Sitting around a nice house party at Stephanie’s last September talking about doing this 500 mile back pack/trek/walk/hike called the Camino de Santiago over the French Pyrenees and into Northwestern Spain to the coast at Finisterre was one thing but almost a year later donning the beastly pack and boarding a plane in San Francisco leaving our homes and families for 6 weeks was quite another. Arriving in Paris, we had 19 hours for walking, sitting in cafes and window shopping, not putting anymore weight at all in the pack, before catching a train to Bayonne and winding our way by bus to the beautifully sweet mountain hamlet of St. Jean Pied de Port where after an amazing communal supper and communal sleeping we would begin our 500 mile or 785 kilometer jaunt ending eventually in Santiago Spain. St Jean is literally the foot gate over the mountains and the trail has been used for centuries by pilgrims seeking penance and joy, war criminals and heroes stealing through the freezing nights to save the world and sheepherders grazing their herds.
Our first few nights were spent in albergues where bunk beds are arranged in 4 to 8 or so in a room and bathrooms are coed and shared by many. Took these not spring chickens a minute to get used to it donning shower shoes for sure. Dining was a family affair with all the pilgrims staying at the albergues sharing a meal at long tables. We met more people than carter has pills and made so many hard and fast friends that a bed or couch awaits in most European countries should the need arise. We figured out the back pack score pretty swiftly and sent a big box of stuff from our packs home the morning before we started walking with no regrets at all. Our first day was short but brutally steep climbing about 3000 feet in a few hours time. Constantly accompanied by unending mountain vistas with sheep and goats aplenty, breathtakingly lovely with air as sharp as a knife blade, as we trudged anaerobic, red faced and puffing regardless of months of training to our goal for the day. We heaved our bodies with our 23 pound packs onto the deck of our insanely welcomed albergue in Orison for the evening being greeted with ice cold mugs of local beer and salty peanuts. Sitting there with only the Pyrenees in all their amazing foxglove, hydrangea and fern filled craggy but lusciously green glory before us, fog creeping fingers slowly between valleys, all knowing of the communal meal awaiting us, a gal met my gaze and we recognized each other from Kelly Duarte’s Halloween party in Martinez. Michele Matson lives in town and her hiking partner and long time friend Jamie Kruse was born and raised in Martinez and her dad was the mayor for several years when she was growing up. My mom was not surprised I ran into someone I knew in the French Pyrenees in a place you can only get to by hiking there.
We found our bunks, did our laundry, took showers and settled into our first real night on the trail eating Basque food and drinking local wines with 30 other pilgrims, most on their first night too, very festive, listening to sheep and night birds as well as pilgrims snoring, until falling gently asleep filled with the knowledge that the next day would bring the most strenuously brutal hike of the entire trip cresting the Pyrenees and ending up at an 11th century monastery in Roncesvalles Spain.
Flan de Cafe
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup espresso coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
20 whole coffee beans
6 individual servings in ramekins.
Set ramekins in a large glass baking dish (9-inch x 13-inch).
Heat 4-5 cups of water in a pot for the water bath.
Put a heavy skillet or saucepan over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar. With the back of a wooden spoon, keep sugar moving constantly until sugar is completely melted, and of a rich medium brown color (caramelized).
Carefully spoon caramelized sugar into each of the 6 ramekins or large dish.
Pre-heat oven to 325F (162C) degrees.
Scald milk and cream in a saucepan. Remove immediately and stir in the coffee.
Meanwhile in a mixing bowl, beat slightly 3 eggs. Mix in 1/4 cup sugar.
Stirring constantly, gradually add hot cream mixture to egg yolk mixture. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Blend in vanilla extract. Ladle mixture into ramekins.
Pour in hot water until there is about 1/2-inch of water in the baking dish for boiling water bath. Fill about a third way up. Bake uncovered in water bath for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when inserted half way between center and the edge of dish.
Note: To ensure the custard does not over-cook, check doneness after 45 minutes, then every 3-5 minutes.
Remove ramekins from the water bath. Set on a cooling rack until lukewarm, then chill thoroughly in refrigerator.
Un-mold by running a knife around the inside edge of baking dish. Place a small dessert plate on the top of the ramekin. With one hand under the ramekin and the other on top of the place, turn over. Tap the ramekin and the flan should drop onto the plate
Garnish with the whole coffee beans and serve.