photo by alibree

DEAR SARA: My problem is, when I buy bananas, I have to know where I should store them -- either in the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter. The bananas ripen too soon, so give me some advice where to store them (temperature, etc.) -- Frances V., Pennsylvania

DEAR FRANCES: You can buy fewer bananas. You can buy them green, too. Remove any plastic produce bags. Store them on the kitchen counter at room temperature to ripen. If they're green when you buy them, you can place a couple in a brown paper bag with an apple to ripen overnight, so you have some to eat the following day. Storing them in the refrigerator-produce drawer (32 F to 40 F) makes the peel turn an ugly color, but once ripe, they continue to ripen more slowly and last longer. The darkening doesn't happen to the actual fruit. The peel just doesn't look appealing. I leave mine on the counter.

DEAR SARA: I enjoy your column and recipes. I make your pumpkin bread frequently. In your repertoire of recipes, do you have one for baked sweet-potato fries? I have lost mine and miss it. -- Patricia P., New York

DEAR PATRICIA: Here you go. Fair warning: They're not fun to cut if you don't own a potato cutter. Some people peel the skin, but I don't. Experiment with nutmeg instead of cinnamon, or, if you prefer your fries to have a little more kick, add a bit of chili powder or part of a taco-seasoning packet.

Sweet Potato Fries

olive oil, to coat
6 large sweet potatoes, cut into steak fries or medallions
2 teaspoons salt
garlic powder, to taste
cinnamon, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F. Put cut fries into large zip baggie with olive oil, shake to coat or use spray oil. Sprinkle on salt, garlic powder and cinnamon. Place fries onto baking sheet in a single layer. Put in oven for 10 minutes and then turn them to bake evenly. Bake 10 more minutes or until brown on the outside. Serve with bleu cheese or ranch dressing.

DEAR SARA: Do you have a homemade formula for brass cleaner? Thanking you in advance. -- Mildred G., Indiana

DEAR MILDRED: I would first try washing the brass in dish soap and water. See if the results are satisfactory. If not, use a vinegar-and-salt paste. Simply scrub, rinse and buff. Or try 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon vinegar and enough baking soda to make a paste. Then scrub, rinse ad buff. If these don't work well enough for you, I recommend Barkeepers Friend (

DEAR SARA: My lab gets so much pine sap in his fur. Often, it glues pieces of his fur all the way to his skin. I have no idea how to safely remove it. His glorious coat looks moth eaten. When he sees me with scissors in hand, he runs and hides. Poor thing has lost all self-respect. -- Cornelia, Michigan

DEAR CORNELIA: Avoid chemical products. Use food products, such as butter, olive oil, peanut butter or baby oil, and comb the sap out. Then bathe him as you normally do to remove any remaining trace of sap and oil residue.