Tag Archives: gin

VIA Rail: Derailing my Tunnel Vision and Setting the Platform for Train Meals

10 Jun A refreshing start!

Sorry about the title.  I know I have a problem.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a VIA Rail train from Windsor to Toronto for the the return leg of a business trip.  I’ve always preferred to travel by train versus plane for shorter distances.  Tell us why, Alice!  Oh, okay I will.

  • If you factor in the time required to show up early for airport security, a journey by express train takes about the same time as a short-haul flight.
  • There is GLORIOUS wifi onboard which means I can download stock photos to get that last minute PowerPoint completed (aka stream Mad Men from Netflix and gasp audibly whenever the plot thickens).
  • No pesky seat belts! I can (safely) rebel against personal safety and stand up whenever I want (which proved to be not very often).
  • And lastly – and most importantly –  I can actually afford Business Class on VIA…

…Business Class – the land of hot meals and cocktail carts!

Let me set the scene.  I was a bit cranky after a tough couple of days in Windsor and was really looking forward to going home.   Once on the train, I sank into my luxurious leather seat (with enough leg room for an entire basketball team) and I didn’t even have time to exclaim, “AUGGGH I COULD USE A DRINK!” before someone came around with a cocktail cart and a packet of nibbles.  Gin and soda, please!

A refreshing start!

The last time I was in Business Class, I was offered a descriptive paper menu detailing three meal choices and a server came around to take my order (just like at a restaurant!).  Unfortunately, I think they stopped doing that.  I admittedly love reading menus so this was a bit of a bummer (but okay, fine, we’ll let the trees live).  Instead, the server came around with the meal cart and I had to pick on the spot.  And instead of fancy schmancy descriptions, he only said, “Beef, seafood or vegetarian?”.    I chose beef…and red wine.

Nothing like a hot meal!

Never would I have thought I’d say this, but man, I was impressed.  This was probably one of the better onboard travel meals I’ve ever had.  The beef tenderloin was well-seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium and was not dry.  My broccoli was crisp and my potatoes cheesey.  The salad was a creative mix of butternut squash and feta on a bed of wheatberries (I think?  Again, would’ve loved a menu!).  The chocolate cake looked pretty good but I renounced those calories for a second…er, third glass of wine.

Coffee and tea were offered to accompany the dessert, as well as an organic fair trade piece of dark chocolate.  Just when I was about to go for my post meal cool-down nap (much to the chagrin of fitness gurus everywhere), a digestif cart appeared and next thing you know it, I’m sipping a port and watching the scenery of Southwestern Ontario whizz on by.

It was such a pleasant end to a rather stressful business trip.  Looking forward to taking the train again for a weekend getaway!


If you’re like Alice and always on the lookout for a quick and cheap getaway, keep your eyes on this site, where every Tuesday VIA releases some extremely discounted fares!




Let it snow!: Salt fish sandwiches and martinis

8 Jan

I’ve never really understood people who hate winter.  If you barricade yourself indoors for weeks on end, any season can be depressing.  Instead, why not embrace all the opportunities that winter has to offer?  Nowadays, no matter where you live, fun and picturesque outdoor rinks abound so why not go for a skate or have a game of pond hockey? Alternatively, why not take up cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, snowboarding, or turn back the clock and go tobogganing like you are 10 years old again?

Pond Hockey in St. Jacob's, ON.

Pond Hockey in St. Jacob’s, ON.

Regardless of what you choose to do, I have found that the best way to reward yourself afterwards is with a salt fish (gravlax) sandwich and a martini. Gravlax, or salt-cured salmon, is a dish of Scandinavian origin, making it perfect for a snack on a cold winter’s day. The method of preservation allows for the flavour of the fish itself to shine through, as opposed to smoking which can be overpowering. Although I would love to share the specifics of my family recipe, my Finnish grandmother has strictly forbidden it.  What I can tell you, however, is that it involves salmon fillets, salt, sugar, dill, spruce boughs (seriously), and time (as opposed to thyme). To make a sandwich (open faced of course), place thin slices of the salmon on lightly buttered rye bread and garnish with green onions.  You may also substitute cream cheese for the butter, while capers and red onions are also acceptable garnishes.

Lunch of (Finnish) champions

Lunch of (Finnish) champions

The cleansing astringency of a martini makes it the ideal accompaniment, cutting through the salty, fatty richness of the fish. Until recently, a martini was unquestionably made with gin and this is how I prefer it. My gin of choice is Loyalist Gin produced by 66 Gilead Distillery of Bloomfield Ontario, but use whatever brand you prefer. With all due respect to Winston Churchill, his martini is really little more than a glass of cold gin. I prefer a 3:1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth. To me shaken or stirred is a matter of personal preference though some purists may disagree. I prefer shaken as it produces a drink that is bracingly cold. The crucial ingredient, one which is so often left out, is a dash or two of bitters.  Bitters are the salt of the cocktail world.  It rounds things out and brings all the ingredients together.  Just as you wouldn’t dream of cooking without salt (even sweet baked goods need a pinch of salt), bitters are a necessity when making a cocktail.  Additionally, with the wide array of bitters available today, you can make different drinks depending on what strikes your fancy while still keeping the gin and vermouth the same.  Some of my favourites to pair with a salt fish sandwich are Scrappy’s cardamom or grapefruit bitters, or Bar Keep’s lavender bitters.  For a non-alcoholic drink, or something to help you digest after some holiday over-indulgence, a few dashes of bitters add a new dimension to club soda.

Whether you buy or make your own salt fish I strongly recommend giving this combination a try.  Just make sure you get outside and earn your indulgence first.

*note: I had started writing this post prior to the extraordinary cold snap which has gripped southern Ontario in its icy fingers.  Having said that, I still stand by my initial statement.  Get outside and enjoy winter!