Foxglove and Oreos on the Camino

“The Road has no beginning, and the Road has no end. The towns they run together and they run apart again. Right now is the only moment, and Time is the time to go and make yourself a pilgrim on the Road to Santiago. ¡Buen Camiño!”

David M. Gitlitz & Linda Kay Davidson, The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago

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starburst scallop shell marks “the way”

For more than 1000 years, the Camino de Santiago [the Way of St. James] has been a pilgrimage route from the foothills of the Pyrennes, in southwestern France and northwestern Spain, to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela on the Iberian Peninsula. In ancient times it was undertaken for spiritual cleansing or “losing time in Hell”.

Why is this pilgrimage so historically significant? Here’s the story:

James was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee and the 4th disciple recruited by Jesus. He was assigned to the Iberian Peninsula to spread “the word of God”. He made it as far as Galicia in northwestern Spain. Upon returning to the Holy Land he was tortured. Adding insult to injury, he was beheaded. Became a martyr. His body was secreted out of Jerusalem on a boat. Across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Straits of Gibraltar, along the Iberian coast, back to the shores of Galicia. His tomb became enshrined in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

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looking towards santiago de compostela

So began the third most important Christian pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, after Rome and Jerusalem. During the Renaissance and years of religious reformation [16th century] the Camino’s importance waned. It fell even more out of favor during the Age of Enlightenment [18th century]. Yet pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela never stopped completely. Nowadays, the Camino is rocking in popularity. 262,459 certificates [Compostelas] were awarded  in 2015. Pilgrims traveled by foot, bicycle, or horseback. Some in wheelchairs.

In ancient times as well as today, travellers typically carry their provisions in a backpack, camp out, or sleep in hostels, retreating from normal life for days, weeks, or months. Usually their journey ends at the cathedral in Santiago.

There is also another “way” to experience the Camino. In May 2014, I was part of a group of  women who started where most people end–in the courtyard of the cathedral. We walked to the actual “ends of the earth” [Finisterre] on the Atlantic Ocean. We carried only a daypack with water and rain gear. Our worldly goods were transported to the next charming “casa rurales” [bed and breakfast] along the route. After hiking, we enjoyed a hot bath or shower, delicious Galician cuisine and wine, followed by restful sleep–in a bed.

The Camiño de Fisterra-Muxía is the road less travelled these days, particularly in the off-season. On the fourth day we arrived at the lighthouse on Cape Finisterre overlooking the ocean. On the fifth day we walked up the coastline to Muxía where we received the Compostellana [Certificate of Accomplishment]. Meaning–we walked at least 100 km. [It was 117.]

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route from santiago to muxía

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compostela record

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stamps acquired along the way

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lighthouse at the cape

Our group came together through the joint venture of two American women, Sally and Sienna, who met in Spain while Sally was producing a documentary entitled, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago”. [www.caminodocumentary.org] In 2013 they began organizing small group trips with their company “Stars on the Camino”. [www.starsonthecamino.com]

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sally on the trail

The topography of Galicia is extremely hilly. It is also very rainy which keeps the landscape lush and green. And, in May, there were fields upon fields of pink foxglove. So much future heart medication growing wild.

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Digitalis purpurea, common foxglove

“Oreos” were spoken of frequently. I found out they were tiny barns of granite or shale stone built on mushroom like pedestals. Functioning as storage granaries in rural areas, they are mounted off the ground to deter rodents. Later, when I learned the Galician word was actually “hórreos”, I understood what they had in common with the name of a cookie. Absolutely nothing. But “oreos” is what I remember.

Forewarned about the hilly terrain, I brought hiking sticks, which gave me a long rhythmic stride. So I was often by myself, up ahead, looking for trail markers [the yellow scallop shell or the painted yellow line] and discovering new terrain. After the first day, I realized that hiking alone was going to be my experience on the Camino.

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yellow marks the way across water too

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romanesque bridge and aqueduct

Everyone goes on a journey for some reason. It’s often initiated during a moment of transition, a need to “walk through” personal issues, let go of the old, let in the new, or to simply break up routines. It might bubble up as a search for healing or forgiveness or a time to give thanks or to mark a special occasion. Perhaps the motivation is to meet new people, hear their stories, see new places, rediscover something forgotten or discover something new. Journeys can be the means for seeking creative inspiration, exercise, harmony with nature, penance, meditation, or delving into the spiritual.

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My own journeys are usually discovery seeking ones. They widen my perspective, feed curiosity, and replenish me with adventure. Those quiet hours in the hills, forests, villages, foxglove fields and countryside of Galicia brought real contentment. I was part of the changes in weather–the down pouring rain, looming storm clouds and sometimes present sun. I was entwined in the topography–the out of breath up-hills, the knee jarring down-hills and the blessed stretches of flat terrain in between. I was lost in thought about the history and natural beauty of this part of the world. It was impossible not to feel connected to and wonder about others who had walked the same trail, taken the same pilgrimage, through millenniums.

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Day 3, last 5k of steep downhill, long negotiation of massive boulders ahead

Evening meals were social bonding time. We were treated to delicious regional cuisine including famous Galician wines. Arroz con calamares [rice with squid], zamburiñas [scallops in shells], and, once, a giant fried prehistoric style fish, which looked ominous but melted in the mouth.

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dining ambience

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happy pilgrims

A uniquely Galician tradition, the queimada ceremony, was performed just for us. Queimada is made from a special Spanish liqueur distilled from grapes, flavored with spices, herbs, sugar, lemon peel and coffee beans. The ingredients are put together into a clay pot, set on fire and allowed to burn slowly. The whole concoction is stirred frequently by lifting a ladle of flaming liquid and pouring it back into the pot. When the flame burns blue, it is ready to serve in ceramic cups.

There is a recitation chanted as the queimada burns–to purify the drink and to share it with the souls of family and friends not present to enjoy it. Special powers are conferred on the queimada and to those drinking it. We didn’t experience anything supernatural, but there was a lot of infectious laughter and animated conversation after a long hiking day. Sound sleep soon followed.

Upon reaching the cliff at the end of the world on Cape Finisterre, we saw blackened remains of burned clothes and shoes on the rocks. It’s a tradition for those who venture all the way. None of us were moved to do the same. We picked up a stone to throw into the sea at journey’s end–giving it the name of something to let go of.

The odd thing was, I couldn’t bring myself to throw my stone away. I kept touching it in my pocket and wondering about the hesitation. My friend Margaret suggested that I wasn’t ready to let go. There was a reason I needed to save that energy for something else. She was perceptive. And right. Three weeks later, in June 2014, this blog was born. I discovered white markings on the stone that looked like a face. I still have it.

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everybody needs a rock

Typically, all pilgrimages have a fixed end point. But they begin wherever you start.

“The going is more memorable than the getting there.”

When you are ready,

Put on your boots

And go…

 

 

[Stars on the Camino offers a new route called the Camino Portugues. It begins in Portugal and ends at Santiago’s Cathedral. I am hiking there in May 2016.]

Some of the photos in this story are courtesy of Nina Cooper or Teresa Goodwin.

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galician coastline, iberian peninsula, spain

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margaret, laurel, nina, sally, carole

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nina, sally, carole, wendy, teresa, laurel

Libby’s Lessons in Lauzerte

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Lauzerte, France, opening onto town square

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central square, Lauzerte

Libby is my renaissance friend. She lives in a small medieval village located on top of a hill in the French countryside. Founded in the 12th century, Lauzerte was designated as one of 100 “Most Beautiful Villages in France” in 1990.

Libby paints sheep

Libby paints sheep

Although Libby is talented in painting, writing, decorating, and starting successful businesses, she inspires me most with what comes out of her kitchen. I learn something memorable about food every time I see her. She and her husband left the hectic world of U.S. finance to retire early and bought a farm in France. Before long, they opened a “Luxury Boot Camp” in a ten-bedroom stone mansion, half a block from the central square. It’s a place where you go to exercise [a lot!], receive daily massages and eat three well-proportioned meals a day, including dessert and wine. The result is to lose weight and inches and discover hidden muscles. “Camp” is the kind of place to jump-start the way to a fitter, leaner, healthier you. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

Around Easter time in April 2009, I went to see what boot camp and luxury had in common. Advertising had put them on the map, but I was the solo guest for two weeks. At 6:30AM the day began with a glass of hot lemon water and 30 minutes of abdominal exercises followed by an hour of yoga. Then came breakfast, which was always a bowl of Libby’s homemade granola with sheep’s yogurt and freshly cut up fruit, coffee or tea. After eating, it was out the door to hike the rocky, hilly pilgrimage trails of southern France for the next three to four hours. Lunch was served at 1:00PM, in three courses, with a brief rest afterwards. Back to the exercise room at 3:00 for one hour of weight training and aerobics followed by an hour of Pilates mat exercises.

countryside around Lauzerte

At 5:00PM came the blessed massage and a post-exercise swoon. Afterwards, a soaking bath with aromatic soaps and oils, a shower, and dressing for dinner almost completed the day. The first week, I made my way to the dining room by holding onto BOTH the wall and the ancient banister, negotiating one step at a time. Pausing halfway down to admire candles on the landing gave ache-y muscles a tiny rest.

Dinner was always a fine reward.  A table set with antique linens and good china, a candlelit chandelier and a wood burning fire created warmth and ambience. Locally produced wine accompanied another three-course meal. No bread was ever served. Each meal was based on nourishing food in reasonable portions without the contents of a basket of bread to nosh on between courses. Instead, “carbs” were consumed in small glasses of wine, which was fine by me. Somehow, I kept my part of the conversation going until I could excuse myself and navigate up the stairs for the night. Over the course of fourteen lunches and dinners the three of us covered a lot of conversational territory. Libby and I became friends.

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BanBella Books, 2005

Now I sometimes go back to Lauzerte to help with organizational projects in the big stone house. A couple of years later, after reading THE CHINA STUDY by Campbell & Campbell, Libby embraced vegan cuisine and the menus at Camp changed overnight. She took charge of the kitchen, planning and preparing all meals. It was nearly impossible to find a French vegan chef in the countryside. The food was still amazing and few guests complained. Online reviews rave about the meals and the hard-earned body changes that are typical after a week’s stay.

In early March of this year, I went back to help with a spring cleanout before the guest season began. Eating was informal and mostly unscheduled. We prepared a couple of delicious veggie soups, but a food epiphany was born in the middle of a sandwich. The bread spread Libby made called “Cashew Ricotta” was anything but a nutty cheese. Vegan it is and ricotta only in name. It’s inherent creaminess and spread-ability came from very soft tofu blended with raw cashews, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and basil. The first taste was transformative. Giving up sea-salted butter on my toast for the week? Not a problem. Liberally spread, Cashew Ricotta on the morning baguette fueled energy for vacuuming cobwebs, dead bugs and dust bunnies, wiping out cupboards and shelves, hauling firewood, and carting wheelbarrow loads to the garbage and recycling bins. I sneaked restorative breaks by dipping into the container of this sensational “sandwich spread” with carrots, cucumbers, bread and occasionally a finger when nothing else was available. An addiction was born.

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cashew ricotta and sandwich ingredients

With a few ingredients and a food processor, Cashew Ricotta can be made in a flash. It’s a satisfyingly delicious alternative to hummus since it is also vegetable protein. As well as on sandwiches and toast, it can be used as a dip for crudités, breadsticks, crackers, as a topping on baked or boiled potatoes, even hardboiled eggs. It’s probably pretty incredible on French fries but I haven’t tried that, yet. Good-bye forever, Hellman’s Mayo and Miracle Whip! This spread could easily be mass marketed, but the best way to enjoy it is to make your own, à la Libby.

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ingredients

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tofu, cashews, lemon, garlic, olive oil, salt, basil

CASHEW RICOTTA– Sandwich Spread

  • ½ cup RAW cashews [4oz.]
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves [or less, depending on your love of garlic!] [can be roasted too]
  • 1 lb. very soft tofu, drained [the softest and creamiest you can find]
  • 1 ½ t. dried basil [can use fresh in larger amount, but equally delicious with dried]
  • 1 ½ t. salt

In food processor blend cashews, basil, lemon juice, garlic. Then add tofu, oil and salt. [If using fresh basil, add with the second batch of ingredients. Use as much as you want until you like the color.]

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processing cashew ricotta

 

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 dip extraordinaire with crudités