Q. What is the proper procedure for painting a wood floor?
-- Denair Melson, Martin, Tenn.
A. Painting a wood floor is a wonderful way to revitalize a room. It is less expensive than carpeting but serves many of the same purposes: It can enhance a small space, alter the personality of a room and disguise less-than-perfect floorboards.
A solid color is sleek and always elegant, but once you master the basic techniques, you can use paint to make stripes, a gingham check or another pattern.
If this is your first project, it's a good idea to start with something simple, perhaps in an out-of-the-way room or hallway. Use only floor paint, which is specifically formulated to take the wear and tear. Before painting, empty the room of furniture, then sand the floor lightly to remove any old wax and to rough up the finish. Use an electric sander or a floor polisher with a steel-wool pad. (These can be rented from hardware stores or tool-rental companies.) Vacuum thoroughly after sanding, using a crevice tool to clean dirt and dust from tight spaces.
It is important to review the manufacturer's instructions for the paint that you are using, but here are the basics. Plan your strategy before you begin working to avoid mistakes and to keep from painting yourself into a corner -- literally.
Most of the work can be done with a roller on an extension pole, but you will have to start on your hands and knees: Use a brush to paint the perimeter of the floor, the area around any built-in furnishings, and the gaps between floor boards. Then switch to the roller, working in the direction of the wood grain and starting and stopping at the edges of the boards to avoid overlapping paint marks.
Q. Is it safe to hand-wash my cashmere sweaters?
-- Tasha Krost, Lisle, Ill.
A. Hand-washing is a very gentle cleaning method -- one that is ideal for most cashmere, wool, cotton and silk sweaters. Even garments marked "Dry Clean Only" can often be safely washed by hand, especially if they're simply constructed, without zippers or linings. You'll have to trust your judgment, since you may not have any recourse if you go against care-label instructions and your sweater shrinks or is damaged.
Before washing, measure the sweater: Run a tape measure under the arms, shoulder to shoulder, across the bottom and down each sleeve. Record these measurements so you can reshape the sweater properly later.
Dissolve a small amount (follow package instructions) of mild detergent, such as Woolite, in a basin filled with cool water. Immerse the sweater, and gently agitate without wringing or twisting. Let soak for three or four minutes, then drain the sudsy water. Rinse the sweater by running fresh water into the basin, draining, and repeating until all signs of soap are gone. Press, don't wring, to remove excess water.
Lift the wet sweater from the basin, being very careful to support its weight so it doesn't stretch. Roll the sweater in a clean towel, pressing to remove more water; repeat with a second, dry towel. Lay the sweater on a third towel, and shape it using the measurements you took earlier as a guide.
Use a mesh sweater dryer, if you have one. This allows air to circulate so the sweater dries more quickly. If you don't have a mesh dryer, simply turn the sweater over, replacing the damp towels with dry ones occasionally as the sweater dries.
Q. Are crab apples edible and, if so, how should I prepare them?
-- Angie Minnici, Pittsburgh
A. Those lucky enough to have crab-apple trees not only enjoy beautiful early-spring blooms but an abundance of fruit each fall. Smaller, harder and considerably tarter than other apples, crab apples are edible, though they are not good snacking apples. Their texture and flavor make them excellent for preserves, chutneys, jams and jellies.
Check your favorite cookbooks for crab-apple preserve recipes. You may want to experiment with different combinations of fruit and even herbs to complement the tart apples.
The following jelly recipe pairs the fruit with rosemary -- an unexpected combination that yields delicious results. If you're not familiar with safe canning practices, brush up on them before you get started. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a comprehensive guide to home canning on the Internet, at www.foodsafety.org/canhome.htm.
CRAB APPLE ROSEMARY JELLY
5cups ripe crab apples, stems and seeds removed
Sugar to measure
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Cut the apples into chunks. Add water and simmer until soft.
Strain the juice through 3 layers of cheesecloth or through a jelly bag.
For each cup of juice, add 3/4 cup sugar. Bring the syrup to a boil and cook quickly until a temperature of 220 degrees Fahrenheit is reached on a canning or candy thermometer. While the syrup boils, swirl a large sprig of rosemary through the liquid.
Remove from heat, skim, and pour into hot, sterilized half-pint jars. Add one sprig of rosemary to each jar and seal. Makes 2 to 2 1/2 pints.
(Prep time: about 20 minutes. Cook time: about 30 minutes.)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.