The Sandpoint Eater: A year of food

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnist

Standing tall on the counter in my kitchen is a brand-spanking-new, commercial mixer (a gift from all my children). The new mixer replaced my Kitchen Aide, which, after 40 years of service, recently ceased to operate. I love this sleek, silver model and I envision our next 40 years together — whipping up mile-high meringues, fluffy batters for celebration cakes and mixing up oodles of cookie dough for oodles of grandchildren (No. 9 is due this May).

2020 promises to be a great year. Before my new grandchild arrives, I’ll be leading two ladies’ tours through my favorite destinations in Ireland and, in the fall, I’ll lead a smaller group through southern Spain. Between those travels I’ll do my best to have my heart in the right place — here at home — and to be helpful in my community.

The anticipation of a new year always gives me pause to think about the previous one and, in retrospect, the previous year’s memories that I cherish most revolve not just around people and places but the foods that are woven in these experiences. 

With that in mind, here are my most edible highlights of 2019: 

Barolo Ristorante in Seattle, Wash.: sublime squid ink noodles delicately seasoned by the ocean, surrounded by seafood and baked in parchment paper, shared with my favorite cousin and a friend from Ireland. 

Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland: herbaceous mussels, poached and piled high in a shallow bowl of savory broth, sopped up with an artisanal crusty sourdough, eaten while sampling foods for my tour groups. 

Pack River Store on prime rib night: a generous serving of rare beef, complemented with spicy horseradish, a side of creamy au gratin potatoes and lots of familiar faces. 

A Clubfoot Sandwich at the Staggering Ox in Helena, Mont.: my annual pilgrimage to this favorite sandwich shop, where my brood (and theirs) crowds around a single long table to dig into these mammoth, stuffed sandwiches. 

A two-parter in Havana, Cuba: deep fried suckling pig at El Carbon, a paladares (private restaurant), followed by a stop at Sloppy Joe’s, a favorite of long-ago soldiers, where my friend Peggy and I drank a beer to honor her father, who served at Guantanamo Bay during World War II. 

Anantara Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia: a spicy, curried lamb shank, served by a hard-working young man, recently certified as a guide and delighted to practice his English. We’ve since become pen pals. 

Simple and authentic cheese croquette and Iberico jamon tapas, washed down with jelly-glass jars of vino rojo, at El Rinconcillo, an ancient bar favored by locals in Seville, Spain. The running tab is scribed using chalk on the old wooden bar.

Food triggers a lot of memories and feelings for me, much more so than music. Not just the taste of the food but the aromas, the place I was, the people I was with and the restaurant or kitchen the food was cooked in. These are all the ingredients that conjure up a level of nostalgia. I know I’m not alone, as often when I prepare something, someone will recall a memory or incident from a past time I made the dish.  

Some of these memories can also take us back to an early cooking attempt that led to disaster. When my own mother made her first fruit pie, she remembered that her mother thickened the juice with cornstarch. So my mother added and stirred cornstarch into the berry juice until it was thick, then she baked it. My father referred to it as “the purple cement pie.”

Fortunately, most of our memories are much happier, like last week, when my brood from Moscow was here and I made Cornish pasties (which Ryanne declared were the best I’d ever made). I loved listening to my oldest daughter share stories I’d never heard with her own children, evoked from the simple meat pies and gravy of her youth. 

I hope that the coming year fills your belly with an abundance of good food and your brain with pleasant memories, like the ones my young Cambodian friend, Da Kriel, left with me last year.  Now I think of him whenever I prepare lamb shank curry. Happy New Year.

Curried Lamb Shank Recipe • serves 4-6

Perfect dinner for a cold winter night, served with Jasmine rice. For more heat, add 1 tsp red chilies and cook with garlic and ginger.


• 2 tbs oil

• 4-6 lamb shanks                

 • 1 tsp salt                                                                                                                                            

• 1 tsp pepper 

• 2 onions, halved, thinly sliced 

• 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 

• 2 tsp fresh, peeled and grated ginger

• 1 tsp ground cardamom

• 1/3 cup red curry paste

• 15 oz can chopped tomatoes 

• 1 1⁄2 cups unsweetened coconut milk

• 2 cups beef stock (or lamb OXO bouillon, if available) 

• fresh coriander leaves (to garnish) 


Pat dry, then salt and pepper the lamb shanks. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large dutch oven. Add the lamb until crispy brown exterior (you will need to do this in a couple of batches). Remove to a plate.

Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and add the onions. Cook stirring until soft. Stir in the garlic and ginger, cook for 1 minute then add the cardamom and curry paste. Cook, stirring for another minute.

Add the tomatoes, coconut milk and stock, stirring to combine.

Return the shanks to the saucepan; bring to a simmer then cover. Simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the lamb is nearly fall-from-the-bone tender.

Serve garnished with fresh coriander.

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