Dear Martha: What is milk paint? Is it possible to make it from scratch?
Answer: Milk paint is an organic material that gives surfaces a distinctive color-washed finish. As the name suggests, milk is a principal ingredient in the material, acting as a binder for pigments the same way polymers do in latex paints and oils do in oil-based ones.
People have been mixing milk paint for a long time; it has been found on artifacts dating to ancient Egypt, although it's perhaps most commonly associated with colonial-era furniture. The fact that the material doesn't give off noxious vapors (often called VOCs) accounts for its continued appeal within today's green building community. Craftspeople, meanwhile, value its saturated colors and translucent finish, which can be used to give wooden furniture, terra-cotta pots and other textured surfaces an antique look.
You can't, however, simply mix milk with color pigment and spread it on the walls. The following recipe will yield enough paint to cover a bureau or other large furnishing: Mix the juice of 1 lemon with 1 quart of skim milk in a large bowl. Leave the mixture overnight at room temperature to induce curdling. Pour it through a sieve lined with cheesecloth to separate the solid curds from the liquid whey. Add 4 tablespoons of dry color pigment (available at art-supply stores) to the curd; be sure to wear a mask, and stir until the pigment is evenly dispersed.
Artists' acrylic paint also can be used in place of powdered pigment. Add it one drop at a time, and stir constantly until you achieve the desired hue. Whether pigment- or acrylic-based, milk paint will spoil quickly, so it should be applied within a few hours of mixing. Rest assured, its sour smell will disappear once the paint dries.
If you prefer, you can purchase milk paint rather than make it yourself. One source is Old Fashioned Milk Paint (www.milkpaint.com).
Dear Martha: I planted an avocado seed in my garden. The tree is now 1 foot tall. Will it really produce fruit?
A: It will, but only when it's 4 to 5 years old. If other avocado trees are growing nearby, insects will naturally pollinate the one in your garden once it reaches that age. Otherwise, you'll have to pollinate the tree's flowers by hand, which takes some patience and expertise.
In addition to fruit, avocado trees produce attractive green leaves, so they'll bring beauty to your landscape, if not food to your dinner table.
Dear Martha: Why does my stainless steel flatware get horrible rust-spot deposits in the dishwasher?
Answer: Despite its reassuring name, stainless steel can rust if not cared for properly. That's because its base metal contains iron. Over time, the object's protective chromium topcoat can wear down, allowing oxygen and water to reach the iron, which results in rust.
To keep this from happening to your utensils, rinse them before loading the dishwasher. This prevents acids in food from corroding the protective topcoat. Also, avoid dishwashing detergents that contain citrus, which can compromise the topcoat. Don't mingle silver and stainless steel flatware in the utensil basket of a dishwasher, because the two metals may react, damaging their finish. If you hand-wash your utensils, use a soft sponge, and dry them right away. Never soak flatware overnight.Fortunately, unsightly rust spots can be removed easily with a paste of one part baking soda to three parts water. Rub the paste gently onto the stainless steel with a soft cloth. To add an extra layer of protection (and restore the luster of tarnished flatware), apply stainless steel polish a few times a year or whenever the surface becomes dull.
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