Christmas Eve Fondue – or, “A Better Way To Take A Train!”

Here on the West Coast, train travel is a bit of a rarity. I know East Coast folks utilize them considerably more than we do which is a damn shame. As an adolescent growing up in Southern California, I used to take the train a lot when my parents moved to Oceanside to visit my friends in Orange County. This was before I had a driver’s license or a car. Needing to get to Reno the day before Thanksgiving and knowing that the last thing anyone really wants to do is tackle airport madness, I decided to make the journey via the California Zephyr, the Amtrak train which starts in Emeryville, California and goes all the way to Chicago, Illinois. During that trip, I sat in the coach area with the hoi palloi and sufficed my hunger pangs with a mediocre burger in the dining car. As The Boyfriend and I needed to head back to Reno for Christmas, I cajoled him into taking the train but making a true adventure out of the trip with a little fondue preparation…

For starters, I knew that we were going to need a little more privacy as well as electricity, so a Superliner Roomette was booked for our culinary enterprise. There is also the distinct advantage of a small fold-out table. As the day of our departure approached, I prepared everything down the last detail. For the cooking of the fondue, a hot-plate from my jewelry studio would work just fine. A trip to the Goodwill provided inexpensive cooking and dining accoutrement which could be either disposed of or donated back at our destination. A small enamel pot, two tin plates, flatware, and wine glasses were had for less than $10.00 total.

Our menu was expanded to include charcuterie with the addition of our bi-monthly Boccalone pork delivery; mortadella and country pâté. But a stop at the Fatted Calf‘s stall at the Ferry Plaza proved that some terrine de foie gras was also required. Olives and cornichons rounded out our lunch plans. Tribaut Rene Champagne was sipped during our preparation while a Prager Riesling was used in both the actual fondue as well as during its consumption. To ease in the actual production, a small caviar jar of pre-mixed Kirschwässer and cornstarch was measured out, Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses were grated and bagged, and a single clove of garlic was peeled.

An interesting aspect of train travel has to do with homeland security — or, I should say, the lack thereof.  We all know the drill with airline flights and the Transportation Security Administration’s regulations : All liquids, gels, and aerosols must be in three-ounce or smaller containers, etc… Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag, ad nauseam. And corkpulls or pen-knives? You know those get confiscated without a second thought. Not on train travel, no sirree-bob! We packed multiple bottles of wine, a serrated bread knife, multiple sharp cheese knives, and everything needed for a full-on feast preparation with nary a glance or a pass-through of any x-ray machines. Also, while we arrived a full hour before our departure time, most only arrived ten or fifteen minutes before the train was slated to leave the station.

And our fondue? Sure, it was my standard Joy of Cooking">Joy of Cooking (the 1973 copyright, thankyouverymuch!) recipe, but I am not sure I ever ate a fondue that tasted quite so good. Perhaps that can be ascribed to nothing other than our unorthodox location and the stunning show-covered peaks we were traveling through. We invited an occasional visitor to our little hovel to share in our bounty and were met with true astonishment at what we were achieving. But I have to confess, much of our conversation centered on devising longer trips and more extravagant feasts. How much could we pre-pack for a three-and-a-half-day trip to Chicago? Maybe we should book a full Sleeper Car where we could run a crock-pot for boeuf bourguignon, fresh crepes or omelets for breakfast on the hot-plate, which would also be used for Steak Diane in the evening. Maybe even a toaster oven for freshly-baked croissants! The possibilities seem endless!

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3 Responses to “Christmas Eve Fondue – or, “A Better Way To Take A Train!””

  1. menuinprogress Says:

    Fun stuff!

  2. Su-Lin Says:

    That is seriously impressive!

  3. sam Says:

    wow! I am speechless

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