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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Train Fare Food

Yesterday, I shared our foodie purchases on our recent visit to Wisconsin.  We opted to travel by train to avoid nasty road conditions.  Having traveled that route a few times in the winter, we know just how treaterous it can be.  Seriously, the one year we hit the bad area at the bottom of Lake Michigan to see several car accidents, a few jack-knifed trucks and we were at 20 miles an hour for  about 60 miles.  We drove from Ontario, Canada to Port Huron, Michigan where we caught the 6 AM train heading to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  There was a stop over in Chicago, Illinois.  The train between Port Huron and Michigan has a dining car as it is almost a 6 hour ride but the train between Chicago and Milwaukee has a dining cart that the conductor goes from car to car as it is only about a 2 hour ride.

deli sandwich and salad
Traveling by train is less restrictive than traveling by plane in that there aren't security checks so you can bring your own food and drink on board without being tied to what is offered on the concourse.  Bringing you own is considerably less expensive even if bought from a deli.  We were at Walmart to buy a cooler for the cheese so decided to buy a garden salad for me, a turkey and salami sub for my husband, two individual serving sized yogurts and two apples for our lunch on the train from Milwaukee to Chicago.  The entire lunch for two ended up costing us $11.50 but it was more substantial than just the snacks being offered.

dining area of dining car on Amtrack train
The layover between the train from Milwaukee to Chicago and the one from Chicago to Port Huron is 1 hour and 15 minutes if the train is on time.  There is no dilly dallying or time for a quick meal as there is at the airport.  Train seats are unassigned so if you want to sit together, you need to get in line quickly.

The dining car on a train is the same size as a regular car.  You do have to walk to it and be aware that the train is moving.  The car is divided into about three quarters of table seating if you wish to sit there.  There are plugs available for electronic devices not only in the dining car but at each seat.  While personal food and beverages are allowed on the train they are not allowed to be brought into the dining car.  The remaining quarter of the car is the cooking and serving area.  Be warned that this space is small so if you want to use the dining car, try to time it away from the prime meal times.

dining car order counter
My husband is a former classed engineer (CN rail) and conductor (VIA rail) so we have had plenty of train experience.  At one time, all food served on the trains was prepared on the trains.  I think about the only food actually made on board the short distance trains now is coffee.   The menu is rather limited and the prices are higher but not so high as to be gouging customers.  Tips are not mandatory but it's nice to leave one.  Unlike the plane service, the trains will take old fashioned cash but credit cards and debit are also accepted.  Food and drink including alcoholic drinks can be brought from the dining car to your seat if you choose.

We are looking at doing a train adventure that would take us 3 days on the train each way.  A berth, (private sleeping/riding quarters) is definitely recommended for this type of trip and meals are included.   Long distance trains still have on board meals and a dining car.  You do have to RSVP as seating is in 15 to 30 minute intervals so as to not over crowd the dining car.

pizza on the train
Dining on the short distance trains is not fine dining but with no time to stop between trains, it is better than nothing.  I actually walked to the dining car to bring back a few goodies for our dinner (perfect excuse to get some pictures!).

I got my husband a peperoni pizza.  It came in a half pizza box with the pizza on a microwave safe foil tray that ensured the crust didn't get soggy.  I can remember years ago, these pizzas being sold in vending machines at the university cafferterias but haven't seen them for ages.  I don't know if they are still available to the general public or just for the food service industry.  Surprisingly, these pizzas are rather tasty.

All heated food on the short distance trains is prepared ahead, vacuum sealed then reheated in the microwave oven.  Now, this is not as bad as it sounds.  I've done countless quick starts then vacuum sealed them and froze to be reheated in the microwave or a boiling pot of water.  In fact, a lot of the top chefs are now using the boil-in-a-bag method because it retains flavour and nutrients while decreasing cooking time.

I bought two Angus cheese burgers.  It was sealed in a pouch for easy reheating.  Condiments were available including and the first I've ever seen it a condiment packet of chopped onions.

angus burger
The cheeseburger was a good size and it was quite tasty.  I was not fond of the texture of the bun but then I could say that about any bread coming out of the microwave.  The bun was more steamed due to the packaging so on the borderline soggy, chewy side.  Other than that it was a good burger.

I paid $19.95 plus a tip for the pizza, two burgers and bottled water which in perspective is not that bad of a price for a meal for two when traveling.  Had we had a long enough layover, we likely could not have eaten for that price at Union Station in Chicago to begin with so eating on the train for a hot meal, wasn't such a bad deal.

When traveling, there are only so many food items you can carry with you.  At some point, you will need to buy a meal or extra drinks.  If you are on a train from 6 AM to 3 PM, at some point you will need to buy food or refreshments.  I found the food rather reasona bly priced for what you got although the selection was rather limited.  Bottled water was $2.50 which was rather high and alcoholic drinks were $7.  We filled our water bottles at the kids then again at the train station during the layover and my husband brought a couple of cans of pop so we avoided that cost.  He doesn't drink much pop.  So over all, we spent about $40 for the day for food for two people which really isn't bad.  Heck, we have spent that much in air terminal food in one sitting!

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