Test Your House for GERMS

This idea comes from parents.com and it is crazy awesome. I am somewhat of a “germ aware” person and find myself often wondering what kinds of gross things are living on the surfaces of things like play places, sinks, shopping cart handles, etc. This post has a way to make your own gels to grow bacterial cultures. Nerdy? You bet. And super cool.

Make Your Own Bacterial Plates

Supplies Needed:

  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 packet of unflavored gelatin (1 oz.)
  • several plastic or paper cups
  • plastic wrap
  • cotton swabs

How to:

Step 1: Prepare your cups. I used 6 cups. You really could do more, though. I cut my cups down so they were shorter – maybe 2″ tall. You could even go shorter than that if you would like – my cups were plastic and tended to rip more easily when they were cut down shorter than that.

Step 2: Boil your water. I microwaved the cup in a microwave-safe glass measuring cup. It took about a minute – you can literally watch the water start to boil in about that time.

Step 3: Mix in your sugar and gelatin and pour into your prepared cups.

Step 4: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate your cups for 24 hours to allow your “gels” to firm up. And they will really, truly be firm. If they are squishy at all, give them some more time.

Step 5: Go around your house and find “questionable” things to swab. The original poster had found that her houseplant was actually the grossest place in her house, while the toilet and the inside of her daughter’s mouth were not very gross. Be creative! Here is what I tried:

The smudged one was a second swab I took of the sink – I took one “before” cleaning it with Scrubbing Bubbles, and one after. I’m always curious if the cleaners that say they kill 99% of everything actually work. We also have kids over here often to play, and they almost always gravitate to the piano, so I thought that would be interesting too. I wanted to test our plant for myself too. I also wanted to try the doorknob to our pantry since that is one that gets high usage. And, of course, I left one as a control. “Control” just basically means you leave it alone to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with the gel that you made. I actually cheated a little bit and swabbed that one with a “clean” cotton swab, just because I wanted to make sure the cotton swab itself wasn’t a carrier.

Step 6: Recover with plastic wrap and leave in a dark, warm spot for 4-5 days.The first day there will be very little to nothing that happens. Don’t despair! Once the colonies get growing, they will grow quickly.

Our Results (in grossest to least gross order):

1. The Houseplant (gross!)

2. The Piano Keys

3. The Uncleaned Sink

4. (And this is a VERY distant fourth – there was practically nothing) The Cleaned Sink

5. The Doorknob

6. The Control

Wow! I will definitely wipe off our piano keys. Sick. And I will NOT eat food off of my houseplant if it falls on it. *Shudder*

That was a LOT of fun, and will definitely be something we try again. What would you swab?

Taffy 4

Pioneer Taffy

Happy Pioneer Day! For those of you who may not know what Pioneer Day is, it is when the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka “Mormons”) celebrate the day the first pioneers made it into the Salt Lake Valley as they were trekking west.

Although we are in Texas, where Pioneer Day is not recognized as an official holiday, we still decided it would be fun to commemorate it. SO, I found this recipe for Pioneer Taffy from Jamie Cooks It Up! and thought we could give it a whirl. If you would like some more pictures, check out Jamie’s site for great step-by-step pictures of the process, including a great tip on checking for taffy readiness using a spoon and cold running water. **Note: This recipe is best done with several people, or it will take a long, long time to get everything pulled, cut up and wrapped.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1-1/2 c. water
  • 1 c. light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. *VEGETABLE GLYCERINE (see note at the bottom about this)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 T. butter

***You will also need kitchen shears, waxed paper (pre-cut into squares) and a candy thermometer.

Directions:

1. Mix sugar, water, corn syrup, salt & glycerine in a heavy saucepan.

2. Bring to boil and continue cooking on medium-high until it reaches 258 degrees. Jamie said it should take about 35-40 minutes, and she was absolutely right.

3. Take the taffy off of the heat and add your vanilla and butter.

4. Pour onto greased cookie sheet (I used butter) and let it cool down until it is no longer hot to handle. This takes probably 10ish minutes. Make sure it really is cool enough to handle, or you WILL get burned. No personal experience here (cough).

5. Hand out pieces to all of the lucky participants. Pull the piece straight out into a line, fold it in half, and then pull again. Repeat cycle until you have beautiful white taffy.

6. Cut up into little pieces and wrap into wax paper.

That is it!

Ours turned out great – it had a perfect consistency (I thought) and the flavor is excellent. After the taffy had been pulled, I made the mistake of just leaving it in balls. Don’t do that. You’ll want to roll them out to a good thickness to cut BEFORE they cool down completely (like playdoh snakes) or you will have hard-ish candy ball to try and deal with and roll out later. Once I fixed my ball problem, I ended up putting my “taffy snakes” back on the greased cookie sheet while I was cutting them each up into pieces (the pieces went onto a plate lined with waxed paper to keep them from sticking). I used kitchen shears to cut the taffy. My lovely assistants were great at helping roll each candy into waxed paper – many hands makes light work. What good helpers!

Overall Rating: *****

Difficulty:Easy (make sure you have a candy thermometer), BUT it is time consuming.

Would I Try it Again? I have mixed feelings about this. They are delicious and the individually-wrapped end result is great, BUT they took a little more effort than I had planned on. If I had things thought out earlier (waxed paper cut up beforehand, make sure the taffy stayed in a good snake shape instead of a ball before cutting it, realize that the taffy will stick to EVERYTHING that is not waxed paper or is not greased), it probably wouldn’t be that bad. So, I probably will do it again once I forget the effort it took.

————————————————————————–

***GLYCERIN vs. VEGETABLE GLYCERINE***

I went looking for glycerin at CVS. And at Walmart. And at another CVS. At the second CVS, they found a manager who finally was able to find glycerin for me. In the cosmetics section. It turns out it is for covering up skin wounds or something. I told him it was for making taffy, and we both looked over the label and could not find anything about being edible anywhere on it. So I went home and did some research.

Turns out there is GLYCERIN (no “e” at the end) and GLYCERINE (note the “e”). Vegetable glycerine can also be used as a skin cleanser or something, BUT it is also food grade. Which, as far as I understand, means it is edible.

I read from the comments on Jamie’s blog that a pharmacist had told another reader that glycerin would probably be okay in small quantities, but I found the vegetable glycerine at a whole foods-type store here – and it was actually a bit cheaper than the glycerin would have been. Bonus! It was near their essential oils – I just called ahead to see if they carried it, and they did. You could call around as well and save yourself some driving around and foot time.

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