Dear Martha: You always seem to have more than 24 hours in a day. What advice do you have for helping me improve my time-management skills?
A: First off, you have to have a lot of energy, which means finding time to exercise. I used to get tired before I started working out on a daily basis. Even a half hour makes a huge difference to the body's energy level over the course of a day. Eating healthy, fresh foods is essential. I try never to open a can, and that includes cans of soda. With a nutritious diet and exercise, I can get a lot done in a day.
When it comes to scheduling, I try to balance things I have to do with things I want to do, even if it is an activity as simple as taking a photograph. I always find that I can be more productive with my work when it's broken up with a bit of pleasure.
Dear Martha: The cast-iron pan I purchased has no instructions on how to season it. Can you tell me the correct method?
A: It's not too hard to do, and a properly seasoned cast-iron pan will get better every time you use it. First, place the pan on the stove and warm it gently over low heat. Pour a tablespoon of good-quality vegetable oil into the pan, and rub it all over the surface with paper towels. Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the pan inside for about one hour, long enough for the iron to fully absorb the oil. Take out the pan, let it cool, and rub coarse salt onto the surface. To finish, rinse the pan with warm water, and dry.
In the future, never use soap to clean the cast iron. Just one washing with a harsh detergent could be enough to dissolve the finish you've worked so hard to achieve. Instead, rinse the pan with warm water. Use coarse salt to remove any stubborn grease spots.
Dear Martha: I installed a breakfast bar with a marble top. After our first cocktail party, the surface was covered with faint rings. Is there anything I can do?
A: Well, you could always learn to live with the stains. I gave up worrying about marks on my marble countertops long ago. I'm a lot happier, and the counters still look great.
But if you're intent on eliminating the stains, try treating them with a poultice, which you can find at a hardware or home-supply store. You'll need to mix the powder with water to create a paste (unless it's sold pre-mixed), apply it to the stained area, and cover it with plastic wrap for 12 to 24 hours. As the paste dries, it should lift the stains up from your countertop.
Deep-set stains may be too stubborn for poultices, however, in which case your only option will be to consult a stone-restoration specialist. To prevent future stains from setting, apply a penetrating sealer to the countertop.
Dear Martha: My husband and I are about to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We followed the tradition of freezing the top layer of our wedding cake. How should we defrost it?
A: The rule for defrosting items that have been in the freezer, whether for a week, a month, or a year, is to leave them in their wrapping and put them in the refrigerator overnight so that they can gradually thaw. Any condensation that results from the change in temperature will form on the outside of the packaging. The same will be true for your cake, which I hope you and your husband enjoy!
Dear Martha: I have a plumeria houseplant that won't bloom. Do you have any idea what I might be doing wrong?
A: That's unfortunate. Plumeria is usually quick to flower, although the tropical plant does require a lot of sunlight. My hunch is yours is spending too much time in the dark. Try placing it in front of a window that receives ample direct light.
Otherwise, the only thing I can think is that maybe you're using the wrong fertilizer. Choose one that's high in phosphate, as opposed to nitrogen, which plumeria doesn't care for, and apply it every two weeks. *