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Hot potatoes in skates and other uses for food

The flight of fancy left the ground as I was rinsing my curls. The label on the shampoo bottle declared that its prime content was "natural cucumber.

The flight of fancy left the ground as I was rinsing my curls. The label on the shampoo bottle declared that its prime content was "natural cucumber." I had just washed my hair with cucumbers! Over the years, all the times that I had peeled and sliced cucumbers, fitted them into dainty sandwiches, assembled geometrically perfect salad displays, pickled them too, for heaven's sake, I had never thought to use them to wash my hair.

My hair looked quite nice, and I asked myself, "Self, if cucumber can put spring into my curls, what can other natural foods do for me?" I reached for my copy of Rodale's Book of Hints, Tips and Everyday Wisdom and found some interesting answers. It seems that food can be put to work in many ways around the home.

Club soda, of course, is well known for its ability to spritz away stains. An overexcited guest spills red wine on your faux polar bear rug? Reach for the Schweppes. I'd rather save it for the scotch, but some-times sacrifices have to be made.

According to Rodale, a typical pantry is packed with solutions to potentially embarrassing spillages and smears. Lipstick on the collar can be removed as easily as red wine on the rug with club soda. If the guilty party fails to notice the unwanted smear in time, blood may flow.

Club soda won't work with blood, but Rodale recommends you reach for the cornstarch. Mix it with water to make a thick paste, smear it over the bloodied area, then rinse it out with lukewarm soapy water.

Do you think of baking soda as a food? Perhaps not, but it's certainly on the pantry shelf, leading a dull life, and would love to help you out. Mixed into a paste with dish detergent, it becomes a non-scouring but very effective cleaner for hard surfaces. For special hard surfaces - such as toilet bowls - mix the bicarb with a dash of vinegar. It will not only clean, it will deodorize. Cut flowers will brighten your life for longer if you add a small amount of baking soda to the water.

Many scraps and leftovers that you eventually will send to the compost bin can do you a favour before they leave. Citrus peel - lime, orange or lemon - can be snipped up and added to your tea as it steeps; your cuppa will acquire a gourmet character at no extra cost. Cucumber peels, too, have a hidden power that I hope you will never have to call upon: They repel cockroaches.

Banana peels can perform one last task before going to compost. If you have an avocado that is too hard to broach, put it in a paper bag with banana skins. In time, the natural chemistry of the two fruits will go to work, and the avocado will ripen on your kitchen counter.

Probably, like me, you think that the only thing rhubarb is good for is filling pies. Wrong. It doubles as a pot scrubber, without the scrubbing. Just put enough water in the pot to cover the stain, add a few rhubarb scraps, and simmer gently: The stain will disappear. If it happens to be a copper-bottomed pot that needs cleaning, reach for the ketchup. Same treatment, same result - a clean pot in no time.

Stretching the concept a little, Rodale recommends a food item as a sensitive and effective burglar alarm.

The book tells us that in Scotland, the canny and frugal manufacturers of scotch whisky employ geese to guard their vats. The geese have to be alive, of course: duck paté is no defence against whisky-nappers.

And finally, here's an unusual use for potatoes that I remember from my childhood. Before we went skating, my dad would put hot potatoes in the toe of each of our skates, to warm them. Baked, of course - anything else would be too messy.

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