Dear Martha: What is parchment paper used for?

Answer: This moisture- and heat-resistant paper has a lot of applications in the kitchen, which is the reason it's always good to keep a roll on hand. It is available at gourmet grocers and many supermarkets. Parchment paper can be used to wrap meat, fish and vegetables for baking in the oven ("en papillote" is the French term for this method of cooking). The food cooks in its own steam, resulting in healthy, flavorful dishes.

Parchment paper is also good for lining baking dishes and pans for quick, easy cleanup, say if you're baking multiple batches of cookies. And the paper provides an extra layer of protection for items stored in a freezer. Make-ahead cookie dough, for example, should be wrapped in parchment paper and then plastic wrap, to ward off freezer burn.

Dear Martha: I bought a red sofa and love seat for my living room, but I'm not sure what color to paint the walls. I prefer a warm, lived-in feel to a stark, contemporary one. Any suggestions?

Answer: The color red can be used throughout an entire room. Our decorating editors once cast a living room's walls, floor and furniture in a palette of soft, earthy reds. The effect was dramatic but not overwhelming. For a more traditional impression, however, you'll probably be better off establishing a light, neutral backdrop for the red furnishings.

Remember that neutral colors have different temperatures, too, from cool whites to warm beiges. To find the right one, consider the red in your upholstery. If it's a rich burgundy with blue-green undertones, a deep gray or taupe may be right for the walls. If the fabric is a vibrant shade of cranberry, golden beige will be an appropriate option. And if it's an orangey red, pale green may provide the best complement.

Color has a lot of nuance, which is why you should always go with a shade you love, first and foremost. And, of course, test a few versions on a wall before making any final decision.

Dear Martha: How can I protect my electronics from being damaged by power surges?

Answer: Depending on your budget, there are three ways to go. For $20 to $100, you can purchase a power strip with surge protection (prices vary by how much power the strips can handle). In the event of a surge, the circuits will trip, protecting your electronics. Look for models with an indicator light; it will alert you when a trip has occurred, in which case you will need to replace the device.

The next step up is an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. These devices, which range in cost from $100 to more than $1,000, resemble an oversize power strip and work the same way. The difference is they have a built-in battery supply, which will power your electronics for several minutes, enabling you to save data on a computer, for example; some UPS models come with software that automatically saves data and shuts down the computer during a power failure.

Finally, you can invest in a standby generator that is hardwired into your home's main electrical line. These backup systems cost several thousand dollars to install, but if you have a lot of expensive electronics — computers, a security system, a home theater, not to mention a stocked refrigerator — you'll be guaranteed protection, even if a blackout occurs while you're on vacation.

Dear Martha: Do you have any special techniques for stripping old wallpaper?

Answer: There's no magic trick to stripping wallpaper, but a few tips will make the project less frustrating. First, use a 2-gallon garden pump sprayer to soak the paper; it's quicker than a sponge, and the liquid goes on evenly. To help the moisture penetrate the paper backing, it's also smart to score the walls with a special perforating tool, sold at hardware stores. (If the wallpaper is made of paper-backed vinyl, you may find that its top layer peels away easily from the paper backing, eliminating the need to score.) Really soak the surface with water, the hotter the better to help loosen the glue; in addition, there are enzyme solutions that can be added to water to break down stubborn glue.

Wait 30 minutes or so for the water to soak in. When the wallpaper comes off with the scratch of a fingernail, it's ready to be scraped. There are tools designed specifically for this task, but a stiff putty knife or even an old spatula may do the trick, too. Remember also to enlist the help of other members of your family, which is still the best way to make short work of wallpaper removal.


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. 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. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. Dist. by The New York Times Syndicate