Keep split logs, shown here, as well as tinder and kindling on hand to build a fire on a chilly winter's day. (Suzanne DeChillo / New York Times)
Q. I just moved to a home with a fireplace. What’s the best way to build a fire?
A. First, open the damper all the way to ensure sufficient air circulation, says Home Depot district manager Don Manderville. If the chimney is cold, prime the flue by lighting newspaper and holding it up in the damper. Before you get started, you’ll need tinder, kindling and logs. Tinder is small, light and quick to catch a spark. Kindling should be about 1 foot long; it helps the fire progress. Split logs keep the flames burning.
Tinder: balled-up black-and-white newspaper, or light cardboard ripped into small pieces. Place tinder under the grate or beneath andirons.
Kindling: small pieces of softwood and hardwood, or the resin-saturated heart of pine, called fatwood. Arrange pieces of kindling in a crosshatch pattern. Then use a long match to ignite the tinder in several places.
Logs: softwood, such as pine or cedar, and hardwood, such as birch or oak. Add two split wood logs across the top of the burning kindling. Place a third log on top.
Make sure whatever you use is dry; wet wood will put the fire out, says John Crouch, director of public affairs at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.
Sharpening a knife
Q. What’s the best way to sharpen a dull kitchen knife?
A. You can take your knives to a professional to be sharpened every three to six months. Or you can invest in a whetstone, found at kitchen-supply stores. Lubricate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions (usually with food-grade mineral oil), then place the stone on a damp towel for traction. Use the coarse side of the stone first, pushing the knife blade away from you at a 20-degree angle. Repeat with firm strokes over the stone, from the tip to the base of the blade. Do this on each side of the blade 10-20 times, then repeat on the fine side of the whetstone, and clean the blade once you’re finished. Sharpen your knife at least twice a year.
Mincing vs. chopping
Q. Are “mince” and “finely chop” the same thing?
A. No — a mince is a little bit smaller than a fine chop. Use the glossary below as a reference for common chop sizes, which affect both flavor development and cooking time. For instance, minced onions soften and caramelize more quickly than larger, coarsely chopped ones. It’s important to chop as called for in a recipe, to avoid food that’s too raw or overcooked.
Minced: smaller than 1⁄8 inch
Finely chopped: smaller than ¼ inch
Coarsely chopped: slightly larger than ¼ inch
Sliced: about ¼ inch
For a step-by-step mincing tutorial, visit marthastewart.com/how-to-mince.
Repairing a window screen
Q. How do I fix a hole in a metal window screen?
A. You’ll need more wire screen mesh (which can be purchased at a hardware store or cut from a screen you no longer use) and this three-step technique:
1. Trim around the tear with a utility knife, creating a small rectangle. Cut out a patch of screen that’s a inch larger on all four sides.
2. Unravel a few strands of wire from each side of the patch. Use needle-nose pliers to fold the prongs to 90 degrees.
3. Cover the hole with the patch, inserting the bent strands into the mesh. Flatten the strands on the opposite side of the screen to hold in place.
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