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How are coffee beans decaffeinated?

Two methods are generally used. In the first, the beans are placed in a rotating drum and softened with steam for 30 minutes. They are then rinsed in a chemical solvent for about 10 hours. When the chemical has absorbed the caffeine from the beans, it is drained away, and the beans are steamed for 8 to 12 hours more so that any remaining solvent will evaporate. A minute amount of the chemical (0.1 parts per million) remains in the beans. In the second method, green coffee beans are soaked in hot water until the caffeine is drawn out of them. The water is drained and treated with a chemical, which absorbs the caffeine. Then the mixture is heated until both the chemical and the caffeine evaporate. The remaining water is returned to the beans, which, according to coffee experts, allows the beans to regain most of their flavor.

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I have ceramic tile with white grout on my kitchen floor. The grout hasn't been sealed and has gotten quite dirty. Is there a way to darken grout before sealing it?

Try cleaning it first, then darkening, then sealing. Several commercial cleaning products will take out most rust and mineral deposit stains. Check at a tile store and follow the instructions for the product carefully. Several products, also available at tile stores, can add darkening or coloring agents to grout and will seal it against future staining.

What does it mean to get off scot-free?

This phrase has nothing to do with Scottish people, but is related to the Old Norse word skot, which was a municipal tax dating back to the 13th century. Someone who was scot-free was exempt from paying this tax. Later the word was applied to money owed for entertainment, as for drinks at a tavern. Someone who didn't pay for his drinks was said to have received them scot-free. It is now appropriate to use the term whenever someone goes without penalty, loss, or harm.

Is a spring tide the same as a neap tide?

No. Spring tides usually occur twice a month at the new and full Moons, when the Sun and Moon are in a straight line with Earth. Neap tides usually occur twice a month as well, but at the first quarter and last quarter Moons, when Earth is at right angles to the Sun and Moon. Spring tides are lower- and higher-than-usual tides, whereas neap tides are in the moderate range.

What causes a star to fall?

A "falling star" or "shooting star" is not a star at all. When you see these streaks of light, they are really meteors, objects made up of tiny bits of dust and rock, that have crashed through Earth's atmosphere and are burning up. The tail is the visible debris trail that produces the falling star effect you see.

What causes gray hair?

Hair gets its color from the pigment melanin, the same agent that colors skin and eyes. The color is contained in the hair shaft, which is composed of long, tapering cells that have coalesced into fibrous material. Color is inherited, along with the degree and timing of graying. Gray hair is not really gray but an absence of color in the hair shaft, rendering it white or opaque. Graying usually starts (or you could say that natural pigmentation usually stops) at the hairline and progresses toward the back of the head. The "gray," unpigmented hairs tend to be coarser than the colored hairs.

Can I freeze cheese?

You can freeze hard cheese for up to three months. Freezing can, however, create a crumbly texture, making the thawed cheese hard to slice, so consider how you wish to use it later. Wrap the cheese in foil, then place it in a freezer bag. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using, and don't freeze it again. Grated cheese freezes well, and you can usually use it straight from the freezer. Medium-soft cheese, such as curd cheese, can be frozen for up to three months, and soft cheese, such as cream cheese, can be frozen for up to one month, using the carton or package in which you purchased it. Thaw either type overnight. Don't try freezing cottage cheese.

We have very hard water, and inside the washing machine tub, there is a lot of hard-water scale buildup. These large flakes fall off at times and get all over the clothes. What is the best way to remove the buildup without damaging the pump unit in the washing machine?

Trisodium phosphate is a terrific multipurpose cleaner, and one product with this base is TSP. First, fill the machine with hot water. Make a solution of 1/2 cup TSP, 1/2 cup household (5 percent) bleach, and 2 quarts warm water and pour it into the washer. Run the machine through the wash and rinse cycles. (Remember to wear rubber gloves when using any product containing trisodium phosphate; it can be very rough on the hands.)

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