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Squeaky clean

• Heloise offers proven hints for the kitchen; just don't expect a lot of spice

You knew that Heloise had the dirt on household cleaning and organizing tips. But did you know that she can also cook and decorate?

In Portland recently to promote her latest book, 'In the Kitchen With Heloise,' the High Priestess of Household Hints offers advice on shopping, cooking, cleaning and event-planning for the time- and penny-pinched home manager.

She's lopped off a foot of her signature white mane ('I got my first white hairs at 12,' she says), but the Texas drawl and Junior League sweater-set image remain unchanged more than 20 years after she first worked alongside her mother, the original Heloise.

Heloise, 50, ascended the hint throne after her mother died in 1977. Since then, she's written nine books, a regular column for Good Housekeeping magazine and a syndicated column that's read in more than 500 newspapers in more than a dozen countries.

Her readers range from rural homemakers to people who employ 'help' to do their housework but still enjoy her wit and commonsense approach to the home.

Men, either as readers or contributors of hints, no longer are an anomaly: Heloise proudly notes that the Washington Post's longtime executive editor, Ben Bradlee, insisted that her column be featured in his paper.

Heloise is well aware that everyone loves a good hint. (Even billionaire Oprah Winfrey, who could well afford to discard the occasional stained blouse, says that nothing gives her more pleasure than stain removal.)

'Baking and cooking are back in fashion, particularly since 9-11,' Heloise notes. 'People are wanting to create refuge for their families. There's a real interest in home and hearth.'

For those who aren't interested in hibernating, 'In the Kitchen' also has basic information on housekeeping.

According to Heloise, every kitchen needs five products. She ticks them off on mauve-tipped fingers: 'vinegar Ñ white or apple cider Ñ baking soda, nonsudsy ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol.'

'Between these products,' she says, 'you should be able to cleanse, deodorize and sanitize 95 percent of your house.'

Household hints, which provide the meat of the book's subject matter, range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Spot-on approaches to stain removal are one thing, but does anyone really worry about how to keep sugar from sinking to the bottom of the cereal bowl? ('Pour on milk first, then sugar. It will stick to the moist cereal.')

At times, the book seems to be the domestic equivalent of Dr. Spock Ñ all the basic information that the uninitiated or the uncreative might need is here. Grocery-shopping lists may be a help to twentysomethings, but Heloise's tips for healthy eating ('avoid cream sauces') are both dated and obvious.

In keeping with its 'Times were simpler then' tone, the book features lots of Sputnik-era recipes, perhaps best served to grandparents or friends with a sense of humor.

For example, a recipe for Chocolate Sauerkraut Surprise Cake suggests that you wait until guests have finished dessert before informing them of the 'surprise.' This deception raises an ethical question: Is it OK to trick people into eating pickled cabbage?

Heloise also serves up holiday decorating tips. Might she be nipping at the heels of another domestic diva? If so, Martha Stewart can breathe easy. Ideas such as using a variety of gourds as a Thanksgiving centerpiece are pretty pedestrian and probably will never warrant their own magazine.

Nevertheless, Heloise fiercely defends the universal appeal of her subject matter.

'This information is not silly,' says the Steel (wool) Magnolia. 'I hear all the time from lawyers, bankers and CEOs that they read my hints. And if you can give people an interesting tidbit or a chuckle, then you've got a reader.'

Contact Jill Spitznass at

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