RE/MAX 440
Mary Mastroeni
mmastroeni@remax.net
Mary Mastroeni
731 W Skippack Pike
Blue Bell  PA 19422
PH: 610-277-2900
O: 215-643-3200
C: 610-213-4878
F: 267-354-6212 
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Mary's Blog

Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.

Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk:
• older adults
• infants and young children
• pregnant women
• people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or any condition that weakens their immune system
• people who take medicines that suppress the immune system; for example, some medicines for rheumatoid arthritis 

Combating bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other contaminants in our food supply is a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration. But consumers have a role to play, too, especially when it comes to safe food-handling practices in the home.

"The good news is that practicing four basic food safety measures can help prevent foodborne illness," says Marjorie Davidson, a consumer educator at FDA. 

1. Clean:
The first rule of safe food preparation in the home is to keep everything clean.
• Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. "For children, this means the time it takes to sing 'Happy Birthday' twice," says Davidson.
• Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
• Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
• Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking. "Washing these foods makes it more likely for bacteria to spread to areas around the sink and countertops," says Davidson. 

2. Separate:
Don't give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another (cross-contamination).
• Keep raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from foods that won't be cooked. Take this precaution while shopping in the store, when storing in the refrigerator at home, and while preparing meals.
• Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
• Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods such as raw meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
• Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices. 

3. Cook:
Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
• "Color is not a reliable indicator of doneness," says Davidson. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165ºF. (Please read on for more pointers on stuffing.)
• Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
• Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
• Don't eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs. 

4. Chill:
Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
• Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated—within two hours. That includes pumpkin pie!
• Set your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and the freezer at 0ºF. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
• Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
• Allow the correct amount of time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely when thawed in the refrigerator.
• Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable. Davidson says, "A good rule to follow is, when in doubt, throw it out."
• Leftovers should be used within three to four days. 

5. Use care with stuffing
In its Holiday Food Safety Success Kit, the Partnership for Food Safety Education recommends:
• Whether it is cooked inside or outside the bird, all stuffing and dressing must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165ºF. For optimum safety, cooking your stuffing in a casserole dish is recommended.
• Stuffing should be prepared and stuffed into the turkey immediately before it's placed in the oven.
• Mix wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately and combine just before using.
• The turkey should be stuffed loosely, about 3/4 cup stuffing per pound of turkey.
• Any extra stuffing should be baked in a greased casserole dish. 

For more information, visit www.fda.gov.

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Word of the Day

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Real estate. The land itself and everything extending below and above it, including all things permanently attached, whether by nature or by man.

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Question of the Day

November 21, 2011 7:12 pm

Q: How can I get a low down payment loan?

A: Such loans are offered by government agencies and private lenders, including nonprofit groups and employers. In fact, there are government programs at both the federal and state level to help cash-strapped buyers. Under many state housing agency guidelines, borrowers must usually be first-time homebuyers or have a limited family income to qualify for low down payment loans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers several programs through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that require down payments of 3 to 5 percent.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s largest supplier of home mortgage funds, has a popular program for low- and moderate-income homebuyers called Community Home Buyers. Under the program, borrowers may buy with just 3 percent down—with a 2 percent gift from family members, a government program, or nonprofit group—and obtain private mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. The program is available through participating mortgage lenders and requires that borrowers take a home-buyer education course.

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Holiday Home Fire Safety Tips

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Family gatherings, entertaining and festive decorations are among the highlights of the holiday season. According to the United States Fire Administration, during the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s season, there is an elevated risk for home fires due to extensive cooking, decorations, home heating and open flames. 

Paul Davis Emergency Services, a provider of fire damage and water damage clean up and restoration services for residential and commercial properties offers the following tips to make the holidays safe for you and your family. 

Holiday Decorations: Decorate with non-combustible or flame-resistant materials. Never use lighted candles on a tree, evergreens or other flammable materials. Don’t place candles near children, pets or gift wrapping.

Lights: Make sure there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections. Check labels to be sure about the proper use of indoor and outdoor lights. Don’t overload electrical outlets.

Trees: Cut a few inches off the trunk of a live tree and fill the stand with water to keep it from drying out and becoming a fire hazard. An artificial tree should be labeled "Fire Resistant." Place trees away from fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters.

Fire Escape Plan: Make sure everyone understands the escape routes and where to meet once outside.

Smoke Alarms: Make sure your smoke alarms are in proper working order and change the batteries at least twice a year.

Fire Extinguishers: Make sure there is a working fire extinguisher in the kitchen, laundry room, and garage. Learn how to use the fire extinguisher.

Fireplace/Chimney: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. Never burn greens, boughs, papers, or other decorations in the fireplace. Check to see that the flue is open before starting a fire.

Keep a list with important emergency phone numbers: Include police and fire departments, doctors and the national poison help line. 

In case of emergency property damage, contact a licensed, professional fire damage clean up and restoration company. 

For more information, visit www.pdrestoration.com.

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Big Ideas for Less Party Waste

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Whether you're hosting a tailgate party at the stadium or a child's party at home, you know that a paper plate here and an empty can there quickly add up to a lot of trash. Eco-friendly actress and mom Ali Larter knows it too, and is here to share innovative and eco-friendly party planning ideas, so you can increase the fun, while decreasing your environmental impact. 

Larter believes tackling this problem is as simple as taking small steps to waste less, which is why she co-hosted a tailgate at the University of Southern California (USC) earlier this year. With an estimated 80,000 fans in attendance, Larter teamed up with The Glad Products Company to help tailgaters learn how to take steps to go "One Bag," working toward the ultimate goal of sending just one bag of trash to the landfill, with the rest being diverted to recycling and compost. 

"Being green is something I strive for in my daily life, which is why I've teamed up with Glad," says Larter. "My goal is to inspire others to go one bag, no matter the occasion. Whether I'm hosting a family reunion or a birthday party for my son, it just takes a little bit of planning to cut down on waste. Before long, planning an eco-friendly gathering becomes second nature." 

With that spirit in mind, Larter suggests these tips for hosting your own One Bag event:
Send Electronic Invitations: Rather than mailing a printed invitation for your next party, use online invitations such as Paperless Post, or Facebook. 

Buy in Bulk: A large package of hot dogs for a tailgate uses less plastic than four or five packages from the super market for the same amount of food. 

Ditch the Disposables: While it's tempting to break out paper plates and plastic cutlery, most dining disposables end up in the landfill rather than the recycling stream. Instead, use real cutlery and plates or look for options that are compostable. I'm a fan of mixing and matching vintage china patterns for a shabby chic look. 

Turn T-Shirts into Tablecloths: Recycle gently used clothing or logo-wear to create party-themed tableware. For example, old college t-shirts or jerseys make the perfect tablecloths for your next tailgate. If sewing is a challenge, try cutting clothes to create napkins instead. 

Use Better Bags: Glad recently unveiled a new tall kitchen trash bag that is stronger, yet uses less plastic. This innovation saves 6.5 million pounds of plastic per year—that's the equivalent of keeping 140 million extra trash bags out of landfills annually. Recycling and compost bags are also available from this family of products. 

Save Your Skewers: Kabobs are one of the easiest party appetizers to make, especially if you're grilling out for a tailgate. Instead of using disposable wooden skewers, purchase reusable stainless steel or wire ones that are dishwasher safe and better for the environment. 

For more information, visit www.GladtoWasteLess.com.

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5 Modern Twists on the Time-Honored Tradition of Giving Thanks for Food

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

While celebrating the end of harvest season is a tradition that can be traced back for centuries, modern-day twists on the custom have evolved since the 1621 Plymouth Colony fall feast. Just as pilgrims rejoiced in their first good harvest, Americans today have found meaningful ways to honor the bounty, and express gratitude: 

1. Give #foodthanks. Farmers long ago traded in their oxen for tractors and other technologies to raise nutritious, great-tasting food. This year, a group of farmers and ranchers is cultivating a social media campaign to initiate meaningful conversations about food with Americans on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and beyond, says Kansas farmer Darin Grimm of the AgChat Foundation. "For farmers on the go, social media is a great way to connect with consumers," he says. "We're hoping to see everyone from chefs to foodies to farmers using the #foodthanks hashtag." Check out www.foodthanks.com, then tweet what you eat, using the #foodthanks hashtag, now through Thanksgiving. 

2. Plan your meal with an app. New recipe and meal-planning applications are a bounty in their own right. Try the Thanksgiving Menu Maker from Fine Cooking, which allows you to "tap your way to a customized holiday menu," offering more than 75 of the magazine's all-time favorite Thanksgiving recipes, along with a shopping list and schedule. 

3. Preserve the flavors of fall. Early American settlers would salivate over modern-day canning equipment. Once dismissed as a bygone art, canning has attracted a growing number of enthusiasts in recent years, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which provides tips on canning, pickling, freezing and more. To really make a food statement, create your own labels at www.myownlabels.com. 

4. Host your own tasting party. The holiday table inspires us to create treasured traditions at home, including exploring new foods in the company of friends and family. Home entertaining expert Domenica Marchetti suggests a trend-worthy twist on the wine and cheese tasting party. The author of Big Night In (Chronicle Books, 2008) says, "Embrace the season's bounty and host an apple tasting party!" 

5. Share in the bounty. Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about helping others in need, whether it's a family down the street or a hungry child on the other side of the world. Charitable organizations like Farmers Feeding the World and Heifer International believe that giving families a source of food, rather than short-term relief, is a more sustainable way to lift them out of poverty and hunger. 

For more information, visit www.agchat.org.

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9 Tips to Help Someone Grieving during the Holidays

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. For those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a difficult time full of painful reminders that emphasize their sense of loss. 

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays. 

Hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, offer some suggestions:
1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It's okay to do things differently.
2. Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
3. Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
4. Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.
5. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
6. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person's loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
7. Never tell someone that he or she should be "over it." Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
8. Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
9. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch. 

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten. 

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. 

For more information, visit www.caringinfo.org.

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Word of the Day

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Quit-claim deed. A conveyance by which the grantor transfers whatever interest he or she has in the real estate without warranties or obligations.

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Question of the Day

November 18, 2011 7:08 pm

Q: How do you determine how much a home is worth?

A: The short answer: a home is ultimately worth what is paid for it. Everything else is really an estimate of value. Take, for example, a hot seller’s market when demand for housing is high but the inventory of available homes for sale is low. During this time, homes can sell above and beyond the asking price as buyers bid up the price. The fair market value, or worth, is established when “a meeting of the minds” between the buyer and the seller takes place.

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6 Ways to Make a Small Space Look Larger

November 18, 2011 4:08 pm

When a New York family decided to rent out one floor of its two story brownstone, it left them with just 1,200 square feet of living space to be remodeled for their own use.

“It was a daunting project,” said Keith Pandolfi in This Old House magazine. “But they followed some tried-and-true formulas for making small areas look more spacious, and the result was both comfortable and pleasing.”

Pandolfi offers six solutions for opening up small spaces:

• Use paint and flooring wisely – Choose light colors, paint crown moldings white to match the ceilings, and install wood or tile floors in a diagonal pattern to give the impression of more space.
• Try mirrors – One large mirror is a good idea, but two mirrors facing each other create the illusion of more space and light.
• Install a bay window – Bumping out a bay window adds usable square footage and captures more natural light.
• Think vertical cabinetry – Take advantage of high ceilings by installing double cabinets, one above the other, for more storage in a small kitchen. Yes, you will need to use a step stool to access them, but the gain in space may be worth it.
• Build in bookcases – Use “lost” space, such as the foot or so of depth between the fireplace and the living room wall, to build in bookcases to hold knick-knacks and electronic devices as well as books.
• Use double-duty appliances – LGE makes a small microwave and coffeemaker combo that will cook oatmeal and make coffee at the same time in a 23- by 17-inch space. Make best use of limited counter space with appliances like this or a compact washer/dryer combo that can fit under a countertop or into a small closet.

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