Knives

My son just purchased some new bread knives. It caused me to re-evaluate the knives I have in my own kitchen. Knives can seem like an expensive investment but having the right knife for the job can make your time in the kitchen so much more productive and efficient. Some people purchase knife sets. If you are going to use all the knives in the set, that is a good investment. For me there are three knives I find myself reaching for over and over. One is the Chef’s knife. It is very versatile being used for chopping vegetables, slicing meat, and mincing garlic and herbs. It can be from 5-8 inches long, typically 8 inches, and is considered the workhorse of the kitchen.

A paring knife is another knife I find I am constantly reaching for. It is usually 3-4 inches long and is perfect for peeling and coring as well as cutting small fruits and vegetables.

The third knife I use frequently is the serrated knife, or bread knife. It can be used for slicing crusty bread, of course, and also for cutting very soft fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes. They are usually 9-10 inches long and don’t sharpen very well so need to be replaced every now and then depending on how often you use them.

When you get ready to purchase knives, there are a few things to consider. Most importantly is your budget. Buy the best-quality knives you can afford and keep them sharp. A good knife, if cared for properly, can last a lifetime.

You will also want to hold the knife in your hand before you purchase. How it feels is basically personal preference. Look for a knife that feels like an extension of your hand. It should feel perfectly balanced, sturdy and comfortable in your hand with an ergonomic grip.

You may want to consider if the knife you are looking at is forged or stamped. Forged knives are created when a single piece of molten steel is cut and beaten into the desired shape. Forged knives have a sturdy blade with a heavy bolster (junction between blade and handle) and heel to protect the hand when cutting. They typically hold a sharp edge well. They are less flexible than their counterpart, stamped knives, and generally are more expensive than stamped knives. Stamped knives are created using a cookie-cutter type machine. They are usually the same thickness throughout, except at the cutting edge, and lack a bolster and heel. Their blades are generally lighter and more flexible and they do not hold their edge as well.

After you have purchased the knives that are right for your uses, remember to use them on the right cutting surfaces such as a plastic or wood cutting board. Using your knives on a plate, tile, countertop, etc will dull the blades. And using a sharp knife is much safer than using a dull one. Dull knives require more pressure to cut, increasing the chance the knife will slip with the force behind it.

You will also want to care for your knives correctly once you have invested in them. Leaving unwashed knives in the sink or putting them in the dishwasher are no-nos. Besides keeping your knives sharp, hand washing and drying them and storing them in protective sleeves will help your knives work their best and last as long as possible.

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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Crafty Cruising

I enjoy traveling every chance I get. While waiting at the airline gate for my last trip I struck up conversation with two women who were working on craft projects. As you can see one was knitting and one was quilting. As we visited about their projects they told me they had their sewing machines in their carry-ons and were going on a sewing cruise! What fun! I am aware of several different themes for cruises – musical groups, weight loss, bird watching, etc. – but I had not looked into sewing or craft cruises. They were going on a 10-day cruise that had several ports of call but also incorporated four days and most evenings at sea for passengers to focus on the sewing projects they brought. This particular cruise was sponsored by Singer Featherweight so there was a Maintenance Workshop for their machine included for every cruiser signed up with Singer as well as a tune-up kit for their machine.

It has been very interesting for me to research some of the cruise possibilities for crafters. You can pretty much find a cruise to match whatever craft you enjoy doing: sewing, quilting (including long arm classes), needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, crocheting. Always check to see what is included with the cruise before signing up. Some provide the machines, others allow you to bring your own machine and offer perks to go along with that. Some have you bring your own projects to work on while others have pre-assembled kits available for purchase. Some give you 24 hour access to the sewing and crafting room while others offer set hours. Most often there are instructors available and if a specific company is offering the cruise a company representative would be available.

If you enjoy cruising and crafting this might be right down your alley!

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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Edible Landscaping – Landscaping with Taste

Creative landscape made with assorted organic vegetables.

The modern trend is to no longer banish the vegetable garden to the far corner of the back yard.  Rather, homeowners are now putting vegetables and fruit trees or bushes on display as part of an elegant, edible, landscape design.  So while this is a modern trend, an edible landscape is really an ancient practice dating back to medieval monks and ancient Persians growing a rich array of vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs for edible, medicinal, and ornamental virtues.  It was also a long practice of English gardens which was reinstated in 2009 by Queen Elizabeth when she had an organic edible landscape installed within the Buckingham Palace Garden which includes heirloom species of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other edibles.

While an edible landscape doesn’t need to be as elaborate as the Queen’s, an edible landscape does use attractive, food-producing plants in a well-designed garden plan around the home and/or living area in the same way that ornamental plants are used.  It may also incorporate ornamental plants. As a result, the edible landscape offers fresh, affordable food, a variety of foliage and colors, and sustenance for bees, butterflies, and birds.  As this trend grows, there are a growing number of professional landscape companies getting into the business of helping homeowners plan their landscape to include edibles, courses for certification as agriscaping educators and professionals, and any number of books and online articles providing information.  Interestingly enough, some subdivision developers now offer buyers a choice of either traditional landscaping or agriscaping for their new home.

Design is what separates edible landscaping from traditional vegetable gardening.  Whether ornamental or edible, design should be pleasing to the eye and draw one into the garden to experience it.  Instead of rows of vegetables which lead one away like a highway, the same space can be made very attractive (and edible) by incorporating basic landscaping principles  starting with a center of interest and then curving other plants around it—the same way one would plan an ornamental garden.  Add a few flowers, a trellis for beans/peas or cucumbers, an arbor for grapes, a bench, a bird bath, a fruit or nut tree, garden ornaments and voila!  It’s an ornamental edible landscape!

Planning an edible landscape incorporates the same design values of traditional landscapes. Carol Venolia writing for Mother Earth Living, says start small, choose plants appropriate for your climate zone, and offers the following design tips:

  • Create primary and secondary focal points.
  • Use plantings and hardscaping (such as paths and patios) to define spaces for various uses and experiences.
  • Work consciously with color, texture and seasons of blooming and fruiting when choosing your garden’s palette.
  • Pay attention to how you lead the eye from one part of the garden to another.
  • Except for featured specimen plants, create groupings of plants to avoid a busy, random appearance.
  • Explore the aesthetic potential of plants: Grow vines on arbors; create edible landscape walls with vines and shrubs; espalier fruit trees; use containers as accents; grow decorative borders of edibles.
  • Make plants do double duty by shading your house in summer and admitting sunshine in winter, reducing your home’s energy use.

For inspiration, one need not look far.  Following recent trends, many public gardens have incorporated edible gardens into their landscapes.  One of the best can be found at the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanical Garden.

So whether to save money, provide better-quality food for the family, know what you eat, reduce carbon footprint, involve family, or simply to try something different, edible landscaping is a trend that provides environmental benefits and returns a bit of sanity and security to chaotic times.  However you do it, Happy Gardening!

A few resources for further reading or to help get you started:

Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik

Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn by Fritz Haeg et al.

Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it Too by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscapes (The Seed) by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension et al.

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway

The Incredible Edible Landscape by Carrie Wolfe, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Landscaping with Fruit: Strawberry ground covers, blueberry hedges, grape arbors, and 39 other luscious fruits to make your yard an edible paradise by Lee Reich

Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables by Fred Hagy

 

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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Exploring Iowa via Adult Learning Vacations

Recently I learned about a learning adventure/vacation opportunity for adults offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach designed to experience and explore Iowa in unique ways through a travel course.  Little did I know that this opportunity existed.  The courses are arranged by Diane Van Wyngarden, tourism specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, and are part of the Road Scholar Program.  Each learning adventure has a theme of study.  For a week, a limited number of participants travel together following the theme and learning insights and history from experts about the various communities involved in the study.  Transportation is by motorcoach or boat.

This year, the adventure is one that really intrigues me–the Mississippi River, the Great River Road, and other fascinating points of interest along the way.  If this also intrigues you, check out Iowa Road Scholar or contact Diane Van Wyngarden at dvw@iastate.edu for more information about this adventure and other Iowa learning adventures.

Road Scholar programs are open to adults of all ages with most participants 50+ years of age who enjoy learning experiences rather than touring.  For more information about Road Scholars see www.roadscholar.org.

 

 

 

 

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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