Alexandra Rowley
People will think it's ever so nice to receive even belated thanks. Writers may say, "I apologize for not sending this sooner ..."

Dear Martha: I had surgery a year ago that I'm just recovering from now. Is it too late to send thank-you cards?

Answer: It's never too late to express your gratitude. You can say something like, "I am feeling so much better, and your beautiful flowers helped me on that road to recovery. I apologize for not sending this sooner, but now that I'm back to normal, I'm writing to thank you." People will think that is so, so nice.

Dear Martha: While shopping for a kitchen range, I came across an induction unit. How does this technology work?

Answer: Although still relatively unknown in the United States, induction cooking has been popular in Europe and Australia for years. It is sometimes referred to as "heatless cooking," as it doesn't require an open flame or red-hot electric coils. Heat is instead generated by electromagnetic currents in the "burners" that respond to metal cooking vessels. Whether induction cooking is the wave of the future or just an electromagnetic flash in the pan, this technology is worth a closer look now that more manufacturers in the United States are offering it.

When you cook on an induction cooktop, only the vessel and food contained within it become hot — as soon as the pot or pan is removed from the burner, the cooktop surface becomes almost cool to the touch. Therefore, safety is a big selling point with induction cooking. The burners also won't heat up your kitchen, which appeals to many caterers and restaurant chefs. Induction cooktops can achieve extremely high temperatures in a very time; during cooking, heat adjustments are almost instantaneous and quite precise. (Gas ranges also boast precise heat adjustments, but their burners take longer to heat the pan to the initial temperature.)

There are some drawbacks to induction cooktops. They tend to be more expensive than gas and electric units, starting around $1,500 for a four-burner range. If you previously cooked with gas, you may need to rewire your kitchen to accommodate the 240 volts required for most induction cooktops.

Only ferrous metals, which are magnetic, will work with induction heat. If you cook with copper, you'll need to trade your pots and pans for stainless steel or cast-iron ones.

Not all stainless steel vessels are fit for induction, though. They should work if a magnet sticks to the bottom of them. Also, pan size can be an issue; the magnetic coils may not work properly when paired with pans that are much smaller or larger than the burners.

Dear Martha: I saw your horses on your television show. What kind are they?

Answer: I have five Friesian horses named Martyn, Meindert, Ramon, Rinze and Rutger. They came from Canada, but the breed originated in Holland, where they were put to work in the fields. Nowadays, Friesians are used in dressage competitions and as carriage horses because they're so handsome and nimble. Mine are large — about 17 hands tall — but they're very gentle and responsive. And they have that wonderful high-stepping gait that distinguishes the breed.

Dear Martha: Is it wrong to put grated cheese on a seafood and pasta dish?

Answer: Most Italian chefs and restaurateurs say that this is a no-no. Cheese is appropriate for simpler pasta sauces, such as marinara and Bolognese, which benefit from the extra richness and saltiness. But with seafood, it can overpower the delicate flavors of the dish.

Dear Martha: I've been composting all winter, but now my heap is very stiff and dry. Should I compost during cold months?

Answer: You can compost all year long, but you need to remember to turn the pile regularly, regardless of what season it is. Sprinkle the pile liberally with granular lime, which is available at nurseries, and then turn it with a pitchfork. The heap will be dry on the outside but hot and decomposing in the center, so mix it well. When you reshape the pile, leave a small crater in the middle to collect rainwater. The moisture will keep the pile soft and help matter decompose quickly and evenly.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to: [email protected]. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit

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