Dear Heloise: During the pandemic, I’ve enjoyed watching cooking videos on many of the social media platforms, but it got me wondering: What cooking staples should I keep on hand? What do your readers always have in their pantries?

Lots of the chefs reach for olive oil, evaporated milk, breadcrumbs, different sauces and, of course spices, including garlic, time and time again. What are good shelf-stable items I should always keep on hand to prep these meals? — Evey W. in Arizona

Evey, it’s always important to keep some basics on hand. I think you’ve got a good head start with the oils, breadcrumbs, canned milks and dried spices. Also consider rice, pasta, chicken broth, vinegar (many varieties), sugar and flour. — Heloise

P.S. Some items, such as meats and fresh vegetables, need to be bought weekly. It might be helpful to make a list.


Dear Heloise: When I undertake a big decluttering in my home, I never buy organizational items (bins, totes, hangers, boxes, etc.) before I get rid of trash, donations, items I can resell, etc. There’s no point in bringing more things into the home before I know exactly what I’m working with.

I can’t buy my way out of clutter. It’s time for an honest conversation ... with myself! — Kathy R. in Texas

Kathy, this is definitely an instance of where “the more the merrier” does not apply! — Heloise


Dear Heloise: Even though I don’t have youngsters at home, I do keep that staple kids snack around: string cheese. It’s so easy to cut and stuff into meatballs, peppers and potatoes before popping in the oven. The string cheese melts nicely, and it’s delicious! — Mary D. in Illinois


Dear Heloise: With the kids all using computers so much these days, we can’t allow them to forget how to write, whether in cursive or printing.

I encourage my young grands to play with modeling clay and to use scissors. These activities keep the fingers and hands nimble and mobile. This might be good exercise for us, too! — Betty M. in Pennsylvania


Dear Heloise: I buy rotisserie chicken, pull it off the bone and freeze small portions. These are great for enchiladas, pot pies, soups, stews, chicken salad, dumplings, etc. I’m sure your readers can come up with many uses for delicious rotisserie chicken. — Mark Y. in New York


Dear Readers: What is a surfactant? This is a big subject, but for our purposes, a surfactant is added to a personal care product, such as shampoo, to clean the hair and to make bubbles. Surfactants in makeup and lotions make the product smoother.

Surfactants in household cleaning products help, again, with lather and spreadability. — Heloise

Glass-top stove

Dear Heloise: How do I clean burn marks off my glass-top stove? — Andrea N., Clarinda, Iowa

Andrea, when the top has cooled off, wipe down the surface with a sponge and mild soapy water. Wipe dry. Then make a paste of baking soda and water and, in a circular motion, start to clean the burn spot. It will take some effort, but you can get the marks off your stove. Some people will take a razor blade to carefully scrape the stubborn areas, but if you use a razor blade, be extra careful not to scratch your stovetop. — Heloise

Send a money-saving or timesaving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279-5001, or you can fax it to 1-210-HELOISE or email it to I can’t answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.