Dear Readers:

Avocados are a favorite down here in South Texas, as well as in many other parts of the country. Did you know that there are nearly 500 varieties of avocados?

Want to know how to pick the best one?

Here's the scoop from the California Avocado Commission:

You won't necessarily be able to tell if the avocado is right just by its color, because not all varieties change color, so try this: Gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. The avocado should be firm but yield to gentle pressure. If it is too hard, it isn't ripe yet, and if it's too soft, it's overripe.

How can you ripen avocados at home? Put the avocado in a brown paper bag and store at room temperature. For faster ripening, place an apple or a banana in the bag along with the avocado.

How to store avocado slices? Sprinkle the cut avocado with lemon or lime juice or white vinegar and place it an airtight, covered container in the refrigerator. It should be eaten within a day or two.

Avocados are grown year-round, and each tree can yield up to 120 avocados per year. California leads the nation in the production of avocados.

Here is a recipe for guacamole from the California Avocado Commission that is a must for your next get-together:

GUACAMOLE AUTENTICO

4 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 ripe, medium Roma tomato, seeded, diced

1/2 cup minced sweet white onion

2 serrano chilies, seeded, minced

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Hot-pepper sauce, sea salt, white pepper to taste

Cut avocados into large chunks and mash coarsely in a large bowl with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and blend gently -- leaving some small chunks is fine. Taste and adjust seasoning with more pepper sauce, salt and pepper if desired.

P.S. Putting the seed in the guacamole does not keep it from turning brown -- it's exposure to air that causes it; the lemon/lime juice (citric acid) can prevent that from happening.

Dear Heloise:

I need the guidelines on how to make pot scrubbers from nylon netting. I cut out your instructions but misplaced them. Could you repeat the instructions?

Janet K., Somerset, Pa.

Janet, these nylon-net pompoms are just super to scrub things and so easy to make. Here's what you'll need to make one:

1/2 yard of 72-inch-wide nylon net (found at fabric shops)

scissors

strong nylon thread or dental floss

large needle

First, cut the nylon net into three 6-inch-by-72-inch strips.

Second, lay the three strips on top of each other evenly, then take the needle threaded with nylon thread or dental floss and begin sewing down the middle (lengthwise) using long basting stitches.

Third, when done, hold the thread in one hand and pull back on the nylon net to form a ball.

Fourth, secure the ball by wrapping the ends of the thread around its center and knotting tightly, then trim off the thread ends.

Fifth, pull apart the layers of nylon net to fluff, and you now have a scrubbie that's ready to use!

Dear Heloise:

In regard to the question of whether we should wash new items before wearing them, I would answer a strong YES. I have been a dermatologist for more than 20 years, and it is not unusual to have a patient come in with itching and/or a rash from wearing new clothes that haven't been washed first. The same thing applies to sheets and towels.

Many people are sensitive to dyes and sizing, and those who are very sensitive have particular trouble with articles that have to be dry cleaned. Also, people often have a reaction to perfume in laundry detergent, and to fabric softeners.

It is important to point out that these reactions can occur all of a sudden to products that we have used for a long time and that people usually assume to be safe.

The only way to be sure is to eliminate all perfumed products and fabric softeners for a while. Wash your sheets, towels and clothes in a fragrance-free detergent until the problem gets better, then try one thing at a time to see if a culprit can be identified. I hope these ideas help!

Kenneth Folsom, M.D., via fax

Dr. Folsom, thank you for taking the time to share your expertise in this matter! I have also received many letters from readers stating that they definitely wash all newly purchased clothing, towels, sheets, etc., whether in packaging or not.

For those readers who don't wash new items first and have experienced unexplained itching or a rash after wearing or using something new, now is the time to put two and two together -- "four" your skin!

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise@Heloise.com.

(c)2005, King Features Syndicate