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Train Snacks

I’m writing this on a train around 6 p.m. about an hour North of New York City. To my right is the Hudson River and to my left, one Sam catching up on a few emails. The sun is making its way down ever so slowly and my black ballet flats are more than ready to trade in carpeted train hallways for city streets and firm ground. This is our fourth day on the train. We left Seattle clutching a week’s worth of clothes, enough work to keep us busy on the train, a few novels, a bottle of wine, a cocktail in a flask (thank you, Brandon), rye in another flask (thank you, Sam), a few cameras, and these crackers. Final destination: Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey. With a quick stop-over to visit my sister Zoe and her boyfriend Stefan in the West Village, eat meatballs, and check out a few bookstores. 

I’ve been wanting to tell you about these crackers for a long time. But first: cross-country train trips. While I very much miss showers, the trip has gone by pretty quickly. The first two nights we had a sleeping car so we spread out (a little) and had a comfy chair, couch of our own, and large window. When we boarded, the nice gentleman who took care of our particular hall brought us little bottles of champagne and we proceeded through Washington and Idaho, ambling down to the dining car after a few hours for a dinner of roast chicken and crab cakes (with real silverware and linens!). We woke up in Montana just as the sun was rising. There were golden hayfields and long expanses of sky. Sam took a lot of photos, we kicked off our shoes, and watched the seemingly never-ending fields for what felt like hours.


Then there was North Dakota. I’m dedicating this next paragraph to my mother who claims I have an uncanny ability to make everything sound so rosy on the blog, failing to mention little hiccoughs or missteps along the way. Hiccough ahead! You know those bickers that couples have that begin over not much of anything and escalate so you feel like you’re in a bad movie and you’re not sure what you’re even arguing about anymore? Then usually someone storms off, you have some time apart, and come back together to say how silly it all was? Well when you’re on a train, there’s nowhere to storm off to.  You’ve got four feet of space to work with. So maybe you decide to escape into the tiny bathroom. With a pillow, as though you may stay for a few hours because it’s the only other room to go to. Maybe you refuse to eat breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. Perhaps you even pace the hallways, thinking your neighbors will invite you in for tea. They do not.

In the train you’re stuck staring at one another, so arguments have a fine, fine way of just going. And going. Through North Dakota, Minnesota and perhaps Wisconsin, too. Sam would like me to add there was a chunk of Illinois in there as well. Right as we got off in Chicago we decided the trip was too important and we’d already wasted too much of it to bicker any further. We’re both stubborn people, we admitted. It was time for a fresh start. We had a lay-over before catching our next train in the early evening, so we walked right over the river in Chicago, shared sandwiches and a beer at The Berghoff and proclaimed that the next train would be different. And so it has been.

We didn’t have a sleeping car for the Chicago to New York leg. Sam usually travels coach, but had decided to upgrade us for the first leg so that I’d have the best cross-country experience for my first time on the train. So onto New York we slept in the train chairs and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. You wake up with the sun just like you do when you’re camping and head into the dining car for breakfast. You sit down with strangers, feel a little like you’re at summer camp, and discover that train oatmeal is surprisingly great. If you make friends with the dining attendant, he may offer to bring you extra fruit and treat you with his wide, toothy grin. You may meet a lovely woman named Lisa in the viewing car outside of Montana who tells you in the first thirty seconds of conversation that she’s leaving her husband, she’s had it, and he can have all the money from their two homes. You’re not quite used to this many conversations with strangers, but you tell yourself to get over it. You see photos of her grandkids and start to tell her stories, too.

The night before we’d left Seattle, we’d both been in charge of packing a few separate things: I took care of snacks and water, Sam took care of booze and books. We both had a pretty distinct vision of how we’d break these things out and enjoy them whizzing our way across the country. I figured we’d have crackers and peanuts one afternoon a few days into the trip, and be so thrilled to have a little something homemade at that point. Sam figured he’d read to me at night and we’d sip from whiskey he brought from our bar at home. Neither of those things had yet to happen. But there was still time. We were slowly coming back around to that picture we’d both had in our heads. So while we were a good day off, we pulled out the crackers and the flask as the train jetted along the Hudson River, making fun of ourselves, marveling at the perfect saltiness of the crackers and sharing ideas for what we’d do in the city that night. And that’s where I write to you now, in a quiet moment before we leave the train and hop on the subway to find my sister’s apartment.

If you’ve never made your own crackers, this is a really great recipe to begin with. Two kinds of flour, millet and a smattering of seeds bake up with olive oil and a little water into crumbly, slightly soft crackers. If you’re new to millet, it’s actually quite wonderful and you can find it in the bulk bins at any well-stocked grocery store. It cooks up quickly (as a porridge or a pilaf-type side dish), but here you’re just adding the millet in raw for extra crunch. Lately, I’ve been tossing it into muesli and granola or toasting it in a dry skillet and sprinkling it on top of yogurt. It’s pretty great.

This recipe is from Alana Chernila’s delight of a book, The Homemade Pantry. I wrote a bit more about it on Bay Area Bites  right when it came out, and had a chance to chat with Alana then. She’s wonderful and humble and has developed some very fine crackers (among dozens upon dozens of other recipes) that I’ve been making often since cracking open the book the first time. I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe here, adding a little more salt, tossing in sesame seeds and poppy seeds and a touch of parmesan. Out come very worthy train snacks, indeed. Celebratory ones, in fact. Crackers to acknowledge you’re strong enough to get right back on track if you should momentarily derail. As we all do at times.


Seedy Wheat Crackers
Alana mentions that you can use up to 5 cloves of garlic here and add chopped rosemary if you’d like. Thyme could be nice, too.  And next time around, I might add a smidge of lemon zest and red pepper flakes. 

Makes: 20-50 crackers, depending on the size

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for the counter
1 cup (4.75 ounces) whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup whole uncooked millet
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (or romano)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
fresh ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, combine the two flours, baking powder, millet, flax seeds, sesame and poppy seeds, salt, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Add the olive oil and combine with a fork. Slowly add 1/2 cup water, mixing with your hands as you go. Continue to add more water (up to 1/4 cup if necessary) to the dough until it holds together. Knead the dough with your hands in the bowl for a good 2 minutes, or until smooth and very workable.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, press into a flat disc, and roll with a rolling pin until the dough is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. For square crackers, use a pizza wheel or sharp knife and cut the dough into 2-inch squares. For round, use a 2-3 inch biscuit cutter. Any leftover dough can be re-rolled to make additional crackers.

With a spatula, transfer the cut crackers to parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle each cracker with a little salt and ground pepper. Bake for 20-22 minutes, switching the position of the sheets midway through, until the crackers are hard to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cover at room temperature for up to 7 days or freeze in a freezer-safe bag for up to 3 months.

 

  1. Posted September 25, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Ah, I love this and can relate (also – glad the next train ride was better!). Ages ago I was doing the post-college Europe trip with my (then) boyfriend and we spent an entire day in Rome … not speaking to each other (not eating, either, which was so silly). I can’t even remember what it was about, but for whatever reason we couldn’t stand to be around each other yet had to because we didn’t know the city/didn’t know anyone/I didn’t speak the language very well! Somehow we ended up seeing a movie that night and shared some popcorn – and got over it. Whew. These do make for funny stories in hindsight, thank goodness, even if not quite in the moment … :)

  2. Posted September 25, 2012 at 10:31 am

    It must be cracker-making season. I just made some homemade multigrain crackers for the first time, and they were utterly delightful. I’ll have to give these a try next.

  3. Posted September 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I love everything about this post, but mostly about the honest and real way you wrote it. Meg, I love my Tim with all my heart, but we still have those silly bickering mornings-turned-into-evenings, too. Once they’re over, I can hardly remember what we were arguing about, but in the middle, we are both pretty stubborn. Can I just tell you that I wish your train had you laying over (lay overing?) in Nashville sometime because I think you two would be such a treat to sit and talk with someday.

  4. Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Which Bruce show did you catch in NJ? We were at this past Friday’s show – my husband would have gone all three nights if he had the cash.

  5. megang
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Casey! We were at Friday’s show, too!!!! Our seats were six from the top (as in: sixth worst seats in the house). Loved it though (did you?) We may go again in Portland or Vancouver.

  6. Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Oh man, we could have tailgated together! It was our fourth show this year (again: Dan is obsessed, he’s made me obsessed too) and still totally worth it. So many rarities and he played THREE of the songs I hoped he’d do that night: Mary’s Place, Bobby Jean, and American Land.

    Yes, none of this is food-related, but I had a lovely turkey pastrami sandwich and some Long Trail IPA in the parking lot before the show.

  7. Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Sounds like you and Sam are having a fabulous adventure (momentary derailments and all). Enjoy the rest of your trip! I’m off to make these crackers!

  8. megang
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:27 am

    We could have! Shoot. Sam’s a big fan, too. And I’m coming around for sure. He;s such an amazing performer. We had a noticeable lack of good beer and pastrami sandwiches. Instead, choosing a very overpriced (and small) hot dog followed by an overpriced hamburger at the stadium. Next time, we’re coming with you!

  9. Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    We wouldn’t be human nor real if we didn’t have occasional bickers. I call them love growing pains. Makes us stronger as individuals and as a couple.

    Love that Sam got you on that cross-country train. Do we get to hear about the return home or are you flying? xx

  10. Posted September 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Love this Megan. Love the honesty, reality and crackers. Great post.

  11. Posted September 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Those fights are the worst- when you feel like time is moving in slow motion and you’re watching everything unravel over something silly. I’m glad you guys made up. Champagne and a train does sound like fun.

  12. Posted September 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    I’m thinking these would be great for an upcoming flight and hotel stay, but I’m never sure if they’ll let snacks through security, so I abstain. Maybe it’s just liquid that’s a no. Hmmm. Anyway, these look superb. Thanks!

  13. Posted September 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve only done the New York to Chicago or Chicago to Boston leg of the trip. Your experience resonates in that it is fun and exciting and then gets boring and a little tedious. I do still really want to take the train from here (St Paul, MN) to Seattle and hope to do that soon. Your photos and recipe make it seem like a perfect and beautiful trip but that many hours on the train mean there are bound to be some rough spots.

  14. megang
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    D: I flew home! I’m happily sitting at the table eating tomato soup (well-showered, I might add) and Sam is training it back home, arriving Friday. I agree: re the bickers. It’s just funny no one talks about it, no? Miss you! xx

  15. Aunt V
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Maybe I will take the train from NYC to Seattle or Portland.
    A long train trip is going on my bucket list!
    Do you think that I would enjoy it?

  16. megang
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Aunt V-I actually think you’d like it very much. I’m not so sure about Burt though … I might go this one solo. We can talk more about it when you’re more serious about it. I have some tips. xx, mg

  17. Posted September 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Great post and wonderful description/photos of train ride. What a fabulous trip. I immediately perked up at the mention of The Boss – my husband and I are HUGE fans of his and always try to catch his concerts when he’s over here in the UK. Current favourites – every one of the songs on Wrecking Ball!!

  18. Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:27 am

    I both have a hard time believing that you and Sam bicker and have an easy time seeing that you are both good at it ;) I hope that your visit with Mr. Springsteen was fantastic!

  19. Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:55 am

    I love train journeys! They are so relaxing, and give you time to think and enjoy the landscape. I’ll have to try these crackers, they sound delicious! Great site, by the way!

  20. Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:27 am

    I did this trip once! But I was 20, and alone, and I hadn’t yet figured out the cracker recipe. You have me yearning for another train ride though- even (or maybe especially?) with all the hiccups, you get it just right. Love. Pretty overjoyed I got to come along in the snack bag, at least. xo

  21. Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:11 am

    I am addicted to crackers, goldfish especially! I can’t wait to give this recipe a go! A sprinkle of rosemary and some sesame seeds will be a YES for me….. You have turned me on to a long train ride, aside from the argument it does sound rather romantic.

  22. Uncle B
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Actually, I think I’d like the train trip. But definitely not sleeping in my seat. Been there, done that.

  23. megang
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Yes, Burt. Definitely the sleeping car is the way to go. And bringing your own wine. But it’s a great way to catch up on reading, see the countryside etc. I take it back: you’d like it!

  24. megang
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:23 am

    You did this trip! I definitely saw some young kids on our train and thought about how cool it would’ve been at that age — when you’re a little more open/excited to talk with strangers all day (I’m working on this). You were very much in the snack bag — we’ll remember these crackers for a very long time. Thanks, Alana. Hope all is well with you. I bet it’s beautiful and fall is showing it’s face in your neck of the woods. xx, m

  25. Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Good for you Megan. I’ll agree with your mom a bit, your blog does tend to be rosy but you are an extremely lovely and positive person so it does not come off as disingenuous at all. And then you post something like this which is touching in its nakedness and I know everyone who reads it will be nodding along with what you write. I need space when I am mad and I can’t imagine being confined. I also can’t imagine skipping a day’s worth of meals. :)

  26. momgordon
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Such a beautiful post, hiccough and all :) This might be a defining moment in my perceptions of you two- Megan and Sam-Staying on the train!

  27. Posted September 28, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Boy, you kids have a real sense of adventure :) Loved reading about the experience and while I’m sorry to hear there were State-long arguments, at least you’ve got some great stories now ;) I can’t imagine being stuck on a train for days and days, but I like that a few bottles of liquor and one Matt would make it worthwhile. Your photos are beautiful, by the way! I’ve always wanted to check out Montana…

  28. Posted September 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    so beautiful, even the north dakota bits :) — for what would life, and words, and love be, without the conflict that brings the beauty into bas relief?

    enjoy your trip, you two.

  29. Kay
    Posted September 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I loved this recipe.
    Have you ever tried any recipe for a sweetish sesame cracker preferably with whole wheat flour alone, or maybe oats as well.
    I would love to try something like that.
    Also I am not a big fan of flax seeds so I used toasted sesame instead whenever possible.

  30. megang
    Posted September 29, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Hi, Kay. Thanks for the note. I haven’t tried anything like a sweetish sesame cracker although I love sesame. I did do a sesame cookie on the blog a few months back. Did you see those? Think you might like them. Have a great weekend, m

  31. Posted September 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    ah yes. real life. xo.

  32. Patty
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Megan,
    My friend Susi and I enjoyed some dinner conversation on the train with Sam who introduced us to your website and upcoming book. As northern Minnesotans who don’t get out much we are sincere in our invitation for a book signing and some cooking instruction next year!

  33. Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Yum snacky!

    Have fun on your trip. Life is full of ups and down. Just enjoy being in the moment of imperfection :)

  34. Posted October 1, 2012 at 6:04 am

    Love the story and recipe. Very inspiring!

  35. Posted October 1, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Hi! Glad you guys survived, and also glad that S and I are not the only ones who stew unnecessarily. I spent almost one whole day of our Hawaii vacation on the beach/reading/drinking mai tais alone. Totally silly.

  36. Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:41 am

    loved coming along on the journey, tricky bits and all. but still can’t help smiling that zoe has a boyfriend in the west village called stefan. i keep thinking of saturday night live. do you know that skit? too funny.

  37. Michelle
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 9:52 am

    This is the first time I’ve made my own crackers and they came out perfectly! So easy and so flavorful. This recipe will be used again and again in my kitchen. Thank you!

  38. megang
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Michelle: Yahoo!

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