Thursday, April 28, 2011

Eating Through Indy in a Week

We all make sacrifices; giving of our time, our resources in exchange for something else.

In order to share some great moments with you, I have, sacrificially, exchanged some ordinary days for some wonderful memories. Memories that will be treasured because relationships are being built on these moments. Looking back at the past week are insightful conversations and gastronomical indulgences.

I have felt quite spoiled over the last 8 days. I normally dine at once a week or so, some weeks not at all. There are days when a restaurant keeps me sane. Someone else preparing, serving, and cleaning up at the end, reminds me why I do what I do.

It began on April 22, 2011. My friend Renata ( was coming over to discuss her upcoming house concert and brainstorm some marketing ideas for her bed and breakfast. Renata had never experienced Yats and I could not let this go on. Renata has lived in Indy for over 20 years, me 7. Yats is the place I recommend to my guests who are looking for delicious, healthy fast food that is inexpensive. The menu has 4 or 5 items which you can combine on the half and half. The cajun flavors blend so well that I, like many others, crave the taste days after your last visit. I ordered the half and half with drunken chicken and the B&B. The drunken chicken was kickin with spice. Thank goodness it is served over rice. When I first heard the title B&B, I, of course thought of bed and breakfast. Yats has not gone into the innkeeping business. The B&B refers to a delicious vegetarian dish that consists of caramelized corn, red peppers, black beans and I think onions are snuck in there. Dinner for 2, including drinks is about $17. Yats has several locations throughout Indianapolis.

The next day I met up with Sue for lunch at George's Neighborhood Grill. Sue is from Brisbane, Australia and this was a bit like a blind date in that we had never met before. What a blessing to enjoy the company of a new friend and find that we had quite alot in common. George's offers some great salad options and I chose the Binford's Black Forest Salad and a raspberry ice tea. The salad was impressive. The grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, pecans and gargonzola cheese were a great combination. I love any place that does something truly original and their black cherry vinaigrette dressing was amazing. It was thick, the consistency of a ranch dressing with a great combination of tartness and sweetness.

Sunday arrived and off we went to La Hacienda on Indy's East Side. I thought my guests from Australia and India should have a taste of semi authentic Mexican cuisine. I am sure it was a definite experience. The great thing about La Hacienda is that it is quick, there were 5 kids in the group, so fast was crucial. It is also quite affordable and they have vegetarian options.

The new week began with dinner at my favorite place in all of Indianapolis. The Jazz Kitchen's 8 before 8. The chef prepares 3 entrees priced at $8, they don't charge a cover and there is usually a jazz session happening, so if you are a jazz musician- bring your talent and sign up to play with other great talent. This is only on Monday's by the way. The rest of the week the regular menu is served and a cover charge applies as nationally renowned musicians will be performing. Reservations are not required, but recommended-they take reservations for dinner until 6:30.

My friends Neeta and Anju enjoyed the vegetarian options of Vegetarian Tofu Stir Fry which was served over fettuccine. While I tried the Lamb / Andouille Sausage Kabobs served over curry rice. My favorite bev at the Jazz Kitchen has become the Sangria. Yumm.... I can still taste the flavors as I write this 5 days later. The conversation with my friends who have resided in India, Australia, Thailand, California and Egypt was the highlight of the evening. The culinary delights, served by Kenny, relaxed us moms and made us wish we had the whole evening to spend having our ears massaged (that is what I call a night out at the Jazz Kitchen, as it is a 21 and over place).

The Taste Cafe, also in Broad Ripple, just up the street from the Jazz Kitchen, was my suggestion for meeting Leslie for brunch on Tuesday. My friend Cara introduced me to Taste a couple of months earlier and the vegetable strata was lingering in my mind.when. Taste is a perfect place for a mature breakfast or lunch. No nuggets here folks. I believe their menu changes, however both times I have had the pleasure of ordering a strata with eggplant, squash, peppers, onions topped with fresh pesto and a side of home potatoes. I enjoyed my mocha latte, served with a chocolate cookie, for the whole hour. Taste adds a sweet little touch, the have pitchers of water with slices of lemon, lime and orange for all guests to enjoy. Taste is creative in both their preparations and decor. Slightly elegant, peaceful, somewhat private I look forward to returning to Taste in 10 days when Leslie and I will again indulge in conversation and strata.

Tuesday evening lead to another, far more casual, dining experience. A favorite guest returned Tuesday and we decided to grab some dinner in downtown Indianapolis. This time with the kids. The consensus was Steak & Shake. Famous for their "real" milkshakes and hamburgers, Steak & Shake was ideal for a Tuesday evening, business was slow, so our service was great. The kids always like getting the classic paper cars to decorate while waiting on dinner. The Southwest Chicken Salad is actually pretty good. The milkshakes are a great ending and encourage the children to finish their meal. If you are looking for parking downtown, the Circle Centre Mall garage is a mere $1.50 for 3 hours and there is an entrance right next to Steak & Shake.

MoJoe's Coffee House was my Wednesday indulgence. I met up with Mandy for a quick catch up as we both had many things going on-between kids, work and minor life crisis'. MoJoe's is a study hall for some, a place to read the paper for others and simply a comfy place to catch up with a friend for us. The frozen Joe coffee's are blended with seasonal flavors to create something you can only find there. During the holidays they had pumpkin frozen drinks and these days you may find a hazelnut mocha on the menu. They also have a selection of pastries. Located on the corner of Michigan and Senate in downtown, right off of the IUPUI campus.

The Indianapolis Concierge group meets up each month at a different restaurant. What a great opportunity to try a place that maybe you have heard of, but haven't ventured to yet. Our April meeting was held at a brand new joint called Sensu. Specializing in sushi and eclectic cuisine, Sensu resembled a night club out of a movie. I felt like I had seen it in a CSI Miami episode or something. The vibe of the place, even without the DJ, rocks! I can not wait to visit Sensu late at night when they have a DJ in the house. They have Sake martini's and an amazing assortment of other beverages to engage your taste buds. I am not much of a sushi person, but I highly recommend the shrimp tempura. Those who love sushi say Sensu creates a better sushi than the other downtown establishments.

America lacks in only a few things, one is local bakeries. I absolutely adore visiting any European city or village and seeing a bakery on every block. Nothing beats fresh baked bread, pastries prepared on site and the baker behind the counter. One such bakery opened up in Irvington last year. The Roll With It Bakery was my Thursday morning indulgence. A fresh pecan roll and hot chocolate (it is not on the menu, I request it, the owner makes it) were on my mind for 2 weeks. They also have an amazing chicken velvet soup-wow is it ever delicious! If you stop in, pick up a loaf of fresh bread, it melts in your mouth, just as fresh bakery bread should. Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed was my companion during my Thursday morning breakfast.

That favorite guest and I ventured out on Friday night for both dinner and live music. We opted for the Rathskeller. I read on facebook that the Polka Boys would be performing and having met a member of the band thought we should check it out. German cuisine is the specialty and boy do they do it right. I had the Schlatte Platte because the idea of apples, walnuts and raisins to create a sauce on a pork chop was too tempting. The 7 bean succotash and spaetzle noodles were an appropriate accompaniment. A glass of Woop Woop (yes that is actually what the cabernet was called) was savored throughout the evening. The Der Biergarten at the Rathskeller is never short on a good time. The place was packed out to see the Polka Boys. The outdoor stage and a nice spring evening (translation, it was not raining) were all it took to bring downtown Indy into a partying mood. I did not realize that the Hokey Pokey could be done Polka style.

The final evening of dining out occurred on Saturday evening. I enjoyed the company of the Indy Aussie's group at Santorini's Greek Kitchen. Santorini's has been a favorite of mine since opening All Nations Bed and Breakfast. I have recommended the restaurant to guests over and over again. Fortunately Toby, our waiter did not tell me the specials on Saturday. I tried something new (I would have had my usual favorite fish kabobs - mahi mahi, salmon and grouper over salad). The talipia was a delectable choice and served with grilled squash and eggplant. The galactabourika is a must have for desert. I melt ever so slightly while tasting each bite of custard between layers of phyllo and drizzled with chocolate. Jeanette and Taki take great care of each guest. If you want to go on a Friday or Saturday, Make Reservations!

There you have it. An enriching week of time well spent, indulgences well deserved and memories that will build friendships. If you are looking for a place to dine tonight, I highly suggest any of the places where the main ingredient is love.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Journey: Why Ireland?

The Journey: Why Ireland?: "With a maiden name like McKee I must be at least a teeny bit Irish right? I have the freckles, the blue eyes and the temper (no offense to ..."

Why Ireland?

With a maiden name like McKee I must be at least a teeny bit Irish right? I have the freckles, the blue eyes and the temper (no offense to those who are truly Irish and mild mannered). Most of my life I had this craving to visit Ireland. In fact during my sophomore year of high school we were required to write to a college and request information. I am sure the intention was to get us interested in our collegiate future. I sent my request to Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland. I poured through the brochure and suddenly had a desire to learn Gaelic, this only fed my hunger for travel. It was that very same year I applied as a Rotary Exchange Student and ended up in New Zealand.
Years passed as they do. I did make it close during those years, visiting Glasgow, Scotland as well as London and Manchester England.
Often in life it is the most unexpected things that take us where we want to go (physically and emotionally). Such is the case for my eventual journey to the Emerald Isle. September 11, 2001 caused the end of my career as an airline recruiter in the Boston area. My immediate feeling was despair. Not only had I worked in the airline industry for the previous 11 years and it would never be the same, but traveling was my passion. What risks would be involved in future airline travel? I was the mother of 16 month old child, could I take flight with the worry that our plane may crash due to terrorists?
The fear, as strong as it was on September 11,12,13 and for the following weeks was quickly balanced, by an amazing offer from Aer Lingus. I was unemployed, had a young child and said to my husband "shall I book a ticket?" His reply was something like "okay". Anyway he did not say "no". So I did. My daughter was young enough that she was a lap child, and I purchased an army duffel so we could "backpack around Ireland" for a week.
We started in Dublin and I finally visited Trinity University, wandered the campus thinking about what it would have been like to have been a university student there. We stayed at a little hotel near the zoo and spent some time there as well.
After a couple of nights in Dublin we headed off for Roscrea. A little village in the center of the country where we stayed at a bed and breakfast. This little town does not have much to be renowned for and that is why it was chosen. I wanted to see how the people in a village lived, off the beaten path. I wanted to know what life is like outside of the hustle and bustle of Irish city life, and outside of touristy towns. My memories of Roscrea are primarily of the simplicity. Spending time at the park. Going to the market. Taking our laundry to the laundrette and picking it up a few hours later. Going to the town's Chinese restaurant as finding a healthy Irish meal was not an easy task, so Chinese gave us our dose of veggies. Ah yes and the lady who took us from the train stop to the bed and breakfast in town. Irish hospitality, see I must have a little Irish in me.
After a couple of days there we ventured on to the other side of the island, Limerick. Limerick is particularly special. The bed and breakfast in Limerick lead to my current life. The innkeeper had an 8 year old son, Jack. Jack played with my daughter, interacted in a way that only children can. If you have ever traveled alone with a toddler you know it can be continuous duty. In addition to Jack she had 3 older children. This experience I recalled years later, as I considered opening All Nations Bed and Breakfast. Children can be an asset to your establishment. They add character, that is for sure, but also when they interact with the guests they add value.
If you would like to visit Ireland, but aren't able to make there today, why not stay a night or two in the Ireland room? Decorated in green, with a Celtic book on the nightstand, you too can dream a little.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why China

When I enter the China room at All Nations Bed & Breakfast, many memories of my 1999 journey to that country come to mind. I went to China without knowing much of their history or culture. I was working as a Corporate Sales Manager for Korean Air and had the privilege of escorting a group of travel agents on a tour of the country.
A 14 day itinerary had been organized via a local tour representative. We visited Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Zhouzhang and a few other cities along the way. I recall our first meal in Beijing was actually at a Turkish restaurant. An interesting experience, but we were anxious to try REAL Chinese cuisine. It came soon enough. One evening we dined at an all dumplings restaurant. Dumplings in different shapes, designs and characters were served. The dumpling that looked like chicken was a chicken dumpling, the one shaped like a walnut was dessert. So good, have yet to find anything comparable in all of America.
After visiting a silk factory and bringing home a silk comforter (which was later destroyed by fire and replaced by another silk comforter) I find it to be the most comfortable and healthy way to sleep. The silk comforter has a cotton cover and is far superior to cotton or down. The China room is the only room at All Nations Bed & Breakfast with a silk comforter.
Traveling always teaches. Simply entering the culture and history of another land educates the traveller. I am sad to say that prior to visiting Xi'an I was quite ignorant of the Terra Cotta soldiers that were excavated in the 1970's. A small replica of a soldier stands guard in this room as well.
I have had numerous Chinese guests through the years rent the China room and feel right at home.
If you want a little taste of the land across the Pacific that boasts an amazing history and a beautiful landscape, spend a night or a week in our China room.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Planks

When I purchased our little b&b I inherited a lovely deck, 2 koi ponds and, for an urban setting, a rather large backyard. All of this has been a bit too much to maintain as I have had very young children during the 5 years I have lived here. The idea of a little one falling into a koi pond has kept me out of the backyard more than I would like to admit. Of course I would be watching them, but there are many responsibilities inside the inn and therefore only recently have I allowed the children, to play unsupervised in the backyard.

The koi ponds can use a good cleaning out as the leaves from the past 2 falls have gathered extensively in their midst. The dry summer has hurt both the roses and the grass of the backyard. For about a year I would look at two planks on the deck that needed replacing, the wood had rotten right through and it could pose a problem for guests and for the children.

I would consider, with my limited knowledge of woodworking, how to fix the deck. Of course I could hire someone, but I did not need an entire deck replaced, just two planks. I thought of the ways in which I would need to remove the old ones, how big the new ones needed to be, and though I try not to procrastinate, I honestly wasn't sure how to really get the job done. Help arrived.

February tends to be a slow month at the inn. In an attempt to attract the very budget minded traveler I published a highly discounted rate for a couple of weeks in February. After all the utility company does not care whether I charge $50 a night or $150 a night as long as they get paid. One Monday night I received a call from someone who had seen this great rate and wanted to make a reservation for 2 nights. Sure, I took his information, and the next evening Scott checked in. Then he went out for the evening. The next morning he arose late, had a cup of green tea while chatting with me and my friend, that had come by to visit. The following day was about the same. He was a really nice guy and I so enjoyed our conversation, he did not really do breakfast and was zero trouble as a guest, definetly one of those "friends" I spoke about in my first blog. He called me the 2nd afternoon and asked for an additional night. "Of course, no problem". When Scott came in that afternoon he brought the best gift- granted any gift from the heart, is THE best gift. As it turns out Scott use to have a deck building business. Scott came home with 2 planks of wood, tools borrowed from a friend and in an hour he replaced my two rotted planks with 2 beautiful, new pieces of wood. I could have repainted these planks by now, but when I look at them I remember Scott and his gift. I recall how I contemplated for many months on how to repair it, without actually doing it, I remember how he involved the children, they were not in his way, but enjoyed learning something I could not teach them. His investment in our lives was so much more than two planks. You may not know how your two planks and simple gift will impact another.

When such an angel comes into my life, and it happens frequently in this business, I try to remember this " Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels" (Hebrews 13:2). May I encourage you- Entertain A Stranger Today, they may be just the angel you need.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Zimbabwe

1999 provided many great travel memories. Visting Zimbabwe is definetly one of them.

My husband is the eldest of 6 boys. One of his brothers was planning to be married in his homeland of Zimbabwe. We traveled to Southern Africa in August for a 2 week stay. I could tell my husband would have been content to hang out with his friends and family for 2 weeks and though it was my first, and thus far only, trip to anywhere in Africa, I wanted to see more. He planned out our trip and life sprinkled in a little adventure along the way.

Upon arriving, my title, being the wife of the eldest son comes with a title in Shona culture, became my name. Back in the USA, my title has a very different meaning, so it use to make me giggle a little when telling someone what it is. I was known as 'my guru'. Other than my love of travel and hospitality I consider myself pretty simple and not terribly intellectual so to be referred to as anyone's guru shoulders much responsibility. In deed at the wedding, my "job" was defined by my title. I was advised to cut the cake. Doesn't sound so difficult, no problem. The cake, however, was one of those fruit cake type, not terribly moist with a great crispy icing and I was given a large, yet dull knife. I still recall the difficulty of slicing just a couple pieces. Through these trials we learn perseverence. All in all experiencing a Shona wedding was an amazing experience. I have always admired the jubilation Zimbabwean women have when expressing joy. They put their hand over their mouth and move it back and forth while making chanting sounds, somewhat like what are children might do when pretending to be Indians.

Following the wedding we headed out into the beauty of the country. We visited coffee fields and the tea leaf areas of Chipinge where the land is lush and beautifully green.

I shall never forget our drive to Victoria Falls. Several reasons come to mind. First, the trip there was considerably more difficult than it should have been. The Zimbabwean path to Victoria Falls was quite indirect from where we started. There was a short cut (ah beware of short cuts) via Zambia. No big deal, I mean crossing into Canada is not a big deal, so entering Zambia for an hour should not be so difficult. Oh how naive we are can be. The Zambean border patrol found something to search us for, 11 years later, I don't remember what. They stripped the entire car. What should have saved us a few hours of driving, cost us much grief and a few hours at the border crossing which meant getting back into Zimbabwe became a whole new stresser as the border patrol was getting ready to close. We made it just in time. Whew!

Secondly, upon arriving back in Zimbabwe it got dark, quickly and we continued driving. No Motel 6 or a comfy bed and breakfast to find rest along the way. The elephant crossing the dark road remains in my memory. Pitch Black! Driving at 60 MPH! Suddenly a 4,000 pound animal crosses the road! Amazing! So thankful we did not hit it, injure it- actually if we had, it would have been the end of us. Thank goodness for headlights. Elephants also created another reason I vividly remember Vic Falls. We stayed in a National Parks cabin the next night. When I went out the next morning a parks worker was out in the path with a large wheel barrel. An elephant had been near the previous night and he was cleaning up the animals waste, only time I have ever seen a partially digested tree. Victoria Falls itself is stunning. One of the most magnificent waterfalls in the world!
This is why Zimbabwe was selected as a destination at All Nations Bed & Breakfast.
Although we do not have a waterfall in your room, if you would like a little taste of Zimbabwe, reserve the Zimbabwe room for a night or a week.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why New Zealand?

I am often asked by guests why I have selected the 4 countries I did when decorating All Nations Bed & Breakfast. I will address each room in a seperate post and begin with the country I visited at the mere age of 16.

Rotary International sponsors an exchange student program for which I had the privilege to partake. I am so thankful for the local Rotary Club of Lakewood, Colorado visiting our high school and advising the students of the opportunity. I applied and went through the rigorous interview process (may I add I am also thankful for the wonderful support of my parents). In my application I had to list my first 3 choices for placement. As a student of Spanish, at that point I was in my 4th year of study, Spain was my top choice, followed by Italy. New Zealand only made the list because I had recently watched an episode of "LIfestyles of the Rich and Famous" and they highlighted Fiji. New Zealand looked close to Fiji on the map.

23 years later I look back and realize that due to selections made on our behalf our lives are eternally altered.

I spent an unforgettable 11 months in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. The Rotary Program has 4 families host a student throughout the year. I think this is ideal. I had the opportunity to live with a wonderful Danish family, on a dairy farm, on a blueberry/persimmon farm and with a delighftul family in Whakatane.

At Edgecumbe College I learned to speak Kiwi, trust me it is not the same as American. I still blush when I think about a classmate asking me for a "rubber" (eraser) in the middle of class.

Sleeping in a Marae, enjoying a good Hangi which is great when accompanied by a good Haka are experiences that can only be had in God's Own Country. Yes, they are surrounded by sheep, yes I did survive a minor earthquake, yes I can still smell the paper mills of Kawerau and yes I crave a puffy pavlova with kiwi fruit at this very moment.

Often times when I am in the New Zealand room I take a moment to indulge in the decor. Allowing my toes to feel the soft sheepskin, admiring the pillows with Maori motif (the fabric sent from my host mum Margaret and sewn by my own mom Willetta) and as I look above the sofa at the New Zealand flag I day dream about what life may be like there in 2010.

If you are not able to make it all the way out to the South Pacific, but would like a little taste of the land way down under, reserve the New Zealand room, for a day or a week.