The Sandpoint Eater

Gypsy spirit

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnist

I’m so grateful that everyone in my family has thus far dodged the COVID-19 bullet. It’s challenging to stay healthy and relevant in these lockdown days, though most of us have established rituals for ourselves and our families. We have also found some fairly unique “coping in quarantine” skills. I had a super plan in place.

For many years, I’ve dreamed of “snow birding” somewhere warm, and this year my house-swapping stars aligned! Last fall, I made grandiose plans to spend a month in San Diego while a fourth-year medical student who could administer twice-a-day insulin injection to my three-legged kitty, Laurel, (and who wanted to return to our region to ski for a month) would occupy my home. 

I planned on driving to California and with great anticipation began to fill totes with all the things needed for my sun-filled getaway. One was loaded with light and breezy apparel: flip flops, beach towels, a yoga mat and blocks, and lots of sunscreen. I filled another one with culinary apparatus and esoteric spices so I could both take and teach Zoom cooking classes. The totes were filled with essential supplies, and I was filled with visions of take-away tacos that I would eat on warm and sunny walks along the sandy beaches of La Jolla. 

It was the perfect house-swapping set up; until Laurel got sick. So sick, I honestly did not think he was long for our world. Fortunately, through the wonders of modern veterinary medicine, he pulled though.

There was no way I could leave him at home, with even the most caring of strangers. In 15 years, Laurel had never spent a night away from home, but we had three days to vacate our home before our eager young skiers arrived. As usual, Ryanne came up with a plan: I could come to Moscow and stay in the home of good friends who had left for an extended stay with family in Canada. 

I stowed away the California totes and packed winter gear for me. For Laurel, I brought blankets, food dishes and everything else I could think that would bring him comfort. We arrived in Moscow, met by my masked daughter who gave me a quick tour of the home we would inhabit for the next month. We made plans to spend time together after I completed the last five days of my 10-day isolation period (due to a Christmas flight home from Chicago). 

Turns out Laurel does not share his cat-mother’s wanderlust, and, after a week of his pitifully weak cries, I knew he would not heal and I would not sleep until we were settled back into our worn leather chair by the fireplace in our cozy, familiar home. Thanks to angel-friends in Sandpoint, the skiers have new digs, and Laurel and I, feeling like Toto and Dorothy, agree, “there’s no place like home.” 

It’s hard to think of Laurel’s sickness as a blessing in disguise, but if he had not gotten sick, I don’t know where I would have ended up (and I would have missed my first-born Ryanne’s 40th birthday.) 

New California travel restrictions were imposed on Jan. 6, and I may have not even gotten all the way down there. The pandemic is so out of control and dangerous everywhere, but it seems especially so in Southern California. And their over-burdened hospitals certainly don’t need any non-essential, sun-seeking travelers (me). 

My travel days are over for now. It’s exhausting to plan and postpone and then pause them again. For now, until I’ve had my double dose of vaccine, I am terra firma in Sandpoint. 

The gypsy in me has been quelled for now, but it’s not going to stop my gypsy-soul from living my best life, right here at home, in my treasured kitchen, preparing foods that fill my belly and my travel spirit. This thick soup, Gypsy Stew (Olla Gitana), which I first tasted at a sidewalk café in Seville, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Seville, is high on my list of memorable foods.  The almonds and breadcrumbs in the recipe come from ancient Moorish influence.  I’ll dream of The Alcazar palace and exotic Flamenco dancers with every bite.


Andalusian Gypsy Stew (Olla Gitana) recipe

Serve this hearty stew, popular in Southern Spain, with crusty bread, for a perfect après ski supper. Serves 4-6

Andalusian Gypsy Stew (Olla Gitana).



• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 lb. pork, cut in 1/2 inch chunks

• 2 medium yellow onions, diced 

• 2 cloves garlic, minced 

• 2 carrots, peeled and diced 

• 2 celery stalks, diced 

• 32 oz. chicken stock

• 1 tbs. smoked paprika 

• 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder

• 1 tsp. cinnamon 

• 2 (15 oz.) cans garbanzo beans 

• 1 can (15 oz.) petite diced tomatoes, or 2 fresh tomatoes, diced 

• 1/2 lb green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces 

• 1 bunch kale, chopped  

• 1/4 cup of almonds, ground and toasted (preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (spread ground almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 1 minute) 

• 2 tablespoons bread crumbs  

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 

• Salt to taste



Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Pat the pork cubes with paper towels to dry. Add the cubes to the hot pan and sauté on all sides until browned. Remove and set aside. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic, stir and sauté for another minute.

Return the pork to the Dutch oven and fill with chicken stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for one hour.

Add the yams, beans, tomatoes, return to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for an hour or so. Add the almonds, bread crumbs, and red wine vinegar, stir. Add the Swiss chard and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add salt to tas

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