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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Guest Author: Kurt Koonz, A Million Steps On The Camino

Please welcome Guest Post Author, Kurt Koonz

Last year my husband, Rich, and I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. We met trickles, oodles and meanderings of like-minded pilgrims or as pilgrims are called in Spain, Peregrinos. 

Some pilgrims you meet for a moment of walking, and others stay with you a wee bit longer! Kurt Koonz from Boise, Idaho, was one who stayed. 

(Kurt is the center guy- and I think this photo exemplifies his joie de vivre and outgoing spirit.)  

Author and Speaker, Kurt Koonz

He never considered writing a book until he walked nearly 500 miles across Spain in 2012. Those million steps were so compelling that he returned home and began writing and speaking about his life-changing adventures. Part diary, part travelogue, A Million Steps is a journey within a journey all the way to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela and beyondHe lives and writes on a tree-lined creek in Boise, Idaho.  Okay now, get your copy

On September 14 A Million Steps Launches at the Boise Film Premiere of the Documentary, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. Wish I could be there - it looks like an amazing event! 

Trailer of Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago

In this excerpt Kurt shares some food memories of the walk..... 

Kurt, On the Way 

On the fourth day of my 500 mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, I was fortunate to have shared a meal with Dorette and Rich Snover.  Just like many of the great friendships that developed in Spain, this one started at a dining table.  Here is a story about my experience with food on the ancient path to Santiago.

While walking on the Camino, I chose to spend most of my time alone.  The social portion of my trip happened while enjoying coffee con leche on breaks and dining with strangers throughout the day.  Starbucks is no match for the strong and bold coffee that is mixed with scalded milk and sweetened with sugar.  Meals are typically eaten at “Bars” that have little resemblance to an American restaurant.  One of the best features of the eating on the Camino is that everyone is always welcome at any table. There are no cliques or pariahs in this lovely land. 

           After a few days, I was beginning to understand more about meals on the Camino. Breakfast (desayuno) typically consisted of slices of a crusty white bread with butter and jam. The deluxe version was to have the bread run through a heat machine resulting in toast. A less common breakfast option was tortilla de patatas. It is made with thinly sliced potatoes lightly fried in olive oil. Eggs and onions are added to the mix. When the mixture is firm, a fried tortilla is added to the top and bottom to create a round, pie-shaped meal. It is served like a slice of pie in a stand-alone manner, or between two pieces of bread for a sandwich. Lunch (almuerzo) was usually a “bocadillo,”––two slabs of bread with either thinly sliced ham or hunks of chorizo as the lonely ingredient.

For dinner (cena) the “Pilgrim Menu” became a mainstay every night with little variance on choice or price. Dinner cost 9-11 Euros and consisted of three courses—a first, second, and postre (dessert). The first course was pasta, mixed salad, soup, or paella. The second was pork, beef, chicken, or fish. Patatas fritas (fried potatoes) always accompanied this round. For dessert we could choose flan (caramel custard), natillas (soft custard), helado (ice cream), arroz con leche (rice with milk), or fruta (fruit). Every evening meal included bread, water, and wine.

Restaurants with pilgrim menus cater to walkers on the route. Most peregrinos are in bed by eight or nine o’clock, and the albergues turn off the lights at 10. The local inhabitants of each village follow a completely different meal pattern. They usually eat their biggest meal of the day at around two or three o’clock and then take a long nap or just relax for the daily siesta. For dinner, they begin to congregate around eight or nine and then spend hours eating a light evening meal where the focus is on socializing with family and friends. Most pilgrims are busy snoring in gargantuan proportions when the locals begin their nightly processions. The locals snore when the pilgrims exit their cities in the mornings.

Most villages have some type of grocery store, but they are a far cry from the typical retail outlets that overpopulate every American city. In the tiny villages along the Camino, a typical tienda may be large enough to accommodate three to four patrons at a time. They usually offer very basic items like bread, cheese, and a tiny produce selection. The entire fruit offering may be 10 apples and six oranges. The larger villages have stores the size of a small American convenience store. The four largest cities have traditional stores that resemble small grocery stores in the United States.
For people who require regularly scheduled meals, carrying food is always an option. If a person really needs provisions between stops, other pilgrims always seemed willing to help. It did not matter if it was an apple, bandages for blisters, or water for parched souls; any person in need could count on fellow walkers to offer assistance.
Food was also often available along the trail. Seeds from wild anise, with their licorice taste, became a staple of mine on the trip. We often passed trees loaded with apples, bushes full of wild blackberries, unlimited grapes in vineyards, and traditional farms with many vegetables including lots of red peppers. As a rule of thumb, anything that is wild or has naturally fallen to the ground is okay for pilgrims. Poaching veggies from the vines or fruit from the trees is not appropriate behavior for the many foreign visitors who walk the trail through Spain. Religious or not, I think there is a special place for those who violate this unwritten rule.
Given the long days of walking, this is a food connoisseur’s paradise because the caloric intake rarely exceeds the daily cremation of calories. 

Merci, Kurt, and Buen Camino! 
I hope you'll try his deliciously warm and filling soup, just made for days of walking! 
Kurt's Lentil Soup with Cilantro was inspired by the Camino and a Martha Stewart recipe 
3 strips (3 ounces) bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4-inch half-moons
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth (3 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
garnish: fresh chopped cilantro

 in a dutch oven (or other 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.
add onion, peppers, celery and carrots; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 minute.
add lentils, thyme, broth, and 2 cups water. bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. cover; cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
stir in vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. garnish and serve immediately.



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