By Marcia Pilgeram
Part luck and part pluck brought me here to Sandpoint more than 25 years ago. A group of investors hired me to oversee the guest services for their tourist train that would operate over the Montana Rail Link route. Sandpoint was the terminus for the Class II regional short line railroad, owned by Dennis Washington, a billionaire industrialist from Missoula, Mont., where I lived when I relocated here.
Besides power (engines) and freight cars, most railroads own a fleet of business cars the executive management teams use to travel over their respective rail lines, often meeting up with government officials or lobbyists. The business fleet of a particular rail line has a distinctive look and feel, painted in company livery — the interiors paneled with mahogany or other richly burnished veneers. The cars have an authentic period feel, reminiscent of the golden era of rail travel.
My catering business relied heavily on the Washington family, at their home, ranch or business entities in Missoula. The Silver Cloud was their first business car and, once put into service, I began to cater onboard the rail car, often situated on the static track at company headquarters. It was quite an impressive venue for entertaining.
Mrs. Washington was an interior designer and oversaw the retrofit, and the Silver Cloud looked nothing like a traditional, tail-end business car. Instead, it was modern and sleek, with oversized mirrors, marble floors and wall coverings of kid suede and raw silk.
The first dinner I prepared for Mr. Washingon on his Silver Cloud was a working dinner. He was interviewed by the editor of Yachting Today, who came to Missoula to interview him about his newest acquisition: a magnificent luxury yacht, christened Attessa. There were only a handful of mega-yachts 30 years ago and, at the time, the Attessa was one of the largest in the world.
Sometimes I only had a day or two to plan and prepare these special dinners, which must have been the case that time, because I remember a lightning-quick trip to Spokane to procure veal for the scaloppini with extra-large capers I prepared that night.
Locally, I shopped at Alfredo Cipolato’s Broadway Market for hard-to-find meats, cheeses, olives and capers. Some of my best memories took place in that store. I’d lean against a red rubber barrel, filled with Greek olives, and wait as Alfredo expertly sliced cured meats for my antipasto platters while sharing the virtues of extra plump capers.
I have a lot of great memories that took place on the Silver Cloud, too. I’m not sure how many miles I logged on that car — thousands, I’d guess, covering the 900 miles of Montana Rail Link track over some of the world’s most beautiful country. And even though I’ve only done a handful of MRL consulting jobs in the past few years, I still get excited when I see those familiar blue engines traveling down the tracks.
Not long ago, I was saddened to learn the days of MRL are coming to an end. Soon MRL’s long-term lease will revert to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and they’ll resume operations of their former line.
My memory bank came full circle last week when I headed to Cabo in anticipation of a long, sun-filled weekend. Sadly, my travel buddy never made it due to weather-related flight cancellations. Nevertheless, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for me, and I spent a lot of time walking off my winter weariness. The marina in Cabo was alive with colorful boats and hopeful vendors hawking myriad options for fishing or whale watching.
But those weren’t the boats that caught my attention. It was a massive vessel, glistening in the sun and dwarfing all the others. And of all the places in the world that she sails, here she was, the Attessa, moored in Cabo. At least a dozen attendants washed, buffed and waxed the luxury motor yacht. Try as I might, there was no way to get through the series of locked gates separating us. So I viewed her from afar and recalled the days of her youth and mine.
Later that night, I dined poolside at my hotel and ordered the fresh catch of the day, totoaba Veracruzana, fried crispy on a bed of creamy rice and topped with a fabulous tangy sauce. Later, the chef came by, and I heaped praise on the fish and the sauce. He shared his secret for the piquant sauce: “Lots of fresh capers.”
I don’t have access to any fresh capers, but the secret to my tapenade is lots of plump capers. So get the biggest ones you can find and whip up a batch of this delicious Mediterranean dip for your Super Bowl party.
Tapenade recipe • makes about 1 1/2 cups
Tapenade is a traditional dip in the South of France, Italy and Greece that usually includes anchovies. You can leave them out (but why would you?). Make this recipe your own by adding favorite ingredients, like mixed olives, pesto or parmesan. Store in the fridge for up to a week.
• ¼ cup capers (find the largest ones available at a specialty store)
• 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives (or pitted green olives)
• 10 leaves of fresh basil leaves
• 4-6 anchovy filets
• 2 cloves of garlic, whole
• ½ large lemon, zested and juiced
• ½ cup fresh best quality olive oil
• 1 tsp red pepper flakes
• 1 tsp sea salt
• ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
Zest and juice lemon — set zest aside.
Put remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until small chunks are visible (don’t puree).
Smooth into a glass container, sprinkle on zest and store in the refrigerator
Just before serving, swirl 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top.
Serve with crostini, baguettes or warm pita bread.
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