Last year, my parents walked the Camino de Santiago – the medieval pilgrimage road through Spain ending at the town of Santiago de Compostela. My parents are devout Catholics, in the most hippie sense of that description: they are pacifists, oppose capital punishment, and believe every life is sacred – so we must help the poor, feed the hungry, soothe the sick, forgive those who offend us, and love each and every being as equals. I was raised with the understanding that knowledge – education, discernment, and acceptance – was paramount to any bible, scribe, or privately held belief.
My parents are devoted to one another as well. Thirty-eight years has had it’s fair share of hurdles – job transfers, kids, unemployment, career changes, aging parents, life-threatening illness – but somehow they still want to walk side by side on the same path.
I am not a devout anything, nor am I devoted to anyone. I can’t commit to hanging a picture in my apartment more than I can commit to a relationship or a religion because I kind of like the way things look unfinished: like the hope and possibility for something better is still out there. I like my things to look like me – a little haphazard, a little aimless, rough around the edges with so much potential energy still in store.
Yet, I’ve always wanted to be a good pilgrim, to journey through life with mission and purpose, and a destination set – to know where I will be when I arrive. I always think when I find the right partner in crime, I’ll figure out where I need to go – but what if it’s not the person you want to take journey with, that you find first, but the path itself, a yellow-brick road unfolding before you with the perfect companion waiting along the way for your arrival?
Someone I met recently handed me a little gospel truth at the end of a five-hour camino of sorts through the city one night. Though not a true pilgrimage as there was no specific destination in mind, (we were aiming to find a bar, but discovered the walk to be much more conducive to storytelling and sobriety), that truncated Canterbury Tales we shared has since inspired me to change velocity, focus, get shit done, find a better road and be a better pilgrim, even on my own. I may always be searching for my heart like some Tin Man, but hell, I don’t want to be unworthy of it when the wizard finally gives it to me.
My momma scrawled this recipe down on a piece of paper at the end of their camino, a sweet reminder of the journey she and my father just made together. I’ve converted into non-metric so you don’t need to use a kitchen scale. Torta de Santiago, or cake of St. James, is an almond cake or pie from Galicia circa the Middle Ages. Made with almond flour and only five other ingredients, they’re not only easy to make, but gluten-free.
Traditionally, the top of the pie is decorated with powdered sugar, masked by an imprint of the Cross of Saint James, and served along the camino. These are agnostic cakes, so they’re cross free, but served with honeyed blood oranges, a medieval symbol of potential: the eventual end of winter, and life and renewal of the coming spring.
for the cakes:
- 1 1/2 cup Almond flour (I like King Arthur’s, but if you can’t wait for shipping, most supermarkets carry Bob’s Red Mill, but make sure you get this one, made from finely ground blanched almonds. The other is too meal-y to give the cakes their delicate texture)
- ½ cup + 2 TBS sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- ¼ teas almond extract
- ¼ teas cinnamon
- 1 teas brandy (optional)
- ½ teas zest of blood orange or other citrus, like lemon
for the oranges (optional):
- 2 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch rounds
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 cup water
- juice of one lemon
- 1 TBS brandy (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with sugar until light and thick. Add almond flour, cinnamon, extract and zest and beat until smooth. Spoon into mini cupcake tins (makes 20-24) or standard cupcake tins, (makes 8) lined with papers. Fill each cup about ⅔ full. Bake for 30 minutes until firm and slightly golden. Cool slightly and remove from pans gently since they compress easily.
If making oranges, combine honey, lemon juice, brandy, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add orange slices and simmer for 5 minutes more. Serve with Santiago cakes.