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Politsani Story in the Portland newspaper

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    Posted: 20 November 2009 at 5:05am
Here is a great story done by my Uncle Bill Dilios:

http://thephoenix.com/Portland/Food/93207-Epic-Albanian-food story/

Epic Albanian foodstory

A mother never made it to America, but her chicken pie did.
By LINDSAY STERLING  |  November 18, 2009

A WELL-TRAVELED DISH Bill Dilios with his version of his mother’s kotopita.

Portland resident Bill Dilios taught me how to make his favorite dish from Albania, kotopita. It’s like chicken pot pie, but with filo crust and an epic story inside. It starts after World War II in a village called Politsani. Bill grew up there in the rocky foothills of the major mountain range separating Albania and Greece. His life as a boy was saturated with fear. A brutal communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, had come to power. And because Bill’s father was in the US, the secret police blacklisted his family.

Teachers, doctors, and priests were being thrown into jail, and letters from his father would arrive with pages stolen out of them and words covered in black. Bill was constantly pilfering carrots, apples, and walnuts where he could. Government rations were paltry: a quart of oil, a pound sugar, and five pounds of meat per month for four people. Bill watched his mother make filo dough from flour and water, kotopita on special occasions, and yogurt and cheese from their cow’s milk. They were lucky if they ate meat once a month.

Now, he’s like Jackson Pollock with a butter brush. Easy. No fussing. Literally just letting drips fall like drops of rain. Not exactly my experience working with filo. Later as we’re eating, he explains something to me: “Once you have your freedom, life is easy.” I promise myself I’ll remember. Life is easy here. It is.

One day Bill’s older brother came home beaten black and blue, with a broken jaw. By 1957 the family knew they had to escape the country or they would be sent to prison or work camps, or be killed. They’d tried twice. The first time Bill’s mother couldn’t make it over the steep high-altitude mountain pass. The second time Bill stayed back, unable to leave his mother behind. The third time, in April, just the brothers went. They packed a gun, shoes studded with nails to help grip the mountain ice, white outfits to camouflage against the snow, and a cooked chicken their grandmother had given them. They got over the pass, hiked all night, and by midmorning were wet with sleet, dizzy with fatigue, and unable to see. They nearly stumbled into an Albanian border guard asleep with his machine gun under a tree. Before long, they made it to a beautiful sunny valley. They demanded of a shepherd, pointing their gun at him: “Albania or Greece?” The shepherd said, “Greece.” They were free.

Soon Bill and his brother were on a plane to Boston. Bill met his father for the first time at the airport. He picked them up in a maroon Buick and took them back to Portland. They worked at his Greek restaurant, Christy’s on Cumberland Avenue — where Maria’s is today. Bill worked there for 17 years, met his wife there, a Mainer, and had three kids who are now all grown. Today he helps to prepare family recipes at his son’s new restaurant, Olympic Pizza and Grille in the Little Dolphin Plaza in Scarborough. Sadly, after he left Albania in 1957, his mother was sent to a work camp and he never saw her again.

When I make this pie, I’m going to thank my lucky stars for my liberties in this country, and have a moment of silence for one woman I never knew, but now, whose pie I do.

Visit “Inside Immigrant Kitchens” for the recipe. Lindsay Sterling (and her cooking-class schedule) can be reached atlindsay@lindsaysterling.com.

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