Friday, July 24, 2009

The Home Keeper's Glossary -- Part III

Some cooking terms:

We've already discussed some cooking terms in past weeks of this course, so, in this glossary, I'll include ones that we haven't mentioned previously.

Albumen - egg white
Al dente -- literally "to the tooth" in Italian. Dried pasta and some vegetables are best cooked al dente, which means that it is somewhat firm. It is the perfect point between being underdone and too done. If pasta is underdone, it will have a floury taste and be too hard in the center. If it's overdone, it will be too soft and won't have enough texture. The pasta should be firm enough that it requires some chewing (al dente), rather than being mushy and dissolving in the mouth. Likewise, many enjoy vegetables that are cooked just to the point of being tender, yet crispy.
Aspic -- a dish in which foods are set into a clear jelly that is made from stock or occasionally from fruit or vegetable juices; tomato aspic is a popular aspic.
Arrowroot -- is most often used for thickening sauces, fruit pie fillings, and other foods. It is a white powder that is processed from the root of a West Indian or rainforest plant known as arrowroot or Maranta arundinacea. It is an easily digested starch. It does not provide a lot of nutrition. However, some people believe it soothes upset stomachs. Therefore, some people make or buy arrowroot cookies to eat as a digestive aid.
Bain-marie -- this term is used both to describe a method of cooking and the dish used in this method. The method consists placing one dish containing a delicate food -- such as a custard or a flan or chocolate to be melted -- into another dish containing water that is heated just to the simmering point. The dish is a special container that holds the simmering water.
B├ęchamel – A classic white sauce made with whole milk thickened with a white roux. It is flavored with aromatic vegetables.
Roux -- A mixture of flour and butter used to thicken sauces. It is the starting point for some sauces and gravies.
Bisque -- a rich-tasting soup made of pureed vegetables or shellfish. It is generally thickened with rice and has cream in it.
Boiling -- to cook in water or other liquid that is heated to the point of bubbling or boiling vigorously. A rolling boil is a very fast boil that doesn't slow down even when you stir it. Water boils at 212F at sea level.
Simmer -- cook in liquid kept just at the point of boiling or just below the boiling point. About 185 to 200 degrees F.
Some recipes may require that you boil, simmer, or poach to an exact temperature, and this requirement should be observed. Most cooks, however, can judge by the eye whether a liquid is at a rolling boil, is just at the boiling point, is simmering, or is suitable for poaching. That is fine for discerning how to cook many foods. Most cooks, for example, know how to bring a soup or stew to boiling and, then, keep it simmering for a couple of hours. However, some foods are easily ruined by boiling too vigorously or, conversely, undercooking, so practice and careful attention help the cook avoid many mistakes.
Chop -- to cut into fine, irregular pieces
Chiffonade -- fine shreds made by rolling several herbs or leafy vegetables together and slicing the roll at intervals of about 1/16th to 1/8 of an inch
Dice -- to cut into cubes
Poach -- cook in liquid that is just barely simmering -- about 160 to 180 degrees F
Clarify butter -- to remove the milk solids and water from butter. This is done so that the butter may be used at higher temperatures without scorching. it is also done so that you can use the clarified butter as a dip or sauce for items like seafoods. This can be done by melting the butter slowly in a pan, skimming off the watery foam that rises to the top and pouring the clear butter liquid off of the milk solids, which settle to the bottom. You can buy butter that is already clarified. This is commonly called ghee.
Persillade -- a chopped mixture of parsley and garlic
Prosciutto -- a salt-cured, air-dried ham Italian or Italian-style ham. If it is crudo, it is raw; if it is cotto, it is cooked.
Roulade -- a slice of meat rolled around a stuffing
Pilaf -- a technique for cooking rice in which the rice is sauteed in butter first and, then, simmered in water or broth.
Rice -- a) cereal grain that is the seed of the Oryza sativa plant, which is a member of the grass family
b) to sieve a food so that it becomes the consistency of rice.
Basmati rice -- an aromatic long-grain rice from India
brown rice -- rice from which the chaff has been removed, but which still contains the germ and the bran -- the whole grain form of rice
white rice -- rice from which the germ and the bran have been removed; white rice keeps longer than brown rice, and it has a taste and consistency which many people enjoy. However, it lacks some nutrients that wild rice contains. In cultures which eat a mainly rice based diet, white rice must be supplemented with brown rice in order to provide optimum nutrition and to prevent health problems, such as the disease beriberi.
Long grain rice -- long grains of rice which tend to remain distinct after cooking.
Medium grain rice -- medium length grains of rice. These tend to be sticky after cooking, and they are suitable for Italian risotto, as well as in sweet dishes.
Short grain rice --This is also known as round rice or pearl rice. When cooked, it is moist and sticky.
Superfino -- the finest grade given to the finest Italian risotto rice.
arborio rice -- a rice grown in the Po Valley in Italy.
Parboiled rice -- subjected to a steaming or parboiling process while it is still brown rice. This moves the nutrients from the outer husk into the grain itself. The grains turn from white to yellow and are also less brittle. The rice can then be dried and milled or dried and used as a whole grain rice. Parboiled rice does not stick to a pot when cooked as much as other rice does.
Wild rice -- Wild rice is not truly rice, but like rice, it is the seed of a grass. Wild rice is the brown seed of a northern water grass.
Skim -- to gently lift off unwanted foam or fat from the surface of a stock, broth, soup, or sauce. Also, to separate the fat off the top of milk, so that you end up with a quantity of cream and a quantity of skim milk.
Zest -- The rind or shavings from the rind of a lemon or orange.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Home Keeper's Glossary Part II

More cleaning terms:

Ammonia: NH3 -- a combination of nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia is a very strong base. It is a powerful and inexpensive cleaning agent. It is an ingredient in many cleaning formulations, but many home keepers prefer to buy a bottle of inexpensive ammonia and dilute it themselves for a variety of cleaning purposes. This saves a lot of money when compared to buying already formulated cleaners. Ammonia can be used to clean jewelry, used in laundry, to clean windows, to clean bathrooms, to clean drains and traps, and for other household uses. Warning: Ammonia is very strong, with very strong fumes. Never use in an area in which you have just used a product containing chlorine (bleach), for the combination produces a noxious gas. Also, follow directions on the bottle for safe handling. Wear gloves. Use ventilation. As with all cleaners, make sure that you keep it out of reach of little ones. While ammonia is strong, it is a naturally occurring chemical and is actually a precursor to fertilizer for plants. Thus, when used properly and according to directions, it is not toxic to the environment.

Borax: A naturally occurring chemical that has a variety of cleaning and household uses; Borax is made up of sodium, boron, oxygen and water and is sold in powder form for household uses. Borax can be used as a laundry booster, mixed with water to soak baby clothing or stained clothing, to eliminate odors in clothing, to clean bathrooms, to dry flowers, to repel roaches (though it does not always work), to condition laundry and remove hard water chemicals, diluted with water and sponged on carpets to clean them, to clean counters in the kitchen, and other uses. It's pretty inexpensive and pretty safe, so it's a great addition to have in your cleaning arsenal. Note: Most modern laundry detergents already have boosters in them. If you decide to use borax with your laundry detergent, add it a few minutes after your laundry cycle starts so that it does not compete with the boosters in the detergent.

Baking soda: Bicarbonate of soda -- a natural, inexpensive, safe substance that has so many uses in the home I can't list them in this glossary. Most keepers at home keep this in their pantry and use it for at least a few purposes. If you want to be a frugal home keeper, research the many ways that inexpensive baking soda can be used. You might be surprised to find some ideas you had not thought about.

Bleach: A bleach is something that whitens a fabric and removes color and stain, often by the process of oxidation. There are many types of bleaches. Even the sun can act as a bleaching agent. For purposes of this glossary, we'll concentrate on chlorine bleach, which can be used in laundry and cleaning. It is an inexpensive cleaner. Most of us are aware of the many uses of chlorine bleach. We are also aware that it must be used safely. (Though some of us -- cough cough -- have been known to forget to wear an apron when cleaning with bleach and accidentally bleach one's clothing.) While bleach is strong and must be used with care, it does break down into chemicals that are non-toxic to the environment. Bleach is a strong germ killer, and the Chlorox site offers information about using bleach to help keep down H1N1 germs.

Biodegradable: If a substance is biodegradable, it will break down into smaller parts by biological processes. Such substances are generally organic in nature, and microorganisms can transform them or break them down so that they are not a waste problem or remain toxic to the environment.

Buffer: Have you ever seen "buffers" on the list of ingredients of a cleanser? Buffers are added to cleansers to help keep the PH stable. Buffers usually don't change much when a little acid or a little base is added. Most buffers actually consist of a weak acid and a weak base that, together, resist drastically changing when another acid or base is added to the formulation.

Caustic: strong alkaline substance which irritates or injures skin tissue. Care should be used when handling a caustic cleanser, such as ammonia.

Enzymes: Enzymes are a type of protein, made as all proteins are of amino acids, and produced by biological organisms. The enzymes in your cleansers are taken from microorganisms that are purposefully cultivated for this purpose. These enzymes are added to cleaning products. They improve the laundry process. Proteases act on stains that contain proteins. Amylases act on starch based stains. Lipases are effective in removing oil and certain food stains, as well as oils from the body.Cellulases are general cleansers and are effective in removing dirt stains.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Home Keeper's Dictionary (Glossary) Part I

Cleaning Terms:

Abrasion- Can refer to purposefully cleaning something by the application of friction (elbow grease :)) or to the unwanted wearing away of a finish or other item or substance by friction.

Abrasive Cleaner -- a cleaner that works by a texture that creates friction. For example, you might use an abrasive pad to clean an iron pot or you might use a powder or other type of cleaner that has an abrasive texture to it. Be careful to use abrasive cleaners only on surfaces that can handle abrasion without being damaged.

Acid -- Some cleansers are acid-based. Acids are compounds that ionize in water to produce hydrogen items. You often find acidic based cleansers in in toilet cleaners, rust removers and hard water stain removers. Vinegar is a mild acid that has a number of household cleaning applications. Do your homework before using an acidic cleanser -- even vinegar. An acid cleanser has a PH significantly below 7 -- generally around 5. Acids react with soil molecules to form a water-soluble molecule that can be wiped or rinsed away.

Alkaline cleanser -- Alkaline cleansers have a PH significantly above 7. Alkalies dissolve in water to contain more hydroxide ions than hydrogen ions. Alkaline substances feel soapy -- at least the ones that are in formulas mild enough to touch. Like acids, alkalies can be extremely strong. Baking soda is a very mild alkaline that has many household cleaning applications. Again, do your homework before applying alkaline cleansers to a particular surface.

Alcohol -- Alcohol is an organic compound that is frequently used in cleaning solutions. Usually, alcohols used in cleaners are methyl, propyl, and butyl. These are not the form of alcohol that is drinkable, and they are dangerous if consumed by mouth. Alcohols have disinfectant properties. You can use ordinary rubbing alcohol for many household cleaning purposes.

Aqueous -- This just means that a cleanser is water based.

Cleaner -- This simply means a single chemical or a chemical formula used to clean something. A cleaner may be a solvent, an acid, an alkali, a detergent, and a water based blend. Be careful with mixing cleaners or any other household chemicals as some combinations produce noxious gases. One famous example of a noxious gas inadvertently produced by using cleaners in the same area at the same time or when mixed is the accidental combination of bleach and ammonia. Before the dangers of combining bleach and ammonia or using them near each other at the same time were widely publicized, home keepers who fainted from the mixed fumes accounted for many emergency room visits

Detergent -- A cleaner that acts similarly to soap, but is made from chemical compounds instead of fats and lye. Detergents are less affected by chemicals in water than soaps are. Laundry detergent and laundry soap powder both clean clothing, but they are not exactly the same thing, for example. Detergents enhance the cleaning power of water. A detergent has an emulsifier in it. An emulsifier penetrates the oil film that binds dirt particles and breaks them up. A detergent also has a wetting agent in it, which helps the dissolved particles to wash away. Detergents use alkaline properties of cleaning. You'll often see sodium carbonate on the labels of modern detergents. In the case of laundry detergents, scents and bleaches may be added. In popular lingo, soap and detergent ares sometimes used interchangably. However, it's good to know the difference in order to correctly interpret labels on cleaning products.

Solvent -- A solvent is a liquid which dissolves another substance. Water can be a solvent. Some solvents are anhydrous, meaning without water. Solvents often contain carbon, making them organic (in the chemistry sense, not the "green" sense). Dry cleaning fluid is an example of an anhyrdrous solvent.

Soap -- A soap is a cleanser that is the salt of a fatty acid. For example, you can make soap by adding potash (an alkali) to a fat. Similarly, Castillo soap is made of soda added to olive oil. Soaps are used with water to produce suds or, in other words, a lather. The lather has a cleansing action. Soaps are a wonderful way to clean many things. One drawback is that when used in hard water, the soap can react with minerals to form a soap scum. This can dull clothing or shower surfaces.

Soap flakes -- Soap Flakes were the first mass produced laundry soap. They were originally manufactured by Lever Brothers, who continued to produce them until 2001. They are made of a 100% vegetable base and have no bleaches phosphates, enzymes or perfume. Soap flakes are biodegradable. You can find more information, including a recipe to make your own Ivory soap flakes, on the Internet.

Saponification -- the process of making soap.

Soils -- a wide number of substances that attach themselves to surfaces forming a pollutant.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer Housekeeping -- Pests

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. Matthew 6:19-20

Don't you love summer? The sunny days seem to bring one delight after another: garden bounty; picnics; flowers; vacations; etc.

We're not the only ones who love summer. As I mentioned in an earlier post, a number of insects flourish during the warmer months. For those who live in tropical or semi-tropical climates, these can flourish almost year round.

Two common summer pests are ticks and fleas. A few years ago, I attended the loveliest outdoor wedding I think I've ever seen. Alas, after the ceremony was over, several guests found shade underneath a beautiful tree. Two of the guests later came down with Lyme disease from tick bites.

Your first line of defense against fleas and ticks -- at least as far as concerns the inside of your home -- is to treat any pets that go in and out of doors. Today, there are many safe medications on the market. The best are those prescribed by veterinarians. If you do use something over the counter, be careful which you choose. I once applied a supermarket brand of tick and flea medicine to two cats, both of whom had a terrible reaction. When I called the vet, the vet said that they had encountered many problems with pets who were treated with this brand, as it can affect the nervous systmem. Fortunately, our cats survived, but I will not use that product again.

If your pets go outside, you are quite likely to have a flea infestation in your home, even if you do not realize it. Good housekeeping can keep the number of fleas in your home to a minimum, and you might not even notice them. However, if you were to go away on a trip for a week, you might come home to find that the few living fleas have multiplied in your absence. So, it's best to treat your pets before you see a problem.

Having said that, your second line of defense is to vacuum thoroughly and frequently. If your vacuum is the type that has bags, be aware that fleas can survive in the bag. Change bags frequently. If you know you have an infestation, change bags every time you vacuum.

Be sure to pay extra attention to the area around your pet's bedding and in any area where your pet lounges. Vacuum these areas thoroughly. Wash your pet's bedding on a regular basis -- even more frequently if you know you have a flea problem.

If you don't have pets, it's still possible to bring in a flea or tick infestation. Whether you have animals or not, check yourself and your children for ticks when you have been near or in wooded areas. Check after camping, hiking, or picnicking. Check pets for ticks, as well. Also, you might want to check your carpet occasionally to see if fleas have made their home there.

A third method of defense against fleas and ticks is to keep your lawn mowed and yard trimmed. Of course, if you live on a farm or if the area surrounding your house backs up to natural areas, you will not be able to keep down fleas and ticks simply by mowing. Again, it's wise to do vigilant checks to make sure that your family members and pets are not bringing fleas and ticks indoors.

If all else fails, and you find yourself fighting a stubborn problem, consult a pest control service that is both aware of human health and environmental concerns.

Being able to enjoy the outdoors is a delight for both people and their pets. If you take a few simple precautions, you can have fun under the summer sun without bringing unwanted ticks and fleas indoors with you.

Another summer pest is the chigger. When my husband and I were in our first year of marriage, we rented a home, and the yard was infested with chiggers. One Saturday, we hosted a cookout for quite a few people from our church. Being the newlyweds that we were, my husband and I were so excited to host our first outdoor gathering as a couple. The next day, everyone at church was itching! Our new little yard was infested with the little critters.

Here's an article which provides information about chiggers. Here is another resource.

When I was growing up, a typical home remedy for chigger bits was to brush them with clear nail polish. The belief was that this suffocated the chigger. It seemed to work just fine. However, modern thinking is that the chigger does not actually burrow into a person's skin, but only bites and leaves behind saliva. It's the saliva that actually makes you itch. So, solutions such as nail polish are not the best treatment for the itching.

Some pests do not bite living beings but prefer to dine on fibers. One way to avoid moths, silverfish, and the like is to make sure that you keep your clothing clean. Whenever you store items for a season, make sure that they, too, are clean. One way to do this is to air and brush fabric items before storing them. Bugs are attracted to soil in clothing.

One of the most persistent of summer pests is ants. Here's a useful article about managing fire ants. Here's an article about dealing with the type of ants that invade the home.

Of course, the most famous of summer pests is the mosquito. Here's a resource that details seven methods for dealing with these pesky insects.

Happy homemaking!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Water and Weeds

Resources for learning about hard and soft water:

While we're talking about water, here's a discussion about bottled water, tap water, and filtered water.

Some people who use filtered water do so in order to take out chemicals such as flouride and chorine. So that the water will not be completely depleted of healthful chemicals, such as magnesium and calcius, they then add mineral drops to put these helpful minerals back into the water. I've never tried this, so someone who has might want to leave a comment with information about this.

Gardening: Weeds

It's half-way through summer, and, by now, you've probably done battle with seasonal weeds. Even if you don't have a garden, you probably have plucked a few weeds in your landscape beds, containers, or other spots.

Loosely speaking, a weed is simply a plant that is growing where it is not wanted and where it was not intentionally planted. Thus, grass is a desirable plant in your lawn, but a weed when it sprouts in your flower bed. Of course, there are plants that are generally labeled as weeds, such as dandelions or thistles or crabgrass. Even these, however, have acquired their weedy reputation because they commonly encroach in areas where they are considered to be undesirable.

While you might not be happy to see a certain plant taking root in your garden or yard or field, you might find that it serves a beneficial purpose. For one thing, weeds are a good indicator of the type of soil you have. Certain weeds appear when there are particular deficiencies in the soil, when there are certain PH levels, levels of salinity, etc. Also, weeds can actually add minerals and trace elements to soil which has been depleted. Weeds send down deep roots, and, through soil capillary, they can enable domesticated plants to endur drought better than they could alone. Weeds can also prevent erosion and depletion of minerals in soil that is not covered with grass or purposeful garden plants. Some plants that are typically regarded as weeds can be used for food both for people and for livestock.

And, by happy chance, you might find that you enjoy the look of a wildflower that has found its way to your corner of the world. You might also enjoy the fruit of a weed. I knew a family who found a watermelon plant growing in their yard after they had cut and eaten a seeded watermelon outdoors. While it wasn't planted deliberately, it produced another watermelon. The plant -- though it might be considered a weed by the definition above -- provided some fun for the family, as well as a tasty treat.

Having said all of that, it's obvious that weed control is necessary for maintaining a planted field, a garden, or a yard. When allowed to proliferate, weeds choke out more delicate domestic plants. They can ruin the look of a pretty flower bed or garden, as well.

Of course, there are many strong synthetic chemical solutions designed to control weeds. However, most of us either want to reduce the need to use such strong sprays and granules or eliminate the need for them entirely.

Two common methods of eliminating weeds naturally are to use mulch or to lay down plastic or other weed resistant materials. If the plastic is layered underneath the soil, holes allow the desired plants to grow, while the plastic smothers weeds. There are also organic sprays and solutions, as well.

Of course, there are always the methods that Great Grandmother used, such as using a gardening hoe or a Dutch fork.

For more specific information abou weed control, check out the following.

Managing weeds with a light touch
Organic weed control
Weed control
What do your weeds say?

Happy Home Keeping!