Thursday, December 8, 2011

Moroccan Mountain Adventures with a Feminist Friend

I’d known Fatima since I’d lived in Morocco eighteen years ago. Though we wrote only intermittently, when I returned to Morocco two winters ago to teach anthropology and travel writing to American college students, she and I bonded again and picked up where we’d left off.  She was in Rabat, where I’d touched in briefly, and then I was in Fez.

One day, Fatima called. “I’m driving to Fez. Let me take you away for a day. You need a break from the city and from teaching duties.”   

Fatima loves her country and simultaneously feels it has a long way to go for its women. Her proposal promised adventures.

I’ll never forget her indignity, eighteen-years back, as she and I stood on the train platform in Rabat waiting for the train to the south where I’d spend the weekend with her and her family. She had killer legs and was wearing a skirt that fell above the knee. Men were swooning. She looked at me and said, “These legs,” she swept her arm up and down for effect, “get me into a lot of trouble.” I admired her panache and that it never occurred to her to wear a longer hem in order to skirt out of trouble. She didn’t buy into the gender restrictions of her culture and wanted to change it one law and one leg at a time.

She hadn’t changed one bit.

As she signed off, she added, “I want to take you to the countryside, to show you The Big Waloo.” This was Fatima’s experience of God: An open vista of breathtaking mountains. Waloo in Moroccan Arabic means “nothing.” The Big Nothing.

Shortly after we left Fez, Fatima told me about a local mineral spring she wanted me to experience. “It’s the real thing, full of well-being and very local.”

She suddenly saw a little boy carrying a pail on the roadside and careened to a stop.

“Hello. Where are you going?”

“To the spring.”

“For water?"

“No, to take a bath.”

“You don’t have running water at home?”


The feminista-Morocco-lover surged.

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“I have no father and three siblings. I have to help my mother.”

“Is she sick?”


“How old is she?”

“Thirty-five.” He said hesitantly.

“So,” recapped Fatima, “She is young, healthy, and capable of working but she has you do it? Where do you live? I want to talk to this mother of yours.”

The boy trembled. He just wanted a bath. Fatima softened.

“Okay, listen, promise me, when you go home, talk to your mother. Tell her that you will make more money when you have an education. Tell her from me that she should get off her bum…”

I interrupted in English, “Maybe that’s enough. It’s his mother...” 

She looked at me angrily, “Yes! And I’m making her a better one!”

We left the youth at the spring and again were on our way to The Big Waloo, Fatima’s favorite lookout point in the Middle Atlas, when we picked up a policeman walking in the rain.

This grown man in uniform, one who’d gone to school and made more money, got the same treatment.

“Why are you walking in the rain? You’ll catch a cold.”

“It’s the only way to get to the residence where I’m a guard.”

 “Is there no other way?”

“Well, I have no car. Walking is fine, except when it rains.”

The grilling stopped. The two carried on like old buddies. We dropped him off. He wished us blessings along our path.

In forty-five minutes, my friend had befriended—and berated—people from vastly different social strata in her society. 

Then, we arrived at Nothing: It was a vast, still, multi-layered and colored expanse of mountains in all directions. Once my eyes tuned to it, I could also make out the specks of shepherd and sheep along a few distant hills. Nearby, a donkey and human ambled together side by side. By the looks of it, they were having a heartfelt conversation. 

The ancient rhythms, the ones all humans evolved to and are still wired to, took over. Fatima had been right. This was the transcendent Big Waloo. And yes, I’d needed a break from the congestion of the bowl-shaped but captivating city of Fez.

We lolled the rest of the day at Fatima’s mineral spring, absorbing so much well-being that we were too tired for anything other than sipping fresh orange juice at the village café. Donkeys loaded with a refrigerator, bricks, and melons sauntered by. Fatima was about to grill the donkey driver when she decided to save her energy for the drive back to Fez. 

I realized then that Fatima’s idea of The Big Waloo was more than mountain vistas. She was the Taoist paradox: Something is Nothing; Nothing is Something.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

France’s Vin de Domme and Dodue the Valiant (Pug) of the Dordogne

 [A Hike in Southern French Wine Country]

There was a scream and my friend Béa came running out from behind the stand of bushes where she had disappeared. Running behind her with tongue lapping out the side of her mouth was little Dodue, a blond pug with a black stub of a tail and a perennial smile on her hard-to-read, wrinkled face.
“She licked me!” Béa said with alarm. “While I was taking a leak!” She then quickly set straight the misunderstanding written on our faces, “No, not there, on the thigh, but still…”
Dodue was the name we had given this little member of our hiking team. I added, Dodue La Vaillante, The Valiant, after she joined me on an ascent up a lookout point that made us both sting mightily with vertigo: I inched my anxious self back down the shaky height and she stayed with me the entire way, body low to the ground and shaking like beech tree leaves in winter, but she did not abandon me. She let me know we were in it together.
We six, five humans—my four adventurous local friends Petrus, Béa, Thierry, and Bruno—and Dodue, were taking in a day hike of the Vin de Domme region south of Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne, that part of southwestern France famous for its prehistoric caves (such as Lascaux), foie gras, and black truffles. The local wine industry was only recently making a comeback after the devastation of the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic that wiped out a region once blanketed in vineyards. One glance today and all that once-striped wine land is now nearly covered in indigenous forest, except for the famous Bergerac area west of here and the Vin de Domme.
The Vin de Domme resurgence began in the mid-1990s with a grassroots gathering of several growers, some who were also sheep herders, tobacco growers, and farmers, who decided to turn their attention to the terroir and wine-making of the land, knowing its soil, climate, and exposure promised good bottles down the road.
The fifteen-kilometer rugged and rocky trail through forest, hills, abandoned ruins, and revived vineyards was the idea of Béa and Bruno, area experts from Dordogne Fellow Traveller. They were taking the slower winter season to show me and Petrus their favorite places. 

It was in one of the old villages that Dodue found us. She joined a larger dog, a tawny colored cocker spaniel, to bark at us as we arrived. Once we passed through the village so courageously guarded, the spaniel dropped off and went back to her front stoop to sleep. But Dodue stayed with us, trotting along with that funny smile and side-hanging tongue. We kept telling her to go back, but, no. Dodue was ours.  Or more accurately, we were Dodue’s.
Béa tried to read the tag hanging on Dodue’s red woven collar. After a struggle—Dodue jiggled any time a hand came near her—Béa got a hold of the tag and saw a cell phone number, with no name or address. She called from the edge of a vineyard. 

As we waited, I could see the sweep of merlot and cabernet franc vines rise then fall and dive toward the rocky hills north and south of here, hills that promised chalky limestone soil, hot sunny days, and cool nights.  A young man answered.
“Hello,” said Béa, she paused, then blurted, “I have your little pig here.” We all heard silence and then laughter coming through the phone and the man said, “She does that a lot. Where are you?” Béa explained that we were on the trail heading to the Vin de Domme cellars. They agreed that he would get “his little pig” at the winery.
We never got the little pig’s real name and so continued to call her “Dodue,” an endearing term in French that means plump, or in our usage, little fatty. Apparently, the village from which she adopted us was not her home either.
We then stopped for a picnic lunch in a thicket of oak and that was when Béa was jovially licked on the thigh in the bush.
By the time we arrived at the winery, Dodue had become a member of our expedition, a daring and valiant one at that. I was impressed by her courage and devotion, staying with me on that lookout height that made us both go green. But it was a spectacular height: it afforded us a view of the entire wine growing lands of some 17 growers, the serpent’s winding of the Dordogne River, and the hilltop fortress chateaus of Beynac and Castelnaud. To the south, it revealed the drier but more attuned to wine growing lands of the Lot that opened toward Cahors, another rich wine area, especially for malbec.
At the wine coop, we explained our dog situation. The president of the coop, Bernard Manières, did what any self-respecting French person would and invited Dodue to join the tour.
In 1989, Germinal Peiro, a native of the area and regional counselor, proposed reviving the vineyards that had lay silent for a century. In 1993, the Association des Amis du Vin de Domme, Association of the Friends of the Wine of Domme, was created, with over 300 members. By 1995, after some experimental plantings on half a hectare of land the year before, three locals joined the planting revival—Eric Duclaud, Bernard Manières, and Michel Perry—and planted several more hectares on prime wine land. Today, some fourteen others have joined the planting and the coop has twenty-three hectares of vines and aspires to increase it to thirty hectares in the future. The Amis du Vin de Domme now has over 2300 members.
The five wines that they produce—three reds (Cuvée Tradition, Périgord Noir, and Cuvée Cabernet Franc) and two rosé (Rosé de Domme and Rosé Gourmandise)—are standard fare in regional restaurants in an area dedicated to eating and cooking from locally grown and produced ingredients. The table is now complete: local grilled duck breast is heavenly with the Vin de Domme Cuvée Tradition, an unoaked cabernet franc and merlot blend, a wine made the old way, before oaking became popular.
(For those desiring oak, the Périgord Noir (cabernet franc and merlot) and the Cuvée Cabernet Franc (pure cabernet franc) deliver the right notes.)

We went to see the press, the stainless steel containers, and the barrels. Dodue wove in and out, like a seasoned wine connoisseur. We ended at the tasting room where Mr. Manières offered us tastes of the three reds since we were a crowd of red wine lovers. The Vin de Domme’s two roses are also worthy wines: the Gourmandise is sweet, meant as an aperitif that can easily be paired with foie gras, traditionally demanding a sweet pairing, and the Rosé de Domme is drier, perfect for pairing with first courses such as smoked Aquitaine trout or a traditional salad with greens and thin slices of dry cured duck breast.
Somewhere between the second and third wine, we lost Dodue. “Uh-oh,” said Petrus, “now we have to find her to make sure the young man gets her back.”
We looked around steel tanks, behind oak barrels, beneath the picnic bench in the tasting room, to no avail. Suddenly, there she was, all along, asleep on the floor with its dominant cream and brown tones just like hers. She was asleep right on the place names painted on the floor, imposed over the logo of the labyrinth of the Vin de Domme label, showing all the micro growing regions involved. He little paws and thick snout lay right on the word Domme. Clever girl. She went right to the heart of matters just as she had gone to the center of our hearts.           
At that moment, a young man walked into the tasting room. “I’m here for my little pig.” Everyone laughed. We were happy that he had not taken offense. Indeed, he looked relieved. By now, we all knew her as Dodue but were curious. “What is her name?”
“Ficelle.” Which means string.
“Ficelle?” Three of us said at once, incredulous.
Oui, Ficelle.”
We said goodbye to “Ficelle.” We bought a few bottles of wine. As we took off to the trail again, almost as one voice we each said, “She’s no Ficelle. She’s Dodue, Dodue the Valiant.” And we felt something lacking. We knew it was the presence of our sixth trekking member, smaller than all of us but full of life, energy, and daring. We could not imagine Dodue returning to a life as Ficelle, one that seemed woefully rife with lolling about before the television, eating bonbons, and longing for another adventure.
The wine from the Vin de Domme is an honest wine, made with traditional methods, by locals dedicated to the land and the fruit. For me, it also tastes of that day, of that little friend who adopted us, and of adventures as yet unknown until you strike out onto the trail.
Forever in my mind, the Vin de Domme will be the Vin de Dodue. Certainly not Ficelle.

Some practical advice:
Getting to the Dordogne, Quercy, and the Lot, where Vin de Domme is situated, is easy by train from Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse.
The two best ways to get to the Vin de Domme cooperative are either with Dordogne Fellow Traveller or by car. With Dordogne Fellow Traveller, they will tailor an excursion  to your interests and they will handle all the logistics, from picking you up from your home base (Sarlat is an excellent base), driving, arranging the tour, and if you desire, taking you on a wine trail hike. The appearance of adorable, must-take-home-dogs cannot be guaranteed. If you rent a car, head south from the town of Domme to the village of Bouzic and from there follow signs to the Cave du Vin de Domme, in Florimont-Gaumier.
Vin de Domme also makes an appearance at Sarlat’s Saturday market during the late spring and throughout the summer.  Their label is distinctive and the best way to find them au marché: a labyrinth in the shape of a wine leaf. When I asked Bernard Manières why they chose this emblem, he said, “It is a labyrinth to come here.” It felt that he meant this both physically, and it was, as well as metaphorically, detailing a century of return and comeback with slow, deliberate, and paced work.

Cave du Vin de Domme
24250 Florimont-Gaumier

telephone: 05-53-28-14-47

Hours: June-September: Monday thru Friday, 10 AM to 12 PM and 2 PM to 6:30 PM; Weekends and holidays, 2:30 pm to 6:30 PM. October-May: Contact them to arrange for a time to visit.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Esoteric Camino to Santiago de Compostela through France and Spain

Jaca’s cathedral in Aragón has a basilisk that seems to come from some pre-Christian Pyrenean past. 

Eunate’s church in Navarra has a sacred flutist possibly harkening to a Sufi influence, not to mention its ring of thirty-three external arches that are akin to Islamic prayer beads, acting as a meditation upon the ninety-nine names of God—three times around, and entering the hundredth door, as the Sufis call it. Eunate in Basque actually means 100 doors. 

Nearly 500 kilometers further along the Camino, Santo Tomas de las Ollas in León possesses nine horseshoe arches in its apse that form an eleven-sided polygon. Another mediation on 99, not to mention on the interfaith nature of the sacred road?

Even St. James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela may instead contain the bones of another beheaded martyr, the Galician Priscillian, a monk, hermit, and local leader from the 4th century who wove many locally beloved pagan ideas into his rendering of Christianity.

Throughout the sacred pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino, many churches are infused with a sacred geometry that only makes fuller sense if the pagan, the Classical, the Judaic, the Christian, and the Islamic traditions are considered together. Moreover, all along the corridor spanned by the Camino there are dolmens, menhirs, engraved stones and cave walls, and holy springs that also speak of a prehistoric past that saw this corridor as equally sacred.

The Camino—the many roads across Europe and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela—has many layers; the Christian layer is only the most recent and evident.

I have recently published a multi-layered travel guide on the Camino, The Esoteric Camino France & Spain, as an application download for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch. (An eBook is forthcoming.) Based on over 25 years of exploring, walking, and studying the Camino as a pilgrim, anthropologist, and writer, this app carries in it explorations into the many layers of this sacred road, from prehistory to the present.

The Esoteric Camino France & Spain complements other Camino guides, the more numerous practical how-to guides, and does something no one of them does in one place: offer the deep layers of ancestry and the less obvious lineages and symbols of the places along the Camino. It is rich in esoteric lore, regional folklore, and sacred geometry.

Moreover, as I continue my treks, I will continue to explore stretches of the many Caminos in Europe. As I do so, I will expand the entries in the app. 

The current edition of The Esoteric Camino France & Spain covers the French Road, the Camino Francés, from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, to Finisterre, Spain. The current app also covers the Camino Aragonés from the Somport Pass to Puente la Reina, Spain, as well as parts of the road that begin in Le-Puy-en-Velay in France. 

The Esoteric Camino France & Spain is available through Sutro Media on iTunes and on Android.

Buen Camino!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trekking in Madrid: Historic Walking Tours

Madrid is like Paris and Lisbon, incredibly walkable. I love to trek in great cities like these as much as in the great wild outdoors.

I’ve recently compiled my favorite Historic Walks in Madrid in a book with eight historically themed tours. All are self-guided.

The 8 historic walks in Madrid are:

·      Medieval Madrid
·      Hapsburg Austrian Madrid 
·      Bourbon Madrid
·      Belle Époque Madrid 
·      Historic Writers’ Madrid
·      Historic Artists’ Madrid 
·      Historic Wine Taverns of Madrid
·      Historic Mysteries of Madrid
I also include a list of:

·      Historic Eating and Drinking 
·      Historic Hotels

If I only had time for one walk in Madrid, I would make it the territory outlined in my Medieval Madrid tour.

It starts at the Puerta del Sol, meanders toward the Plaza Mayor, and then south of it into the heart of Madrid’s surviving medieval neighborhood. There, you can taste the centuries (9th to 11th) when Muslims occupied and made the town a major garrison site. You can see the medieval churches (11th to 15th centuries) some of which were once mosques. You can visit a quiet walled rose garden. And you’ll pass by the Royal Palace, which stands on the original grounds of the Muslim fortress. All along, under your feet are now dried up subterranean waterways. These water sources were the original reason Madrid was such an appealing place to inhabit: Though the Manzanares River flows through town, it was these underground water sources that guaranteed life’s most essential ingredient close at hand. Apparently, the water ran for many centuries and only dried up after 1850.

I often end my Medieval Madrid trek near the Plaza Mayor at the Mercado de San Miguel, a neighborhood covered market that was recently restored and converted into a gourmet covered market with several open-space tapas bars. The atmosphere is always vibrant and convivial and a mix of locals and visitors.

I have other favorite tours, too, depending on my mood. Sometimes I love the tour that walks in the footsteps of Madrid’s artists and writers. As a writer, I love to get a café con leche at the El Gran Café Gijón (Paseo de Recoletos, 21) and feel kinship with writers past and present (you’ll know who they are as they’re all nursing their one drink and scribbling away on a pad of paper before them—very old-fashioned!).

Other days, I love a good Madrid Mystery tour, complete with unsolved crimes and ghosts (including ones fabled to roam the halls of the famous Reina Sofia Museum). And yet other days, I like to follow the Historic Wine Taverns tour with a good appetite, enjoying places that have been serving up the same dishes since the 18th century.

And did you know that it was the 13th century king of Castile and León, Alfonso X, who imposed a law making tapas, little snacks, mandatory when people ordered alcoholic drinks at pubs and inns? The tradition has held to the present, which is why when you order a glass of wine or a beer, the bartender almost always includes a little plate of something to eat. Alfonso X was both concerned about public drunkenness as he was about people’s health and felt it was enhanced with something to eat with wine. It’s been a good tradition and a part of what makes Spanish public culture so appealing.

Prefer apps to books? Please check out my Madrid Walks app on iTunes and Android.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trek, Surf, Eat Local, Down the Jersey Shore

A favorite trek is walking to the beach, carrying nothing but a surfboard tucked under my arm.

The summer is in full bloom here along coastal New Jersey. The water is a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I have noticed if I am very quiet when I reach the water's edge, the ocean has a melody unique to each day. So I listen and wait until the music alights upon my ears. Two days ago, it was a jazz quintet. Today, a Bach chamber piece.

Another pleasure of the season is the farmer’s markets and their seasonal, local offerings. These are the folks and the practices that give New Jersey its Garden State rep. Asparagus season has passed but blueberries and corn are here for a few weeks. The chard, arugula, and beets are robust and vibrant. Peaches are just beginning to peak.

Another aspect of the farmers’ markets I enjoy is that they bring a lifestyle from France and Spain that I love: shopping locally and everyday for food without ever getting into a car.  There is such deep pleasure in walking to market and carrying food home. The car sits quietly in its parking spot and I see more of my neighborhood, my neighbors, and my market baskets overflow. I have sunflowers riding atop, ready to cheer my kitchen table and bring in another connection with France and Spain.

A favorite summer dinner with local fare:

Sautéed Swiss chard in olive oil, garlic, and chili pepper flakes and tossed it with angel hair pasta made with Jerusalem artichoke flour (it tastes fantastic, like artichokes and herbs).

Dessert: Simplicity rules. Rinsed blueberries in a pretty bowl, to pluck one by one or to pop greedily into your mouth by the handful.

Locating The Garden State’s Farmers’ Markets:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hike, Eat, Drink, and Contemplate the Pyrenees near Lourdes, France

There is no question that Lourdes in southern France, on the edge of the Pyrenees, is a powerful spot. Indeed, the entire stretch of mountains, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, possesses several mystical spots, many associated with Mary.

I have traversed several of them, and also a few in northern Spain. All are remote places in overwhelmingly beautiful natural vistas of mountain, ocean, or forested valleys.

Maybe because of this, on my pilgrimage to Lourdes, I felt overwhelmed by the number of other visitors. After paying my respects to Our Lady, I sought to return to the quieter contemplation of the pilgrim’s road.

The tourist office in Lourdes had just the answer. The voie verte, the green hiker’s and biker’s path, from Lourdes south, went right into the Pyrenees. I could take it from the town edge or I could catch a local bus and pick it up deeper into the mountains. I opted for the local bus so that I could start in the midst of the wild and then trek back into Lourdes on my own foot power.

I now realize that the two activities are the perfect balance for the sacred traveler who wants both to pay a visit to one of the world’s great shrines and to partake of the landscape that Saint Bernadette herself would have seen as more familiar than the Lourdes of today. It is a landscape that still inspires transcendent experience.

To take to the path, visit the tourist office for a good map and advice, asking for La Voie Verte des Gaves, the name of the walking and cycling route south of Lourdes.

Culinary Miracles: Hidden in those hills is a culinary miracle, the restaurant Le Viscos in the village of St-Savin ( I dare say, hiking will never be the same after resting my feet and ordering chef Jean-Pierre Saint-Martin’s shorter—five course instead of seven course—walker’s menu, Le Menu de Retour Balade.

Other Marian Routes: If you are interested in powerful but little known Marian sites along coastal northern Spain, fishermen’s shrines dedicated to Mary, please see Chapter 9—San Vicente de la Barquera to Navia in The Spiritual Traveler Spain (

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Spiritual Traveler Spain Route Map

I am a lover of maps, not too different from JRR Tolkien's Hobbits. All my life, I have poured over maps like a good storybook.

For reasons out of my control, my book, The Spiritual Traveler Spain--A Guide to Sacred Sites and Pilgrim Routes, does not have a route map in the book. So, here I'd like to offer a map of the routes I outline in the book.

To learn more about The Spiritual Traveler Spain, please visit either my website (
or Amazon (

Buen Camino!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pilgrimage in Southern France - Moissac, Chant, and Cherries

My favorite French film, Saint-Jacques…La Mecque, is a story of an unlikely group of characters, each with their issues, walking together to Santiago de Compostela from Le-Puy-en-Velay in France’s Massif Central region. That particular road to Santiago, El Camino, Le Chemin, passes through Moissac, home of one of France’s most remarkable Romanesque structures, the Abbaye de Saint Pierre, Saint Peter’s Abbey.

Founded in the 7th century, the current abbey dates largely to the early 12th. It possesses intimate and humanistic images of what it is like to strive for spiritual transcendence while being an imperfect mortal. 

Both for the road and for the film, I knew I had to visit Moissac.

Many visitors spend a night and continue on the road. I decided to stay for a couple nights and it brought forth two unexpected delights. One was the spellbinding experience of chanting Laudes with the sisters of the Communauté Marie Mère de l’Église in the abbey’s church at 8:30 am. The other was taking an afternoon hike around the perimeter of town, along the Canal du Midi, a stretch of the waterway that connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean across southern France. 

The small trek gave me a full perspective of this pilgrim’s town on the Tarn River and near its confluence with the Garonne River. I passed numerous cherry orchards. Some of France’s finest cherries come from this region, reminding me of tried and true pilgrims’ wisdom:  You can trust pilgrims to know where to traverse for both spiritual transformation and mortal delight.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Amazing Walnut Cake from the Dordogne, France

This recipe, test driven and tweaked to work in an American kitchen, is one I played with while passing the winter in the Dordogne in southwestern France. There, walnut orchards abound, as do walnut products, from the raw nut to the toasty amber-toned walnut oils, walnut liqueurs, and walnut wine (vin de noix).

This cake is easy, incredibly delicious--made with white wine and walnut oil--and beautifully paired with berry sauce and vanilla ice cream. A full-bodied red wine from the Cahor is a perfect match, enhancing the walnuts, cream, and berries. But a glass of white wine, of the same vintage you mixed into the cake batter, is also remarkable.

Dordogne Walnut Cake

4 eggs
3/4 cup raw sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 pinch sea salt
1 cup dry white wine (I like using a dry white from Bergerac)
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 cup walnut oil

Mix the eggs and sugar until well blended and then beat in the baking powder, sea salt, wine, walnuts, and flour. Add in the oil and beat until you have a smooth batter. Pour into a round baking dish lined--bottom and over the edges--with parchment paper.

Bake in a 400 degrees Fahrenheit oven for ~30 minutes or until the center springs back from your touch.

As soon as you take the cake out of the oven, you can lift it out of the baking dish by the edges of the parchment paper. Set it on a heat-resistant surface, such as a wooden chopping block, and allow to cool.

While the cake cools, make the simple berry sauce.

Easy Berry Sauce:

My favorite berry sauce is a pint of black berries heated slowly in a pan with a tablespoon of any berry preserve you have on hand, such as raspberry, strawberry, or even elderberry. Other fresh, seasonal berries work beautifully, too. Over the low heat, let the berries slowly "melt" into their own sauce.

Plate the cake by first placing a couple spoonfuls of the sauce onto a dessert plate. Set a wedge of the walnut cake on the sauce to one side of the plate. On the other side, place a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Bon appetit!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hiking in SW France with Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon

I picked up the trail of the GR64 in St-Cyprien, in the Dordogne of SW France, and spent the day hiking to Les Eyzies, home of the National Museum of Prehistory as well as the center of an area with a remarkably high concentration of early modern human (Cro-Magnon) and Neanderthal sites.

Though visitors were overtaking the nearby towns, I saw not a soul on the trail except for a man in a forest clearing, tending his vineyard.

I passed old caves, native forest, and farmsteads speckled with black and white cows.

It was stunning to hike in a landscape traversed for thousands of years by ancient humans, from some 300,000 to 10,000 years ago. My senses grew sharper and my imagination expanded, contemplating what their realities might have been.

Four and a half hours later, after interpreting some ambiguous trail markers or lack thereof, I arrived in Les Eyzies. On the edge of town, along with signs pointing to numerous famous prehistoric sites, was a hand-painted board informing me that I would find wine in 50 meters. I think Cro-Magnon would have liked that.

To read more on this fascinating place and ancestry, check out
On Hearths, Ancient and Modern:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sea Scallops and Pilgrim Roads, Viveiro, Spain

In the far northwest of Spain are several remote fishing towns and villages, many woven together by a web of coastal pilgrimage roads, eventually leading to Santiago de Compostela. More immediately, the footpaths weave through green landscapes of forest and coastline, fishing boats, and small shrines known only to the locals. Any given day can bring together a walk into the wild, a stop at a Romanesque chapel, and end with a seafarer's feast with a regional vintage.

In Viveiro, such a walk could follow the road that meanders up from town to the place's patron saint, San Roque. On many days I have traversed this route, stunned by how different it is each time. One day, I would see wild deer, on another, cows coming home and taking over the narrow road, and on yet another, an outcrop of startling quartz rock whose spikes were exposed by recent rains. There was almost always the sound of chestnut leaves in the wind.

Near the shrine is a local hilltop restaurant, open on weekends throughout the year, that grills local meats, seafood, peppers, and dark leafy greens on an open wood fire. Another option is to hike back down, pick up just-caught sea scallops from the covered market in town and pan fry them at home. Scallops are so plentiful here that their large shells wash up regularly on nearby beaches.

I like to keep it simple: Heat a little olive oil and butter and lay the scallops in the hot pan. While they brown on one side, season them with chili pepper flakes, and sea salt. Turn them over, add a quick splash of white wine and cook until the scallops are done. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon. If you have lemon thyme or parsley on hand, sprinkle a bit of the fresh chopped herbs on the scallops before serving. An excellent white wine with the scallops would be Albariño.