Martha Stewart shares long-lost motherly tidbits

December 05, 2006|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

Just in time for the holidays, there is advice from Martha Stewart -- in the form of a book the size and weight of a concrete block -- on all the pitfalls of decorating and entertaining and how to remedy them. Everything from extension cords for the tree lights to candle wax on good linens.

Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home (Clarkson Potter, $45) is perfect for propping the front door open for your guests, but it also contains a lot of good information. Not that you have time to read 700 pages at this time of year.

So, as a public service -- just the kind of thing newspapers are so good at -- I have culled some appropriate tidbits from Martha's book.

Books like this one, and Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Scribner, 1999, $35), contain the kind of housekeeping wisdom our grandmothers taught our mothers, but we were too busy reinventing being female to learn. Then somebody spills red wine on your carpet, and there you are. Grandma is no longer around to tell you what to do.

It is the kind of information you hear -- such as "Don't store wine near stereo speakers" -- and then say, "Yeah, right. Where is that written down." And then you find out Martha did write it down. Or one of her assistants did.

Anyway, here you go. Now see if you can get your daughter to pay attention when you try to tell her this stuff. You are not going to be around forever, you know.

The best cookie sheets are ones that have no sides, so air can circulate more easily and bake cookies more evenly. And copper makes the best cookie cutters -- they keep their shape better.

Nothing is more unnerving than to have to iron your table linens just before a party. So store your tablecloths rolled around a large cardboard tube -- a mailing tube or one that held gift wrap. But cover the tube with acid-free tissue paper. (Buy a lot of acid-free tissue paper. You apparently need it all the time.) Never store your linens in a dry-cleaning bag because it will cause them to yellow.

Speaking of tablecloths: If you drip candle wax on one, allow it to harden before you attempt to remove it. It is easiest to do when the wax is frozen, so either put the tablecloth in the freezer or rub the wax with ice cubes in a plastic sandwich bag. Gently flake it off with a dull butter knife. Don't scrape because this will damage the fibers. (Reconsider using red and green candles. The dyes used in making them can leave a stain.) If an oily spot remains, have the item dry-cleaned.

Soy candles might be the best ones to buy. They produce no soot and no odor to compete with your food or wine. Even beeswax candles, prized for their driplessness, can smell lightly of honey.

Wash your good china as soon as possible after each meal. Acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, and sulfur-based foods, such as mayonnaise, tartar sauce and eggs, can mar the glaze or the color of the china if not rinsed right away. Even if your china is considered dishwasher safe, consider washing it by hand. Remove your rings and use only a soft cloth.

When determining how much wine to buy for a dinner party, figure on half a bottle per person unless you are inviting me or any of my girlfriends. If the party is going to last for more than three hours or you are serving multiple courses, plan on more. If the party is on a Sunday evening or a weeknight, guests will likely consume less.

Store your ornaments in compartmentalized boxes, which are available everywhere. Use acid-free tissue paper, which won't harm delicate surfaces and will protect the ornaments from contaminants in cardboard boxes. If using plastic storage boxes, toss in one of those silica gel packets to absorb any moisture in that airtight environment.

Never connect more than three strings of lights.

Don't shovel snow. Push it. Newer shovels are ergonomically designed to help you do this. And get started early. Fresh snow is easier to move. Once it forms a bond with the pavement, it is difficult to separate.

Choose a Christmas tree with a trunk that is sticky to the touch. Bounce the trunk off the ground. If needles fall, it is dry enough to pose a fire hazard. Water it every day.

Never use outdoor lights indoors, and vice versa. Never use outdoor extension cords indoors, and vice versa.

Hire a chimney sweep to clean your chimney at least once a year, even if you think you didn't use your fireplace very often. Creosote deposits in the chimney are highly combustible. Scatter the ashes around your roses.

Remove soot from your fireplace surroundings using the dust-brush attachment to your vacuum cleaner. Don't use wet rags. Soot can stain if moistened.

And about the red wine stains.

All I can say is, this: You are in a lot of trouble. You had better buy the book.

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