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Martha Stewart: Granulated brown sugar has a drier texture

SHARE Martha Stewart: Granulated brown sugar has a drier texture

Kirsten Strecker

Question:Can you explain what granulated brown sugar is and what it's used for?

Answer: Granulated brown sugar is a free flowing, drier form of the more familiar brown sugar. Both types are made from boiled-down sugar and molasses and are mixed in a centrifuge, but the granulated kind also undergoes a special heating and drying process. The result: nonsticky crystals that are similar in texture to white sugar. They are easy to measure and pour and do not lump or harden when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry cupboard or in the refrigerator.

Do not substitute granulated brown sugar for regular brown sugar in recipes. Because it has a lower moisture content, baked goods will be dry and their taste off. Instead, try sprinkling it on top of cookie dough or hot cereals.

If you like the taste of molasses, you might also use granulated brown sugar instead of white sugar to sweeten coffee and tea.

Question:What is the best way to clean vintage rhinestone jewelry?

Answer: Rhinestones are lustrous imitation gems made of rock crystal, glass or paste (ground glass) that are designed to look like diamonds. Most are clear, but some are colored; a foil backing provides additional sparkle. Crystal rhinestones are the most desirable. They got their name from Europe's Rhine River, where the stones were found in the late 1800s.

Dullness in rhinestones is commonly caused by dust, dirt, smoke and cosmetics such as hair spray. To clean them, dust the surface with a baby toothbrush, which has very soft bristles.

If your rhinestone is held in place with a setting, dip the brush in a solution of distilled water mixed with a few drops of glass cleaner, blot most of the moisture off the brush with a paper towel, then gently clean any dirt from the gem. For hard-to-reach spots, use a cotton swab.

Stones that do not have a setting are probably secured with glue. These should not be cleaned with liquid, as moisture can loosen the glue. Instead, polish them with a soft cloth slightly dampened with diluted glass cleaner.

Never submerge any rhinestone jewelry in water or run it under a tap. After cleaning, place the piece upside down on a towel to dry; you may also use a hair dryer on low heat.

If your rhinestone still appears dull after following this regimen, try taking it to a jeweler for a professional cleaning. The foil backing may also have deteriorated. Some jewelers can replace the foil; if yours cannot, contact an antique jewelry restoration specialist.

Question:Is there a way to propagate ornamental sweet potato vines?

Answer: Ornamental sweet potato vines are beautiful, leafy plants that are similar to morning glories but do not flower. They are well suited to use in containers, hanging baskets and window boxes; they also make a good summer ground cover.

Propagating them is relatively easy to do. Start by planting vines this month, or when night temperatures are around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Pick a sunny spot, and use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer regularly. During the summer, the roots will produce tubers. These look like the sweet potatoes we eat but are not bred for consumption. In USDA Zones 9 to 11, the plants will propagate themselves. Each spring the tubers should form buds from which new plants grow. (In cooler parts of these zones, the vines will likely die back, but the tubers should survive.)

If you live in Zone 8 or below, you'll need to dig up the tubers before the first frost and place them in a warm, dry place — near a sunny window, for example. Leave them there for seven to 10 days to allow the vines to die back and the tubers to harden off. Bury the tubers in a box filled with shredded newspaper or peat moss, and keep them in a spot that's dry and cool but above freezing.

Come spring, new growth should appear on the tubers, and when the weather is warm enough (nights are at least 60 degrees F), you can plant them outside. Before planting, increase your stock by cutting the tubers into pieces, making sure each piece has at least one bud on it. Barely cover the pieces with soil, and water well.

In cooler areas, you can give the plants a head start indoors: Plant tuber pieces in individual pots or place several in a large pot, and keep them in a sunny place. When the weather is warm enough, move them outdoors.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be sent by electronic mail to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. 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.

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