Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Gazpacho Trail

Beijing 2008.  Go USA!
I'm currently in training for a marathon and a half; it's 26 miles on Day One, followed by 13 miles on Day Two.  Fortunately, I have the good sense to WALK it, rather than try to run it, but I still need to train--notwithstanding the belief among grizzled sports junkies that training for a walk is like making synchronized swimming an Olympic event.   Oh yeah.  My point exactly. 

Photo by Michael Sawyer
I'm doing most of my training on something called the W&OD trail.  It's an old 19th century railroad line that was abandoned in the late 1960's.  It's a regional treasure dotted with decaying barns, old depots, and placards that mark obscure civil war events.  Someone had the truly brilliant idea to pave it over and turn it into 45 miles of uninterrupted trail.  It's now a gorgeous pedestrian and bike path that meanders its way through the back ways and main streets of Northern Virginia like the yellow brick road through Oz.  Except, that is, in the summer.   In the heat of a Virginia summer, the W&OD might as well be the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

                                                     Photo by Michael Sawyer

Virginia summers are beyond hot.  The air is thick with gnats and mosquitoes--the only living things that really have any business being outside, and by mile marker #3, the little buggers will be dutifully lodged in my nose, teeth, and lungs.  Logging 20 miles in a single day is no easy feat.  It takes about 7 hours--8 if I stop for the requisite breaks to put fresh band-aids on my blistered feet.  At about mile marker #9, I'm aware that my clothes have absorbed so much sweat that I might just have to burn them when I get home.  By mile #16, I'm practically seeing mirages--imagining cabanas around every bend in the trail in which a shirtless man in white trousers will shove a sliver of lime into into a cold Corona, and hand it to me with a porcelain smile. When the training is finally--blessedly--over, I'm nothing but a hot sticky mess.  I look and feel like a Krispy Kreme doughnut that spent too much time in the microwave.

I am also hungry.  Ravenous, actually, but with a level of exhaustion that makes it difficult to chew.  Not to worry; here's a dish where the blender has basically already completed that task:  gazpacho.  It's the perfect thing to eat at the end of the training trail--a cold crisp combination of pureed cucumbers, tomatoes, and pepper, with just enough kick to get me up so that I can limp into the car and get home to a long and well-deserved shower.


1.  Blend the following in a blender:  one pound of tomatoes; one-quarter of a large hot-house cucumber, peeled; one-quarter of a large red pepper, seeded; one-quarter of a large green pepper, seeded; 1 and 1/2 cups of tomato juice; 1 Tbs ketchup; 2 Tbs tomato paste; 1/4 cup sherry vinegar; 2 Tbs olive oil; 3 Tbs chopped parsley or cilantro.

2.  Dice the following:  one-quarter of a large hot-house cucumber; one-quarter of a large red pepper; one-quarter of large green pepper;  2 scallions; 1 large tomato.

3.  For you math types, the entire recipe calls for one-half each of a cucumber, red pepper and green pepper.  Half goes in the blender and half gets diced and added to the soup base; hence, a quarter for each part of the recipe.

4.  Add the diced vegetables to the soup base.  Taste.  Fool around with salt, sugar, black pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste (about 1/2 tsp of each if you have to be all technical about it).

5.  Chill for at least 8 hours, preferably 24. 

6.  Serve in a martini or margarita glass, especially when you're on the W&OD Trail because when you are that hot and tired, it's just a surreal bit of fun.  Sort of like synchronized swimming.

*** Many thanks to Michael D. Sawyer both for his excellent photos and his kindness for letting me use them here.

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