Dear Readers:

Here's an easy way to make a dessert something extra-special by garnishing it with chocolate leaves. They are soooo easy to make.

Start with several real plant leaves -- you definitely want to choose ones that you know are nonpoisonous, like basil, bay or mint. Wash them in cool water and then carefully pat dry.

Melt a couple of squares of semisweet chocolate over hot water using a double boiler (chocolate in the top pan, hot water in the bottom one). Once the chocolate melts, let it cool down a bit before going to the next step.

Use a small icing spatula to spread a thin layer of the chocolate on the back of each leaf. Place them, chocolate side up, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Now put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then remove and gently peel the plant leaves away from the chocolate leaves.

Keep your chocolate creations refrigerated until you're ready to use them.

Hint: To make sure your cake layers bake evenly, place both cake pans on the same oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Dear Heloise:

I frequently make large bowls of potato salad when family and friends get together. Keeping the salad cold and preventing spoilage requires equally large ice coolers, which are difficult to transport and lift.

To ease this strain, I put the salad in an airtight plastic bag, eliminating the bowl and allowing me to use a smaller cooler. When ready to serve, I just empty the bag into a bowl supplied by the hostess.

M. Kathleen Nichols

Selbyville, Del.

Dear Heloise:

Safely help yourself or others when a car runs out of gas. Always keep an inexpensive, small gas can, a gas siphon pump and $5 in your car. If you need help, offer to pay a passing motorist to pump some gas from his or her car -- don't get in a car with the person.

The best idea, however, is to watch your gas gauge, and don't let it get below a quarter of a tank.

A Motorist From Texas

My late grandfather, Charles L. Bowels of Fort Worth, Tex., taught me that it costs just the same to keep the top half full as the bottom!

P.S. Except when the price of gasoline changes hourly!

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Tex. 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or e-mail it to Heloise@Heloise.com.

(c)2004, King Features Syndicate