Martha helps make the holiday a little easier by answering all of your pressing Christmas questions.
What’s the best way to store holiday cookies?
Ilana Dominguez, Rockford, Illinois
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Here are a few more smart-cookie storage tips:
Make ahead: Logs of slice-and-bake cookie dough (or mounds of drop-cookie dough) can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month. No need to defrost — just bake as your recipe directs, adding a couple of minutes.
Separate textures: Don’t store crunchy and soft cookies in the same container — the crisp ones will absorb moisture from the others and become soft themselves.
Chill selectively: Only keep cookies in the refrigerator if they have a dairy or egg component (say, whipped cream or curd); otherwise, chilling adds moisture that can make them soft and sticky.
Freshen up: To revive stored cookies, heat them in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes. (Keep an eye on them so they don’t overbake.) Let cool before serving.
More baking advice
Do eggs and butter really need to be at room temperature before being added to a recipe? The answer is yes: Cold ingredients don’t incorporate easily and result in a dense texture. If you forget to take them out of the fridge in advance, try these quick tricks:
Eggs: Place them in a bowl of warm (not hot) water until they no longer feel cold, about 10 minutes.
Butter: Microwave it in 5-second increments until softened, but don’t go too far — melted butter separates, leading to tougher, flatter cookies. Or shred butter on a box grater set over a mixing bowl — the small bits will soften much faster than a full stick.
How do I keep my Christmas tree healthy throughout the season?
Bernie Sussman, Boise, Idaho
First, consider a fir, such as noble or Douglas. These tend to last longest. Make certain the tree is hardy to start with by running your hands along the limbs and looking for fallen needles; also, bend a branch to see if it snaps back. Once you get your tree home, follow these pointers, and enjoy the fresh pine scent.
Place it: A live cut tree can last up to six weeks indoors. To keep it from drying out any sooner (and potentially creating a fire hazard), position it as far as possible from any heat sources, like radiators and fireplaces.
Water it: Trees are thirsty: One with a 6-inch trunk can use 1 1⁄2 gallons of water a day. So use a stand with a large reservoir, and top it off daily. Try the Cinco Plastics Large Express C-144E ($42, acehardware.com), which holds a whopping 3 gallons.
Recycle it: At season’s end, find out if your city offers free disposal; if so, you can leave it curbside or drop it off at a recycling center. Many wildlife sanctuaries also accept donated trees to create shelters for animals; check online for one in your community.
Does my dog need a winter coat?
Cynthia Strand, Plymouth, Minnesota
Keep Snowball from turning into a pupcicle with the proper outdoor gear. Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, toy terriers and other small breeds weighing under 20 pounds, as well as short-haired or very lean dogs (like greyhounds, whippets and Weimaraners), should wear a coat in cold weather. It should fit snugly, completely covering your dog’s stomach and ending at the base of the tail, and leave his legs free so he can walk, run and relieve himself. On especially freezing days, keep your pal’s paws protected from de-icing chemicals with rubber disposable or nylon booties.
Craft tip: Stay sharp
Your scissors will get a lot of use this season, so treat them right.
Clean: If they’re rusty (from age or water contact), wipe the blades with a cotton ball soaked in white vinegar.
Sharpen: Unscrew and separate the blades if you can, then sharpen each side with a stone and honing oil. Rejoin them and lubricate the screw with oil to keep the scissors cutting smoothly.
Divide & conquer: Use specialty pairs for their intended jobs: fabric shears for sewing, paper scissors for wrapping and crafts. This will keep all the blades sharp longer.
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