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

Seedy Wheat Crackers

  • Yield: 20-50 crackers, depending on size
  • Prep time: 20 mins
  • Cook time: 20 mins
  • Total time: 40 mins

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.

From: The Homemade Pantry

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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.

Comments

  1. nicole

    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. savorysaltysweet

    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. Shanna

    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. Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    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.

    1. megang

      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.

  5. Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    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.

    1. megang

      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!

  6. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe

    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!

  7. Denise

    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

    1. megang

      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

  8. Ashley

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

  9. la domestique

    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.

  10. Denise | Chez Danisse

    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!

  11. Anna

    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.

  12. Aunt V

    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?

    1. megang

      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

  13. Angie Willis

    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!!

  14. Ryan

    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!

  15. Chiara

    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!

  16. Alana

    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

    1. megang

      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

  17. Alain Arango

    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.

  18. Uncle B

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

    1. megang

      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!

  19. Dana

    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. :)

  20. momgordon

    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!

  21. Kasey

    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...

  22. molly

    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.

  23. Kay

    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.

    1. megang

      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

  24. sara

    ah yes. real life. xo.

  25. Patty

    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!

  26. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com

    Yum snacky!

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

  27. Anne Zimmerman

    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.

  28. sarah henry

    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.

  29. Michelle

    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!

    1. megang

      Michelle: Yahoo!

Join the Discussion

Winter Soups and Stews

Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili

Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili

If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.

Read More
5 Tips For Cooking with a Baby + Power Greens Soup

5 Tips For Cooking with a Baby + Power Greens Soup

Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time,  summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light. 

Read More
Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

Minestrone Verde with White Beans and Pesto

We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine).  Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).

Read More
Simple Cooking: Pasta and Chickpea Soup

Simple Cooking: Pasta and Chickpea Soup

One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen. 

Read More
Returning Home

Returning Home

And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today. 

Read More