Oh My Gosh! I’m A Squash!***

All signs point to one thing: It definitely is fall. You can tell by the football games, the cooler temps, the changing leaves … and of course, my favorite: the food. Fall food is simply the best. Who doesn’t love warm, fresh and satisfying? At Jack-O-Lantern Farms market in Muscle Shoals this past week, we got a taste — literally — of fall’s abundance when Marriott chef Josh Quick prepared some winter-squash recipes. One word: Yum. Also, more words: Quick, easy and good-for-you. Quick demystified winter squash and made it seem like something I could tackle myself.  As enticing as these big and colorful vegetables are, they often seem overwhelming. I mean, what, really, can you do with a butternut squash? Plenty, Quick says. Roast it, saute it, blend it — it’s versatile enough to play with whatever flavors you want. It’s even easy to peel, Quick said, and he proved it by whipping out a simple plastic Y-shaped peeler. So you no longer have an excuse for passing up these squash treasures. And the rumor that you can make spaghetti squash look just like spaghetti noodles is true. See the pile of “pasta” in the right-hand corner of the top left photo? That, my friends, is spaghetti squash. Read Quick’s winter-squash secrets and try out his recipes at my food story in this past Wednesday’s TimesDaily.

*** This post title is in honor of a favorite book 2 1/2-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable and I like to read: “The Ugly Pumpkin.” In this wonderfully illustrated tale, an “ugly pumpkin” can’t figure out where he belongs until he realized he isn’t a pumpkin at all.

Shopping

What is it about North Carolina and super-cool grocery stores? First, our much-loved Fresh Market originated in Greensboro, and now the up-and-coming Earth Fare is starting to grow beyond its Asheville roots. Earth Fare emphasizes healthy, fresh, local, organic, non-toxic and earth-friendly — and affordable pricing. Besides all the usual grocery-store sections you’d expect, it also has a bakery, deli and salad bar  — you can take out or eat in — and a health-and-beauty section. Think Fresh Market’s seasonal variety along with Whole Food’s in-store options mixed with a local farmer’s market commitment to sustainability all supported by the pricing of a Publix or Kroger’s. I mean, any mainstream grocery store that sells rain barrels at its front door and locally made gluten-free bread in the deli has got my attention. Earth Fare says it does not sell anything with high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial colors, unnatural sweeteners and synthectic growth hormones in milk and meat, and I believe it. You just sort of feel healthier as soon as you walk in. I’d heard rumors about the Earth Fare store that’s opening on University in Huntsville, Alabama, in the building formerly occupied by Office Depot and Barnes and Noble across from Madison Square Mall, so when I was in Chattanooga recently and my sister-in-law said she needed to stop by Earth Fare for some groceries, I was delighted to get a sneak peak. You know I like browsing through a good grocery store almost as much as a good shoe sale. All I can say about Earth Fare is, “Y’all are gonna love this.” Go to http://www.earthfare.com to learn more.

Random Thoughts

Did you ever think about all the things you know and take for granted that somebody else might think is the most incredible idea ever? For instance, a friend of mine and her husband are hydroponic farmers. Twice a week (soon to be three-times-a-week, by the way, for all local fans of Jack O’Lantern Farms in Florence, Alabama), they host a market to sell their produce and other fresh and yummy food items. Recently they started selling Higher Ground coffee, and they offer samples of a different flavor at every market. One day my friend said she had made too much coffee for the market and hated to dump it all out. I said, “Just make coffee ice cubes.” Turns out she’d never heard of that, but I do it whenever I have leftover coffee — and it does happen! Just pour the extra elixir of life coffee into ice cube trays and freeze. When the cubes are frozen, pop them into a freezer bag. You can use them to cool a too-hot cup without watering it down. Or put them in smoothies or cold and/or frozen coffee drinks. Anyway, my friend thought that was genius, and it got me wondering about all those little tips we have tucked away that we never think to share. Here are two more of mine that maybe you’ve never considered:

1) Keep a pair of inexpensive utility scissors (not your good sewing scissors) plus some airtight-sealable plastic sandwich and quart bags in your bathroom. When you think you’ve gotten everything out of your tubes of lotions and creams and gels, cut them open and you’ll be amazed at what’s left. You can get several days’ use out of something you thought was empty. Just be sure to keep the cut tube pieces in an airtight plastic bag so the product doesn’t go all yucky.

2) Before you put your boots away for spring — and I’m talking your good leather boots here — take them to a shoe-repair shop for thorough cleaning and any repairs. Don’t be shy. Load up your car with every pair of boots you’ve got and take them all over. It may take a while to get them back and you might think it’s a bit pricey (or maybe that’s just my local shoe shop), but I promise you the bill will be less than a pair of new boots and you’ll extend the life of your favorite pairs by several seasons. Besides, you need a shoe shop on your side for those footwear emergencies that always seem to happen at the worse possible time.

My third tip? Never put a roll of damp paper towels over a light bulb to dry out. But probably you already knew that.