glue. Spray on the wallpaper in a section that you can strip in a 15 minute period.
  • The paper will begin to sag or pull away from the wall if this method is working. If it doesn’t you may need to rent a commercial wallpaper steamer. This tool has a pad where steam is released. The steamer is held in place to allow the steam to penetrate the paper and soften the glue. Use a scraper to remove the wallpaper once it has loosened. If it is not coming off you might need to use the steamer for a longer period of time but also make sure that you are not damaging the wall by using too much steam. Make sure you wear gloves since the wallpaper and glue will be hot. If your wallpaper is very old or you have many layers to take off, this method will save you the most time.
  • Once the wallpaper is removed the last remaining glue should be washed off using a sponge and very hot water with a small amount of soap. When the remaining adhesive is removed, rinse the wall with clean water and use a towel to dry it. If the wall was damaged use spackling to repair it.

Removing wallpaper will give your house a whole new look.  It is a labor of love that gives you a sense of accomplishment when the project is finished!

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Cleaning, Household Equipment

Cleaning Your Humidifier

February 16th, 2015

imageIn the winter our houses tend to dry out causing static electricity, dry nose, throat and skin problems.  One way to add moisture to our homes is to use a humidifying device.  These machines can be cool mist, steam or evaporative (a fan blows air through a moistened absorbent material like a belt or filter).  These will add moisture back into the home if it is dry but care must be taken to avoid excessive moisture which can lead to bacterial growth if the machines are not maintained and cleaned regularly.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are using a humidifier in your home:

  • Use distilled or demineralized water in your machines to reduce hard water deposits. Tap water often contains more minerals which can be released in the mist. If the particles are fine enough they can be breathed in which could cause health problems depending on what the type and amount of minerals are.
  • Try to change the water in your humidifier daily. By emptying the tank and wiping it dry it will keep any film and scum from developing in your machine and will reduce the growth of microorganisms. If the tank is not removable use the manufacturer’s instruction to keep the machine clean.
  • If you are using a steam vaporizer keep it out of the reach of children. The steam can cause burns if anyone comes in direct contact with it.
  • Make sure that the humidity in your house doesn’t go beyond 50 percent. If so moisture can build up on windows and walls and can cause mold growth. A tool called a hygrometer can measure the humidity level in your house. They are usually found at your local hardware store.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions on what cleaning products to use. If bleach or other products are used, the tanks will need to be rinsed well before using so that those strong chemicals smells are not released into the air in your house.
  • At the end of the season make sure that all of the parts are cleaned and dry before putting it away. Also clean it thoroughly before bringing it out to use again the next winter.

Remember breathing dirty air can cause problems ranging from flu-like symptoms to infections.  If you suffer from allergies or asthma the problem can be even worse.  By keeping your humidifiers clean and using them correctly you can make your house comfortable and safe.

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Cleaning, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Housing

Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

January 19th, 2015

 

Here in the upper Midwest plumbers have been busy with the recent cold snap. When the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage for the home or business owner, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.  Pipes that freeze most frequently are those in unheated interior spaces such as basement, attics, and garages.  But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

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During the cold weather months, take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may conflict with your desire to conserve water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill.  Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe-even at a trickle-helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 ⁰ F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

THAWING FROZEN PIPES

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you probably have a frozen pipe.  Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, chances are others are frozen too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen section is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk.

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Consumer Management, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Winter

Preventing Falls at Home

January 15th, 2015

This time of year when you hear of people falling most likely you are thinking it is from icy sidewalks.  Each year though thousands of older Americans fall inside the home.  According to the National Council on Aging one in three older Americans falls every year.   Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people aged 65+.  The elderly are not the only ones at risk for falling.  All of us including small children can be injured.

There are several things that can be done to help prevent falls.

  • Establish an exercise routine. Regular exercise helps improve strength and balance.
  • Make sure that you have your vision checked yearly. If your vision is not clear it can cause an increase in falls.
  • Wear shoes both inside and outside. Slippers and socks can sometimes have slippery soles.
  • Get up slowly after you have been sitting or lying down.
  • Go over all medication that you are taking with your doctor or pharmacist. Some can make you dizzy or sleepy without you realizing it.
  • Make sure that the lighting in the room is adequate. If there are dark areas it may lead to tripping over something that has been left on the floor.
  • Make sure if there are throw rugs that they have a non-slip backing so they don’t move when they are stepped on.
  • Keep unnecessary items off of the floor. Magazines, books, blankets as well as other items should always be picked up.
  • Make sure items are stored where they can be easily reached. If you must use a step stool make sure that it is steady and that a chair is never used.
  • Be sure that there are grab bars in a bathroom when needed by the shower, tub or toilet. If a shower or tub is slippery use a non-slip bath mat.
  • Use a night light so that you can see where you are walking at night when it is dark. Many now automatically come on by themselves when it gets dark.

With a few simple changes in a home falls can be prevented for not only older relatives but young ones as well.

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Cleaning, Consumer Management, Home Environment, Household Equipment, Housing

Steps to Safely Fry a Turkey

November 24th, 2014

Have you ever thought about deep frying a turkey? It gives you very tender meat with a nice crispy texture, but in order to keep yourself and your food safe you need to follow some precautions.

  • Completely thaw your turkey or use a fresh turkey. Be sure to remove the neck and giblets bag before cooking.
  • Make sure that your surface where you are frying is flat and in a safe outdoor location that is far away from garages, decks and house siding.
  • Do NOT stuff your turkey.
  • Use a turkey that weighs 12 pounds or less.
  • Make sure your frying pot is large enough for your turkey to be covered by 1 to 2 inches of oil and that there is at least 3-5 inches space between the oil and the top of the pot, so the oil does not boil over the sides.
  • Heat the oil to 350° F. After it has reached this temperature slowly lower the turkey into the hot oil. Constantly monitor the temperature of the oil and never leave it unattended.
  • It will take approximately 3 to 5 minutes per pound for the turkey to cook.
  • Use a meat thermometer to see if the turkey has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165° F. in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
  • If it has not reached that temperature return the turkey immediately to the oil to finish cooking.
  • When the turkey is finished cooking remove from the oil and place on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  • Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.
  • Be sure that the heat is turned off and the pot is put in a spot where nothing will disturb it.

By following these precautions your guests will enjoy a juicy turkey and you will have a safe Thanksgiving!

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Food Preparation, Food Safety, Holiday ideas, Household Equipment

Tips for Storing Furits and Vegetables

September 15th, 2014

fridgeAre you wondering what should be stored in the drawers of your refrigerator?  It is important to know how to best use them to keep your produce at top quality for as long as possible!

Refrigerator drawers are designed to help you adjust the humidity level so it can be different from the rest of the refrigerator.  Many drawers have a control that allows you to increase or decrease the air flow coming into them.  Less air flow means higher humidity.  Since different produce require different levels of humidity it allows you to tailor the drawer to the produce inside and it will last longer.

Here are a few tips to store your fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator:

  1. Vegetables typically like high humidity and fruits like lower humidity.
  2. Leafy greens like high humidity (85-95%) and cold temperatures(32-40°F).   This includes lettuce, spinach, chard, collards, mustard greens and watercress. Bulbs like green onions, leaks and endive should also be stored here.
  3. Apples, grapes, cherries, apricots, nectarines and other tree fruits like less humidity and cold temperatures (32-35°F).
  4. Don’t put ripe fruits and veggies in the same crisper drawer since fruits give off ethylene gas.   Apple, pears, plums, cantaloupes and peaches are all high-ethylene producers. This can cause green vegetables to turn yellow, lettuce to get rust colored spots, potatoes to sprout and carrots to turn bitter.
  5. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit can be stored in the main part of your refrigerator since they prefer even less humidity.
  6. Some fruits and vegetables do better outside of the refrigerator. Tomatoes, potatoes and onions prefer a cool, dark, dry place. (65-70°F).
  7. Wash your fruits and vegetables before eating, not before storing them.

By storing your foods properly you save money since your fruits and vegetables will remain fresh as long as possible!

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Food Preservation, Food Safety, Household Equipment