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SUBMITTED PHOTO Skip the trip to Alabama for a touch of southern charm. Serve Baby Corn and Blacke-eyed Pea Salad as a good-luck piece for 2012.

On New Year's Eve or Jan. 1, I won't go out of my way to run into a black cat, because I'd rather spend my time eating lucky foods.

When the clan of St. Louis Denhams come by on Saturday, I'll use unsolicited 2012 calendars languishing on my home desk as decoration and gather clocks for a centerpiece, a suggestion of Brian Blasingame, director of visual design for Butler's Pantry. Greg Ziegenfuss, chef at the local catering company, also recommends serving a salad with black-eyed peas, a long-time staple in the South. Legumes, the food family to which the peas belong, were a lucky crop along with greens, as they kept people from starving when their fields were destroyed during the Civil War.

He mixes black-eyed peas with tangerine segments (gold for wealth), large red grapes, a few chopped green onions, some diced red pepper and a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley. For the smoky orange dressing (this makes a generous amount, with the fruit's juices), combine 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1/3 cup orange marmalade, 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Triple Sec liquor, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and salt and white pepper to taste.

Greg says the combination can be made and refrigerated up to 48 hours before serving. As for the grapes, he notes that people in Portugal and Spain eat 12 of them, one for each month, to count down the clock into the new year.

Another international symbol of prosperity is pork. Eating ham, the main dish at our family event, with black-eyed peas supposedly doubles the results. Southerners also considered pigs to be lucky, and usually ate ham with the peas — or hog jowls if the previous year had been unlucky.

Shape and color count when prosperity is the wish in the new year. Thus, carrots and cornbread are other signs of gold, while cabbage, in some cuisines served sweet-and-sour to represent the good and bad of life, is the green of desirable paper money.

Black-eyed peas can be cooked from the dried variety, used from a can or the steamed variety also eaten or used straight from their refrigerated packages in the produce department. For easy uses, Melissa's Robert Schueller recommends adding them to stew, soup or a colorful salad, like Baby Corn and Black-eyed Pea Salad.

Hard to believe, but Mardi Gras actually starts on Jan. 6, the 12th night after Christmas, when parties begin. That's before the extension cord that lights up Rudolph at our house is put away.

The Mardi Gras Crystal Cajun Cook-off this year moves to the rotunda at St. Louis City Hall. The event is from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, but professional and amateur contestants should enter this week. Ten contestants per division will be drawn randomly from entries received by Saturday, Jan. 7. Last year's participants and winners can be seen and entry forms are available at stlmardigras.org. Information is available from Nancy Tucker, 314-412-3009.


BABY CORN AND BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD

2 cups fire-roasted salsa

1 cup baby corn, chopped

1 cup cooked black-eyed peas, well drained

1 small bell pepper (organic green pepper used for photo), chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, freshly chopped

1 small jalapeno chile, seeded, finely chopped

In medium bowl, combine salsa, corn, black-eyed peas, bell pepper, cilantro and jalapeno. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings.