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Native Cooking

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Sometimes hunkering in to traditional mode is the way to go. We all know what our traditional foods are and their preparation methods. Of course, they differ from area to area. Looks like ''eating local'' is more important than ever, given the news reports of contamination of imported foods and the genetically altered crops produced by U.S. agricultural corporations. So grow your own, or buy from local farm markets.

A lot of importers, retailers and lobbyists have been working hard to block the implementation of a 2002 law that requires country of origin labels on fresh fruits, red meats, vegetables, seafood and peanuts. At my local market, most fruits and vegetables (but not all) are labeled as to their country of origin. Not so with meat or seafood. I also check canned vegetables; some are, some are not. I think we all like to know where the food we eat comes from so if there is no label, ask. We need to keep asking until it becomes annoying enough that something is done.

Sweet Potato Salad

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup red or Vidalia onion, minced

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup pine nuts (or chopped pecans)

Dressing:

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Use a pot with a vegetable steamer to steam sweet potatoes. Boil the water, put potatoes in a steamer basket, and cover for 20 minutes until potatoes are fork-tender. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, set aside. Use a large bowl to combine the onion, raisins and cranberries. (Reserve the nuts to sprinkle on just before serving.) Add the steamed sweet potatoes and honey dressing. Toss to coat. Chill at least an hour before serving.

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No-Cook Salad Supper

1 8-ounce package baby spinach (regular is OK)

1/2 pound shaved honey ham

1/2 cup cooked chicken, cubed

1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, cubed

1/2 cup Monterey jack or Swiss cheese, cubed

1 firm apple (such as Granny Smith), cored, sliced in thin wedges

1/2 cup walnuts

Chill serving plates. Toss ingredients in a large bowl, divide into serving plates and serve immediately with your favorite dressing and croutons.

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Squash and Corn Fritters

1-1/2 cups grated summer squash

1/2 cup fresh corn kernels

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/2 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon corn oil

1/2 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese (try a little feta or goat cheese instead for variety)

Salt and pepper, plus 1 shake of ground cumin

Beat eggs and add other ingredients. Heat some oil and drop batter by tablespoons into the hot oil in a frying pan. Brown on both sides, drain well and serve.

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I am not a mushroom finder (although I love to eat them), but recently I was lucky enough to be with people who found a couple and knew what they are. There were two of the largest morels (Morchella esculenta) I have ever seen, they were even on my own land. However, I didn't find their taste that exciting. They grow in spring, often in old orchards or under mulberry trees, which is where we found these. Some say they are best dried, but I wouldn't know about that.

If you yourself can identify and cook wild mushrooms, I'd say you are one of the luckiest people on Earth. If you are and want to share some recipes, please send them to me at NativeCook ing@aol.com. There is nothing as lovely and subtle as the delicate flavorful infusion of wild mushrooms in a suitable recipe.

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Squish-Squash

I had a craving for butternut squash the other day, so I split a large one and baked it. It was delicious, as usual, but I wanted to fool around with it and it's been too hot for soup. I added a little flour, a little chopped onion, a dash of curry and some leftover mashed potatoes, and fried it in a little butter in an iron pan. Some salt and pepper was all the finishing touch it needed. As a side dish, this goes very well with lamb.

Another time, I squished the plain cooked squash flesh into some thin pancake batter and made thin pancakes. The squash loves maple syrup and they were fabulous.

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Notes and Tips

If you like cold poached fish or even chicken, try some homemade mayonnaise using raspberry or blueberry vinegar. It's very good.

Don't throw out unused brewed coffee. It makes great ice cubes for ice coffee, as well as great ice coffee.

Save yourself some money and make a great everyday cleaner yourself. Use regular laundry bleach and water, 1/3 bleach, 2/3 water ratio. Great for removing mold and mildew, and for cleaning countertops and cutting boards (rinse afterwards). Works great. No bleach? Use the same formula and hydrogen peroxide.

The leaves and twigs of a cherry tree are poisonous, but cherries are good.

You would need to eat 11 pounds of potatoes to gain one pound of weight.

Americans eat approximately 10 pounds of chemical food additives per person, per year.