Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac, It’s All About the Urushiol

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From Facebook:

How do you deal with poison oak, sumac, and ivy in general?

Scratchy in Santa Fe

Heather says:

If you come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac the most effective “treatment” is to immediately and thoroughly wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water. All three of these plants (and interestingly their distant cousin the mango) have the same allergenic oil, urushiol. Interestingly, not everyone is allergic to urushiol. While I’m allergic to everything else Mother Nature throws at me, I’ve never had a case of poison ivy despite my years and years of rambling in the woods, but enough about me.

Urushiol StructureSo the structure of urushiol looks a bit like this, with alkyl chain at the R in the image. An alkyl chain is simply a bunch of carbon atoms with hydrogen attached kind of like this C/C\C/C\CH3 (That’s about the best I can do in a standard text editor, just pretend you get it). That alkyl chain makes the urushiol molecule difficult to dissolve in water.

However your skin has oils and urushiol will gladly hang out in those oils, having a party, raising blisters and an ugly rash.

The urushiol can be spread through contact, if you have some on your arm and you scratch, you may get the urushiol under your finger nails which will then be spread to your face or wherever you decide to touch before you wash. (And gentlemen, I’ve heard plenty of embarrassing stories about men not washing their hands thoroughly and -how do we put this delicately- spreading the fun to less public body parts and later assuming they have other issues that require a visit to the county health department.)

Despite the persistent old wives tale, you cannot spread poison ivy from the rash itself, UNLESS, that rash never got washed and still has urushiol. Got it?

If you don’t wash the oil promptly your skin may absorb the urushiol; which, as you can imagine may intensify your reaction. Some people even have systemic (whole body) reactions to poison ivy and will break out in rashes, even in places that have not had contact with the irritant.

Keep in mind that animals that have come in contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac may spread the urushiol on their fur. If you’re especially sensitive, try to keep animals off of the furniture (especially beds) and bathe them thoroughly.

When removing poison ivy, sumac, or oak from your property, your best defense is to wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Take this clothing and immediately place it in the washer – check out How to Remove Poison Ivy from Clothing, and wash your hands thoroughly. That’s it. There’s no magic trick. Sure there are plenty of products out there that claim to work especially well, but that’s mostly marketing. Wash the area with plain old soap or dish detergent (for hand washing, not the stuff you put in your dishwasher) and then treat the rash itself with your favorite OTC topical ointment.

Oh and a very important side note: Never burn poison ivy. That rash you get on your skin? It’s nothing compared to a potential reaction in the lungs.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Moving Is a Mess

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I just moved. There are boxes to the left of me, boxes to the right and here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

The house is pretty much a wreck and will be for some time until I can budget for the repairs.
I don’t know where to find the energy. I don’t know where to start.

The worst part? I started this website where people turn to me for advice and if they only knew. . .



Heather says:

Oh, Heather,  Heather, Heather¹ what will I do with you?

So what if they know. What are they going to do? Write about it on some other website where people in different circumstances can giggle about it? Who cares?

You’re farther than you think. You only have one last load of stuff to get from the previous house and most of that stuff isn’t even coming to this house. You are just in that annoying place where it feels like the more you do the bigger mess you’re making. It will get better.

Set a timer.

And for fifteen minutes do things that will let you actually put away other things. Clear off the shelves in the laundry room so you can put away the canned goods instead of tripping over them.

Decide on a dishwasher already so you can have it installed and actually be able to put dishes away. Or maybe suck it up and install it yourself this weekend.

Call your stepbrother and make him commit to picking up the dining room table so you can set yours up. If he won’t commit put it in the yard and on Craigslist. Then at least you won’t look like you’re living in a bar after last call.

Ask for help to put the bunkbeds together. They aren’t magically going to do it themselves and you -no matter what you tell yourself- are not strong enough to do it yourself. But, you do have to actually ask.

Good enough is good enough. The kids aren’t going to care that you had takeout for a week straight or that you made them eat off of paper plates until the dishwasher was installed. Some people will judge, but it wasn’t their decision.

The kids are going to remember that they helped you fix the drain under the sink. They are going to remember that you let them help paint their rooms. They are going to remember the bonfire you’ll have to clear out the yard debris.

They are going to learn that it’s okay to live in a house that needs a lot of work. Well, they will as long as they see you doing the work -and while they will whine about it now, they’ll be glad they helped. They will eventually feel pride in ownership. And if they don’t, play the mom guilt card, that’s why you had kids, isn’t it?

The kids are also going to learn that if you don’t like the way things are that you make an effort and change them.

You just can’t keep letting every obstacle send you back to the start. It’s annoying and I’m tired of you whining about it.


Get off your butt and make those phone calls and see if you can’t at least get two boxes sorted out before you have to get the kids from school.

And hey, Heather, cut yourself some slack. None of this will matter in six months.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

¹If you’re a child of the seventies or eighties, you wouldn’t even blink at the idea of a Heather addressing another Heather. In fact, growing up in this very neighborhood, my best friend was Heather. She lived just around the corner and we were inseparable for years.


(I decided to let y’all in on some internal dialogue rather than sitting here and thinking I should write, I should clean, I should work, I should, I should, I should. So I did. Things are getting better, even if from the outside it looks a whole lot messier.)

Chicken Wings in the Oven

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I am having a dinner party and I want to have chicken wings as part of the meal. How long should I bake them for to make them taste perfectly tender?
Winging it in Wyndham

Heather says:

Actually I have a couple of answers for you depending on how you picture your chicken wings.

Do you want tender fall off the bone chicken wings, or are you thinking more like the wings you find at restaurants with the slightly crispy outer texture?

For moist, falling apart chicken wings cook them low and slow in the marinade of your choice, you’ll want them swimming in the sauce.

You have two options, you can do the slow-cooker 8 hour option OR in the oven at 375°F for at least an hour (depending on the size of your dish and number of wings). If you time and oven space, you can also cook the wings low and slow 250°F for at least two hours (the wings should be in a single layer and start fairly close to room temperature, do not attempt low and slow wings from frozen and always use a meat thermometer to be sure your chicken has reached a safe temperature.)

For chicken wings that more closely resemble what you’ll find in restaurants, broiling or grilling are your go-tos.

See How to Grill Buffalo Wings for classic grilled buffalo wings or broil your wings for about 25 minutes, brushing and turning often to prevent burning. It’s going to be touchy if your sauce contains a lot of sugar.



Be sure to cook your wings on a broiler pan so the fat can drip away from the wings.

Don’t forget to leave your oven door ajar while broiling.

Good luck!

Want MORE chicken? We’ve got it covered.

Chicken Recipes 1


Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil a Substitute for Vegetable Oil

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Dear Home Ec 101,
If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, is extra virgin olive oil a suitable replacement or is there a specific reason for vegetable oil?
Slick in Slatesville

Heather says:
It depends on the recipe in question. In baking, oils are often specified for their lack of taste, so for baking it depends mostly on the quality of the oil you are using. If your extra virgin olive oil is the generic store brand, it may not be the best oil for the job. High quality extra virgin olive oil should be just fine. There is good news, in late October olive oil will have stricter labeling standards so this should be of less concern.


Olive and sunflower oil in the bottles set isolated on white background


For marinades, salad dressings, and savory sauces, extra virgin olive oil is a fantastic substitute for vegetable oil and may even be preferable. When it comes to frying and sauteing it depends on the manufacturer and the quality of the oil. The oil listed in fried recipes is often chosen for its smoke point. High quality extra virgin olive oil can have a very high smoke point above 400°F (204°C), but lesser quality versions can be significantly lower in the 220°F (104°C) range, which is much too low to use for frying. Use your judgment when making your decision.

Before anyone flips out about how oils break down at high temperatures becoming <scary hand motions> toxic </scary hand motions> keep in mind that the temperature of the oven or burner is not the actual temperature of the food. Just because the oven says 350°F does not mean the oil inside the cupakes is 350°F degrees. That is the temperature of the air, if your cupcakes reached 350°F degrees, it would be a sad, burnt mess. Those of you with professional grade equipment need to be slightly more concerned than those of us schlumps with standard home grade appliances.

In the case of baked goods, unless they are savory, plain olive oil may be a better choice.

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

What Is a Good Alternative for Cheesecloth

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Dear Home Ec 101,

I need a good alternative for cheese cloth. I’ve been making a lot of juice lately and I want to strain out the seeds and pulp, but cheese cloth gets expensive quickly. Do you have any suggestions?

Strained in Strasbourg

Heather says:

Cheese cloth certainly has its uses and it can be washed and re-used, but and it’s a big BUT, it is rather delicate, frays, and generally becomes more pain than it is worth rather quickly.

Tea towels made from linen are a more durable alternative, but again washing is something of an issue and they must be kept meticulously clean. (Note, pastry cloth is useful if you are looking for an alternative for baking, this question is about general kitchen use.)

So how does the budget and eco conscious consumer strain all the things without filling landfills or draining the budget? heh

You spend a little extra, one time, on a fine mesh strainer, known to chefs as a chinois.



This one is available on Amazon for about $25 give or take as prices fluctuate. This comes in three different sizes an 8″, 10″, or 12″ strainer. You can also buy a pointed pestle to squash food through the mesh. A spoon mostly works, but as foods get down toward the point it can be a little aggravating.

So, if you’re an Alton Brown fan, how do you decide whether or not this is a tool worthy of taking up your valuable kitchen space?

The chinois is useful for:

  • making stock or bouillon -who needs to tie up a bouquet garnis? Not you.
  • straining sauces -like caramel
  • draining yogurt for recipes like tzatziki (cucumber sauce)
  • draining cooked pumpkin for pies and other recipes – oh look Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie
  • canning and preserving
  • straining -duh
  • a silly hat for a toddler -the reinforced sides make it more durable than a plain fine mesh strainer.

But Heather, that costs 25 dollars. You’re right, it does. Cheese cloth at the grocery store, because I’m not about to drive all over town to find it generally runs about 4 bucks and I get enough for maybe two recipes, let’s pretend I had the time, energy, and wherewithal to wash and reuse it, maybe I’ll get another one or two uses out of it. So on the generous side let’s pretend I get four uses out of one pack of cheese cloth. That’s in the neighborhood of twelve recipes that I’ll get to make before I’m now playing the I’ve spent more money than I would have on the chinois. This doesn’t take into account the whole, time factor, either.

So, your mileage may vary, if you only do one or two big cooking projects a year, then you’re absolutely right, cheese cloth is the right strategy for your household. If you are getting into scratch cooking, canning and preserving, or like to make sauces, it’s absolutely worth the investment.

What do you think? Would a chinois be a useful addition to your kitchen or simply a waste of space?

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.