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The Trek of a Lifetime Part I

Sep 02, 2014 10:19PM ● By Jennifer Neys
By Lesley Stiles 
Sitting around my friend Stephanie’s nice house party last September and talking about doing a 
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 donning the beastly 
pack almost a year later to board a plane in San Francisco and leave our homes and families for 
six weeks was quite another. Arriving in Paris, we had 19 hours for walking, sitting in cafes and 
window shopping (but not putting anymore weight 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 (785 kilometer) jaunt that eventually ended in Santiago Spain. 

Our first few nights were spent in “albergues,” where bunk beds are arranged in four to eight or so in a room, and bathrooms are co-ed and shared by many. It took us no-longer-spring-chickens a minute to get used to it, and we didn’t fail to don shower shoes. Dining was a family affair, with all the pilgrims staying at the albergues and 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 backpack score pretty swiftly, and with no regrets, we sent a big box of stuff from our packs home the morning before we started walking.
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, 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, greeted with ice-cold mugs of local beer and salty peanuts. As we sat there with only the Pyrenees in all their amazing foxglove, hydrangea, and fern-filled glory, both craggy and lusciously green before us, fog fingers crept slowly between valleys, all knowing of the communal meal awaiting us. Suddenly, a gal met my gaze and we recognized each other from Kelly Duarte’s Halloween party in Martinez! Michele Matson lives in town, 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.

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. It was very festive, listening to sheep and night birds as well as pilgrims snoring, until we fell 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

It was one of the desserts offered every night and we ate it a whole lot! So lusciously creamy and caramelized sweet. Perfect way to cap a day of 20 or so miles.

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup low-fat milk

1/2 cup espresso coffee

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

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, beat 3 eggs in a mixing bowl. 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 so the flan can drop onto the plate.

Garnish with the whole coffee beans and serve.