Chestnut Inn http://www.chestnut-inn.com Sun, 27 Jul 2014 17:00:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Never Trust a Skinny Chef http://www.chestnut-inn.com/never-trust-skinny-chef/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/never-trust-skinny-chef/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 17:00:12 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1205 Never Trust a Skinny Chef. How many times have you heard this one? Well I think it’s nonsense. I can’t tell you how frequently guests jokingly say this to me and I always chuckle but in the back of my mind think the stereotype is extraordinarily ridiculous. Historically speaking, yes, there were a lot of […]

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Never Trust a Skinny Chef. How many times have you heard this one? Well I think it’s nonsense. I can’t tell you how frequently guests jokingly say this to me and I always chuckle but in the back of my mind think the stereotype is extraordinarily ridiculous. Historically speaking, yes, there were a lot of heavy set chefs. There were also a lot of male chefs and very few female chefs so I suppose it would have been just as easy to say never trust a female chef, which also sounds ludicrous. Any stereotype suggesting there is a “supposed to be” in the culinary world, or any world for that matter, rubs me the wrong way. It places unnecessary restrictions and constraints upon what’s normal and doesn’t allow the doors to stay open to anyone with talent, knowledge and the desire to achieve in that world. When it comes to the size of a chef, I can wholeheartedly assure you that size does not matter.

Very early on in my culinary career I read an article about Paul Prudhomme and how he had such difficulty losing weight. He hired a nutritionist to follow him around the kitchen for two weeks. She painstakingly calculated the calories of every sample he ingested and came to the conclusion that despite his not eating much else besides the samples he was consuming, he was ingesting something like 6000 calories per day, far to high for even an adult male of his stature. This was a good lesson to me to curb my sampling and to be mindful of the amount of fat, salt and sugar I am adding to my food. It also was a good lesson in the need for making smart choices in my other meals throughout the day and in the need to exercise to help mitigate the probability of weight gain from sampling. I have been diligent about this from day one so while my weight has fluctuated somewhat, I have never been a big person and have been even more diligent about it of late.

A thin chef indicates two things to me. One, the chef is disciplined. Not only is he/she disciplined in the kitchen, but also as a person. They keep themselves fit, not necessarily because of ego, but because being on your feet for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is difficult work. Not all chefs work those hours but they all spend a lot of time on their feet and in less than ideal conditions. If you are not fit, you will burn out. It’s a young persons game and if you plan on doing this as a career long term, you better take care of yourself and stay fit. End of story.

The second thing it indicates to me is that they are mindful of both portions and of the types of foods they are cooking. In observing what is “normal” in terms of portion sizes in this area I am often horrified by what is considered to be “normal.” I used to try to compete but have since reduced my portions, opting rather to spend more money on quality rather than quantity of food. I still think my portions are more than adequate and in fact quite generous, but not gluttonous. Additionally, I tend to make vegetables the star of a dish more often than not. I think meat is fine and in fact I love a good steak, but I could be just as happy being a vegetarian. Vegetables are infinitely interesting and take a lot of finesse to cook/prepare well. We all know we are supposed to be eating more fruits and veggies and the ability to utilize them well and make them appetizing is tantamount to good health and fitness. This is something I am quite proud of being able to do.

So next time you see a skinny chef, look at it as something positive, a sign that that chef is doing something right. Ultimately it comes down to not judging a book by its cover. Judge it by its content. In the chefs case, judge them by what they produce in the kitchen and send out for their guests to enjoy.

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini

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Life Lessons Learned Through Innkeeping http://www.chestnut-inn.com/life-lessons-learned-innkeeping/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/life-lessons-learned-innkeeping/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:51:16 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1198 We have been innkeepers for going on almost ten years now, which is as mind boggling to me as to any of our repeat guests who have been coming to see us for that long. One of the things that has emerged over these last ten years are the life lessons learned through innkeeping. There […]

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We have been innkeepers for going on almost ten years now, which is as mind boggling to me as to any of our repeat guests who have been coming to see us for that long. One of the things that has emerged over these last ten years are the life lessons learned through innkeeping. There are many, and I do believe that they are not exclusive to innkeepers. They are things that I think can be applied to anyone’s life and to any profession. Here are just a few that are worth mentioning and thinking about.

1) Patience is a virtue. While this seems like a silly catchphrase, it is definitely true. Guests, weather, every day occurrences, all of these will test your patience and test it often. Learning how to work through this and to maintain your cool is key to not only providing good customer service, but to maintaining a certain level of sanity. If you lose your cool, you not only will impact the comfort of your guests, but in the long run it’ll wear on you and make you unhappy.

2) Make your health and wellness a priority. Innkeepers don’t get paid sick days. Heck, there is no such thing as calling in sick. Most of the time you just have to suck it up and deal with it. That’s not to say that we haven’t had our fair share of medical issues, including two surgeries over the last 3 years during which Jeff had to play solo innkeeper, but the vast majority of the time I am pleased to say, knock on wood, that we have both been able to stay remarkably healthy. This work is physical, there are no bones about it. We are on our feet for long hours, run around a lot, do a lot of bending and lifting and sometimes don’t get a lot of sleep during peak season. The only way to sustain that kind of schedule is to make sure you eat well, exercise and in our case take some supplements to maintain our basic health and well being. It’s worked thus far and I suspect it’ll continue working as long as we are diligent about it.

3) Take time off. No matter how much you love your job, love people and love your life, you have to decompress. For us that means we have to physically remove ourselves from the inn or we will find something to do. I think this is particularly applicable to parents with small children. Giving yourselves the permission to go away and focus on just you is absolutely necessary if not for physical well being, more so for emotional and spiritual well being. Even just a couple of days does wonders to boost your morale and make you that much more efficient at what you do.

4) We are all human and by that very nature we all make mistakes. Try as I may to do everything right all the time, because I am an absolute perfectionist, I am quite fallible and am often reminded of this. It is humbling when you burn something or spill something or realize you forgot to do something in a room before check in. Most of the time, if you are honest about making a mistake and you apologize, people will not only forgive you but appreciate your being human. This has proven itself time after time to be the truth.

5) Be prepared for everything and even then, be prepared for the unexpected. No matter how much we budget, plan and prepare for things, something always comes up. It can often be deflating and feel like a real setback. Sometimes I blame it on my beautiful historic money pit of a home, but in reality, all homeowners deal with the unexpected. Heck, all humans deal with the unexpected. Life is what happens while we all make plans and this is something I know to be truer than anything else. You have no control over what may happen. The only thing you have control over is how you are going to deal with it. Do you fall apart and go hide from it or do you face it head on and then move on? I’ve found that fretting and freaking out doesn’t do anything except to make me anxious and not feel well. When I gather my wits about me, evaluate the problem and then come up with solutions I tend to be a lot more effective and a lot happier.

Innkeeping is at its very core an exercise in humanity. It often offers the opportunity for us to evaluate who we are and to try to become better innkeepers and better people. We as innkeepers are reflected in the eyes and in the hearts of all of our guests. It is up to us to look into their eyes and hearts and to take all of it in, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jeff and Monika

Jeff and Monika

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Children and Inns http://www.chestnut-inn.com/children-inns/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/children-inns/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 14:55:36 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1193 Children and inns is a subject that is very sensitive to many, and one that every innkeeper has to delicately address, factoring in the ambiance they are trying to achieve with their property and the potential benefit/loss ratio of either allowing kids or not allowing kids. For the record, I don’t know of an innkeeper […]

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Children and inns is a subject that is very sensitive to many, and one that every innkeeper has to delicately address, factoring in the ambiance they are trying to achieve with their property and the potential benefit/loss ratio of either allowing kids or not allowing kids. For the record, I don’t know of an innkeeper who doesn’t like kids. Many have their own children and grandchildren and love them dearly. However, many have established no child policies at their properties for varying reasons. We are one of those. Our policy is 12 and up when it comes to the bed and breakfast. We have in fact bent our rule many times, but are more and more inclined to not do so. This upsets some who want to travel as a family and who do not wish to stay at chain hotels and motels, but our reasons are many. **Please note: We do allow children to dine at our restaurant who are not staying as long as they are tended by their parents and kept at their table so as not to intrude on the dining experience of others. We do not have a children’s menu, but we will offer half portions of the menu for that evening.

First and foremost, our focus as a destination bed and breakfast is upon gourmet dining, which is not something that most children understand or appreciate because young palates are not as developed or sophisticated. We also wish to create an adult environment that allows guests to enjoy the company of their significant others or friends and to get away from their own children. It is incredibly important for parents to get away from their kids every so often to rejuvenate and reconnect. We view our bed and breakfast as just the place for that and it would be unfair for us to allow one person’s kids when another room is looking for a child free weekend.

Secondly, we have many valuables and sentimental items on display throughout the house. I will make a disclaimer that not all children are hyper or incapable of behaving, but children are children. They are curious. It’s a new environment and they want to explore. That’s normal and I would not expect it to be any other way. I just don’t want them touching and picking everything up or breaking anything which puts both us and the parents in an awkward position.

Thirdly, children are not usually the problem, it’s the parents. I cannot tell you how many times I have made exceptions for kids and the parents tell me their children are very well behaved and mature. Perhaps when they are at home or in an environment that they are accustomed to, this is true, but in a new environment all bets are off. Parents are relaxed, they are trying to enjoy themselves, they may even be enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two. That’s great, but that doesn’t mean you stop minding or disciplining your children. What ends up happening is that we as the innkeepers end up having to either entertain the kids or keep them from harming themselves or something else. Some parents don’t mind, but others take offense to this. It’s uncomfortable all around and it distracts us from what we really should be doing, which is to provide our guests with everything they need and to create outstanding food.

So these are just some reasons innkeepers may have for maintaining a no child policy. Others welcome families. It’s an individual decision and a very personal one. As for us, we love kids. We have many young ones in our family that we enjoy being around and in fact are quite good with kids. I am personally passionate about education and specifically about food in schools and have on many occasions participated in school and after school programs with young kids educating them about healthy eating. But when it comes to the experience we are trying to craft for our guests, we have to hone in on what best suits that vision and for us that means keeping it to adults only.

Chestnut Street Inn

Chestnut Street Inn

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The Not So Sweet Truth About Fruit http://www.chestnut-inn.com/sweet-truth-fruit/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/sweet-truth-fruit/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:45:30 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1187 This morning I was preparing for breakfast. I had a beautiful assortment of fruit laid out to serve. Some lovely looking apricots, peaches, kiwis, bananas and pineapple. From the exterior they all looked pristine and perfect. When I started cutting them up I realized that the vast majority were either totally rotten or totally unripened. […]

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This morning I was preparing for breakfast. I had a beautiful assortment of fruit laid out to serve. Some lovely looking apricots, peaches, kiwis, bananas and pineapple. From the exterior they all looked pristine and perfect. When I started cutting them up I realized that the vast majority were either totally rotten or totally unripened. This is the not so sweet truth about fruit. It’s all about looks, but no substance.

We live in a country where every grocery store is stocked with a vast array of fruits and vegetables, year round. You can find tropical fruits like kiwis and bananas year round at the local Super Walmart, and at a reasonable price. But the cost of this abundance of variety is enormous. Most of this fruit came not just from across the country, but from around the world. Take a look at some of the labels. The kiwis we can buy locally come from Italy (which perplexes me because Italy is most certainly not a tropical island). Oranges and avocados come from Mexico. Tomatoes may come from the U.S. but are generally hydroponically grown or grown in a hot house, without ever seeing the light of day.

These fruits and vegetables are shells of what they really should be. They have no flavor and no scent. You are almost better off consuming fake wax fruit from a decorative bowl. They would probably have more flavor than these pseudo fruits. Most fruit is picked completely unripened so that it can withstand the long voyage it will make to your local grocery store. Delicate fruits like strawberries and apricots cannot withstand 1000′s of miles and several days in a truck en route to your Super Walmart so they are brought to a warehouse and then gassed with ethylene gas to quickly ripen them, or at least give the illusion from the outside that they are ripe. By the time you see the perfect looking fruits and veggies at the grocery store, they have been harvested more than a week prior, gassed and possibly waxed to show a shiny, pristine looking fruit.

Bring them home and you realize that they are tasteless and unripe. Or, in the case of some of the more delicate fruits, you bring them home and within a day they are completely rotten because they have been around for so long. It’s an incredible waste of money. I literally purchase a third more fruit than I think I will need for breakfasts, knowing full well that by the time I serve them, many will no longer be edible. It’s like gambling in a casino, only I think the odds are better at the blackjack table than with the fruit.

So what can you do? Really, if you are not located somewhere that has a moderate climate year round which can support fresh fruit growing all the time, you are kind of at the mercy of the commercial food system that has developed in this country. When possible, buy local. It is not only the best quality fruit you will get, but it supports the local economy and reduces the carbon footprint of your food. Around here we do have several farms that grow berries, apples, melons and more. This time of year all of these fruits will start appearing and even some of the local grocery chains will supply locally grown fruit. If you see them, opt for those.

In the winter I do what I can and select the fruits that are least likely to be problematic. I also opt for organic where I can. In some cases it doesn’t matter, bananas come to mind, but in others it does make a distinct difference in terms of the quality of the fruit. I won’t say it isn’t frustrating, but it is what it is. But I always maintain that money talks and if we want to see things change and to encourage more local small family farms, we have to put our money where our mouths and stomachs are and make sure we go out of our way to support those local farms when they have food available. That’s my policy here at CSI and I take it very seriously.

Fruit

The Not So Sweet Truth About Fruit

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Pet Friendly Debate http://www.chestnut-inn.com/pet-friendly-debate/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/pet-friendly-debate/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 16:23:06 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1178 Among inns and innkeepers there is constantly a pet friendly debate going on. More and more properties are opening themselves up to guests who like to travel with their furrbabies. It’s good marketing and has a good built in clientele. But, there are also a lot of folks who are allergic to pets and unable […]

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Among inns and innkeepers there is constantly a pet friendly debate going on. More and more properties are opening themselves up to guests who like to travel with their furrbabies. It’s good marketing and has a good built in clientele. But, there are also a lot of folks who are allergic to pets and unable to stay in a facility that is pet friendly. So the debate is always whether being pet friendly will actually increase your business or decrease your business.

As an animal lover, okay maybe an animal freak (In fact my husband insists that if it were up to me we wouldn’t have a bnb we would have a petting zoo and there may be some truth to that), my heart says being pet friendly would be great, but because we are predominantly a bnb for foodies, my brain says otherwise. If we had the kind of property that had all hardwood or tile floors, not a lot of antiques and was located in a more urban area, we might reconsider that philosophy, but as it stands we feel that we are not equipped to clean adequately to make sure danders don’t get trapped into the carpet that would affect other guests that have allergies. So we have upheld our no pets policy. We tried once or twice to make an exception but decided that it wasn’t worth it after a few accidents. (Note: by law all businesses are required to accept service animals regardless of allergies)

What about our own pet?? Many people have asked me this as we do have a cat in residence. Our feline furrbaby is isolated to our innkeepers quarters only and is diligently monitored so that he does not get into the inn. We also made sure our venting for AC/Heating are completely separate from the rest of the inn so that there is no chance of danders travelling from one floor to the next. As far as myself, I am also very diligent about making sure I keep furr off myself and I am constantly washing my hands before handling any food or engaging with guests.

We found out early on that my father in law is highly allergic to cats and particularly sensitive to our feline for whatever reason. His asthma would act up and he would start sneezing uncontrollably the second he was anywhere near him. So we do take allergies very seriously. He stays with us regularly without any trouble as have many other guests with cat allergies.

That being said, we do periodically show off our furrbaby online because we think he is pretty darn adorable. And we find folks like to see photos of peoples pets and children. Since we don’t have children, we proudly parade our furrbaby. And there was the one year that Couscous won for employee of the year. Not sure exactly what he did to deserve it, but we figured he was due. If nothing else for moral support and purrs.

With that, here is a photo of our precocious and very large feline Couscous, in honor of National Hug Your Cat Day!

Couscous

The Chestnut Street Inn mascot. Couscous!

 

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It’s a Small World After All http://www.chestnut-inn.com/small-world/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/small-world/#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 13:51:16 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1170 You never know who is going to walk through the front door when you run a bed and breakfast. One of the most rewarding parts of being an innkeeper is the relationships we form with our guests and the conversations we have with them over breakfast. We meet thousands of interesting people a year. Some […]

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You never know who is going to walk through the front door when you run a bed and breakfast. One of the most rewarding parts of being an innkeeper is the relationships we form with our guests and the conversations we have with them over breakfast. We meet thousands of interesting people a year. Some have become like family after having visited us numerous times. Others may never come back again but most certainly will leave behind everlasting memories. Our guest last night was one of those.

The reservation came through online. I saw that the reservation was from a Frenchman and took note of it. That is not entirely unusual as we have had numerous French guests stay with us, mostly because it is noted on our website that I happen to speak French so they know they will feel comfortable. In this particular case I assumed that was why this guest was staying here also. Little did I know he had no idea who we were or anything about us. He booked our bed and breakfast strictly based upon location, as he has been trekking across the US by bicycle, starting in New York in early April and ending in San Francisco this coming July. We happened to be at the correct mile marker off the Hennepin Canal for his ride from La Salle en route to Geneseo.

When he arrived yesterday afternoon, he was surprised to find that I could speak French when I checked him in. He was both pleased and a little relieved. Since he had just gotten off a 53 mile ride we got him and his bike situated and got him up to his room without too much discussion. About an hour later he came down to tell me that he resides in Paris half the time and in Marrakech, Morocco the other half. He was blown away that not only had I studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris but had done my research for my Master’s Thesis in Morocco. He joyfully shared photos of his home and of his daughter and granddaughter who live in Morocco.

After a good night’s rest this morning we prepared for him one of our signature breakfasts called Bird In a Nest. I added a little Moroccan flair with some Argan oil and some Ras el Hanout spice on the asparagus. He was so happy to have some of the flavor of home on his plate he immediately posted a photo of the breakfast on his blog to share with his family who he said think he is eating poorly here in the states. We had a delightful discussion over breakfast about his travels and treks across Morocco and of course about his life in both France and Morocco. What a lovely gentleman and what kismet.

After he left I went to look at the note he wrote in the book in his room and he gleefully wrote how pleasantly surprised he was to meet us and to find our love for both of his home countries. I’m sure this will be a stop he will remember and take with him through the rest of his travels. It will certainly be a memory that I will cherish as well. If there is one thing we repeatedly discover about doing what we do, it’s a small world after all. No matter how isolated we may think we are, we really aren’t that far away from anywhere or anyone. And even if we don’t get to travel often, at least we get to travel vicariously through the myriad of fascinating people who come our way.

Djemma el fna

 

If you would like to see his blog post about his travels here is a link: http://usride.over-blog.com/etape-35

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chestnut Street Inn http://www.chestnut-inn.com/funny-thing-happened-way-chestnut-street-inn/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/funny-thing-happened-way-chestnut-street-inn/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 17:17:39 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1161 So last weekend a funny thing happened on the way to Chestnut Street Inn. Pretty much all of Bureau County and half of central Illinois got paid a visit by this Limoosine. It was quite a sight. I think it may have been the most exciting thing to happen in Sheffield in a while. Certainly […]

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So last weekend a funny thing happened on the way to Chestnut Street Inn. Pretty much all of Bureau County and half of central Illinois got paid a visit by this Limoosine. It was quite a sight. I think it may have been the most exciting thing to happen in Sheffield in a while. Certainly a first for us in 9.5 years. These awesome ladies were celebrating their 60th birthday’s collectively and they decided to travel in style.

Limoo 4

 

When the Limoosine arrived, the cow had steam blowing out of its rear end and then the vehicle began blaring Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” very loudly. I believe at least 4 neighbors stopped by to take a photo. I know several people have stopped me to tell me they saw the cow limo on Facebook and I know they weren’t on my friends list.

Limoo

Perhaps the most spectacular part of the limoosine was the golden poo on the backside of it. A sight to behold really.

Limoo 2

A colorful ride to be sure, but what was even more spectacular was the inside, which was decked out with a mirrored ceiling.

Limoo 3

One last view from the front. CSI looks pretty darn great in the background. Don’t worry, this is not destined to become the official ambassador vehicle for us anytime soon. But sure was a lot of fun.

If there is one thing we can say about being innkeepers, we do get lots of super fascinating guests who give us lots to talk about and laugh about. I think we could all benefit from taking ourselves a little less seriously sometimes.

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Monika The Energizer Bunny http://www.chestnut-inn.com/monika-the-energizer-bunny/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/monika-the-energizer-bunny/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 22:08:25 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1156 I have often been called Monika the energizer bunny because I have a tendency to keep going and going and going. After my recent brief hiatus while recovering from surgery I realized what a difficult time I have staying put and doing nothing. Not that I’m an overachiever, I just get bored really easily. A […]

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I have often been called Monika the energizer bunny because I have a tendency to keep going and going and going. After my recent brief hiatus while recovering from surgery I realized what a difficult time I have staying put and doing nothing. Not that I’m an overachiever, I just get bored really easily. A lot of our guests, friends and family members frequently say they don’t know how I find time to do everything that I do. The cooking, cleaning, blogging, social networking, interacting with guests, article writing, cooking demos and on and on. I don’t think I’m all that extraordinary but perhaps there are a few things that I do that help me achieve what I need to on a day to day basis. Whether these are of any use to anyone else may be debatable, but they are my keys to staying on track.

1) Write notes. I am a copious note taker and I always keep a running log of things I have to get done. It helps me stay on task and not get distracted and I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I get to cross something off the list.

2) Multi-tasking within reason. This is something that may not be achievable by everyone as some people have brains that are wired for multi-tasking and others don’t. But where I can, I tend to do multiple things at once, particularly things like cooking, cleaning and social networking. Thanks to modern technology I can keep my phone with me and take photos, upload those photos to all the social networking sites and maintain all my profiles. It has made a world of difference for me.

3) Discipline. This is something I learned as a ballerina. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the best lesson ballet taught me. If you are not disciplined, you cannot make it in the dance world. And that discipline crosses numerous areas of my life from staying on task to doing things I may not feel like doing to helping me eat healthy which gives me the health I need to stay energized.

4) Diet. And I hate that word. It isn’t a diet at all. It’s a lifestyle. I eat well because it helps me achieve my day. It’s almost like being an elite athelete. I stay fit and healthy by making sure I put good nutrition into my body. That doesn’t mean I don’t splurge because we all do and I love food so I will have the occasional cheese or  bread or steak, but as a general rule I eat a lot of veggies, protein and try to limit my sugar intake. My diet of late has gotten even more particular because of having my gallbladder out. Either way, treat your body well and it’ll treat you well. By extension of this, I also do take some basic supplements that I swear by. A good anti-oxidant, calcium, joint formula for those achy ex-dancer joints which really helps with the physical labor involved, a digestive enzyme with probiotics and resveratrol which is supposed to be good for a number of reasons. And I’m not a jump on the bandwagon kind of person. I usually approach stuff like this skeptically but I have done plenty of research and trials to know that I feel better when I am on them.

5) Sleep. This one is crucial. Jeff makes fun of me sometimes because if it was up to me I’d be in bed by 9pm every night and I tend to thrive on 9 hours of sleep. Because I’m on the go from the time I get up until the time I hit the sack and often am on my feet that whole time, rest is crucial for me. I have to give my body and mind the time to restore itself and rejuvenate itself. Your optimum amount of sleep may not be 9 hours, but finding out what it is and allowing yourself to get it is key. You will work more efficiently, more quickly and you will feel more focused on the tasks at hand.

6) Down time and hobbies. It’s critical to give yourself the permission to take time off periodically. We try to get away completely at least 4 times a year, even if it’s just for a 3 or 4 day getaway to another bed and breakfast. It forces us to pursue our hobbies, enjoy one another’s company outside of work and to just do nothing that has to do with work. This also involves hobbies we pursue when we aren’t away. If I have a few hours on a Monday where I have no guests, rather than finding something to do I will just let myself spend a couple of hours doing something I love, like watching videos of Celine Dion on You Tube or in Jeff’s case play a round of golf.

7) Exercise. This one is a little harder because my time is limited. I don’t get as much as I should but I do try to stay active. I lift light weights, try to get on the treadmill in between guests and occasionally go to yoga. This helps keep me healthy and it’s also a great feel good thing that makes you stay in a healthier frame of mind to do what you need to do.

8) Social interactions. I’m not talking with guests or even Facebook. I’m talking nurturing those relationships that mean something to you. Jeff and I try to go on dates where there’s no work involved so we can just enjoy one another as a married couple. I also try to nurture my close friendships, relationships with my mom and cousins and I spend a good amount of time texting with my favorite aunt. This is critical to me. It gives me a sense of normalcy and a chance to reconnect with my personal life.

9) Mind over matter. This is the last one and the one that is maybe the most important one. We all have our bad days. Days we don’t feel like it. Don’t feel well, don’t have inspiration, had a disagreement with someone or simply are in a bad mood. For me I always practice a little bit of mind over matter. My mind says do it and everything else doesn’t matter. When you consciously make this decision it really helps to get you past whatever funk you are in and just do it. I don’t mean to sound like a Nike commercial but really it is helpful to just do it.

So am I the energizer bunny? Perhaps. But you can be one too. Everyone can do it. Having a positive attitude about life is the first step to achievement. And one final word of advice? Have fun. Laugh. Find ways to make fun of yourself and to allow yourself to laugh at things. It can’t all be serious and no play. You’d be amazed at how often Jeff and I simply play at work and make each other laugh. That’s the best motivator to getting stuff done.

Monika The Energizer Bunny

Have fun! Play! It makes even the hardest work seem like fun!

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Loving and Loathing Food: The Reality of Eating Disorders http://www.chestnut-inn.com/lovingandloathingfood/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/lovingandloathingfood/#comments Sat, 03 May 2014 15:06:49 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1150 Everyone knows I love food. I love eating it, cooking it and sharing it with people. It’s my art and my zen. It’s my singular mission to bring the joy of eating and cooking to others and to educate them about healthy eating. What everyone doesn’t know is that it wasn’t always this way. In […]

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Everyone knows I love food. I love eating it, cooking it and sharing it with people. It’s my art and my zen. It’s my singular mission to bring the joy of eating and cooking to others and to educate them about healthy eating. What everyone doesn’t know is that it wasn’t always this way. In fact, there was a time when I hated food. I feared it, loathed it and wanted nothing to do with it.

As a teenager and young dancer I struggled with weight and with trying to fit into an unrealistic mold. I was blessed, or cursed as the case may be, with a very typical Eastern European body. Short, stocky, buxom. In short, not what you need to be a ballerina. I was a good dancer, in fact a good enough dancer to get into numerous summer programs at various ballet companies. What I wasn’t was naturally tall and slender. I had to work at it. Every time I would audition and they would accept me they would say it was contingent upon my losing 10 pounds. I was already slender, but not slender enough. Long story short, this spiraled into what would become an eating disorder.

Loving and Loathing Food: The Reality of Eating Disorders

As a horse in a circus themed ballet

What is not surprising is that a dancer had an eating disorder. What was surprising was that it was me. I have always considered myself to be unusually mature, intelligent and mostly confident. Yet, I too was susceptible to the pressures of society and a world that puts impossible expectations on young women to look a certain way. Nobody is immune to things like a ballet teacher in college calling me the Pillsbury Dough Girl or having your stomach pinched and poked. I don’t care how tough you are. While the rational me knew what I was doing was stupid and unsustainable, I still persisted because I thought what I wanted most in the world was to be a dancer and I was willing to do anything to achieve that goal, even if it meant being unhealthy. At my lowest weight I was a whopping 89 pounds, which even on a short 5′ 1″ frame is way too thin.

Fortunately I came to my senses and realized that this was no way to live. No dream was worth sacrificing that much for. Being the pragmatic academic that I am, I tackled the problem the only way I knew how. By studying it and becoming an expert. What resulted is someone who is extremely knowledgable about food, nutrition, cooking and above all the sociology and psychology of body image and body dysmorphia.

First, let’s take a look at eating disorders as a part of our society. According to the Emily Program Foundation, an eating disorder advocacy group, conservative estimates are that 3% of males and 6% of females will suffer from an eating disorder over their lifetimes. Among adolescents the numbers are higher, around 14% for females and 6.5% for males. This is a fascinating statistic when you consider that obesity rates in this country are also growing at extraordinary rates, particularly among young children. The question is why? The answer is fairly basic. We live in a society that is engrossed in visual stimulation. Media of all kinds from television to movies to social media to magazines portray perfection or rather pseudoperfection. What we are becoming increasingly aware of is that these so called perfect people are nowhere near as perfect as they seem. They are being photoshopped to the point that we are all striving for a completely unnatural and unattainable ideal.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a corporate model that is also utilizing this same media to send us messages about the foods that we eat. These messages emphasize fast, easy and cheap. It encourages us to eat foods that are highly processed and highly unhealthy and discourages us from doing one of the most basic tasks that could single handedly cure our obesity epidemic, and that is cooking. They portray it as something mundane and unnecessary. Something that utilizes time that we could use doing something more important, although I’m not certain what could be more important than what we put into our bodies. Cooking is in fact necessary and the single best way to maintain good health, good nutrition and maintain a healthy weight. It’s really quite simple. Instead, we are all suffering a from a collective eating disorder that is embodied by two extremes and a complete disassociation from what eating right really is.

So why am I all of a sudden writing about this? Recently I have been having some trouble with my gallbladder which has resulted in my not being able to eat my normal healthy diet. Completely unintentionally and without trying to do so, I have lost almost 10 lbs since about the beginning of March, which on my frame is quite a large amount. That wouldn’t be such a big deal considering I’m getting the situation taken care of and will be back to normal shortly, but what I noticed was that I started getting peoples attention. People would say, “Hey, you’ve lost weight. You look great.” And I found myself liking the attention, the way I used to like it when I was a teenager dealing with an eating disorder. I felt compelled to weigh myself way more frequently than I normally do and I started noticing little things like my collar bone being more defined and feeling my hip bones. These little habits are indicative of the fact that while one may control an eating disorder, it’s not something that you are ever cured from. It is always a part of your personality and your ego. But, that being said, you can choose to let it consume you or you can remember how lousy you felt when it was the boss. I am reminded of the lethargy, the grumbling stomach, the headaches, the grumpiness. And you know what, all that sucks. I never want to be there again. It is not worth it. So for any of the irrational benefits that I may perceive from being thinner, most of which are superficial at best, being healthy and eating well feel much better for my body, mind and soul.

So I guess the lesson learned that I would like to pass along is this. Knowing what I know, having been where I have been and being the chef that I am, we as a society have to stop obsessing with shoulds. Everyone is individual and everyone has their own unique normal which may or may not fit into the box that society says we should all fit into. Embrace that normal. Stop fixating on the numbers. Learn to enjoy your life, your food and your body no matter what you perceive to be right or wrong. Incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into your daily routine, like exercising and eating well, but an occasional splurge is just fine. In fact it’s good for you. You cannot live your life in fear, especially of something as basic and fundamental to your health and well being, both physical and mental, as food. Each meal is just that. One meal. And guess what? There is always the next one where you can make different choices, for better or for worse. What I know to be certain is that food is one of the most pervasive activities in life that occupies a large percentage of our time. We can either make peace with it and learn to love it, or we can spend all that time stressing over it. Life is too short for that.

So while it may sound campy to say so, Carpe Foodum.

Loving and Loathing Food: The Reality of Eating Disorders

At the peak of my fitness as a dancer.

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Lucy and Ethel’s European Vacation on a Plate http://www.chestnut-inn.com/lucy-and-ethels-european-vacation-on-a-plate/ http://www.chestnut-inn.com/lucy-and-ethels-european-vacation-on-a-plate/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:56:46 +0000 http://www.chestnut-inn.com/?p=1135 For those of you who have been following the continuing escapades of our cooking classes at Hy-Vee, you have likely attended one of our Lucy and Ethel themed cooking classes. Last week we did another one titled “Lucy and Ethel’s European Vacation on a Plate.” This was the last of my classes at Hy-Vee and […]

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For those of you who have been following the continuing escapades of our cooking classes at Hy-Vee, you have likely attended one of our Lucy and Ethel themed cooking classes. Last week we did another one titled “Lucy and Ethel’s European Vacation on a Plate.” This was the last of my classes at Hy-Vee and unfortunately we were unable to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. So we wanted to be sure to share the recipes with everyone as a thank you for all your continued support of me and my classes.

Lucy and Ethel's European Vacation on a Plate

Chef Monika as Lucy and Cathy as Ethel

 

Fish and Chips with Garlic Mayo

Yields: 8 Servings

8 boneless cod filets, cut in half

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 12 oz bottles of British lager

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

2 tbl smoked paprika

1 tbl dried thyme leaves

Canola oil for frying

Malt vinegar for serving

Dry the cod filets with a paper towel to remove excess liquid. Combine the 1 cup flour with salt, pepper and paprika for dry batter. Combine the remaining flour with the salt, pepper, paprika, thyme and beer and whisk until it forms a thick batter. Dredge the cod filets first  in the dry batter, shaking off any excess. Then dunk into the wet beer batter and remove, allowing excess to drip off, prior to putting into the fryer, which has been preheated to 375 degrees. Fry for approx. 5-7 mins or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and serve with garlic mayo, malt vinegar and chips.

Garlic Mayo

1 cup Hellman’s Mayo

1 head garlic, roasted

Pinch Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tsp harissa paste

Combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and puree until smooth.

Chips

4 Russet Potatoes, Cleaned and each one cut into 8 wedges

2 tsps kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

3 tbl olive oil

2 tsps smoked paprika

2 tsps dried thyme

3 tbl freshly grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place potato wedges on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and season with salt, pepper, paprika and thyme. Toss well to coat evenly. Bake for approx. 45 mins, until golden and crispy. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan immediately after they come out of the oven.

 

 

Ragu Bolognese

3 Tbl olive oil

2-3 Tbl unsalted butter

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb ground veal or beef

1 lb ground pork

4 oz pancetta or Canadian bacon, finely chopped

3-4 Tbl tomato paste

Pinch salt and pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 Tbl dried Italian seasoning

1 cup whole milk

1 cup dry vermouth

2 Tbl Italian parsley, finely chopped

Handful freshly torn Basil leaves

Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano to serve

Heat olive oil and butter over medium high heat in a medium sauté pan until butter has melted. Add onion and sauté until lightly caramelized, approx. 6 mins. Add garlic and heat through until fragrant, approx. 1 min. Add carrot and celery and sauté for a couple minutes or until the vegetables just begin to tenderize. Add beef or veal, pork and pancetta or Canadian bacon and continue to sauté until the meat has completely browned. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and tomato paste. Continue cooking for approx. a minute or two or until the spices have heated through and toasted a bit. Add milk and wine and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for approx. 1 hour or until the sauce has thickened and become rich. Season to taste and add freshly torn basil and chopped parsley. Serve over a bed of pasta noodles, preferably something like a penne or a gemelli with ridges for the sauce to adhere to. Garnish with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. Yields: 8 Servings

 

 

Mousse aux Framboises

Yields: 8 Servings

8 oz goat cheese, at room temperature

4 oz creme cheese, at room temperature

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbl orange blossom water

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup pureed fresh raspberries that have been strained to remove the seeds

Place the cheeses in a large metal bowl. Using a rotary beater, slowly beat in the powdered sugar, vanilla and orange blossom water. Add the cream beating until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Carefully fold in the pureed raspberries. Pour the mixture into a cheese cloth lining a strainer. Weigh down with something heavy, i.e. a can or a baking sheet topped with a gallon of milk and place in the refrigerator. Allow to drain overnight. Discard the drained liquid and serve the mousse with fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.

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