Friday, August 26, 2011

Camino de Santiago On The Big Screen: The Way

When I was preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago I came across some rumors that there was a Camino movie coming out soon--with some big(ish) Hollywood names tied to it (Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen). No one really seemed to know when it would come out or what it was about, but I was a bit skeptical about it. Could hollywood movie makers capture the essence of the Camino? Would they make it look as grueling as it sometimes was? (I threatened to bust out pictures of my blisters if they didn't do it justice!). I just didn't think it would translate. 

My movie friend Trevin passed along a movie trailer to me this week though, and, I have to say...maybe I was wrong. I think The Way just might capture some of the magic of the Camino--the landscapes, the hardships, and, most of all, the people. Just seeing some of the now familiar places in the trailer has me really excited! So, especially for my Camino friends out there, I thought I would share: 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Destination Cooking: Part 2

What's up next? One of my all time favorite dishes--Spanish tortilla.

First off, Spanish tortillas have absolutely nothing to do with Mexican tortillas. They are both round, but that is pretty much the end of their similarities. In Spain a tortilla is basically an omelet and can come plain or with a variety of ingredients. The best version of tortilla, though, is the Spanish tortilla, or tortilla Española (also sometimes called tortilla de patatas).

Though commonly translated simply as a potato omelet, tortilla is much, much more. It is simple and ubiquitous--every bar/cafe worth its salt in Spain will have tortilla--but when you try to make one yourself, you understand that tortilla is not just eggs and potatoes thrown together.

When I lived in Spain there was no point trying to make one. Like I said, you could buy it anywhere, and the grocery stores all sold pretty decent pre-made tortillas for a couple of bucks. I knew it couldn't be that hard though--all my middle school students said they could make one, me, they were not all the most intelligent creatures. So when I got back to the states I confidently set out trying to make one.

Not only was it much more difficult than I imagined, it took forever. After lots of trial and error (and some secret tips from Spanish friends) I came up with a tortilla that I think rivals any tortilla I have eaten in Spain. The problem takes me all day. Every once in a while I spend the afternoon slicing and frying potatoes to make one, but it just seems wrong that something so commonplace takes so long.

On this last jaunt through Spain I took the opportunity to talk to lots of people about their tortilla making skills. I got tips on how you can boil, roast and supposedly even microwave the potatoes to speed up the process. Then I found a recipe, from a real deal Spanish chef, for a 10 minute tortilla using...potato chips! I was dubious, but thought it was worth a try. The recipe came from Lobstersquad, and was a take on Ferrán Adrià´s recipe.

You need:

4 eggs (beaten together with a bit of salt), olive oil for the pan, 1/2 a cup of fried onions, and 100 grams (~3.5 oz~1/2 a bag) of good potato chips--don't skimp here! 

Mash up the potato chips and add them, along with the onions, into the eggs. Give it a good mix and let them soak for 5 minutes. (And, yes it looks a little gross.)

Coat a small pan in olive oil, heat it up and dump in the egg mixture. When it has started to setup, but isn't cooked all the way through, put a big plate on top and invert the pan to flip the tortilla onto the plate (you'll probably want to use some oven mitts/etc. when you do this so you don't burn yourself). Slide the tortilla back into the pan (runny side down), tuck under the edges of the tortilla and give it a minute or two more (this side will take less time). 

And voila! Tortilla de patatas!

The verdict? It was a little dry...but otherwise a fine substitution. The dryness was probably partially my fault as I was cooking other things at the same time and let it cook a little too long, or perhaps added a few too many chips. I saw other takes on the recipe that added a little broth to the mix--I might try that next time. Or add another egg. It also took me longer than 10 minutes (although not too much longer), but then again it generally takes me forever to cook anything. 

Overall, it might take some tweaking, but dang, for 10-15 minutes in a Texas kitchen, it was a pretty good tortilla!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life's Not Always A Walk in the Park...

But some days it is.

And today was one of those days.

I had yet to make it to Fort Worth's botanic gardens since I got back, so while I was on that side of town today, I stopped in. It really is one of my favorite places in Fort Worth. 

As luck would have it, I was struck with some pretty awesome depth perception AND had the place almost entirely to myself. I had a long walk through almost all of the gardens while having a lovely chat, and then I staked out a nice plot of grass and read for a while as a set of clouds blew through (no rain, of course). Throw a family of raccoons and some Sufjan Stevens into the mix and it was a pretty perfect afternoon. 

My allergies will curse me tomorrow, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was worth it. 

Destination Cooking: Part 1

Until I move into my house (hopefully soon!) I am back at the parent's house. It's great and they are lovely, but it's also weird. So this week while they are on vacation it has been a great opportunity to take advantage of the (almost) empty house. What am I doing?

I'm not throwing house parties.

I'm cooking!

I'm no great cook and I always end up dirtying a thousand dishes no matter what I make, but I enjoy cooking. It's been a long time since I had a stocked kitchen to work with, so I got busy on some recipes/dishes I had tagged to try. I find that when I can't travel, cooking and eating does a pretty good job of filling the exploratory gap. My brother Casey has filled me in that people he knows are cooking up some of my recipes, and it's been forever since I had any on here, so I thought I might throw some of these up as I go through them!

First up--Southern Spain: Gazpacho. My brother Brian has a garden and his tomatoes were piling so I decided to channel my Sevillian friend Maica and make some gazpacho. (Gazpacho is a cold vegetable soup for those who aren't familiar.) Normally gazpacho includes day old bread--originally, before the days of blenders and food processors, the bread helped to pulverize/liquify the other ingredients. Maica, because of stomach issues, doesn't eat grains so makes her gazpacho with carrots in place of bread. It sounds like an odd switch, but it tasted just as good to me.

Here's the non-recipe recipe: It's more like a ratio. You want to blend together a bunch of tomatoes, a little bit less quantity of cucumber (peeled--don't be like me and forget that. It will definitely make the soup look less appetizing to have bits of green peel floating in it!), green bell pepper, a handful of chopped carrots, and a clove or two of garlic. You then pour in a good dose of oil and vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar), and some salt to taste. Then blend it up! Give it a stir and add in a little bit more of whatever you feel like it needs, or of what you like.

You will most likely want to add some water in, depending on how juicy your veggies were. Gazpacho is always served chilled, but Maica had another trick up her sleeve. Just blend in some ice in place of water and voilà, the gazpacho is instantly cold. Que inteligente!

You can also mix in some toppings to take it up a notch--Spanish jamon (cured ham) is typical, but I liked the addition of melon (cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon), too.

Turn on the flamenco music and enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 19 Villar de Mazarife-Astorga

It took me a little while to pull myself out of my sleeping bag the morning of day 19. It was officially the coldest night of the Camino. I didn't realize it at the time, but the reason I had the dorm room to myself was because the side of the hostel I was on was the old part of the hostel...there was no heat. A high price to pay for no snoring. 

I really had no reason to hurry though. Every evening most pilgrims would get together and discuss the next day's trail. Any way I counted it, it looked like going all the way to Astorga was going to be 30 km or more (20 miles or so). I had sworn off those kind of long days once I hobbled my way into Leon, but Camino friend Juanma assured me that it was only 21 kilometers or so to Astorga. I was dubious, but then again, he had done a lot of research on the Camino and had been right on just about everything so far. So to Astorga it was!

I had a leisurely coffee with hostel owner Jesus and was on my way to what I was hoping would be a fairly short day. 

I passed lots of fields--stripped corn fields, and these, which I thought were potatoes, but turned out to be beets. 

I found a lost glove. It didn't belong to the ladies in front of me and we figured it was a biker long ahead of us. I decided to put it on top of my walking stick and see if its owner would turn up. A little bit later I was talking to a Korean girl when she looked over and said--that's my glove!

Snack time by the river (I was very careful not to let my bag/stick/self fall into the water!)

The trail got quite confusing around Hospital de Orbigo. There were lots of arrows pointing one direction and then other arrows that had been blacked out pointing down this way. One of the worst things you can do on the Camino is get lost. Walking extra kilometers is physically exhausting, but the mental pain you feel knowing you are wasting energy when you are so tired is acute. I stood around looking lost, unable to make up my mind over which path to take, when I noticed an official blue Camino sign far in the distance. 

Luckily this path took me right into Hospital and took me over their old bridge (considered a Camino must...even if it was under construction). The bridge was under construction, and, in places, it was just wide enough for one person. Because my ankle was bothering me so much, I was shuffling so slow that I had to stop and let old people hauling groceries pass me. I was gaining a growing appreciation for tortoises. 

I was out of town before I knew it. There weren't any cafes on that side of town and I was way too tired to double back into town and find one. I figured that if Astorga was indeed only 20 or so km from Villar de Mazarife I was getting close and could just eat there. (This of course, was a huge mistake.) I sat down on a bench outside an old ladies house. (She walked by and said hello. I was really hoping she would invite me in for lunch...but no such luck.) I dug in my bag--what did I have in there that I could eat for lunch? A tomato and a cereal bar.  

Outside of town I ran into this grandpa. He stopped and chatted with me for a long time. He had picked some daffodils to take to his wife. 

By this point in the day I was realizing that my dear friend Juanma was wrong about it being a short day.  I had already hiked more than 20km and Astorga was no where in sight. To distract myself/make myself feel better I resorted to kicking dandelions and whacking them with my stick as I walked. 

I was starting to go to the crazy place. 

By this point I had arrived to the crazy place. I was pulling out all the tricks I could think of--I put on my headphones and listened to upbeat/oldschool jams. I danced my way down the street (there was no one in sight anyway. Although, not like I cared at that point!). I was so hungry and thirsty and each step was shooting flaming arrows of pain through my ankle. 

I got to this point of the trail--shuffling across multiple lanes of traffic is scary!--and sat down at a shaded bus stop. I literally could not go another step. I stepped into problem solving mode and started digging through my pack. There must be something in here that I can do something with.

I found the athletic tape I had bought to bandage my blisters and channeled my inner athletic trainer. Playing basketball in high school I had my ankle taped all the time, so I tried to channel some of that and just started taping where it hurt. 

Surprise of surprises, it worked! It looked like a bad paper mâché project, but I could walk again!

And then, a few kilometers beyond that, I saw a mirage in the distance. I tried not to get my hopes up, but with a shout of joy I realized my eyes were indeed not fooling me--it was a GAS STATION. Have I ever been so happy to see a gas station? No. 

I must have been looking ROUGH because the guy there offered to find me a chair to sit in. I drank down a gatorade, had a stale ham sandwich and felt 72 times better. I still had a long way to go, but I finally felt like making it to Astorga was a possibility. 

Astorga! So close...yet still so far. 

We climbed over the bridge, circled in to town and then faced a ridiculous obstacle. We had to cross train tracks. We couldn't just walk over the tracks though. We had to climb up a giant set of stairs to a platform over the tracks and then climb directly back down on the other side of the track. Up two flights of stairs. Down two flights of stairs. So much energy need to go a whopping total of about 5 feet. 

Then, there was of course another large hill to climb to get into the city. There were a couple of grandpas sitting at the top of the hill kind of taunting us, telling us the hill wasn't that big. They had no idea what they were talking about!

Finally, finally to the lovely city of Astorga. 

The Albergue was beautiful though. I have a caretaker of severly handicapped men to thank for directing me here. I was planning on going to another hostel in town, but he was sitting outside with his patients and told me this was by far the best hostel in town. He was correct. 

I decided to take some more advice. I was finally ready to "thread"one of my blisters (you use a needle and thread to run a string through your blister and then you leave it in there so that it can drain and heal). It sounds barbaric and I resisted...up until a point. I told some of my pilgrim friends I was going to give it a go over dinner, and their response? Can we watch? Only on the Camino...

The view over Astorga. (I've never done laundry with a view like this!) And let me tell you, after such a long-hot-crazy-painful day it looked pretty sublime. 

Oh, and the total kilometer count for the day? 31. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 18 Leon-Villar de Mazarife

I WILL get through these Camino posts! My memories are already seeping out of my brain, so I'm gonna get on it!

(Last Camino post was here.)

After a skipping the suburbs of Leon to make the Easter celebrations and a rest day on Monday to take in the sights of Leon, I was feeling ready to hit the trail early Tuesday morning. For our rest day in the hostel we found out that the Benedictine nuns who run the hostel also rent out a handful private rooms. A few of us scooped them up and lived in what seemed like perfect luxury (towels! sheets! a door that separated me from the hundred in the next room!). I slept like a baby, the swelling in my ankle had gone down considerably and in this strange restlessness that hits you on the Camino, when I woke up on Tuesday I was ready to get to hiking again. 

I was also starting (what was in my mind) the last third of my Camino with a new resolve to not walk more than 20 km or so a day and to take care of my feet--hurrying through the wet Meseta resulted in numerous blisters, which, let me tell you, were GAMECHANGERS. So 20 km a day was the goal. No need to hurry. No more than 25. Or so I thought.

Leaving Leon I bid San Isidoro--looking lovely in the morning light--goodbye.

I also stopped to snoop around in the Convent of San Marcos, which is now a Parador (government run fancy hotel). 

Outside they had a pilgrim statue. I stopped to take pictures for the French women who were standing around it and chatted for a while. I definitely resonated with this pilgrim taking off his shoes... 

...and resting in the sunshine. By day 18, I knew that feeling well. 

I threw the concierge a nice smile and he let me have a little look inside the monastery. It is hard to wrap your mind around the fact that they allow you to sleep in these places. I was pretty taken with San Marcos. 

The ceiling of the monastery/parador

On the trail again! Oh how I love those arrows!

Just outside of Leon were these little houses built into the ground. I thought they might be some kind of cellars, but I think they were actual houses. Anyone want to enlighten me on these?

For some reason I told myself that Leon was the end of the Meseta. I don't know where I came up with that, but it isn't true. The flat, (normally) dry Meseta stretched on.

On day 18, like most days, I met up with some colorful people. One interesting character was this guy:

We all had pack envy of his rolling bag. He just zoomed right past us with his rolly pack. So smart! 

One of the loveliest, and simplest, people I met was a farmer in one of the small towns along the way. He was knocking the mudd off of his wooden clogs at the edge of his place when I walked by. We got to talking. There was little more than a block's worth of a main street to the town and I think he might have just been thankful to have someone to talk to. We chatted for a bit, and then he grabbed me by the back of the arm and told me that I was always welcome to come back to the tiny town and visit. I was quite touched actually. 

I also walked quite a bit with German Christian, Australian Kate and the Russian girl. I'd known Christian for a while (we had dinner together back in Terradillos), but had just met Kate. She was an Australian urban developer (and reminded me tons of my good friend Meghann). It was always fascinating to me to notice how our different backgrounds caused us to notice different things along the Camino. Christian was on a mission to teach her a new German word or phrase each day. I couldn't keep up, so I just learned two really well (Ja genauuu!). 

The Russian girl was a new face. She was walking huge distances each day and so had caught up with us from behind. She wasn't ready to stop at the end of the day and continued walking to the next town, so I didn't get to know her really well. What I did learn about her was that, while I wouln't even fathom carrying an entire bottle of shampoo, she was carrying a huge block of cheese, a liter of milk and an entire bottle of whiskey (which she drank together). 

Another vivid memory of the day was that the trail was lined with fragrant herbs. Kate, ever resourceful, picked herself a giant handful of what we were pretty sure was fresh thyme to go into the pasta dinner she was planning. 

When we got into town we had a peek at all three albergues and chose the one belonging to a guy named Jesus. Its walls were covered in sayings and messages in a dozen different languages, I ended up with a room to myself (hooray!), and the place had a kitchen--Kate, Christian, myself and a very talkative guy from San Francisco decided to cook dinner together. 

After cleaning ourselves up and doing laundry, I did a little blister maintenance and then soaked my feet in a laundry basket. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that before. We then made our way to the corner store to see what we could come up with for dinner.

Just walking down the street to the store we saw Villar de Mazarife pretty much in its entirety. It also turned quite cold when nightfall hit. It was time for layers and I had no shame walking around town and the albergue like this: 

We also got to feeling good when we started eating. We made something like a bag and a half of pasta, loaded with veggies, and a giant salad for only four people. We invited everyone we could, but there were no takers. Instead actually we ended up with more food--someone gave us their leftover bruschettas. It seemed impossible that we could eat that much food, but, let me tell you, we did. All of it. And it tasted so good. It also put us in the best of spirits. Maybe it was just the good food and good company, the nice view from our table on the rooftop of the hostel, or just the good day all around, but, sober as could be, we couldn't stop giggling and having the best time. When we looked back...we wondered if those sprigs of herbs might not have been thyme after all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


A break from the norm because, well, I'm in a celebratory mood!

This week I've been in Abilene catching up with friends and former coworkers/professors/ students/roommates. I also caught up on the progress of a project I haven't thought about in a while.

Years ago I signed on to help out on an editing project which aimed to turn a giant stack of photocopied excerpts into a book containing a collection of T. B. Maston's writings. It was only supposed to last a semester, but, of course, it stretched on. I spent part of one summer typing up the articles into 749 single spaced pages of text (and also developing a case of self-diagnosed carpal tunnel!) and the duration of another summer hunting down copyrights. I spent hours upon hours reading, editing and hauling the thing around. It was not always an entertaining job, but I started to really love T.B. Maston.

Maybe it was just a byproduct of my stressed and sleep deprived state of mind at the time, but after so much time working on his writings I began to feel like I knew the guy (who died in 1988). In fact, it was my respect for Maston--who was an early supporter of racial equality in the volatile mess of racial tensions in the South, who along with his wife lovingly cared for their severely handicapped son in their home and, even though he had a degree from Yale, always tried to write so that his mom, who only had a 4th grade education, could understand it--that kept me going when my cynicism inched higher and higher.

My love for Maston kept me interested in the project and ended with me digging up bricks from his demolished house (...that's another story). I used to wear a locket quite frequently, but never got around to putting anything inside. You guessed it--(through an overly caffeinated decision and the luck that I happened to have a flyer with a perfectly sized picture of Maston at my fingertips) TB made his way into my locket.

Anyway, I signed off on the project way back in May of last year, but the book has been bogged down in formatting and publishing challenges ever since. I talked with one of the professors on the project and we both agreed that it seemed the thing might never get finished. Fifteen minutes later someone stopped me in the hall to tell me that they had just sent the final version of the reader to the publishers and the thing should be printed and bound (with my name on the cover!) in around 45 days.

In honor of this accomplishment, and of Maston, I'm rocking the locket today and digging up some old articles and videos of Ol' TB. I won't lie, its like visiting an old friend. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Week In Review: Stateside!

Hello from Fort Worth! Like I said in the last post--I'm back! This last week has been a bit much for the ole noggin to process. I started the week in Seville, bid my sabbatical goodbye in Barcelona and then airport hopped my way home to Texas. Some observations from the week:

  • My accent is back! After countless people telling me that "Your English is really good!" (Um? I'm a native speaker!) and a Canadian telling me she thought I was Norwegian, I was worried that I had done irreparable damage to my American accent (with even less hope for my Southern accent). I heard myself ask for a kn-ah-f (knife) last night, and thought, everything is going to be ok. 
  • You know what is the best for this summer heat? Melon (cantaloupe) flavored agua frescas. Go to your nearest mexican restaurant and ask if they have them. 
  • Everyone's kids got huge while I was gone!
  • Apparently there are a lot of people reading the blog that I didn't know about. Some random people. But I love it! Don't feel shy people--feel free to leave comments, etc. even if I don't know you! 
  • (Hi Pete! Hi Pete's dad!)
  • In my mind summer food comes off the grill. This week I had bbq Spanish style (sardines), TexMex style (fajitas), Texas style (brisket), and Danny style (smoked chicken and ribs). 
  • Opening a closet full of clothes after living out of a backpack for so long is a bit like Christmas. After being home for a few days though...I find myself reaching back into my pile of trip clothes (which is surprising). Slipping my Chacos back on after a few days felt oh-so-good. 
  • Reentry is hard on the system. America, as much as I love it, is stressful. 
  • I specifically chose some of the regions I traveled in because I could travel through them on public transportation--buses, trains and boats. And then there was the portion of my trip where I hiked 500 miles. After all that, I forgot how much I love driving! 
  • After 8 months, I also forgot how much I do not like carrying a cell phone. If you call/text and I don't answer it's probably because the ringer is off and I forget that I have one. Eventually I'll get back to you. 
  • I've been home 5 days. That's the max I've been in one place since January. I'm ready to head out...
  • I'm going to Abilene tomorrow. I'm excited to see good friends, old roommates and some of my favorite people. I'm excited to eat La Popular burritos. I'm excited to see some horizon. But also, I'm just excited to be going somewhere. 
  • You have some good reentry tips? Send them my way!
  • I started looking at job postings this week. Anyone out there want to hire me? I swear I've got lots of marketable skills, like...talking to random strangers who end up being excons, walking long distances, wearing scarves...
  • Oh, I'm also really good at eating flan. My next project is to dominate flan making. 
OK, that's about it. It's been great seeing so many of you this week!  Pictures below: 

Melon agua fresca--go get yourself one!

Picasso isn't Spain's only artist: Maica went all out on my last lunch in Seville

Although I have learned to love to eat it, I don't think I will ever get over the fact that Spanish ham comes with the hoof still attached

Maica and I performed a rescue operation on an abandoned ficus one afternoon. It was not too unlike problem-solving-taping up my ankle on the Camino: 

Sardines grilled up by Juanma. I used to be scared of these, but after they patiently explained to me how to eat them I found them to be pretty tasty!

My last meal in Barcelona: A goodbye Spain supper of calamaris and tinto de verano...

And of course flan

The Swiss Alps