Chestnut Inn http://www.chestnut-inn.com Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:18:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Spice Up Your New Year http://www.chestnut-inn.com/spice-new-year/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/spice-new-year/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 16:22:10 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1339 A new year mean’s new resolutions. Often these include eating better and losing weight. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to incorporate more spices into your cooking. Here are my top spice tips to help you spice up your new year: 1) Make sure your spices are fresh. Spices should be […]

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A new year mean’s new resolutions. Often these include eating better and losing weight. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is to incorporate more spices into your cooking. Here are my top spice tips to help you spice up your new year:

1) Make sure your spices are fresh. Spices should be kept for no longer than a year in an airtight container, away from sunlight, in a cool, dry place. Make sure you get your spices from a legitimate resource where you know the spices are fresh when you get them. Spices bought in the store cannot be relied upon for freshness as you don’t know how long they have been sitting on the shelf prior to purchase. I get mine from www.zamourispices.com, a fantastic Moroccan import store with amazing, affordable, fresh spices. You can buy small quantities and larger ones, although I don’t recommend buying in bulk unless you are a restaurant. Never refrigerate spices.

2) Take a hint from other cultures and use sweet spices for savory applications and savory spices for sweet applications. Many countries like Morocco, Greece and even Asian countries like Thailand use spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves for their meat and vegetables. It can be a great way to add interest to soups or stews and certainly pumps up the flavor of sauces. Alternately, spices like smoked sea salts, smoked paprika and chili peppers of various kinds are all the rage for sweet items like truffles and chocolates. The savory actually accentuates the sweet, making it more interesting and more satiating so you can eat fewer and still feel like you got a sweet treat.

3) Be aware of using heat in cooking. I am one of those people who has come to appreciate spicy in my food, but I wasn’t always that way. I am mindful of this when I cook. Heat in food should accentuate flavor, not de-sensitize your taste buds. The point isn’t to make it as spicy as you can tolerate it, but to make it as spicy as it needs to be to add warmth and complement the other spices and flavors you are using in the dish.

4) When substituting dried herbs for fresh ones, use half as much. The dried herbs tend to be more concentrated in flavor. I also never substitute certain herbs as I feel the dried simply don’t provide much flavor. This includes parsley, cilantro and chives. My favorite dried herb blend is Herbes de Provence, which is a blend that comes from the Provence region of France and often contains a combination of thyme, savory, chervil, tarragon, lavender, rosemary and marjoram. This specific blend is fantastic for soups and stews. I also use it on my roasts, like prime rib and pork loin, for a boost of flavor.

5) Paprika isn’t just a garnish for deviled eggs. It is one of the most widely used and most useful spices on the planet. I prefer Hungarian paprika, not just because I am Hungarian by heritage, but because Hungary has a unique micro-climate that is perfectly suited for the production of superior quality paprika. There are numerous different types from sweet to hot paprikas and both smoked and non smoked. I like them all but tend to keep one sweet and one smoked hot on hand for my daily use. It should be a bright red color, smell slightly smoky and it should deliver a great flavor and color to your soups and stews.

6) Take advantage of spice blends. There are many out there that are commercially available. Do not buy blends that have salt as a primary ingredient. Look for ethnic blends that are salt free or low in salt like Ras el Hanout, Curry, Garam Masala, Chinese Five Spice, etc. These are mixes that are used by those in their indigenous cultures to quickly provide great flavor without any knowledge or fuss with individual spices.

7) Always grind your pepper fresh and use the multiple colored peppercorn blend as opposed to just black peppercorns. The blend has a unique layered flavor and grinding fresh insures it has a kick.

8) Salt isn’t the only spice in the world and while it can give great flavor, it should be used sparingly. Rely on other spices for boost of flavor and use salt more like a garnish. Try different kinds of sea salt like Himalayan Pink Salt or Fleur du Sel for unique flavor.

9) Think of spices for their medicinal purposes and incorporate them with that in mind. Turmeric, for example, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is great in soups/stews, and cinnamon/cumin are super for digestion and versatile in both sweet and savory applications.

10) Saffron is the stamen of a specific type of crocus flower. It is the quintessential ingredient in Paella among other dishes. It provides lovely color and subtle flavor that cannot be substituted. By weight, it is the most expensive spice on the planet because it has to be harvested by hand very delicately.

Spice Up Your New Year

Chef Monika is spicing up your 2015!

 

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My Top Tips For Lightening Up Your Recipes http://www.chestnut-inn.com/top-tips-lightening-recipes/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/top-tips-lightening-recipes/#comments Sun, 14 Dec 2014 20:32:57 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1332 I know it’s the holiday season and we should absolutely indulge this time of year. But I always feel bad when the New Year comes and I’ve gained that pesky 5 pounds because of all that indulging. So I thought it would be helpful for all of us to talk about my top tips for […]

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I know it’s the holiday season and we should absolutely indulge this time of year. But I always feel bad when the New Year comes and I’ve gained that pesky 5 pounds because of all that indulging. So I thought it would be helpful for all of us to talk about my top tips for lightening up your recipes. These are a few ideas that you can incorporate into your holiday baking and/or cooking to maybe help keep those pesky pounds at bay while still enjoying all the wonderful food this holiday season has to offer.

1) We all love butter, and I by no means believe you shouldn’t eat it. In fact, I think butter often gets a bad rap. I would much rather eat butter than margarine, and besides, Julia said butter was the best. However, if you are trying to limit your saturated fat and cholesterol intake, try using unsaturated fats for your cooking instead. For sauteing or lower temp cooking, use olive oil. For higher temp cooking, use grapeseed oil. For baking, I use coconut oil. It has a similar mouthfeel and will create a similar texture to butter, margarine or shortening.

2) If a recipe calls for sour cream or heavy cream, try low fat Greek Yogurt. It has fantastic thick creaminess with less saturated fat and with a whole lot more protein. Plus it has all those good bacteria in it to help with your digestion! Bonus!

3) If you are looking to eliminate the dairy altogether, you can use coconut milk in almost any application. It doesn’t actually taste very coconutty and it has super rich texture.

4) When you are adding cheese to a recipe, try opting for cheeses that pack a punch of flavor. You can easily add less that way and still feel like you are getting a cheesy bite. I prefer parmesan or feta myself.

5) You can minimize the amount of fat, sugar or salt you add to a recipe by pumping up natural flavor with spices and fresh herbs. These are calorie free and they make a HUGE difference. Remember, if you think you are adding too much spice, you are probably doing it just right. Most people are terrified by how much I use and then it tastes just perfect. A quick note about fresh versus dried herbs. You need half as much of the dried as the fresh because the flavor is concentrated.

6) Try adding some acidity to boost the flavor of your food. Fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can really heighten the flavor of a soup, salad or a vegetable side dish.

7) When baking, try incorporating more whole wheat flour. I like to use 1/2 and 1/2 in my recipes. It gives me a nice texture without being overly dense.

8) Try incorporating flax meal into your baked goods. You can substitute part of the flour in a recipe with the flax and it’ll give it a nice nutty flavor along with boosting your omega three intake which we all know is important for our health.

9) Instead of using white rice or couscous as a side dish, try using an old world grain like quinoa or amaranth, both of which cook very quickly, easily and are very versatile. Quinoa and amaranth are the only plant based foods that are considered a complete protein, meaning they have all 9 essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle.

10) For soups, try pureeing the soup to create creaminess rather than adding flour or cornstarch. You will find you don’t need them to create a similar mouth feel.

11) If a recipe calls for sugar in a savory application, try using agave instead. Agave is considered a low glycemic food, mostly because it is twice as sweet as real sugar and therefore you can add less. This is particularly important for those who are diabetic and watching their sugars.

12) To maximize the nutritional value of your vegetables, you can either eat them raw in salads, or try roasting or sauteeing them rather than boiling them or steaming them. And don’t overcook them. Leave them a little al dente. This helps minimize vitamin and mineral loss.

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini with Feta and Fresh Tomatoes

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Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: The Mascot-Couscous http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-mascot-couscous/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-mascot-couscous/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 18:26:46 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1320 For our final installment of Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: The Mascot-Couscous, we are going to introduce you to our furry feline assistant who incidentally won the Employee of the Year for 2014 by popular vote, much to my husbands dismay. We assembled a few questions for the little man to answer for you. Without […]

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For our final installment of Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: The Mascot-Couscous, we are going to introduce you to our furry feline assistant who incidentally won the Employee of the Year for 2014 by popular vote, much to my husbands dismay. We assembled a few questions for the little man to answer for you. Without further ado, Couscous.

1) Where were you born and when? I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 12, 2003. My mother was a single parent. My father was out of the picture before I was born. I was the runt of my litter. I was adopted by the the female with red hair and by the male with the beard almost immediately. I like them well enough, but the female smothers me a lot.

2) Wow, Las Vegas! How did you end up in Illinois? It’s hard to remember. I know I spent my childhood in a big house in Las Vegas. After a year my parents moved me to California where I lived for a few months in a house with a woman who told me to call her grandma. I don’t know what that means but I played along. Then my quarters got progressively smaller and smaller as we hopped around from apartment to apartment. Then the long drive. I was traumatized by it. I hate the car. It was six days of agony until we arrived here in Illinois. I now live in a postage stamp where I barely have any privacy at all.

3) What’s your favorite hobby? Besides sleeping?? I like to play chase. I know when my parents don’t close the door completely and I like to try to escape to the outside world. The best is the basement. Lots to explore. But they don’t like when I go down there so I usually have to go back to our room. It sucks. Plus sometimes they don’t actually chase after me which is no fun at all.

4) What are your duties around the inn? Huh? I sleep. I eat. I occasionally play around with my carpet mice. And in the middle of the night I like to chase imaginary prey and wake up my parents. Duties?? I do not know what that word even means?

5) Tell me honestly, which of your parents do you like better? Well, I’m going to say the male one. I like to sit in his lap sometimes. It relaxes me. And he cleans my litter box which is VERY important. Although the female is nice too and she brings me my food a lot of the time. She drives me crazy though because she always wants to pet me or kiss me or take a photo of me and it disturbs my sleep.

6) Speaking of food, what is your favorite meal? I hear your mom is quite a cook! I don’t know about that. I’m VERY fussy. I only eat Hill’s Science Diet Indoor Hairball Control dry food and I have decided I only like one kind of wet food. Hill’s Science Diet Tender Tuna Dinner. BUT, it has to be mixed with my vitamins every morning and they have to add water to it so it’s brothy and not cold. I like the extra juice and I don’t like food that’s too cold. I don’t like the treats. They make me throw up.

7) How do you stay so fit? You are quite svelt for your age. Well, it was hard for a while. But last year for about a week I got moved into a different room and when we moved back to our quarters I discovered a bunch of new perches that my dad had built for me. So now I have all kinds of places to run and jump and it has been quite beneficial in maintaining my weight. The big perch with the moving conveyor belt still alludes me though. My mom likes to walk on it but it seems to move too rapidly for me.

8) I assume you also stay fit chasing after mice and hunting? Excuse me? I do not hunt. Plus there is nothing to hunt for in our place. An occasional spider but I don’t really like hunting after them either. I just play with them and then watch them climb onto my mom and bite her.

9) Ha! That’s not nice! How do you earn your keep? I mean you had to do something to win Employee of the Year? I don’t know what you are talking about. Are we done yet? Because I’m getting really tired. I’ve only slept for like 14 hours today. I need at least 6 more to meet my quota for the day.

10) OK, OK. Last question, what is your dream in life? If you could do anything or be anything? To sleep. Meow. Purr. Zzzzzz.

Couscous

Couscous

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Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Jeff Sudakov http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-jeff-sudakov/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-jeff-sudakov/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 22:12:08 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1313 Part 2 of our Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Jeff Sudakov. Jeff is the husband of Chef Monika and her partner in crime. Here is a little insight into Mr. Monika (so dubbed by Paula Sands) and some of his history. 1) Where are you from? I am from California. The beach comber, Southern Cal in flip […]

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Part 2 of our Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Jeff Sudakov. Jeff is the husband of Chef Monika and her partner in crime. Here is a little insight into Mr. Monika (so dubbed by Paula Sands) and some of his history.

1) Where are you from? I am from California. The beach comber, Southern Cal in flip flops type. Which is why I’m usually in shorts, even in the dead of winter here in Illinois.  Actually, I spent most of my time in a theater or dance studio.

2) How did you end up in Sheffield? We drove here of course. I was behind the wheel of the moving van. Actually I didn’t even see the inn until we pulled up. My wife and dad came to scope it out and decided it was perfect and I went along with their decision. Hoping it was as good as it looked, The Chestnut Street Inn just had everything we were looking for in a Bed and Breakfast.

3) Didn’t you have culture shock when you came to such a small town from California? No, the culture shock is in the other direction, moving from a small town to a big metropolitan area. Coming to a small town was like a sigh of relief. And the golf is way cheaper.

4) What did you do before becoming an innkeeper? My first career was as a singer and dancer in and around Southern California. I was a company member of a couple of dinner theaters. It didn’t pay great which means I spent a lot of time waiting tables, but I did get to do 7 shows a week for many years.  After a stint on Princess Cruises, Monika and I moved to Las Vegas and I hung up my tap shoes, although tap was never really my forte, but you get the idea. After having a desk job in Vegas for 5 years, I was definitely ready for a change. I couldn’t go back to dancing and the restaurant business seemed right up our alley.

5) Define your main duties at the Chestnut Street Inn. In the kitchen my main responsibility is dishes and to stay out of my wife’s hair. When we are doing dinner service, I am, as they say, the front of the house, taking care of guests, and my wife is the back of the house. This means I’m host, waiter, sommelier, bus boy, coat girl, valet, butler and any other title I can swipe. I am also the upstairs maid, although to save my back Monika does all the bathrooms. But I do all the dusting, vacuuming, making beds, monitoring fireplaces, etc. Probably my main job though is doing about 30 loads of laundry a week and ironing all the pillow cases, napkins, place mats and more. I joke that I do the laundry because if Monika did it she would shrink the king sheets to fit the full size bed and all the sheets would be dyed a lovely shade of peach, but really we have to divide the work somehow to be even. I also handle all the subcontracters, do a lot of the exterior maintenance and basically the back breaking work. With all that I should have won employee of the year this year! Darn cat.

6) What is it like working with your spouse? How is it that you haven’t killed each other yet? To be honest, if you were really going to kill your spouse because you spend 24/7 with them, you probably shouldn’t be married. Monika and I have worked together in 4 different businesses. I can’t imagine NOT working with her. The fact that we get to work together and own our own business together is the best thing I could imagine. She is my best friend. Besides, I know who wears the pants in the house and who is the boss. Remember, happy wife, happy life. It does mean I have to listen to a LOT of Celine Dion in the kitchen and right now that means her Christmas album on a nonstop loop for the next month. I may pull my hair out but as long as Monika is happy, it’s all good. Every once in a while I will beg for some Lady Gaga or Adam Lambert and fortunately she will indulge me but it’s her kitchen.

7) Speaking of hobbies, what do you like to do in your off time? My favorite hobby is obviously golf. I would love to be able to play twice a week. Most weeks during peak season I play once a week. But once in a blue moon I play more than that. Overall I play about 40-50 rounds a year which is pretty good for a 14 handicapper who never practices. I love it when guests want to play and anytime someone wants me to escort them around the golf course, I’m in!! So please bring your clubs along, I would be happy to take you out to the course.  The one hobby I look forward to in “retirement” is cross stitching. I have many kits partially done and many that I have not been able to start because I just haven’t had time to do it. Someday that’ll be my old man with a blanket around me and a magnifying glass in front of me hobby.

8) What’s your favorite part of being an innkeeper? I thought you already asked me the question about spending all my time with my wife??!!! Truly it’s the people that we meet. In the 10 years that we have been doing this, we have met some amazing and wonderful people. Some are fellow innkeepers, some previous guests, and many have become life long friends.

9) What future goals do you have for the inn since you are the project guy? The big “have tos” in the next 3-5 years are the roof, gutter system, boiler and exterior paint. The short list of small projects include new shelves in bathrooms, new storm doors on the side patio and getting furniture for the fire pit. Then there is the “want to” list. The ultimate goal is to expand the size of the kitchen into the laundry room space, but working backwards that means moving the laundry room into the innkeepers quarters and building a new loft area for ourselves. But that isn’t happening any time soon. The current big project is the new tables and lighting in the sun porch, which we should have done in the next couple of months.

10) Do you ever take time off? What do you like to do? We like to take a break once a quarter. In the second, third and fourth quarters that means a long weekend. Usually that involves visiting other bnb’s, a trip to Chicago and maybe a concert. Usually I play golf, we go to several movies and of course we always find a great restaurant or two or three. In the first quarter we usually do get a chance for an extended getaway, which means we will give up a weekend, but most of the time we work through the off season because we will actually get guests even in the winter and can be quite busy. These extended getaways usually involve visiting family in warmer climates. Someday we would like to take an extended trip to Europe but that’s on the wish list right now.

 

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

 

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Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Monika Sudakov http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-monika-sudakov/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/getting-know-innkeeper-monika-sudakov/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 19:21:25 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1306 Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Monika Sudakov We thought it would be fun to do a couple of blog posts introducing our two innkeepers. Many people are afraid to stay at a bed and breakfast because they don’t like the idea of staying with strangers. Well, how about if you are introduced to the innkeepers […]

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Getting to Know Your Innkeeper: Monika Sudakov

We thought it would be fun to do a couple of blog posts introducing our two innkeepers. Many people are afraid to stay at a bed and breakfast because they don’t like the idea of staying with strangers. Well, how about if you are introduced to the innkeepers in advance?! Here is your opportunity to get to know us before you stay with us. We polled previous guests and asked them what they would ask us if they were staying with us for the first time and these were some of the questions that came up. We also threw a couple of others in there just for fun. So without further ado, meet your chef and innkeeper, Monika Sudakov.

1) Where are you from? I was born and raised in Southern California, moved to Las Vegas for 5 years after we got married to pursue my Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology and then we moved here in 2005.

2) How did you end up in Sheffield? Well, we always ask if you want the true story or the fake story. The fake story goes that we threw a dart at the map and it landed in Sheffield. The true story is that we were looking for bnb’s all over the country and this one popped up for sale at the right time, in the right price bracket, with all the right qualifications. We were willing to go anywhere and this seemed like the perfect fit. After 10 years here we are so glad we picked Sheffield. Only a couple of hours from Chicago which is a great city to be near.

3) Didn’t you have culture shock when you came to such a small town from California? Well, we got here on a Tuesday in February and had our first guests that following Friday. Seemingly in the blink of an eye we had been here for a year and now for 10. We didn’t really have time for culture shock. Besides, we love that it’s quiet and there is no traffic. Coming from California that’s the thing we miss least.

4) What did you do before becoming an innkeeper? Well, I was a ballet dancer for about 14 years. My first job was in parades at Disneyland when I was 16. I worked there for 3 years and did every short part you can think of from Mickey and Minnie to Dopey and Pinocchio. After that we moved to Vegas where I worked for a company called Allstate Ticketing. I started off in concierge services selling show tickets and tours around town, then moved into box office management, database management and finally ended up the call center manager of the whole company. Once we decided to pursue our bed and breakfast dream we moved back to CA briefly where I worked waiting tables, first at a California Pizza Kitchen and then in the lounge at the Four Seasons Resort in Newport Beach.

5) Did you go to culinary school? No. I’m a self taught chef. My interest in food is two fold. First, my husband’s idea of dating involved taking me to a different ethnic restaurant every time we went out. I grew up in a Hungarian family that ate mostly Hungarian food cooked by my grandmother so I was pretty sheltered when it came to food. Jeff expanded my horizons greatly and created quite a monster. Now I’m more adventuresome in food than he is. The second aspect of my interest in food stems from my degree in anthropology. I was particularly interested in the dynamic between food and culture and actually wrote my Master’s Thesis on the Ritual of Mint Tea Consumption in Morocco. Since opening the Chestnut Street Inn in 2005, I have completed a program through the International Association of Culinary Professionals to become a Certified Culinary Professional and am currently working on a similar certification through the American Culinary Federation.

6) What is it like working with your spouse? How is it that you haven’t killed each other yet? Ha!!! Well, it isn’t always easy, but I will tell you that we very rarely argue. We are best friends and truly enjoy each other’s company. And this is actually not our first job together. We worked together while we dated and at the same company in Vegas while we lived there. The other secret is to delineate work/home time. Since we work from home it’s important to set aside time where we don’t talk shop and do what we like. We also make sure we allow each other some “me” time. For Jeff that’s usually golf and for me that’s usually sitting at my computer on You Tube watching Celine Dion videos. We also have been very good about making sure we each have our duties outlined. Jeff does all the laundry, ironing and linens (mostly because I dye everything pink and shrink everything). He also does most of the dusting, vacuuming and bed making. I’m in charge of food, bathrooms, marketing, accounting, social media and bills. It keeps us out of each other’s hair. That’s not to say we don’t consult with one another, but we know what our duties are, get them done and then there is no argument.

7) Speaking of hobbies, what do you like to do in your off time? I enjoy working out and do so almost every day. I also am a HUGE Celine Dion fan and spend a lot of my down time listening to her music, watching interviews and reading about her. We are both movie buffs and enjoy watching movies and going out for dinner when we can get away from the inn. Additionally I love to read, although I keep my reading to mostly non-fiction and food related. And I am fond of social media. I do enjoy connecting with friends and family through the various platforms.

8) How do you stay thin when you have to cook and taste all your food all the time? Well, that’s a tough one and one I have juggled a lot over the years. I do work out, but I’m also very good about not eating everything I make. I taste it, but when it comes to a meal I generally eat really healthy. No carbs/white starches, very little sugar and limit my dairy to mostly goat. That being said, I do enjoy eating out so when we are out, I’ll eat whatever I feel like. Life’s too short not to have fun.

9) Do you have children? Nope. Not in the cards. But we do have a huge feline named Couscous who is our furrbaby/boss of us.

10) Do you ever take time off? Sure we do. We are pretty good about scheduling time off in advance so that we have at least a short getaway every quarter. Then we try to take a longer break in the winter when things are slower to either visit friends or family somewhere warmer.

Chef Monika

Chef Monika

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Food For Thought http://www.chestnut-inn.com/food-for-thought/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/food-for-thought/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 18:22:53 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1297 Yesterday I had the honor of participating in a career fair for high school kids at a local community college. I was instructed to offer some food for thought to those who may be thinking of pursuing a career in the culinary field. I wanted to make sure I encouraged the kids while simultaneously making sure […]

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Yesterday I had the honor of participating in a career fair for high school kids at a local community college. I was instructed to offer some food for thought to those who may be thinking of pursuing a career in the culinary field. I wanted to make sure I encouraged the kids while simultaneously making sure they realized what the reality of a career in the culinary world looks like. Without further ado, here are my top 10 nuggets of wisdom. Feel free to share with anyone that may be considering a culinary career or anyone who is college bound really. I think these are fitting for any student just graduating.

1) If you think you are going to go to culinary school and it will automatically lead to television appearances and being the next celebrity chef, think again. A lot of the folks who struck it big got lucky. Many didn’t go to culinary school and many have never actually worked in a restaurant. TV is more about personalities, money and luck than about talent and ability.

2) If you think being a chef is glamorous, think again. It is a lot of long, grueling, hot hours of physical labor under not only uncomfortable circumstances, but often dangerous ones. This doesn’t mean it isn’t fun and it doesn’t have its rewards, which it does, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it is a cushy job. You will never see nights, weekends or holidays again and having a normal family life is pretty much out of the question.

3) If you are looking at going to a two year, high end, culinary trade school, you may want to reconsider that. A lot of talk has been going around about these “cash cow” trade schools. They take your $70,000, leave you in debt and you are not actually more likely to land a job as an executive chef at a high end restaurant. In fact, your odds are the same as everyone else.  A lot of chefs actually never attend culinary school, but rather do stages or apprenticeships in restaurants, working from the bottom of the barrel up, learning the trade and learning the style/recipes of that restaurant. I’m not saying don’t pursue an education in the culinary field, but it is wiser in my opinion to go to a community college first, get your GE’s done and then transfer to a culinary program at a smaller, less expensive school while working in the industry to gain practical hands on experience.

4) Don’t decide on your “major” right away. Going in undeclared, unless you are absolutely sure of your calling in life, is a lot smarter. I think almost everyone who goes in with a major declared ends up changing their major at least once, if not many times during their college career. You are better off getting your GE’s out of the way and seeing what it is that really strikes your fancy and then deciding and committing to that so you don’t waste time on a bunch of classes that will be of no use to you. And even with that being said, just because you pick a major and graduate with a degree in that field, there is no guarantee that you will actually get a job in that field. The benefit of the education is greater than the degree. Be flexible. I have two bachelor’s degrees (B.A. in French and a B.F.A. in Theater Performance with an Emphasis in Film/TV) and a Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology with an Emphasis in Food and Culture and I am not actually working in any of those fields, but everything I learned can and does come into play in my current job.

5) Should the opportunity arise to study abroad, take it. Make it happen even. I learned more and gained more wisdom and maturity in the 6 months I spent in Paris than in the entire rest of my time in college. The experience of living in another country, learning the language and having your independence cannot be overestimated.

6) If you get $$$ toward school, whether it is a grant or in the form of a scholarship, take it. You will thank me for that one later when you don’t have a huge student loan to pay off. It may not be your first choice in college, but sometimes that is is a compromise worth making.

7) Research your options within your field of study. For culinary degrees this may not just involve working as a chef. You may teach, work with a food manufacturing company on research and development, work in a nutritional/recipe development capacity for an institution like a hospital/school/nursing home, work in sales for a food company or something else altogether that you haven’t even thought of or that hasn’t even been invented yet. Things are changing fast and new opportunities arise every day.

8) Follow the Julia Child school of life, find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. I don’t care if that’s food or math or engineering, but if you love what you do, you will surely be happier in life than if you hate what you do. You may not get rich, but I guarantee you will feel like you are the wealthiest person alive.

9) Continue being a student. I graduated college in 1998 and finished my Master’s Degree in 2008. Since then I have gotten my certification through the International Association of Culinary Professionals  and am currently pursuing an additional certification through the American Culinary Federation. If you always keep learning, you will always stay ahead of the rest. You can never know too much.

10) Find a mentor, someone who you look up to and who can help support you in your endeavors. This can be a teacher, a friend, a fellow student or something totally different. All throughout my schooling there was always that one person who I could trust to give me honest feedback and who was there for me when I had my doubts. That continues to this day. Building a support system is key to making the most of your education and of your life in general.

Chef Monika

Chef Monika

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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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