Squashed Spinach

For a fall weekend lunch pulled together with NOTHING in the fridge, I’m pretty proud of this Roasted Butternut Salad. I found three almost-to-the-wrinkled-stage butternut squash(es?) sitting resignedly in the vegetable bin along with some almost-wilted spinach. Peeled and cut the squash and roasted it with a bit of olive oil and half an onion for about 35 minutes. Put it on the not-so-fresh spinach and added crispy cheese bread made from the lonely ends of a pumpernickel loaf and freshly grated parmesan (that, at least, was new and good). Sometimes, being too lazy to go to the grocery turns out to be a good thing.

Can I Get A “Yum?”

One of summer's perfect pleasures: Fresh strawberry shortcake topped with homemade whipped cream sweetened with homemade mint syrup and fancied up with a fresh mint sprig. This was dessert at Older Daughter's house recently. I'm headed back very very soon.

Friends, Books and Ice Cream All are Good for You

My friend Susan is the most amazing cook and hostess ever. Our four-woman book club met at her house this past week and she served us a meal so healthy and delicious we didn’t want to stop eating long enough to discuss the book — which was Winter’s Bone, by the way, and excellent. Susan started impressing us with bruschetta (roasted garbanzo beans, onions, tomatoes and other fresh veggies on grilled bread) and then went on to a cup of chicken soup with pita-chip croutons. Entrees were beautifully grilled salmon steaks with roasted potatoes and vegetables. And then there was dessert. And I know you’re thinking when you look at this ice-cream delight, “But I thought this was a healthy meal.” It was! Susan, with her shopping skills, found these low-fat and 140-calorie ice-cream sandwiches from Skinny Cow and topped them with heart-healthy walnuts, strawberries and blueberries. I’d never had any Skinny Cow products before since I tend to walk very fast past the ice-cream aisle at the grocery to prevent being irresistibly drawn to the Ben & Jerry’s section, where I usually stand there with the cooler door open wondering how many calories and fat grams Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream actually can have. (Denial. I’m in denial.) And I have to admit I’ve had unpleasant low-fat, low-calorie, low-whatever ice-cream experiences. Haven’t we all? But I’m telling you: Skinny Cow is good. And when it has the Susan seal of approval, you know it’s a winner.

Restaurants

You know I’m easily impressed, but I’m not the only one who’s a fan of Ichiban, an Asian restaurant that’s recently opened in Sheffield, Alabama. Now most of y’all probably have an Ichiban in your town. “Ichiban” is a Japanese word that means “the best” and many Asian restaurants use that as a name. Or that’s what I’ve read, anyway. Our Ichiban is becoming a popular spot for locals looking for something new. I love getting my food in these red lacquered bento boxes — sort of exotic, especially for someone like me who mainly eats out of Cheetos bags. Everything tastes fresh, the sushi bar is excellent and the service is friendly. And of course there’s green-tea ice cream in fried wonton shells. Better than Cheetos any day. Ichiban in Sheffield is open at 11 a.m. every day except Saturday, when it opens at noon. It’s at 1207 S. Jackson Hwy., phone number 25.389.9888.

Food

Seems as if spring brings out new products and new versions of old favorites — and of course anything that screams “junk food made into something totally healthy and environmentally conscious” gets my attention. Such as the new Chocolate Cheerios. Did you get a sample this past weekend with your Sunday newspaper? We did, and along with most of America as soon as I started munching on my handful of chocolately goodness, I was hooked. What’s not to like? You can feel good about your Cheerios warm-and-fuzzy nutrition plus you get the thrill of feeling as if you’re sneaking in more than your alloted one small square of chocolate a day. I love cereal that doubles as a snack — maybe I love it too much. (Reese’s Puffs, I’m talking to you). And if you add milk to your morning bowl, you get the added bonus of chocolate milk. Score! Chocolate Cheerios for the win. I wasn’t as impressed with Multi-Grain Pringles, but maybe that’s because I’m not a fan of Pringles in general. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for fake and processed anything as long as it tastes good — I’m willing to down a few empty calories in return for satisfying deliciousness — but Pringles doesn’t deliver in the yum category enough to offset the fat and zero nutritionals. I thought the new Multi-Grain version might improve my opinion, but, no. The nutrition stats aren’t any better and the taste is cross somewhere between rice crackers and Wheat Thins — and not in a good way — with that heavy greasy Pringles after-flavor thrown in. I’ll pass, thank you very much. And speaking of good-for-you-and-the-earth junk food, we also gave Sun Chips’ new compostable bag a try. The verdict? Well, I can only take FritoLay’s word for the breaks-down-in-14-weeks claim, but if it’s true, that’s a good thing and I say we need more of that, please. I’m always sort of skeptical about Sun Chips since the nutritional stats aren’t any better — and in some cases, worse — than regular potato chips but the ads sort of make them appear all healthy and natural. And I’m glad that one plant in which Sun Chips are made is solar-powered but there’s still all the energy used in distribution and transportation so what about all that, huh, FritoLay??? On the other hand, the new bag does make a fun crinkly sound and as long as Steps Are Being Made in the Right Direction, who am I to argue?

Speaking about new stuff, I had to get a new cell phone recently. And if your cell phone is an extension of your personality and a reflection of who you are, then I am in deep trouble. Read more about it in my weekly newspaper column, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100312/ARTICLES/3125006

Food

Has anyone else noticed that Starbucks now is selling all sorts of individually packaged not-so-bad-for-you snacks? Most Starbucks have a display of these right up front as soon as you walk in the door. You’ll find such health-food-store classics as Annie’s Snacks White Cheddar Bunnies and Snack Mix, FoodShouldTasteGood chips and allergen-free Lucy’s Cookies, among others. There also are several fruit items aimed at the kids, gluten- and wheat-free granola bars and — my favorite — Sahale Snacks nuts and nut mixes. This is what a trip to Starbucks has been missing, seems to me. Previously, if you wanted something to munch on along with your coffee, your choices were limited to something out of the pastry case — or a trip to the nearest convenience store. And while I’m a huge fan of Starbucks’ Lowfat Raspberry Sunshine Muffins and Chocolate Mini Sparkle Doughnuts, I do know that indulging every time I order a grande non-fat dry cappuccinno isn’t a good idea. I imagine these are a boon for parents with youngsters in tow, although probably they’ve probably gotten smart by now and just use the drive-in window. Anyway, I’m always a fan of crunchy and salty packaged goodness, so I hope these stick around.