Food for Thought

I love it, I just can’t eat it

It’s in season.

Check out the trendy foodie publications and TV shows, the articles and books about cutting-edge chefs and restaurants and, once you get past the foams and the essences, the purdy pitchers and the flim flam pseudo-science, you find quite a bit of comment about seasonal fruits and vegetables, catch of the day and whatnot; you are regaled with tales of bills of fare crafted during a visit to the farmer’s market, dishes created relative to the absolute freshest of ingredients available at a moment’s notice.

Catch of the day? Here in Siberia With a View? Unless you’re talking about brook trout or crappie, you’re way off base.

Game?

Absent a turkey or two taken during the spring hunting season, there’s no game this time of year unless you plan to do some poaching. If you do, there are fines involved, and the meat could end up a bit pricey.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables?

Here, in Siberia With a View?

Probably not. At least not in the spring, considering the very few foods actually grown here — unless you consider lamb a fruit or vegetable, or you go completely overboard and set out in search of wild onions in the outback. If you do this, incidentally, you deserve all the trouble you find out there.

If you’re savvy, there is one wild plant that grows hereabouts that’s worth looking for, but it certainly doesn’t grow in abundance: wild asparagus. I know where some grows. And I’m certainly not going to share the location with you. My friend James knows of a stand. His lips are sealed.

No, we must forage at the market for our “seasonal” fruits and vegetables. And that usually spells trouble.

The payoff in the produce section is pretty darned thin, since we’re relying on seasonal veggies from someone else’s season. And these days, that season spreads from one end of the Americas to the other. In other words, some things are always in season … and, incidentally, generally pretty poor in quality. For example, we get berries year-round, because when they are not in season in, say, California, they are ready for shipping in parts of Mexico or Chile. And, boy, are they mundane (and, as Kathy reminds me over and over and over … they’re saturated with all manner of chemicals prohibited years ago in “advanced” cultures). Same with fruits like tomatoes — or what passes for tomatoes: hard clunkers most of them, window-breakers engineered for shipping and “ripened” with gas, almost totally lacking in flavor. Spring onions? It’s always spring somewhere, isn’t it?

So, the trick is to find items on the market shelves that mimic seasonal veggies in a latitude similar to our own. This time of year, it is likely to be the domesticated (and generally green) cousin of the above-noted wild asparagus. For a few weeks during spring, we have a chance to dine on, first, the slender young stalks of asparagus and, as the spring draws to a close, the meatier, but somewhat tougher mature stalks.

I shouldn’t say “we,” because I can’t eat asparagus.

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables and, alas, in my dotage, it is verboten. The darned thing is a sure ticket to a whopping case of gout, loaded as it is with some kind of obscure acid, so it is off my plate — though not off the menu when I cook for others.

The reason: I can’t resist cooking asparagus. Preparing it is nearly as much fun as eating it. It is one mighty simple veggie in terms of preparation and most diners appreciate it for its texture (given it is not destroyed by too much time on the heat) and it’s wonderful flavor.

Twasn’t always so.

Go back 50 years and asparagus was one of the most dreaded elements in the common American diet. (I single out the American diet here, because the French, for one, and as usual, knew quite well how to maximize the best characteristics of asparagus — in terms of growing it and cooking it.)

Fifty years ago, asparagus in the good ol’ US of A was usually found in cans, and in terrible shape — limp, gray, nasty in flavor, having taken on a tinny quality from its crude packaging. To make matters worse, the home cook of the time most often used asparagus in a hideous casserole, combining the drained, canned spears with some sort of oversalted canned soup, a bunch of processed cheese, crumbled hard-cooked eggs and, if the chef was up on the latest fashion, a dose of slivered nuts.

Dear lord.

No wonder it took several decades for asparagus to become respectable.

Though you can find asparagus at nearly all times of the year (remember, Chile and Mexico exist all 12 months of the year), when you purchase the stalks in the spring, you can do wonderful things to them. No need to cook them into mush. In fact, you can eat the youngest of stalks raw.

I prefer the mature, meatier stalks of asparagus. Granted, the skins on the thicker stalks are tough, stringy and troublesome. But, it is easy to deal with the problem: First, bend the stalks until they break — the point of surrender tends to be between the tougher and more tender parts of the stalk. Second, peel the stalk. No problemo.

My favorite way to cook asparagus that will stand alone is to either roast or grill the stalks. Both methods are easy. To roast, preheat the oven to 375. Take the prepared stalks and put them in a large bowl. Drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of Kosher salt and some freshly-ground black pepper. Put the stalks on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Roll them around periodically with a pair of tongs and keep an eye on them. When they get tender and start to caramelize a bit, they’re done. Rarely does this take more than 15 minutes. About two-thirds of the way through the process, consider dusting the stalks with some freshly grated, high-end Parmesan cheese. Do not overcook the asparagus spears; you want a bit of tooth.

Prepare the stalks the same way for the grill. Put the stalks on the rack over medium heat and turn often, until they begin to brown a bit and, again, don’t overcook.

In both cases, a bit of butter, perhaps some freshly-squeezed lemon juice and you have hit a culinary home run.

One can also sauté the stalks, or sections of the stalks, parboiling the larger stalks a few minutes prior to their introduction to a mix of olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Salt, pepper, lemon, more butter. Ahhh.

For asparagus as an ingredient, I find it goes well in a risotto, often in combination with other vegetables. The risotto will match up with just about any protein and, in this application, I can allow others to enjoy the veggie while I get some risotto as well, absent the asparagus.

For four diners, I’ll need a couple cups of Arborio rice; up to eight cups of chicken broth; some minced shallots; half a white onion, sliced thinly and chopped; some minced garlic; a slice or two of prosciutto, diced; five or six stalks of asparagus, peeled then cut into inch-long sections; some frozen green peas; a hefty wedge of high-grade Parmesan; butter (of course); some chopped, fresh basil; salt and pepper.

I’ll parboil the pieces of asparagus until just tender, then cool them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. I’ll drain them and set them aside. If I were going to cook only one version of the risotto, not intending to separate out part of the batch for the asparagus-sensitive gout sufferer, I would not parboil the vegetable; I would, instead, cut much younger and thinner stalks into pieces and have them ready to finish off in the risotto proper during the end game.

I’ll heat the chicken broth to a simmer and have it ready on the back burner.

Into a large, heavy pan goes a half oil-half butter mix and I’ll sauté the onion, then work in two or three minced shallots and the prosciutto over medium high heat. I’ll toss in the rice and stir, coating each grain with the oil, beginning the cooking process. Then, I’ll toss in some garlic and add a cup or so of the broth, stirring constantly until the broth is incorporated. I’ll repeat, adding a half cup or so of the hot broth, stirring until it is incorporated, and continue the same process until the rice drinks no more and is tender and creamy as all get-out. In will go the peas and the basil, along with a half cup or so of grated cheese. The mix will be stirred until all creamy good again, the rice soft. I’ll take out my portion and add the asparagus to what remains. A bit of time over the heat, some more cheese and it’s time to eat. In fact, there’s no time to spare: the dish must be consumed when ready. It can’t sit around.

Like all our seasonal favorites.

If you can find them.

Know anyone with a lamb?

It’s a vegetable, you know.


What’s Cookin?

Tex-Mex Squash Casserole

2 small yellow squash, sliced
2 small zucchini, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oil
4 ounces green chiles, chopped
2 cups yellow corn
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup monterey Jack, grated
1 teaspoon cumin
1. Lightly sauté the squash, zucchini, onion, and garlic until just soft. Toss with the remaining ingredients.
2. Place in a lightly oiled 2-quart casserole dish.
Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Serve warm with grilled chicken.


Obituaries

Paul Atencio

Paul Atencio suffered a heart attack on Feb 15, 2007, and died Feb 22, 2007, without regaining consciousness.  Paul was the fourth son in the Aguilar-Atencio family of 15 children.  Maria de la Luz and Jose Atencio raised their children in the Pagosa Springs area where Paul attended Pagosa Springs Elementary School.  As a young man, Paul worked in the lumber mills and at Day Lumber.  

Paul met and married Pat Gurule, of Ignacio, in the late ’60s and they had two children: Paula and Paul Jr. Paul moved his family to Denver where he began his much loved career as a draftsman. He reluctantly accepted a medical retirement from Canterra Oil Company in 1984.

Paul and Pat were divorced and he met Phyllis (Pat) in 1978.  They began a lasting and loving friendship and were married in 1981.  They recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on Labor Day 2007.  Paul and Pat moved to Phoenix where Paul worked as the packing lead for the Conair Mfg. Co.  He moved back to Denver to care for his mother in-law, retrained and became an administrative assistant working for OSHA and EPA.  During all of his careers he accepted various awards for his leadership and outstanding work.  He loved the outdoors and enjoyed fishing, fly-tying, camping and painting.  He loved giving his flies and paintings to family and friends as gifts.  He was an avid reader. Paul dearly loved warming his bald head with many of his stylish hats, brevets and caps, braving the coldest winter weather that would freeze his “Dumbo” ears just to wear the one he wanted on any particular day.

Paul was a proud father and loving grandfather, enjoying and teaching board games, card tricks and putting together Leggo projects, playing jokes or repairing broken toys for his children and eight grandchildren.

He is preceded in death by his parents, Jose and Maria de la Luz Atencio; his son Paul Jr.; grandsons Daniel and Gabriel Schmidt, two sisters, Ruth and Lydia Atencio; five brothers, Alex, Joe and Willie Aguilar, Reynaldo (Butch) and Manuel (Manny) Atencio.  He is survived by wife Phyllis Pat Atencio; daughter Paula, her husband, Hans, and stepson George Jacquez; grandchildren Samuel, Sara and Kristina Schmidt, Tayler Deacon-Atencio, Shailynn and Samara Imel-Jacquez, Sarysa and Jayla Rodriguez-Jacquez and five sisters, Nardy Lattin (Jim), Trudy (Pat) Gomez, Jenny (Bob) Bell, Deliliah (Joe) Gutierrez and Delores (Armando)Garza.

Paul’s life was deeply rooted in the Pagosa and the Wolf Creek area and he dearly loved his mountains, returning often on Memorial Day and July 4.

A Memorial Mass to celebrate Paul’s life will be May 26 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Pagosa Springs at 10 a.m.  Family and friends are invited to attend.

Adelina Sisneros Lobato

Adelina Sisneros Lobato, 86, went home to her heavenly Father and mother in heaven, May 13, 2007, in Durango.   Ms. Lobato was born Feb. 21, 1921, in Frances, Colo., the daughter of Anacleto and Emilia Archuleta Sisneros.

She is survived by son Jose C. Lobato (Margaret), daughter Maria Loyola Maestas (Levie), son M. Steve Lobato (Elaine), daughter Jane Madrid (Jimmy), son Gene Lobato (Jeanine), son Leroy Lobato (Sylvia), daughter Tessie Yanase Chavez, sisters Mary Tomasita Archuleta and Rose Archuleta (companion Johnny Sosa), 24 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild and numerous nieces and nephews.

Adelina was preceded in death by long time companion George Yanase, parents Anacleto and Emelia Sisneros, brothers Tomasita and Belarmino, sisters Eugenia, Beronice, Margarita, Melinda, Bernardita, Manuelita, daughter Mary Ellen Lobato and nine nieces and nephews.

Visitation was held Wednesday, May 16, 2007, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Pagosa Springs.  A Recitation of the Rosary followed. A Mass of Christian Burial will be Thursday, May 17, at 10 a.m. at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.  Father Carlos A. Alvarez will be the celebrant.  Private family interment in Greenmount Cemetery, Durango, will be at a later time.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a Catholic charity of your choice.

Inez Seavy

Inez Seavy, 84, a native of Pagosa Springs and a member of an early Pagosa family, passed away Tuesday, May 15, in Durango.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 19, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1879 Majestic Drive, Pagosa Springs. Burial at Hilltop Cemetery will follow the service.

A potluck gathering will take place at noon Saturday, at the church.

Ken Suzuki

Ken Suzuki, son of Sachiko Suzuki Stallman and stepson of Lewis Stallman of Pagosa Springs, died suddenly of a subarachnoid hemorrhage on May 7, 2007, in Tokyo, Japan. 

Ken Suzuki was born July 13, 1971, first of two children born to Kunio and Sachiko Suzuki.  His father, Kunio Suzuki, was a famous theater/stage producer in Tokyo, Japan.  When Ken was seven years old, his father died suddenly and Sachiko was left to raise her two sons.

Ken was an artist who loved poetry, music and exquisite paintings.  While living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he studied Spanish Guitar with a superb guitar teacher, by the name of Daniel Ward.  Ken was a member of the Bill Evans Dance Company at the University of New Mexico where he studied tap dancing and participated in many song and dance shows.
His body was cremated in Toyko, Japan on May 9, 2007. 

As requested by the family, memorial donations to the Humane Society of Pagosa Springs c/o Robbie Schwartz, in the name of Ken Suzuki, would be appreciated.

Announcements

FRANKLIN/HAMPTON

Tara Franklin, the daughter of Ben and Linda Franklin of Pagosa Springs, and Thomas Hampton, son of Richard and Susan Hampton of Pagosa Springs, will be married Aug. 18, 2007, at Canyon Crest Lodge.

ANDERSON/MELROSE

Mr. and Mrs. William J. Anderson of Bayfield, are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter, Lauren, to Sean Christopher Melrose on June 16, 2007. The groom is the son of Marvin and Kristeen Harris of Bayfield.
Lauren graduated from Pagosa Springs High School in May 2003. She was an avid barrel racer and horsewoman, participating in High School rodeo and numerous rodeo events during her teenage years. In more recent years, her interests include fixing up off-road trucks, and animal rescue. She earned an AA degree in criminal justice, and plans to complete her B.S. in criminal justice after she is married.
Sean graduated from Bayfield High School in 2004 and joined the Navy. He received training as a Nuclear Engineer, and is presently stationed on the USS Alabama as a Nuclear Electrician, second class, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. He enjoys fishing, motorcycling, snowboarding and off-road truck adventures.
The couple will reside in Bremerton, Wash., after the marriage.


Jeff and Lora Laydon
, residents of Pagosa Springs since 1995, are celebrating their 25th anniversary. The couple was married May 14, 1983 in Denver. As part of their celebration, they and daughters Alyssa and Malory spent two weeks on a Mexican Riviera cruise in April.


Jessica Harms, a Pagosa Springs High School graduate, was honored at her Colorado Mountain College graduation May 5 with the David Allen Outstanding Student Award. Jessica graduated Phi Theta Kappa in veterinary technology. She wishes to thank the following organizations for their valuable scholarships that made her education possible: The Rotary Club, the Kiwanis Club, IHMC Life Teen, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the White family for the Lauren White Scholarship. It is an honor to live in a community that cares and supports our youth.

FLC Graduates

Terrence McAlister, theatre; Kail Pantzar, CSIS-information sys option; and Sandra Smith-Miller, early childhood education, all of Pagosa Springs, were among this year’s graduating class at Fort Lewis college in Durango. Spring commencement was held April 28.

Shaw

Brian “Clint” Shaw, a graduate of Pagosa Springs High School, will receive his bachelor of fine arts degree from Mesa State College in a ceremony May 19 at Stocker Stadium Grand Junction, Colo.

Jeremiah Lee Hash was born May 8, 2007, at 7:57 am. Jeremiah weighed 3 pounds 3.3 ounces and was 17 inches long. He is doing remarkably well and is a true little fighter.  He is in the new NICU at Mercy Medical Center in Durango where he is being well taken care of by the staff of nurses and doctors. Jeremiah’s mommy is Casey Hash of Pagosa Springs and big brothers are William and Roland of Pagosa Springs. Very proud grandparents are John Hash and Chaunta Hash also of Pagosa Springs. Mommy and baby are doing great and baby Jeremiah is expected home within the next month or so. The family thanks everyone for their support and prayers.