Help! Our car smells like a locker room!

While I enjoyed many holiday conversations with family and friends, the one that sticks out the most in my mind was a conversation about car odors.  Oh, the stories and oh, the laughs!  I’m not sure how we got to the conversation, but it certainly flickered an idea for a blog when someone asked, “So how do you get rid of those smells?”

Anyone who has lived with children—newborn to teenagers—and animals, and have carted them around from one event to the next in the mom-mobile, knows those  smells—spit up/vomit, diapers/urine, milk, French fries, mustard, ketchup, apple juice, dirty or wet clothes and shoes, coffee, peanut butter, dog breath, wet dog, cigarette smoke, etc.

The smell of a new car is intoxicating but quickly disappears with human use.  If you’d like to regain a bit of that new-car smell, here’s some tips.  I make no promise that these tips will return you vehicle to a showroom quality smell but do promise a clean, fresh, and better smelling car to enjoy.

 

  • Pick a sunny day to clean, if possible. Throw away all the trash, dirt, and refuse.  Remove the floor mats, child seats, and child seat mats.
  • Thoroughly vacuum the carpet and seats. The headliner may also be vacuumed.  If the odors are particular strong, sprinkle baking soda on the carpet and cloth seats and let sit for several hours before vacuuming.
  • Use vehicle cleaning wipes or a wet cloth to wipe down the dash board, the inside of the doors, door rests, steering wheel, seat belts, seats, seat backs, and other surfaces. Be sure to get between the seats and seat backs where spills can reside and go unnoticed.  If there are food spills on seats or carpet, use a wet cloth to gently rub and wash the spill away as much as possible.  A 50/50 white vinegar and water solution in a clean spray bottle is good for cleaning as well as eliminating odors.  Use a lint-free or microfiber cloth for wiping.  There will be no residual vinegar smell once it has dried.  Vinegar water is quite effective even on cigarette smoke.
  • Clean the floor mats. Use warm water and a few drops of dish soap water.  Place the mats on a flat surface (maybe the driveway) and scrub the mats with a soft scrubbing brush and the solution.  Rinse the mats and hang them to dry before placing back in your car.
  • Use a leather cleaner to clean leather seats following the manufactures directions.
  • Shine the inside window glass, mirrors, screens, and light covers using the vinegar/water solution or your favorite window cleaner and a lint-free cloth to wipe.
  • Launder the infant/child seat covers and thoroughly clean the plastic liner, base, and lock- down belts with the vinegar/water solution.
  • If you are a fan of commercial odor neutralizers, hanging car fresheners, or essential oils, use them sparingly in your freshly cleaned car. Some of them can undo the cleaning, scrubbing and elbow grease you just put into your vehicle. Most of these products simply mask the odor rather than solve them; further, they may give off irritating odors for those who are sensitive to them.

Once you have a clean smelling car, try to keep it that way.  Place a container or containers of some sort in the vehicle for collecting refuse or containing equipment.  Take a couple of minutes after every event or trip to make sure all equipment, dirty clothes, food wrappers, etc., are removed from the vehicle.  Clean up spills right away or as soon as possible.  Seal sweaty clothes/shoes or dirty diapers in garbage or zip bags.  Do a weekly cleaning as often as possible and a thorough cleaning three or four times annually.

And if these DIY tips don’t bring the relief that you seek, replace the cabin air filter in your vehicle.  You may also want to consider a professional cleaning job.  Additional sources of help are air filtration products that can be purchased.  Two favorites are an air purifier (Frieg, $20) that can be plugged into the power outlet and a compact filtration system (Philips Go-Pure, $144) that attaches to the back of a seat.  Both of these products are designed to improve air quality by eliminating smoke, pollen, dust, and other irritants.

Here’s to a healthier, happier, smell-free ride!

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Supermarket Safety

As I write this there are many concerns about the flu epidemic plus we have received several calls about the Consumer Reports article concerning tainted romaine lettuce. The grocery store can be a place where you can be exposed to both of these things. In order to try and prevent both of these there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself.  A good place to start is to remember to always use the disinfecting wipes provided at the store to wipe down your cart before use.

Probably the two biggest areas of concern are the produce and meat departments. In the produce department you may see consumers lick their fingers in order to try and open the produce bags that are available and then use those same fingers to touch and select the produce they want. If you are someone that opens the produce bags using that method, use your other hand to touch the produce. And always wash produce at home before consuming. If you see nicks and bruises on the produce you are looking at, the protective skins could definitely be damaged which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the flesh. If possible, hand select your own produce rather than choosing a prepackaged bulk bag where you may not notice the nicks and bruises until you get home.

In the meat department look for thermometers in the refrigerated and frozen cases. Refrigerated cases should be at 40 degrees or below and freezer cases should be at 0 degrees or below. Raw and ready-to-eat foods should be separated. Raw meat and sushi should not be together in the same case unless there is a divider between them. Many meat departments now offer plastic bags for sanitation. To use them, pick up the meat with the bag then pull the bag through. That helps protect your hands and helps prevent cross contamination. Fish should be refrigerated or displayed not only on ice but in ice. Seafood is highly perishable allowing bacteria to grow rapidly on it.

Grocery stores in general go out of their way to make the shopping experience as safe for you as possible. It is always a good idea to take a few precautionary measures for yourself however. None of us are interested in getting the flu or food poisoning.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Tips for avoiding curdling

We get more calls about curdled food this time of year than any other time. Callers are frustrated when their homemade tomato soup curdles. It can be annoying when making tomato soup or scalloped potatoes to have the product look curdled and lumpy. It certainly is not an appetizing way to serve a meal.

You should know that the protein in milk is likely to clump together or curdle, when exposed to acid or salt. A number of things can help you avoid this situation. When making cream of tomato soup, try adding the tomato to the milk rather than the opposite. Remember to have both the milk and tomato hot, and thicken either the tomato juice or milk before they are combined. Do serve the soup promptly.

If you are baking scalloped potatoes, avoiding high oven temperatures and long cooking time will make the milk less likely to curdle. Parboiling the potatoes shortens the cooking time and the likelihood of curdling. Using evaporated milk further aids the product.

If ham and scalloped potatoes are baked together, curdling will occur. Ham contains curing salts, which make the milk protein extremely unstable and causes them to curdle easily.

Think through the recipe and directions before you start cooking; you should be able to avoid curdling in your dish.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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Happy Valentines Day!

Are you planning to give or receive a box of chocolates this Valentines Day? Many companies now include an identification chart with their chocolates which makes it easy to know what you are choosing. Some companies however do not include a chart or maybe you have misplaced the chart that came with your chocolates. Several decades ago there was a universal code for the squiggles on top of a piece of chocolate candy to help you identify what was inside. At that time all chocolates were dipped by hand. The artisans added what they called a “squiggle code” on top of each piece. Because modern chocolate makers use automated machines the squiggles are not produced. Some companies themselves however use consistent squiggle codes within their own company so if you like a particular company you could learn their code and stick with only that company. In general, large bumps indicate nuts, lots of small bumps is probably coconut and if it is in a cup it is likely to be something like a peanut butter cup. Here is a link to an interesting article from Epicurious about how you might identify chocolates without a guide.

The staff at AnswerLine wishes you a Happy Valentines Day!

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Tips for Conscientious Eating When Dining Out

 

 

If you are watching calories, have dietary restrictions or food intolerances/allergies, dining out can be a challenge.  The pros of dining out are that restaurants, casual dining (fast food) venues, and delis are convenient for fast meals and/or socialization.   The cons (calorie overload, mega portions, sky-high salt, food triggers) may make it hard to maintain a healthy, balanced, or safe diet.

Here are some ideas to help you make appropriate choices when you dine out without compromising calories or health:

  • Check the online menu before going to decide what will work. If necessary, call in advance to ask about dietary or health concerns you may have such as gluten-free options and cross contamination.
  • Don’t make assumptions if you have concerns. Politely ask the server or chef a few simple questions:  How are the vegetables prepared/seasoned? Is the fish/chicken/pork chop grilled, broiled, breaded, or fried?  What is in the sauce or dressing?  Is the soup base broth or cream?  Has the food been marinated in any sauce?  Has any food been coated or dusted with flour?  Are mashed potatoes made with real potatoes?
  • Pay attention to the nutritional information if it is provided. If it is not available but of concern, ask.  The healthiest sounding dish on the menu may not be.
  • Order water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or unsweetened tea to avoid high-calorie beverages.
  • Ask for salad dressings, sauces, sour cream, butter, etc on the side so you can control the amount.
  • Substitute fruit, vegetables, or a salad for a heavy or off-diet side dish.
  • If gluten is allowed, ask for whole-wheat bread for sandwiches.
  • Start with a veggie-packed side salad to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner. Request no crackers, croutons, wontons, or cheese if any are of concern to your diet or health.
  • Avoid appetizers either from the menu or those presented at the table (chips, breads, etc).
  • Choose main dishes with lots of veggies, especially steamed veggies when possible.
  • Order steamed, grilled or broiled dishes. Avoid fried or sautéed foods as much as possible.
  • At a buffet, order an item from the menu instead going for the all-you-can-eat option.
  • Opt out of dessert or request fresh fruit.
  • Refrain from cleaning your plate if the portion is too much. Splitting with a companion or requesting a take-home box are always options.  Take a minute to look at the plate that is brought to you and decide before taking a bite what you intend to eat.   Another option is to ask the waiter to box half of your plate before bringing it to the table.

Dining out doesn’t mean your healthy eating plan has to stay at home.  Nor does it mean that you have to stay home if you have dietary restrictions or food issues.  Ask a few questions, make some smart choices, and your meal-out can be as healthy and safe as if you made it yourself.

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Sheet Pan Cooking

With the beginning of a New Year, many of us are looking to eat healthier but also want recipes that are simple and easy to prepare with quick clean-up. For me, sheet pan cooking is a good solution. You can have protein and vegetables ready in a short time for dinner. It is also a great way to use any leftover vegetables you might have in your refrigerator.

The concept is pretty straight forward but there are a few tips to keep in mind for more successful sheet pan cooking. First of all you will want to use the right pan – it should be sturdy, measure 18 by 13 inches, and have a one inch rim all the way around it. A half sheet pan is ideal. Jellyroll pans will look similar but in general are smaller and flimsier than half sheet pans. The size is important so your ingredients can spread out. This will help them roast rather than steam which causes mushiness.  The rim is important to allow air to flow across the pan which helps the ingredients brown and get a bit crispy. The sturdiness of the pan is important to allow for high oven heat and sometimes the broiler. For speedier and easier clean-up, line the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

When selecting vegetables to use, remember denser vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc) take longer to cook than softer vegetables so you will want to roast the denser vegetables for 30 minutes or more before adding the softer vegetables to the pan. This sometimes takes trial and error so write a few notes down as you are trying various combinations of vegetables. Choose vegetables that are in season that you like to roast and cut them into roughly the same size pieces for more even cooking. You may want to consider adding fruits to your sheet pan dinner as well. Grapes, apples, pears, peaches and plums all roast nicely. They will cook more quickly so add them at the end of the cooking time.

Once you have your vegetables and fruits prepped, toss them with oil to completely coat them. This helps keep them from drying out. You can use olive, grapeseed, coconut or canola oil. Put the cut up vegetable and fruit pieces in a large bowl, pour your choice of oil and any seasonings you may be using over them, and stir with a spoon or your hands to cover the pieces with the oil. You may want to coat the denser pieces first then use what is left in the bowl to coat the softer pieces that will be added later.

It is best to avoid cuts of meat that require braising when you are doing sheet pan cooking. If you are using breaded chicken or fish, use a wire rack to keep the breaded ingredients above the moisture in the pan. This will help the meat keep it’s crisp coating. You would also want to use a rack if you are roasting a cut of beef or pork so the ingredients get basted with the juices and the meat gets browned.

If your sheet pan meal looks too pale to you when you take it out of the oven, try putting it under the broiler for a short time for color.

There are many recipes available online from many sources to help you get started. The possibilities are practically endless!

 

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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The Pioneer Woman

I love to travel and was fortunate to recently go on a trip with a wonderful friend to Pawhuska, Oklahoma to see the Pioneer Woman sites. After watching her show on the Food Network it was a real treat to get to see the Mercantile and the Pawhuska area. We stayed at a hotel in downtown Pawhuska within walking distance of the Mercantile. We were happy we did that as it allowed us to easily walk to the Mercantile at off hours that were not so crowded. Several thousand people visit the Mercantile every day and it is not uncommon to have to wait in line a very long time (up to two hours) to be able to eat in the restaurant. We made sure we were there for breakfast by 7am and ate a very early dinner to avoid the lines.

There are two stories at the Mercantile. On the main level are the deli/restaurant and the retail shop. You can have a sit down meal or go through a line to pick up prepared foods to take with you. There is also a coffee shop on the main level where you can buy coffees and specialty drinks. I did not try the Cowboy Coffee or the Spicy Cowgirl coffee but they were popular choices with the patrons who were there at the same time I was. My two favorite menu items were the Olive Cheese Bread (which I will try to recreate at home!) and the Prune Cake. My friend and I were leery of trying the cake but our very friendly and knowledgeable server highly recommended it. We were not disappointed!

Upstairs at the Mercantile are a coffee bar, bakery, and a nice relaxation area to enjoy the treats you purchased. They also sell several types of candy. The picures on the wall were all taken by Ree and were a joy to look at. There were very nice restrooms on each level – they have thought of everything!

The Mercantile was actually a mercantile originally known as the Osage Mercantile back in the 1800s. The Drummond family has done an amazing job restoring and refurbishing it. It is well worth the visit. It is a fun and family-friendly destination. Check the website ahead of time and also check with the deli when you arrive as tours of the Lodge where the Pioneer Woman shows are often filmed are available on certain dates. The tours are free and directions are given to you if you are lucky enough to be there on a day tours are available. Tour tickets are not available in advance.

The Mercantile is closed on Sundays and Pawhuska is a small town but it has a lot going for it and many interesting things to do in the area. Pawhuska is known as the gateway to the Tallgrass Prairie. It is definitely worth a drive through the prairie if you have time. Pawhuska is also the home of America’s first Boy Scout Troop. It is a fascinating area of the country to visit. If you are a follower of the Pioneer Woman and watch her shows on TV I highly recommend you add this to your vacation destination list.

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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Tapioca

We had a caller recently who was interested in making tapioca pudding but had picked up the large pearl variety instead of the small. I enjoy tapioca pudding as well and thought it would be interesting to find some tapioca tidbits.

Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root and although it has little nutritional value (tapioca is fat, protein, and gluten free) it is often used as a thickening agent as it has a neutral flavor, strong gelling power and can withstand the freeze/thaw cycle without breaking down. It also helps improve texture and moisture in the absence of gluten which is why it is used in many gluten free products. It is most often sold in pearl form. Small pearls, easily found in the grocery store, are used for puddings, and large pearls, usually found in health/natural food stores, are typically used in boba/bubble tea. It is also sold as flour and in flakes or powders. Some tapioca, sold as “minute” or “instant”, comes in a granulated form. You should use the kind of tapioca your recipe calls for or you may not be happy with the way the finished product gells.

Tapioca pearls must be soaked and then boiled with a liquid to form a gel. They are opaque prior to cooking but turn translucent upon hydration. Usually they are white or off-white but can be dyed to take on many colors which they often do when making boba tea.

If you are considering substituting tapioca starch for cornstarch, Bob’s Red Mill recommends 2 Tablespoons tapioca starch to 1 Tablespoon cornstarch. You can substitute instant tapioca for cornstarch in most recipes 1:1.

Instant, or minute, tapioca is the most commonly used for pie thickening. If you are using it in a pie filling, mix the instant tapioca with the other dry ingredients then toss with your fruit and let set for 10 minutes for the fruit juices to be absorbed. When baking the pie make sure it is bubbly in the center before removing it from the oven. This will assure the thickener has been fully activated. It is also recommended to let the baked pie rest overnight allowing starches within the pie time to re-bond and letting the juices be reabsorbed.

Tapioca can be stored indefinitely as long as it is kept tightly sealed to prevent exposure to heat and moisture.

Our recent caller has inspired me to make some tapioca pudding in the very near future. I may even try the boba/bubble tea! Click this link for a simple Bubble Tea recipe you might enjoy trying.

 

Marcia Steed

Marcia Steed

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Education. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends and traveling.

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4-H Exhibit Ideas

If you have a 4-H member at your house, you may want to take advantage of the long Iowa winter and begin working on exhibits for the County Fair. When I judge at fairs, I talk to so many 4-H members that have really only baked their exhibit once or maybe twice. It is hard to see how much learning could occur when finding a recipe and baking a product for the first time the night before the fair. During this time of year, we often have snow days at school, or weather that makes it difficult to do much outdoors. What a great time to begin thinking of an exhibit the member wants to take to the fair.

The 4-H member can look for recipes and make the product a few times to ensure that the product is suitable for display at the fair. If the member makes a mistake, needs to alter the recipe, or even change to a different recipe there is still plenty of time. Remember that all this learning will make a great addition to the write-up. Regular practice of the recipe or technique will ensure the member can make the final product for the fair with confidence. Taking notes or making a rough draft of the write-up will also be helpful.

If the 4-H member wants to exhibit some sort of home preserved food, they have time to can some jars of the food and compose a write up or notes for the judge. Having this completed early takes some stress off the member at County Fair time. In addition, working on the fair exhibit this far ahead of the fair allows the member to look at the Inappropriate Foods for Exhibit at 4-H fairs publication or the time to call or email us at AnswerLine to determine the safety of the exhibit. If it is determined that the product is not safe, the member still has time to find a safe, tested recipe and preserve more of the food or correct any other errors that make the exhibit unsafe.

Members considering preserving food can go on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and take an on-line course in home food preservation. They also have time to look at various recipes on the site and read up on techniques and different canners. There is also a section on the website with FAQs about canning problems. Even research about canning techniques and recipes could make an interesting exhibit for the fair.

We are always happy at AnswerLine to discuss County Fair exhibits especially when a member is working this far in advance of the fair. Call or email us, we would love to help.

 

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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TSA tips

It’s time for our annual trip to Boise to visit our son and his family so it was also time to check with the TSA to be sure that I can pack my small sewing scissors in my carry-on bag. I check with the TSA every year to be sure that rules have not changed and that my scissors are still allowed on the plane.

I was surprised this year at the changes on the TSA website and I thought I would share some of them with you. Previously, there were only about four pages of items allowed or disallowed on a plane. This year, there are forty-four pages. It was surprising to see all the different items that appeared on the list. Last year I wanted to bring an antique sewing machine home with me and eventually needed to call the TSA to be sure I could bring the machine on the plane. This year, I discovered that I could travel with a sewing machine, bread machine or even a microwave oven. There were many more food items than I had ever considered packing in my carry-on. The TSA even seems to have a sense of humor, as seen in the comments.

Magic 8 Ball

  • Carry On Bags: No
  • Checked Bags: Yes

For Carry-on bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…Outlook not so good!

For Checked bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…It is certain!

The TSA also has a hints page with travel hints for various holidays; travel with children or with seniors, traveling with pets, and other special situations. I read some of the posts and they were both helpful and funny. Be sure to check these sites before your next trip as the information does change over time.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

More Posts - Website

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