Dear Martha: My shiny new copper oven vent hood doesn't fit with my older, more rustic home. How can I give it an aged look?
Answer: You could try applying a darkening agent for metal to the hood. This will give the surface a beautifully aged patina in as little as 30 seconds. We tested a product called Jax Patina Solutions on my television show, and it worked very well. The agent comes in four shades brown, brown black, gray black, and black and it can be applied to copper, brass or bronze.
Keep in mind that if your hood has been treated with lacquer or wax, those protective coatings will have to be removed in order for the solution to have its oxidizing effect. Also, be aware that the solutions are fast acting, so you need to stop them right away with water once your metal turns the desired shade.
The process is reversible, so you can return the hood to its original color if you let the agent go too long, or if you decide that you want the hood to look new and shiny again. However, removing the patina will require some elbow grease, so it's best to test the solution first on a piece of scrap metal or on an inconspicuous section of the hood.
Dear Martha: Some of my vegetables have stopped producing. Is there anything I can plant in their place that will be ready to harvest before winter?
Answer: There's still time to start new vegetables in the garden. The practice is known as succession sowing. It makes use of the space left in beds by plants that complete their life cycle before the end of summer; determinate tomatoes, for example, ripen early and all at once.
Vegetables that can be harvested at any stage of growth are best suited to succession sowing. Some classic choices include spinach, lettuces and arugula because they thrive in cooler temperatures and less intense sunlight. Beets, carrots and radishes are often sown now as well since they can be harvested as "baby" vegetables or left to mature for as long as the weather stays warm.
For best results, sow seeds directly into your garden beds (as opposed to starting them indoors). And the sooner, the better. The warm days of late August will get the plants off to a quick start, so some vegetables may be ready to harvest in as little as one month.
Dear Martha: The aluminum egg poacher I've used for years finally gave out and I can't find a replacement. Any ideas?
Answer: Have you tried poaching an egg in a glass custard cup? It works really well, with the egg keeping the shape of the cup. Place the cup in a saucepan and fill them both about halfway with water. Bring to a simmer. Crack an egg into a separate heatproof bowl and carefully slide the egg into the cup. As the egg cooks, spoon a little more water into the cup so that the egg remains covered. Poach until its whites are set, about 2 minutes to 3 minutes. Then lift the cup out of the water with tongs or a pot holder, drain, slide the egg onto a plate, and serve.
You can also poach an egg freehand. That's actually how I like to do it. Simply fill a saucepan three-quarters full with water, and bring it to a gentle simmer. Crack an egg into a heatproof bowl, and slide the egg into the water. Carefully spoon its sides up onto its middle as it cooks and in 2 minutes to 3 minutes, you'll have a perfect poached egg.
Dear Martha: I don't have an electric mixer. Can I still make a crumb topping?Answer: Sure. Just use your fingers. Start with cold butter (the heat from your fingers will quickly soften it), and then mix in brown sugar, flour and whatever spices you desire. There's nothing to it.
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