Dear Heloise: I have a recipe that calls for TARRAGON VINEGAR and XANTHAN GUM. I can't find either. -- B.B., via email

B.B., xanthan gum is widely used as a stabilizing agent and to thicken products such as cosmetics, ice cream, jams, salad dressings and toothpastes. It usually can be found in health-food stores and some grocery stores. Tarragon vinegar also is found in grocery stores and health-food stores. If your recipe calls for these two products, it's best to use them rather than a substitute. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: A friend told me of a quick way to make scrambled eggs in the microwave: Place your eggs in a small microwavable bowl, whisk with a fork and add seasonings. Place in the microwave for 42-45 seconds. You can add more ingredients, but the time will increase. By then, the toast also is ready! -- Helen H. in San Antonio


Dear Heloise: Instead of rummaging through my spice cabinet for the ones I need while cooking, I bought some little plastic baskets (6-by-10-by-3 inches) and decided to group my spices alphabetically in those baskets. Now when I need a spice, I know which basket to pull out, and my ingredient will be there. No more hauling out every spice I own to find the right one. -- Joel R., via email


Dear Heloise: I've been using some highly decorated paper plates in the microwave. Then I wondered if this was safe. Is it? -- Raylene W., via email

Dear Raylene: The U.S. Department of Agriculture ( recommends using only white paper plates with no printing on them in the microwave. The following items, according to the USDA, also should not be microwaved:

* Yogurt containers

* Newspaper

* Foam cups and plates

* Margarine tubs

* China with metallic paint on it.

-- Heloise


Dear Heloise: In my opinion, a French press makes coffee better than any other type of coffee maker. I'm not particular, so I just get cheap stuff, and it comes out of the press good enough for me. -- Tom in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Tom, a French press is ideal if you want only one or two cups of coffee. However, if you love coffee as much as I do, you might like my Flavored Coffees and Teas pamphlet. You can visit my website at to order, or send a stamped (70 cents), self-addressed, business-size envelope, along with $3, to: Heloise/Coffees, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. I think you'll find that an interesting coffee at the end of a meal can add just the right touch to any occasion. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Mushrooms are best stored in paper bags. So I occasionally help myself to extra paper bags to keep at home. When I buy mushrooms anywhere that doesn't have paper bags, I know I'll be able to store them properly. -- Miss Pasko, Dorset, United Kingdom

Cellphone for the ages

Dear Readers: A recent poll suggests that almost 90 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have a CELLPHONE. When is the right time to give your child a cellphone? Here are some hints to consider:

* Maturity of the child is more important than age. Internet access can be a great learning tool, but two hours a day on the phone's apps is more than enough. Know what apps are on the phone, and make sure the child will use the phone appropriately. NO phone usage in class, unless there's an emergency (re: no texting friends).

* The child must understand about giving location information (commonly called "tagging" or "checking in"). This can be a safety issue -- strangers can know where your child is.

* Absolutely no use of the phone while driving -- none!

* For younger children, consider a pared-down model of phone -- internet access may not be necessary, but being able to call you is reassuring.

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* Talk to your provider about safety measures you can use for your child's phone. The camera and in-app purchases features may not be necessary, for example.

These hints can help you make the decision about what cellphone usage is right for your kids. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Even when I'm having a pajama day, I like to be somewhat put together -- in case I have to run an errand, for example.

At the very least, I wash my face and put on a little concealer, a balancing or correcting cream and a little eye shadow, just for some color. I feel prettier, it makes "facing" the day easier, and it takes only about 10 minutes. -- Heather P. in Illinois


Dear Heloise: Did I read that apple-cider vinegar works as a hair treatment? -- Alison I., Hershey, Pa.

Alison, yes! Apple-cider vinegar is a hair helper. Mixed 1:1 with water, it removes tangles and soapy residue. It also can close the cuticle of the hair, which will make the hair shine.

Vinegar is one of my favorite household helpers. It's cheap, safe and effective for cleaning, beautifying and cooking with! I've compiled my favorite vinegar hints and recipes in a handy pamphlet. Would you like to receive one? It's easy! Visit to order, or send a stamped (70 cents), self-addressed, long envelope, along with $5, to: Heloise/Vinegar. P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001. Look for organic raw apple-cider vinegar -- it's the best. -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Don't forget your neck. When doing your skin-care routine in the morning and at night, wash and moisturize your neck as well.

The neck can show aging, but you may not pay attention to it when doing your makeup. Look out below! -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I love the recent hint about giving children new words to track down. But don't forget to teach them how to pronounce the words, too! -- A Reader, via email