Dear Martha: I have several French copper pots, and the interiors are starting to deteriorate. Are they safe to use?
A: I would have them retinned. Copper pots must be coated to prevent a harmful reaction between acidic food and the copper, which can change the color of the food and create toxins. Tin is the preferred metal for lining copper because it's inexpensive and widely available. Any good tinsmith will be able to do this (and also restore the exterior of your pans to their original brassy luster if necessary).
Once your pans are coated, they'll look great and last another 10 years if you're careful. Use only wooden spoons, never metal, and always cook with some liquid in the pan. Remember not to scorch or scour your pans. To clean, soak them in warm water and wipe with a soft cloth.
Dear Martha: How long can I keep liqueurs after they have been opened? How should I store them?
A: Liqueurs are spirits to which sugar and natural flavors have been added. They include brandy, schnapps, eau-de-vie, and cream and fruit liqueurs. Of the many kinds of liqueurs, full-proof spirits (those that contain 40 percent or more alcohol, such as some brandies) last the longest - decades, even, if kept in a cool, dark place.
Fruit-infused liqueurs, or cordials, have a shorter shelf life and begin to lose intensity one to two weeks after being opened if stored at room temperature, several months if refrigerated. (Cordials that have lost some of their character can still be used in mixed drinks, in which a slightly compromised taste might go unnoticed.) Cream-based liqueurs will begin to spoil more quickly than most others and must be refrigerated. They can last five months to a year without sacrificing quality.
The length of time that liqueurs stay fresh after being opened depends in part on the amount of liquid left in the bottle. A bottle that's less than half full will generally lose flavor faster than one that's nearly full, because the additional air will oxidize the alcohol more quickly.
Dear Martha: I came across a chicken recipe in which the poultry had to be brined before cooking. Is this necessary?
A: Brining is a great way to add extra flavor to poultry and to help keep the meat nice and moist. When I make fried chicken, for example, I always brine the poultry first. Submerge the meat in salt water, and place it in the refrigerator. Parts will be brined in about four hours; whole birds, overnight. Depending on what flavors you want to infuse the poultry with, you can also add herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar or wine to the brine.
Dear Martha: I've seen flowers marked "green label" in stores. What are they?
A: Green-label certification ensures that your blossoms were grown on a farm that is compliant with strict environmental standards governing the use of pesticides, the conservation of water, proper treatment of wastewater and general protection of ecosystems. Many farms that produce such flowers are making progress toward organic production techniques and safer pest management.
Expect to pay a bit more for these bouquets; proceeds are reinvested in the industry and sometimes even used to fund scholarships and low-interest loans for workers wishing to buy a home or start a small business.
Dear Martha: My husband and I do a lot of woodworking. Why do we end up with sharp, jagged edges when we cut boards?
A: If you're having that problem when you're finished sawing and the board sort of breaks off, use a handsaw. Also, hold your board on a flat surface next to where you're cutting, so that the end isn't hanging over the edge; otherwise, the weight of the board will cause it to fall and tear the wood. It also helps to put the board across two tables with a thin crack in between where you're going to do your sawing; that way, nothing can fall. *