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Gentle Reminders

Martha Stewart Living, September 2004

In Season
Okra
This Southern favorite peaks in late summer. The ridged, tapered pods (typically green, though a red variety is available) taste like meaty asparagus. Great for thickening gumbo, okra is also delicious when dipped in cornmeal and fried. Choose pods no longer than 4 inches; store, refrigerated, in a plastic bag for up to three days.

Figs
The most popular varieties of this mulberry-family member have either green or purplish black skin. All are soft and sweet, and have tiny edible seeds. Keep figs refrigerated and use -- sliced in salads or sandwiches, or eaten plain with hunks of cheese -- within two or three days of purchase.

Get in the Habit
If you don't already compost, begin a pile this year with fall leaves, other garden debris, and kitchen scraps. It's a great way to recycle and creates humus -- decomposed organic matter -- which is a wonderful source of nourishment for your garden. The best compost contains two or three parts "brown," or carbon-rich matter, and one part "green," or nitrogen-rich matter. Brown matter can include fallen leaves, pine needles, sawdust, shredded newspaper, straw, small twigs, and wood shavings. Green matter can include grass clippings (pesticide-free), vegetable and fruit scraps, soft garden prunings, houseplant trimmings, coffee grounds, eggshells, and spent flowers.

Have You Done It Lately?
Look over insurance policies. At least once a year, you should check to be sure your family and property are adequately covered and that you're getting the best rates. This is particularly important if there have been changes -- for instance, if you have made improvements that have increased the value of your house or property.

Indoors
1. Clean radiators or heating vents before cold weather sets in. It's also a good idea to have your furnace inspected by a professional. He can check for leakage, replace filters, and condition the system so it runs at its best all season.

2. Start sorting and washing summer clothes and organizing closets. Discard worn items, give away any that no longer fit, and pack the rest for storage. Bring out winter clothes and inspect them. Check for evidence of moths; if you find any, immediately wash all items stored in that spot. You can stitch small holes closed in knit garments, but large holes may require professional reweaving.

3. Vacuum the coils of your refrigerator to remove dust and buildup. In older models, the coils are located in the back; in newer ones, look for them at the bottom, behind the front grill.

4. Wash all windows, indoors and out. Use an ammonia-based glass cleaner, or try a natural solution: Mix 2 cups water with 1/4 cup vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray glass and dry with newspaper. If there's buildup on the windows from commercial cleaners (some contain wax), add 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing liquid to the mixture, and repeat.

Outdoors
1. Have your leaf blower serviced now, before the autumn leaves begin to fall.

2. If you live in an area with cold weather, get your storm windows out of storage. Wash them and prepare them for installation. Clean the area where screens will be stowed for the winter.

3. Pull spent annuals from flower borders.

4. If your lawn has suffered from the heat, revive it. Check for bare patches, and reseed (seed heavily; don't skimp). Early fall is ideal for this, since there are few weeds to hinder the grass's growth, and it will develop healthy roots. Aerate the lawn; top-dress with rich topsoil if necessary. Fertilize now as well: Use an organic fertilizer such as rotted manure or fish emulsion, or look for a good-quality synthetic fertilizer that contains slow-release nitrogen.

Have You Done It Lately?
Organize a picnic. During the last days of summer, everyone wants to relax outdoors. Plan a party to suit the mood: Focus on easy-to-eat foods that don't require utensils, such as Pressed Sandwiches and Individual Fruit Pies.