Food for Thought

When things recede, think cheap, but eat well

So, what do you eat during a recession?

If the question is, “What do you eat during a depression (and I refer here to an economic depression, not the kind you experience when Oprah is in reruns), the answer is easy: “Whatever I can find in the Dumpster.”

But, I’m considering a recession here. Just in case we experience one.

Just in case.

How about a cream puff?

By cream puff, I don’t mean the overweight guy who played tuba in the junior high school band and refused to disrobe in the gym locker room.

I mean a cream puff, the food. The sweet, light, lovely taste treat.

But, since we’re pondering a recession, a cream puff without the sweet.

Actually, without a lot of the puff.

As in just the paste (dough) used for a cream puff — called by our snooty French brethren “pate a choux” — a creation that functions as the foundation of a mighty fine gougere and a raft of nifty desserts.

In this case (recession) I think the paste can be combined with the idea of a form of food forged in the fire of enduring economic want — the gnocchi. You know, those delightful little poor-people pillows of potatoey heaven from Italy.

Only, without the potato.

With a cream puff paste, instead.

Without the sweet.

Without tomato sauce.

Without nearly everything (as in a recession).


I like gnocchi but, if you have ordered them in restaurants, or made them at home, you know they all too often end up being deadly little gut bombs that fall like lead weights on the digestive tract.

Why not produce something more delicate, with a French twist? Especially if the bond market is going to fail.

How about gnocchi Parisienne? An ironic nod, postmodern if you will, to the idea of “without.”

I am thinking these thoughts as I wander the local supermarket.

I made the mistake of watching the news on TV and I enter this day with the idea that I need to get acquainted with the bargain items at the store. Just in case there’s a recession.

Just in case.

The prospects at the store are grim, even without a recession. The grocery bill has been shooting upward. Fuel prices and the like (maybe a touch of corporate greed, do you think?) push the register totals at the market through the roof. My favorites — the cheeses, the olives, the olive oil, the meats and poultry and fish, are more expensive with each trip to the display cases.

I am on the verge of cutting back on my wine budget.

Well, maybe not. But the situation is getting itchy.

If money continues to get tighter, and prices continue to rise … hoo boy.

So, I begin checking out the cheap goods.

Right off the bat, I realize there are some concessions I cannot make. No way, for example, am I retreating to processed American cheese, so I won’t save anything on my formidable cheese expenses.

In the flesh section, though, it is clear I am going to buy a lot fewer things like boneless chicken breasts. It’ll be whole chickens, with me playing butcher. It’ll mean staying on the lookout for sale prices. It’ll mean purchases like ground turkey, despite the fact I am sure that too much of the stuff will cause us to grow vestigial tails.

I can whip up some mighty fine dishes with the cheapest cuts and the “waste” products. After all, I will be following in one of the great culinary traditions — fantastic foods have come from throwaway items.

Dried beans? Yeah, though I hate the time involved.

Pasta? Oh boy, linguine at 10 packs for $10. Can’t go wrong there.

It seems more and more vegetables are being watered with a slurry of precious metals as they grow, given the price of fresh produce. The organic stuff is even pricier. Actually (again, ignoring the problem with the vestigial tail) frozen veggies of some kinds are as good or better than the fresh options. And there are sales all the time. Your hands get cold as you root around in the frozen food cases, but it’s worth it; that career as a classical pianist is a pipe dream, admit it and move on.

No cutting corners with herbs, spices and extra-virgin olive oil. Not until the next depression.

I wander the aisles and it is a sobering experience. If we enter a recession, I am going to have to bear down. I am going to have to make a few more trips to the center of the store, which I normally try to avoid.

I feel progressively down (pardon the pun) until I find pork loins on sale, at a per-pound price that seems reasonable. Not for the pig, of course, but for me.

I grab a small loin, a head of garlic, a white onion, a can of cannellini beans.

And flour.

Cheap stuff.

I have butter (absolute necessity), eggs (absolute necessities), oil, herbes de Provence, chicken stock (I’ll have to start making my own again soon), a bit of crushed tomato, and some greens at home — maybe the last head of Romaine I will buy. Have you checked the cost of that plant and its kin lately?

I head home thinking I’ll make roasted loin with cannellini beans and a nice pan sauce. With cream puffs — without the cream, the sweet, etc.

With gnocchi Parisienne. Gnocchi, without the potatoes.

I will go on the cheap. But, oh my, it will be tasty.

The foundation: pate a choux. This is one of the easiest mixes imaginable. It is so simple, several of my demented cousins could manage it. If only they could find their way out of the basement.

A basic pate a choux for these gnocchi involves flour, eggs, butter, water, salt, a touch of grated nutmeg, grated cheese. That’s it. And there’s nothing terribly precise about its creation — no thermometers, no critical timing. No fancy equipment necessary, either: all you need is a sauce pan, a bowl for ice water, a big pot in which water can be boiled, a casserole that is broiler resistant.

And a wooden spoon.

And arms.

And, of course, the desire to ingest some hunks o’ heaven.

I marinate the loin in oil, crushed garlic, some chopped onion, salt, pepper, lemon juice and herbes de Provence. I put it all in a large plastic freezer bag. You can wash them and use them again, you know. If there’s a recession.

Jacques Pepin’s recipe for the gnocchi works just swell. You can find it in a number of books and magazines, and you can find similar gnocchi recipes in plenty of collections of French recipes. Find one for the exact amounts of ingredients, if you want to make these babies. They are labor-intensive, but oh-so-worth it.

After I turn my oven to 350 and put a pot of salted water on to boil, I make the pate a choux in a saucepan, combining water, salt, butter and nutmeg and bringing the mix to a boil. I toss in the flour in one grand heap and beat the living daylights out of the mix with my wooden spoon until it pulls away from the pan in a gooey mess. I dry it out somewhat over the heat, stirring at an inhuman rate.

I am old; I get tired.

I let the mix cool a bit, then add an egg and grated cheese, continuing to thrash around with my wooden spoon — an inmate at an asylum, preparing a thousand imaginary fruitcakes for the king.

Once the egg is incorporated (the initial mix has to be cool enough that the eggs don’t scramble) I add another egg and I repeat. I am whipping this like the Marquis De Sade beat his favorite butler. I proceed through a third egg, the dough getting smooth.

I have a bowl of ice water ready next to the stove. I take the dough and I put it in a large freezer bag and move the dough to a corner of the bag. I snip off the corner of the bag with scissors, giving the paste an escape route of about 3/4-inch width. I pipe out a length of dough about 2 inches long and snip it off into the boiling water. And so it goes, on and on, through the batch.

I gently boil the gnocchi about four minutes, until they float, then remove them to the ice water bath. I butter a gratin pan and line the gnocchi up in rows and sprinkle them with more cheese — something nutty and melty, Gruyere or Parmesan. I bake them until puffed, about a half hour. I take them from the oven and crank up the heat.

While the gnocchi bake, I get my pork loin ready. I take it from the marinade, clean it off a bit, sear it on all sides in a heavy, nonreactive skillet. The meat goes into the 450 oven — it ain’t gonna take long. When it emerges, the loin is removed to a warm plate and tented with foil. While it rests, I make a pan sauce, deglazing with a touch of dry white wine and some stock. I add a bit of tomato, herbs and lemon juice. Maybe a few capers, if I feel up to it. And heavy cream — just a smidge, to sooth the acids. I toss in the rinsed cannellini beans and cook the sauce over medium heat.

I turn on the broiler, pop the gnocchi under the flame. I slice the loin, drizzle some olive oil into the pan sauce, add the sliced meat and take the gnocchi out of the oven all toasty golden brown.

Ah, carbo bliss.

Heavy, but not too heavy.

Cheap, but not too cheap. Fare for the diner whose fortunes are receding.

Just enough to bring me to the brink of a coma, to a dreamland untouched by downturns of any kind.

What's Cookin?


Irving Corbett

Irving Corbett of Kalaheawaii, Hawaii, died at Maha’ulepu Beach while kite surfing on March 15 from an apparent heart attack. He was born July 12, 1957 in Jacksonville, Fla. As a child, he was able to go around the world twice, once on a cargo ship, and once on a freighter ship. This instilled a love of travel that stayed with him throughout his life. During his lifetime he worked as an assistant golf professional in Pagosa Springs, ski instructor at Wolf Creek, owned a windsurfing shop in Kirtland, N.M., and worked as a handyman. He had recently begun building his own home in Kalaheo.

He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Katy, and daughter Madison Kate of Kalaheo, Hawaii, as well as Doug and Mosetta McInnis, Chad, Diane and Jack McInnis, and Jeremy, Anette, Reyes and Ryan McInnis of Pagosa Springs.

Irving will be remembered as a gentle man who was kind and listened well. He was devoted to his family and loved being a husband and father. His faith in God gave him a peace that passed all understanding.

Services were held on Kaua’i.

Anthony ‘Tony’ Keller

Anthony “Tony” Keller, 75, passed away unexpectedly, with his family by his side, on Sunday, March 30, 2008.  He died as a result of a massive stroke.  He was the fourth of eleven children born to Albena and Felix Keller in Kosciusko, Texas. He moved with his family to the Valley in 1937.  In 1943, they moved to Hargill, where he began farming with his father.  In 1949, the family moved to McCook, where they continued farming.  He married the love of his life, Alice Margaret Sekula, on January 12, 1953.  Three months later he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving during the Korean Conflict.  After being discharged, they returned to McCook and began their lifelong commitment to farming and ranching.

 He was an active member of the Immaculate Conception Church, where he served several terms on the parish council board, including a term as President.  He served on the board of directors for First State Bank in Edinburg and was also active on numerous other boards.  He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting and fishing with family and friends.  He took special pride and enjoyment in his ranch where he raised many varieties of exotic game especially for his grandchildren, to instill in them a love of hunting and appreciation for wildlife.  He will be dearly missed by everyone whose life he touched.   

 He is survived by his loving wife of 55 years, Alice; his five children, John Keller and wife, Silvia, of McAllen; Betty Jean Ohlhauser and husband, Steven, of Rockport; Julie Dale and husband, George, of LaFeria; Alex Keller and wife, Lisa, of Mission; and Phyllis Teplicek and husband, Craig, of Mission. He was very proud of their 14 grandchildren:  Stacie Keller, Crystal James (Ryan), Brian Keller, Jennifer Taylor (Blake), Leo Sanfilippo (Wendy), Toni Marie Sanfilippo, Mary Ohlhauser, Alice Jean and David Anthony Dale, Drew and Wyatt Keller, Coleton, Courtney and Reece Teplicek;  step-grandson, Jerry Lara;  4 great-grandchildren:  Camron and Brandon Taylor, Kaylah James and Madeline Sanfilippo.   Surviving siblings include:  Mary Moltz, Dorothy Brieger, Tina Machac (Joe), Susie Duncan (Donald), Angela Machac, Virginia Skloss, Claude Keller, and Cathy Dillard (Ross).  He is also survived by sisters-in-law Alice Kotara Keller of McAllen, Gladys Keller Miller of McCook, former daughter-in-law Debby Nelson Keller and numerous nieces and nephews.

 He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers Felix and Albert; brothers-in-law Lloyd Brashear, Richard Machac, Frank Machac and Gilbert Skloss.

 Visitation was held from 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 1, 2008, with the Rosary recited at 7 p.m., at Kreidler Funeral Home in McAllen. The funeral Mass was held at 10 a.m., Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Mission with burial following at  Immaculate Conception Cemetery in McCook, Texas.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Hidalgo County 4-H Foundation, c/o 1616 E. Griffin Pkwy, PMB# 231, Mission, TX  78572, or the Museum of South Texas History,  121 E. McIntyre, Edinburg, TX 78541.

John Alan Nehring

John Alan Nehring, 65, of Pagosa Springs, passed away on Wednesday, March 19, 2008. John was born in Columbus, Ohio. He grew up in Canon City, Colo. where he excelled throughout school. He was a National Merit Scholar, Eagle Scout, ROTC member, football player, wrestler and sang in school choirs. Throughout his life, learning and teaching were recurrent themes.

John graduated in the top 25 of his class at the United States Air Force Academy, receiving his diploma from JFK in 1963. He also obtained a masters degree in economics from Georgetown University. He was an officer in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves, retiring with the rank of colonel. During the Vietnam war, he served as an F-4 Phantom pilot. John maintained a life-long relationship with the Academy, his classmates and with flying. He flew for enjoyment, as an instructor and as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

At the time of his passing, John was employed as an economics instructor with Embry-Riddle branch campuses in Albuquerque and Colorado Springs and had held similar positions with Montana State University in Bozeman and the Air Force Academy. He also worked as a database programmer and analyst, primarily for companies in Atlanta and Albany, N. Y.

John made friends easily wherever he lived and relished the company of others over meals, at concerts, and in the outdoors. He had many interests, among them Rotary, responsible government and singing in church choirs. He was an avid outdoorsman and traveler who loved fly-fishing, hiking, camping, white-water boating and skiing. He passed on his appreciation for mountains, rivers, ski slopes and wilderness adventures to his children and, in the short time he knew them, his grandchildren.

He enjoyed exploring other countries, particularly those of South America. As the top student in geography at the Academy, John received a lifetime subscription to National Geographic. The many years of issues he kept provided his children with hours of enjoyment and gave them a knowledge of the wider world.

He is survived by son, Jonathan and wife Dana of Helena, Mont., son Paul and wife Sarah of Wausau, Wis., and daughter Sonja Skovlin and husband Jay of Hamilton, Mont.; grandchildren Hans, Logan, Isaac, Keira, Annika and Jesse; and siblings Richard Nehring of Colorado Springs, Colo. and Mary Jane Nehring of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Memorial services will be held in Pagosa Springs at 10 a.m. at the Mountain Heights Church, on April 12, and in Colorado Springs at 11 a.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church on Monday, April 14. Cremation has taken place and a graveside service will be held at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery, located at Fort Harrison west of Helena.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be directed toward Disabled American Veterans.

Frances Sears Shelton

It is with great sadness that the family of Frances Sears Shelton announces her death on Thursday, April 3, 2008 in Dallas, Texas.  A memorial service will be held on Monday, April 7 at Highland Park United Methodist Church in the main sanctuary at 2 p.m.

Fran was born on April 7, 1920 in Abilene, Texas to a pioneer ranching family.  

She will be dearly missed by her husband of 67 years, Fred B. Shelton, Jr. whom she met at Hardin Simmons University.  Fran was a loving mother to Suzi, Kathleen, Patsy and Fred III and a wonderful grandmother to Kristin, Kate, Erin, Westin and David.

Her energetic spirit filled her life with adventure.  She was an accomplished horsewoman and an instrument rated pilot.  Her happiest times were spent watching sunsets over Lake Pagosa and skiing at Wolf Creek with family and friends.  Fran was active in the Pagosa community, volunteering countless hours at the Methodist Thrift Store, knitting for the local bazaar and helping senior citizens.  Fran is preceded in death by her parents C.F. and Lola Sears, daughter Kathleen, and son Fred III.  She will be deeply missed by all of her family and everyone who knew her. 

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to:

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, 2222 Welborn Street, Dallas, TX 75219.

Virginia F. Torrey

Virginia Torrey, 84, passed on Sunday, April 6, 2008 at Cedar Nursing Home in Denver, Colo. She was born July 22, 1922 at La Junta, Colo.

Virginia served in the US Navy from Nov. 1942 through Feb. 1945. She then married her late husband Ed Torrey and together they raised four children. For many years Virginia operated her mother’s pie shop “Mrs. London’s Pies” after which she worked for the Denver Police Department for 28 years before retirement. She and Ed then moved to Pagosa Springs in 1984.

Virginia joined the Mullins-Nickerson American Legion Post 108 in Pagosa in 1987. She served as finance officer for five years, organized the Auxiliary Unit in 1988. Started the Bingo and was manager for four years. Virginia was also Mrs. Santa Clause with Santa Stan Zuege and later with her son Tom from 1988 through 1992 along with many other activities. She received a Legion jacket and a Legionnaire of the Year award and the Good Neighbor award (County Library) in 1990; she was the Grand Marshal of the 4th July Parade in 1992.

In addition to being an American Legion Auxiliary Charter member, she also belonged to the VFW, Nobel Grand Rebekah Lodge #134, the senior citizens and was the American Legion District Chaplain.

She was preceded in death by her parents John “Jack” and Francis London, her husband Ed Torrey and daughter Pamela Weaver. She is survived by her son John “Jack” (Kate) Torrey and daughter Kristi Torrey both of Denver and her son Tom (Nancy) Torrey of Pagosa Springs. She is also survived by numerous grand and great grand children.

At Mrs. Torrey’s request no services will be held.