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Pets, Herbs and Good Eggs 

Distributed by New York Times Special Features

Q: How can you tell when an egg has spoiled?

A: On the side or end of an egg carton, there are stamped numbers and letters. Usually the stamp is two lines long. On the bottom line, you'll find the phrase "sell by," "expires" or "best if used before." All three refer to the sell-by date, which is the last date the eggs should be sold, not the date they expire.

To arrive at the true expiration date, look at the first line of the stamp. There, you'll find a three-digit number between 001 and 365, with 1 meaning Jan. 1 and 365 meaning Dec. 31 (in a non-leap year). This number refers to the date the eggs were processed and packaged. According to the American Egg Board, eggs will keep four to five weeks after the date they were placed inside the carton.

You can also perform the following test: Dissolve 4 teaspoons of salt in 2 cups of water. An old egg will float in this solution, and a fresh one will sink. If the egg hovers somewhere in the middle, it's not particularly fresh but certainly is safe to eat. The test works because as an egg matures, it loses water and the air bubbles inside expand, making it float.

Q: What herbs are used in a bouquet garni? How much should you use of each herb?

A: The traditional bouquet garni -- a bundle of herbs used to flavor soups, stocks and stews as they simmer -- includes fresh parsley and thyme (about eight to 10 sprigs of each) and a couple of dried bay leaves.

However, you can customize a bouquet garni according to what you have in the garden or cupboard and what you are cooking. Add other fresh herbs such as tarragon, marjoram, savory, rosemary and dill, or include some spices such as peppercorns, coriander, cloves or fennel seeds.

If you're just using sprigs of herbs, you can make the bundle by tying the stems together with kitchen twine. With smaller, loose ingredients, wrap everything in a double thickness of cheesecloth and secure it with twine. Either way, the bundle will be easy to remove when the dish is finished cooking. Store what you don't use right away in an airtight container.

Q: What grooming do pets need?

A: Grooming pets regularly is necessary for their comfort and good health. Even if you let a professional groomer deal with baths and haircuts, you should still do regular touchups at home. Long-haired pets should be brushed every day; those with short hair should be brushed weekly.

Start slowly if your pet is not used to the process. Work the hair gently to remove knots -- matted fur can sometimes be loosened with a drop or two of mineral oil -- or cut them out with scissors. While you work, check for fleas and ticks, and if you're comfortable doing so, trim your pet's toenails. It's safest to have your vet demonstrate this first.

Good grooming makes long-haired cats and dogs less prone to the snarls and matting that can hurt their skin. Pick the right tools to ease the task, and go slowly. Always brush in the opposite direction of hair growth, one section at a time, starting at the skin and moving outward.

The specific tools you need depend on the type of pet you have. Here's a guide:

Slicker brush -- This all-purpose brush is used for long- and medium-haired dogs and cats.

Curry comb -- Similar to those used on horses, it is good for grooming short-haired breeds such as Dobermans and beagles.

Mat splitter -- This comb is designed for going over matted fur and for gently picking apart the knots.

Nail clippers -- Don't attempt to cut your pet's toenails unless you are confident that you will not cut to the quick, because if you do, there will be bleeding and your pet may develop a permanent fear of clippers. The idea is to cut cleanly, halfway between the end of the vein and the tip of the nail.

Undercoat rake -- This is useful for getting through to the undercoat of dogs that have very thick fur like Akitas, but it can be used on all breeds. Some groomers also use the rake on long-haired cats.

Wood-handled comb -- This is good for combing any kind of cat or dog. It should be used gently to unsnarl mats, but it will stand up to strong, thick coats.

Basic comb --This comb has wide teeth for general grooming of cats and dogs.

Shedding blade --Be careful with this tool, which removes loose and dead hair. Some groomers discourage their customers from using it. If handled improperly, the sharp, fine-toothed blade will cut healthy hair or even the skin of the animal..

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 e mail to: 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 Copyright 2006 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

click to enlarge Martha Stewart - WILLIAM ABRANOWICZ
click to enlarge Tip: You can tell an egg is spoiled if it floats when placed in - a solution of 2 cups water and 4 teaspoons of salt. - THIBAULT JEANSON
  • Thibault Jeanson
  • Tip: You can tell an egg is spoiled if it floats when placed in a solution of 2 cups water and 4 teaspoons of salt.


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