Food for Thought

Alas, it’s not Sicily, but we make do

If it is possible to careen while traveling uphill, we are doing so.

We’re crammed shoulder to shoulder in a small and vaguely reliable car, motoring at a troubling speed up increasingly narrow streets on the hillside above Sorrento.

Franco is less than thrilled. It’s not the car ride that distresses him, but the food, the countryside, the architecture, the people — the gestalt, if you will.

Franco’s sights are set south.

True, Sorrento is in the southern part of Italy, just around the bay from Naples — but it is not far enough south for Franco.

For him, south is off the mainland.

As in Sicily.

The most magical, culinarily advanced spot on the face of the earth.

According to Franco.

Nothing is as beautiful as Sicily, or as deeply moving. The sunlight, the sea, the music, the people. Ahhh.

In particular, nowhere does food taste as good as it does in Sicily — where the meats are the most flavorful, the vegetables the ripest, the fish the freshest and most succulent.

According to Franco.

Antipasti?

Sicily, hands down.

Pastas?

The best … in Sicily.

Wine?

Need you ask?

Gelato?

You gotta be kiddin’.

Franco is dressed in a Palermo soccer jersey, baggy shorts that hang just below the knee, and a pair of white athletic socks topped with bands of color that match the bright blue and neon red of the jersey. He wears gigantic, cerulean blue basketball shoes. He sports an earring and the curly hair on top of his head is tinted an odd orange color.

He is 80 years old.

You wanna know about food, you ask Franco. He’s been around, you know.

The man came to America at the age of 21 after his older sister inherited the family villa and Franco was left to test the waters in the wider world. Arrivederci, Italia.

He ended up in Pittsburgh, working as a green grocer. Franco did very well as a produce man (hey, don’t ask questions, you don wanna know), retired to Florida to a plush spot near the shore and now he has traveled back to Italy, taking a bit of a jaunt around the inferior parts of the country before making the pilgrimage home to that jewel of an island to the south. To heaven on earth.

Franco is telling me about vegetables, a subject he can entertain, without repeating himself, for days on end. I know this. Oh, how I know this. I spent three hours the day before learning everything about cardoons. The day before that, it was citrus fruits and, of course, about how no citrus, grown anywhere in the world, compares to the citrus in Sicily.

We are traveling up the steep hill in Sorrento to eat dinner with Pasquale and Marissa, at their family compound — an acre or so of turf dotted with several homes, all in quaint disrepair, a couple lush garden plots (nothing like the gardens in Sicily, however) and a herd of waifs, poultry and small livestock clogging the central parking area between the homes.
Pasquale acts as host; Marissa, aided by a bevy of relatives and neighbors, does all the work. She is a renowned cook, and I am ready to eat.

Franco is ready to be critical.

According to Pasquale, everything we consume has been grown or raised at the family compound. While Pasquale regales us with tales of his family’s astounding self-sufficiency, and his guidance of same, I stroll over to the wide entry to the kitchen. Marissa and company labor at an ancient six-burner farm stove and at separate ovens on the opposite side of the room. The bulky stove and ovens are made of brick and stone, with stucco. The food is set out on a long, rough wood table at the center of the room. The kitchen is as large as the dining area that adjoins it. Marissa takes her cooking seriously. We bond.

Pasquale pours some of his homemade wine — a bombino bianco.

“Nuthin like the wine in Sicily.” Franco sneers as he drinks; no mean feat. And he scowls as he has a second glass, and a third.

We sit at a large table and the antipasti arrive: cannelloni, stuffed with a veal forcemeat, lightly seasoned with a touch of nutmeg, covered with a cheese-tinged béchamel; a mix Pasquale calls “pepperoni””— a wonderful blend of roasted red and yellow peppers, surprisingly mild black olives (grew ‘em yourself, you say?) and small chunks of potato (grew ‘em yourself, you say?) in a fruity olive oil (made it yourself, you say?); and the wonder of the evening — a dense artichoke and cheese pie.

I take a substantial liking to the peppers, and fall head over heels in love with the artichoke concoction. I make the mistake of telling Franco.

“Here,” he says, shoving the plate of pie in my direction. “Take mine. In Sicily, they know how to treat an artichoke.”

I take his. And more.

The pasta course is lasagna, dense, fairly dry, stable on the plate. In short, one of the finest I have eaten. I am one happy feller, even though I am drinking homemade, nondescript white wine.

“Naw,” says Franco. “You want lasagna, huh? Back in Sicily, when I was a kid, my momma, god rest her soul, made lasagna. This stuff … it’s like something you buy in the frozen foods section at the supermarket. In Sicily, they wouldn’t feed this to the dogs.”

I eat Franco’s lasagna.

Next up, roasted chicken, with a touch of rosemary, perfectly done, the skin crispy, salty. I believe it when Pasquale says the chicken was raised at the homestead; the flesh has the deep, almost wild taste of a bird that spent its life pecking around outdoors, always on the move, avoiding dogs, cats and packs of wild urchins.

Limoncello anyone? Homemade, and lots of it.

“If they grew decent lemons here,” says Franco, “this would be all right. But …”

A couple hits of this stuff, and I can listen to Franco complain all night long. Limoncello is a noted digestif in the Naples area and along the Amalfi coast. It’s pretty darned easy to make, being an infusion of lemon skins in grain alcohol, with a ton of sugar added to smooth the edge.

I have three.

I go to the kitchen and thank Marissa. She’s a chunky gal and, birds of a feather, we have our photo taken together. I compliment her on her artichoke pie and beg her for the recipe. She, of course, doesn’t understand a word of what I say, but Kathy handles the translation and Marissa writes down the recipe.

In Italian. And in a hand so fine, it is nearly indecipherable.

As a result, I am going to have to experiment, using the little information Kathy can translate and jury-rigging the rest.

In the meantime, I will take a different trip to artichoke land and try a recipe Franco gives me during a perilous trip down the mountain. This one, he assures me, is the best. It is, after all, Sicilian.

You take the artichoke “a big one” and you “cut off all the junk you can’t eat. And that’s most of it, eh?”

In other words, peel off the leaves. Remove the stem and save it.

“The hairy stuff” is removed and what you are left with is the raw heart of the artichoke. You cut the heart into four pieces and plop them in a bowl of water to which you’ve added a couple lemons and their juices. This prevents the artichokes from getting brown. The stem is peeled and added to the bowl.

You create an egg wash in a bowl and to it you add a bit of salt (not too much, because a salty cheese is also added) and a bit of ground black pepper. Throw in “a bunch of grated cheese. You know, pecorino, maybe some good Parmesan. You know.”

Put crumbs on a plate. Make your own or cheat, like I do, with panko — the world’s best crumb for frying.

Put a heavy sauté pan on medium heat and add olive oil. Don’t waste the extra virgin here; use the lower grade of olive oil.

Drain and dry the pieces of artichoke. Take each piece, coat it with egg wash, roll it in the crumb and put it in the hot oil.

“Don’t make the oil too hot. You gotta be gentle, cause you don’t want the cheese and crumbs to burn before the artichoke is cooked. You think you can remember all this?”

Drain the golden brown goodies on paper towel; season while hot, if necessary. Consume as an appetizer, with wine.

Next time I’m in the mood, which could be real soon, I think I’ll whip up a batch of these beauties and some sautéed olives as well. The olives: monster pitted green olives, stuffed with a dab of finely ground and garlicky raw pork sausage, the olives then floured, dipped in egg wash then in crumb, and cooked the same way as the artichokes.

I’ll sit on the deck, sip some vino, nibble the goodies, and think of Sicily.

If I can’t be in heaven, at least I can dream of it.


What's Cookin?

Greek Zucchini Salad with Crumbled Feta

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium zucchini, peeled into thin ribbons (about 4 cups)
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 green onions, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1. Whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest and garlic in large serving bowl. For a more colorful dish, use one zucchini and one yellow squash.
2. Gradually whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add zucchini and onion, and toss to coat. Cover and marinate overnight, or up to 2 days.
3. Sprinkle with feta, green onions, mint and parsley just before serving.
Note: Always use a stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl to make marinated salads and other high-acid vegetable dishes. These “nonreactive” materials won’t discolor foods or absorb strong flavors the way porous substances such as aluminum and plastic can.
Yields 6 servings. Per serving: 149 Cal; 3g Prot; 12g Total Fat (3g Sat. Fat); 9g Carb; 11mg Chol; 252mg Sod; 2g Fiber; 5g Sugars. Source: Vegetarian Time, May-June 2007.


Obituaries

Joe Ernest Silva

Joe Ernest Silva, 63, of Pagosa Springs. Born in Bingham Canyon, Utah, in 1944, he died Monday, June 11, 2007, after complications from a heart attack.

Joe Silva is remembered as a wonderful man who served as a son, father, husband, brother, uncle, cousin and friend, who is loved by many. He had a love of people and enjoyed sharing his sense of humor. He was generous with what he had and the giving of his time. He was a logger and school bus driver, but loved his involvement with his family band of many years. Nothing made him prouder than to boast of his family band, The Regals. No one was a stranger to him, and he loved visiting with anyone he met anywhere. His favorite pastime was sitting downtown with his wife, Dawnie, watching people go by.

Joe Silva is survived by his wife and soul mate, Donelia “Dawnie” Silva; by his sons, George (Sue) and Larry (Michelle); by his sisters, Margie (David) Lucero, Sylvia (Orlando) Roybal and Seferina Silva; by brother, Richard Silva (Michelle), grandson, Gene Michael Silva, and granddaughter, Jamie Lynn Silva. He is also survived by his brothers-in-law Levie (Terry) Maestas, Leonard (Charlie) Gallegos, and by aunts, uncles and many nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his mother, Rebecca Silva, his father, Seferino Silva, his brother, Gene Silva, his mother-in-law, Sadie, and his father-in-law, Sedonio Gallegos.

A Rosary will be held in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 451 Lewis St. on Thursday, June 14, 2007, at 6 p.m. A memorial service will be held June 15, 2007, at 10 a.m. in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, by Father Carlos Alvarez. It will be followed by a reception at the Town of Pagosa Springs Community Center, immediately following the service. We ask that all family and friends attend.

Send a message to the family or a memoriam to be posted here.

Connie Nadine Robinson

Memorial services for Connie Nadine Robinson, 63, of Cortez, will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 14 at the Cortez First United Methodist Church. Reverend Lynn Evans will officiate.

Connie was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Durango, Colo., the daughter of Roy William Camel Lyall and Clarene (Montgomery) Lyall. She passed away at her home on Thursday, June 7, 2007.

Raised in Pagosa Springs, Connie was a member of the graduating Class of 1962. She married Ronald Roger Robinson in Pagosa Springs on November 30, 1968, sharing 38 years of marriage before her death. Connie was known for her generous heart and spirit of volunteering, giving numerous hours to Hope’s Kitchen and Southwest Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. She was nominated for 9 News, 9 Who Care in 2006, and was one of the nine chosen for this year. She loved keeping her hands busy with all kinds of craftwork. She also enjoyed the Colorado outdoors, especially time spent fishing and hunting.

Surviving Connie are her beloved husband, Ronnie Robinson, of Cortez; her mother, Clarene Lyall, also of Cortez; a son, Larry Dean Robinson, and wife, Martha, of Dolores; stepchildren, James Claude Robinson and wife, Ladonna, of Minnesota, and Laura Sue Hoel, of Montrose, Colo.; her grandson, David Robinson, and wife, Erica of Dolores; four additional grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her father; a brother, Frank Lyall; and stepdaughter, Margaret Ellen Watkins.

Memorial contributions can be made in memory of Connie Robinson to either Southwest Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, 1311 N. Mildred Road, Cortez; Hope’s Kitchen, c/o First United Methodist Church, PO Box 1016, Cortez; or Hospice of Montezuma, PO Box 740, Cortez.

For further information or to send condolences, log on to www.ertelfuneralhome.com and click on the obituary section.

Send a message to the family or a memoriam to be posted here.

Bernadine Couture Wells
Bernadine Couture Wells passed away peacefully at Pine Ridge Extended Care on May 9, 2007. She loved politics, artwork and antiques. Her favorite hobby was going to garage and estate sales, where she amazed everyone with the treasures she found. She was active in swimming, ice skating and skiing in her younger years. She was a very determined and strong woman, and overcame any obstacle that stood in her way. She was a wonderful mother and person, and will be missed by all whose lives she touched.

She was born on June 29, 1926, in Waterville, Maine, and was one of 12 children of parents Joseph and Blanche Couture.
In her early 20s, she went to work in Washington, D.C. in the office of Senator Leveritt Saltonstall of Massachusetts, who was chairman of the Armed Services Committee. She handled legislative and patronage matters, and was one of the first women allowed on the senate floor. She was personally invited to the inaugurations of presidents Eisenhower and Nixon.
She married Roger Wells in the mid 1950s and had a son, Douglas. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Southern California where a daughter, Susan, was born. While her children where in high school, she worked for California State Assemblyman Pete Schabarum, where she operated the district office while he was in Sacramento.

Bernadine (“Dean”) returned to college in the mid 1970s, attending law school at California College of Law in West Covina. She passed the Bar shortly thereafter, and practiced family law in the Claremont, California, area for many years.
She moved to Pagosa Springs in June of 2005 with her daughter, Sue Wells, and son-in-law Robert St. Cyr. She resided with them in their home until late December of 2006, when she moved to Pine Ridge.

She is survived by her children: Douglas Wells of Grass Valley, Calif., and Sue Wells of Pagosa Springs; grandchildren: Catherine Wells, Rachel Wells, Lisa Wells and Kimberley Wells, all of Grass Valley, Calif.; siblings: Ruth Walling, of Crowley, Texas, Joan Robie, of Rutherford, N.J., Claire Greitzer, of Hagerstown, Md., Paula Faraday, of Wilmington, N.C., Marguerite Orosz, of Plymouth, Mass., Hilda Nicolosi of Voluntown, Conn., Joseph Couture Jr., of Oakland, Maine, Peter Couture, of Greensboro, N.C., and Horatio Couture, of Benton, Maine.

She requested that no funeral service be held, but her siblings have arranged for Mass to be said in many states and cities. Her ashes will be interred in the family plot in Waterville, Maine.


Announcements

WEDDINGS

ARAMA/HARRISON

Just Married! Because you have shared in our lives by your friendship and love, we are very proud to share the happy news.
Harriette Clair Kenyon Arama, daughter of Jac Arama of London, UK, and Clair Bennett of Harrison, Idaho, and Nathanael David Loper, son of Dan Loper of Pagosa Springs and Donna Loper, also of Pagosa Springs, were married in a small wedding ceremony Friday, May 11, at Waialae Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. Grandparents are the late Andre Arama and Doreen Arama of Southampton, UK, John and Joy Page of Kent, UK, Lyndon and Mary Loper of Phoenix, Ariz., Larry and Linda Dixon of Livingston, Texas, and the late Don Pendergrass of Pampa, Texas. Hattie and Nate now reside at 26377 Hillcrest Ave. No. 2, Lomita, CA 90717.

ULLRICH/VYSKOCIL

Patrick and Carolyn Ullrich of Pagosa Springs announce the marriage of their daughter, Tiffany,  to Brad Vyskocil, son of Linda Vyskocil of Hilton Head, South Carolina.  The wedding took place on June 2, 2007, in Charleston, South Carolina, at Lowndes Grove Plantation.  After their honeymoon in Tahiti, the couple will reside in Columbia, South Carolina.


ENGAGEMENTS

HENRY/ROSS

Paul and Cathy Henry are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Janna Henry, to Daniel Ross, son of Don and Brenda Ross, of Gilmer, Texas. The couple will reside in Durango after an August wedding.

LORD/CARNLEY

Marvin and Janice Lord are happy to announce the engagement of their daughter, Ashley Lord, to Ceth “Boomer” Carnley, son of Tom and Jan Carnley. Their wedding will take place Sept. 1, 2007, in Pagosa Springs.

BIRTHS

MIRANDA MARIE LYTHJOHAN

Dave and Char Hemauer are thrilled to announce the birth of their first granddaughter. Miranda Marie was born May 8, 2007, to Scott and Jean Lythjohan of Farmington, N.M.