Remember why families matter

The holidays mean family time, but family time should never really end. A refresher on why families matter, from an earlier post:

Why do families matter? Family Matters because families are the backbone of our society and provide structure to our lives.

I remember when, as a young child, I  first realized that each and every person is a part of one or more families. While traveling home on a train one winter evening, I gazed into the brightly lit windows of the homes we passed. Looking into each window, I was struck with the thought that each person, in every house, had a family of their very own just as I did! Each family was as important to that person as mine was to me! Wow!!!

Our past family relationships have helped to make each of us who we are as adults, and influence how we now treat our own children and other family members.

Whether it be your:

  • birth family
  • family of marriage
  • kinship family
  • step family
  • blended family
  • foster family
  • adoptive family
  • co-parenting family
  • chosen family

the health of your family relationships matter a lot! The type or structure of your family doesn’t really matter, as long as the relationships are safe, stable and respectful. Research suggests that children from safe, stable and respectful families do better in school and have healthier long-term social relationships, and that adults who are in happy marriages or committed relationships live longer.  Now, who doesn’t want that?

Cornell has some great classes and reading materials to help with healthy family relationships.  Check us out on the web at or call us at 344-1234.

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Just in Time for the Holidays – Mastering Self-Control !

I just finished reading “The Marshmallow Test – Mastering Self-Control” by Dr. Walter Mischel.  For those who might be unfamiliar, the original Marshmallow Test was designed by researchers at Stanford University back in the early 1960’s.  It involved a series of young children being presented with a marshmallow and given a choice:  Eat one marshmallow now, or wait and enjoy two later.  What did they do?  And what are the implications for their behavior later in life?

The results of the test were both instructive and occasionally quite comical.  Using hidden cameras, some children were observed hastily eating the marshmallow immediately after being left alone, while others used a variety of distraction techniques and positive self-talk to avoid the “hot” temptation.

While the original children were all undeniably cute, the now iconic “Marshmallow Test” along with its many years of follow up research with the now grown up participants has proven that the ability to delay gratification is somewhat critical to living a successful life.  It turns out that self-control not only predicts things like higher SAT scores, greater financial success, better social and cognitive functioning and a greater sense of self-worth, but it also helps us to manage stress, pursue our goals more effectively and cope with painful emotions.

The book also asks the important question: is willpower prewired, or can it be taught?  Thankfully, while willpower may in fact be prewired, Dr. Mischel’s research shows that it also can be both taught and learned.  Using self-control techniques as disparate as imagining the tempting desert on the desert cart having been handled by an employee with dirty hands, to picturing the good feelings associated with attaining a weight loss goal, it appears that often it’s a matter of simply avoiding/surviving that moment of “hot” temptation.  For as we know, once avoided, most temptations tend to “cool” and pass rather quickly.

The book draws on decades of careful research to explore the nature of willpower, identifying the cognitive skills and mental mechanisms that enable it and showing how these can be applied to challenges in everyday life – from controlling weight to quitting smoking, overcoming heartbreak, making major decisions and planning for retirement.

Paraphrasing the book’s jacket cover blurb – With profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care, “The Marshmallow Test” is a charmingly told scientific story that makes it clear that the test is not just about youngsters, but can be helpful to us all in the “marshmallow” moments we face throughout life.

If time permits, I encourage you to read the book. 

These comments were provided by our very first guest blogger, Kevin Cannon, who also site on the Family and Consumer Sciences Advisory Committee of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Look forward to more guest bloggers I nthe weeks and months to come, and best wishes for a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving. Until next time, enjoy the family! Denyse and Stefanie 

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Gratifying Grapes and Favorable Flavoring Jelly

For those who have been following along, today’s blog focuses on the last “sweet treats” class we taught at Cornell Cooperative Extension as part of the food preservation series that ended earlier this month.


1. Grapes appear in many colors: white, red, black, blue, green, purple and golden.

2. There are over 8,000 grape varieties worldwide.

3. The grape appears in the top ten of the world’s favorite fruits, along with tomatoes, mangoes and bananas.

4. The USA imports 25% of their grapes from Chile.

5. Grapes are botanically classed as berries.

6. The average person eats almost 8 pounds of grapes a year.

7. The oldest grapevine in America is a 400 year old Scuppernong vine in North Carolina.

8. Dried grapes (raisins) contain only 15% water.

9. The production of wine from grapes started as early as 5000 BC.

10. Grapes help minimize the risk of heart attacks because they increase the levels of nitric acid in the blood which prevents blood clots.

11. Grapes are used to help cure asthma indigestion, migraine, kidney disease and fatigue.

12. Grapes contain low levels of chоlеstеrоl, sodium and fat and are rich in vitamins K and C

13. Grapes are a laxative if you eat too many.

14. Grapes are 80% water so make a good snack, low in calories.

15. On average one acre of grapes can produce around 15,000 glasses of wine.

16. The grape industry worldwide produces over 72 million tons a year.

17. The grape growing industry is the largest food based industry in the world.

18. Australia produces 1.4 billion liters of wine per year.

19. The area which has the highest concentration of wineries in the world is The Napa Valley in California, with over 200.

20. In the 1800’s many vines in Europe were destroyed by an insect which came from America.

Interesting, huh?  I promise you if you make the recipe below, including the grape juice from scratch, you will NEVER go back to commercial grape jelly.  Till next time…..enjoy the family.     Stefanie


Concord Grape Jelly from Scratch 

5 cups prepared juice (buy about 3-1/2 lb. fully ripe Concord or other loose-skinned grapes)

1-1/2 cups water

1 box SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin

½ tsp. butter or margarine

7 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl 

BRING boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

STEM and crush grapes thoroughly, 1 layer at a time. Place in large saucepan; add water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 10 min., stirring occasionally. Place 3 layers of damp cheesecloth or jelly bag in large bowl. Pour prepared fruit into cheesecloth. Tie cheesecloth closed; hang and let drip into bowl until dripping stops. Press gently. Measure exactly 1-1/4 qt. (5 cups) prepared juice into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot.

STIR pectin into juice in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

LADLE immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. (If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)


Recipe courtesy of

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Pleasant Peach Facts and Freezer Jam

Ah, the peach — a classic sign of summer, a staple in warm-weather recipes for desserts and salads, an anticipated addition to farmers’ markets and stands across the country from  June through August. You may love this sweet, juicy fruit, but how much do you know much about its history or nutritional value — or even about cooking with it? Read on to learn 10 healthy facts about peaches — and then try our Peach Freezer Jam below.



1.       Peach origins: The fuzzy peach is actually a member of the rose family and originated in China.

2.       Peaches on the Silk Road: The peach’s scientific name, Prunus persica, is a direct reference to the fruit’s travels to Persia along the Silk Road.

3.       Peach varieties: You can buy two main varieties of peaches: clingstone (the flesh sticks to the stone) and freestone (the stone is easily separated from the flesh).

4.       Peach colors: The peach can have yellow or white flesh, which is sweeter and less acidic than its more traditional golden counterpart.

5.       Top peach growers: China is the largest producer of peaches, followed by Italy.

6.       Peach nutrition: A large peach has fewer than 70 calories and contains 3 grams of fiber. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and C.

7.       Biggest peach cobbler: “The world’s largest peach cobbler” is made every year in Georgia, which is known as the Peach State. That cobbler measures 11 feet by 5 feet.

8.       “The Peach State”: That would be the nickname for Georgia.

9.       Peach season: Peaches are best from June to the end of August.

10.   Peach ripeness: The flesh of a peach should have a slight give, but use your whole hand vs. fingertips to check since the fruit bruises so easily. Also, check for an even coloring of golden or creamy yellow.

So from one Georgia Peach (yep, born in Brunswick, Georgia) to another…Till next time, enjoy the family!     Stefanie


Peach Freezer Jam  (Makes 6 half pint jars)


  • 5 lbs. peaches to make 5 cups crushed fruit
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tbsp. freezer jam pectin (in the plastic container,  Ball brand)
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice


  1. STIR sugar and instant pectin in a bowl into well blended.
  2. ADD peaches and lemon juice. Stir 3 minutes.
  3. LADLE jam into clean jars to fill line. Apply lids. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes. Label.
  4. REFRIGERATE up to 3 weeks.






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Healthy Facts and Yummy Snacks…The Strawberry

Happy Monday and thanks for checking back.  As promised, you will find a most delicious strawberry jam recipe, at the end of my blog, but first, a few healthy and fascinating facts on our friend the strawberry.





Health benefits of strawberries

  • Strawberry is low in calories (32 cal/100 g) and fats but rich source of health promoting phyto-nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for optimum health.
  • Strawberries have significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phyto-chemicals called anthocyanins and ellagic acid. Scientific studies show that consumption of these berries may have potential health benefits against cancer, aging, inflammation and neurological diseases.
  • Strawberry has an ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity, a measure of anti-oxidant strength) of about 3577µmol TE per 100 grams.
  • Fresh berries are an excellent source of vitamin-C (100 g provide 58.8 mg or about 98% of RDI), which is also a powerful natural antioxidant. Consumption of fruits rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infectious agents, counter inflammation and scavenge harmful free radicals.
  • The fruit is rich in B-complex group of vitamins. It contains very good amounts of vitamin B-6, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and folic acid. These vitamins are acting as co-factors help the body metabolize carbohydrate, proteins and fats.
  • Strawberries contain vitamin A, vitamin E and health promoting flavonoid poly phenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zea-xanthin, and beta-carotene in small amounts. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
  • Furthermore, they contain good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, fluorine, copper, iron and iodine. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation. Fluoride is a component of bones and teeth and is important for prevention of dental caries.

I can hear it now, yeah yeah, thanks for the info Stefanie, but we want strawberry jam.  Well, consider it done.  Below please find a tested and recommended recipe from the Ball Blue Book.  Be sure to bookmark this page so you have a quick reference when that most delicious time of the year rolls around.  Till then…..enjoy the family.  Stefanie Quick Strawberry Jam                                                   

  • 2 quarts strawberries
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 7 cups sugar

Crush the berries, one layer at a time.  Measure 4 1/2 cups berries and grated orange peel into a large sauce pot.  Add pectin and place over high heat.  Stir until mixture comes to a rolling boil.  Add the sugar; return to a rolling boil.  Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Pour hot into hot jars, leaving ¼ head space.  Adjust caps.  Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Yield: about 8 half pints.

Recipe courtesy of Ball Blue Book:  The Guide to Home Canning and Freezing

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Farm Fresh and Delicious Sweet Treats

I can’t believe my eyes.  Fall is official upon us; however the thermometer clearly states 81 degrees.  That temperature feels more like summer than fall.  Could it be that beautiful time everyone refers  to as Indian summer? Regardless of what season it is, many people are still working diligently at “preserving the bounty,” and clearly the cool spell that we felt a month or so ago has moved most of us in the direction of cooler harvested produce.  Today more than ever, consumers are demanding close-to-home freshness in everything they buy.  And very few places even come close to Orange County and New York State for the variety and quality of its farm-fresh produce.

You may or may not know that Cornell offers a variety of food and nutrition classes, with topics ranging from eating healthy on a budget to food preservation.  What better way to  capture the delicious flavor of local farm-fresh produce than by preserving it and “putting it up” for use at a later time.  This past year I have had the pleasure of working with two brand new Master Food Preservers.  Mary Strong and Carol Carella, who also happen to  be Master Gardeners, have assisted me with a series of three delightful jams and jellies classes.  Each class was strategically planned to utilize fresh, local produce at the height of their flavors.  In June, workshop participants learned how to make traditional cooked strawberry jam.  August brought bushels of soft, sweet and shirt drenching peaches.  In addition to salivating, the class produced the most delectable peach freezer jam.  One of the best things about making freezer jam in August is that you don’t have to turn the stove on.  Our last food preservation workshop focused on the art of making traditional grape jelly, including producing the indigo colored juice from scratch.

If you’d like to experience any of these classes or are interested in all that Cornell Cooperative Extension has to offer, give us a call at 845-344-1234.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog…I hear there may be some recipes involved.

Till next time…enjoy the family.  Stefanie



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September and Kinship Goes Together!

September and Kinship Goes Together!

For the first time ever, September has been designated as Kinship Care Month in New York State. This is a VERY exciting happening for me, because Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orange County operates one of the largest kinship care programs in New York.  I bet all of you know of someone who is raising a child who is not their own. This may be:

A grandparent

An aunt or uncle

A cousin

An older sibling

A friend

A neighbor

A foster family

Kinship care has many benefits for children and adults alike. It can help to:

Keep families together

Maintain family history

Keep children connected with other relatives

Keep children closer to their own neighborhoods and schools

Help parents maintain safe connections with children, even when they are not able to provide daily care for them.

Help children feel love and wanted

Help relatives and other caregivers feel like they have a purpose in life

Kinship also helps save state and county resources and money – big time!

To learn more about our kinship program, for you or anyone you know who is raising a related child, and/or to receive a copy of the State proclamation, please call us at 845-344-1234 or visit our web-site at and ask about our Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP). Programs are for both adults and children, and are all free and confidential.

So this September, celebrate both traditional and non-traditional parents – those that are sharing the titles of grandma and mom, or daddy and pop-pop.

Until next time, enjoy ALL of your family, whatever the shape and size may be! Denyse 

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Surprising Facts About Grandparents!

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Grandparent’s Day, which is a national observance to recognize the importance and worth of grandparents. I was surprised by some of the information I read about their role in today’s families, and thought you might be too!

Fact: Grandparents lead 37% of all households in the US (meaning, they have primary fiscal responsibility for making the household run).

Fact: Grandparents love being grandparents (63% said they can do a better job caring for grandchildren than they did with their own).

Fact: Grandparents are younger than ever before (The average age of grandparents in the US is 48; by 2015, nearly 60% of grandparents will be “Baby Boomers”)

Fact: Grandparents are active (43% exercise or play sports; 28% volunteer regularly; 18% dance)

Fact: Grandparents are wired (75% are online; 45% belong to social networks)

Fact: Grandparents are in the workforce (60% still have a full or part time job)

Fact: Grandparents are becoming more modern (33% have been married more than once; 38% have sex twice a week; 10% have a tattoo; and 17% have attended a political rally)

Fact: Grandparents have money (They control 75% of the wealth in this country and make 45% of the contributions to nonprofit organizations)

Fact: Grandparents support their adult children financially (62% have provided support to their children and grandchildren in the past year)

Fact: Grandparents like to spend time with their grandchildren (66% travel together; 81% have them for all or part of summer vacation: 55% play video games with their grandchildren)

Fact: Grandparents just want to have fun! (With or without their children and grandchildren, grandparents spend 100 billion dollars a year on entertainment and 77 billion dollars on travel)

Fact: 66% of Grandparents have never celebrated Grandparents day! Whether or not you believe this to be just a ”Hallmark” holiday, you can see how grandparents are truly the backbone of US families – and are surely special people to CELEBRATE all year round!!!

Until next time, enjoy the “extended” family, Denyse




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Teens and School Continued…

Hi again.  So, in a bit more depth, here is what the research has to say to help both you and your teen enjoy and do well in school.

Know their teachers – 10th grader, Jay S. says : My parents have no clue what school is like for me. I bet they couldn’t even tell you who my teachers are.”  Just knowing names and subject areas of each teacher is a good first step. Having your child share expectations for each class, including ideas about homework, tests and classroom participation is a great way to hear your child’s feelings about each of their classes and also helps you to understand their own interests and learning styles.

Communicate with the school -  Start by taking advantage of open houses and parent teacher conferences. Your being there lets the teacher and child know you are a partner in their education. Make the connection early in the school year, and before any problems arise. Let the school or teacher know if anything major happens in the family or child’s life, as challenging home events will also impact their school life.

Support your teen – In adolescence, youth explore the world and discover new interests and talents. They are also so incredibly unsure of themselves that most need encouragement to take the next step and join a club, run for student gov’t., or try out for the school play or orchestra. You can be that cheerleader! If your teen is already involved, show support by going to the games or performance, and volunteering to help in simple ways.

Expect Success – 8th grader Eileen G. shares: My parents don’t ask about school or care how I do, just as long as I go. So what’s the point in trying? Ouch! In reality, children who believe that their parents expect success actually do more good things! Like, remember their assignments, and do their homework and be a part of a team and take responsibility for completing work on time. Research also suggests that when teens work toward their personal best (instead of working to compete with others) they are less likely to get depressed or involved in harmful violent, sexual or drug related behaviors. Remember though, personal best does not mean perfect! 

Until next time, enjoy the family! D

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Number 42

Wow. This is the 42nd blog that I’ve written. I love the number 42 – according to Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , 42 is a magical number, and then, of course, there’s Jackie Robinson!

I also get to talk about one of my favorite subjects – living with teens! As school is upon us, here are two simple tips that may help both you and your teen manage the school year responsibly, successfully, and enjoyably.

  • Be connected: One of the best indicators of teens school performance is how connected they feel with their school. Parents and caregivers can help children connect by encouraging them to engage in a wide range school activities and create relationships with their teachers. Did you know that contentedness not only predicts greater school success, but is also linked to lower rates of sexual activity, suicide, violent behavior, and reduced alcohol, cigarette and drug use? Nice.
  • Stay connected: Many parents become less involved with school as the days of “classroom parent” end and kids get embarrassed, when with their friends, by that parting kiss or hug. But, the research is pretty clear that children do better in school and have more positive attitudes about it in their teen years when parents stay connected with the school. No, your teens won’t want you to go on the next field trip with them, but there are still lots of ways to show them you are interested in their world (after all, they spend an avg. of 7 hours a day there!) Here’s the short list, my next blog will explore them even more. 
  • Know their teachers
  • Communicate with the school 
  • Support your teen
  • Expect Success 


Until next time, enjoy the homework and the family! D 

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  • Blog Authors

    Denyse Altman Variano

    Denyse has had the pleasure of working with children and families since the birth of her first child. Currently responsible for the Family and Consumer Sciences program area at Cornell ... Read Full

    Stefanie Hubert

    Stefanie manages all nutrition programming at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County. An avid cook and advocate for health and wellness at all levels, Stefanie enjoys ... Read Full
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