Wanderlust: Hotel Chez Swann, Montreal

When traveling, my preference is to stay in a hotel with a little edge to it, lest my hard earned money be wasted on a lifeless cement and glass tower that makes me feel like I'm staying inside a conference room. With this in mind, I'm always looking for a cool hotel that reinforces the culture of where it's located, works with talented and ambitious artists or, at least, provides some unparalleled experience that I can make memories out of. Introducing: Hotel Chez Swann of Montreal. The Proust reference in the name and the post-glam nature of their website may have a few travelers scratching their heads but I think if you keep an open mind, scroll the gallery and book a stay, you'll be glad you did.

We caught up with food blogger/eccentric tastemaker Aaron Arizpe at Pocketfork who recently spent a weekend up north at Chez Swann. He says, as masochistic as it sounds, that the time to visit the low, low Arctic tundra is now.

What should we pack for a weekend at Chez Swann?

  • Your most comfortable bath robe. (Dual rainfall shower heads in a glass-walled "peek-a-boo" shower about as big as my apartment.)
  • Your credit card. Really good shopping area.
  • 3x more layers of clothing than you think you'll need.

What can't we miss during a weekend in Montreal?

  • A sugar shack! Like, say, Au Pied de Cochon's "Cabane à Sucre" that's roughly a 45 minute drive west of Montreal. It opens for the season today and runs through mid-May. Similar food, obviously, to Au Pied de Cochon itself and to Joe Beef which everybody (including me) also recommends.
  • Cafe Myriade. Epic coffee shop. Epic. My favorite on the planet. Four rotating roasters every day. Espresso flights. Siphon, eva solo, french press. All sorts of caffeinated shenanigans.
  • Parc du Mont-Royal. Maybe it's cliche but that park, especially when it's super snowy, is really beautiful. From there you've got views of the whole city. Plus it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who co-designed New York's Central Park.

For more travel stories by Mac Malikowski:

5 Healthy Root Vegetables to Munch on this Season

Root vegetables are star performers on many restaurant menus throughout the colder weather months. These edible underground plants generally have no fat and are low in calories. They can be an excellent source of protein, and their phytonutrients are proven to have extraordinary health benefits. The phytonutrients include antioxidants that fight free radicals in our bodies.

Root vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins and complex carbohydrates. Due to their nature, they can survive cold storage and are invaluable for winter nutrition in cold climates when little else is growing.

Here is a list of 5 healthy root vegetables that will satisfy your taste buds and your waistline!

1. Parsnip: It's time to give this underrated root a chance because its flavor is surprisingly delicious and addictive. Parsnips are sweet like carrots but with rich floral and herbal undertones that pair beautifully with a number of meat dishes or can stand on their own as an excellent side dish.

Another reason to choose parsnips: a cup of raw, sliced parsnips contains 6.5 grams of fiber, nearly double the amount found in carrots. 100 g root provides 4.9 mg or 13% of fiber. Adequate fiber in the diet helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, obesity and constipation conditions. The white veggie is also a good source of potassium and an excellent source of vitamin C and folate. In addition, one cup of parsnips supplies nearly 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin K, which plays a role in preventing blood clotting.

How to store: Keep parsnips loosely wrapped in the produce drawer of the refrigerator, and use within two to three weeks.

What to look for: Parsnips look similar to ivory or pale-yellow carrots, with a bulbous top tapering down to a skinny root. Choose small, firm parsnips that are not limp or shriveled.

2. Turnip: Turnips are nutritious and versatile in any season. They really stand out during the winter as a timeless, ancient crop with its deliciously sweet and tender white roots. Turnips, often handsomely blushed with pink to purple at the crown are rich in sulfuric compounds, particularly glucosinolates that are believed to have antioxidant properties. They're also a very good source of potassium.

When you can get them with the greens attached, they're a two-in-one crop, like beets, as their greens bring you a whole new set of nutrients - lots of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin A and beta carotene - and culinary possibilities. Turnip greens are similar in flavor to kale, perhaps a little more bitter, and with a more delicate texture. The leaves are perfect for recipes that call for the classic cooked 'Southern greens'.

How to Store: When you get your selections home, cut any green tops down; wrap the vegetables in and airtight bag and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Use baby turnips within a few days; larger turnips and rutabagas will keep a little longer, some up to several weeks.

What to look for: In the garden, grocery store, or farmers' market, choose firm, unwrinkled vegetables with root and stem ends intact. Avoid those with soft spots.

3. Beet: Sweet is the beet. They have the highest sugar content of any vegetable, which gives them an earthy sweetness. But they are also low in calories, high in fiber, rich in iron, and full of cancer-fighting beta-carotene and folic acid, which can help prevent birth defects.

These full-flavored globes are smooth with a deep, rich crimson color or an inviting gold color and strong tops. Garden beets are very low in calories (contain only 45 kcal/100 g), and contain only small amount of fat. Its nutrition benefits come particularly from fiber, vitamins, minerals, and unique plant derived anti-oxidants. They are highly nutritious and "cardiovascular health" friendly root vegetables.

Beets come with tall and flavorful tops that are excellent for harvesting as greens. Cut the tall greens and use in lieu of spinach, kale, or chard.

How to Store: Top greens should be used while they are fresh. Beetroot, however, can be kept in the refrigerator for few weeks.

What to look for: In the store, choose fresh, bright, firm textured beets with rich flavor. Avoid those with slump looking or soft in consistency. Look for bunches of firm beets with fresh-looking greens. (Wilted beet greens don't necessarily signal bad beets, but better-looking greens mean more vegetable for your money.) Unless you're planning to chop or grate them, choose a uniform-sized bunch so they'll cook in the same amount of time. (Small to medium beets are generally more tender.)

4. Sweet Potato: With their dark-amber skin and bright-orange filling, sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamins B6 and C. Sweet potatoes are not only sweet to your taste buds, they are also good for your cardiovascular health. Vitamin B6 helps reduce the chemical homocysteine in our bodies.  Homocysteine has been linked with degenerative diseases, including the prevention of heart attacks.

Sweet potatoes contain Vitamin D, which is critical to the immune system and overall health at this time of year.  Both a vitamin and a hormone, vitamin D is primarily made in our bodies as a result of getting adequate sunlight. You may have heard about seasonal affective disorder (or SAD, as it is also called), which is linked to inadequate sunlight and therefore a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D plays an important role in our energy levels, moods, and helps to build healthy bones, heart, nerves, skin, and teeth, and it supports the thyroid gland.

How to Store: They should be stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place.

What to look for: In the store, buy fresh tubers with intact smooth skin and firm to woody consistency. Go for organic varieties for best taste and nutrition levels. Avoid soft, flabby, or wilted roots. In addition, sprouting make them loose flavor.

5. Jicama: This is not a vegetable that is used everyday in American culture, but Jicama is very low calorie root vegetable that contains only 35 calories per 100 g. Similar to turnips, jicama is rich in vitamin C and contains powerful water-soluble anti-oxidant that helps body scavenge harmful free radicals, thereby offers protection from cancers, inflammation and viral cough and cold.

A nice change from the standard green salad, try making a crunchy jicama side dish incorporating chopped cucumber, freshly squeezed lime juice and a dash of salt and spices. This root vegetable is a perfect compliment to a fresh grilled fish or a plate of black beans and rice.

How to Store: Once at home, jicamas can be stored much alike potatoes. They have very good shelf life and keep well in a cool, dry, dark place for about 3-4 weeks. However, prolong storage converts starch to sugar, which makes the roots less sought after in savory dishes.

What to look for: Choose well-formed, firm, round, medium sized tubers. Avoid soft, shriveled, or tubers with surface cuts, cracks and bruise skin.

Photo: Matupplevelser

For more healthy tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Seven Ways to Stay Healthy This Winter

By: Michele Wolfson

I thought after having some time off during the holidays to take it easy would leave me feeling well rested, but it seems that I'm still exhausted. I managed to avoid going to the mall all together this year, but I guess the cooking, the traveling, and the late-nights up laughing were enough to wear me down.

Even though the holiday season is over, the winter has just begun. The temperatures have been cold this January and the lack of sunshine that occurs this month has a considerable affect on our mood levels.  Here is a list of seven ways to stay healthy physically and mentally this winter season. I hope these tips will motivate both you and I to get back to our normal routine and these small actions will keep your happy during the cold months to come!

1. Exercise: Low temperatures make it rather hard to pull yourself out from underneath a pile of blankets. But during the cold weather, nudge yourself to get moving because exercise helps your mood and immune system. Not a fan of outdoor activities? Keep an eye out for gyms offering free trials or classes; hit the mall and walk laps; or simply add a few at-home exercises like squats, lunges, and wall push-ups to your daily routine. If you can, avoid the elevator and take the stairs.

2. Wash your hands and your produce: Especially to those New Yorkers who take the subway, wash your hands! Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea.

Some may think that washing their produce is an unnecessary extra step in the process of consuming fruits and veggies, but in reality, it is crucial to give your produce a good wash. The main reason for this is to get rid of pesticides. Pesticides are known to be toxic and since their side effects aren't fully clear, it is a good idea to avoid eating them.

It has been argued that organic vegetables and fruits do not need to be washed, but what about protection from everyone who is handling them? Not everyone is washing their hands and it is not uncommon that, for instance, produce falls out of a truck in NYC onto the street, rolls down the pavement into a puddle and then is picked up and put right back into the barrel (yep, seen it happen more than once). Gross!

You should even wash produce that you are going to peel. Scrub firm produce with skin, like cucumbers and potatoes, with a stiff-bristled brush. Experts say to "assume that the outside layer of any fruit or vegetable will have absorbed most of the pesticides (though some will have also have been absorbed from the soil), and wash/peel or discard these outer layers whenever you can." One way to minimize your exposure to toxic pesticides is to buy organic produce as often as possible, especially with fruits and veggies that you and your family eat the most.

What is the best way to wash your produce? That would be to use vinegar, and use one part vinegar to three parts water. This is great for removing bacteria, and may help break down wax as well.

3. Eat one dark green vegetable a day: Dark green veggies contain minerals like iron and vitamins like A, C, K, and folate that your body needs to stay healthy. Instead of sticking with spinach, try something different like sauteed dandelion greens or mustard greens added to a stir-fry, or kale or Swiss chard added to a favorite stew or soup recipe.

4. Catch up with a friend: Instead of embarking on a Netflix marathon, whether it is Mad Men or Breaking Bad, call a dear friend. During a snowstorm when you are housebound is a good time to catch up with someone that you haven't talked to in a while. Hearing a sweet friend's voice can boost your mood and socializing helps you feel connected to the people who matter most to you.

5. Take Ten: To flight feeling overwhelmed and rundown during the winter season take ten minutes to shut your eyes. Use the time to pray. Also use the time to clear your mind of your to-do list (it can wait) and, instead, focus solely on your breathing. Try picturing yourself on a sunny beach; listen to the waves crash upon shore. Even though it's not an actual vacation or a real respite from the freezing temps, visualization exercises can be very effective in promoting relaxation and boosting your mood. Take the time to be grateful for all things in your life, good and bad.

6. Watch TV outside the box: When the brutal cold weather is upon us, your favorite pastime may be curling up with a blanket and watching television. Here are two twists to add to this wintertime habit:

  1. Hide the remote so you're forced to get up to change channels or adjust the volume.
  2. You can also challenge yourself by doing jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Little bursts of movement during your down time will ensure you're getting much-needed activity during the hibernation months.

7. Disinfect the armrests and trays on a plane when traveling: In an article written by Irene S. Levine, PhD about ways to avoid getting sick on a plane, Robert Wolfson, MD, an internist with the Mount Kisco Medical Group in Westchester County, New York says, "Most infections transmitted on planes are airborne, and there is not much you can do once inside the plane other than only exhale for the entire ride."

"Passengers (or flight attendants) with colds, sinus infections, or bronchitis do not generally cancel their flight either because they don't feel they are sick enough or feel they are obligated to go through with their trip, not to mention the uncertainty of getting a refund. So the air in the cabin is like a Petri dish, and I frequently do treat respiratory infections in recent travelers," he says.

Therefore, disinfecting wipes should become your best friend on a plane! Pack a tub of disinfecting wipes and wipe down everything including the armrests, the remote device (which is tricky because you need to get into all the little crevices), the tray, and the fastener that holds the tray in place. Bring some to the toilet with you- hold a wipe in your hand as you open the door, wipe down and cover the toilet seat, use a wipe when you flush and use the water faucet, and use a wipe to open the lock to exit. It might sound extreme, but planes are germy and it is worth taking all precautions!

Photo:  ghindo

For more healthy tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Below Zero Gardening: How to Build the Perfect Winter Garden

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

When you hear the words winter and gardening in the same sentence you're probably thinking what a strange combination that is, as there certainly is no way you could possibly garden in below zero weather. Gardening, many think, is all about finding that perfect plants, using the right soil, and having the best of sunlight coming your way. Brush away all those winter gardening worries, as these simple tips will creatively enable you to develop your own indoor garden.

For all of those really adventurous gardeners who live in icy cold weather, you're best bet is to create a greenhouse. Now I know this may sound like a tough feat if you don't live in suburbia, but if you have some extra space and love the thought of growing your own vegetables all year round you certainly can produce a greenhouse, no matter what the size of your living space is. If have a spare room or nook in your kitchen, simply craft a greenhouse out of a few tools.

The basic tools you'll need to convert your space into a greenhouse are utility shelves, shop lights, fluorescent light bulbs, light timer, and a power strip. A small fan is optional. Once you have all the necessary tools, follow the step-by-step greenhouse gardening guide and soon enough you'll be swimming in fresh vegetables during those cold winter days.

If growing a greenhouse is out of the cards for you, not to worry, you will still be able to dive into winter gardening if you have a little gumption left in you before all the holiday planning comes into play. Here are a few tips that will get you thinking about winter farming in the summertime.

  • Find a window in your house, apartment or condo that gets 6 to 8 hours of light a day. If you don't have one, artificial lighting will do just fine. With direct sunlight for that long of a period this will ensure optimum growth of your vegetables.
  • Purchase containers that are large enough to supports fully grown plants, hold a decent amount of soil, have adequate drainage, and aren't toxic to people or plants. By purchasing the right containers, soil and fertilizer you will soon find out just how much of a breeze it is to create your own little winter farm.
  • When purchasing seeds for your new indoor garden, ensure you are aware of their indoor gardening needs. Ensure you plant your new seeds in an area of your house that doesn't have drastic temperature changes, as this can damage your plants.
  • Once all your vegetables are planted, ensure you give them a little tender love and care throughout the winter growing season. Check out this list of vegetables that are feasible to plant inside using containers.

With these tips you're that much closer to perfectly crafting your own winter garden today.

Photo: Tassike.ee - Marju Randmer 

Melaina is from a small town in Ontario, Canada and as an avid environmentalist with a passion for focusing on healthy living. Having traveled the world and written about it every step of the way, she one day hopes to develop unique environmental educational programs for kids. 

For more tips from Melaina, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

8 Best Winter Foods

By: Michele Wolfson

It's basically winter season with these 40-degree days and even colder evenings that seem to start before 5 pm. The chill in the air makes it all the more tempting to take on a pleasantly plump physique in hopes that it will keep us warmer during these brutally cold months. Truthfully, this notion only makes it a more difficult and sweatier experience to walk up the subway stairs and makes holiday picture gazing in the spring a painful one. So much for pleasantly plump! The moral of this lesson? Don't forget to stop by the produce aisle this winter and purchase fruits and veggies!

The cold months are the perfect time to branch out to bolder fruits and vegetables and some of the best hit their peak just in time to snap your taste buds out of their winter funk. Here is a list of 4 fruits and 4 vegetables that you must eat this winter.  Be sure to check out local farmers markets in your area so that you can get the freshest and most local produce around.

1. Brussels Sprouts

My mother never had to tell me twice to finish my Brussels spouts and that's because they are delicious! The high fiber content (over 15% of our RDA) of Brussels sprouts lowers cholesterol by binding with bile acids that the liver produces from cholesterol for digesting fat. When preparing this cruciferous vegetable, remove the outer layer of leaves, trim the stems, and toss with olive oil and sea salt. Place them on a baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees F until they're nicely browned. Then, saute them with a little butter, almond extract, golden raisins and sliced almonds for a delicious dish! They also can be eaten raw and sliced up in a salad.

2. Pomegranate

Pomegranate seeds are high in polyphenols, plant chemicals that fight inflammation. They are full of antioxidants that lower LDL. Research also shows that eating organic pomegranate seeds and drinking pomegranate juice can increase oxygen levels to the heart. Mix the seeds into oatmeal for more flavor and crunch.

3. Beets

My favorite way to eat beets is in a salad with goat cheese. Wrap a few beets in foil and bake them in a 350 degree-F oven for an hour or until they're cooked through. Then cut them into cubes to toss into a salad of greens and crumbled goat cheese. Add a drizzle of walnut oil.

4. Kiwi

One kiwi contains about 100 milligrams of immunity-boosting vitamin C. This fruit is nature's perfect medicine to prevent a cold and other common winter illnesses. It is also rich in Vitamins A and E, and its black seeds can be crushed to produce kiwi fruit oil, which is very rich in Alfa-Linoleic Acid (an important Omega-3 essential fatty acid). Add kiwi slices to a spinach salad.

5. Sweet Potatoes

This vegetable can be used in any course from an appetizer to a dessert.  Several recent studies have shown sweet potatoes amazing ability to raise our blood levels of vitamin A. This benefit may be particularly true for children. In several studies from Africa, sweet potatoes were found to contain between 100-1,600 micrograms (RAE) of vitamin A in every 3.5 ounces-enough, on average, to meet 35% of all vitamin A needs, and in many cases enough to meet over 90% of vitamin A needs (from this single food alone). It's sweet for your health to eat sweet potatoes! Puree cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts. The fat content of the walnuts will help you get optimal absorption of the beta-carotene in the sweet potatoes and your kids will love them.

6. Guava

One cup of raw guava contains more than 8,500 micrograms of the antioxidant lycopene, which may help prevent coronary artery disease. Guava has been used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, constipation, cough, colds, skin issues, high blood pressure and helps with weight loss and scurvy. It's pretty amazing that one fruit can cure so many different ailments. Pair it with blue cheese and figs for a snack.

7. Kale

Perhaps my favorite vegetable these days, kale is excellent when gently sauteed with olive oil, sherry vinegar, chopped garlic, and mushrooms. This dark leafy green vegetable is so awesome- it can even be made into a chip! Why has kale gotten an edge on all the other dark leafy greens? Nutritionally, kale has Vitamins K, A and C, and calcium and iron. Its delicious, complex flavors make it a stand out veg.

8. Goji Berries

Research shows that eating berries like blueberries, acai berries, cranberries, strawberries, and cherries offers some definite health benefits. Berries like the goji berry are filled with powerful antioxidants and other compounds that may help prevent cancer and other illnesses, including heart disease. The antioxidants in goji berries also boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. Over time, people have used goji berries to treat many common health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, fever, and age-related eye problems. Goji berries are eaten raw, cooked, or dried (like raisins) and are used in herbal teas, juices, wines, and medicines. I soak mine in tea and it is a wonderful way to enjoy this nutritional berry.

Photo: Carol Moshier 

For more helpful winter tips, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)