Holidays

Holiday Traditions

This year we decided to ask some of our Extension agents what their favorite holiday traditions were. Below are their answers.

Matt Browning, Director of Communications – My holiday tradition is to redvelvetcheesecakemake a cheesecake for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration, and I’ve been toying with various recipes for about 10 years. I’ve long been a fan of the red velvet cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory, so a few years ago I concocted my own version by combining a few different recipes. I use these Southern Red Velvet Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting recipes from Food Network and my go-to New York Cheesecake recipe from Kraft (sans the crust and the pie filling). I make each recipe individually (usually doubling the frosting one), slice the cakes horizontally, stack them (alternating layers), and then frost. It’s a bit time-consuming but extremely delicious!

Bonnie Dunn, Extension Specialist – Christmas Eve candle light formal dinner with the family and friends. This is how my children learned their proper dining manners that prepared them for their future place in life. The menu has always been the same — Appetizer: Shrimp cocktail and cheese ball. Dinner: beef tenderloin, baked potato, green beans, salad, homemade rolls, fruit salad. Dessert: pumpkin pie, old-fashioned sugar cream pie, lemon cheese pie and a variety of homemade cookies, iced tea and sparkling cider (non-alcoholic) in champagne flutes. We continue to do this but have had to modify a little as the circle of family and friends has increased.

Stacy Ford, Extension Agent – We always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, so we relax on Christmas day and watch the A Christmas Story movie marathon! Also, my family collects Christmas ornaments, mainly Hallmark, so it’s always fun to get them out and see the ones on my Mom’s tree, too.

Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist – One of my favorite things to do to eatnparkchristmasstar750kick off the holiday season is to watch the Eat’n Park Christmas Star commercial. I grew up just south of Pittsburgh, and you always knew it was Christmastime when it came on TV.

Kaysha Moreno, Extension Agent – My favorite holiday tradition is being able to sit around with family drinking hot cocoa and watching Christmas movies. Oftentimes, we get so wrapped up in obtaining and giving gifts that we miss the true feeling of peace and love that Christmas brings.

Paper Chains: A New Twist on an Old Classic

By Tabitha Surface, Extension Agent

There aren’t many of us who haven’t made paper chains as kids whether that was to decorate a Christmas tree or classroom or count down to a very important date. This year, my family is bringing back the tradition but with a few updates, which means these decorations don’t just have to be for the holidays.

Fbook-paper-chainirst, the paper chain. Instead of using craft paper, try making the paper chain from old books. If you are doing this with your kids, see which of their books they’ve outgrown but that are also too beat up to be donated. If you don’t have books, you can always buy them on the cheap and around a theme. For instance, book stores often have comic books for a buck and thrift stores are great places to find old favorites or books of sheet music.

rags-chainThe next chain is my mother’s innovation. Using nothing but old sheets and paper towel rolls, you can have a very rustic chic chain. First, cut the paper towel rolls into 1 inch rings. Then, cut strips of fabric about ½ inch wide. Wrap one end of the fabric around the ring and tie it off. Then, continue wrapping until the ring is covered. If you run out of material, just tie another strip on. When the ring is covered, tie it off again but leave a slightly longer tail. That tail will tie to the next ring you cover. Attach as many rings as you’d like. You can opt to use similar colors and patterns or be very eclectic. Once it’s done, drape your chain around a tree or wrap it with lights and decorate a door.

The best part is that you can enjoy time with your family while you craft. Plus, these chains, unlike the popcorn you might string, can last for more than a single year. Happy holidays!

Turkey Talk: The Ins and Outs

By Bonnie Dunn, Tabitha Surface and Robin Turner, Extension Agents

Thanksgiving is a time for good food and drink with family and friends, but the common centerpiece of the holiday dinner – especially Thanksgiving – is turkey. And while delicious, turkey does have its own set of preparation steps that must be carefully followed to ensure it is cooked appropriately. Here are a few guidelines that will ensure all your guests remain happy and healthy during your “turkey day” festivities.

Thawing: There are a few ways to thaw a turkey, but the best is to thaw it in the refrigerator. This will allow the turkey to thaw at the proper temperature, which also slows the growth of harmful bacteria. If you must use water to thaw your turkey, make sure the water is cold and drain it frequently to maintain the cold temperature.

Next, remember the letters “CSCS!” when the real turkey prep begins: Clean – Separate – Cook – Clean Up.

Clean: Wash hands, utensils, surfaces, and fruits and vegetables. Do not wash the turkey or eggs.

Separate: Keep all the meats separated from other food items by using separate cutting boards, utensils and towels. Wash your hands when switching from one utensil or recipe to another. Keep a sink full of clean, soapy, hot water to wash your hands as you are preparing each recipe. This ensures that no cross contamination occurs.

Cook: Yay! It is time to put the turkey in the oven. Try these helpful hints for a safe, delicious holiday!

  1. For a quick clean-up, purchase a turkey cooking bag at your local grocery store. This not only saves time on cleaning but also makes for a more moist and flavorful dinner.
  2. When stuffing is cooked inside the turkey, it is more moist and flavorful, but it absorbs some of the fat from the bird, so keep that in mind when calculating your caloric intake.
  3. Stuffing can be a source of foodborne illness, especially if placed inside the bird. Make sure all cutting boards, spoons, bowls and hands are very clean when preparing the mixture. Never stuff the bird before you are ready to bake it. Do not pack the cavity tight as the center may stay at the “temperature danger zone” too long.
  4. Baking stuffing separately from the turkey is safer and produces a lower-calorie side dish. If the stuffing is made early in the day, mix it very quickly and place in a prepared baking dish. Cover tightly and refrigerate immediately. When ready to bake, remove it from refrigerator and place directly into the preheated oven. Test to make sure the stuffing has heated all the way through before serving

 Clean up: Do not leave your Thanksgiving dinner out on the table beyond two hours after having taken it from the oven/stovetop to the table.

If you want to cook your turkey unstuffed, add extra flavor by placing the following items in the cavity of the turkey: one celery rib, one onion cut in half, and one whole carrot. Otherwise, try our Healthy Holiday Stuffing recipe below.

 

Healthy Holiday Stuffing:
Serves 8

Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup de-fatted turkey broth or 1 cup low-sodium non-fat chicken broth
1 cup sliced raw mushrooms
1 8-oz. package of seasoned stuffing mix
Non-stick cooking spray

Directions

  1. Wash, peel and finely chop carrots, celery and onion. Place in a medium saucepan with broth and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes.
  1. Slice mushrooms. Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat. Remove from heat briefly and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Return to heat and add mushrooms to saute.
  1. Place stuffing mix in large bowl. Add mushrooms and vegetables in broth. Toss lightly with a fork.
  1. Spray baking dish lightly with cooking spray. Spoon stuffing into baking dish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 325 degrees.
  1. If you choose to stuff your turkey, be sure to do it loosely.

Nutritional Values
Calories: 120
Sodium: 387 mg
Carbs: 25 g
Protein: 4 g
Fat: 1 g

Exchanges:
1 starch/bread and
1 vegetable

 

For additional information refer to: CDC Thanksgiving Food Safety

 

 

 

Cyber Monday

By Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist

In our third, and last, installment of “Thrifty Thursdays,” we are going to talk about Cyber Monday shopping tips. The term “Cyber Monday” was coined in 2005 as a reference to the Monday after Thanksgiving, where marketing companies were trying to sway people to shop online. This year, the online shopping event will take place on Monday, November 28. Below are some tips to help you get the most out of your shopping.

Do Your Homework
Most sites will release their ads a few days in advance, so take a look to see who is offering what and make a game plan. Also, let the deal bloggers do the work for you. Find a site or two to browse and you can save yourself tons of time. They will have the latest on promo codes, pricing and even some unadvertised offers.

Plan Ahead
If you know where you are planning to shop ahead of time (which you should, because you already scouted the ads, right?), take a few minutes ahead of time to create a customer account if you don’t already have one. This will save you time during checkout and will help you move on to the next site, and sale, quicker.

Stretch Your Dollar
Everyone loves to get more bang for their buck. One way to do this is to purchase discounted gift cards ahead of time for stores that you plan on shopping at. Another way to do this is to order through a rewards site to earn points or cash back. Or, if you are feeling generous and are shopping on Amazon, use Amazon Smile to have a portion of your purchase donated to a charity of your choice.

Be Quick on the Draw
Some sales only have a limited quantity of items or are only on sale for a certain amount of time. Be aware of this and plan to hit these sales early in day (or whatever time the sale starts) so you don’t miss out. Amazon offers early access to most of its Lightning Deals to Prime Members.

Beware of Shipping
There’s nothing like thinking you’re getting a great deal on your items only to find out when you go to checkout that the shipping is almost as much as your items. Make sure you are aware of the site’s shipping costs before you spend time shopping. There are some sites out there that will gather information for you on who has free shipping (thank you deal bloggers!). Another option to consider is to ship the items directly to the recipient. This will save you from having to travel with additional items. This is an especially good idea if you are flying for the holidays!

Be Safe
As always, when shopping online, make sure your computer is up to date with the latest anti-virus software and is protected from anti-spyware. Shopping on trustworthy sites is always the best way to ensure your personal information will be handled safely. To ensure your online purchase is secure, before paying, look in the address box for the “s” in https:// and in the lower-right corner for the lock symbol. Paying with credit cards or PayPal are often easiest when shopping online because, if something does happen, it is always possible to dispute unauthorized charges.

Hopefully these tips have helped you prepare for your holiday shopping. Good luck out there!

Black Friday 2016

By Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist

Black Friday has become, in a sense, a holiday of its own. Love it or hate it, one thing is for sure: it is the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season. With sales everywhere you turn, why not take an opportunity to save yourself some cash while buying gifts for your loved ones?

Show Your Loyalty
Joining a store’s loyalty program can get you special deals, sneak peeks, extra coupons or earn you store cash. Make sure you sign up for these loyalty programs before you head out for your Black Friday shopping.

Sign Up Early for Store Emails
Once you know where you plan on shopping, sign up for store emails a couple of weeks in advance (like, now!) to start receiving their special discounts. Often, stores will send a special coupon to customers for signing up to receive their emails. (Don’t forget, you can always unsubscribe from these later if you don’t want to continue getting them.)

Become a Follower
Just like signing up for store emails, another great way to stay up to date with the latest news, products and sales is to follow the company on social media. It is not uncommon for stores to offer exclusive sales to their social media followers, so keep your eyes peeled!

Consider Shopping with Gift Cards
If you know which stores you will be shopping at this holiday season, why not buy gift cards ahead of time to make your purchases with? Depending on where you buy your gift cards, you can rack up fuel rewards or even get them at a discounted price from sites like Raise.com. When combined with Black Friday prices, the savings really add up! (Plus, this will also help you stay within your budget because you’ll be more aware of how much you are spending.)

If you do purchase gift cards to shop with, consider using an app like Gyft so you can leave the bulky cards at home. Gyft not only stores your gift cards on your phone for you, but it also keeps an updated account of what is left on the card as you make your purchases.

Door Busters
Some stores offer guarantees for Door Buster sales during a certain period of time on Black Friday. This means that even though they may have sold out of the actual item, you can purchase a voucher at the advertised price during the block of time and will be able to pick up that item before Christmas once it is in stock again.

Also, it is worth noting that just about all of the sales offered in-store are also offered online, with the exception of Door Busters.

These are just a few shopping tips that I’ve found that help me. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? If so, comment below! May your cart always be full and your checkout lines be short. Good luck!

Not interested in fighting the crowds on Black Friday? Maybe online shopping in your pajamas is more your speed? Check back next week for Cyber Monday shopping tips.

Holiday Savings

By Stacy Herrick, Communications Specialist

‘Tis the season to start shopping for the holidays. Even though it is well before Thanksgiving, it’s never too early to start getting organized and getting ahead of the game. (I started back in October; don’t judge me.) Below are some time- and money-saving tips to help you get started.

Make a List
There are plenty of apps out there that can help you keep track of your Christmas lists, but I find Google Docs to be the easiest, because I already use it a lot as is. Plus, I am able to access it on my computer or phone and share my list with my husband so we can make sure we don’t miss buying for anyone.

Getting the “Must Have” Item on Your List
When purchasing gifts in advance, sometimes you may come across a better deal closer to the holiday. As long as you’re still within the timeframe of returns, that’s not a problem. Not to mention, it can also give you the flexibility to shop around but still make sure you were able to snag that “got to have” item on your list.

An example of this would be wanting to buy one of the “must have” toys of the season, but you’re not sure if you’ll be able to find it on Black Friday or Cyber Monday when everyone else is looking for the same item. Don’t fret! All you have to do is buy the item ahead of time (noting the timeframe you have to return it) and then when Black Friday and Cyber Monday come rolling around, do your best to try to get the item at the deeper discounted price. If you can, great! Go ahead and return the first item you bought at the higher price. If you didn’t get it, that’s o.k. because you were still able to get the item you wanted, just not at the discounted price.

Free is Always Good
Shipping for many online retailers is free during the holiday season. Some sites have a minimum that you have to purchase to get free shipping; however, many of these sites waive that during the holiday season. Either way, when shopping online, be sure to note how long it will take to deliver the items to ensure you receive them in time for the holidays.

When it comes to online shopping, be aware that not all returns are free. Sometimes you will have to pay the shipping to return an item. However, PayPal is offering free return shipping this holiday season on items that you purchase through your PayPal account.

There’s an App for That
Mobile apps are becoming more and more prominent when it comes to shopping. It is not uncommon for these apps to offer additional discounts or special promotions. Two examples of these are the JC Penney app and the Target Cartwheel app. The Cartwheel app offers weekly discounts in addition to what is offered in their circular. These discounts can also be stacked on additional coupons and sales, giving you even bigger savings. And this year, the JC Penney app is offering an early sneak peek to their Black Friday ad before it is publicly released.

Do Your Homework
From scouring weekly ad circulars to checking your favorite websites for the latest updates on sales, this information is everywhere and easily accessible. Follow your favorite stores on Facebook to keep up with the latest updates. It’s not uncommon for companies to offer additional savings to their social media followers. Other sites that you can use to get coupon codes, sales and deals are FatWallet.com and RetailMeNot.com. Another site that is set up as message boards to discuss current deal and coupon codes is SlickDeals.net. Sometimes sites like these can tip you off to other, lesser-known sales that are happening.

Hopefully this list will help you get you holiday shopping started on the right foot. Good luck and happy shopping!

Teal Pumpkin Project

By Tabitha Surface, CARD Extension Agent

Halloween is fast approaching and more than a few of us are scrambling to prepare the perfect costume. But food allergy parents have something more than last minute costumes to worry about. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), food allergies affect more than 15 million people in the United States, including 1 out of 13 children. That means if you are handing out candy this year, either at your door or at trunk-or-treat events, you’ll be dishing up treats to at least a few kids that can’t enjoy them.

 

Depending on the severity of the food allergy, parents might let their children trick-or-treat and swap out what has been collected with treats they know are safe for their kids. But, let’s be honest, that’s not nearly as fun as sifting through your take to see what you picked up along your route. Worse, holiday goodie bags or school events celebrated with food may exclude children with allergies. While exclusion is pretty common for a food-allergic child, it can have a negative impact on their self-worth and social-interactions, as well as potentially intensifying food-allergy related anxiety.

 

However, there are easy, inclusive solutions. For school parties, treat bags can be food-free or the parent of a food-allergy child can be consulted; they may be happy to help prepare classroom snacks so all the children have the same experience without putting their child in harm’s way. Always defer to the food-allergic child’s parent on matters of food. Remember, they spend a great deal of time trying to keep their kid safe, and while you may have the best of intentions, it can be very scary to trust a relative stranger with your kids life.

 

It gets even easier when it comes to trick-or-treating. Be a part of FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project by setting out a teal pumpkin. The teal pumpkin lets families with food-allergic children know that non-food treats will be offered. Even better, this gives kids who don’t have allergies but might have restrictive diets (such as diabetics) a safe option as well. Below is a list of ideas and a couple of great resources to get prepared even so close to Halloween.

 

1. Tattoos (This isn’t a bad idea but keep in mind that some inks are soy based, and soy is one of the top 10 allergens.)

2. Bubbles

3. Fake snakes and spiders

4. Slap Bracelets

5. Fortune Fish

6. Glow sticks/bracelets

 

And where can you get these fun toys? Retailers from the Dollar Tree to Wal-Mart carry inexpensive toys and gift-bag kits, but you can also order in bulk from Oriental Trading or Amazon when time permits.

 

In the Charleston-Huntington area, The Food Allergy Pharmacist partners with Kroger to host a Teal Pumpkin Project inspired trunk-or-treat. However, she takes it one step further and asks that sponsoring trunks offer no food treats at all. West Virginia State University Extension Service is a sponsor of the event. Join us on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Kroger on 7th Ave/1st Street Huntington and from 4 to 6 p.m. at the South Charleston Kroger. There will be lots of non-food goodies, carnival-style games and a dance party. Happy Halloween!

How to Care for a Poinsettia

By Melissa Stewart, Assistant Director

Poinsettias are one of the most beautiful staples of holiday décor, available in a variety of colors and sizes. But you can’t place one in your window and forget about it until New Year’s Day. Just like a live Christmas tree, with a poinsettia purchase comes the responsibility of caring for a live plant all through the holiday season.

In my previous life as a production grower, I spent many hours obsessing over poinsettias. Trying to grow the perfect plant, with at least 5 to 7 blooms and also compact in nature, was no easy task. My thoughts always went toward how that plant would be cared for once out of my hands. It was as if 50,000 of my children were being released into the world! With that in mind, I always had a few tips I passed along to customers who were excited to have a poinsettia for the holidays.

  • Poinsettias are tropical plants and aren’t ideal for outdoor decoration during the cold winter here in West Virginia. Protect them from the cold at all times, beginning at point of purchase and as you place them in your home. Keep them away from exterior doors where they can be exposed to sudden bursts of cold air.
  • Water your poinsettias when the soil starts to dry, but do not keep them overly wet.
  • Poinsettia pots are typically sold with a pot cover. These will hold in the moisture, and you will need to drain these covers after watering so the roots are not left submerged.
  • Poinsettia stems are delicate. If you notice that a poinsettia bract (flower) appears to be wilting, the stem has likely been broken. Therefore, the affected bract should be removed. Do not take this as a sign that the plant needs water. Check the soil to determine that need.
  • Finally, the berries in the center are an indicator of bloom age. The yellow centers will open, and then begin to drop off. Remove them and continue to enjoy the beauty of the bract colors.

While poinsettias may require different elements of care than many other houseplants, it’s still a minor amount of work compared to the added beauty they bring to your holiday decorations. These simple tips should help to keep your poinsettia happy throughout the holidays! And for even more poinsettia care advice, check out this post from the University of Georgia (keeping in mind that Georgia’s winter climate differs from West Virginia).

How to Choose a Live Christmas Tree

By Brad Cochran, Extension Agent

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. It’s that time of year when the lights, decorations and, of course, the Christmas tree go up inside and outside the home. Tree lots suddenly appear all over the neighborhood, selling freshly cut, live Christmas trees. But before you rush out to purchase the biggest and bushiest tree on the lot and strap it to the top of your car, there are a few things you should do to ensure you choose the best tree for your home.

  • How tall of a tree can your home handle? This may seem like common sense, but you don’t want to buy a 10’ tall tree and bring it home to a family room with 8’ ceilings. A quick measurement before you leave the house could save you lots of heartache later on.
  • How wide of a tree can your home handle? This falls right in line with the previous point. It is a good idea to measure all doors and hallways along the path from your driveway to where the tree will be staying through the holidays. Thankfully, tree branches are flexible and can bend a little bit, but trying to squeeze the tree to make it through the hallway always opens up opportunities to damage both the tree and your home. After all, remember what happened to the Griswolds in that holiday favorite National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!

  • Always inspect the trees at the lot. This allows you to check the tree for damaged places, such as dead or dying branches, and more importantly to check that the tree is well-balanced with about the same amount of greenery on each side. If one side is heavier than the other, it can make insertion and balance in the tree stand difficult.
  • Which species should you choose? One of the best tree species is a Balsam Fir, however other trees to consider are Douglas Fir and Fraser Fir; White Pine; and White, Norway and Blue Spruce. Each of these has positive and negative traits, like needle holding, branch firmness and fragrance to name a few. However, all of these would be quality trees to consider for your live Christmas tree.

Once you are through these steps and have your tree home and placed in the tree stand, be sure to keep it watered thoroughly. The warmer you keep your home, the more water it will require. But generally speaking it will require at a minimum of 20 ounces per day. The general recommendation is to keep the tree stand full, or close to full, at all times. Also, remember to never leave the lights on your live tree turned on while you’re asleep or away from home. Visit the National Christmas Tree Association for some additional tree care tips.

After the holidays are over and you are packing up your decorations, think about disposing of your tree. If you have a backyard space or some unused area, consider placing the tree outside to become a habitat for birds and other small critters for the winter. If you don’t have this sort of space or it doesn’t interest you at all, contact your local Department of Environmental Protection or Division of Natural Resources office. They may be interested in using it for wildlife habitat creation or even in streams to create habitat for fish. West Virginia has traditionally hosted a Christmas tree recycling event each year for the past decade (like this event last year). We’ll share details on a similar event this year should the tradition continue.