Dear Martha: I have to attend eight weddings this year. As a recent college graduate, my budget is limited. Any advice for inexpensive gifts?
A: I sympathize with your predicament. It's costly to keep spending money for elaborate wedding presents. But there are plenty of gift options that are as charming as they are affordable.
One of my favorites, both for weddings and for showers, is a set of his-and-her down pillows. They're fairly inexpensive if you find them on sale, and they can be dressed up with monogrammed pillow slips.
Another idea is a pair of beautiful vintage spoons, which can be found at antiques shops. You might even have the couple's initials engraved into the spoons and then present them in a beautiful box.
Dear Martha: How do you keep your skin looking so radiant and healthy?
A: I've developed a skin-care routine that I think is a good one. It starts with plenty of water. Right now, I'm not drinking a delicious cappuccino. Instead, I'm drinking hot water with lemon squeezed into it. At the office, I keep a pitcher of cold water with two whole lemons squeezed in it on the counter, and that's what I drink throughout the day.
Also, I wear a lot of makeup all of the time (those television lights are so unforgiving!), so I clean my skin every evening with all-natural creams and lotions. In the morning, I splash my face with warm water and apply a natural gel mask. It brightens my skin and keeps my face feeling clean and fresh.
Dear Martha: What do you think about serving fruit cups for dessert?
A: That's a lovely idea, especially if you use halved citrus as "cups." Simply cut the fruits in half using a serrated knife, and remove the segments. Sprinkle the insides of the cups with a little sugar, and refrigerate while you make the salad.
My favorite fruits to use in salads are grapefruit, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines, peaches and pitted bing cherries. I also like bananas, but you have to cut them just before serving or they'll turn brown. I like to chop the other fruits ahead of time and refrigerate them, because I think the secret to a delicious fruit salad is to serve it chilled. I also like to squeeze fresh orange juice over the fruit at the last second so it's slightly moist when it reaches the table.
Dear Martha: Why is the bottom of a wine bottle indented? How else is the shape significant to the bottle's contents?
A: Wine buffs call this indentation the punt, a term left over from the days when bottles were blown by hand. The process involved a long metal rod, called a punty, which artisans used to fashion molten glass into bottles (when the punty was removed from the blown bottles, it left behind an indentation).
Bottle-making technology has evolved beyond punties, but many vintners continue to indent their bottles for tradition's sake. With sparkling wine, however, the punt remains a necessity, as its sloped shape helps diffuse the pressure of the carbon dioxide that builds within the bottle.The shape of a bottle can tell you a lot about a particular wine, including where the grapes used to make that specific variety were originally cultivated. Wines first produced in the Burgundy region of France, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, almost always come in bottles with sloping shoulders and long necks. Bottles containing wine that originated in Bordeaux, such as Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, have square shoulders that are designed to trap the heavy sediments that tend to distinguish these varieties.
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