We’ve reached the point of the season where most of us are dreaming about venturing to warmer climates.
While I certainly can’t count myself out of the popular opinion, there is a place with subzero temperatures that has become one of my favorite winter destinations.
From the outdoor festivals that rival even the liveliest of summer bashes, to some of the most satisfying comfort food, Montréal is the perfect place for a cold weather escape.
Below is my list of recommended activities, sights, and eats should you find yourself in North America’s Paris.
Pictured above is a formerly abandoned church that has been converted into Bourgie Hall, a music performance hall featuring orchestra, piano, and vocal concerts. Continue reading →
The church was purchased by the adjacent Museum of Fine Arts. All 18 of the Tiffany stained glass windows were preserved, and the building is now eco-certified.
Just next door to Bourgie Hall is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts). The museum offers classic works from reveared Canadian artists as well as more contemporary pieces from international creators such as Andy Warhol and designer, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Another fantastic art museum is the Musée D’Art Contemporain de Montréal(MAM). As the name indicates, more modern art is on display here including films, installations and performance art.
It’s arguably my favorite museum in Montreal and it is situated in the bustling city center, Place des Arts (where you’ll find my favorite installation, 21 Balançoires).
I haven’t had the chance to experience Igloofest yet, but the now world famous winter music event is at the top of my wish list.
The event is held over four weekends in late January and early February, and tickets are just $20! (A far cry from the hundreds you normally pay for electronic music festivals).
You’re encouraged to don your warmest wear, and with the flowing drinks along with hours of dancing don’t be surprised if you start removing layers.
I did mention that Montreal gets cold, but until you experience -14 degree weather, outdoor activities seem almost impossible.
A good option for a freezing cold day is the Biodome.
Not only will you get to experience several different animal habitats, but the largest, and first exhibit upon entry is a trip to a tropical rainforest (complete with humid air).
Aside from the tropics, my favorite animals at the dome have to be the puffins.
These cute little birds look so adorable swimming in their pond, flapping their wings and shimmying through the water.
Another exhibit worth seeing is the butterfly garden, where you’re surrounded by hundreds of free flying butters.
Once you’ve had your fill of animals, stop at the cafe for organic, fair trade, Rainforest Alliance certified coffee.
A refreshing and fairly easy way to see the city is to hike the mountain where the city got its name: Mont-Royal.
If you are traveling alone, do not fret. The hike is a series of staircases leading up to one path.
I’d hate to say it’s impossible to get lost, but you will find it more difficult to do so than staying on course.
Several delightful treasures await you at the top of the mountain
The most obvious is the spectacular view of the city skyline
More surprisingly, you’ll find several chubby squirrels, statues, and several small bodes of water.
And, if all that isn’t enough to convince to hike, possibly the skating pond (seen below) will.
When you reach the top of the stairs, on your left (in season, of course) is a speed skating rink open to the public.
Even if you skip climbing the mountain, there are many other public rinks scattered around the city.
The best way to check their fees, hours, hot cocoa availability and seasonal status is to visit Patiner Montreal.
It would not be a proper trip to Montreal without trying the signature Québécois comfort food, poutine.
Several bars, restaurants, and late night food spots have these gravy-laden french fries on the menu, but you’ll find locals flocking to La Banquise.
This 24 hour diner-style restaurant has been serving over 30 different styles of poutine since 1968.
You won’t find a single restaurant in Montreal with this much variety – or this tasty.
Being a New Yorker, I have – let’s just say – a strong opinion of what a good bagel tastes like.
So, it feels almost treasonous to say that hands down, Montreal bagels are superior.
What makes them different? Aside from their smaller size and extra chewiness, there is also a hint of malty sweetness that’s lacking in NY style bagels.
They are served hot (another bonus), and although I’m used to piling up copious amounts of cream cheese, these bagels need no accoutrements.
There is a serious battle between two bagel giants, St-Viateurand Fairmount, and you’ll have to try both (like I did).
The clear winner for me though is the OG bagel shop, Fairmount.
There is no shortage of great coffee shops here. To keep your energy up, visit a few of my picks:
Cafe Myriadeis Montreal’s first third wave coffee shop, and still one of the best.
The owners hold national barista champion titles and have literally written the book on how to brew good coffee: The Professional Barista’s Handbook.
Café Humble Lion(the cowardly lion) has more creative selections that they serve to nearby McGill students including – what else – a hot maple syrup latte and the usually frowned upon iced lattes.
In Mile End, you’ll find smooth, syphon brewed coffees, delicious Japanese cuisine, and beautiful decor at Café Falco.
Another sippable libation that is prevalent in Montreal is beer.
Many restaurants double as brewpubs, or at the very least, have an extensive beer selection.
The best brewpub in the city is Benelux.
Fortunately for us, our hotel room was just a few blocks away from the bar, so there were many visits there during our last stay.
They have a great, varied selection of beer, all made in house, and light bites including paninis and something called a Eurodog (not exactly sure what that is?).
My drink of choice is duplicity: either I’m in the mood for the light Lux blonde, or the heavier (but not heavy) black IPA.
If you do visit Montreal in the warmer months, they have a quite large patio area mostly populated by smokers and grad students, but I recommend visiting during the NHL playoffs (like we did).
When you’ve had your fill of drinks and savories, switch to something sweet at Dragon Beard Candy in Chinatown.
This unique candy is made by pulling hardened honey blocks into delicate, hair-like strands.
It’s then wrapped into a little packet, and nuts are sealed inside (a warning to those with nut allergies!).
I love that it’s sweet without being overly so, and light as well as crunchy.
Pouding chômeur has an interesting past. Translated, it means “unemployment pudding”.
It gets its strange name from the time it was created: The Great Depression, and because in tough times, stale bread was used in lieu of cake batter (for the unemployed)
Today, bakeries and restaurants use cake batter instead of bread, and hot maple syrup is generously poured on top before baking, giving it a pudding-like texture
Since there is an influx of syrup at the bottom of the pan, it caramelizes as it bakes, and gives the dessert a crispy, buttery underlayer.
Like most of the food items I listed, pouding chômeur can be found at several different places in the city, but interestingly, the locals vote St. Hubert’s (a city-wide rotisserie chicken joint – that also serves poutine) pudding one of the best.
So, there is my wintertime guide to French Canada’s largest city.
Have you been to Montreal in the winter? If so, what did I miss on my list? Leave a comment below!
Although I’ve spent some time recently at Disneyland, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been to my former employer, Walt Disney World.
There have been several changes to Fantasyland since my time being a CP (College Program for those not in the know), and although I don’t have plans to visit anytime soon, I’m excited to see the new additions when I get the chance.Continue reading →
I think the most exciting part of the transformation is the inclusion of two new princess castles: Belle, and my all time favorite, Ariel.
Inside Belle’s castle is a new restaurant appropriately named Be Our Guest.
Just like the film, “Grey Stuff” is listed on the dessert menu.
I was curious to see what the Grey Stuff is made from, and it appears to be a mousse/buttercream frosting hybrid, sometimes served on top of a cupcake.
However, upon investigation, the grey stuff clearly isn’t a sweet treat.
According the picture below, it appears to be an authentic French pâté served on top of a buttery cracker.
Since I don’t care for traditional pâté and I’ve adopted a plant based lifestyle, I decided to make a vegan mushroom pâté instead.
The Chef de cuisine at Adam’s (also known as The Beast) castle chose to serve the grey stuff in a tea sandwich (shown above) as well, so I used sourdough since it’s vegan and garnished with a garlic filled green olive.
My favorite grey stuff – Zooey, my cat (picture above) was very interested in the (somewhat) strange appetizer, but the people (Walter and I) enjoyed the very flavorful tiny bites with a nice glass of full bodied red wine.
Try it, it’s delicious – and easy to make, despite the long recipe.
The Grey Stuff
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1/2 lb. baby bella mushrooms
2 tbsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. chopped rosemary
1 tsp. light (mellow) miso
1/4 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegan crackers of your choice (I found mine at Trader Joe’s)
Put the pecans in a bowl, cover with cold water, and let stand for one hour.
Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with the boiling water and let stand until softened, about 15 minutes.
Rub the porcini to remove grit and transfer into a small bowl, making sure to reserve the soaking liquid.
Thoroughly wash and slice the portobellos into 1/4-inch-thick pieces, and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the tamari, olive oil, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, rosemary and miso.
Add the sliced portobellos and toss to coat evenly. Let stand for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.
In a small saucepan, combine the soaked porcini and sun-dried tomatoes.
Slowly pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before you reach the grit at the bottom. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat until the tomatoes are tender, about 4 minutes.
Drain the pecans and transfer to a blender.
With a slotted spoon, transfer all of the other ingredients into the blender and puree into a coarse paste, adding about 1/4 cup of the porcini cooking liquid.
Add a little more of the porcini liquid if the mixture is too thick.
Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately or slightly chilled on crackers, preferably by candelight.
It’s a privilege that during the darkest and coldest days of the year, we get a bit of sunshine in the form of citrus fruit. Refreshing, colorful and full of vitamin C, I’ve recently made it a habit to start my day with a grapefruit. While grapefruit for breakfast may not be revolutionary, broiled grapefruit certainly is.
Warm like a bright summer day and as cool as a dip in the ocean. It’s quick to make, uses simple ingredients and, you have the added bonus of the broiler warming up your house in the a.m.
The cinnamon, while optional, not only adds flavor, but has anti-inflammatory properties, perfect for curing morning puffiness and, ahem, mucus issues.
Set your own to broil. Slice the grapefruit in half, along the equator, not through the poles where the stem connects and separate the halves. Using a sharp paring knife, make a series of cuts from the center of the grapefruit out, tracing along the membranes. This will loosen the fruit from the membranes. Turn the grapefruit as you cut, making sure not to miss any membranes. Place grapefruit halves on a baking sheet and sprinkle with stevia and cinnamon (if desired). Broil for 5-10 minutes, or until. Serve warm and say goodbye to scurvy.
If you have dry skin like me, wintertime can wreak havoc on your complexion. Drinking plenty of water and using a humidifier (or placing a water filled pot on your radiator daily) in your home is especially important during the winter months because the cold, arid air can zap your skin of its natural moisture completely. Adding extra moisture to the air can also keep you healthy – it speeds up recovery time should you get sick and can ward off sinus infections and colds.
Just as your wardrobe changes throughout the seasons, your skin care routine should as well. Layering hydrating skin products, just as you layer on clothes before you go outside, can help keep your skin looking fresh and dewy all season long.
The four major areas of focus (this goes for oily skin as well) for proper winter skin care are the following:
Properly moisturizing your skin begins here. If you use a cleanser that irritates or dries out your skin, it will be a lot harder to put moisture back in.
During this time of year, I like using a milk cleanser instead of a face wash. If your usual cleanser doesn’t bother your skin, by all means continue to use it, but make sure to avoid bar soap!
Since your skin repairs itself while you sleep, the best time to exfoliate is in the morning. Using an exfoliating scrub is the quickest way to brighten your skin (for a DIY body scrub, check out my post here). However, make sure you don’t over-exfoliate!
Using a dime size amount, scrub your face in a circular motion for no more than 30 seconds and rinse, with lukewarm, not hot water.
Exfoliating a few times a week should be enough to remove any dead skin cell build-up. If you have really sensitive skin or rosacea, you may want to skip a scrub altogether and just use a washcloth instead.
After exfoliation, it’s time to treat your skin. In the morning, I like to start off with a few sprays of Evian Mineral Water, followed by Mario Basdecu’s Vitamin C serum and then finish with a day cream.
For makeup, I skip foundation and use a BB Cream that I bought in China. Since it’s water based (more than 60%), it also helps to promote and retain hydration throughout the day.
At night, after removing any makeup with extra virgin olive oil, I use the After-Party Repair cream from Kaia House.
Last, and maybe most important, finish with sunscreen. If your moisturizer or foundation is equipped with SPF 15 you’re all set, if not, make sure you use a sunscreen daily.
Just as you have to reapply your sunscreen several times during the day in the summer, if you plan on doing any outdoor activities – skiing, snowboarding, tubing or even sledding, make sure you bring along your sunscreen and reapply every few hours
It’s important to note, for those who don’t think using sunscreen is important in the winter, that if you’ve ever experienced a”windburn” it’s not caused by the wind at all – it’s actually a sunburn.
By following this regimen, you skin should look and feel younger and brighter. Let it snow!
Clambakes and catamarans may seem very far away, but Daylight Savings Time begins this weekend (!!!!), and now is the time to start making plans for the summer.
Walter and I wanted to experience the annual Sheffield Island Clambake for quite a while, but the weather wasn’t always on our side.
We finally got the opportunity to go on one very sunny late summer day, and we had a fantastic time.
We boarded the boat from the Maritime Aquarium dock at 6pm. Since we went later in the season, we were sailing just around sunset.
On the way to the island, our guide told us some fun facts about Sheffield and its surrounding area, and we spotted some wild birds like ospreys and herons.
Once on the island, we were escorted to a beautiful tented area, and given our entree choice (salmon for both ofus), as well as buttery clams (Walterapproved), corn on the cob, potatoes, salad, and dessert.
After dinner, we walked around the shores of the island, and checked out the historic 145-year-old lighthouse.
It was at this point where we were utterly attacked by mosquitos. No amount of bug spray (DEET, natural, or otherwise) was a match for these mutant mosquitos that I kept comparing to the track jackers from the Hunger Games.
I highly recommend wearing long pants and a jacket to avoid getting bit the way Idid.
Despite the bug ambush, we had a fantastic time, and even caught an amazing glimpse of a red moon.
We then boarded the boat again, and arrived back around 10 p.m., full and, in my case, itchy.
The clambakes run on Thursday evenings during July and August. The price for the roundtrip cruise and dinner is either $65 or $79 per person, depending on entree choice, and advanced registration is required.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island. All opinions are 100% mine.
It is a bone chilling 4 degrees in Connecticut today, and it looks like there are more freezing temperatures in store for the next few days.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy getaway to a tropical destination (who isn’t?), that is less than 4 hours away with no passport or money exchange required, pack your bikini and head to sunny Puerto Rico!
There are activities to be found for all personality types in Puerto Rico. From the 270 miles of glistening coastline (including Flamenco Beach in Culebra, cited by the Travel Channel as one of the best beaches in the world!), to the breathtaking bioluminescent bays, hiking up to the clouds at the only rainforest under US national park service, El Yunque, and spectacular cave walks, nature lovers will have their fill of stunning sights.
The culturally inclined will find charm in downtown old San Juan, sunset shoreline horseback riding excursions, innovative cuisine at hundreds of excellent restaurants, and of course, plenty of delicious Puerto Rican rums available almost everywhere during the bustling nighttime events.
Puerto Rico Tourism recently partnered with the popular travel review site Trip Advisor to transform real traveler reviews from the website into gorgeous short films featuring the locations mentioned in the reviews, and narrated by local Puerto Rican stars.
These videos are sure to inspire you to visit this special island, and here is my favorite video of the series: