Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Canadian Rockies in Winter



Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

In January last year, as part of our coast-to-coast tour of Canada, we took the VIA Rail Canadian route from Vancouver to Toronto.

The Canadian route wends its way through the Rocky Mountains, giving rise to some stunning scenery. I'm sure the Rockies are beautiful at any time of year; I love mountains, and these are some serious mountains. But they're especially fabulous in the snow.

You do have to be dedicated to wrapping up warm: January is truly the depths of winter. It wasn't just cold, it was -35°C, broken-rail freezing. When the temperatures have dropped too low for even the Canadian railways to maintain normal operation, then you know you're looking at some serious weather.

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

When we stopped to stretch our legs in Jasper and Winnipeg, woe betide anyone who forgot their gloves or decided they could get away with only a couple of warm layers. Even walking to the buffet car, you had to crunch through minor snowdrifts in the vestibules.

Jasper in particular had the look of a European ski resort, all wooden chalets with snow-capped roofs. I've only ever been skiing in Europe, but the gorgeous scenery on this trip got me interested in looking at ski holidays in Canada. North American ski resorts have a reputation for being less technical than some of the European mountains, but also having more space on the slopes, which I think would suit my (somewhat haphazard) style. Either way, it would be fun to find out, and to experience a different style of ski holiday.

We had to settle for admiring the mountains from a distance this time (although we did pop up to go snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain while we were in Vancouver), with the occasional short walk when the train stopped to refuel. If we'd been able to plan a longer trip, I wished we'd had time to stop off in the middle of the country, so I'm sure we'll be returning before long to correct that omission.

And we did actually get one extra day of scenery, compared to the scheduled service. We'd planned a day in Toronto before hopping across to Montreal to catch the Ocean route to Halifax on the Atlantic coast, but instead, we woke on the fourth morning to find the train hadn't moved in the night. The aforementioned fractured rail, coupled with a couple of broken-down trains, had led to a backlog on the route - and one interesting feature of Canadian railways is that the passenger trains have to give way to the all-important freight. (For the 'inconvenience' of the delay, we got a refund of half our fare. Not bad compensation for an extra day of sightseeing!)

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Red Onion & Caraway Rolls



Onion & Caraway Bread

I just realised that I've had my bread machine for over a year. This wasn't our first bread machine, but it's the first one that's actually been good enough for us to use it regularly. And honestly, there's very little that beats fresh bread, so I'm in favour of anything that makes the process that bit quicker and easier.

We actually ordered this specific model after visiting friends who fed us the lightest, fluffiest bread we'd ever eaten. If you've never had that kind of accidental sales endorsement then I can heartily recommend the Panasonic range (there's a good range on Tesco Direct). Ours is the SD-ZB2502, which is the one with all the bells and whistles, but the main difference from the lower spec is having a yeast dispenser - helpful if you want to put the timer on and not worry about the yeast starting to activate too soon, but not exactly critical.

Bread machine

Admittedly most of the time I use the machine to facilitate my laziness. On the timer, overnight, it's easy to make a simple sourdough loaf for breakfast. And if I get up in the morning and realise we've nothing for lunch, there's a "speed" cycle that makes a perfectly adequate loaf in two hours. Obviously the two-hour loaf will never be quite as good as dough that's had time to rise slowly on the five- or six-hour cycle, but it's more than nice enough for a sandwich or to accompany a bowl of soup.

But when I have a little more time, one of my favourite things is to knock up a batch of fresh rolls. It's fun to experiment with different flours and flavourings - and I know I manage to try out a lot more ideas now I've got the machine to do the leg-work for me.

For the base of these rolls, I used the focaccia dough recipe from the booklet that came with the bread machine, which has a lovely texture and results in a great crumb. You could totally make these by hand, too, you'll just have to spend a bit more time kneading.

Onion & Caraway Bread

Onion & Caraway Bread

Onion & Caraway Bread

Red Onion & Caraway Rolls
Makes 6

300g (10½oz) strong white flour
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp salt
170ml cold water (about ¾cup)
½tsp instant yeast
1tbsp caraway seeds
1 small red onion (diced finely)
  1. With a breadmaker:
    Add all ingredients to the bowl, and use the dough cycle to combine (on mine, it's program 22 for 45 minutes).
    Without a breadmaker:
    Warm the water and dissolve the yeast, then fold all ingredients together and knead the dough for 30 minutes.
  2. Divide the dough into six even pieces and fold the edges underneath to create a rounded shape.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
  4. Arrange on a floured baking tray, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (30-45 minutes).
  5. Brush the tops of the rolls with a little extra olive oil.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden-brown in appearance. Each roll should sound hollow when you tap the base.
  7. Cool on a wire rack, or enjoy while warm.


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Creamy Asparagus Pasta #PastaPlease



Asparagus Pasta

Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen has combining Jac's Pasta Please with her own new challenge Eat Your Greens, picking a green theme for Pasta Please this month.

I've been a fan of Shaheen's blog for absolutely ages, so I'm delighted that she's got a new monthly cookery challenge for us. (And one that won't be any trouble to enter, since I'm always using green vegetables in all sorts of recipes!)

I'd been planning this dish for a little while, anyway, and had some asparagus spears in the fridge when I read the announcement - so it was very good timing for me. Asparagus is one of my very favourite vegetables (of any colour!) and pairing it with the fresh coriander leaf worked surprisingly well.

 

Creamy Asparagus Pasta
Serves 2

250g asparagus spears
1 small onion
1tsp olive oil
¼cup vegetable stock
2tbsp fresh coriander (cilantro) leaf
1tbsp clotted cream
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200g pasta (dry weight)
  1. Wash and trim the asparagus.
  2. Finely dice the onion.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and fry the onion and asparagus until the onion softens.
  4. Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta.
  5. Add the vegetable stock and simmer to cook the asparagus.
  6. Blend the sauce, adding the coriander, pepper, and cream at the last minute.
  7. Cook the pasta, toss through the sauce, and serve immediately.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Niagara Falls in Photos



Niagara Falls

On our recent visit to the US, we noticed that we'd be passing within an hour or so of Niagara Falls. Well, I say "we". I had no idea where Niagara was, so it fell to Andy to do all the actual noticing, but I was very glad he did, and obviously we planned our route to make sure we had a spare day to spend at the Falls.

There's some debate over whether the American side or the Canadian side of the Falls is "better". Given the simplicity of crossing the bridge between nations, however, it seemed silly to visit Niagara without taking in both aspects.

The American side has a lovely State park, and you can get up close and personal with the raging water.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

We decided to walk to Canada, in part because our rental car wasn't insured for international travel, but also because the chance to walk to Canada doesn't crop up that often. It's always fun to stand straddling an international border, with each foot in a different country. The view from the Rainbow Bridge was spectacular, and really gives a great sense how huge this river is.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

The Canadian side, by contrast, has arguably the better views, but keeps you at a greater distance from the water (only the American side has signs telling you that it's illegal to swim).

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

We were really surprised by the number of Amish tourists, on both sides of the river. We've visited the Amish heartlands in Pennsylvania on a previous trip, but I hadn't realised that the Amish lifestyle left scope for taking vacations to tourist hotspots. Many of them even had cameras to capture their own holiday snapshots.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

We decided to treat ourselves to an overnight stay in Canada, so I did a little online research to pick out the hotels likely to have the best views. I found a really handy map showing all the area's hotels, on both sides of the river. Thanks to a great deal at the last minute, we booked into the Embassy Suites Fallsview hotel (part of the Hilton chain) for a price that was only about twice what we'd have paid in a mid-range business hotel with no such view. Although the desk clerk tried to sell us an upgrade, we'd already picked our room carefully, and the view was spectacular. There was also a huge jacuzzi bath, and free wine at the manager's reception, so I had absolutely no complaints. The breakfast buffet was decent, too, with plenty of choice and a few cooked-to-order options (and more views!).

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Staying in Canada also gave us the best chance to view Niagara Falls at night. There was a storm coming in so we got a bit wet when we ventured out to see the light show up close, but with the lights off in our room, we could enjoy most of the experience without even leaving the comfort of our armchairs.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

All in all, Niagara falls is (obviously) a massive tourist trap, but for me it was one of those rare occasions when something massively hyped turns out to be, actually, absolutely worth a visit. I loved every minute, and we'll definitely be going back.

Niagara Falls


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Fates of Worlds: A Charity Anthology



I'm excited to announce that I'm working with six other authors this month to raise money for literacy charity Reading is Fundamental.

This is an anthology of the kind that's really only become possible since the development of e-books: we're releasing seven full-length books for the price of one, with all profits going to charity.

The Fates of Worlds is almost a million words of sci-fi goodness, and is available now to pre-order for less than the price of a coffee.

UK Links:   Amazon • iTunes • Google Play
US Links:   Amazon • iTunes • Barnes & Noble • Google Play



I've only read Tsar Wars and Escape Velocity so far (well, and Rebellion, obviously!), but if that's any indication of the quality of the collection, this is going to be a great deal. I'm looking forwards to sinking my teeth into the rest when I get my copy of the anthology (release day is 15th September).

Here's a little more information about all the books in the collection:

PREDESTINATION by J. Daniel Sawyer
"A sweeping tale of politics, corruption, intrigue, betrayal, and murder...a fast paced ride through a future that's too plausible to be ignored." --Nathan Lowell, author of Quarter Share and Ravenwood

TSAR WARS by Stephen Goldin
“In all ways I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the next one.” (reader review)

STAR VIGILANTE by T. Jackson King
Matt Dragoneaux is an interstellar hired gun who follows the Code of the Vigilante: track ‘em, strike ‘em, and be elsewhere when the Anarchate battleglobe shows up.

THE REMNANT by Paul B. Spence
“It has action, suspense, very good character building and enough plots and plot twists to fill the whole book shelf, let alone one book.” (reader review)

THE CHOSEN ONE by Anna Erishkigal
“It's like Star Trek meets creation mythos... ” (reader review)

ESCAPE VELOCITY by Steven J. Pemberton
A phone call from his dead wife wasn't the strangest thing that happened to rocket scientist Sam Grainger that day...

REBELLION by Rachel Cotterill
A fast-paced adventure following a young woman's search for a secret society of elite assassins, described by reviewers as "cinematic" and "unputdownable".


UK Links:   Amazon • iTunes • Google Play
US Links:   Amazon • iTunes • Barnes & Noble • Google Play

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