cooks at home

TOP OF THE CLASS

The Sandes have supported the Reno community for more than 40 years.

WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTOS BY ASA GILMORE

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Gail Sande prepares her cream cheese pie with fruit in her Reno kitchen

It was a very good year. Which one, you ask?

Well, whether you’re talking about a bottle of rare vintage wine from John and Gail Sande’s renowned wine cellar or any year from their amazing life together, you can pick blindly and not go wrong.

This longtime Reno couple defines the term overachievers. Cue the highlights reel.

After graduating from Reno High School, John Sande attended Stanford University, where he was the starting center for Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett, on Stanford’s 1971 Rose Bowl championship team. Gifted with brains as well as brawn, he went on to Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude. Two of his classmates, he recalls with a chuckle, were a most unlikely duo: politicians Mitt Romney and Chuck Schumer.

After returning to Reno to set up a law practice, John managed the estate of Bill Harrah, formed The Harrah Automobile Foundation, and served on its board for 15 years. He’s the guy who talked city of Reno officials into selling the land on which to build the National Automobile Museum — for a dollar a year!

John was chair of the Reno-Tahoe Open Foundation for a decade and still serves on that board. The organization, he is proud to say, has donated more than $3.5 million to local charities.

Over the years, both John and Gail Sande have been heavily involved with KNPB Public Broadcasting. John headed the capital campaign to finance the station’s building on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus, and another to fund the mandated digital conversion, which happened in 2009.

Gail served on the KNPB board for 12 years, chairing it for three. Additionally, she sat on the Association of Public Television Stations national board for six years, lobbying our Nevada delegation for funds to support our local station. She also was involved in many other community and charitable projects, all the while raising the couple’s two sons.

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The Sandes enjoy a stunning view of Reno from their home’s living room

Dinner table politics

In addition to being a top attorney in the state, John also was a well-known and highly regarded lobbyist at the Nevada Legislature for 35 years. But while he had the title, it was definitely a team effort for this couple. Many dinner parties were involved — and that was largely Gail’s domain. And, yes, she cooked all those meals!

When asked to recall the most memorable dinner party, Gail’s response is not exactly what one would expect from a woman who has wined and dined many A-listers from the worlds of business, sports, and government. Rather than expounding on a particularly noteworthy guest or sumptuous meal, Gail laughs as she recounts the time her husband called her from a charity golf tournament and told her he was bringing guests home for dinner. That night. Twenty of them.

“I was really scrambling for that one,” Gail says.

But this inveterate hostess, who has cooked for as many as 75 dinner guests, was undaunted by her husband’s surprise dinner party.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she says. “I was a lot younger then!”

A different time

Deep in nostalgia, the couple reminisces about a simpler time in politics that they say seems to have vanished — a time when politicians were willing to break bread together and break down barriers in the process.

“We always hosted people from both parties,” Sande says. “In the old days, they all got along together. One of the reasons I’m glad I don’t do it anymore is that it’s so partisan now.”

Though the lobbying days are gone, these community leaders still enjoy an active social calendar. John is renowned as a connoisseur and collector of rare vintage wines, and he has an extraordinary wine cellar to prove it. When they entertain these days, much to Gail’s relief, there’s more emphasis on her husband’s wine collection and less on her cooking.

“I think a lot of people come over just to sample the wine because they’ve heard so much about it,” Gail says.

And, as one might suspect, that’s just fine with her.

Reno writer Barbara Twitchell learned some interesting information from the Sandes — about sports legends, prominent politicians, community leaders, and Nevada history. She also got quite an education about wines, but much to her regret, nary a taste. 

Recipies

Chicken and Mushroom Casserole
(courtesy of Gail Sande in Reno. Serves 18)

During the 35 years in which John Sande served as a lobbyist at the Nevada Legislature, the Sandes were well known for the wonderful, gracious, and welcoming dinners they hosted in their home for many legislators. Gail was kind enough to share two of her favorite recipes from that era, which she says were both easy for the hostess to prepare and longtime crowd favorites.

36 chicken thighs
Salt, pepper, and paprika, to taste
¾ cup butter or margarine
¾ pound mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
1½ cups chicken broth
6 tablespoons sherry
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped, or ½ teaspoon crumbled, dried rosemary

Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and paprika. Using a large frying pan, melt half the butter over medium-high heat. Add chicken, in batches so as not to crowd meat, and cook until all pieces are nicely browned. Transfer to large, shallow baking pan, arranging meat in single layer. Add remaining butter to frying pan and sauté mushrooms until softened and lightly brown, and liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms and stir in chicken broth, sherry, and rosemary. Cook, stirring, until mixture has thickened, then pour over chicken. (If preparing in advance, you can cover and chill casserole at this point until you’re ready to cook it.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover casserole and bake 1 hour. (If refrigerated, increase to 1 hour 20 minutes.)

Cream Cheese Pie with Fruit
(courtesy of Gail Sande in Reno. Makes 1, 9-inch pie)

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Prepared graham cracker crust (purchase ready-made version or use your favorite homemade recipe)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

Pie topping (recipe below)

Mix cream cheese with powdered sugar and set aside. Whip cream until soft peaks form. Add almond or vanilla extract. Fold in cream cheese mixture. Pour into prepared graham cracker crust and chill. Top with fruit and glaze. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving.

For pie topping

1 large can mandarin oranges in light syrup, drained (reserve juice)
1½ teaspoons corn starch
Assorted fresh fruit (Sande likes to use fresh kiwi, strawberries, and blueberries.)*

Heat reserved juice from mandarin oranges. Mix cornstarch with small amount of water until dissolved, then stir into heated juice. Continue stirring until thickened. Let cool and brush over fruit topping.

*Any combination of fruits will do. Sande likes to place the mandarin oranges around the outer perimeter of the pie. She then peels and slices kiwi and arranges slices in an overlapping line down the center of the pie. After hulling and slicing strawberries lengthwise, she arranges them in an overlapping line on both sides of the kiwi, leaving a half moon on either side to fill in with blueberries.

In a hurry? You can use canned cherry pie filling as a topping — no cutting, slicing, or glazing required! 

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