Monday, June 17, 2013

What Really Happened on our Vacation


Last week, J. and I went on a lovely vacation to Montreal. Montreal truly is a beautiful city.  It is also great city to eat very well!  As some of you may know, Montreal’s signature dish is poutine, which is traditionally French fries served with gravy and cheese curds on top.   For my fellow New Jerseyans, I would call it the wackier cousin of disco fries.  And at most restaurants that serve it, you have your pick of toppings which would be as low-brow as sliced hot dogs to as fancy as foie gras.  But no matter how fancy or plain you choose to have it, it’s fantastic.  So of course, we had it no less than three times.


Mmmm…. poutine…

Since I knew that I would be eating lots of delicious, but rich foods during the trip, before we left, I wrote down a few strategies to try to stay fit.  Here’s how it actually went down…

1) Schedule a workout or two during the trip.  This sort of happened.  We drove to Montreal, so on our way to and from the city, we made an overnight stop in Clifton, NY.  The hotel we stayed at in Clifton Park had a gym, so I was able to squeeze in 20 minute run on the treadmill both times.  We didn’t go running in Mont Royale Park as I envisioned, but we did take a long walk through the park.  And to get to the summit of the park, meant climbing a lot of stairs so I’d like to think of that as a workout!

2) Plan activities that involved a lot of walking.  The location of our hotel helped out a lot for this goal! We stayed at the Quality Hotel in downtown Montreal, which while centrally located in the city, to get to most destinations still involved a 20 minute walk.  (We found that the metro in Montreal did not take us directly to a lot of the places that we wanted to go, and still involved a good amount of walking.) As I mentioned before, we explored Mont Royale Park for a few hours, which had stunning panoramic views of the city.


A view from Mont Royale Park

We also went for a walk around La Fontaine Parc, which was also pretty…


I noticed there was a lot of joggers and bikers in both of these parks.  And even a tai chi class going on in Mont Royale Park! People know how to stay active in Montreal.


Those people you see lined up in the middle of the picture are practicing tai chi!

3) Split entrée/appetizer/dessert with J. We did this a lot.  It’s a great way to enjoy a taste of different foods, and is friendl(ier) on the figure and the budget!  Fortunately, in Canada, most of the restaurants we went to did not serve gargantuan portions as they do in the US, so I found that to be quite helpful.  (It also meant that we could actually finish our plates, and not waste food. Even as an adult, I still can hear my grandma’s voice scolding me for wasting food when I don’t clean my plate). 


J. and I enjoyed our first experience with escargot!

4) Pack some healthy snacks. I packed granola, dried apricots, cashews, and banana chips.  The original plan was to mix them together to make a homemade trail mix.  But there just wasn’t time for that, so instead we just snacked on them in the hotel room, straight out of the containers

While we made it to the Jean-Talon Market, we didn’t buy any snacks there, since it was close to lunch time when we got there.  We did bring home maple syrup and maple butter!


5) Relax.  There was a lot of relaxing during the trip! Unlike our Austin trip, where I had a long list of restaurants I wanted to try mapped out on a customized Google map, I only picked a few key places I wanted to try in Montreal.  The result was our trip was a lot more exploratory and improvised. We stumbled on some really great finds that weren’t on the list.  On our first night there, we went to Grumpy’s, which was a bar with a laid-back atmosphere that had live music the night we were there.  J. really liked this bar a lot.  We also stumbled upon a comedy club, Comedyworks, which featured some really funny comedians!

So in retrospect, the trip was not as unhealthy as I thought it was, and we had a fantastic time. Stay tuned for more food highlights in Montreal, including my pick for best poutine!

Monday, June 10, 2013

How I Plan to Stay Healthy While on Vacation


Bonjour! J. and I are exploring the good eats and fun in Montreal this week! Here are some strategies I plan to use to stay healthy even while on vacation.  Next week, I’ll share with you how successful (or not successful) I was able to stick with it!

You may have noticed from my previous posts that my vacations are very food-focused.  In fact, usually before I go on vacation, I have an extensive list of restaurants and food places that I want to check out, that is organized by cuisine. 

And what are most of my vacation pictures of? Food.


The Rancher Plate at the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX


King Crab legs, mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus from Chandler’s Crabhouse in Seattle

So I have to do something so I don’t gain 500 pounds! Here are some of my goals during my trip to try to reverse the effects of the poutine, Montreal bagels and perhaps the mysterious duck in a can.

1) Schedule a workout or two during the trip.  Back in 2009, when I made a trip to Austin for my friend Molly’s wedding, I learned that our mutual friend, La, who also made the trip to Austin for the occasion, regularly exercises while traveling.  Back then, I thought this was ludicrous.  I mean, it’s a vacation, I want to relax!  But now I’ve learned that working out while on vacation, just like in normal life, makes you feel good and gives you energy for all the fun activities planned for the day. So, La, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I called you crazy and rolled my eyes at you.  Exercise while on vacation can be great!

This trip, I plan on taking a run on Mont Royale Park. On past vacations, I’ve found lots of cities have great parks for running in.  Like in Seattle, we took a run to Gasworks Park by taking the Burke-Gillman Trail. 


View of the Seattle skyline from Gasworks Park

It was actually a beautiful run and a great way to see the city.

2) Plan activities that involve lots of walking. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather will cooperate because from what I’ve been told is Montreal is a very walkable city! On top of that, on our way to Montreal, we plan on stopping in upstate New York to go for a hike!

maine hiking

A hiking trail from our trip to Maine

In past trips, we gone on hikes and we’ve taken fun walking tours, such as the Wicked Walking Tour in Portland, Maine.  I’ve also done the Underground Tour in Seattle, which is a lot of fun.  If we can find one, we may try to find a fun themed walking tour in Montreal.

3) Split an entrée/appetizer/dessert with J.  J. and I sometimes eat “family-style” at restaurants, even when we are not on vacation.  We order an appetizer and an entrée and share it between the two of us. (We ask the server the bring the appetizer with the entrée.) And we almost always share dessert.  (Which works out well for me because J. doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and usually only takes a few bites of the dessert.)  This strategy works really well from a health standpoint, but also from a economical one too. 


Fried chicken, mac and cheese that J. and I shared at Mrs. P’s Electric Cock in Austin, TX

5) Pack some healthy snacks.  Before our trip, I plan on picking up some nonperishables like nuts and dried fruit.  When we were in Seattle, we snacked on fresh cherries at the Pike Place Market.  In Montreal, the plan is stop by the Jean-Talon Market, and pick up some fresh fruit!

6) Relax. Something that I have always have to remind myself. Eating is an experience for me, and I want to experience as much as I can while I’m traveling.  So I may not follow every single one of these tips, but I’ll do the best I can, while still have fun.

Question of the Week:

  • Any other healthy tips while on vacation?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Swiss Chard with Eggs and Bacon


Last Saturday, J. and I finally made it out to the farmers’ market for the first time this season.  With all the various weddings and birthday festivities occupying our weekends, we haven’t had much time to ourselves. Which also means we haven’t had much time to go food shopping, so a lot of meals have been either eating out or cobbling together what I have in the pantry and freezer.  Which has been taking a toll on our wallets and waistlines!  So I was pretty excited to finally get to buy fresh produce from the farmers market.

In an effort to get more vegetables in my diet, I decided I wanted to experiment with a vegetable I had never cooked with before.  J. and I eat a lot of bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and the occasional Brussels sprouts here and here.  But I wanted to try something new.


Enter this Swiss chard from the farmers market. 

I have never cooked with Swiss chard before.  In fact, when I got home I had to google how best to store it. (Wrap it tightly in plastic and store it in the fridge.  Don’t wash it before storing it because it will wilt and get moldy).  So I polled the audience on Facebook on how best to cook it.  My sister’s good friend M. had made a beautiful suggestion, which she got from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:

“Saute some onions and carrots in a large skillet, add the Chard. When it wilts, make depressions in the Chard, crack eggs in the depressions, cover and cook until the eggs are done. Yummy!”

I was pysched to try it! I had to wait until Sunday to try it though, since we already had dinner plans for a friend’s birthday. I had read that swiss chard, like corn, is best when eaten the same day, so I was a bit bummed that I had to wait.  But it was well worth the wait!

I wanted to add a little something more to M.’s original suggestion.  And since swiss chard was a leafy green like spinach, and spinach goes great with bacon, bacon would be the perfect accent for this dish.

But Cheryl, you ask, isn’t this supposed to be your “healthy” post for the week?

Well, bacon is delicious and makes everything better.  And when used as in moderation as an accent, and most of the fat is drained, it’s really not that bad for you.  I believe it was Mark Bittman who even encouraged the use of moderate amounts of bacon to be used to season or accent food. 

Still not convinced?  Have a religious or dietary restriction on pork products?  Well, I’m sure this is still great without the bacon.  But the bacon adds a richness that makes it “soul-foody” as J. described it.  So unless you have a religious or dietary restriction, then I say go for it, eat the bacon.

Special Thanks to M. for the excellent suggestion!

Swiss Chard with Eggs and Bacon

Adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver


  • 1 bunch swiss chard, thoroughly washed, ribs removed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped (I used a handful of baby carrots, and thinly sliced them at an angle)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 2 eggs (can cook more, but we only had two left in the fridge)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cayenne pepper, to taste


In a large skillet, cook bacon to desired doneness.  Remove bacon strips from pan and drain on paper towels.  Set bacon aside.  Drain most of the bacon fat from the pan, leaving about one tablespoon in the pan to cook the vegetables in.   Reserve the bacon fat.  Cook carrots and onions in 1 tablespoon of bacon fat over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and soft.  Add Swiss chard to the pan.  (You may have to add them in handfuls, allow it to wilt a bit, and then add more, to get it to fit in the pan.)  When the chard has wilted, push it to the sides of the pan, creating a “well.”  Add about 1/2 tsp of bacon fat (or you could use olive oil if you forget to reserve the fat).  Add minced garlic to the fat and cook for about 30 seconds before stirring it into the vegetables.  Make two little “wells” in the chard for the eggs.  Crack the eggs in to the “wells” and cover the pan.  Cook for another 4-5 minutes or until done.  Add seasonings to taste.   Crumble reserved bacon strips and sprinkle on top of the chard.  Serve immediately.

Other accompaniments I would add for next time would be to serve with a slice of good crusty bread, or perhaps with some parmesan or gruyere cheese on top.

Other useful links on Swiss chard: