Cherries, Nature’s Hidden Treasure

February is National Cherry Month.  Cherries are a summer fruit so why are they celebrated in February? Here’s some fun facts about cherries and why we celebrate them in the month of February.

George Washington’s February birthday is an annual reminder of the tale of our first President admitting to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree on the family farm.  The folklore tale has forever linked Washington and cherries to February.

Cherry trees come to life in February in Washington DC signaling the coming of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April (March 20-April 14, 2019).  Thousands of trees and millions of cherry blossoms provide a spectacular sight.  The annual celebration started in 1912 when the people of Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees to the people of the United States to celebrate friendship between the two nations.

An additional link to February is National Heart Month and Valentine’s Day.  Because a single cherry looks a bit like a little heart, significant of both, it seems only appropriate that the cherry be celebrated, too.

Cherries bloom for a maximum of two weeks with peak bloom only lasting a couple of day. It takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie. The average cherry tree grows about 7000 cherries each year which is enough to make about 28 pies. It takes 30-40 bees to pollinate one tree.  70% of all the tart cherries produced in the US are grown in the northwest region of lower Michigan known as the Cherry Capitol of the World.  Cherries are not a native American fruit; they were brought to this country with the first settlers in the early 17 century.  Cherry pits can be used in pellet stoves to heat homes.

As a hidden treasure of nature, cherries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers. Tart or sour cherries and sweet cherries are rich in anthocyanins and quercitin, antioxidants which play a role in reducing total body inflammation, contribute to heart health, and help fight free radicals.  Being a good source of vitamins A and C, they help to strengthen the body’s defenses and improve overall health.  Studies have also shown that tart cherry juice may soothe sore muscles, speed recovery after working out, and help with sleep. A cup of cherries pack three grams of fiber and 87 calories (tart cherries).

Most people think of sweet desserts like cherry pie when they think of using cherries in recipes, but cherries can be used in savory dishes, too.  While fresh cherries are not plentiful in February, cherries are readily available dried, canned, frozen, freeze-dried and as juice; all can be used in a variety of ways.

Here are some ideas, beyond sweets, of ways to include cherries in our diet:
-Add frozen cherries to a smoothie for breakfast
-Add tart cherry juice to a smoothie for a post-workout recovery drink
-Add dried or fresh cherries to oatmeal, yogurt, or salads
-Eat a handful of dried cherries for a snack or add them to a snack mix
-Use fresh or frozen cherries and/or cherry juice in sauces.

One of my favorite recipes for using the frozen tart cherries and juice from our trees is Tart Cherry Pork:

1 pound boneless pork chops
Olive oil
¾ cup cherry juice (may also use pomegranate or cranberry juice)
1/3  cup tart cherries
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
Brown the chops in oil in a skillet, 4 minutes on each side.  Remove chops and keep warm.  Add juice, cherries, and balsamic vinegar to skillet.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes.  Combine corn starch and water and stir into juice.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Add pork back to the skillet and simmer in sauce for 2 minutes.  Serve pork with sauce.

Now by knowing a little trivia about cherries and adding cherries to our life, there’s no reason “life can’t be a bowl full of cherries,” right?

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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Resources for Instant Pot®/EPPC Users

A frequent question since the holidays has been, “Do you have any good recipes for an Instant Pot®?” If you got an electric programmable pressure cooker (EPPC) as a holiday gift, perhaps you, too, are in a quandary of what to do with it, too.

Instant Pot® is just one brand of EPPCs on the market but has become the ‘staple’ term when one is referring to an EPPC. However, in most cases when the question is posed, the person is actually referring to the popular brand, Instant Pot®. No matter how hard we fight it, ‘Instant Pot’ is a term that will almost certainly come up in conversation at some point. The New York Times’ article, The Kitchen Gadget that Spanned a Religion noted that this kitchen appliance has upended the home-cooking industry. As such, the resources for using an Instant Pot® or any other EPPC are everywhere. I will share a few sources that I have found useful as I learned to use my EPPC.

Instant Pot® recently released a list of recommended and authorized cookbooks for their EPPC. The cookbooks on the list cover a wide variety of food preparations, preferences, and dietary needs so it appears that there is something for everyone. That list may be accessed here. Needless to say, the recipes in these books would also likely work with any other brand of EPPC.

Besides the books, there are numerous websites that are good resources. Below are a few that I have found helpful and reliable.

Instant Pot – https://instantpot.com/

Amy and Jacky – https://www.pressurecookrecipes.com/

365 Days of Slow & Pressure Cooking – https://www.365daysofcrockpot.com/category/cooking-method/instant-pot/

Instant Pot Eats – http://instantpoteats.com/

Hip Cooking – https://www.hippressurecooking.com/pressure-cooker-recipes/

A Bountiful Kitchen – https://abountifulkitchen.com/category/instant-pot-2/

Ministry of Curry – https://ministryofcurry.com/instant-pot-recipes-2/

Two Sleeves (covers vegan, Keto, and Paleo interests) – https://twosleevers.com/

Last but not least, enlist the help of friends who may be “potheads” as devoted EPPC users are known. If you are a Facebook user, there are some community groups that you can join that offer a never-ending feed of advice, recipes, and inspirations.

I hope you will enjoy learning to use your new gadget regardless of the brand; who knows, with enough experience you might even become a devotee or pothead (those who use their EPPCs for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, and even making yogurt and cheesecakes). While I enjoy my EPPC for some food preparations, I am not a total devotee as I find it is great for many things, but others, not so much—kind of like the microwave revolution of the 1980s or bread machine craze of the 1990s. I have enjoyed the adventure and have learned a lot along the way using books, internet sites, friends, and a Facebook group as my guides.

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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Rediscovering Sunday Night Suppers

Somehow I missed it!  January is National Sunday Night Supper Month!  Unbeknown to me, the movement began in 2016 as a time to begin Sunday night family meal time.  The second Sunday of January is designated as the Sunday to celebrate it by starting family Sunday night suppers if it is not already part of your family tradition.  Noting that family time on Sunday nights had become a waning tradition, Isabel Laessig, a mother of four, is credited as the founder of the Sunday Supper Movement.  The Sunday Supper Movement’s mission is to “create a better future for families, by partnering with brands and services that help families feel good, eat better and interact with each other.”

family sitting around table

As a kid growing up in a large family, Sunday night supper was always a special time for my family.  We ate together at the table, talked, and after the meal played games or cards; usually we were at home, but at least once a month, we shared this time with either my maternal grandmother or paternal grandparents.  I have no recollection of what we ate as I’m sure it was whatever my mother fixed or warmed up.  The important thing was that we were together after a week of many farm family activities.

With our fast-paced lifestyles and technology changing all aspects of family life and communication, perhaps it is important that we rediscover shared family time with a meal and set aside a month to remind us or get us started.  January may well be a good time for observance, too, as it comes with a “starting a-new” mindset or a time for resolutions to make positive changes.

If having to come up with a family meal at home is overwhelming or an unwanted chore as one wraps up weekend chores and activities and prepares for the week ahead, reduce the pressure by ordering out, have a potluck if extended family is involved, rotate meal responsibilities, make or reheat soup, make a pizza together or bake a frozen one, or simply go with what it is in the refrig.  The Sunday Supper Movement’s website offers a recipe index, cookbooks and reviews, contests and giveaways, and a community section to help anyone get started. The food doesn’t matter as much as the time together as a family and carrying on traditions that we had as kids with our kids and/or grandkids.  Regardless of where or how the meal and time takes place, the best advice is to do it without technology at the table, too.

So gather your family or friends and have a meal together. Savor each other’s company around the supper table. And just maybe, if January (or February since January is nearly past) Sunday night suppers go well, they may become a way of life for your family.

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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Deicers–helpful or harmful?

“What do you recommend for deicing sidewalks?” was a recent question to AnswerLine.  Most deicing products readily available on the market contain salt compounds known as magnesium chloride (used as a liquid on roads), sodium chloride (table salt), calcium chloride, and potassium chloride (fertilizer). Each winter these materials are applied to sidewalks, driveways, and steps to prevent slipping and falling.  However, they are often applied without regard to the substance, application, or the damage that they may cause to the home, property, environment, pets, and nearby plants.

As for mentioned, deicing products are primarily comprised of salt.  And just like household salt, all salts are not the same.  Salts can cause injury to trees, lawns, and shrubs, corrode metal and concrete, and even do bodily harm to pets and humans.  The most problematic element in any of the deicing products is the chloride; it causes corrosion and is toxic to plants.

The University of Maryland offers some great information on deicers in their help sheet, Melting Ice Safely.  While this is an older publication (1998), there is good information on how deicers work and how to use them effectively and safely.  On the second page of the publication, there is a table comparing the fore-mentioned products along with their effectiveness, corrosiveness, and potential harmfulness to plants. 

A more recent product, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), contains no chloride and is less damaging to cars, metals, and concrete and less toxic to plants.  It is also said to be biodegradable and pet and wildlife friendly.  It works very much like the traditional ‘chloride’ products to melt ice.  The big downside is the cost.

If you want to avoid deicing products, consider using sand, kitty litter, or chicken grit. While these products won’t melt snow, they will provide traction in slippery spots. Sand and kitty litter are safe for pets and plants and can be swept up when the snow melts. (Chicken grit may be too sharp for the paws of some pets but will not harm plants.)  Boots or shoes traversing any of these products should be removed upon entering a home as they could scratch floors.

Should the landscape fall victim to deicing, a recent article published by Reiman Gardens suggests flushing the area around the plant roots in the spring with water to leech out the salts.

The best advice is to know something about the substance (salts used in the product), consider the application, and then READ AND FOLLOW the manufacturer’s directions for applying the product to minimize damage to property and landscape.  And if possible, apply even less than is recommended.  Deicing products are not meant to replace shoveling or to melt all snow and ice, but to aid in removal efforts to prevent slipping and falling.

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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It’s Seed Selection Season

seed catalogs

My mail box was full during the month of December as the mail person stuffed it with the usual mail, holiday greetings, ads, and SEED CATALOGS. While I was too busy then to pay much attention to the seed catalogs, I have been enjoying them since the flurry of the holidays. I love looking through them and time passes too quickly as I study, dream, and plot for spring. We don’t get as many catalogs as we did in by-gone years as many seed companies now put their catalogs online instead of printing and mailing. This is likely due to cost and “greener” living but I love having the catalogs in hand for studying and comparing the different varieties. It’s so easy to mark pages with sticky notes and flip back and forth.

A delicious or beautiful summer garden of vegetables and/or flowers, starts with planning and picking out seeds and plants now. Whether you shop for seeds or plants from a catalog, online, or garden center, it can be an overwhelming task deciding what to plant. Here are a few tips that I use to keep my seed or plant orders manageable and not let my eyes and imagination get bigger than the time and space I have to plant.

It’s not necessary to plant everything from seed. The annual plants in my garden come from a mix of seeds, plants purchased at plant sales and garden centers once spring arrives, and plants shared by friends. The seeds I purchase and start are usually a variety that intrigue me or that I don’t think I will be able to find locally. Many of the seed catalogs also offer plant offerings so if only one or two plants are desired, it might be more economical to purchase the plant than the seed.

Plant what you will eat and/or preserve in the vegetable garden. While I would encourage anyone to broaden their vegetable and fruit palate, planting vegetables and herbs that are not favorites is not in your best interest. Be sure to consider space considerations; some plants like pumpkins and squash require a lot of space. And remember, it doesn’t take too many plants of anything to fill your needs.

Try something new. Each year, we save space to experiment with a new edible or flowering plant or a different variety of something familiar just to broaden our experience, knowledge and palate, if edible.

Include some pollinators. Adding a few beneficial flowers to the vegetable garden will boost your edible yields and may also provide some natural pest control. My personal favorites are zenias as both bees and hummingbirds love them, they are so easy to seed and grow, and they make great cut flowers. The choices in zenia varieties seems to be every expanding, too.

Care for unused seeds. Seed packets may contain more seeds that needed. Most seeds can be stored for one or two years and still produce great results in your garden. The key is to store them properly. Seed Savers Exchange offers some great tips for storing seeds. Another alternative is to share them with friends.

If you would like to receive some seed catalogs or are looking for something specific (organic, heirloom, etc), here are some online sources to help you as well as some other ideas to get you started with your spring planting:

https://www.thespruce.com/free-seed-catalogs-1357756
https://www.betterhensandgardens.com/free-garden-seed-catalogs/?fbclid=IwAR2NzIyXpn25DWw8I5dY-I4IUxgXY3pPfChcEZ3sums-eF1e06cu4JzT2kU
http://www.birdsandblooms.com/gardening/gardening-basics/10-seed-catalogs/?1

Enjoy the season! It will soon be time to start some of those seeds under lights.



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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Tips for Treating Dry Skin

Winter always brings out the worst in my skin–dry skin that itches, flakes, cracks, and even bleeds at times.  It’s nothing new as I’ve dealt with it all my life.  As with all things, one learns to live with it and find ways to relieve the problem as best as possible.  To some extent, winter and dry skin go hand in hand for nearly everyone.

Here’s some tips that I’ve learned over the years from dermatologists, friends, and by trial and error:

  1. Minimize moisture loss while showering or bathing.  Limit shower or bath time to 5 to 10 minutes using warm, not hot, water.  Avoid lathering and harsh soaps or cleansers choosing instead a cleanser or soap that is gentle and fragrance-free.  Blot the skin dry with a soft towel and slather on a good moisturizer immediately after drying.  Also, keeping the bathroom or shower door closed until the moisturizer is applied is helpful.
  2. Apply moisturizer immediately after washing. Ointments, creams, and lotions (moisturizers) work by trapping existing moisture in your skin. To trap this much-needed moisture, you need to apply a moisturizer within a few minutes of showering or washing your hands or face.  Applying moisture after every hand washing is tough, but keeping a bottle of moisturizer beside every sink helps make it happen.  Also, it helps to carry a non-greasy hand cream with you; I even keep one in the car.
  3. Use an ointment or cream rather than a lotion. Ointments and creams are more effective and less irritating than lotions. Look for creams or ointments that contain oil such as olive oil or jojoba oil. Shea butter also works well. Other ingredients that help to soothe dry skin include lactic acid, urea, hyaluronic acid, dimethicone, glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, and petroleum.
  4. Wear lip balm. Choose a lip balm that feels good and does not irritate your lips.  I keep lip balm everywhere–in my nightstand, bathroom, office desk, purse, back pack, and other rooms in my house.  Lip balm is also great on cuticles, scabs, dry skin patches, and around the nose when bothered by a cold. Lip balm made with beeswax provides additional benefits of antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties that are essential in fighting chapped skin and bacterial infections that tend to affect us most in the dry, winter months. It forms a protective wall by sealing in moisture in our skin without smothering and clogging up the pores.
  5. Carefully select skin care products. Not all skin care products are created equal.  Choose products that are free of alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA); all of these ingredients dry the skin of it’s natural oils.
  6. Wear gloves.  Gloves are a must before performing household tasks, going outside, or exposing hands to chemicals, greases or other drying substances. Hands are often the first to scream “dry skin.”
  7. Use non-irritating laundry detergent.   Use laundry detergents labeled ‘hypoallergenic’ to avoid further irritation to dry or raw skin.  These detergents are also fragrance free.
  8. Wear cotton or silk undergarments.  Avoid wool and other fibers that irritate skin.
  9. Avoid fireplaces or other dry-heat sources. Open flame heat sources tend to dry skin.  If a space heater is needed, use a radiant-type heater rather than a convection heater.
  10. Add moisture to the air. Using a humidifier in the home is a great help;  not only is it good for the skin but also helps with nose bleeds and other issues caused by dry air.

If these tips do not bring relief, seek the help of a dermatologist who can prescribe an ointment or cream that may be more beneficial or check for a skin condition that is beyond simple dry skin.

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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Holiday Greetings from AnswerLine

Tis the season of holiday greetings and letters filling our mailboxes and inboxes.  Many holiday letters are a recap of or reflections on past year family highlights, vacations, and other accomplishments.  In thinking about such, I wondered what AnswerLine would share if it were to write a holiday letter.  Many thoughts came to mind as I reflected on my time at AnswerLine this past year.

First and foremost, I am privileged to work with three amazing home economists with different backgrounds who have years of experience as professionals as well as mothers and grandmothers.  I have learned so very much from them.   As such, we have had the privilege to answer over 17,000 calls and emails this past year which have run the gamut of consumer, home, and family issues to any question you could imagine.  Thankfully we don’t have to do this job alone.  As part of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, we have a wealth of experts whom we can call upon when the question is “too big” or out of our league–specialists in wildlife, forestry, agriculture, horticulture, entomology, farming, child care, and food safety and nutrition to name a few.  Also, we have a partnership with Iowa Concern to help with legal, financial, crisis disaster, and teen issues.

It has been a joy to talk personally with numerous people across Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota one-on-one and help them resolve problems, issues, and concerns that affect their daily lives with research based information–removing stains in leather, canning green beans, managing meals, testing for radon, sewing new fabrics, preserving quilts and other heirlooms, selecting and using appliances, separating perennials, controlling fleas, getting food stamps and other subsidies, clearing up head lice, food safety, eating restrictions or disorders, 4-H project advice, dealing with natural disasters and power outages–just to name a few.  Further, we have had the opportunity to share similar information with people around the world through email and Ask An Expert questions that come to our inbox daily.  Many of our callers are friends we’ve never met; they call frequently and in doing so we’ve learned something about them and they about us.  We love talking to people and NO question is silly or foolish; we’d rather answer a question and make someone’s day rather than to have them distraught for not asking it.  While there is great satisfaction in helping each individual find a solution that works for them, the greatest satisfaction comes when a caller calls back or there is an email response, saying “you made my day.”

In addition to fielding calls and emails, we take turns writing blogs twice weekly on a variety of consumer and family topics.  Many of the blog topics come from questions that come to us either by phone or email.  In a day-and-age of social media, consumers may also find us on Facebook with daily postings sharing current information or recently written blogs.  And occasionally, we Tweet or post to Pinterest.  We have promotional magnets and bookmarks available in both Spanish and English and through a translation service, we have added the ability to speak with Spanish speaking callers.

AnswerLine has been answering calls (and later emails) for 43 years beginning in 1975.  In that time, there have been 30 different operators, now known as program specialists, who have been advising clients as best as they know how with either the best science based info available or personal knowledge/experience.  Thank you to the many consumers, past and present, who have challenged us daily with questions.  We hope consumers will continue to challenge us with calls and emails from 9-4 M-F and share with family and friends that AnswerLine is ready and willing to help should they need us.  I, and the AnswerLine staff, wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season!

Marlene along with Liz, Beth, and Marcia

 

 

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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What about silicone bakeware?

If you’ve been considering new bakeware for your holiday baking, you’ve likely noticed all the silicone bakeware that is available for any baking need in various sizes, shapes, colors, and prices.  Perhaps you’ve wondered:  Is silicone safe?  Is it worth the money spent? and Is it better than traditional bakeware?

Silicone bakeware is made from a synthetic polymer created from a mixture of silicon, a naturally occurring element on the earth’s crust, combined with carbon and/or oxygen to create a rubber-like substance. The rubber-like substance can be shaped into any desired shape during manufacturing.  The FDA has approve silicone as a food safe substance and it is generally considered inert and will not leach into foods.  Silicone bakeware is rated safe for temperatures below freezing and up to 500֯F (always check the manufacturer’s specs).   Good quality silicone should not emit any odor or discolor with use.  Lower quality silicone may contain fillers or additives which may cause odor during baking and discolor over time.

Silicone bakeware is durable, non-stick, and quite flexible. A wide variety of silicone products are available for the kitchen beyond bakeware. Potholders,  trivets, spatulas, whisks and other utensils, collapsible mixing bowls and strainers, ice cube trays, rolling pins and mats, and much more have become commonplace. Silicone baking pan liners provide a non-stick surface for baking sheets and jelly roll pans making for quick and easy cleanup. It can go directly from the oven to the freezer or vice versa, is microwave and dishwasher safe, and easy to clean.  Since silicone is naturally non-stick no additional oil or grease calories are needed to prep the mold.  However, a small spritz of cooking oil could be helpful with the more decorative molds with sharp corners or intricate designs. Another special feature of silicone is that it’s a great insulator. This means that it both cooks evenly and also cools down quickly. While metal or glass bakeware retain heat, silicone bakeware cool enough to handle within minutes after removal from the oven. Silicone bakeware can go straight from oven to table allowing the molds to be a serving dish, too.  They can also be used for non-baked foods that require molding or even arts and crafts projects.

Silicone bakeware should always be used in conjunction with a firm surface like a cookie sheet to prevent burns and flipping baked goods to the floor.  In most cases, baking and cooling time is the same as for traditional bakeware.  While quite durable, beware of sharp objects and direct heat; a knife will cut through silicone and direct heat will melt it.

While silicone bakeware offers some distinct advantages and tradeoffs over the traditional alternatives, the question remains: are they for you?  I have a few silicone pieces and enjoy using them.  However, some products are simply made better in a traditional pan; others are better in silicone.  Muffin cups are my favorite.

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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Electric Blanket Safety

With chilly nights becoming the norm, many are looking for warmer blankets and throws for cozy companions.  If one of those blankets or throws is electric, it should be inspected, regardless of age, before snuggling up for the season to make sure that it is safe.  Older blankets that have seen their better days are definitely a hazard but occasionally, a newer blanket or even one fresh out of the bag could have a wiring issue.  Electric blankets and their 100 feet of wiring account for numerous fires, injuries and death each year.

When inspecting a plug-in blanket or throw, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends looking for cracks and breaks in wiring, plugs, and connectors.  Also look for dark, charred, or frayed spots on either side of the blanket.  If the blanket shows any of these characteristics or is more than 10 years old, it should be thrown away—DO NOT DONATE. (If you want to keep the blanket for some other use like covering plants in the fall, throw away the control unit to render it non-electrical.) Older plug-ins (10 years plus) are more likely to be a hazard because most operate without a rheostat.  The rheostat control found on most newer blankets and throws control heat by gauging both the blanket temperature and the user’s body temperature.  Lastly, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure the blanket has not been recalled.

If a new blanket or throw is to be purchased for self or as a gift, make sure it has been tested by and bears the label of a reputable testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.  If the directions don’t match your intended use, do not purchase.  And again, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure the blanket of consideration is not on the recall list.

Once the blanket or throw is in use, keep these safety tips in mind:

Keep the blanket flat while in use.  Folds or bunched-up areas can create and trap too much heat.  This also includes tucking ends in which can cause excessive heat build-up.  The blanket is also best stored flat or rolled which puts less stress on the coils.

Keep everything and anything off of the blanket.  This includes comforters/bedspreads, blankets, clothing, pets, and yourself.  No sleeping or lounging on top of the blanket either. Weight of any kind may cause the blanket to overheat.  Pet claws can cause punctures, rips, and tears which may expose or break the wiring and create shock and fire hazards.  If pets are a must, consider a low-voltage blanket.

Avoid washing.  Washing machines and electric blankets aren’t a given match.  Always follow the manufactures directions if washing is necessary and do not use the spin cycle.  There’s no guarantee that the internal coils in the blanket won’t get twisted or damaged or that the electrical circuitry will avoid damage in the laundry.

Heat and then sleep.  If the blanket does not have a timer, turn it off before going to sleep.  Most manufactures recommend the same.

Consider the bed.  Never use an electric blanket on a waterbed or adjustable, hospital-style bed.

Mind the cords.  Avoid running cords under the mattress as this creates friction that can damage the cord or trap excess heat.

Electric blankets and throws are great cozy companions but they need to be respected and used with care.  Today’s electric blankets are safer and more energy efficient than those of the past. Many of these innovations were developed as Underwriters Laboratories, an independent product-safety testing organization, came up with stricter safety standards for electric blankets, including warnings on the instructions.  With respect and care, these cozy companions are perfect for deflecting cold rooms and beds.

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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Homemade Eggnog Made Safe

Eggnog and holidays seem to go hand in hand.  While prepared eggnog is readily available at the supermarket, there is nothing like homemade eggnog.  But homemade eggnog has the potential to spoil holiday fun and cause Salmonella poisoning from the use of raw or undercooked eggs.  Salmonella bacteria is a potential risk even when refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells are used.

Since eggs are a standard ingredient in most homemade eggnog recipes, let’s look at someways to convert a special family recipe into a safe recipe.

Use a cooked egg base.  FoodSafety.gov  recommends a cooked egg base for eggnog. This is especially important if you are serving people at high risk for foodborne infections: young children and pregnant women (non-alcoholic eggnog), older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.  Eggs must be cooked to 160 °F to kill bacteria that may be present such as Salmonella.   A cooked egg base or custard is made by heating half of the the milk and/or cream to almost boiling and ever so slowly adding the beaten egg yolks (or sometimes the whole egg) and sugar (or any sugar substitute).  Continue to cook and stir the mixture gently until an internal temperature of 160 °F is reached.  At this temperature, the mixture will firmly coat a metal spoon and remain separated when a finger is drawn through it. Do not let the mixture go beyond 160 °F as above that temperature, the eggs are likely to curdle.  (If curdling occurs, put the mixture in a blend and blend until smooth.)   Place the mixture in a bowl of  ice water to stop the cooking action and prevent curdling or further curdling and then refrigerate.

Use pasteurized eggs yolks. Eggnog may be safely made at home by using whole, liquid or pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes in place of raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are found next to regular eggs at the store.  Commercial pasteurization of eggs is a heat process at low temperatures that destroys any Salmonella that might be present without having a noticeable effect on flavor or nutritional content. Even if you are using pasteurized eggs for your eggnog, both the FDA and the USDA recommend starting with a cooked egg base for optimal safety.  When egg substitute products are used, some experimentation might be needed to figure out the right amount to add for the best flavor.

Use alcohol to inhibit bacterial growth.  While alcohol will inhibit bacterial growth, adding alcohol (in amounts recommended by most recipes) will not be sufficient to kill bacteria.  However, if one wants to use alcohol, Cooks Illustrated suggests that 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof liquor per egg and three weeks of aging in the refrigerator is sufficient to kill bacteria when dairy is omitted until ready to serve. Such was conclusively proven by microbiologists at Rockefeller University where salmonella bacteria was purposely added  to eggnog and analyzed over a three-week period. By the three-week mark, the alcohol had rendered the eggnog completely sterile.

Substitute egg whites.  If a recipe calls for adding beaten egg whites to the hot egg/milk custard, use pasteurized egg whites.  While pasteurized egg whites do not whip to the same volume as raw egg, they are safe.  It has not been proven that raw egg whites are free of Salmonella bacteria; NOR has it been shown that when adding them to the hot milk/egg custard, the custard remains hot enough to kill any bacteria.  Another good substitute is whipping cream whipped to soft peaks added at the time of serving.

Here’s to a safe and worry-free holiday!  Follow these suggestions for your favorite eggnog recipe to assure everyone can enjoy delicious, creamy homemade eggnog without worry of a foodborne illness.

 

 

 

 

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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