Chestnut Inn http://www.chestnut-inn.com Fri, 31 Oct 2014 18:19:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Top Ten http://www.chestnut-inn.com/top-ten/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/top-ten/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 18:19:20 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1291 It’s hard to believe that 2014 is nearing it’s conclusion. It has been an amazing year and what is most amazing is that it signals the fact that we have been in business for 10 years!!! Hard to believe that 10 years has gone by! So much of it is a blur. I was thinking […]

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It’s hard to believe that 2014 is nearing it’s conclusion. It has been an amazing year and what is most amazing is that it signals the fact that we have been in business for 10 years!!! Hard to believe that 10 years has gone by! So much of it is a blur. I was thinking back on the last 10 years and about what the top ten things are that we have learned from being innkeepers for this long. So without further ado, here are my list of top ten things innkeeping has taught me.

1) Never judge a book by its cover. First impressions are definitely important. They help you assess what kind of stay your guests are looking for, meaning do they want your attention or do they want privacy. But that’s about it. We have learned that guests that may seem shy or stand offish initially turn into wonderful, eloquent people who we have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know. They just needed a little time to get comfortable in their new surroundings and with their new innkeeper friends.

2) The vast majority of customers you deal with are wonderful and happy. As long as you don’t do anything to ruin their stay, they usually leave super grateful and content. BUT, there is some truth to the fact that you cannot please everyone, no matter what you do. That doesn’t mean you give up on trying with those people, it just means you can’t beat yourself up over it or take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them.

3) If something can go wrong, it will. How you deal with it is the defining moment. Stuff will break, disasters will happen. You have a choice to deal with it with a positive attitude or to deal with it with a negative attitude. The only person who suffers from the negative attitude is you.

4) Strangers can very quickly become great friends. It’s amazing how quickly we have gotten to know people whom we have maintained friendships with throughout the years outside of the inn. They have become friends on Facebook, people we have gone to visit, people who send us cards or gifts for birthdays or anniversaries and even people you have intimate conversations with that you would normally reserve for the closest of longtime friends or family members.

5) The most important marketing for your business is word of mouth. This repeatedly proves to be true as our referrals are our bread and butter. Happy guests will always send their friends and family your way to have the same experience they did.

6) Never underestimate the impact you have on others. We have discovered time and time again how much our food and hospitality has meant to people who have stayed with us. So often they send us lovely notes saying how grateful they were for X or Y and how that is a memory they will always cherish. They may seem like little things to us at the time, but they are not so little to those on the receiving end. That’s why we always try our best and strive to make each and every guest who comes through the door feel like they are the most special person in the world.

7) A 150+ year old house can be VERY persnickety sometimes. All homes can be a challenge, but when your house dates back to pre-Civil War era, it can be even MORE persnickety. Historic homes are wonderful and full of such great details and history, but boy do they sometimes push you to the limits of your patience and wallet.

8) No business stays stagnant. Every business will change with time. New technologies will come along, new ways of doing things. The key to success and to staying in business is being willing to adapt. When we started this business the whole social media world was still in its infancy. Now it is a HUGE part of our business and marketing and something that is critical to our success. Also, the notion of online reviews didn’t exist when we first started. Now they are one of the most important methods of driving future traffic. Many innkeepers ask us why they haven’t been able to compete and when we ask them if they are on Facebook or doing reviews they tell us they don’t want to. All I can say about that is that you have to play the game of business to stay in business.

9) Networking with others within your industry is invaluable. We have developed amazing friendships with other innkeepers with whom we are able to share, bounce ideas off of and also travel with. Having others who understand what you go through day to day to commiserate with is absolutely necessary. It doesn’t matter how great your other non-innkeeper friends or framily are, they will never be able to relate to exactly what you are going through.

10) Nobody is perfect. We are all perfectly imperfect and we will all make mistakes. Owning up to them, admitting them and doing everything we can to rectify the problem is the key to making guests happy. I’m extremely OCD and a consummate perfectionist, which makes me a good, diligent innkeeper, so I HATE making mistakes. But it does and will happen. I may beat myself up for it a little, but that’s secondary to making sure I fess up to the mistake and figuring out how to fix it.

Happy Innkeepers

Happy Innkeepers

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Pros and Cons of Working From Home http://www.chestnut-inn.com/pros-cons-working-home/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/pros-cons-working-home/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:25:52 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1286 Jeff has often joked with guests that we are retired because we don’t punch a clock or report to an employer anymore, although I remind him that he does in fact report to me but that’s another matter altogether. While it is a funny joke, it’s partially true and partially false. There are many pros […]

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Jeff has often joked with guests that we are retired because we don’t punch a clock or report to an employer anymore, although I remind him that he does in fact report to me but that’s another matter altogether. While it is a funny joke, it’s partially true and partially false. There are many pros and cons of working from home. Yes, we no longer operate under a typical 40 hour work week/9 to 5 format, but we certainly don’t work any less, and in fact may work harder. Working from home is awesome. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It means to a certain extent I create my own economy, my own destiny if you will. But it also means that to a certain extent we live and breathe by what our calendar dictates to us and that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Let’s talk about working from home as a general framework for making a living. Most people who work from home work on a computer. As long as that computer has access to Wifi, they can basically take their work with them wherever they go. What a liberating way of making a living! For us, however, working from home is a lot more literal in that our home itself IS our livelihood. We only make money when we are here physically attending to guests, so the typical flexibility of working from home doesn’t necessarily apply to us. That’s not to say that we don’t have down time, because there are certainly those times of the day between guests where we have the freedom to retire to our room, play with the cat and watch TV (or in my case endless hours of Celine Dion videos on You Tube), but we don’t have the flexibility of being able to take our job with us on vacation, for example, and still earn a living.

With that said, let’s talk about the pros and cons of working from home, and specifically of running a bed and breakfast.

Con: The calendar dictates not only what we do on a daily basis, but on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis as well. On the micro level this means that daily and weekly we have to plan around the calendar to make sure we get everything accomplished that goes into innkeeping, including shopping, cleaning, cooking, maintenance, answering emails and marketing. On a monthly scale this means we look at the calendar to make sure we plan what projects we can fit in and which we can afford based upon what our anticipated revenue will be. On an annual macro scale, the calendar dictates to us when we can and cannot take time off, which we always plan in advance. Impromptu vacations and get aways don’t really work for us. We usually have to book them well ahead to avoid conflicts with guests and upcoming reservations. This isn’t necessarily a con, but just something we are aware of and plan for accordingly.

Pro: Knowing that we live and breathe by the calendar and by upcoming reservations, we do have the option to decide to shut the inn down whenever we deem it necessary or feasible without consulting anyone else because, hey, we are the boss! So we are able to say, next January we will take time off to go visit family in California and next March we will block time off to visit family in Florida. Nobody is going to tell us not to and as long as we block these dates off of our availability well in advance it doesn’t affect any reservations. Unlike a normal job with paid vacations that usually only allow for one to two weeks of vacation time per year, we are not restricted by that kind of parameter. We can decide that we want to take more or less time off as finances and scheduling permit.

Con: Budgeting. Certain industries tend to operate along the margins more than others. Restaurants are commonly in this boat, but inns are also in this category. While we have pretty accurate spreadsheets over the last 10 years that give us an idea of what we can expect based upon trends for past business and potential growth/contraction, it’s not a guarantee. We don’t really know month to month what our occupancy will be or what our expenses will be. As occupancy increases so do our expenses, and then there are the things that happen that you didn’t necessarily expect to have to pay for. So to say writing and keeping a budget is tough is a huge understatement. We can and do factor in major expenses like taxes or remodeling projects and set aside funds when we have them to help pay for these, but there is that scary moment when you look at the calendar for an upcoming month and don’t see a lot of bookings and wonder “how am I going to pay for X?” It always works out but it is definitely nerve wracking.

Pro: The fact that we work from home and that our home is in fact our job means that most of our expenses are built into our place of employment. We don’t have additional utilities, mortgages or outside living expenses above and beyond the inn. Aside from personal credit/loans, travel and entertainment, all of our typical expenses are tied to our business.

Con: Unlike a private home, when things break at a bed and breakfast, you HAVE to fix them. You can’t let them be until you have the money to fix them. Guests expect the best experience they can have and that means you can’t let things fester. Sometimes that means maxing out a credit card or figuring out a loan, but ultimately, it does force us to deal with things before they become a bigger problem.

Pro: When that stuff breaks, the business absorbs the cost and it’s a tax write off. Win.

Pro: We meet the most interesting people who not only are fascinating to get to know, but who often become long time friends.

Pro: We get to work together.

Pro: No commute when it’s snowy or icy. I fall outta bed and I’m at work.

Pro: If we have a great month and there is extra money in the bank, we get to use it however we feel like it. If I want to go out to have a fancy tasting menu at Alinea in Chicago for $250, I don’t have to ask the boss if I can spend the money.

Pro: I get to cook for a living. Who gets to say they can do what they love and get paid for it? Me. That’s who.

Con: There are days where working with your spouse and being together 24/7 is a challenge. Even when you absolutely love each other and are best friends like we are, there are days when it’s hard to find your “me” space.

Con: We’ll never get rich doing what we do.

Pro: It doesn’t matter because we will always be happy. Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.

 

That’s the crux of the matter. We do work really hard and we do have our challenges. There is no such thing as the perfect job or a perfect life. But to say that we love this life and have crafted a lifestyle for ourselves that we wouldn’t trade for the world would be an understatement. So sure, working from home has it’s pros and cons, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons, it’s worthwhile work indeed.

Chestnut Street Inn Fall

Chestnut Street Inn Fall

 

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Do’s and Don’ts of Staying at a Bed and Breakfast http://www.chestnut-inn.com/dos-donts-staying-bed-breakfast/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/dos-donts-staying-bed-breakfast/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 18:31:07 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1276 Staying at a bed and breakfast is a completely unique experience to any other type of lodging. Each property is individual, each innkeeper, and, of course, each guest is special. Part of what makes the bed and breakfast experience so appealing to those who love to frequent them is the fact that they are so […]

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Staying at a bed and breakfast is a completely unique experience to any other type of lodging. Each property is individual, each innkeeper, and, of course, each guest is special. Part of what makes the bed and breakfast experience so appealing to those who love to frequent them is the fact that they are so different. In general they are more personal, more intimate, and ultimately, in our humble opinion, they are a much more comfortable type of accommodation. In many ways, they bridge the gap between hotel and home. You get the creature comforts of a high end hotel but with personalized attention. With that, there are a couple of Do’s and Dont’s of Staying at a Bed and Breakfast that all guests should be aware of. These aren’t necessarily true across the board for every property, but they are a good guideline and things to keep in mind, especially for those who are new to the bed and breakfast experience.

Do: Mind check in and check out times. These are determined based upon two main factors. One, it takes time to clean a room between guests and to make sure that it is ready for the next check in. Usually 2-3 hours is adequate time to get things ready, depending upon laundry needs, the degree of mess left behind and any maintenance that might be needed, but this is contingent on how many rooms a property has, whether the innkeeper is solo or not, staffing, etc. Secondly, some innkeepers actually work outside of the bed and breakfast and therefore they simply may not be available outside of those check in/out times. Please don’t show up early expecting an early check in without calling first to make sure it’s ok. Most of us will bend over backwards to accommodate you as best as we can, but we would like advance warning. Same goes with late check out. Most of us will be willing to accommodate a late check out as long as nobody is checking in, but please ask before you assume that it’s ok.

Don’t: Please don’t enter areas designated as “private” or “innkeepers only.” This may include the kitchen, innkeepers quarters, laundry room or any other areas designated by the innkeeper as “their” space. We all need somewhere we can call our own. We aren’t hiding anything from you, we just need to be able to have a space where we can be guest free, be our messy selves and not have to worry about running into guests when we are trying to get errands or chores done. Don’t take it personally. We love having you and love sharing our home with you, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the business, but we do need alone time once in a while.

Do: Ask questions. We are here to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. We want you to ask questions. Ask us about where to go, what to do, what to see. Ask us if you need something. Don’t try to find it yourself and please don’t refrain from asking because you don’t want to put us out. We can’t fix problems we don’t know about. And by all means, if you notice something is not right in a guest room, please inform us. There are times where a room may be occupied for weeks at a time and we may not get the opportunity to test every aspect of the room at each turn. That means we rely on our guests to let us know if they accidentally broke something or if they noticed there is something missing. We love constructive criticism and we will always do everything we can to oblige. If you don’t like the pillow, ask. If you are cold, ask us to adjust the temp. If you are allergic to down and forgot to tell us, please mention it. If you need more towels, more soap, more toilet paper, more bottled water, or anything for that matter, ask.

Don’t: Show up late for breakfast. Every innkeeper has their own way of doing things when it comes to breakfast times. Some establish parameters during which they will serve, others have a set time. We happen to ask each guest to tell us when they would like to dine. Either way, once that time is established, please show up on time. Unlike the chain motel with the crappy waffle maker and stale bagel display that has been sitting their for hours waiting for you to come down and get breakfast, innkeepers go out of their way to cook you a hot and special breakfast every morning. It takes us time to do this and it involves a lot of prep to make sure everything is just right so that when you arrive your breakfast is as good as it can be. If you show up later than anticipated it can totally derail the timing and of course food that is time sensitive, like souffles, will be ruined. That’s a bummer. A few minutes is totally understandable. Fifteen minutes or more? Not so much.

Do: Observe any rules or requests that may be set forth by the innkeepers. Some bed and breakfasts will present you with a short list of their rules upon check in, others have a book on the bed or somewhere in the room outlining basic rules. Some, like us, don’t really have any. Either way, remember you are staying in someone’s home and it is up to them to establish what they are comfortable with you doing or not doing. If they ask you not to touch the antique lamp in the parlor, please don’t touch it. Most of the time these rules are there to not only protect you but also to insure that your stay is as comfortable and uneventful as possible. I know it can be tempting to bend the rules a little but out of respect we innkeepers really appreciate it if you don’t.

Don’t: That leads me to the next issue, which is don’t mess with anything that is on display. Don’t take pictures off the wall or anything else off the wall that is hung there, don’t move furniture without asking, don’t handle collectibles or family heirlooms without asking first. Something may not appear to be worth anything, and in fact it may not be per se, but you never know what is in fact of sentimental value to an innkeeper and the last thing you would want is to accidentally break it or somehow damage it. You feel bad, we feel bad and it just isn’t worth it. We are happy to show stuff off to you and to tell you stories. We may even let you hold something, but ask us first. It should be up to the innkeeper to make that call. In our case, we call these sentimental items “eye candy” and in fact have a whole write up about them in our guest books for you to read and then check out later.

The bottom line is respect and communication. We don’t want you to feel like you are staying in a museum. We want your stay to be homey, comfortable and for you to feel at ease when you stay with us. We just want to feel like you respect us, our space, our home and what we do. It helps us to be the best innkeepers we can possibly be so that you can have the best possible time while you are in our care.

Chestnut Street Inn

Chestnut Street Inn

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Allergies and Dietary Restrictions http://www.chestnut-inn.com/allergies-dietary-restrictions/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/allergies-dietary-restrictions/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 18:07:15 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1272 Allergies and dietary restrictions are becoming the norm these days. It seems that virtually every reservation I get someone in the party has some kind of special dietary request. Other than asking details and knowing exactly what cannot be consumed, I don’t often question the person about their knowledge of the allergy or dietary restriction, […]

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Allergies and dietary restrictions are becoming the norm these days. It seems that virtually every reservation I get someone in the party has some kind of special dietary request. Other than asking details and knowing exactly what cannot be consumed, I don’t often question the person about their knowledge of the allergy or dietary restriction, although of late, I’m not certain many actually know why they are or are not eating something. Case in point, recently Jimmy Kimmel did a brilliant bit asking a bunch of people outside a gym if they ate gluten free. The vast majority of them said that yes, in fact they did. When he asked them what gluten was, none of them could answer the question. This is not uncommon. Many people observe various dietary restrictions not because they were diagnosed with an allergy, but because they were told that eating less of one thing or more of another will somehow be healthful to them. Either way, my job is to make sure I create food that is delicious and safe for people to eat.

That being said, however, one of the things that I personally pride myself on is that not only do I know HOW to cook gluten free, dairy free, egg free, sugar free or any other allergen you can name free, I actually understand what these allergies mean from a scientific perspective. I have done research on what gluten is, what typical dairy allergies/intolerances are, what anti-inflammatory diets look like, etc. It is something I find personally interesting, but ultimately it makes me a better chef. It enables me to understand exactly what I’m doing, why and to figure out what substitutes will work to replace what those items may contribute to a recipe, i.e. mouthfeel, binder, leavener, texture.

This morning I had guests who requested “no milk” in their meal, which I happily obliged. When I asked a little more detail about their allergy they were unable to tell me what exactly they were allergic too. I proceeded to discuss the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergies with them and determined that they are in fact Lactose Intolerant. Lactose is the sugar in milk. It is consumed by the digestive enzyme Lactase in the small intestine, enabling the lactose to be digested and ultimately expelled. Many individuals do not manufacture enough Lactase in their bodies, making the consumption of products made with milk difficult to digest and thereby causing abdominal discomfort. Those who are lactose intolerant can often take a pill replacing the Lactase in their small intestine, thereby allowing them to consume at least small quantities of milk products without a problem. Those with Lactose intolerance can also generally consume goat and sheep’s milk products, hard cheeses and yogurt, as the lactose levels in these are much lower than other dairy products. Some degree of Lactose intolerance is something that generally occurs post infancy in all humans, but the preponderance of severe Lactose intolerance tends to be higher in non European cultures where there is not a long lasting history of dairy consumption which would have necessitated the evolution of more Lactase production in the small intestines of those populations. It is estimated that approximately 65%-75% of the world population suffers from some degree of Lactose intolerance.

A true milk allergy, however, is generally attributed to the protein in milk, of which there are two, casein and whey. While some people are only allergic to one or the other, the vast majority of people with true milk allergies are allergic to both. The problem with a true milk allergy is that milk proteins can be isolated and utilized in a number of different products that would not appear to be dairy products, therefore making it very important to read all the labels of ingredients being used in a recipe prior to using them.

What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?? An allergy causes an immune system reaction, which can lead to things like hives, rashes, anaphylaxsis and swelling of the tongue or throat. An allergic response is immediate and can be life threatening. Intolerances do not involve immune system reactions and generally occur over a period of time rather than immediately. Both can cause similar digestive issues, which is why it is often difficult to determine whether one is allergic or simply intolerant without the diagnosis of a medical professional. This doesn’t make either one more or less legitimate in the case of what I do. I make certain I adjust my recipes accordingly. But understanding which I am cooking for may influence whether I utilize something like goat cheese in a recipe or whether I use whey protein to boost the protein content of a shake.

Replacing dairy in recipes is actually quite easy. It is one of the items, particularly in baking, that I have no problem with. There are two factors in replacing dairy, mouth feel and texture. I will often use coconut milk instead of cream or milk because it has a velvety mouthfeel and coats the tongue in a similar manner, making the recipe no less luxurious or rich tasting. For extra leavening, I also may add just a hint of apple cider vinegar, particularly when I am trying to substitute buttermilk in a recipe. That helps make the baked item a little lighter and fluffier and gives it a more airy texture.

As with any dietary restriction, knowing in advance and asking the right questions can help you to accommodate the restriction with ease and to make delicious, safe food that will leave a lasting impact.

Caprese with Home Made Mozzarella

Caprese with Home Made Mozzarella

 

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Location, Location, Location http://www.chestnut-inn.com/location-location-location/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/location-location-location/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 18:58:38 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1256 Location, Location, Location. This is the first thing that every book on becoming an innkeeper discusses. When you are looking at opening a bed and breakfast they always say location is key. Whether you are located in an obvious tourist destination or are located in a college town, having built in clientele is usually key […]

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Location, Location, Location. This is the first thing that every book on becoming an innkeeper discusses. When you are looking at opening a bed and breakfast they always say location is key. Whether you are located in an obvious tourist destination or are located in a college town, having built in clientele is usually key to making a bed and breakfast work. Well, what’s the old adage? Rules are made to be broken? Apparently Jeff and I either like breaking rules or we we don’t like to follow instructions well. From an outside perspective one would look at Sheffield, IL as a location for a bed and breakfast and think “Are You Nuts???” A fair question to be sure, but there was sound reasoning behind our decision to buy this particular bed and breakfast, and after almost 10 years in business, I think our reasoning has proven to be successful.

When we started looking at purchasing a bed and breakfast, we actually had no preconceived notions as to what state we would like to end up in. For us it was all about budget and getting the handful of criteria we needed to make our business plan work, namely, to operate an inn in the true sense of the word, where we would also offer meals to those not staying with us. We wanted somewhere in an area that was not overly saturated with restaurants, something within a 2 hour radius of a major metropolitan area, something with easy access to a highway, something with at least 4 bedrooms and most of all, the property had to have adequate space for dining, which was perhaps the hardest thing to find. Most old homes have one formal dining room and little to no other space for expansion of food service. So after looking at hundreds of properties all over the US, our hunt led us to basically 5 options. One was in Galveston, TX, which while an obvious tourist destination, was also a perfect bulls eye for hurricanes. So that one quickly came off the list. We looked at one in KY that was perfect except it would have required a total gut and remodel as the decor was, well, it was God awful. A sea of mismatching plaids of every color and furniture that looked like they took the branches from a bunch of downed trees after a storm and put them together to form furniture. Let’s just say, it wasn’t to our taste. Eliminated that one right away too. There was one in Tennessee that was an existing restaurant with rooms above that could have been converted into a bed and breakfast, but because I wanted to do my own menu, it didn’t seem right for me to go into an existing restaurant and fire the chef. Nope, that wouldn’t do. Then there was the property we looked at in Canada on Lake Superior, which was perfect, but the island it was on was uninhabitable at least 3 months a year. What do you do for 3 months?? Finally, we found this one. It ticked all the “musts” even if it wasn’t exactly in an obvious tourist destination, so we decided to make a go of it.

It helped that the previous owner already had a track record of some business and a built in clientele (she ran it for 8 years). But we knew it would require some clever marketing on our part to really expand the business and to make it a viable income for both of us. Branding was key and promoting ourselves as a culinary inn, a destination for foodies, was our plan. While we are always looking at new means of promotion and marketing, this branding has worked. If it wasn’t for the fact that we do dinners and that most people are coming here to dine with us, I think our occupancy would be much lower. So the rooms feed the restaurant and the restaurant feeds the rooms. A very symbiotic relationship.

But the food isn’t the only thing. There are actually a ton of reasons to come to this area, reasons that locals who live here don’t even seem to know about or to consider. When you are off the beaten path so to speak, it’s up to you to feed the information to potential guests as to what there may be for them to do. We consciously researched the things people may want to come to this area for and put it all together on our website under our Things To Do page. Everything from wineries like August Hill and Lavender Crest to shopping/antiquing in Princeton to hiking/biking along the Hennepin Canal, Mautino Fish and Wildlife Preserve and at Starved Rock to Festival 56 and November 10 theater festivals in Princeton to historical sites in Bishop Hill, Sheffield and Princeton to an abundance of affordable golf courses. There is more than enough to occupy people for a couple of days no matter what your interest is.

Although perhaps my favorite thing on the list is Absolutely Nothing. That’s right. There is no reason that you have to have every minute of every day occupied with an activity. Sometimes there is great value to just decompressing and relaxing. I know for myself, having nothing to do is a luxury. I never get to just sit and read a book, watch a movie or sit out on the patio with a glass of wine. I’m always going going going. So when I go away, my only focus is to relax and rejuvenate. We liked this property because there are numerous spaces to do just that. The home was historic and elegant without feeling precious. The couches and chairs in the parlor are a favorite of our guests for curling up to read and our video/DVD library of over 1100 titles offers plenty of entertainment. In the summer guests enjoy sitting on the patio and enjoying the beautiful weather and in the winter, they enjoy the toasty crackling of the fireplace while watching the snowfall outside. These peaceful moments are what I think are the most enjoyable and the thing we treasure the most.

And one final note on location. We are in a tiny town of 950 people in a rural area surrounded by farm land. From the perspective of natural beauty, there is something to be said for these wide open spaces. The sunsets, sunrises and the nature. Right about now, the leaves are beginning to turn and the landscape becomes spectacular. This is something we never had in CA and something we have come to truly love about living here.

 

Chestnut Street Inn

Chestnut Street Inn

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Food as Art http://www.chestnut-inn.com/food-art/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/food-art/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 17:10:31 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1243 Cooking for me is an expression of my creativity. I view food as art. The plate is a blank canvass. The ingredients are my paint. Every dish is an opportunity to create a masterpiece. The only difference between what I do and what a painter does is that my art also has to taste good. […]

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Cooking for me is an expression of my creativity. I view food as art. The plate is a blank canvass. The ingredients are my paint. Every dish is an opportunity to create a masterpiece. The only difference between what I do and what a painter does is that my art also has to taste good. I truly believe that we eat with our eyes as much as we eat with our taste buds. In fact, I think what you see is almost more important because if something isn’t appealing, you won’t taste it. Art is of course subjective, but ultimately it is up to me to come up with something that appeals to the widest swath of the population while simultaneously being true to my creative expression.

Having a background in dance, I have always had a creative drive in my body. When I cook, I am able to conjure that creativity and let it flow through a new medium. I think anyone who does some kind of art, whether it be fine art, music, dance or otherwise understands what that artistic juice feels like when it flows through your body. It’s an urge, a hunger if you will. That’s how I feel about cooking. I’m passionate about giving people food that is delicious and healthy, but I also find it deeply personal. I’m sharing a very vulnerable part of me with people with each dish and that comes with risk. The risk that they won’t like it and thereby as an extension of my creativity, they won’t like my art. But that’s also part of the challenge.

My basic rule of thumb with my food art is that everything on the plate should be completely edible. I have a great appreciation for molecular gastronomy in terms of scientific innovation, but I prefer to create without chemicals. It is important to me to utilize ingredients as close to their natural state as possible. I think nature is beautiful and food itself is beautiful. Sometimes simplicity is the best way to showcase that natural beauty. I also think that color is tantamount in terms of the plate. And finally, depth is important. The plate should be three dimensional, there should be different textures and layers that pop.

With that in mind, here is just a sampling of what I perceive to be my best “art.”

Scallops with Peach Fennel Chutney

Scallops with Peach Fennel Chutney

Caprese with Home Made Mozzarella

Caprese with Home Made Mozzarella

Scallop with Mango Chutney

Scallop with Mango Chutney

Black Bean Cake with Apple Slaw

Black Bean Cake with Apple Slaw

Deconstructed Beef Wellington

Deconstructed Beef Wellington

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini

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The Schizophrenic World of Food and Body Image http://www.chestnut-inn.com/schizophrenic-world-food-body-image/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/schizophrenic-world-food-body-image/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 17:45:56 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1235 The title says it all, “The Schizophrenic World of Food and Body Image.” This blog post is personal and deeply important to me. Yesterday I was checking Facebook the way I always do, and as is usual, my feed was filled with the usual news, cats, Celine Dion and pictures of food. But it was […]

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The title says it all, “The Schizophrenic World of Food and Body Image.” This blog post is personal and deeply important to me. Yesterday I was checking Facebook the way I always do, and as is usual, my feed was filled with the usual news, cats, Celine Dion and pictures of food. But it was also filled with a number of other things, including bullying/suicide, body shaming and stories of eating disorders. It dawned on me that we live in a really screwed up world that simultaneously is obsessed with food and cooking while also being fixated on what the media portrays as perfection when it comes to weight. And you know what? It’s wrong. All of it is broken.

I have alluded before to having battled with eating disorders as a teenager/young adult and I have also discussed my rapid weight loss this year due to medical issues which are now under control. My personal experiences have certainly influenced my response to this topic greatly and I continue to evolve in terms of how I deal with it and approach the subject. Suffice it to say that we as a society have a screwed up perception of what is healthy. Yesterday when I came upon this photo I was appalled and disgusted.

Body Shaming

Body Shaming

This image struck a chord with me as I am sure it does with many women who felt fat as kids. The extremity of it is just a glimpse of how detrimental this kind of mixed media and body shaming can be to a young mind. It was tough in a world before the internet and social media, which is when I grew up, but I cannot even fathom how tough it is for young kids now. It is a constant barrage of negative body image messages.

Then later in the day I came upon the story of Lady Gaga and the ridiculous backlash she received from people on Instagram after posting this photo of herself with the caption: #bodyrevolution Proud at any size, because the inside is what really counts, Plus, it’s all how you pose!Just ask the supermodels!

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

She was immediately bombarded with negative feedback and hateful comments calling her fat and gross. Really?? If this is what people perceive to be fat we have serious problems in this country. That’s the first part, the second part is, when did we decide it was EVER OK to body shame anyone, even if it is a celebrity who puts herself out there for people to see. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

We need to seriously reevaluate our perceptions and the way that we talk about our bodies. Quite frankly I’d be very happy to stop using the words “fat” or “skinny” and start talking about “healthy” which comes in all shapes and sizes. Food and our bodies are deeply personal things. We all have to eat and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We also shouldn’t feel like we are constantly being judged by others no matter what size we are. As somebody who is passionate about food and about teaching people how to cook healthy and delicious recipes, it deeply saddens me that this mission is sabotaged at every corner by the media. We have to come to a point where we decide that enough is enough. We have to all change our dialogue and build one another up, not tear each other down. Weight fluctuates. Men and women gain weight as they age. Weight comes off and on for all kinds of reasons, be they medical, emotional or otherwise. Nobody knows what anyone else is going through and therefore it is important that we focus on the positive.

I will finish with one final image and that is of ballerina Misty Copeland. Misty, for those of you who don’t know her, is a soloist with the American Ballet Theater and unique because as a black woman she has overcome overwhelming obstacles to make it in a very white world. She was also told as a young woman that she didn’t have the right body for dance. She was too curvy and that would never fly in that world. Well, Misty defied the odds and is now a successful author, ballerina and recently has become one of the faces for the Under Armour campaign showing what athleticism really is. I have admired her for her talent and for her outspokenness about being comfortable with your body and who you are. I think we could all stand to learn from her example of self confidence and loving the body you are in.

#iwillwhatiwant

#iwillwhatiwant

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The Reality of Innkeeping http://www.chestnut-inn.com/reality-innkeeping/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/reality-innkeeping/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 18:16:02 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1232 So many people tell us that their dream is to own a bed and breakfast. They fantasize about the fun with guests, having an amazing historic home, getting the chance to cook for others and getting paid to work from home. But the reality of innkeeping is so much more than this fantasy and I […]

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So many people tell us that their dream is to own a bed and breakfast. They fantasize about the fun with guests, having an amazing historic home, getting the chance to cook for others and getting paid to work from home. But the reality of innkeeping is so much more than this fantasy and I think people don’t realize all that’s actually involved.

Let me preface this post by saying that I LOVE my job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It is my calling and something that I wake up feeling grateful to be doing every day. With that, however, there are so many things people don’t consider when they see owning a bed and breakfast at face value.

Myth #1: This is something fun to do in retirement. If you think this is retirement and you won’t really be working, think again. I can promise you that you will not only put in hours like  you did at a normal 9 to 5 job, but you will also be working physically. It’s exhausting on every level, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Your are “on” 24/7, whether you are taking care of guests or just answering phones/emails. You will be climbing stairs, kneeling, crouching, getting into nooks and crannies to clean and otherwise taxing your body in ways you didn’t expect. You will be making small talk and perpetually getting to know people, which is fun, but also requires a lot of energy. And even if you aren’t running a bed and breakfast and restaurant combined like we do, you will work long hours between breakfast preparation, service, clean up, room turns, check ins and otherwise accommodating guests needs. That doesn’t even include the busy work like accounting, marketing, social networking, etc. So no, you will NOT be retired.

Myth #2: You can take time off whenever you want to. This one is kind of true, although you are never REALLY off. You always are connected and taking care of your business, even if you are on vacation. And it’s really hard to commit to taking time off. No matter when you do it, you stand to lose revenue. There is no such thing as paid vacation which means if you don’t work, you aren’t making money and you aren’t paying the bills. I can tell you, that’s probably the biggest stress of all for me. The knowledge that you will always have something due to pay but you may not have the revenue stream to accommodate those expenses. Either way, you have to force yourself to take the time off because you will get burned out and your guests will notice.

Myth #3: Having people in your home and touching your stuff won’t be a big deal because people are generally respectful. For us this one partially doesn’t hold true because we bought this property with the intent of it being a business and are not all that attached to anything in it aside from a couple of personal items (like my Celine Dion autograph which is sacred so don’t touch!!). However, a LOT of innkeepers take their family homes after their kids go off to college and turn them into b and b’s and I can tell you it’s VERY challenging to let go of your stuff. No matter how respectful people are, things will happen, stuff will break and you cannot possibly put enough “rules” in place to keep that from happening. Personally, I am put off by properties that make me sign off on a do’s and don’ts list. I’m supposed to feel at home, cared for, not like I’m intruding on someone else’s privacy.

Myth #4: It’s always going to be fun. I can tell you that in 10 years of doing this, 98% of guests are lovely and yes, it IS fun. But there is no such thing as perfect and there are always going to be people or situations that will test you. They will test your patience, your attitude, your physical endurance and sometimes your ability to keep guests from getting into awkward conversations about things that may cause discomfort for many. Believe it or not I often find myself playing mediator with guests, trying to actively steer the topic of conversation to things that are more neutral like the weather, kids or food. There is also the fact of the matter that nobody is perfect every day. You will get sick, you will have a fight with your spouse, you will wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you will fall and break your ankle, you will need to have surgery, you will burn yourself or cut yourself. Lots of things can and will happen. It’s inevitable. And the longer you are in business, the more opportunity there is for stuff to go wrong. Guess what though? There’s no such thing as calling in sick. When guests are paying to stay with you and to be taken care of, they come first. I can’t tell you the number of times I just sucked it up, took some medicine, put a smile on my face and showed up. Because that’s what innkeepers do. Show must go on no matter what.

So would I recommend innkeeping as a profession? I can wholeheartedly say yes. I just encourage people to consider all these things before making that decision and the commitment. You give up a lot by making this choice. A lot of privacy, a lot of solitude, a lot of security and even a little sanity. But if you are the right kind of person for this job, you will find it just as rewarding as I do.

Bed and Breakfast

Bed and Breakfast

 

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The Hundred Foot Journey http://www.chestnut-inn.com/hundred-foot-journey/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/hundred-foot-journey/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 19:36:23 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1222 I’m not typically one to write movie reviews, but last night I had the great pleasure of seeing the movie “The Hundred Foot Journey,” which is based upon the novel by the same name written by Richard C. Morais and stars Helen Mirren, and to say it was fantastic would be an understatement. It was […]

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I’m not typically one to write movie reviews, but last night I had the great pleasure of seeing the movie “The Hundred Foot Journey,” which is based upon the novel by the same name written by Richard C. Morais and stars Helen Mirren, and to say it was fantastic would be an understatement. It was a tremendous, thoughtful movie that really struck a chord with me personally on many levels. Beyond that, it was a beautiful movie filled with incredible food, which I’m certain will appeal to any self proclaimed foodie.

The premise of the movie is that a family from India, through a series of unfortunate circumstances ends up in a small village in France, where they end up opening an Indian restaurant directly across from a Michelen starred French restaurant. Without divulging too much of the plot, there is a love story, the ascendance of a great chef, and ultimately the return of that chef to his adopted home town and to his roots. For myself, the part of the movie that struck the greatest chord was the fact that this young man, through hard work and talent, was able to achieve greatness in an industry that traditionally rewards those who have attended big name culinary schools. As a self taught chef, who has spent a lot of time studying and has also ultimately received her certification as a Culinary Professional through the International Association of Culinary Professionals, I can understand and recognize the difficulty of breaking into this kind of old boys club, even more so as a female in a profession largely occupied by men.

The second aspect of the film that struck a chord with me was the dynamic and sometimes violent nature of inter-cultural relationships. We see so much hatred and war going on right now between people of different religions and cultures. In this movie, some of the locals in the French village are resentful of the differences that the Indian family represents and resort to violence to make their point. The owner of the French restaurant, after indirectly inciting the violence with her vitriol, puts them in their place by reminding them that the French constitution is based upon the foundation of “liberte, egalite et fraternite” or libery, equality and fraternity. These are principles that she believes should be extended to anyone wishing to make a home in France, that is willing to work hard and become a part of their community. I have a particular affinity to this kind of mindfulness. As someone who is deeply pained by the violence often attributed to social and cultural differences, I was happy to see her stand up for the “others” in this movie, discover the error of her ways and atone for them.

A third aspect of the movie that really hit home with me was the notion of aspiring to fame or being known in the big time. That certainly has it’s advantages in terms of financial rewards, flexibility to travel, notoriety, etc. But many of these things come at a huge cost. I have often wondered what it would be like if I could make it big time, become a celebrity chef and have my own show on the Food Network. How things would change. How I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. How everyone would know me and I’d have a bigger platform to talk about healthy eating, organic/local foods and eating with dietary restrictions. All that would be great. But the flip side of that can include a lot of loneliness, answering to others, lack of independence and ultimately it can mean compromising your ideals and your passions. In the end of the movie, the lead character realizes this and returns back to his little village to cook the food he believes in at the French restaurant alongside the girl he loves. That is what I do here at CSI and it’s something I am very proud of. It certainly reinforces why I do what I do, where I do it, with the person I love.

A couple of final thoughts on the movie that I found of interest. The Michelin star system in and of itself is a fascinating, if not slightly bizarre, rating system. It has existed forever and I realize that it is of huge importance, particularly to the French. In fact, there are stories of French chefs committing suicide because their restaurant lost a star. The notion that a newbie could possibly ascend the ranks of Michelin starred chefs so quickly is a little far fetched, but I will give the story brownie points for being a super Cinderella esque rags to riches story. I also had a small beef with the fact that the young woman at the restaurant, who had put in time working there, had experience and was equally as talented, was not offered the position as chef de cuisine when the male chef de cuisine was fired. In my ideal world, she would have been promoted, created amazing food herself, and gotten the second Michelin star for the restaurant, but realistically speaking, this is still a very male dominated industry, particularly in France, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too overly surprised.

Ultimately, I do have to say that I loved the movie, I look forward to seeing it again in the theater, and I am certain I will own it. It was touching, inspiring, hunger inducing and funny. And it points out the one universal truth that is common among us all. We all have to eat. That should be the tie that binds us, not that pulls us apart. If there is nothing else that can bring us together in such a fractured and often violent world, it should be sitting around the table and enjoying a meal together. Go see it. You won’t regret it.

 

The 100 Foot Journey

The Hundred Foot Journey

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Happy International Charlie Trotter Day http://www.chestnut-inn.com/happy-international-charlie-trotter-day/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/happy-international-charlie-trotter-day/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 20:24:27 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1216 Happy International Charlie Trotter Day! For those of you who don’t know who he is, Charlie Trotter was a legendary chef who owned a world renowned restaurant in Chicago which he closed in 2012, just prior to passing away on November 5, 2013 from complications due to a stroke. He was one of the first […]

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Happy International Charlie Trotter Day! For those of you who don’t know who he is, Charlie Trotter was a legendary chef who owned a world renowned restaurant in Chicago which he closed in 2012, just prior to passing away on November 5, 2013 from complications due to a stroke. He was one of the first to take food and wine pairings seriously and his viewpoint of food was to view it as more of an art form than just something we have to do to stay alive. He saw cooking as a delicate balance between using the finest ingredients he could find and elevating them to the highest possible level. He inspired legions of today’s biggest chefs, despite having had the reputation of being very difficult to work with.

My experience with him was solely as a customer. For my 33rd birthday, Jeff arranged for us to dine at Trotter’s restaurant in the kitchen at his chef’s table which was a VERY difficult reservation to get. We were fortunate to have friends who knew the sous chef and were able to help us get the reservation on a Tuesday night. I had no idea where we were going and actually didn’t know where we were until we were already at the restaurant. We were joined by our friends who helped us get the reservation as well as by my father in law and his girlfriend, who literally flew to Chicago for dinner all the way from California. (A super story to tell the folks at work the next day.)

We opted for the elaborate taster menu along with the full wine pairings. And let me just say that from beginning to end, the entire staff, waiters, sommelier, chefs and bus boys were fantastic. For what it’s worth, Charlie may have been a challenge to work with, but he most certainly knew how to train his staff to provide the highest possible level of service and cuisine you could hope for.

Trotter Menu

Trotter Menu

As soon as we began chatting with the head waiter we told him we also own a restaurant so they immediately proceeded to put me in a chef smock and actually had me plate the entire rest of the meal. It was quite fun. The highlight, however, was when Charlie himself arrived. We were toward the end of the savory section of the meal and leading into the desserts. From the moment he arrived to the moment he left, he was absolutely lovely with us. He spent the better part of about a half an hour with us, chatting, drinking and being jovial. At one point he had me behind the line plating and he says to me, “I’m going to pretend to be Gordon Ramsey and yell at you.” Just at that moment Jeff snapped a photo. It was perfect. Classic memory from an unforgettable night.

Trotter and Me

Trotter and Me

Right afterward he remarked that he liked having a female chef next to him wearing heels and that maybe he should have all his female chefs wear heels. A little tongue in cheek but it was supposed to be a joke. He also at one point made a toast to us saying “I’d rather be here with you people than with the finest people in the world.” We got a good laugh at that.

After our meal, we were given a full tour of the facility, including the impressive wine cellar and classroom kitchen and upon leaving, I was informed that Charlie had left me a gift for my birthday. A bag with 3 of his esteemed cookbooks and a signature Charlie Trotter baseball cap. A classy touch to a classy, delicious and incredible night.

So while chefs and foodies around the world celebrate Charlie Trotter’s legacy today, I celebrate the man I met for a brief moment in time and the amazing dining experience he and his staff crafted for us that evening. I will always think of him fondly and will always hold a special place in my heart for the generous hospitality he showed us that night. May you rest in peace Charlie Trotter.

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