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Fruit cocktail

summer's sweet bounty

peach

history: If someone calls you a peach, consider yourself complimented. This round, fuzzy fruit is as pretty as it is delicious. Peaches were first grown in China 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Peaches have often been used to symbolize immortality and long life in paintings, poetry and pottery. Florida's neighbor to the north, Georgia, is famous for its peaches, but California is the nation's biggest producer. Summer is high season in North America, but winter peaches from Chile make them a year-round fruit.

nutrition: Peaches are source of Vitamin C and fiber. They are high in beta carotene, which helps combat age-related diseases such as hypertension and heart disease. Beta carotene also bolsters the body's immune system and helps prevent skin diseases.

buying: The longer the fruit stays on the tree, the sweeter it will be. In reality, though, most peaches are picked long before we buy them. When buying peaches, look for those with yellow or creamy colors mixed with pink. Too much green means not much sweetness. Peaches should yield slightly to pressure; avoid those that are very soft. To hasten ripening, put them in a paper bag for two to three days. Check daily.

quick fix: Easy Peach Crisp. Arrange 2 cups sliced fresh peaches (or 1 15-ounce can, drained) in a lightly buttered 2-quart baking dish. Combine two packages of cinnamon and spice instant oatmeal, cup flour and { cup chopped walnuts. Stir in cup melted butter. Sprinkle over peaches. Bake in 425-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve over ice cream.

constant comment

"No mean woman can cook well, for it calls for a light head, a generous spirit and a large heart."

_ Artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

this web site cooks

www.wineanswers.com

The Wine Market Council, a U.S. wine trade group, is behind this entertaining and informative site. There's a glossary of terms and frequently asked questions on topics such as wine storage and returning wine to a restaurant or shop. It has a search engine too. For instance, we got 20 hits when entering the word "cork," but, perhaps predictably, none when we typed in "screw top." The information is delivered with clarity and common sense.

cooking class

Baking an empty pie or tart crust is known as blind baking, which helps ensure a crisp crust. To blind bake a single crust: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly prick the crust 3 to 4 times with a fork. Line the shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pastry weights, dried beans or raw rice, which help it keep its shape. Bake the crust until set, about 15 minutes. Remove beans or weights. Continue to cook the crust until golden brown, about 10 more minutes.

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cook for the cure

KitchenAid has teamed with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation to come up with a pink limited-edition mixer. Pink ribbons symbolize breast-cancer awareness, and the sale of each mixer generates a $50 donation from KitchenAid to the foundation for breast-cancer research, education, screening and treatment programs. For more information, visit www.kitchenaid.com. Or call toll-free 1-800-541-6390.

a big, big gulp

It used to be that a 6-ounce soft drink was enough to quench any thirst. Then there was the 12-ounce can, and the 7-Eleven Big Gulp. Now, 7-Eleven's Big Gulp has mutated to the 52-ounce X-treme Gulp. The 1.6-quart, two-handed, foam-insulated bucket-o'carbonation weighs slightly more than three pounds of ice and drink. Where are we putting all that liquid? The human stomach only holds about a quart at a time.

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more dip, less drip

Need help hoisting that big spoonful of guacamole to your mouth? By mid-August you should get some heavy-duty assistance when the new Tostitos scoops hit the national market. The crispy baskets hold an extra heaping teaspoon of salsa, dip or whatever else your tummy desires. They'll cost $3.20 for a 12-ounce bag.

a leaner government

White House staffers are trying to trim fat from both the federal budget and their waistlines. According to USA Today, 25 staffers, including Karen Hughes, counselor to President Bush, have lost 150 pounds on Weight Watchers since mid-May. The group meets at the White House every Tuesday.

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