Fall Fun Ideas

Fall is here!  Here’s some ideas from my family to yours to make fall a special time for the family.

Rake and play in the leaves—assuming it doesn’t stir up allergies.  After the leaves fall, pile the raked leaves and let the kids and dogs jump and scatter.  Of course, you may have to re-rake a bit before bagging or composting.

Watch for slow-moving vehicles.  Harvest has begun so motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving vehicles and farm equipment.  Make it a safe season for everyone by sharing the road and slowing down.

Make a pot of soup.  Chili is especially good on a cool day.  Stews are a good way to use up the last of the vegetables harvested from the garden.

Pick apples.  October is national apple month and what a fun outing it can be to harvest apples either from your own trees or at a nearby orchard.  Some orchards provide entertainment as well as picking opportunities.  Use the apples to eat fresh or make apple crisp, apple pie, or apple butter.  Be sure to get a candied apple, too!

Search for a pumpkin or two for decorating or carving.  There are lots of pick-your-own pumpkin patches and some come with entertainment options, too.   Pumpkin carving or decorating parties are a lot of fun for all ages.  Carving pumpkins don’t make good pumpkin pie; instead choose a small pie pumpkin for cooking and baking.

Plant mums, bulbs, grass, shrubs, and trees.  Fall is the perfect time to plant as the cool days and nights allow plants to settle in without stress.  Water thoroughly until the ground freezes.  Consider mulching to keep new plantings from heaving during the winter months.

Build a bonfire.  The warmth from the fire is so special on a cool night and even more fun when s’mores are on the menu. Be mindful of fire safety.

Catch the football spirit.  Take in a local high school Friday night game or play touch football with the kids. Catch your favorite team on TV!  Tailgate with friends either at a game or before watching a TV game.

Try out an amazing corn maze.  Traversing a corn maze in search of the end or prizes is guaranteed to become a fun and exciting tradition for years to come.

Decorate for Halloween.  String up some lights or plug in the fog machine for a festive spirit.  Be sure all lights or electrical decorations are UL approved and plugged into GFCI outlets.  Add some carved pumpkins and maybe a big spider web.

Watch a scary movie.  Nothing sets the scene for Halloween more than a little “fright!”

Take a road trip.  Check out the changing scenery in your area as the farm fields go from green to golden brown to harvest empty and the leaves on the trees turn.  Or travel to the various parts of the state to see the “colors” at their peak time.

Take a hike.  Follow a path through the woods at a state or local park.  Hear the leaves crunch and smell the damp fall ground.  Pack a picnic to enjoy along the way.

Drink hot spiced apple cider or hot chocolate.  It just wouldn’t be fall without cider and hot chocolate to warm up after an outing on a cool fall day or evening.  And either beverage really goes nice with a fire in the fireplace!

Take a hayride.  Watch local listings for community hayrides.

For more ideas and where to find fall entertainment options, check out Travel Iowa.

Happy Fall!



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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Halloween Crafts

I am starting to notice Halloween decorations in town and at local stores. One of our co-workers brought in a picture of some decorations she made with her young nephews over the weekend. It looks like a fun project and she said that the boys all really enjoyed it.


I think this would work well with my own grandsons. They love to go to the pumpkin patch to choose pumpkins and they enjoy carving them. Once carved, the pumpkins do not last very long and often can attract gnats or flies. Some years, the jack o lanterns the boys carved rot outside even before Halloween.

To make these jack o lanterns, buy some foam sheets that have an adhesive backing. They are inexpensive and several sheets have enough space to create multiple face parts. These sheets are available in many colors; you may want to buy at least black and white sheets. If you want googly eyes on your jack o lanterns, be sure the eyes you buy have an adhesive back. Depending on the age of the children, you may want to cut pieces in advance or have older children draw their own pieces. Enjoy.


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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Since Spring has officially arrived, I am already looking forward to warmer weather and Summer! Smoothies are a favorite at our house in the Summer. They are something we, along with our children and grandchildren, all enjoy.

One of the fun things about smoothies is the many fun ways you can garnish them. There are the usual little umbrellas, plastic animals, and fancy straws. Flavored salt is another pretty common garnish. You can use your food processor or a mortar and pestle to grind coarse salt. Moisten the rim of the glass with lemon, lime, or orange juice, or even water, and dip it in the flavored salt. This works with flavored or colored sugar as well. Or try powdered drink mixes or finely chopped coconut for something different.

The idea behind garnishes is to complement or contrast flavors to hint at what’s in the recipe or bring out the flavor. If you use ice as part of your garnish you can freeze colored juices or sodas in cubes which will not dilute your drink. Or freeze berries or slices of fruit in ice cubes. You can also purchase spherical ice cube molds which look unique and attractive in the glass.

Other popular garnishes for fruity drinks are maraschino cherries, pineapple wedges, fruit kabobs, shaved coconut, and candied strips or wheels of zest. It is fun to experiment using a few different citrus zests and twisting or tieing them together.

If you are serving a vegetable smoothie, you can use a mandolin or vegetable peeler to make long, thin strips of cucumber, carrot, or radish to garnish with. Fresh herb leaves or sprigs also add a nice touch. Or try threading sprigs of hardy herbs (rosemary or thyme) through cranberries, blueberries, and raspberries. My favorite vegetable smoothie uses fresh spinach, frozen bananas, avocado, protein powder, and almond milk. I like to garnish it with fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Sometimes in place of smoothies my granddaughter likes a “mocktail” which we often like to make layered. To accomplish this you need to use ingredients with contrasting colors and different weights. For a Layered Shirley Temple, mix together 1/2 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage. Pour the mixture into a tall glass then pour 1 Tablespoon grenadine in and let it sink to the bottom. Maraschino cherries make a nice garnish for this drink. Another layered drink that looks pretty is the Italian Cream Soda. To make this one, mix the fruit flavored syrups you are using with the soda water and pour into a glass. Float half-and-half on top for the layered look and top with whipped cream.

Homemade lollipops are a fun activity to do with children and the lollipops can serve as a stirrer in their smoothies and a snack.

Happy Summer! I hope it will be a long one after the extended Winter we have had!



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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Using Creativity In The Kitchen

This is a big month for our family. In addition to expecting a new grand baby, we are also celebrating a birthday for the baby’s older brother! Since both events are happening within a few weeks, the grandma’s have gotten involved to help plan a birthday party. One of our favorite books to read to our grandson is The Little Blue Truck series of books. Therefore, what could be better than to plan a Little Blue Truck birthday party!

After looking for party ideas on Pinterest, Grandma Nyla and I have come up with a menu. We will be making pigs in a blanket, Rice Krispy treat hay bales, wheel shaped macaroni and cheese, Chex mix (chicken feed), deviled eggs (farm fresh eggs), carrot and celery stick with dip (farm fresh produce) and pulled pork sandwiches. Quite a combination of foods, but all contributing to the theme of the party!

My undertaking was to try to make little blue truck cookies. After checking at numerous kitchen stores in multiple cities, I finally decided that if I wanted the truck shape I would make my own pattern. After drawing the truck in the size that I wanted, I printed two copies on card stock. I used double stick tape to connect the two pieces together to make it a little sturdier. Using a sharp knife to cut around the edges of my rolled out cookie dough and I had my truck cookies. Since the pattern was thicker due to the two layers and the heavier card stock, I had no problems cutting around them with the knife.

I have frozen the cookies and they are ready to decorate as the party approaches! I did decorate one cookie so I could see how it would look and I am pleased to say that when my grandson came for a visit last week he picked up the cookie and started driving it on the counter! I would say that is a true sign of success!

Making my own cookie cutter was actually a fun challenge! Do not hesitate to let your creative juices flow and design your own. I have even more ideas for next Christmas!


Beth Marrs

I graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Adult Home Economics Education. I love to cook and entertain and spend time with my family.

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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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Holiday Returns

Now that Christmas is over and gifts have been exchanged with your family and friends, it is time to think about returning gifts. I hope that you received only lovely gifts that fit and are things you can use. If that is not the case, you will be heading to the store or post office to make a return.

There are a few things to remember before you head out to the store. If the gift giver provided a receipt or a gift receipt, be sure to take that along. In addition, any packaging or tags that were with the gift are helpful when making a return. Returning electronics can be difficult so be sure you have all packaging or better yet, do not open a package until you are sure you want the gift.

Be sure you bring identification, as some stores require that with returns, especially if you do not have a receipt. The store tracks the number of returns without a receipt and may stop you from returning any other items if history shows you are a frequent returner. Waiting for a few days after Christmas is also a good idea; crowds will be smaller and clerks may have more patience. Kindness may help you work with frazzled store clerks. Know that for most stores, returning used or washed items is difficult.

We checked with Consumer Reports and have a list of the easiest and more challenging stores for returning gifts.


Best Return Policy Tough Return Policy
Nordstrom Forever 21
L.L. Bean Kmart
Bed Bath & Beyond Sears
Costco Barnes & Noble
JCPenny GameStop
Eddie Bauer Abe’s of Maine
Harry & David American Apparel
Lands’ End Best Buy
Kohl’s Apple Store
Orvis Newegg


You may want to consider the return policy of the stores you shop at when you start buying gifts next year. Some stores are very strict about the number of days you have to make a return. You may want to provide a regular receipt instead of a gift receipt at some stores as the recipient will be able to get a refund in cash instead of just a gift card to that store.

Remember that a bit of planning can save you a lot of frustration.

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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Candles and Fire Danger

We were talking in the office a few days ago about decorating for Christmas. A co-worker likes to burn candles and has been using a votive candle inside a larger candle to make her large candle last longer. We were visiting about how easy it can be to become distracted and forget that there is a live flame inside the house. We discussed safer options like battery-operated candles and that some of the newer ones have timers built in. That got me thinking about fire safety during the holidays. I discovered some scary statistics.


Facts about home holiday fires

  • One of every four home Christmas tree fires is caused by electrical problems.
  • Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are more likely to be serious. On average, one of every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires results in a death compared to an average of one death per 143 total reported home fires.
  • A heat source too close to the tree causes one in every four Christmas tree fires.
  • The top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve.
  • Candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires.
  • This information is from the FEMA website.

Fires start so very fast and our decorations are usually flammable. In less than 30 seconds, a fire can go from a small flame to totally out of control. If the fire starts when you are sleeping, you really will not have any time to spare. Forget about grabbing valuables and exit the home. Escape should be the only thing on your mind.

It seems like your house should be well lit from flames but the smoke will be very dark and you may be disoriented even if you are positive that you know the layout of your home well. Heat from a fire, as well as smoke and toxic gases can all kill you.

Be prepared and be safe. Plan exit routes and meeting places outside the home. Emphasize to family members that getting out of the home safely is the number one priority. Belongings can be replaced, family members cannot!








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

Cheesecake! It’s What’s for Dessert!

It’s that time of the year when we begin to think about holiday desserts and often that leads us to cheesecake.  It’s one of the most popular desserts in the United States and is high on the list of the finest comfort foods in the world.

Cheesecake has a long history of being a popular dish.  It first became popular in Greece when the Romans conquered it in about 100 A.D using a recipe that called for “two pounds of rye flour, four pounds of wheat flour, 14 pounds of sheep’s cheese, and four and a half pounds of good honey.” (The Joy of Cheesecake by Dana Bovbjerg and Jeremy Iggers).  Cheesecake eventually spread to Europe via the Roman conquests and was eventually adopted as an Easter tradition by the Russian Orthodox Church.  Recipes began to appear in English cookbooks as early as 1747.

Our modern cheesecakes came by accident in 1872 when American dairymen were attempting to duplicate French Neufchatel cheese.  The recipe they stumbled on to was richer and creamier.  Soon the new cheese found its way into cheesecakes and the rest is history.  There are hundreds of recipes for cheesecake with common ingredients of cheese, cream, and a sweetener.  The type of each can vary.

Here are the most commonly used cheeses and the results you might expect:

Cream cheese.  The supreme ingredient found in most recipes is made from milk, contains at least 33 percent butterfat, and has 100 calories per ounce.  The water content is 50 percent yielding a texture that is smooth and soft with a delicate flavor.

Neufchatel.  Similar to cream cheese, it is made from whole or skim milk or a combination of milk and cream.  It is about 23 percent butterfat with about 70 calories per ounce.  A water content of 60 percent gives a slightly milder flavor and lighter texture than cream cheese.  When substituting Neufchatel for cream cheese, the higher water content may require a slight increase in one of the moisture holding ingredients (i.e. flour, cornstarch, gelatin, or egg whites).

Cottage Cheese.  There is a wide variety of cottage cheeses to choose from ranging in a butterfat content of 0.5 percent to 4 percent and 20 to 30 calories per ounce.  Cottage cheese starts with curds made from skim milk.  Richer cottage cheeses are made by adding whole milk and cream to the curds.  A food processor or blender will make the cheese smoother but will still yield a grainier texture.

Ricotta.  In the United States, ricotta is almost always made from whole milk or a combination of milk and whey.  The fat content ranges from 4 to 10 percent with about 50 calories per ounce.  Water content is about 70 percent with a slight grainy texture. Ricotta offers a lighter texture and can be used as a partial replacement for cream cheese in cheesecake.

In addition to cheese, cream is also often used in cheesecake recipes to lighten the cake or provide a richer flavor.  Common creams used include heavy sweet cream, half and half, and sour cream.  Even yogurt can be found in some recipes.  Each adds calories depending upon the fat content of the product.

Lastly, every cheesecake requires a sweetening of some sort and most recipes use sugar.  If honey is used, the cheesecake will be darker; it is also important to incorporate well and to reduce the volume of other liquids in the recipe because it has a higher moisture content.  Sugar substitutes are also possible but may yield less volume, less taste, tunneling, crumbling or lighter color.

Now for some tips to make the perfect cheesecake:

Start with a tested recipe from a reliable source.  There are as many recipes and ways to make cheesecake as there are people who make them.  Use a recipe that you trust.

Be hurry free.  Cheesecake takes at least 12 hours to make (including chilling), so allow plenty of time; making a day ahead of serving is recommended.

Use all room-temperature ingredients.  Give all the refrigerated ingredients at least two hours of counter time before using.  This is really important when it comes to cheesecake.

Use an electric mixer, food processor, or blender to mix the wet ingredients.  Be gentle with the electric appliances as you don’t want to incorporate too much air.  Even though hand mixing may be gentle, it does not yield a perfectly emulsified filling.   If you find lumps in the filling, press it through a sieve.

Use a spring-form pan.  A spring-form pan makes it easy to get delicate cakes out of the pan without damaging them. A spring-form pan is a type of cake pan that’s made in two parts: a base and a removable ring that serves as the side of the pan. When the sides are removed after baking, the cake is easy to serve.  If you only have a 10-inch pan and the recipe is for a 9-inch pan, it’s fine to use the pan you have. Changing the pan size when making cheesecake will affect the height of the cheesecake and its cooking time (thinner cheesecakes will cook a bit more quickly), but not its flavor or texture.

Eliminate bubbles.  After pouring filling into crust, let set for 10 minutes to allow air bubbles to rise to top. Gently draw the tines of a fork across surface of cake to pop air bubbles that have risen to the surface.

Resist the urge to overbake.  The center of a cheesecake should jiggle as a whole and the center two inches look softer when removed from the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools on the counter. Leaving the cake in the oven until it’s completely firm will result in an overbaked (and usually cracked) cheesecake.  The filling should be pale, not golden brown, with edges just barely puffed.  If you want a little brown color, place under the broiler for a minute or two. The target internal temperature, of cheesecake is 150 to 155 degrees.  A temperature probe can be used to determine the temperature but may increase the chance of creating a crack.

Be patient.  Allow plenty of time for the cheesecake to cool on the counter before refrigerating, 2 ½ to 3 hours.  After 10 minutes out of the oven, run a thin-bladed knife between the cake and the pan to free any sticking spots.  If you let the cheesecake cool for any longer than ten minutes, the sugar will set up and tend to stick to the pan. As the cheesecake cools, it will contract slightly. If it sticks to the pan, it may cause cracks.  When cool, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and firmly set, at least 6 hours (overnight is best). This allows for easier cutting and time for flavors to develop.

Serve it perfectly.  To unmold cheesecake, remove the sides of the pan. Slide a thin metal spatula or cake lifter between the crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide the cheesecake onto a serving plate. (Cheesecake can be left on the pan bottom, too.) Let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. To avoid gummy, messy pieces, dip a sharp knife in very hot water and wipe dry between cuts.  Should there be leftovers, refrigerate for up to 4 days in a tightly covered container.

Now that you know a thing or two about cheesecake making, a blissful, sweet and creamy cheesecake can be a sure thing for your holiday dessert.

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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