I’ve always loved trains. I love the soporiphic sway that draws you out of the station, and leads you through unfamiliar, remote landscapes. I love the mounting excitement as you arrive at a strange platform, the anticipation of an adventure about to begin.
When I was 21 I queued up to buy an Interrail ticket. It was to be a whistle stop tour around Europe before starting a work placement in France. A friend and I took the sleeper out of Barcelona and headed north to meet another friend in Nice. There was no itinerary, there was no plan; just an urge to head for strange and foreign lands.
I remember sweating in the 40 degree heat of Budapest, desperately trying to stay focused on thrilling architecture, but so relieved when we could duck into Burger King where they had veggie burgers and air conditioning.
I remember at the start of one long journey, bagging a compartment all to ourselves. We didn’t want to share it so came up with a plan. We removed our stinking shoes and grime-encrusted socks, and shut the window up tight. As hapless backpackers hove into view and eyed our compartment, we broke into seemingly spontaneous laughter. They looked at our stinking, hot compartment filled with crazed, close-knit friends and moved swiftly on.
I remember the sun setting on the flat Hungarian fields. I sat by the train’s open door and watched the world trundle past; I felt so happy, so free. When I returned to the carriage Ian informed me that he could see a nun’s knickers. She was fast asleep, legs akimbo, knickers for all to see. Chickens clucked around her feet; I don’t think they belonged to her, they seemed to be with the unsmiling men in their suit trousers and string vests.
I remember being woken in the night by a train guard, snarling at us in a strange tongue. The panic we felt as we understood that our section of the train was about to stop and only the front section would be carrying on. The mad scramble to get the backpacks, the dash down the corridor and Emma’s big mistake as she went out the wrong door and landed on the track. We hauled her back in by the top of her rucksack and collapsed in a heap in yet another train compartment.
When the guard came and woke us again, we were not in the mood. We grunted and turned over, and awoke much later to a very silent train. A silent train that was not moving. A glance out of the window confirmed that we were in a siding, but where? It was hours before we were due to arrive at our destination. Again the scramble, the heavy backpacks, stumbling along in the siding dwarfed by freight trains, trying to find a platform. We staggered up to the first man we saw, as he appeared out of the early morning mist,
‘Where ARE we?’
‘Krakow’ he replied.
We laughed in our hotel room at our fear, the thought of being lost in a siding somewhere in the Eastern bloc. We laughed as we changed up our money and briefly became Zloty millionaires, and we rejoiced in the cheapness of the beer. Yet later, as we walked silently around Auschwitz, there were no more reasons to smile. The piles of shoes, the human hair, the glasses hastily removed; it’s an experience that never leaves you.
A couple of months ago this jumble of memories filled my head as my train pulled slowly out of the Gare de Lyon. I was on my way to Lausanne; no children, no husband, just me, off to visit some friends.
I spent the only hot weekend of the summer discovering a small corner of Switzerland. We went to see the cows coming down from the mountains for winter. Impossibly large bells and their daft, floral hats weighed them down. We watched men perform the gentle art of flag throwing, accompanied by the haunting melodies of Swiss horns. We sampled, light, fresh Swiss wine; so lovely yet so unavailable to the rest of the world. The viticulteurs we spoke to don't export; they have tiny production runs and serve the domestic market. Surely there should be an EU subsidy to remedy this crying shame? We brunched on Sunday by Lac Léman and all too soon I was boarding my train back to Paris.
Before I left, Fran made me some muffins. Deliciously light little babes of muffins. Fresh and zingy, they were gone in a flash. I’ve managed to make them gluten free and they are the perfect snack for a long, thoughtful train journey. Be it to Lausanne, Poland or just for the 7.25 out of Charing Cross.
Orange Train Muffins (makes about 12)
Fran took her recipe from a book called, 'The Best of Annabel Langheim'. The author writes that they were a speciality of her mother. They are indeed very special; I love the blitzing of whole oranges, so simple, so clever.
Gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free version:
2 medium oranges
1ooml orange juice
1 tsp Orgran 'no egg' + 2tbsps orange juice
1 heaped tbsp ground linseeds + 1 tbsp orange juice (You can make ground linseeds by blending whole linseeds. Dead easy)
120g dairy free spread
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g rice flour
40g buckwheat flour
1.5tsp xanthan gum
For egg-free, dairy-free version:
Use the first 8 ingredients listed above.
Omit the xanthan gum and use 215g plain flour (I used 130g wholewheat and 85g white flour)
Still use the linseeds.
For the gluten-free version: (note, I've not yet tried this version)
Use the gluten-free flours and xanthan gum shown above
use 1 egg instead of the the egg replacers.
Still use the linseeds.
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius / Gas 4
- Line a muffin pan with muffin cases
- For the egg-free version; mix the egg replacer with the orange juice and set aside
- Mix the tbsp of ground linseeds with the tbsp of orange juice. Set aside
- Melt the dairy free spread in the microwave or by gently melting in a small saucepan. Set aside
- Roughly chop the oranges and remove any pips. Put the chopped orange into a blender and add the 120ml of orange juice. Blend until the mixture is smooth. You might end up with little morsels of orange peel, but it works fine in the muffin, don't fret
- To the blender add the following: the egg replacer mix / real egg, the ground linseed mix, the melted dairy-free spread. Blend again until it's all mixed together
- In a large mixing bowl put the flour (GF or wheat), baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and xanthan gum (if using GF flour). Use a mini whisk to make sure everything is combined
- Add the contents of the blender to the contents of the mixing bowl and stir gently with a wooden spoon until it's all mixed together. Don't beat it, just be gentle
- Add a good dollopy tablespoon to each muffin case, aim for about half full
- Bake for about 15 minutes, but keep your eye on them. They may take longer, they may go more quickly. Cheeky muffins - they keep you on your toes