The Sandpoint Eater: Time for the table

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnist

Since my last column, I can’t get the Johnny Cash lyrics, “I’ve been everywhere, man,” out of my head. My first stop (en route to Cannes, France, to attend the International Luxury Travel Market) was an overnight stay in sunny Nice. While most tourists headed to the ultra-luxury brand stores splayed along the Promenade des Anglais, my travel companion Yannette and I headed to Carrefour, a giant gourmet grocery and home goods mecca.

Yannette and I have similar backgrounds and make great travel companions. Besides being in the travel business, she is a cookbook author and former staff member at the Sunset Magazine test kitchen. We’ve traveled the world together, spending an excessive amount of time perusing international grocery shelves. It’s no surprise that we planned our (slim) convention wardrobe accordingly, leaving lots of space in our luggage for this highly anticipated outing that would also include time to stroll through the Nice Christmas Market.

It was hard to find a starting point at Carrefour, but I began in the confectionary aisles. That’s right, aisles — and aisles — towering with chocolates and sweets of every genre. Foil-wrapped panettones (sweet Italian bread), classic marron glacés (candied chestnuts), liqueur-filled chocolates, bonbons, truffles, pâte de fruits, solid dark chocolate Santas and every flavor of macaron imaginable were mine for the price.

I moved on to stock up on favorite savories for Christmas dinner — green olives, huge capers, Niçoise olives, pâté de foie gras, sardines, anchovies and mustards. Yannette hit the cheese cases pretty hard, but I refrained. Unfortunately, when I last brought cheese home, my bags were delayed for two days. It was not a pleasant reunion. Now I tend to stick to shelf-stable items in my checked luggage.

Our next stop was Cannes. Fortunately, we still had a little space left in our luggage; as soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel, we went exploring and found another charming, open-air Christmas market filled with music, beautiful crafts and irresistible treats (my favorite was gruyere cheese-filled crepes).

The next four days left no time for shopping, filled instead with back-to-back meetings with hoteliers and destination specialists. I love meeting with potential partners who focus on gastronomy experiences: truffle hunting, harvesting and pressing olives, cheese-making programs and market tours. Often these experiences are provided by small, family-run properties anxious to share their ancestors’ recipes and techniques.

I was lucky enough to snag an invitation to a small, Greek-learning luncheon. No one is more passionate about food and country than the Greeks. Our lunch was lively, and the offerings were fresh and delicious. Every time I thought our meal was over, another course appeared on our crowded table, filled with cheeses, seafood, octopus, lamb, lemon potatoes, pita bread and assorted dips.

My host said traditionally many courses are served not only for nourishment but for the time it allows friends and family to gather around the table — sometimes lasting for hours. Regrettably, we couldn’t linger that day, but I will long remember the sentiment.

Typically, when I’ve traveled as far as I did, I stay a few extra days to do some exploring, but not so with this trip. Instead, I had a date back home in Idaho, where my 11-year-old grandson, Will, was starring as Tiny Tim in U of I Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol.

Now that daughter Casey is nearby in Spokane, her young family came to Moscow for Will’s debut, too. Ryanne spent the day before we came making lots of delicious food for all of us. We gathered around her Amish-crafted pine table (originally mine, the softwood marred with telltale heavy pencil marks, made by young hands). I knew it would be a great weekend when she served us steaming bowls of Greek garbanzo bean soup.

Dining tables (far, near and theatrical) seemed to be the theme of my past week, and each one brought me immense pleasure, embodying the spirit of family gatherings, food and drink and generosity. 

I hope your holiday table fills you up. Ryanne’s soup recipe is a great way to start. Take time for your table. Then, linger even longer with those you love. Happy Holidays!

Revithia: Greek garbanzo bean (chickpea) soup 

A cup of this lemony soup is a perfect starter for a Mediterranean dinner or serve in a large bowl, with side of pita bread for a filling supper. Vegetarian and gluten free. Serves 6. 


• 1 1/2 cup dried chickpeas 

• 1 onion, chopped 

• Juice of 2 lemons 

• 1 tsp oregano, dried

• 1/3 cup olive oil 

• 2 bay leaves 

• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Sort and rinse chickpeas thoroughly, soak overnight. Strain the chickpeas and rinse well, rubbing briskly to remove the hulls (skins). 

Place chickpeas in a pot and bring to boil for 2-3 minutes. Strain and rinse well under cold tap water. Remove the last remaining hulls. Rinse pot, return chickpeas to pot and add enough water to cover. 

Add onion, oregano and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until chickpeas are tender, about an hour. Add more water if needed.

When chickpeas are soft enough add the salt. In a food processor, emulsify the lemon juice and olive oil and pour in a slow stream into pot of garbanzos. Stir until well incorporated, cook for 10-12 minutes until the soup thickens and season to taste. 

Let it simmer on low heat a few more minutes so the lemon-olive oil-chickpea flavors can develop. Remove from heat and serve hot. 

Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve with fresh oregano garnish and lemon wedge.

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