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Think vegetables and whole grains; think Mollie Katzen. Some people believe that the popular "Moosewood Cookbook" author and TV cook has actually helped to change the way American eats, and maybe they are right.

In any case, Western New Yorkers will have a chance to meet Ms. Katzen on Sept. 30 at 11 a.m. at Tops International, 3980 Maple Road, Amherst, where she will do a book signing. Ms. Katzen will answer questions, too, while chef John Umlauf prepares recipes from her book "Vegetable Heaven." She is the spokeswoman for Near East Grains.

Actually it's a return home of sorts for Ms. Katzen, 48, a Rochester native. Her mother, former Buffalonian Betty Heller Katzen, will be in the audience. Mollie Katzen's first book, "The Moosewood Cookbook," based on the Ithaca restaurant she helped found, was first published in 1972 and is still a best seller. She attended Cornell University.

When we spoke with her at her home in San Francisco last week, Ms. Katzen's hands were deep in bread dough. She is one busy woman. She has written six cookbooks and another, "Honest Pretzels," aimed toward children over age 8, will be published this month. (Her two children helped test the recipes.)

Ms. Katzen is taping her third cooking series to be shown on PBS next year (though probably not in Buffalo. WNED-TV has never run Ms. Katzen's shows).

She is working on a children's television show as well.

Ms. Katzen says working on children's cookbooks is good exercise because it teaches her to be careful when she writes recipe directions for adults as well as young people. "A lot of what you do in a good cookbook," she says, "is to describe."

It's a little like giving driving directions, she says. "You don't just say 'drive north or south,' you say things like 'turn when you see the gas station on the corner.'

"A good recipe has to do that, too. It should describe what the food should look like: 'Stir until you don't see any more flour,' for instance. Writing for children has really helped my communication skills."

Ms. Katzen calls herself a "maverick vegetarian.

"I've been in and out of vegetarianism all my adult life," she says. "Although I haven't had a burger or steak since I was 19.

"I feel I need some animal protein when I'm on the road, so I will eat some chicken and fish or a turkey sandwich. I eat cheese and eggs.

"But I eat what I call clean eggs, from chickens that run free and aren't all pumped up with chemicals. I see my mission as teaching people how to eat a diet rich in vegetables and grains. Whether or not there is meat in their diet is up to them."

Reservations are necessary for the class; there is a fee. In addition, two children's classes, based on Ms. Katzen's latest book, will be given in October. Call 515-2000 for information.

Liberte, Egalite, Roquefort!
A Web site was launched this month to rally against the tariff imposed on certain gourmet foods imported from France and to petition the government to repeal it. The U.S. tariffs have been imposed as retaliation against the French government's refusal to buy American beef; among the products affected are Roquefort cheese, mustards, chocolates, jams, truffles and foie gras.

"Roquefort cheese has been taken hostage in a food fight," says Joe Gellert, president of World's Best Cheeses of Armonk, the site sponsor. "It makes no sense to place a 100 percent tariff on Roquefort. ... What has Roquefort ever done to these politicians? They have no right to play with our food."

The Web site lets people send electronic petitions to President Clinton and to Sen. Hillary Clinton (sic). The address:

Culinary datebook
Saturday, St. John's Grace Episcopal Church, 51 Colonial Circle, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with special neighborhood ethnic offerings like curried chicken with rice, lasagna with sauce, stuffed cabbage and homemade soups. Also a special dessert table, a chocolate booth and a country store's worth of homemade jams, sauce, and pickles. Arrive early for the best takeout selection.

Saturday and next Sunday, Naples, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Grape Festival featuring every imaginable grape treat known to man, wine tours, arts, crafts and entertainment. One big feature: "the World's Greatest Grape Pie Contest," winners announced Sunday.

The public is invited to taste after the winner is announced.

Oct. 2, UB North Campus, Alumni Arena, 4 to 7 p.m. "Tailgate '99," sponsored by the Western New York Independent Living Project. Beverages and foods created by 15 Western New York restaurants, antique car show, music, cheerleading performances and the UB Bulls vs. North Illinois Huskies. More info: 836-0822, Ext. 108.

Culinary quote
"Beulah, peel me a grape!"
Mae West in the film "She Done Him Wrong."

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