Staying in touch

Happy Easter greeting

The AnswerLine staff has been working from home since March 17. At first, working from home was a nice change of pace, especially when the technology that allows us to work from home functions perfectly. As we enter the fifth week of staying home and practicing social distancing it is getting a bit old. I don’t miss the commute to and from Ames, but I really do miss seeing my co-workers. We keep in touch with texts and phone calls before we begin answering phone calls every day, but it is just not the same as seeing everyone in person.

I miss seeing my family too. We are all practicing staying home and staying safe. Last week, though, we tried something new. We used Facetime to call our son and family out in Boise. We both have the game Farkle and we spent an hour and a half playing the game and just visiting. It was so much nicer than a phone call, more like spending time in the same room. On a phone call, you need to keep visiting and thinking of something to say. While we played our game there was no pressure to keep up a conversation and we enjoyed the reactions of our grandsons in Boise when they rolled a great score.

Last Saturday night we had a Zoom call with all 5 of our children allowing us to have a family get-together. It was a great way to celebrate the holiday without endangering anyone. We saw most of the grandchildren, too. The younger, more active ones were only present for a few minutes before they dashed off to play.

I also have a few elderly friends that are in assisted living. Just like people living in nursing homes, they are restricted to their apartments and are not allowed to have visitors. I’ve been trying to call them every few days and plan to make some cards for them. Everyone likes to get mail; as long as it is not a bill.

Just keeping in touch with family and friends makes life seem more normal. I know I will feel better if I keep to a regular schedule of working, cooking, cleaning, exercise, and sleep. Anything that I can do to maintain my previous schedule will make life seem more normal.

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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Freezing Pies

Pumpkin pie ready to serve.

On Monday, I wrote about problems that you might experience when you are baking a pie. Freezing pies is another topic of interest to callers. We tell callers that they can either freeze the pie raw or cooked. A raw frozen pie baked just before serving it will taste fresher.

If you want to bake the pie first and then freeze it, the directions are pretty simple. Bake the pie, allow it to cool, wrap well and freeze. To serve this pie, thaw it in the refrigerator. If you want to warm the pie, set it inside a warm, not hot oven, for 5-10 minutes.

If you want to freeze a fruit or berry pie, make as usual but add an extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or one-half tablespoon of corn starch to the filling. This will prevent those juicy fillings from running over in the oven. Do not cut a vent into the top crust at this time; wait until baking to cut the vent. Freeze the pie at this point and then wrap it tightly after freezing. To bake this pie, first cut the vent holes in the top crust. Bake it without thawing at 450° F. for 15-20 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 375° F for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top crust is browned.

You may be surprised to know that you can freeze a pumpkin pie before baking it. Prepare both the crust and filling as usual. Chill the filling before pouring it into the crust. Freeze and then wrap this pie as you would the fruit or berry pie. When you are ready to bake it, bake without thawing at 400° F. for 10 minutes.  Then reduce the temperature to 325° F to finish baking. Test for doneness by inserting a knife half way between the center and edge of the pie. When the knife comes out clean, the pie is done.

This is a good time of year to do some experimenting with freezing pies. You may find that a frozen pie or two helps with that next big holiday meal.

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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Pie Problems

Pie problems are a common call at AnswerLine. I had a little time recently, so I thought I’d do a little research to help me answer callers questions. I used our Keys to Good Cooking book by Harold McGee and did a bit of reading.

Raw pie crust in the pie pan.

Probably our most common call is about soggy bottom crusts on a pie. The book had several solutions for this issue. I was surprised when I read the first tip for a crisp bottom pie crust. McGee suggests using a crust recipe that includes egg. He states that a flaky crust (baked without egg) more easily adsorbs liquid. That makes sense, if you think about it. His second tip was one we often suggest. Blind bake the crust–which is baking a pie crust without the filling inside. You can line the crust with parchment paper and use either dry beans or pie weights to prevent the crust from shrinking or puffing up while baking. McGee also suggests coating the pre-baked crust with an egg wash and returning the crust to the oven to dry the crust before filling and baking the crust fully.

Of course, you can come at this problem in a different direction. Instead of treating the pie crust, you can ensure that the filling is precooked and thickened before adding it to the pie crust. Fruit fillings often release a lot of liquid during the baking time and if you have not added enough thickener, you can have a really runny pie. If you thicken the filling before placing it in the crust, you can reduce the chance of a soggy bottom crust.

Another issue that bakers have is taking a custard pie out of the oven and having the custard become thin and watery. This happens if you don’t heat the custard filling hot enough to destroy an enzyme found in the egg yolk that can liquefy the custard. Bake the custard pie to 180°-190° F to destroy the enzyme.

Use these tips if you want to cure a soggy bottom.

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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Teaching kids to sew

Sewing pajamas

My favorite hobby is sewing; especially quilting. When I started having grandsons, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to share my love of sewing and quilting with grandchildren. After I thought about it a bit, I realized that I can share my love of sewing and quilting with boys as easily as with girls. We may be sewing different things with the grandsons than I would have with granddaughters but it is just as much fun. Every year, when we head out to Idaho to visit our grandsons I plan a sewing project.

The boys are finally old enough to work with patterns and follow the written directions. I like to choose the pattern before we leave Iowa as I can ensure the pattern will be easy to follow with a little guidance from me.

This year and last year, we opened the patterns and looked at the instructions before heading out to the fabric store. We circled the size we planned to make so that we were prepared when we selected fabric. They boys choose a fabric, take the bolt to the cutting counter, and tell the clerk how much fabric they need. The also read the pattern to select any thread or notions they might need to construct their garment. Of course, this is the fun, easy part of the process. They do love to shop at the fabric store.

I find it easiest to work with one child at a time. We preshrink fabric if needed and then cut out the pattern pieces. Pinning the pieces onto the fabric and explaining straight of grain makes this process take a bit of time. Explaining that careful cutting saves time later is often a difficult concept for them to understand.

Finished Ppajamas

I’ve taught them to pin the pieces together and I try to get them to sew slowly enough to follow the seam guide imprinted on the needle plate. Their skills have improved over the years, but it is still hard to sew a long seam or a curvy seam. This year, I set in the sleeves on a pajama top and I always take out mistakes for the boys when they make an error. I want sewing to be fun and challenging, not discouraging.

Choosing pajama or shorts patterns ensures that the finished garment will be useful. They are always proud to wear something they made themselves.

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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Frostbite!

Frostbite

This winter started out so mild that it didn’t seem that we would need to even think about frostbite or take precautions to prevent it. Now that the weather has turned much colder, frostbite is something that everyone should consider. My daughter was outside for a long time shoveling snow in the driveway and noticed that her face was red and painful when she went inside the house.

Frostbite can damage both the surface of your skin and the structure underneath. If the frostbite is severe enough, it can even damage muscle and bones. This damage can be permanent. Exposed skin is the most vulnerable but even skin covered by clothing can be frostbitten.

A milder form of frostbite is called frostnip. I think that this might be what my daughter experienced. This form does not cause permanent damage. Actual frostbite does require medical treatment to prevent complications such as infection and possible nerve damage.

If you spend much time outside in the cold, pay attention if you feel a prickling sensation on your skin. This is the first sign of frostbite. After the prickling sensation, your skin can become numb. It can also change color; it may turn red, white or blue-gray. It can feel hard or look waxy. You may notice that your are moving slow or feeling clumsy. After the skin warms again, you may notice blisters if you have a severe case of frostbite. Seek medical attention. The most common places on the body for frostbite are your ears, fingers, toes, or face.

Take precautions to avoid frostbite when you are spending prolonged time outside this winter. Go inside and warm up if you begin to feel uncomfortable in the cold.

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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Preparing your home

House in a snowstorm in Landenberg,Chester County, Pennsylvania with visible snowflakes

Now that the holidays are past, we see people leaving our cold Iowa and Minnesota winter weather for a warmer location. Depending on the length of time you plan to be gone, there are some steps you should take to prepare your home.

There are some things that we do every time we leave home for a vacation. Stopping the mail and newspaper delivery is common. Putting one or two lights in you home on a timer to give the appearance that someone is home. Asking your neighbor to park a car in your drive occasionally while you are gone. These efforts are pretty common. If you plan to be gone for an extended time, there are other things you might want to consider.

Lowering the thermostat can save you money; it isn’t necessary to keep an empty home toasty warm. Just be sure that the temperature inside your home is high enough to prevent frozen pipes during an extended period of really cold weather. Unplugging small appliances, think toaster or computer, can help conserve electricity and prevent fire. Shutting off the water, or draining the water heater can prevent problems if pipes do freeze.

There are a few steps you may not consider but are worth doing. Often credit card companies try to protect us if there are a number of charges not typical for your account. Notify your credit card company before you leave town. Check your smoke detectors; it could help stop a fire from getting out of control in your absence. Of course, you will want to leave contact information and a key with a trusted neighbor. You may want to arrange snow removal in your absence; some towns have fines if the sidewalks are not cleared within 24 hours of a snowstorm. Cleaning out the refrigerator and discarding food that will spoil in your absence will make life easier when you return. Remember to take out the trash. Cleaning out the garbage disposal with some lemon can also eliminate odor while you are gone.

Enjoy your travels, knowing that you have taken steps to ensure your home will be safe while you are gone.

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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Cupboard cleaning and expiration dates

Old, bulging can. Throw this away!

Our first prolonged winter weather has many callers cleaning and organizing their cupboards. We are always happy to answer caller’s questions about food safety.

The most common call we have about food expiration dates is the shelf life of eggs. We tell callers that the date marked on an egg carton is a sell by date not a use by date. We remind them they have an additional month to use the eggs.

Callers often want to know if a can of food they found at the back of the cupboard is still safe to eat. The quality of the food will decline over time, but the contents remain safe. The best if used by date on a can of food refers to the manufacturers estimation of the time frame that their food will be at peak quality if the food is eaten on or before the date marked on the can. If the can is dated within the past 3 years, the food inside should be safe to eat. However, if the can is dented, bulging, or rusty, the food should be discarded

Our new copy of the Joy of Cooking has a great chapter on Keeping and Storing Food. The book provides guidelines on storing pantry items, canned food, spices, cereals, oils, pasta, and other things you might have on hand. We also use a research based website for information on the safety of food.

We often get questions from callers about food that has been frozen for several years.Callers often ask about a date on the package that says use or freeze by a particular date. If the freezer has been continuously running below zero degrees, then the food inside the freezer will remain safe to eat. The quality of the food will decline over time, but the food will not make you sick from bacterial contamination. We often advise callers to have a back up plan for a meal they make from older frozen food, just in case it is not unpalatable.

Remember that we are just a phone call away if you have questions about food you find when you are cleaning. In Iowa, 1-800-262-3804 or Minnesota, 1-800-854-1678. If you have a phone that has neither Iowa or Minnesota area codes on it, call 515-296-5883. We look forward to hearing from you.

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

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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Move More

Young woman practicing iyengar yoga at home in her living room.

New Years resolutions are often broken by the time we reach mid-January. Last week we talked about the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website and all the amazing information you can access on that site. Today I wanted to mention the Move section of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart website.

The Move section details some of the many benefits of leading an active life. There is also information listing the different types of exercise and the amount of exercise you should do to live a healthy life. The site encourages movement and exercise and provides detailed explanations of the moves required to do the exercises with perfect form.

There are also several videos that you can watch and follow along to get in a good work out. Check this site out today if you feel your New Years resolution slipping away.

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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Feeding birds

Several birds are feeding around a bird feeder during a heavy snow. There is a red cardinal and some other birds on and sitting on a wire beside the feeder, in the background you can see the heavy snow with many trees of a forrest in the background. A very scenic and tranquil scene of winter and some lucky birds.

It has been such an odd winter, with temperatures rising and falling and no real snow cover. I always have my bird feeders out in the winter but the lack of actual winter weather had me wondering if it was still necessary to feed the birds. I wondered what information was available through our Extension and Outreach resources that could answer my questions.

I’ve learned that birds will eat from feeders all year and that birdseed is only a part of a wild bird’s diet. Habitat around the feeder is important so I’m grateful that we live out in the country and my feeder is placed at the edge of a pasture. The trees and bushes in the pasture provide shelter and a place to hide for the more timid birds. We often attract a wide variety of birds; Cardinals, Blue Jays, various Woodpeckers, Sparrows, Grackels, and Starlings.

I have often purchased bird seed without really understanding what I was buying. This chart provides information on which seed is preferred by different species of birds. I have a greater understanding of how the seed I have in my feeder affects which birds are attracted to my feeder. As much as I enjoy the Blue Jays, I will be sure not to feed peanuts as the squirrel is attracted to them.

Also, I did not realize that corn can be a source of aflatoxins which can kill birds. I should be cleaning and sanitizing the feeders on a regular basis. In the past, I have scraped out dried and crusted feed. Now I plan to take the feeder inside the house and wash it out. It will make it so much easier for the birds to use the feeder.

It looks like I have some work to do when I get home tonight. I hope the work helps the birds in my yard.

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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Spend Smart. Eat Smart.

Man preparing a healthy meal at home

If you are one of the many people that resolved to eat better or lose some weight in 2020, we have a great resource for you. Did you know about the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website? This site is a great resource that everyone should check out. They have great recipes for healthy living. This site, as the name implies, also can help you save money on groceries.

The Spend Smart. Eat Smart website is so complete. They have information on shopping, reading food labels, videos with demonstrations on preparing vegetables, and also a smart phone app so you can have their information available while you are grocery shopping. So MUCH information, and all of it free for you. Take some time to check out this website. You won’t regret it.

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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1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)

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