Dear Sara:

I'd like to start using cloth napkins, but I've never done this before. I am wondering what kind of material is best, and how to care for all of the food stains. -- Lily, Illinois

Dear Lily:

You can use 100-percent cotton fabric and make your own. Fat quarters, fabric remnants, sheets and even T-shirts work well. The size can be anywhere from 12 to 20 inches square. Or you can check sales and secondhand sources to find cheap cloth napkins. As for care, you should address any stains as soon as possible and use an enzyme laundry detergent such as Wisk or Tide, coupled with Oxi-Clean. I suggest that you reserve a set of cloth napkins for guests or special occasions, too.

Dear Sara:

Do you have any summer reading suggestions for kids, ages 9 to 12? -- Linda, Wisconsin

Dear Linda:

I would recommend going to your local library for their summer reading program. They can give you a wonderful list. My kids enjoyed the "Simon Bloom" books by Michael Reisman and the "Warriors and Seekers" series by Erin Hunter. My kids were glued to these books. As a family, we would like to see these books make it to the big screen. They're great stories.

Dear Sara:

When you use the homemade Bisquick recipe, are you supposed to add water or milk to the mix? The recipe doesn't say. -- Irma H., email

Dear Irma:

You mix this to have on-hand, just like you would with a box of Bisquick, and you follow the same additions that you would with the boxed mix. In other words, initially no, you're not adding anything to this dry mix recipe because you're storing it. When you use it, the ingredient additions vary depending on what recipe you are making. It's a homemade substitute that is cheaper than the brand in the box.
For recipe ideas, visit and search for "Master mix," "homemade baking mix" or "homemade Bisquick."
Here's the recipe again (thanks to reader Spirit Deer of Minnesota), for readers who might have missed it:
Master mix/Homemade baking mix
8 cups flour
1/3 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1 cup solid shortening (such as Crisco)
In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar well, then cut in shortening with a pastry blender until well-combined. Store in airtight container. Makes about 10 cups.

Dear Sara:

I was reading online about the potential for disaster with Corelle dinnerware; people are saying it can explode without warning. Have you experienced such a thing? -- S.D., Minnesota

Dear S.D.:

I haven't experienced it personally. I have read complaints from readers, but I don't know how they used or cared for their dinnerware. You can read about the care and use of Vitrelle glass on the Corelle website, at I would take this information into consideration prior to purchase.

Dear Sara:

Are the homemade laundry soap recipes that recently ran in your column high-efficiency compatible? Clearly, it would not be frugal to damage an expensive machine to save a few dollars in the short run. -- Mark H., email

Dear Mark:

HE washers use less water, so they require detergents that are low-sudsing. Fels-Naptha laundry soap (the major ingredient in the homemade laundry soap recipes) produces little to no suds, so to me it's HE compatible. My advice is that you use it at your own risk after reading your warranty details. If you don't feel comfortable using it, don't.

photo by storebukkebruse