Dear Martha: The antique china set I inherited includes dishes that are 2-inch miniatures of the dinner plates. Do you know what these could be?
A: They sound like butter pats. These diminutive dishes were common in the Victorian era, when just about every conceivable food category had its own serving piece (table settings even included "bone plates" when fish was on the menu).
Butter pats aren't manufactured much these days, so they are considered collectibles. You often find them at flea markets and antiques stores in many interesting shapes, including circular, square and fan-shaped, as well as in countless varieties of patterns.
Dear Martha: How are bamboo towels different from regular ones?
A: Bamboo is cropping up all the over the home these days, in fabric, flooring, wall coverings and more. It's little wonder why. The natural material, which is a member of the grass family, is a renewable resource (it can grow up to 1 foot a day) that can be cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides. Bamboo towels are made from plant pulp that is extracted, mashed and spun into a yarn that's extremely silky and absorbent.
In fact, bamboo towels can soak up three times more moisture than their terry-cloth cotton equivalents. They also tend to be thin and easy to store. In terms of hygiene, bamboo towels have natural antibacterial properties, plus they don't trap germs or odors. And they dry quickly, making them an excellent choice in humid climates. Most brands can be tossed into a washing machine and a dryer, where their fibers will become softer and more absorbent.
On the downside, bamboo towels are more expensive than cotton ones and are not readily found in stores (in which case, they must be ordered online). You may want to consider bamboo-cotton blends, which are easier to find and offer many of the same benefits of pure bamboo ones. Care instructions are likely to vary from one brand to the next, so read the labels carefully before washing.
Dear Martha: When I make scrambled eggs, they turn out hard and crumbly. What's the secret to light, fluffy eggs?
A: I break the eggs into a bowl, and then scramble them very gently with a fork. I don't add milk because I find it tends to make them watery. If you prefer creamy eggs, add a little fresh cream or a dollop of sour cream.
Next, melt some butter in a nonstick skillet (try 1 tablespoon for every 2 eggs), and add the eggs, along with a pinch of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gently pull the edges of the eggs into the center of the pan, letting the liquid parts run out to the perimeter. Cook just until the eggs are set.
If you'd like to add cheese, whether cheddar or Gruyere or Swiss, finely grate it, and add it halfway through scrambling. Be careful not to overcook the eggs, and serve them hot. Nothing ruins scrambled eggs like letting them sit around.
Dear Martha: I have my eye on an antique dining room table, but it has years of wax buildup. Is it possible to remove this?
A: Try rubbing the surface with a soft cloth dampened with varsol, an odorless paint thinner that's sold at most hardware stores. You also can try applying the solvent with extra-fine steel wool. But be sure to test an inconspicuous area on the table first to make sure the solvent won't damage its finish.Once you've removed the old wax down to the original finish, apply a new coat of paste wax with a fresh cotton cloth. Wait until the wax goes from shiny to matte before buffing the surface with a clean cloth. You'll know you're done buffing when the cloth glides easily over the surface.
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