I always overpack for weekend trips. How can I avoid this?
Georgina Pullman, Ossining, N.Y
First, think about what you’ll be doing at your destination: Going to the beach? Visiting galleries and museums? Wine tasting? Then bring items that do double or triple duty: sandals, for example, that are comfortable to walk in yet also look chic poolside and at the bar, or jeans that can be dressed up for dinner.
Stick to a neutral palette (say, white, gray and navy), and add shots of color with bold accessories or layers. That way, everything will go together.
Bring a pair of statement earrings, and pull your hair back for an easy day-to-night transition.
▪ Two T-shirts
▪ One or two blouses
▪ Pair of shorts
▪ Pair of jeans (darker washes look more polished)
▪ Blazer or light jacket
▪ Simple dress or skirt
▪ Sneakers or comfortable flats
▪ Light scarf
Travel tip: To keep your plants hydrated when you’re out of town, try using terra-cotta Plant Watering Stakes ($14, amazon.com), which slowly dispense water that’s been set up in an empty wine bottle. They’ll leave your potted garden happy, despite the heat.
How do I keep my dog safe at the beach or a friend’s pool?
Victor Dickinson, Fort Worth
At the pool, be careful not to let your dog swim in chlorinated water; it can irritate her eyes and mucous membranes. Have fresh water on hand for when she gets thirsty — drinking pool water can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Algae blooms in lakes or large amounts of ocean water can be toxic as well.
Also, dogs can get burned if they’re out in the sun too long; try using a spray sunblock for easy application, such as Epi-Pet Sun Protector ($18, amazon.com).
And remember: Splashing around and swimming are fine, but always keep a close eye on your pet. Dogs can drown in pools if they fall in and can’t find an exit, or in oceans and rivers if they get caught in riptides or fast currents.
I’ve noticed different types of feta cheese in stores. What are they, and how should I use them?
Patricia Overlean, Columbus, Ind.
Feta is one of the oldest varieties of cheese, first produced in Greece from sheep’s milk. But today you’ll find feta-style cheeses made around the world, from any combination of sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk. The country of origin, the milk used and how the cheese is produced impact the flavor and texture, which can range from briny to mild and extremely creamy to crumbly and dry. Whichever kind you go with, look for feta sold in a block submerged in brine, which is generally highest-quality.
Greek: It tends to have the strongest flavor and is used in dishes like spanakopita, but is also tasty crumbled into small pieces to toss over pastas or salads.
Bulgarian: Generally firm and salty, it’s great broiled or sliced and served on its own, with extra-virgin olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper.
French: It’s mild and creamy — perfect for spreading over crostini or toast.
North American: These varieties, which tend to be drier, work well in large chunks as part of a cheese plate.
What’s the best way to conserve water when taking care of my lawn at this time of year?
Emilia Highsmith, Portland, Maine
When you mow, cut the grass to a height of 3 to 3 1/2 inches, leaving the clippings on the lawn; this will give the soil a good amount of shade, encouraging deeper rooting and reducing evaporation. It’s also important to water deeply but infrequently — about an hour twice a week instead of 10 to 15 minutes a day (use a sprinkler if possible) — to develop a large reservoir and discourage the growth of weeds that compete for hydration. Finally, always water early in the morning or late in the evening, when the sun is less likely to quickly burn off much of the moisture.
Worth a try
Dairy alternatives have become ubiquitous offerings in coffee drinks and smoothies, but there are other ways to enjoy them. Try using almond milk in this creamy, satisfying oatmeal recipe, which gets natural sweetness from chopped banana and blueberries (fresh or thawed frozen), along with a pretty purple hue from the berries.
To make 2 servings, combine 1 cup each steel-cut oats, almond milk and water in a saucepan; let stand overnight. The next morning, add 1/2 cup each blueberries and chopped banana, and a pinch of kosher salt; stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until oats are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot, with more blueberries, sliced banana and a sprinkle of toasted wheat germ, if desired.
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate