News Release Distributed 11/29/10Many consumers are experiencing an off year due to a “bah humbug” economy, but LSU AgCenter family economist Jeanette Tucker says holiday spending is expected to be up this year. Americans will spend about $688 per household on gifts, decorations, food and other purchases this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation – a 2.3 percent increase over 2009 sales. If this amount was put on a credit card at 18 percent interest – and assuming only minimum payments at 2 percent were made – it would take more than six years to pay off the balance. Tucker points out consumers would also pay $485 in interest charges. “Considering the current economic climate, families are encouraged to plan their holiday purchases more carefully than ever,” she said, advising families to avoid allowing holiday spending to cause their financial security to backslide. Tucker says it’s best to say “no” to gifts and other purchases that you truly cannot afford. “The greatest gift you can give your family is financial stability.” From gifts and parties to decorations and travel, the holiday season brings a multitude of financial pressures. “Don’t let this pressure, often combined with enticing sales and impulse purchases of last-minute items, cause you to lose perspective,” Tucker says. “Remember, spending money you don’t have to save money on a sale item is no savings at all.” The LSU AgCenter expert offers these tips to manage spending during this holiday season: – Make a budget and commit to following it. Identify and list all the gifts and decorations you plan to buy, the parties you will attend and the travel expenses you anticipate. Calculate how much you can realistically afford to spend on each of these items. Do not exceed your preset limits. – Make a gift list and check it twice. Like Santa, list all family members, friends and co-workers for whom you plan to make purchases. Be flexible in cutting the list to accommodate your budget. – Comparison shop. Consider online shopping to compare products and costs to find the best deals, but be sure to figure in shipping costs. Check sale ads regularly, and be selective in your shopping. Remember, it’s the thought that counts, not the price. Once you have purchased a gift for someone, cross them off your list. Avoid adding last-minute impulse items just to make your gift seem more meaningful. – Trim your list. To maintain your budget, you may have to cut down your list of recipients and gifts. Discuss alternative options with close friends and family members. Consider drawing names; exchanging “homemade” gift certificates for babysitting, home repair, yard work or other services; sharing a photograph of the gift giver and recipient; substituting “family’ gifts for individual gifts; mutually agreeing to limit gifts to something personal, meaningful but inexpensive or even suspending some gift exchanges this year. You also may have to be selective in the parties you attend. Many people will add substantial costs with other expenses, such as elaborate gift wraps and sending holiday cards. Avoid costly wrapping and consider sending a letter or personalized electronic greeting rather than individual cards. – Begin saving for next year. Although it may be late this year, remember, holiday spending is an annual expense. Consider establishing a savings account that you regularly contribute to throughout the year. Check to see if your bank or credit union offers “Holiday Club” accounts that allow you to make regular, automatic deposits. Savings will help reduce your dependence on credit when the holidays roll around. But if you turn to credit cards, be sure to use them responsibly, Tucker says. Designate one card to use for holiday shopping and leave the others at home. Be sure to select a card with a low interest rate – check for zero percent interest offers. Finally, keep a record of all expenses and stay within your budget so you can pay off the bill when it arrives in January. “Remember, those ‘bargains’ that are so tempting in the store are not really bargains if you end up paying interest on them,” Tucker says.
News Release Distributed 11/19/10When it comes to preparing a holiday turkey, cooks can choose from a variety of methods, including marinating, brining and basting. These methods involve the use of a liquid to change or improve the flavor, taste, tenderness or texture of poultry, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames. They can be done at home, or birds may be purchased already marinated, basted or brined. Marinating means to steep food in a marinade – a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. The acid in marinades causes the tissue to break down and has a tenderizing effect. “The breaking down of the tissue also causes the poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier,” Reames says. “Too much vinegar or hot sauce in a marinade, however, can have the opposite effect and cause the meat to be stringy and tough.” Poultry may be marinated by completely immersing it in the marinade. To help infuse the marinade, you may use a fork to make holes in the meat or use a needle-like injector. Poultry can be refrigerated for up to two days in a marinade. For easy cleanup, use a food-grade plastic bag and discard it after use. Or you can use food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass containers. In any event, cover poultry while marinating in the refrigerator. For safety’s sake, Reames says, don’t use marinade from raw poultry as a sauce unless it is boiled first to destroy bacteria. Brining means to treat with or steep in brine – a strong solution of water and salt. A sweetener such as sugar, molasses, honey or corn syrup may be added to the solution for flavor and to improve browning during cooking. Salt in the brine dissolves protein in the meat, and the salt and protein reduce moisture loss during cooking, Reames says. This makes meat juicier and more tender. To prepare a brine solution for poultry, add 3/4 cup of salt to one gallon of water or three tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Add sweetener, such as sugar or molasses, if you wish. Place the brining solution in a food-grade plastic, stainless steel or glass container and totally submerge the turkey. Store it covered in the refrigerator. “For best results, refrigerate at least overnight,” Reames says. “Poultry may be left in the refrigerator up to two days after it’s thawed or purchased fresh.” If you’re stuffing a marinated or brined turkey, marinate or brine the bird first and then cook it immediately after stuffing. A third way to cook a turkey is by basting it in the oven. “Basting adds flavor and color and prevents poultry from drying out,” Reames says. Basting means to moisten meat or other food while it’s cooking, generally with melted butter or other fat, meat drippings or liquid such as a stock. The basting liquid can be spooned or brushed on the turkey or drizzled with a bulb baster. If you’re basting a bird, remember that each time the oven door is opened, the oven temperature is lowered and additional cooking time may be needed. And always use clean utensils to avoid cross-contamination, Reames says. However you prepare it, be sure to cook your turkey safely. Set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees, and cook whole birds or parts to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer. Stores may sell raw poultry products that already have been marinated, basted or brined, Reames says. These products have been injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock, or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers, colorings, or other approved substances. “If you see terms such as basted, self basted, marinated or for flavoring on a raw-poultry label, a solution has been added during processing – up to 3 percent by weight for bone-in poultry and up to 8 percent by weight for boneless poultry,” Reames says.
News Release Distributed 11/19/10By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings Whether renovating an existing landscape or working on a new landscape, we need to remember that soil pH and proper preparation of landscape beds will be essential in determining the performance of your ornamental plants. A Louisiana landscape planned for long-term success includes these important considerations. Optimum soil pH is critical for landscape success. Louisiana has soils that are somewhat variable in pH ranges. Ideally, a perfect soil pH for most ornamental plants in Louisiana is 5.5-6.5. Soil pH is a measurement of its acidity or alkalinity. A pH value of 7 is neutral while a pH value less than 7 is acid and a pH value greater than 7 is alkaline or basic. Soil pH is raised by using lime (normally dolomitic lime in landscape situations) and is lowered by using sulfur. Always adjust pH based on the results of a soil test. Some plants in Louisiana landscapes and home gardens are classified as acid-loving. These plants do best with a soil pH slightly lower than other plants that we commonly grow. A soil pH in the 5.0-5.5 range is preferable for plants that require more acid growing conditions. Common examples are blueberries, camellias, sansanquas, dogwoods, azaleas, periwinkle, petunias and pansies. In turfgrass, centipede grass prefers acid soil, while St. Augustine grass prefers neutral to slightly alkaline soil. The LSU AgCenter Soil Testing and Plant Analysis Lab can conduct soil testing for you. It will provide a report with information on soil pH and also the levels of many essential nutrients present in your soil. A routine test is $10. You can access information from the LSU AgCenter Soil Testing Lab at www.lsuagcenter.com/soillab. Once you know your soil pH, you can move on to bed preparation. Several factors need to be carefully considered when you are developing beds for ornamental plants. Improving internal drainage should be the first priority. This can be accomplished by amending some of our existing soils, but more intensive work may be needed in more poorly drained soil types. French drains can remove water from poorly drained areas by providing subsurface drainage. You can construct a French drain by first selecting an area lower than the landscape site. Dig a trench, fill it partially with gravel and lay pipes to carry water away from the planting site. Sometimes lawn areas benefit from French drains, and landscape beds may need French drains depending on the individual situation. Raised beds are almost essential for successful landscape plant establishment if French drains or “pitcher’s mounds” are not used. A raised bed at least 6-8 inches deep can be enclosed with decorative bricks, concrete edging, landscape timbers, railroad ties or 4x4s. Chemically treated wood is safe for use around ornamental plants. A raised bed does not necessarily have to have a physical border on the edge. If properly prepared and well mulched when completed, the soil should hold in the bed and not wash away in heavy rainfall. We recommend a “pitcher’s mound” or berm when planting an individual tree or shrub. This accomplishes the same thing as a raised bed, but it’s done for an individual plant. The berm should be 1 foot tall and needs to come out from the center gradually and slope down to the surrounding soil level. If you’re planting directly in a heavy clay soil, incorporate a 3-inch layer of new soil to form a transition layer between the existing soil and any soil that is added. A sudden change in soil texture disrupts the flow of water and causes a stagnant area beneath the new soil. It’s highly likely that roots of a newly planted tree or shrub will not move out of the planting hole if you don’t follow proper planting procedures. Soil preparation, drainage and pH are very important in landscape gardening success. Do not overlook this important factor. Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.
News Release Distributed 11/17/10Pies are traditionally served at holiday feasts, but some need to be treated carefully, according to Beth Reames, a nutritionist with the LSU AgCenter. To prevent foodborne illness, pumpkin, custard and cream pies and others containing eggs and milk and pecan pies made with eggs should be refrigerated within two hours of preparation, Reames says. And they shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours when they’re being served. Holiday cakes, cookies and breads with perishable fillings or frosting also should be refrigerated. “Eggs and milk have high protein and moisture content,” she says. “Bacteria can multiply rapidly when foods containing these perishable items are left at room temperature. Refrigerate perishables, prepared foods and leftovers within two hours.” Pies containing eggs and milk should be baked to at least 160 degrees, cooled quickly and refrigerated until they’re served, Reames says. Leftovers should be returned to the refrigerator. “Commercial pumpkin pies have preservatives and other ingredients added to make them shelf-stable,” Reames says. “They may be displayed and stored at room temperature, but once cut, they should be refrigerated. Check the label on commercially baked pies for storage requirements.” Leftover fruit pie, which typically is prepared without eggs, can be covered and stored unrefrigerated for up to two days. To maintain best quality, however, refrigerate them. The nutritionist recommends storing fruit pies in the refrigerator during warm weather.
News Release Distributed 11/15/10For most Americans, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without turkey. But cooking a big bird requires care, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames. “There is no quality difference between a fresh or frozen turkey, although fresh turkeys have shorter shelf lives,” Reames says. “By purchasing a frozen turkey, you can often take advantage of special sales.” To make sure you have enough turkey for the feast and for leftovers too, purchase at least one pound of uncooked turkey per person, If you choose to buy a frozen bird, make sure you have adequate storage space in your freezer. If you buy a fresh turkey, be sure you purchase it only one to two days before cooking. Proper thawing is important to prevent growth of harmful bacteria that may have been present prior to freezing a turkey. Reames says three safe ways to thaw a turkey safely are in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or less, in cold water and in a microwave oven. When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey, she says. Place a frozen turkey – still in its store wrap – in a baking sheet with a lip or a shallow pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. To thaw a bird in cold water, keep the turkey in the original packaging, place it in a clean and sanitized sink or pan, and submerge it in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. For microwave thawing, follow the oven manufacturer’s instructions. “Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing in a microwave because some areas of the turkey may become warm and begin to cook during microwave thawing,” Reames says. For safety’s sake, wash your hands for 20 seconds in hot, soapy water after handling raw poultry or meat, she says. Also, be sure that utensils, plates, work surfaces, etc. have been thoroughly cleaned. Keep raw foods separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination, Reames warns. It is important that the juices from raw meat and poultry do not come into contact with food that will be eaten without cooking. Also, never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat or poultry. To cook a turkey safely, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees, Reames says. To make sure a whole turkey has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, use a food thermometer to check the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast. An unstuffed turkey that weighs 14 to 18 pounds will need to cook approximately 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours in a 325-degree oven. “The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety,” Reames says. “Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink.” If you decide to stuff a turkey, prepare the stuffing and stuff it into the cavity immediately before it's placed in the oven. When you cook a stuffed turkey, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperatures of both the turkey and the center of the stuffing, the nutritionist says. If the turkey is done and the stuffing has not reached 165 degrees, remove the stuffing from the turkey and place it in a greased casserole dish to continue cooking. For optimum safety, cook stuffing separately from the turkey, Reames says. Cooking stuffing separately also will help prevent overcooking the bird. Take care of leftovers promptly to keep foodborne bacteria from growing. Cut the turkey into small pieces and refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within three to four days and gravy within one to two days, or freeze these foods. Consumers with food safety questions can call the toll-free U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday–Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
News Release Distributed 11/12/10By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen OwingsNovember and early December are excellent times for planting trees in Louisiana. We have many excellent species of trees recommended for the state, including our native trees, such as the Louisiana state tree – the baldcypress – and the Louisiana state flower – the Southern magnolia. During late fall and through the winter months, the soil is still warm enough to encourage vigorous root growth, and trees will have several months to get established before next summer’s heat. At the same time, the weather is cool, and the trees are going dormant, helping reduce stress. Normally generous rainfall during winter also makes constant attention to watering unnecessary. Planting at this time of year is especially beneficial for balled-and-burlapped trees because they lose so much of their root systems when they are dug. You can plant trees properly by following these steps: – Dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball. – Remove a container-grown tree from its container. If the root ball is tightly packed with thick encircling roots, try to unwrap, open up or even cut some of the roots to encourage them to spread into the surrounding soil. Place the root ball in the hole. – Place balled-and-burlapped trees into the planting hole. Remove any nails, nylon twine or wire basket that has been used to secure the burlap. Then fold down the burlap from the top half of the root ball or remove the burlap. – Make the top of the root ball level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant trees too deep. – Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil, without any additions, to backfill around the tree. Add soil until the hole is half full. Then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets, but do not pack it tightly. Finish filling the hole, firm the soil again and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in. – Generally, do not fertilize trees planted during fall, although you can apply some slow-release fertilizer next spring. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional. – Stake the tree if it is tall enough to be unstable; otherwise, staking is not necessary. If you use stakes, drive two or three firmly into the ground just beyond the root ball. Use strips of cloth or nylon stockings – or use wire covered with a piece of garden hose where it touches the trunk – tied to the stakes and then to the trunk of the tree. Leave the support in place no more than nine to 12 months. – Keep the area 1 to 2 feet out from the trunk of a newly planted tree mulched and free from weeds and grass. This encourages the tree to establish faster by eliminating competition from grass roots. It also prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from damaging the bark at the base of the tree, which can cause stunting or death. The mulch should be 2 to 4 inches deep and pulled back slightly from the base of the trunk. Follow these steps and you’ll be successful with your tree-planting efforts. Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.
(Distributed 11/1/10) Many gardeners get caught up in using the same bedding plants year after year. Pansies are very popular for the cool season, but the LSU AgCenter also recommends other cool-season bedding plants for home landscape use.
(Distributed 11/04/10) Fish and other seafood are rich sources of the omega-3 fatty acids known as DHA and EPA, which have been found to provide protection from chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames.
(Distributed 11/05/10) Some of the most popular plants being sold in Louisiana these days are Encore azaleas. These multiseasonal blooming azaleas debuted in the late 1990s and have tendencies to bloom during spring, summer and fall.