Ask Martha: How to grow succulents, keep summer whites bright and more.
A: Succulents, such as echeveria, aeonium and jade, are easy to root from pups (offshoots of a larger plant) or leaves. Line a seed tray with paper towels, then fill it with a moistened soil blend (equal parts perlite, sand and vermiculite). Cut off a pup with a sharp knife, and strip away the bottom leaves so one inch of stem is exposed. (Or simply remove individual leaves.) Let it sit a few days, until the cut end forms a callus. Then gently press it into the soil, water and continue to keep moist. Divide plants into individual pots when you notice new growth, in about four to six weeks — a sign that they have established roots.
Q: How do I keep my white summer clothing white? — Dorothy Narciso, Fort Pierce, Florida
A: First, get the items clean and bright before storing them — add 1⁄2 cup borax or 1⁄4 cup white vinegar to the laundry, or use Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda ($4.25, walmart.com). Or boil water with lemon halves in a large pot, then soak your linens until the water is cool. Proper storage is also key: Keep clothes in breathable cotton boxes, not cardboard — the acid in paper can cause items to yellow.
TIP: Avoid storing whites in airtight plastic containers, which can trap moisture, making clothes musty.
Q: Can I make vegan chocolate frosting that tastes as delicious as the real thing? — Genevieve Martinez, Madison, Wisconsin
A: Swapping in coconut milk for cream in a standard chocolate-ganache recipe yields a rich dairy-free topping. Because of the high ratio of coconut milk to chocolate, the frosting will take longer to thicken, but the decadent taste and airy texture are well worth the wait. Pair the frosting with our vegan cupcake recipe, also included below.
VEGAN CHOCOLATE-GANACHE FROSTING
To speed up the process, refrigerate the frosting for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, instead of allowing it to thicken at room temperature.
Place 2 cups chopped semisweet chocolate (10 ounces) in a heatproof bowl. Bring 1 2⁄3 cups full-fat coconut milk (from one 13.5-ounce can) just to a boil; pour over chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes, then stir until smooth and glossy. Let cool, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 2 hours. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.
VEGAN CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Yield: Makes 12 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup coconut oil, measured in liquid form
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup unsweetened almond milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 recipe Vegan Frosting
1. Heat oven to 375 F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with baking cups. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk together coconut oil, espresso powder, almond milk and vanilla. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients, until combined. Quickly stir in the vinegar until incorporated.
2. Divide batter evenly between muffin cups (scant 1/3 cup per cupcake). Bake until tops spring back when lightly touched, about 18 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in pan, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Top cupcakes with vegan frosting (about 3 tablespoons per cupcake).
Q: What’s the difference between a traditional and a quick pickle? — Ben Diamond, New York City
A: A traditional pickle is made by lacto-fermentation and requires keeping the vegetables in a salt brine for a few days to months. A quick pickle is made by soaking the vegetables in a vinegar bath for as little as 30 minutes.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE SOUR: Quick-pickling sterilizes the vegetables and prevents the spread of bacteria. Fermented pickling creates an environment in which “good” bacteria thrive.
TIP: Make your scissors last longer by using them exclusively for either fabric or paper. To differentiate among multiple pairs, mark them with ribbon or pieces of washi tape.
(Questions may be sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com.)