Preparing your home for winter

fall-tree1The leaves on the trees are turning beautiful colors outside our windows reminding us that fall is here and winter is on its way! Is your home ready for winter?  Doing some simple tasks now can reduce your utility bills and keep problems away.

  • Clean out your gutters. The leaves and debris can cause water to back up. In the fall that could cause water to overflow and instead of being diverted away from your house it could cause basement water problems. In the winter frozen water from thawing snow can cause ice dams that can cause moisture damage to your roof and interior ceiling. Running water through the gutter will also show if there are leaks that need to be fixed.
  • Have your furnace checked. Regular maintenance of both your air conditioning and furnace will keep them running well. There is nothing worse than waking up on a cold morning and not having the furnace working! Changing the furnace filter regularly will help with utility costs since air does not circulate well through dirty filters.
  • Check the weather stripping on doors and windows. Sealing gaps around doors and windows will keep cold air out and warm air in.
  • If you have a wood burning fireplace be sure and have the chimney inspected. Regular cleaning can keep soot or creosol from depositing inside the chimney. Regular cleaning reduces the risk of a chimney fire.
  • Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.   This should be done once a year. Test the detectors monthly to make sure they are working properly.
  • Since the days are shorter replace light bulbs with LED or CFL lights. These ENERGY STAR bulbs last longer and save you a lot of money on your electric bills. When you are decorating for the holidays look for LED Christmas lights.
  • Make sure you drain your outdoor hoses and store them in the garage for the winter. Drain any irrigation system and rain barrels that you have been using this summer. Allowing water to freeze can cause damage that you will find in the spring.

Many of these items can be done without hiring a professional. By spending some time in the fall you will enjoy the energy saving and the peace of mind knowing you are ready for the snow to fly!

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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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Successfully Freezing Homemade Soup

slow-cooker-pork-chili_0There’s nothing like homemade soups and stews to enjoy during the fall and winter months. Soups and stews are also great ‘prepare ahead’ foods to freeze and enjoy at a later time when a quick meal is needed, relieve stress during the holidays, or share with elderly parents, neighbors, or college students.  While freezing is a great convenience, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Recipe.  Freezing will not improve the texture, flavor, or quality of food. It simply preserves food quality by stopping microbial growth.  Which brings us to the question, “will all soups freeze satisfactorily to assure a good product later?”  Most soup recipes can be used for freezing but one should check the listing at the National Center for Home Food Preservation for ingredients that do not freeze successfully.  Vegetable and meat based soups generally freeze very well; however, potatoes and pasta may need special consideration.    Joy of Cooking advises to add freshly cooked potatoes or pasta just before serving if a soup or chowder calls for such OR to undercook the potatoes/pasta if they will be part of the frozen soup.   Dairy-based soups and chowders can be frozen, too, but the outcome is not always as predictable as they tend to separate slightly when thawed and reheated.   This can typically be fixed by whisking in a little additional milk or cream or by stabilizing the cream with a slurry of arrowroot or potato power and water.  An immersion blender can be used to mix together a dairy-based soup that has separated. Using a modified starch suitable for low temperatures such as ThermFlow® or tapioca flour will help prevent separation of a thickened soup; Joy of Cooking suggests substituting 1 tablespoon tapioca flour for 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour for 1 cup liquid.
  • Cooling.  After preparing your soup, it must be cooled quickly to prevent a foodborne illness. Soup should cool from 140 degrees to 70 degrees in two hours or less and from 70 degrees to 40 degrees in four hours or less.  The University of Minnesota (Cooling Soup Safely) offers some great tips to cool soup safely such as placing the kettle in an ice bath, using shallow pans, dividing into smaller batches, and stirring to hasten cooling.   Regardless of method used, it’s most important to get the soup cooled by whatever method works best for you to get the temperature down as quickly as possible.
  • Packaging.  Once the soup is cooled, packaging appropriately becomes the next step.  How you intend to use the soup later, will dictate how you will package it.  If you want to freeze a large quantity, freezer bags with a zipper lock work very well and save space in your freezer because they are stackable after they have been laid flat and had time to freeze solid.  For individual servings, smaller freezer bags can be used.  Some of the plastic containers made by Ziplock® or Rubbermaid® work very well, too.  These kind of containers come in all shapes and sizes, each with a unique ability to seal, lock, stack, nest and are sturdy enough to travel with ease which is especially good if the soup is to be transported to and used by an older adult or college student. ½ – 1 cup is considered a snack size portion and 2 cups is a meal portion.
  • Freezing.  Always remove as much air as possible as you close the bag or container and leave ½ inch of headspace for pint-size- and 1 inch for quart-size-containers.  Clearly label each package with the name of the food, ingredients, packaging date, and any special instructions.  This information can quickly be typed and printed on mailing labels and attached to the individual packages.   Prepared packages or containers should be placed in the coldest part of the freezer allowing for good air circulation around each container.  After the product is fully frozen, stack to save space.  Soups containing starches or starchy vegetables should be placed in the back of the freezer where the temperature remains more constant to prevent slight thawing allowing starchy ingredients to absorb moisture and get mushy.
  • Defrosting and Reheating. To retain the best flavor, dairy-based soups should be consumed within two months of freezing and broth-based within three months.  Soups kept longer than these suggested times are still safe to eat but the flavor begins to fade along with some freezer burn.  Soups should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight; or if it is defrosted in the microwave oven, it should be heated and eaten immediately.  Pour the defrosted soup into a saucepan to reheat on the stove top; heat to boiling on low heat gently stirring until it heats through. Or pour soup into a microwave-safe dish to reheat in the microwave, again stirring occasionally to heat more evenly.  If your recipe calls for the addition of cheese just before serving, omit that prior to freezing and add during reheating.  Even though you can freeze cheese on its own, it reheats at a different rate than the soup contents.

I hope you’ll enjoy having homemade soup on hand for a quick meal or to share as much as I do.

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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Has the Weather Changed Your Entertaining Plans?

SnowyWinter weather and entertaining do not always go hand in hand. If you are preparing food and your guests get delayed or can’t make it at all do you know how to handle your food safely?  Here are some tips from AnswerLine and The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on how to handle foods safely when the meal is cancelled or delayed.

Here are some winter scenarios and what to do to handle food safely:

Meat is thawed for dinner. Guests are coming…but not tonight.

  • Raw meat can be refrozen ONLY if it was safely thawed in the refrigerator. You may find some texture differences if it was previously frozen but if it was handled correctly it is not a safety risk. If your guests are coming tomorrow instead then you could refrigerate your meat but if they reschedule for next week put the meat in the freezer. (FSIS)

The food is ready but your guests are delayed.

  • FSIS reminds us to keep hot food hot and cold foods cold. Don’t let any food enter the danger zone – between 40° F and 140° F for more than 2 hours.
  • If you have a meat dish in the oven use a meat thermometer in the center of your dish and adjust your oven to maintain the 140° F minimum temperature. Covering the food with foil will help to keep it from drying out. (FSIS)

My turkey has thawed but my party is 3+ days away.

  • Thawed turkey is safe for only 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
  • You can cook the turkey and cut the meat off. Place it in a casserole dish with broth and place in either your freezer or the refrigerator (for up to 4 days). When you are ready to eat place the foil covered dish in your oven at 325° F until your meat is heated to 165° F again.

I have soup ready and the weather report is advising no travel. What should I do with the soup?

  • If you want to store the soup transfer to smaller containers that are shorter and wider to help the soup cool down faster. It is not safe to keep it in the big pot and place it in the refrigerator. It would take a long time for the soup in the middle of the pan to cool to a safe temperature and it would make it unsafe.

I have run out of refrigerator space and I want to store food in my garage or porch.

  • Just because it is cold outside doesn’t mean that a garage or porch is cool enough to store food. A better choice would be a cooler with ice. We MUST store food below 40° F to keep it safe.

If you have any questions about food safety when weather messes with your entertaining plans give us a call at AnswerLine. We will help to answer your questions and keep your food safe!

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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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Prepare for winter storms!

Another winter storm is on the horizon; what steps should we take to be prepared?slippery sidewalks

  1. Understand the terminology:
    • Outlook: winter storm conditions are possible in the next week
    • Advisory: winter conditions are likely to cause inconvenience and could possibly be hazardous
    • Watch: winter storm conditions are likely in the next 36-48 hours; you should be aware of changing conditions and make preparations
    • Warning: severe weather conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
  1. Check your supplies to be sure you have snow melt, rock salt, shovels. Go to the grocery store to be sure you have enough food in the house. Remember that if the power goes out, you will want to have some food that does not require cooking.
  2. Fill your flashlights with fresh batteries, find your candles (and matches) and extra blankets. If you have these things in a place you can easily locate you will be grateful if the power goes off after dark.
  3. Minimize travel. Eliminate unnecessary trips. Remember to pack an emergency kit in your car in the event your car stalls or gets stuck in the snow.  You may want to fill your gas tank before the storm hits.
  4. Prepare your pets for the storm. Be ready to bring outdoors pets inside if the weather gets really bad. Have extra pet food on hand.
  5. Locate your weather radio if you have not used it since tornado season. Have fresh batteries for it, in case the power goes out for a prolonged period.
  6. Have a family emergency plan in case you are not together when the storm strikes.

Be prepared and watch the weather this week.  Stay safe through the storms.

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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Transporting Food Safely

 “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!”

My siblings and I used to sing that song on the way to my grandma and grandpa’s house, riding along in our side-paneled station wagon. Chances are, this holiday season, you may be attending a gathering where you’re bringing food.  There are steps you can take to ensure your prepared food arrives at your destination safely. to avoid the risk of food poisoning.  Getting sick does not usually result in great memories.

Remember the two hour rule: Avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature (or car temperature in this case) for more than two hours.

Important note: Just because it is cold outside, don’t rely on trunk temperatures to be low enough for food storage.  Sunlight could warm your trunk to unsafe temperatures, resulting in unsafe food temperatures.  The same goes for garages.  Don’t use these places for refrigeration!

When transporting food, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold at safe temperatures.

*Hot food must be kept at or above 140⁰F and should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container, such as a cooler (Yes coolers work to keep foods not only cold, but hot as well).  I also like to wrap my hot dishes in towels for added insulation before placing them into a cooler.   IMG_0262

IMG_0265*Place cold foods in a cooler with ice or freezer packs or an insulated container with an ice pack so they remain at 40°F or lower, especially if traveling longer than 30 minutes.

 

When you arrive at your destination, place hot foods in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Place cold foods in a refrigerator. Use a food thermometer to assure that the food stays at a safe internal temperature. Try to serve foods soon after your arrival.

thermometer

Another option would be to transport your ingredients in a cooler, then make your dish on location.

People traveling a long distance might bring non-perishables such as breads and cookies. Those traveling about a half an hour or less can more safely bring perishables items such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products or foods containing these items. Close guests are also good candidates to provide salads, relishes and vegetables.

Keep these simple tips in mind to have a safe, happy holiday season with your family and friends!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

 

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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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Winterize Your Home

person caulking window1Growing up in northwest Iowa in the 1970’s and 80’s I experienced many long winters in a big drafty farmhouse.  I remember fighting with my siblings over who got to stand on the heat grates to warm up and bundling up in the cold upstairs at bedtime.  Homes today are much better insulated and energy efficient but there are still steps you can take with your residence to save energy costs and  keep your family warm and safe this winter. Even though the cold has already hit, it’s never too late to take these steps to prepare for winter.

Here are some great tips from the folks at Ready.gov:

  • Insulate walls and attics
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
  • Insulate any water lines that run along outer walls. This will make water less likely to freeze.
  • Service snow-removal equipment.Snowy
  • Have chimney and flue inspected.
  • Install easy-to-read outdoor thermometer.
  • Repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on your home or other structure during a storm.

For more in depth information on preparing your home, car, and more for the winter, visit the Ready.gov information pages.

Here are some additional resources for keeping your family safe and warm during the long Midwest winter:

Happy Winter!!!

contributed by Jill Jensen, former AnswerLine Specialist

 

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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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Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Here in the upper Midwest plumbers have been busy with the recent cold snap. When the temperature plummets, the risk of pipes freezing goes up. In fact frozen pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands of dollars in water damage for the home or business owner, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.  Pipes that freeze most frequently are those in unheated interior spaces such as basement, attics, and garages.  But pipes that run through your cabinets or that are against an exterior wall are also at risk. Here’s some advice from the American Red Cross on how to prevent your pipes from freezing as well as how to thaw them if they do.

FREEZING PIPE PREVENTIONIMG_1412

During the cold weather months, take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Some may conflict with your desire to conserve water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared to a hefty repair bill.  Here’s what to do.

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
  • Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe-even at a trickle-helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night.
  • If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 ⁰ F.
  • For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas.

THAWING FROZEN PIPES

If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you probably have a frozen pipe.  Likely places for frozen pipes include those against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.  If the water is still running, you can take the following steps but if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, chances are others are frozen too.
  • If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen section is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.

If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes may be at risk.

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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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Winter Window Condensation

humidityDo you have problems in the winter with dry skin and nasal passages?  Is there condensation forming on your windows?  In the winter when our houses are sealed tight the humidity level can lead to winter moisture problems.  According to Ken Hellevang, an agricultural engineer with the North Dakota State University Extension Service,” a relative humidity of 30 to 40 percent is considered optimum during the winter”.

“Window condensation is one way to tell if the humidity level is off in your house.  If the inside temperature is 70 degrees and the relative humidity is 35 percent, moisture condenses on single-pane windows at 30 degrees”, Hellevang says.  “With double-pane windows, condensations will form at temperatures below zero.  With three layers of glass, condensation will not form until outdoor temperatures are about 40 degrees below zero”, he says.

Condensation will form at higher temperatures if air leakage cools the window surface.  If you have cracks in the windows they should be fixed or at least taped to help seal the air leakage.  Use weather stripping or caulk any areas around windows and doors where there are noticeable leaks.  Even installing plastic thermal covering on windows will reduce air leakage which will commonly contribute to condensation problems.

A few practical tips to help you stay warm and eliminate mold formation include:

  • Open the drapes on sunny days. This will let in the warmth during the day. Closing them at night will help to retain the heat. Make sure that it is not a tight seal to allow for air circulation which will help keep mold from forming on your windows.
  • Make sure that your furniture is away from the heat registers to allow for air circulation in your house. Also keep some space between the walls and the furniture for air circulation. If the walls are not insulated well the temperature difference between outside and inside can cause moisture to develop and could cause mold to grow on the walls.
  • Closed closet doors can also be a problem . If you start to notice mold growth on outside walls leave the closet doors open to allow for heat to enter and air to circulate.

Watching your homes humidity will keep your house comfortable, help you save energy and keep mold from growing and causing health and structure problems.  Remember changes made to improve your homes energy efficiency will also have a positive impact.

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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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Safe Ice Melting this Winter

slippery sidewalksWinter snow and ice can be harmful to people trying to walk or drive but they can also be harmful to the environment.  Deicing agents can improve sidewalk, driveway and road conditions but they can also damage cement, cars and plants.  Using the correct deicer in the correct amount is important for the life of your sidewalks, driveways, lawns and plants.

Deicing agents work by lowering the freezing point of water below 32 degrees F.  These materials are salts and include sodium chloride (NaCl), calcium chloride (CaCl₂), potassium chloride (KCl), and magnesium chloride (MgCl₂).  Each of these products works at different temperatures and with different speeds.  Read the package directions to make sure the product is safe for where you want to use it.  Sodium and calcium chloride can damage newly poured concrete and should also not be used on brick or stone surfaces.  Abrasive materials like sand do not melt ice or snow but do provide traction when walking or driving on snow and ice.

Here are some tips for using ice removers correctly:

  • Remove as much snow or ice as you can before applying a melting product. The products should not be used instead of a shovel for large amounts of snow.
  • If applied before ice accumulates it is most effective. It is much easier to prevent ice from forming than to try and melt a thick layer. This is why you often see the roads coated before a storm is expected.
  • Avoid piling snow and ice that has been treated around trees and shrubs. When the ground starts to thaw in early spring, heavily water the areas where salt may accumulate over the winter. This should help flush the salt from the root zones of the plants.
  • Deicers can be used with sand. This will provide melting and provide for better traction when walking on the surface.
  • Be sure and buy deicers early in the season so you have it when you need it.
  • If an ice storm is predicted, try covering small areas with heavy plastic or other waterproof materials. This will give you an area where the ice is not allowed to form.

Use caution when dealing with ice and snow this winter.  Follow these tips to avoid nasty falls or damage to your plants next spring from using deicing agents.

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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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Suede Shoe Care

CARE OF SUEDE SHOES IMG_1047

It seems that every winter, I get those nasty salt lines on my suede leather shoes and boots from the salt used to combat ice on sidewalks and streets. Prevention is the best method, but there are ways to clean these unsightly stains to have your shoes back in top shape and looking great again.

Here are a few tips on caring for your leather footwear from the Shoe Service Institute of America:

Water Proofing: The key to keeping suede and nubuck in top condition is preventative maintenance.  Before you wear them in sloppy weather, spray the footwear with a water-repellant coating, (found at shoe or department stores), to prevent stains from occurring.  Check the label to be sure the spray is designed for suede and nubuck and be sure to allow time for the spray to dry before you wear the shoes.  You may have to retreat the shoes with the spray over time if you notice that water is no longer beading up on the surface.

Brushing: Use a plastic or rubber-tipped brush regularly to restore the nap and remove surface dirt before it sets in. Be gentle brushing nubuck.  It is softer than suede and is easily damaged.  With oiled nubuck, use a nubuck conditioner to replace some of those oils on a regular basis.

Stain Removal: If you get a stain on suede or nubuck, try to remove it immediately with a solvent-based cleaner made specifically for the material.  Oil absorbing blocks are also available. These blocks abrade the leather to bring back the nap and remove stains.  Use a less aggressive block with nubuck because of its more delicate nature.  You can also rub off overall dirt with a very soft eraser, or just lightly sand away stains with an emery board.  With more serious stains, you might be better off taking the shoe to a shoe repair professional.

With suede you can’t use oil based cleaners as they will stain the suede more than the salt. To clean pesky salt lines from suede shoes, try a mild blend of 1 teaspoon each of dish washing detergent and fabric softener in two cups of warm water. First brush the suede with a shoe brush to loosen and remove any salt and dirt that may be removed. Spray some of the solution on evenly over the suede and lightly brush it in. Wide off with a cloth dampened with clean water.

IMG_1052Stuff the shoes with crumpled newspaper to help retain their shape. Allow to dry then rub the suede with light sand paper to recover the texture.

With a little care and maintenance, your suede shoes will retain their beauty for a long time.

 

 

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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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