The Sandpoint Eater: Pie in the sky

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnis

Next week, I’m off on a long-planned adventure, though my timing is bittersweet. I’ll be missing my favorite family holiday: Easter. It’s so early this year that it snuck up on me. I have some disappointed grandbabes and, to be sure, I will never plan another trip without the calendar in hand.

My travel, food and adventure mantra will soon come to life when I fly business class on Turkish Air, home to the “Flying Chefs.” I don’t spend much time in the front of the plane, but along with Easter, I will be away for my birthday, and I thought, Marcia, why not treat yourself? For years, I hoarded miles for my college girls (and occasionally their friends) to get from college to home for the holidays.

I’ve accumulated a lot of miles in the past few years, so I planned my upcoming trip to Italy circuitously to experience Turkish Air. My first flight is from Seattle to Istanbul, and Turkish Air promises to offer the best in-flight, award-winning, five-star meal to be savored between heaven and earth. And a dessert cart — literally, pie in the sky!

I prepared more than my share of meals from the confines of a train galley over the years, so I’m especially intrigued to learn about the challenges for the miles-high galley crew, where and how they provision, prep and present their cuisine. The ingredients are all fresh and specially curated combinations of local and international flavors. 

Since I’m on a flight longer than eight hours, I’ll be offered the option to dine by candlelight. Why not?

Before continuing on to Naples, I’ll spend a couple of nights in Istanbul, an important port and hub for Mediterranean cruises. I’ve never been there, but I often send clients who come back raving about their experience, and now I’m anxious to visit, too.

I’ve always said sleeping is overrated, and my one-day Istanbul bucket list continues to grow: visit the Blue Mosque and the Dolmabahce Palace, shop at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, and if I am still standing, a dinner cruise and tour of Asia and Europe along the Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul is the only city that straddles two continents) before my early morning departure.

Then I’m headed to sunny Sorrento, where I’ll spend three days, including Easter. As a hosted guest at this idyllic seaside destination, I’ll be meeting with local hoteliers and tour planners, so much of my time is not my own. I’m hopeful I can at least attend an Easter Vigil or Mass because old (Catholic) habits die hard. Afterward, I hope to find a plaza bench to watch generations of families embracing their holiday traditions.

My birthday will be split between waking up in Sorrento and calling it a night in Venice. And I’m still pinching myself because, after four days in Venice, I’ll be hosted at a new luxury wellness center in Portopiccolo, located in a beautiful bay in the Gulf of Trieste. After a week of conspicuous consumption, I’m sure my time there will be well spent.

I know it all sounds a little over the top, and it is. Truth be known, I’m a wash-and-wear-type gal, and I fret over formal events. I’m especially apprehensive about the “Venice Black Tie Event” on April 5. I will only settle into the evening comfortably once I’ve had a libation or two, find my seat, and can watch (and critique) the parade of servers begin the elegant meal service with precision and flair. 

With my lifelong early-bird rituals, I’ll probably be the first to leave, which means I’m also the first to rise. In Venice, I’ll walk along the quiet canals and listen to the melodic voices of early morning mongers preparing their wares for markets.

The Venice event I’m most looking forward to is a private tour through the island’s vegetable gardens — renowned for local delicacies such as the purple artichoke. In anticipation of shopping for some regional foodstuffs (and Prosecco), I’ve already tucked some ice packs and food storage bags into my suitcase.  

As much as I’m looking forward to my upcoming Italian adventure, I’m already planning next year’s Easter menu. I’ll be planted firmly in Sandpoint, surrounded by my gaggle of grandkids. You don’t have to wait until next year to sample one of our favorite dishes: spring asparagus tart. Buona Pasqua!

Asparagus tart
serves 6-8
This tart, with fresh spring asparagus and a golden-brown crust, is a perfect dish for your Easter brunch. If you don’t have a tart pan with removable bottom, use a sheet pan, line with parchment paper and roll the edges of the pastry to form a border. Coat the pastry with a thin film of egg white before adding ingredients — it will help the pastry stay crisp.


• 9” x 11” rectangular tart pan with removable bottom.

• 1 pound of asparagus, trim to about 5” tips

• 2 tbs olive oil

• 4 oz cream cheese softened

• 2 tbs butter softened

• 1 tbs fresh lemon juice (zest the lemon before squeezing)

• ½ tsp coarse black pepper

• 1 tsp sea salt flakes  

• 1 sheet Pepperidge Farm puff pastry thawed (keep chilled) 

• ½ cup shredded Gruyère cheese (or other good Swiss cheese)

• 1 egg whisked with a splash of water (scoop a little white back into shell — set aside to rub on pasty) 

• 2 tbs grated Parmesan 

• 2 tsp fresh lemon zest


Preheat the oven to 425° F. 

Drizzle olive oil over the asparagus, and rub to coat well.

Blend the cream cheese, butter and lemon until smooth.

Unfold the thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 9” x 11” rectangle. Press into the tart pan. Rub the pastry with egg white. Prick the pastry all over with a fork. 

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the puff pastry sheet inside the border, then sprinkle with Gruyère cheese.

Top the cheese with the asparagus spears, arranging them to be parallel, and the stalk ends facing each other. Brush the border/edges with an egg wash.

Dust the top with the Parmesan and lemon zest, salt and pepper. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the puff pastry is puffed and golden brown. 

Remove from the oven, set on cooling rack, remove rim. Place tart with bottom of pan still attached, and place on serving tray. Cut in half (where asparagus ends meet), then cut in thin rectangles between asparagus stalks. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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