Food for Thought

The unbearable false spring

Spring is here.


Spring in Siberia With a View is a tentative season; it often shows itself briefly, lures you into a false sense of security, then slips away and hides, allowing for another blast (or two, or three) of winter.

Such it is this year.

I believe a higher power is at work here, with actions designed to provoke a sense of hopelessness.

It’s a test.

I, and others who cart a good share of Nordic genes, are particularly prone to dark moods precipitated by winter conditions. Spring of the kind we experience here, then, is a also a plot — a scheme developed by a cosmic puppeteer

An initial burst of sunny skies and warm weather causes us to (at this point, metaphorically) hurl open the door of our cramped, stinky and smoke-filled sod and log lodge, and tramp outside into the sun, there to shed the hideous garments that have gone unwashed for five dark months and to find a spot in the local fjord that, now ice free, provides entree to a frigid bath.

We are invigorated by the blessing of spring, shaken from our despair, made ready to sail off and raid monasteries, shred manuscripts, start fires, etc.

So, when spring teases us … oh, my, the reaction is not pretty; the minor irritants of daily life are magnified and the need for catharsis grows..

Contrary to times gone by, when we are fooled by a false spring, we cannot engage in spite-driven ax battles with cousins (who cares about family ties — after all, you’ve been cooped up for months on end, listening to the same boring story about the day Sven, the berzerker, stripped down, painted himself blue and took on the entire Irish army?).

And, despite the urge, we cannot take to the alley for some old-fashioned brawling.

One problem, of course: the law. It invariably spoils a therapeutic donnybrook. Second, however, is the sorry fact that most of the folks the genetic response tells the neo-Nord to pummel, are dinks. Mewling dinks, to be precise. And, nowadays, mewling dinks stay at a distance.

We live in the Age of the Dink — a milieu in which snivelling little goofs can stay far beyond arm’s length from anyone they irritate. Ah, the gauzy glory afforded by the Internet, the fax and the cell phone.

Such folks abound, and, come false spring, their capacity to inspire ire is at a peak. They are like Aunt Gladys’ Peekapoo, Randy, who becomes enamored of your shin during dinner. Randy has his own little bowl of food set on the floor at the end of the room; he could, and should, tend to his own business. But, no, Randy is flailing away beneath the table, out of reach … on you.

The feebs most in need of a spring thumping, and least likely to get one, are like a dog barking in the distance at night. Never close enough to shoot; always far enough away to avoid detection and the well-aimed antifreeze meatball. And yet, that damned barking; it keeps you awake at night, and there’s not a lot you can do about it.

It’s a shame that, this time of year in particular, when spring tickles the Nord’s fancy then laughingly sprints away for a few days or a few weeks, that our dark humors can’t be exorcized in a public setting, with little or no legal consequence attached to the outcome of a fray. Here in Siberia With a View, we could rope off the athletic field across from Town Park and use it for the false spring knockabout. Anything short of death that occurs inside that area would be OK. And murder would be a misdemeanor offense if it occurred in that space, punishable by a small fine levied on the killer and, if need be, house arrest to protect the kin of the victim until real spring arrives. No weapons allowed inside the perimeter; this is a spot for rowdy, hand-to-hand fun.

I am thinking about forming a Nordic team.

Heaven knows the members of the team will be ready, willing and able to indulge should weather conditions — and the Randys of this world — merit the effort.

Just as I reached a nadir last week, when I awakened to see heavy snow falling a day after I sat on the deck, sipping wine and listening to the birdies — spring returned. Just in the nick of time. This is being written on a weekend, the weather has remained springlike, pleasant enough.

Pleasant enough that the inane pets barking in the distance affects me less, pleasant enough that I again think its time to shed my putrid garments and head for the fjord.

In this day and age, that translates to firing up the grill and cooking outdoors. It’s a sad substitute for thumping a simpering dork, but it’ll have to do.

I admit it: I am lazy. Therefore, my grill involves the miracle of propane. No charcoal for me — too labor-intensive, too messy. And, with my perilously short attention span, I might get distracted by something bright and shiny, and next thing you know the porch is in flames. Can’t have that: I need to build equity.

So, I take the propane tank to the store and have it refilled. If I remember to turn the burners off after I cook, I should have enough propane for a couple weeks of grill work.

I take the grill racks out and clean them. I wire-brush the rust off the burners and I am ready to go.

The fare?

Who cares? As long as it is heavy-duty protein. After all, I am leaving the sod lodge after a long winter. It is time to amp up the routine of lifting heavy objects and putting them down; spring requires increased nutritional input.

What I’ll do, once a choice of protein is made, and perhaps a few veggies readied for the grill rack, is indulge one last affair with the oven.
Yep, one final indoor baking spree. The time is nearly here that firing up the oven in the kitchen will produce a less than habitable environment — something akin to a Shanghai laundry in the middle the warmest summer day on record.

I can get away with oven work in May. And I can use the oven to do two things: first, produce a side suitable to accompany whatever flesh sizzles over the propane flame and, two, pay homage to the Swedes who, for millennia, have fallen into the trap of false spring.

I’ll make Jannson’s Temptation. It’ll go with anything off the grill. It’s got a wad of carbs, it’s got cream and butter, it’s got a mystery saltiness.

It is a food group unto itself.

And, in the spirit of a yearly rebirth, I’ll make a nouveau version.

Fingerling potatoes are all the rage among foodies, so I’ll create a variation of Jansson’s Temptation using these rather ordinary but extraordinarily expensive tubers.

The ingredients are few: fingerling potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds for a four-serving recipe), a tin of high-grade anchovy fillets, a white onion, a few cloves of garlic, a stick of unsalted butter, a cup and a bit more of heavy cream and a quarter cup of whole milk, Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper (you could substitute white pepper if you’re a hyperfoodie but, beware — this makes you a dink).

Thinly slice the onion and cook the slices in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Remove from heat.

Peel and bruise the cloves of garlic and put them in a heavy saucepan with the cream. Bring the cream and milk to a boil, take off the heat. (The garlic is not a common ingredient in this dish, nor in most Swedish recipes. But, who doesn’t love garlic? It thins the blood following five months in a dank lodge.)

Drain the anchovy fillets and reserve the oil. You can chop the fillets or leave them whole; it is an aesthetic decision.

Preheat the oven to 400 and put a rack in the middle position.

Butter a baking dish liberally — preferably a reasonably deep gratin pan.

Wash, dry and slice the fingerlings in half, lengthwise. Put down a single layer of slightly overlapping spuds in the pan and top with a layer of onion and half the anchovy fillets. Season with a tiny bit of salt and some pepper. Remove the garlic from the cream and moisten the first layer of goodies in the pan. Dot with butter. Repeat . Top with a layer of potatoes only, Dot with butter. Pour approximately half the remaining cream over the top. Drizzle on a couple tablespoons of the reserved fish oil. Dot with butter.

Some cooks would top the mix with breadcrumbs. Make up your own mind on this one.

Pop into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Add the remaining cream, put back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft, the cream is clotty wonderful, and the top is crusty brown.

Invite a whiny dweeb over for dinner.

Eat with an ax.

It’s spring.

Isn’t it?

Tasting Notes

2004 Burgundy requires savvy shopping

The Wine: 2004 Domaine Pierre Guillemot Savigny-Serpentières Premier Cru.

Appellation: Burgundy —Côte D’Or — Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru Contrôlée.

Varietal: Pinot Noir.

Country of Origin: France.

Cost: $36.

Tasting Notes: Dry and tight to start, opening to a soft, well rounded core of red currant, kirsch, cherry pits, fresh Bing cherries and raspberries — absolutely approachable.

The wines of Savigny-Les-Beaune are widely regarded as some of the most light-bodied in all of Burgundy, and Guillemot’s Savigny-Serpentières holds true to the general characteristics of the appellation. Although fresh and fruit forward, the wine maintains a firm tannic structure and it will hold its own when paired with soft cheeses and a variety of meats, including, Cornish hens and roasted leg of lamb.

The village of Savigny-Les-Beaune lies between Beaune and Aloxe-Corton, is the third largest producing appellation in the Côte de Beaune, and is part of the greater Côte D’Or area. As is true with most of Burgundy, the red wines of Savigny-Les-Beaune are made from Pinot Noir, while the whites are made from Chardonnay.

Wine enthusiasts keen to sample Burgundy’s wide and varied offerings should have a resilient, if not stout wallet, patience, and the help of a knowledgable purveyor — Burgundy is subject to severe climatological variations between individual appellations, and area-wide generalizations on vintage quality and characteristics can fall short of the mark. (The Wine Spectator scored gave the area’s red wines a score of 85-89 on a scale of 100.) Furthermore, in Burgundy, it is the winemaker that matters, and with a slew of individual vignerons, négociants and an arguably complex organizational hierarchy, the knowledge of a reputable merchant can help the wine drinker to avoid pitfalls and get the most for their dollar.

In Burgundy, bottle price is not always commensurate with quality, and savvy shopping will pay greater dividends then sheer buying power.

What’s Cookin?

Mini Cookies and Cream Cheesecake

18 Oreo cookies
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
(2) 8-ounce containers whipped cream cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 muffin cups

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, combine 10 ground Oreos, 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons butter.
2. Divide mixture evenly among 12 paper lined muffin cups; press to form crusts.
3. In bowl of electric mixer, beat 2 containers of whipped cream cheese and 1/3 cup sugar for 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time beating after each. Stir in 8 chopped Oreos and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
4. Divide cream cheese mixture evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool completely. Garnish with whipped toppings and cookie halves if desired.
Yields 12 servings.


Anthony M. Ciardi

Anthony “Tony” M. Ciardi died April 25, 2007, in Pagosa Springs. He was born April 10, 1913, to Carmine Ciardi and Rose Zulla in Dover, N.J.

He is survived by two daughters, Eugenia Moran of N.J., and Christine Figliolino of Colorado; and three grandsons, Michael, Jack Moran and Scott McCauley. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ida; brothers, Frank and Raymond Ciardi; and sisters, Rose Sohner, Jennie Radmore, Mamie Ruggiero, Lucy Ciardi and Dorothy De Marino.

Tony’s professions included teacher/administrator and athletic director/coach, though his first love was coaching football. He held an undergraduate degree from Drew University and was a graduate from Montclair State.

Visitation was held at La Quey Funeral Home Tuesday, May 1, 2007, from 6 to 7, then Mr. Ciardi was taken to New Jersey.

Viewing was held Friday, 12-2 p.m. at Leonardis Memorial Home, followed by Catholic services at 2 p.m., with burial in Restland Memorial Park, East Hanover, N.J.

The family requests contributions be made to Pine Ridge Extended Care, 119 Bastille, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147.

Arthur J. Duclos

Arthur J. Duclos (Art) entered peacefully into rest April 25, 2007, at Pine Ridge Extended Care Center at the age of 64 after a long illness.

Beloved Dad of Cindy Sampson of Houston, Texas, Debbie Cotton of Pagosa Springs, and Susan Zubillaga of Fair Oaks, Calif. Loved Grandpa of J.T. Sampson of Sulphur, La., Belinda Cotton of Pagosa Springs, and Ashlyn Zubillaga of Fair Oaks. He is survived in death by 13 brothers and sisters and was preceded in death by his parents, one brother and one sister. Art served his country through the United States Air Force for over 20 years and retired with honors as a master sergeant.

Dad will be very deeply missed by his loving daughters, grandchildren, family and the many friends that he made at Pine Ridge over the last three years.

God bless, Dad, we love you.

Donald Simonson

Donald Dale Simonson passed away May 1, 2007, at Central Kansas Medical Center, Great Bend, Kans.

He was born July 23, 1925 at Lyons, Kans., to Dale and Jeanette Sleeper Simonson

He married Beverly Chaffin on Sept. 18, 1948, at Great Bend.

He was a real estate agent in Kansas and Colorado, a lifetime resident of Great Bend and a graduate of Great Bend High School, Class of 1942.

He was U.S. Navy veteran and attended officer training at Miami University and Oberlin College in Ohio. He grew up in the Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Simonson was a former member of the Great Bend Board of Realtors, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club and past president of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce.

He is survived by Beverly Simonson of the home; sons Steve Simonson, Pagosa Springs, and Michael Simonson, Las Vegas, Nev.; daughters Debbie Hughes, Las Vegas, and Kim Wiens, Great Bend; brothers Ray Simonson, Marshall, Mo., and Ralph Simonson, Leesburg , Fla.; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held Friday, May 4, 2007, at First United Methodist Church, Great Bend.

Kathleen S. Malanga

Kathleen S. Malanga passed away Tuesday, May 1, 2007, after a long illness

Kathleen was an accomplished artist who loved horses and all animals. She also loved skiing, rafting, fishing, camping and Pagosa.

She was born in Las Vegas and grew up in Hawaii. She lived in Tucson for 25 years, working as a registered nurse. She moved to Pagosa a year ago.

Kathleen volunteered time at the Humane Society and at the Thursday Loaves and Fishes lunch at the Parish Hall.

Kathleen is survived by her mother, Joyce; sister, Donna; children, Ryan, Adam, Ashleigh and Brian; and husband, John.

She was loved by all whose lives she touched. She will be back one day.

A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday, at Community United Methodist Church.