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Friday, 10 May 2013
Baby Greens, Lettuce & Food Safety in the Garden
Topic: Education and Values

About those baby greens...

We all know how nutritious and appealing those dark green, colorful baby greens, lettuces and herbs are in a salad, don't we? And, of course, how pretty they are in edible gardens, raised beds, and container plantings. Most everyone who plants a garden will plant an assortment of greens and lettuce.





Today's post is a reminder of how to best harvest and then prepare those raw greens.

This container of triple-washed, properly refrigerated organic baby mixed greens is safer eaten directly from its carton than if you were to wash it again in your kitchen sink!






In fact, you should not risk any unintended cross-contamination to this product by putting it anywhere other than your refrigerator for continued cold storage OR directly into the salad bowl for mixing and eating.

The standards in the industry for this food product is to harvest in the coolest part of the day and immediately field cool, then cold water wash and “spin dry” --meanwhile assuring that all equipment involved is sanitized and human handlers adhere to hand-washing standards at frequent intervals.

Greens are not “sanitized” but pathogens are minimized. Techniques include mitigating field contamination (flood waters, runoff water, contaminated irrigation water, bird droppings, animals, etc) , mitigating human contamination (proper instruction and handling), rapid and continuous cooling below 41 degrees, adhering to “good agricultural practices,” and quality monitoring of practices.

But, even with great techniques, raw greens are not recommended for people who have low immune defenses such as low white blood cell counts, on chemotherapy, etc. If in doubt, double-check with your doctor and ask if they advise restrictions in eating raw foods.

How can you improve your food safety practices with baby greens and lettuce that are home-grown in the backyard garden?

Pathogens grow best at room temperature so we want cut greens and lettuces to be kept at refrigeration temperature, below 41 degrees (but not below freezing of course!). Remember this counts for those cut greens and lettuce leaves you are buying at a Farmers' market or produce store, too! They should be in coolers or refrigerated cases when they're sold to you and ideally, you should keep a cooler in your car for transport back to your house especially in the Summer.

Another way to reduce pathogens on your raw leaves is to dress salads with acid based dressings, think about vinegar-and-oil and lemon juice-and-oil. In general, all salads should be served immediately after dressing, or return back to refrigeration.

Now that you've harvested, cooled, washed, and refrigerated your baby greens, how about a nice salad?

Here's my salad from last night:









Baby kale, Swiss chard, spinach dressed with equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil—whisk into an emulsion and toss with the greens 40 times. Then add some toasted walnuts and goat cheese crumbles.

Finally—did you notice from this post that I gave you at least 3 great ideas for Mothers' Day?

Posted by Karen at 16:21 CDT
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Sunday, 21 April 2013
Lemons Part 2--The Juice!
Topic: Education and Values

Lemons- Part 2

The Juice

So, now that I have zest peelings incubating with vodka and lemon oil extracted from others, I can work the juice extracted from about 50 lemons, yielding this half gallon of juice and pulp. Because I used a juicer on seeded, peeled lemons, I have some residue pulp and stuff which can easily be skimmed off or run through a strainer.


Then I have wonderful, healthy, truly organic and fresh lemon juice.

Must try a classic lemonade first. In fact, I have been craving a glass of lemonade since I woke up this morning. And you know the kitchen wisdom that says —if your body craves a particular food, it must need one of its components.



This tall glass of lemonade is made from 2 ozs. Fresh lemon juice, and 8 ozs. of pure and chemical free-water. Add your choice of natural sweetener (pure cane sugar, honey, Stevia extract, agave nectar, etc)

Proportions again are 1 part lemon juice to 4 parts water. Add in sweetener to taste.

Remember drinking my glass of lemonade above is equivalent to eating 1&1/2 lemons. I must have needed the natural vitamin C, citrus bioflavinoids, potassium and calcium that lemons have or, maybe just hydration--

Of course, last night I needed to make a Classic Lemon Meringue Pie.


I used the Fannie Farmer Cookbook recipe since I was feeling very “retro” having just worked with all that zest. But, mind you, I hadn't made anything meringue in maybe 2 -plus decades. So, I consulted the book, put the meringue on the pie and placed it under the broiler as directed. I turned the broiler on “high” and, following the directions, intended to wait for 3 minutes.

I peeked at one minute and, thank God! My meringue had just ignited and was a flaming marshmallow surface


I quickly put out the fire—only a few moments' worth of blaring smoke alarms and no witnesses.

Then, I peeled off the black skin (just like when you ignite marshmallows on a stick over a fire). I still had sufficient meringue to send the pie back under the broiler, now on “low” and several inches below the heat source. It was ready in about 45 seconds.

You know what happened, right? My double oven is electric—the last time I made meringue it was under a gas broiler whose flames were no where near as hot as the high setting on an electric one.

Moving on...

Two other great ideas for lemon juice are in marinades and salads.


Mix equal parts of olive oil with lemon juice. Whisk until emulsified and add whatever seasonings your heart desires.



Example—the marinade for Chicken Oreganato ( or Greek chicken) has dried oregano, fresh garlic and chopped onions added to the lemon juice-olive oil mixture. The chicken is then grilled.

The strip steaks from last night's dinner were marinated in lemon juice and olive oil in proportions as above, but I added fresh garlic and some Italian blend mixed seasonings.


The possibilities are endless for seasoning combinations. Use your imagination.


Mix lemon juice and olive oil in either equal parts OR 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts olive oil, according to your acidity preference in your final product. Whisk briskly! Add spices and seasonings according to your final product, salt and pepper, whisk again. Pour over your vegetables and toss forty times (never forget that rule ) so that your lemon juice-olive oil dressing is completely distributed (from the French—fatigue le salad).

Here is where true creativity really stands out—you need to use your resources and adapt according to local food availability and don't be afraid of trying the truly old grains and legumes in your final salad. Definitely, think beyond lettuce greens alone (although, no question here that chopped kale, spinach, and broccoli love lemon juice-olive oil dressings)!

We are going to a party later today. So I wanted to throw together a light, salad-y lunch for us. I made some bulgar wheat, added rinsed chickpeas, drained chopped tomatoes, my equal parts lemon juice and olive oil with garlic powder, lots of parsley and cilantro—whisked and then tossed.  Rice, quinoa, pasta noodles, beans and lentils--all LOVE a lemon juice and olive oil based dressing.


Another salad that I love to make is Cannellini Bean Salad (White kidney beans). It really goes well with grilled meats in the summer. This salad with its lemon juice and olive oil based dressing, has chopped celery, carrots, green onion in addition to the rinsed and drained cannellini beans and the seasoning besides salt and pepper is...dried dillweed--whisk into the lemon juice and olive oil mixture and toss into your vegetables 40 times. 

You can see that lemon juice and olive oil based salads, because of their high acidity, are among the safest foods for picnicking and al fresco dining. But always try to remember the food safety principle: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold—as much as possible.

And enjoy that lemon juice!

Posted by Karen at 15:36 CDT
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Saturday, 20 April 2013
Lemons--Start with ZEST
Topic: Education and Values

Lemons- Part One

Working with ZEST


You know the saying—when life hands you lemons, make lemonade--


But think again—and start with the zest first. You'll get to the juice soon enough (in Part Two).


My very “organic” friend in California, Betty Cahill (delishytown.tumblr.com), sent me this huge box of organic lemons this week. She's an avid organic gardener and garden designer, sustainable ag aficionado, cook, creator of multiple products, etc—and she knew I'd appreciate the gift.




The sheer volume of these beautiful lemons allows me to try some projects I had been thinking about. Let's start with lemon zest in this post.


Lemon oil, extracted from the zest is a very interesting product. It's a beautiful fragrance enhancer, useful in aromatherapy, candle, soap making, potpourri and diffuser fragrances, facial scrubs and shampoos, combined with oil soap as a leather cleaner and softener and furniture cleaner , and further diluted useful as a wood and laminate floor cleaner. It's a natural insecticide. And diluted in a spray bottle, can be used to disinfect countertops.


Pure lemon oil, commercially extracted requires 100 +lemons to create 1 oz. of pure lemon oil. But you can extract lemon oil from peeled zest directly into olive oil and have a very concentrated lemon oil-in -olive oil final product, very intense, that can be substituted into any recipe calling for lemon oil. And you'll only use about 10-12 lemons and 1 cup of olive oil to yield 8 oz. of final product.


Please note: lemon oil is very potent and the small portions called for in recipes should be respected.


Here's a 6 hour extraction process using a mini-crockpot, 1 cup of pure extra-virgin olive oil and the zest peelings of 10-12 lemons, basically one cup of zest peelings.


Measure 1 cup of peelings, place in the mini crockpot and cover with olive oil. In the mini crockpot, it will totally cover the peelings.





Turn on the crockpot (the mini is a low setting) and cover, allowing to cook for 6 hours.


Line a colander with cheesecloth or pour over a large strainer into a bowl, capturing the oil in the bowl. Discard the peels. Transfer the oil into a glass oil bottle, storing in the pantry or cupboard out of direct sunlight. Your one cup yield will last for many, many potpourri refreshenings, fragrance projects, and cleaning/disinfecting activities.




But, maybe you'd like a totally different approach to zest.


Here's my second project from zest—and one that my friends will appreciate because I intend to bottle this up as little gifts.


Have you ever had Limoncello ???


Limoncello is a liqueur, inspired by the lemon groves of southern Italy. It's usually served as chilled “shots” in really cute little lemon colored glasses. But it's also great as an appertif over ice or mixed with tonic or seltzer or maybe an icy Limoncello-martini? —a summertime treat...


Here's an easy recipe with the proportions that can be adapted to the amount of lemons you have, and how much you want to end up with—especially note if you are thinking about giving this as a gift to friends.


I was lucky to have lots of lemons still left after the oil extraction above—so consequently, I will have lots of Limoncello to share.


First, peel the zest part of the lemons—this means minimizing the white—and place into a measure-able container . You will add 2 times as much good quality, unflavored vodka to the container.




The basic recipe I'm using calls for 10 lemons, 1 liter vodka—so if you're starting from scratch, you can us this starting point for proportions. (It's from allrecipes.com and got 4.5 stars.)


So, I had close to 2 liters of zest peelings and I am adding 2 (1.75 L vodka) or 3.5 total liters.


Cover and put in your pantry for 1 week. Nothing will grow in it—it's all alcohol.


(BTW- this wonderful, food grade Rubbermaid container with cover was purchased at Sam's Club. I don't mind referencing Sam's Club because I have purchased some of my best cooking utensils and tools --Restaurant quality and sized-- at very reasonable prices. )


One week later...


Boil together—3 cups of pure cane sugar and 4 cups of water. Boil 15 minutes and it'll be syrup-y. Let it cool.


(because of my volume, I will have to increase the amounts by 3.5 times, right?)



Stir the strained lemon-infused vodka into the cooled syrup. You can now bottle it into sanitized glass bottles and cork it, or into sterilized canning jars and seal them. The liqueur should further age for 2 weeks at room temperature. Then it can be refrigerated and served chilled.

I promise photos in a couple of weeks of the final limoncello--


Meanwhile I am off to test my lemon oil and water in a spray bottle around a barn office door to see if the box elder bugs will avoid it !  And, I admit that I did make a shampoo with lemon oil that I have to try later today (lemon oil is great for blondes, but avoid in brunettes)


And, of course--I still have about 50 lemons to juice in the refrigerator!!!



Posted by Karen at 11:01 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 20 April 2013 19:03 CDT
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Thursday, 11 April 2013
Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese--Part 2
Topic: Education and Values

Making Yogurt Part 2

I have some more additions and caveats about making yogurt at home.


You can maintain a warmer temperature for incubating yogurt, if you put your incubating yogurt in the oven and simply turn on the oven light. It will bring the temperature up, but not too high, as would occur with turning the oven on. You must keep temperature warm but under 112 degrees.


Try to find real milk. By law, milk must be pasteurized—but it does not need to be homogenized, which transforms the essential properties. And NEVER use ultra-pasteurized for yogurt or cheese.

Here is what non-homogenized, not-ultra-pasteurized, natural (but pasteurized) milk looks like when it's transformed into yogurt. See the beads of cream? This batch of yogurt is made from grass-fed dairy cattle milk and is higher in conjugated linoleic acid—a healthy fatty acid!




If you are stuck with pasteurized, homogenized milk—then you must add some rennet to create your yogurt. Add 2 drops (yep, that's right)2 drops of liquid rennet dissolved in a couple tablespoons of filtered water for every quart of milk. You can buy rennet on the net (my source was over Amazon). An ounce or two will last a lifetime (really).

Here's a photo of yogurt cheese made from homogenized milk.


I first made yogurt. Then put it in a muslin-lined colander, in a stainless steel bowl, in the refrigerator overnight.





Whey--yogurt --and-- yogurt cheese

Reserve that whey for another cooking project. (I'm going to make my carrot soup recipe for a sick friend and add the whey.) Refrigerate.

The lovely, creamy yogurt cheese is the consistency of a spreadable dip or soft cream cheese. You can add kosher salt and dried herbs stirred in—or try dried fruits and roasted, chopped nuts and seeds-- and spread on warm toasted English muffins or crispy crackers? If I can get through the swampy, rain-soaked side yard to my garden, I will harvest some mint and wouldn't that be nice in this yogurt cheese???

Posted by Karen at 20:00 CDT
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Saturday, 6 April 2013
Make your own Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese
Topic: Education and Values

Making your own Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese


My project today is to make a batch of yogurt. I'm using a package of freeze-dried Yogurt starter culture blend, but you can use plain yogurt with live, active cultures for your starter cultures also.

You'll need:











Now, for the instructions.


  1. Calibrate your thermometer in ice water.  (Mix ice cubes with water in a measuring cup. Adjust the thermometer so it reads 32 degrees when placed in the ice water bath. There is a twist-able screw under the display. You should do this with your thermometer before any cooking project. Adjustable thermometers for cooking are readily available in any store—look for the NSF label).

  2. Clean and sanitize your equipment.

  3. Slowly heat milk on a low heat, using a whisk to gently keep milk heating evenly. This will take several minutes.

  4. Heat until the temperature measures 116 degrees.

  5. Turn off the heat and remove from burner.

  6. Slowly stir in the starter yogurt (or sprinkle on the granules). Allow to rest about 3-4 minutes if using granules, then stir in.

  7. Transfer to a warm, nonreactive container for the yogurt cultures to grow.

  8. Cover and place in a warm part of your kitchen for at least 8 hours—up to 12 hours if you have a larger volume of milk.

  9. Drain completed yogurt into a muslin lined colander over a bowl to collect the whey. Allow to drain about 20-30 minutes.

  10. Ladle the yogurt into separate containers and refrigerate.

  11. Reserve the whey in a glass jar for separate cooking projects, or freeze, or discard.

  12. Make sure you reserve some of your prepared yogurt to keep as a starter for your next batch. You may want to store this in a smaller jar in the refrigerator so it doesn't get contaminated (or eaten!).



If you want to make yogurt cheese from your homemade yogurt...


The curd is now Yogurt Cheese and can be used as a soft cheese spread, adding herbs or chopped dried fruit, as desired. Keep refrigerated.

Posted by Karen at 14:57 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 6 April 2013 14:59 CDT
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Sunday, 24 February 2013
West African Peanut Soup--Healthy Vegetarian Anytime!
Topic: Education and Values

Today's blog is under "education" because I want to take the opportunity to promote alternative foods for breakfast time. You know we are heavily marketed on the concept of cereals and "allegedly" whole grains for breakfast--with fruits in various forms like juice, smoothies, fruited yogurts.

But why not consider vegetables for breakfast?

I was “virtually” paging through Pinterest and found a pretty picture for a West African Peanut Soup. When I drilled down to find the recipe, I saw that the authors had formed their recipe by modifying the recipe of yet another chef. So, I knew I'd be doing the same—modifying a recipe to accommodate my needs and resources.

I have never actually looked up a recipe for a West African food. I have made "Jolli rice" from the region, but I followed an actual recipe given to me from a nurse I work with who is from Africa. And, I'd eaten her rice before I had the recipe. (Had she given me the recipe before I tried the rice dish, I would have known exactly what it tasted like just from reading the recipe.)

So, when I looked over the Pinterest authors' ingredient list for West African Peanut Soup, I KNEW it would taste great. I also knew it was healthy and, as written, vegetarian—actually vegan. This was important because I have been wanting to make a soup for two physicians I work with who start their shifts earlier than I do. When I get in at 6AM, they've already been at work for a few hours. They are both vegetarian, one is also vegan. At 6 AM, it's meal time for them and soup is a much better idea than a bowl of cereal or a sweet roll!

So, after seeing the Pinterest recipes, I checked my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer stocks, looked at Wiki for a quick review of what made West African food what it is –and –modified the recipe to suit my resources! I also had to make a bigger batch than the 4 servings the Pinterest recipes yielded, was concerned about their higher carb count and wanted to pack in the nutrients.

Why NOT have a savory soup for breakfast?!!!

West African cuisine is a lot like American deep south and creole cooking. The flavor combinations reflect the access these countries had with trading partners from all over the world—so you see things like ginger and chilis along with tomatoes and the whole gamut of greens. And in this recipe--we have savory-spicy onion, garlic, ginger and protein from peanuts, with colorful, nutrient-dense tomatoes and kale with a base of organic vegetable broth.

Here's my version of :

West African Peanut Soup

2 quarts of certified organic vegetable broth

1 large red onion chopped

2 inch piece of peeled ginger root, pulsed in the food processor with 6 garlic cloves

(see picture below)

1 tsp. Salt


Combine above in a large soup pot, bring to boil, cut back heat to simmer about 15 minutes until the onions are cooked.


1 cup of creamy, natural peanut butter

14 oz. Crushed tomatoes (this is ½ of a 28 oz can, refrigerate the rest because you'll be making this soup again next week—or try to buy the smaller can in the first place)

Whisk the peanut butter-tomato mixture into the broth mixture on the stove and again bring to boil, then cut back to a simmer.

Finally add by stirring in

1 large bunch of kale, chopped into small strips. Should yield about 6-8 cups loosely packed greens. Any kind of kale- flat or curly is fine. You can also use fresh spinach, Swiss chard, or other greens—just be sure to use the tender part of the leaves, not stem or thick veins.

(But, do save all the discarded stems and coarse veins for your chickens-they LOVE greens of all kinds)

Continue to cook about 20 minutes more until the flavors have developed and the greens have cooked down in volume and are limp.

Adjust seasonings by adding more salt and a little cayenne pepper or other ground, hot chili pepper or even a few shakes of hot sauce—according to your taste preferences.



So--try this recipe and serve it--ANYTIME!


Posted by Karen at 14:28 CST
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Sunday, 3 February 2013
Veggie sides--think outside the box
Topic: Education and Values


A "camera photo" of dinner 2 nights ago. I roasted a free range chicken quite simply--olive oil to the outside skin, sprinkling of seasoned salt and then stuffed some sage leaves in the carcass--though in retrospect I could have snipped some rosemary sprigs from my indoor plants, too.-- I made a simple gravy with pan drippings. Roast chicken is always a great entree.


The creative part is--the veggie side dishes. So, let me take you on a tour of the rest of the plate.

To the left we have "not your average" mixed vegetables. I sauteed 1 chopped red onion, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 small sliced zucchini together in olive oil, until soft. Then I added a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes with the juice and a handful of yellow lentils (about 1/3 cup). Seasoning included 1 tsp. chili powder, a shake of cayenne pepper, about 1 tsp cumin, salt and dried cilantro. Cook together until the lentils are soft, they will absorb a lot of the liquids.


Just above the chicken is a "doctored up" traditional bread stuffing--to which I added 3 stalks of finely chopped celery, 1 small onion and a chopped Granny Smith apple. Cook the celery and onion in butter until limp, then add the apple until cooked and then combine with a box stuffing mix--add extra sage-- it's ready. 


See the green rings that look like apples on the top right??? Those are Armenian cucumber slices that I made into Freezer cucumber salad last Summer and just defrosted. It's basically apple cider vinegar and dillweed with a pinch of sugar--What a super side dish and reminder to myself to make sure I grow those Armenian cukes this Summer.  (The full recipe is in the blog log from last Summer.)


Finally we have the diced sweet potatoes. I boiled cleaned, whole potatoes until they were cooked, but still firm about 20 minutes. Then, peeled them (kept the peelings for the chickens!), sliced them as seen. Meanwhile, I melted some butter, added a bit of orange juice and a couple tablespoons of brown sugar, then Hickory-smoked salt and pepper. Then, added the potatoes  into the pot with the sauce and blended, heating thoroughly.


It really took little time and the variety of colors, textures, and flavors were perfect with  the simple roasted chicken...and the veggie leftovers will be great with today's pork roast, too!




Posted by Karen at 16:28 CST
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Thursday, 20 December 2012
Snow's Here--don't forget the birds!
Topic: Education and Values

We all knew it was coming--and arrive it did in the last several hours...  nice and naughty.


The snow is flying here in northwestern Illinois, having smacked down eastern Iowa over night, and heading across Wisconsin, planning to descend on Chicago by rush hour. And with the snow, frigid temperatures and wind.

The nice part is that we will have a traditional Christmas environment in the midwest, with snow on the ground.

The naughty part is it's a health hazard because of shoveling, slip-and-fall, hypothermia, motor vehicle accidents, etc.

I think you all know how to protect yourself, but don't forget to extend that protection to your backyard birds, too!

Look at the birds feeding in the blizzard below!

It's important to remember to feed the birds, replenishing their supply of seed daily. Try to keep a mixture of seeds, including a suet or peanut butter based feeder for the woodpeckers!

There won't be any insects out for quite a while. And there will be no seeds to forage with good snow cover. So, it is up to you to keep those non-migratory birds in your neighborhood fat and sassy!

Posted by Karen at 12:32 CST
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Saturday, 15 December 2012
Resting on your Laurels!
Topic: Education and Values

Some of you are lucky to have insightful sisters...

I do! 

I have a brilliant sister who brought me a wisp of a houseplant a while ago that I have kept going, sometimes outdoors when it's "Mediterranean" and certainly wintering indoors in my climate.

I dry the leaves, then use them in "bouquet garni" or tossed into stews (like the beef stew I have going right now in the crockpot.)

Here's its picture--


Here are some leaves drying for later use. Dry them 2-3 weeks in an open glass jar, then cover and store in your pantry.


I'm sure you've guessed the plant by now.

The Bay Leaf

(or Mediterranean Laurel)


Here's a quick recipe to use the dried leaf in.

***Remember to always remove the bay leaf before serving. They are like little razors and could easily pose a choking hazard.***


Easy Beef Stew

(in the crockpot)

Prep a crockpot with spray oil.


Place in the crockpot.

In a separate bowl, combine 1 can undiluted Golden Mushroom soup with 4 oz. dry red wine, 1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce.


Pour sauce over the crockpot ingredients and stir. Add dried thyme and 1-2 bay leaves.


Cook 8-10 hours. In the last hour, add 1 cup of frozen green peas.


Remove bay leaves before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Posted by Karen at 15:03 CST
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Sunday, 3 June 2012
How to Clean Berries
Topic: Education and Values

It's that time of the year for the berry season.

 I have wild blackberries on the Farm and will share some recipes later in the month. Right now, you may have access to strawberries and other hard-to-clean berries and I'd like to share some food safety information with you.

Strawberries have been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks through the transmission of hepatitis A (virus) and E. coli (bacteria). And the sources have been US and foreign, processed and fresh. 

Fresh berries are also notorious for molding and having a short half life. Never purchase a carton of fruit where you can see mold on any of the fruit. The food safety rule is the whole container of food should be discarded if mold can be seen on any part of the food in the container.

Ideally, if you want fresh berries, you should:

A University of Florida study showed that a solution of white vinegar, mixed with water in the proportions 1 part white vinegar to 10 parts of water--could reduce both bacteria and viruses on berries.

White vinegar is cheap, no reason not to try this. The berries can  be put into a glass bowl, the solution poured over, then drain the berries in a colander in a sanitized sink--no rinsing--and return to a fresh glass bowl for refrigerator storage. (reminder-don't use metal bowls, specifically not aluminum or copper, with an acid solution).

Thank you to FreeFoto.com and photographer Ian Britton for the raspberry picture.

Posted by Karen at 06:21 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 June 2012 07:00 CDT
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