Share this article

print logo


Q. I have boxes and boxes of mixed-up family photographs. Any suggestions for organizing them?

-- Sandy Lutrin, Phoenix, Ariz.

A. Sorting through a large collection of photographs can be daunting. But there are good reasons for organizing and properly storing your family photos sooner rather than later: In addition to being able to enjoy your photos now, you will ensure their preservation for future generations.

Start by going through your most recent photos, since they will be freshest in your memory, then work back in time. Arrange them according to general time periods or by event, then break those groups down into more specific categories. Don't save every single print; blurry or poorly exposed pictures should be thrown away.

While sorting, identify the people, places and dates of the photos as accurately as possible. (For older pictures, this step may require some research.) Record the information either on paper photo sleeves or labels, rather than on the backs of the prints. (Writing on the back of photos can damage the image.)

Next, assemble albums with your favorite photos. Choose themes for the albums, such as a particular vacation, a baby's first year or, for older images, a more general description such as "Jones Family, 1950s."

Use acid-free, archival-quality supplies, rather than albums with self-adhesive pages, which fade and distort the colors of photos over time. Albums with high-quality inert plastic (such as Mylar) pages or acid-free white-paper pages are easy to find. With paper pages, it's best to use white or clear archival corners, rather than black ones, to hold the pictures in place. You can write captions on paper pages with a photo-safe pen.

Photos that won't be arranged in albums or framed should be stored in photo file boxes. (Most photo stores sell acid-free cardboard boxes specifically for this purpose.) Arrange negatives in archival-quality plastic sleeves.

Remember that the worst enemies of photographs are light, heat and moisture, so never store photos in the basement or attic, and avoid displaying photos in bright sunlight, or in the kitchen, where heat and moisture are often high. If you do display photos in these areas, keep duplicate copies in storage.

Well-tended wood

Q. What is the proper way to clean and care for wooden kitchen tools?

-- Lesley Blue Parker, Fort Bragg, N.C.
A. Wooden tools are attractive and reliable. With proper care, they can outlast the hardest plastics. For the best, and safest, results, however, a few things should be kept in mind:

Wood is absorbent, so never soak wooden tools or put them in the dishwasher. They will become saturated and are likely to mildew before drying out completely. Instead, clean them by hand, using a heavy-duty scrub brush and cleanser.

A cloth dampened with diluted household bleach can occasionally be rubbed across the surface to sanitize the wood, which should then be thoroughly rinsed and dried.

Not all wood is created equal. Cheaper tools and utensils will likely be made of soft wood, such as pine, which will not withstand regular use in a kitchen. Buy good quality, smooth hardwood tools with no jagged edges.

Wood tends to hold strong odors and flavors, so it's a good idea to use separate tools for different jobs (i.e., don't stir your pasta sauce with the same wooden spoon that you use for cookie dough).

When not in use, store wooden tools in a cool, dry spot -- too much moisture can lead to mildew. To keep the wood from drying and cracking, condition it every few months with non-toxic mineral oil; this will also create a barrier over the wood grain, slowing absorption of water and food odors. Apply the oil with a fine steel wool.

The tapas dance

Q. I'm interested in learning more about tapas. Can you give me a brief history?

-- Sherry Henson, Memphis, Tenn.
A. Tapas are appetizers and snacks commonly served in Spanish bars and restaurants.

The origin of tapas, a word which literally means "covers," can be traced to the small plates that were often placed atop glasses in Spanish wine bars to keep fruit flies away. It became customary for the bar owners to offer a bit of food on the dish to attract customers, and each bar prepared their house specialty, trying to outdo the competition. Groups of customers would go from bar to bar, sampling the tapas along with wine, sherry or beer.

Today, it is still Spanish tradition to order just a bite at each spot -- though a few tapas can make a complete meal.

Classic Spanish tapas include both hot and cold dishes, ranging from a simple bowl of olives to more exotic dishes such as pickled octopus. Bite-size pieces of chorizo (Spanish sausage) and cured hams, miniature empanadas, bocadillos (Spanish finger sandwiches) and omelets are other popular offerings.

Questions should be addressed to Martha Stewart, care of New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions may also be sent to Stewart by electronic mail: Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.