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Kirsten Palladino

Blog, featured, healing, loss, pain, the vivid life

I believe in angels


My dad may have left this earth five years ago, but I am positive he is still here with me now. I’ve often thought I felt his presence, but it’s easy to dismiss that and tell myself that I’m just feeling my love for him and wishing him near me. But this year, the year I’ve dubbed “The Loss of George,” my dad has been cradling me and he’s made sure I’ve known it.

When he passed away suddenly on October 3, 2008, we were all shocked. He was 61, a strapping handsome man who took care of himself with just the occasional sneak of a cookie package from his work vending machine. He had just started running again, he fished, he worked in the yard, took long walks with his dogs in the woods, he rode his horse, he loved his wife and family. He did a lot of living. And the face smack of his dropping dead for no apparent reason was life altering for me. The rosy world I knew became an awful shade of gray, and life’s meaning withered. As I was crumbling in my father’s and stepmother’s home the week after his passing, I happened to ask my stepmom about a small barn owl in the kitchen. She said in her sweetest voice that my dad had placed this owl in this very spot because he felt like it was his mom looking over him throughout his life. She passed it to me and said you should have it now so that you can feel your dad watching over you. I took the little taupe owl, no taller than 2 inches, detailed with feathers and a rounded head as a small slice of solace, offering a weepy thanks in return. My dad’s owl found a new perch on our mantel, and I often kissed it as a way of passing my physical affection on to my father, wherever he might be. “Hi dad,” I whisper almost daily, giving the little owl’s beak a tiny peck.

The end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 has by far been the most challenging time of my life as I spent nearly 15 weeks by my brother’s hospital bedside as he lay dying from severe acute pancreatitis at 36 years old. It was an emotional roller coaster that I couldn’t help but be on, and it was alarming when that ride crashed to a deathly end, dumping me out on the side of the rusty cart with little faith left in anything. As I walked out into the foggy gray February morning shrouded in George’s death, I was almost broken. And I’ve remained that way this year. Though my wife and sons bring me so much joy, anytime I got a rare moment alone, I’ve just broken down sobbing, wondering where my dear men are. My heart aches harder than I ever knew possible. It never helped that I felt like a complete orphan, having been also deserted by my biological mother. She’s a distant memory now, but the raw pain of losing my father, brother and mother all in one swoop of five years has been quite the cross to bear.

Soon after George passed away, I announced to my wife, Maria, that it was time for Operation Fold-in. I didn’t want to see anyone who didn’t have a huge place in my heart and who I felt didn’t hold me in theirs. And it was very telling after George passed who cared the most. These precious people are on my team in life, and I feel very much finished with doing any people-pleasing for the ones who just don’t matter as much. In this short lifetime, we only have a certain amount of time every day to spend our precious hours doing things that matter, and to me, that means spending time with the precious few loved ones I have left and making a difference in this world. I am now realizing that those two actions are intertwined; I only have to look to my two shortcakes to see how I can make an impact on this earth. During Operation Fold-in, I haven’t spent hours on the couch in a gray, depressed cloud. But rather I’ve chosen to make the most of every day with my children, wife, family and friends. This has meant declining social invitations where I knew I’d be in an empty fog listening to random people prattle on and on about small things. Small talk has no place in Operation Fold-in. As I said no to more invites, they dissipated on their own. As usual, after a certain amount of time has passed after a traumatic event, the music starts back up and people get on with their lives. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to jump back into the party or dwell in solitude, nursing your wounds.

So when my friend and PR maven Jamie invited me to a soiree at her home in August, I said to myself, “It’s time to join the party.” Jamie also has lost a brother, so it seemed like a safe, nurturing place to begin my journey back into the social fold.

Jamie’s party showcased several small business owners she was introducing to the media, including a medium named Jennifer. She was doing private readings throughout the evening, and though I had not initially planned on having a reading, I was swayed by all the praise people were singing for her. Not just from the readings that night but from long-term relationships elite members of the media had with Jennifer, who had been dead-on with her predictions and connections with spirits. So I made an appointment to have my 20-minute session.

Jennifer was sitting quietly in Jamie’s bedroom waiting for me. One of her first sentences after welcoming me was that if I wanted to know about anyone living or dead that I just needed to tell her their first name. And so after a short time of getting her predictions of my own future, I asked her about George and Bruce. She told me first that they had both “crossed over” and they were together. Jennifer told me that George had died from something with his stomach, but that he’d contracted a virus in the woods that was undetectable by the time he’d gotten to the hospital. This made complete sense to me, and it left me feeling peaceful. George’s girlfriend had been told almost the very same thing a week ago from her psychic reading, and this was all without prompting from either of us. I had agonized about why George had pancreatitis, knowing most of the typical causes didn’t apply to my brother. Jennifer said that George was watching out for his two children and that he was at peace with his death. By this time, tears were running down my cheeks.

We moved onto Bruce (my father, but I didn’t mention this). Jennifer said some really lovely things about him as well, and it made me incredibly happy to hear that she felt like he was doing well in the afterlife. As we were wrapping up, I asked Jennifer if she believed that spirits visit us as butterflies, as I’d often heard. She said that sometimes that’s true, but that spirits will find a way to communicate with us in a way we’ll most recognize as a sign from them, something special and shared. For example, smelling a strong pot of coffee, when none is brewing, or feeling a warm sensation of heat enshroud your body as a spiritual embrace. I left the meeting feeling at peace. As I talked to myself in my head, I said even if that was fake, it felt good, and really, isn’t that all that matters?

As soon as I walked into Jamie’s hallway and several media friends looked into my tear-filled eyes, Jamie swooped in, looped her arm in mine and took me out to her deck to talk. She wanted to check on me about my grieving and be there for me in an empathetic way that’s just not possible from someone who’s never lost a sibling. As we were talking in the early dusky evening, something caught my eye over Jamie’s shoulder. It was a barn owl, perched on Jamie’s detached garage about 15 feet away from us, and he was staring directly at me. I said, “That is a gorgeous owl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real owl outside of a zoo!” Jamie swiveled her neck, her red tresses swinging with her. And we both silently stared at the woodland creature so clearly out of his element on a busy city street. As I looked into its eyes, I felt more comfort than I ever have since my father was catapulted out of his physical life. Jamie and I both sat still, savoring the moment, which lasted at least 3 minutes. Maybe 10. Time wasn’t a factor in this generous visit. A friend of ours stepped out on the deck, caught a glimpse of the owl and went to grab Jamie’s camera for us. As she motioned for it, the owl dipped down off his roost, expanding his wings in full glory and soared away. Motionless, I sat. Once I gathered my feelings as much as I could, I told Jamie about my dad’s owl at home. It was such a gift to both of us to share in this moment together, and one I hold very dear to my heart.





Equally Wed, Portfolio, writing

Real Wedding: Brooke and Joana

Love-filled seaside nuptials punctuate an aquatic-colored DIY wedding


Joana Rodriguez was waiting for the perfect opportunity to propose to her girlfriend Brooke Rollins. She already had the engagement ring, which featured a square peridot gemstone to match Brooke’s sparkling eyes, and, conveniently, her birthstone.

“It was a Sunday morning and we were in the middle of mountains of homework as always,” recalls Joana, “and the movie ‘Up’ by Pixar was playing in the background. The movie is about a man who loses his soul mate after years and years of marriage, but lives out her dream of adventures. They meet as children and are together for a very long time. The husband is a quiet kinda person, as I am, and the wife is talkative and full of life, as is Brooke. At one point in the movie when they are still children Lilly, the wife, looks at the husband and says that she wants to spend forever with him having adventures, it was then that I pulled out the ring from my pajama pocket and asked Brooke if she would spend forever having adventures with me. As I expected, she was overjoyed and full of excitement and began to cry, so I giggled and asked, ‘So I guess this means yes?’ She then answered with a ‘yes.’”

When planning their beach wedding, Decatur, Ga., residents Brooke Rollins and Joana Rodriguez searched everywhere for an LGBT-friendly venue. The lesbians found it at the Atlanta Pride Festival: The Embassy Suites in Miramar Beach, Fla.

“I am not going lie,” says Joana, whose confident presence was what attracted Brooke to her. “I was afraid that it was going to be difficult to find a place that we could be ourselves and celebrate and relax all at the same time. It was at Pride that we found the Embassy Suits; it was there that I realized that discrimination can be set aside and your love can be celebrated. Go where you are welcome, and you will have the time of your life.”

To honor their commitment, Brooke, who legally took Joana’s last name after the nuptials, devoted a considerable amount of effort to bringing to life their theme of an eclectic mix of modern vintage with personal touches added to reflect their individual personalities, such as Brooke’s handcrafted vintage brooch bouquet and a superhero-themed cake for Joana.

The bride and broom (a term for masculine brides coined by Equally Wed Magazine Publisher and Cofounder Maria Palladino and used by readers, including Joana) wed on May 5, 2012, at a sunset beach ceremony which included gathering words, guest declaration of support and the exchanging of vows and rings. “The focus of our ceremony was the tying of the lover’s knot, which symbolized the intertwining our lives and our families,” says Brooke. “With one strand of natural fiber manila line—a nod to Joana’s service in the Coast Guard—each of us did our part to create the fisherman’s knot, also known as the lover’s knot.”

The bride wore a sweetheart gown with a beaded bodice and layered organza skirt, which was given a funky update with a turquoise crinoline skirt made by Ann Swank at Swank Underpinnings. The look was complete with her turquoise-and-green ballet flats. Brooke carried a bouquet of her own making: She wired 30 vibrantly colored antique and new brooches and assembled them together to make “a small, but surprisingly hefty nosegay,” she says. “The brooches were given to me by my mother, my wife-to-be and my friends, and each brooch held personal meaning. My bouquet took seven months of assembly, four packages of floral wire and two rolls of tape, a box of band-aids and one scare—or maybe two. It was worth every ounce of effort and all of the love that went into it.”

A jovial reception accentuated by turquoise and green included a photo booth complete with props for wacky photos, tables outfitted with handmade centerpieces comprised of silver charges, turquoise French flower pots filled with dried hydrangea and greenery accented by one antique tea cup and saucer from Brooke’s grandmothers collection and three LED pillar candles; the dinner buffet which featured Joana’s mothers Mexican feast for a Cinco de Mayo-themed celebration and a homage to Joana’s heritage; a bar, a candy and cupcake buffet, a cake table and a reception table. Brooke surprised Joana, a devout superhero fan, with a four-layer cake featuring Captain America, Superman, Spiderman and Batman, accompanied with a handmade background of a cityscape equipped with city lights.

Brooke and Joana danced together for the first time as wife and wife to Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” sung live by Jamie Heart and accompanied by acoustic guitarist Kato Estill. Heart and Estill, both friends of the couple, sang songs of their own and covers at various points in the evening.

After the wedding reception, the Rodriguezes and their 38 guests oohed and aahed over a display of fireworks on the beach and then let the ocean air carry away biodegradable paper lanterns into the sky, which Brooke says symbolized “our wishes for our healthy, happy future.”

The Rodriguezes, who honeymooned in Sandestin, Fla., welcomed a healthy baby girl on May 14, 2013.

A version of this article was published in Atlanta Gay Weddings, 2012/13.

Photographers: Alisha Sams of Imaginarium Studios, Kory Garner of Faux Toe Images
Venue and Caterer: The Embassy Suites, Miramar Beach, FL
Cake: Melissa Donovan
Cupcakes: Over the Top Cupcakes, Stuart, FL
Vocalists, guitarist: Jamie Heart, Kato Estill
Attire: David’s Bridal (Brooke), Macy’s (Joana)
Hair: Barbie at Avant Garde Salon, Destin (Brooke)
Officiant: Ray Ward
Jewelers: Hon Ngai Jewelry, (Brooke’s engagement ring), Worthmore Jewelers (Joana’s band), The Mobley Company, Villa Rica, GA (Brooke’s band)
Flowers: A Perfect Day, Destin, FL

Bios, Portfolio

Chef Chrysta Poulos, King + Duke



The energetic and friendly Chrysta Poulos has been honing her pastry skills for 10 years in Atlanta. A graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta’s culinary program, she has worked in some of the city’s top pastry kitchens. Before joining the team of the newly minted King + Duke, Poulos earned her pedigreed chops at luminary restaurants including Woodfire Grill, 4th & Swift, Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch and Holeman & Finch Bread Company. Along the way, she’s amassed accolades and awards, including being named a Rising Stars Pastry Chef, and her signature sticky toffee pudding as the “People’s Choice.”

The energetic and friendly Chrysta Poulos has been honing her pastry skills for 10 years in Atlanta. A graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta’s culinary program, she has worked in some of the city’s top pastry kitchens. Before joining the team of the newly minted King + Duke, she earned her pedigreed chops at luminary restaurants including Woodfire Grill, 4th & Swift, Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch and Holeman & Finch Bread Company.

Poulos, who rocks a vibrant mane of shocking pink, is lauded for striking the delicate balance of taste, textures and temperatures to create an impressionable dessert experience. “Dessert is the last impression a restaurant can make on a diner,” she says. “I want to provide a great memory for people—and I want them to come back for more.” Farm fresh fruits and produce provide constant inspiration for her seasonal menus.

Poulos has an enthusiastic but controlled approach to pastries. Now that she’s at the helm of King + Duke’s pastry kitchen, which employs a Colonial American approach to cooking—all on an open fire—she’s seamlessly translating this style to her desserts. “I use the hearth and the smoker with my desserts,” she says. “For example, I smoke the cherries that top our Black Forest chocolate cake,” which is paired with house-made black pepper ice cream. She utilizes Americana traditions in most of her dishes, including roasting the strawberries, which crown the vanilla cheesecake.

Poulos’ career is a varied one. Before her 10-year reign in Atlanta as one of the top pastry chefs, the Atlanta native served in the U.S. Air Force, working on B1B bombers. After retiring from the military, Poulos started picking up shifts as a server and felt drawn to the kitchen. Poulos found she enjoyed the lifestyle, and enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Poulos was named Atlanta Rising Star Pastry Chef in 2012 during her tenure at Woodfire Grill, but perhaps what she’s best known for is her signature sticky toffee pudding, which won Adoption Discovery’s “People’s Choice” Award in 2011. She has carried that beloved recipe from 4th & Swift to Woodfire and now is introducing it to King + Duke’s guests as Dates + Ale. But here she takes a twist, cultivating something new: The crème anglaise is crafted from Sweetwater Lowrider IPA. “I wanted to give a nod to our local brewery, and it really cuts the sweetness with a warm finish.”

A sugar aficionado, Poulos is perhaps most passionate about cacao. “I love working with chocolate,” she raves. “It has so many flavor profiles with wine.” She says she plans to work with King + Duke’s bartender to create a series of canapés to be offered with dessert wines, again looking to the sweet, happy ending for her diners.

When she’s not preparing seasonal product-driven delicacies, the pink-haired Poulos spends time traveling and taking abstract photographs of her discoveries along the way. She buzzes with fun energy and creative spark in all that she invests her time.



Atlanta, Bios, Portfolio

Chef Andrew Isabella, No. 246

No. 246

No. 246 Photo by Access Atlanta




Italian tradition courses through No. 246’s Chef de Cuisine Andrew Isabella’s veins. Growing up in an Italian family who emphasized helping people, he knew at an early age that he was destined to serve others through community outreach and drawing upon his culinary talents. In November 2012, the Floridian native arrived at Atlanta’s luminary restaurateurs and chefs Ford Fry and Drew Belline’s Italian-inspired No. 246 restaurant, which is deservedly praised for its affection for farm-fresh ingredients. Isabella’s career includes the role of sous chef at Luma on Park, in Winter Park, Fla., from 2010 to 2012, as well as the lead line cook and sous chef under Bravo’s Top Chef contestant Tracey Bloom at Table 1280 on the High Museum of Art’s campus from 2009 to 2010. Isabella, who has been wowing dining guests and employers alike with his flair for creative dishes, earned his associate of science in culinary arts from Keiser University in Tallahassee, Fla.

He now is settled happily in the heart of Buckhead with his wife Kaylen. Together, the sweethearts enjoy antiquing and traveling, though she might be in fierce competition for time with Chef Belline, who’s just introduced Chef Isabella to the exciting world of foraging. The Belline/Isabella duo makes for an impressive combo of leadership and style at No. 246, which places importance on the seasonality of locally sourced ingredients to build fresh, everyday dishes utilizing Italian cooking techniques in the heart of Decatur. “I like working with seasonal and locally inspired ingredients,” says Isabella. “I believe good food brings people together, so my passion for food also corresponds with my calling to serve others.”


Italian tradition courses through No. 246’s Chef de Cuisine Andrew Isabella’s veins. Growing up in an Italian family who emphasized helping people, he knew at an early age that he was destined to serve others through community outreach and drawing upon his culinary talents. “During my senior year, there was a family who had a tragedy,” recalls Isabella. “Instead of bringing them food, I asked my mom if I could go over there and cook. The feedback I got and the happiness I brought, and just being there with them during a difficult time helped me to know this is what I wanted to do with my life.”

Since his teen years, this Marianna, Florida, native has dedicated himself to the culinary craft—from paying his dues at a small family restaurant in his hometown to gaining familiarity with kitchen practices and managing a staff at a country club. The lure of kitchen life drew Isabella to enroll at Keiser University in Tallahassee, Florida, where he graduated with an associate’s degree in culinary arts.

During his education, Isabella interned at Wolfgang Puck’s Catering at the Georgia Aquarium, where he assisted in cooking for parties from 10 to 10,000. After culinary school, Isabella’s career path led him to Table 1280 on the High Museum of Art’s campus from 2009 to 2010. Under Bravo’s Top Chef contestant Tracey Bloom’s tutelage, Isabella gained a greater understanding for refined American cuisine. When she went on hiatus to film Top Chef, he was tapped for the position of sous chef, and wowed his employers and guests with his creativity and food knowledge.

Isabella returned to his home state in 2010, accepting the position of sous chef at Luma on Park, a Concentrics concept owned by NASCAR CEO and Chairman of the Board Brian France, and remained until the fall of 2012. “We worked with a lot of local farms, changing our menu every day,” says Isabella. “I learned a lot about fish butchering during my time there.” Luma’s modern American style served Isabella well, enabling him to master sous vide like nobody’s business. After his promotion from sous chef to management, Isabella began to yearn for Atlanta. Luckily, Luma’s executive chef Brandon McGlamery is close friends with Drew Belline, co-owner of No. 246, and he happily connected the two. “I fell in love with No. 246,” says Isabella, “and Drew took me right in.”

In November 2012, the Florida native became the chef de cuisine at Atlanta’s luminary restaurateurs and chefs Ford Fry and Drew Belline’s Italian-inspired No. 246 restaurant, which is deservedly praised for its affection for farm-fresh ingredients. Isabella is now is settled happily in the heart of Buckhead with his new wife Kaylen (the newlyweds tied the knot in November 2011). Together, the sweethearts enjoy antiquing and traveling, though she might be in fierce competition for time with Chef Belline, who’s just introduced Chef Isabella to the exciting world of foraging.

The Belline/Isabella duo makes for an impressive combo of leadership and style at No. 246, which places importance on the seasonality of locally sourced ingredients to build fresh, everyday dishes utilizing Italian cooking techniques in the heart of Decatur. “I like working with seasonal and locally inspired ingredients,” says Isabella. “I believe good food brings people together, so my passion for food also corresponds with my calling to serve others.”

During his time at No. 246, Isabella’s feeling most appreciative of the simplicity in approach. “It’s great letting the ingredients speak for themselves,” he says. “Coming from Luma, where there was so much put into every dish, it was very complex. At No. 246, we let the produce talk.”

No. 246 is hailed for its veneration for local produce and meaningful relationships developed with local farmers. “It’s amazing,” says Isabella of the fresh produce. “The farmers cut it and bring it in dripping wet, still covered in dirt. It means a lot. It’s a good way to see it.”

An integral figure in the design and development of the oft-changed menu, Isabella’s philosophy is represented in every dish. It’s refined farm-to-table food rooted in Italian techniques—served at lunchtime and evening to ravenous Decaturites and Atlantans alike.



Atlanta, Bios, Portfolio, writing

Chef E.J. Hodgkinson, JCT. Kitchen and Bar




Before becoming the Executive Chef at JCT. Kitchen and Bar in January 2013, E.J. Hodgkinson crisscrossed the country, polishing his culinary chops at luxury resorts, cafés and the Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu. Hodgkinson’s comfort in the kitchen came easy, as he watched his grandmother tend to her garden, turning fresh, local ingredients into fulfilling and nourishing meals at the family dinner table. The 29-year-old California native is in an unabashed love affair with the South now, and aims to rocket JCT. Kitchen to the national acclaim it deserves.


Executive Chef E.J. Hodgkinson has been immersed in a vibrant culinary culture for half of his life. The Placerville, California, native began cooking professionally at the ripe age of 14 in a neighborhood coffee shop. It was during this chef-driven childhood that Hodgkinson developed his insatiable appreciation for locally sourced ingredients, observing his grandmother canning the tomatoes grown in her lush California garden. “My grandmother taught me the art of preservation and the concept of farm-to-table long before it was cool or a cliché,” says the family-oriented chef who could cook an egg at the tender age of 6. “I fell into cooking comfortably.”

Once he finished high school, the adventurous spirit headed to Idaho, polishing his gourmet chef skills at the posh Sun Valley Resort, a luxury travel destination teeming with celebrities seeking refuge and anonymity. Chef Hodgkinson continued with his training in Ashland, Oregon, where he kept beat to a high-paced rhythm at a cozy restaurant which caters to the Shakespeare festival that attracts 1.8 million people annually.

At only 21-years-old, Hodgkinson was named executive chef at Tomei’s, a hip restaurant in his historic hometown, which is famous from the Gold Rush days. He says that “to take the next step I had to take a step back.” So he enrolled in Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas. Graduation landed him the sous chef position at for 34th St. Café, where fresh, locally sourced food was the focus.

Chef Hodgkinson’s love affair with the South blossomed when he moved to Atlanta with his girlfriend, who wanted to be closer to her family. He sought out chef positions with premium restaurants, and caught the attention of Bravo’s Top Chef luminary Kevin Gillespie, who was at the helm of Woodfire Grill’s kitchen at the time.

Hodgkinson earned multiple promotions from line cook to sous chef to chef de cuisine in his 4-and-a-half years at Woodfire Grill. “Kevin played an integral role in my falling in love with Southern cuisine,” says Hodgkinson, who confesses he used to think grits played second fiddle to polenta. “I quickly learned it was the other way around,” he says, adding that “Southern cuisine is the richest and most fulfilling in America because of the history and heritage behind it.” Perhaps what has made the deepest imprint on the chef’s heart is how the Southern family values its meals around the table, which reminds him of his own family back in California. “Sitting down with your family every night and eating dinner together is how I grew up, but it’s not the norm in California. It seems to be the norm in the South, and it’s why I fell in love with it.”

The chef’s expansive knowledge of sourcing the freshest ingredients and layering their flavors into perfection led to a call from Chef Ford Fry in the fall of 2012, inviting him to become part of the JCT. Kitchen family. As executive chef of the lauded dining destination known for its down-home gourmet style, Hodgkinson revels in employing the proper, fundamental techniques to bring out the best of each ingredient and letting each component speak for itself. “Something gets lost in translation when you do too much to it,” he says.

Chef Hodgkinson easily became a proud ambassador for Chef Fry’s West Midtown restaurant. “What I love about JCT is the friendly, comfortable experience offered from start to finish. I like people to feel like they’ve come into my home and had an amazing meal, accompanied by great, not-too-intrusive service and incredible drinks.”

The ambitious chef has set his sights on countrywide acclaim for JCT. Kitchen. His goal is elevating the level of cuisine without becoming pretentious, continuing to make it a fun place at which to dine and experience food. “My aim is to execute a very high level of food in a format which people can enjoy and still keep it approachable,” he says, noting that the Southern focus situated in comfortable yet refined environs is what’s kept it such high regard with Atlanta’s foodie community. “There’s a reason it’s been here for seven years. I aim to just make it make it better. I would like to take JCT to the national realm of recognition. Ford knows I’ve always had my foot on the gas.”


Want a professional biography like this one? Contact Kirsten Ott at 









Articles, Portfolio

Why my wife and I had to create a gay wedding magazine

By Kirsten Ott  for The Huffington Post

I’ve never been ashamed of being a lesbian, no matter what society has attempted to make me feel with its laws set up for my relationships to fail. I was born to love the girl next door, who preferably would have bigger muscles than me, exude a quiet confidence, make me fall to the floor laughing and love traveling, creating, exploring new cultures and gastronomy as much as I do.

Though I’ve certainly not been immune to discrimination for being a lesbian, I was naïve in my understanding of what modern-day society felt about my “kind.” Sure I’m aware (and angry) that we don’t have the 1,138 Federal rights that are naturally afforded to my straight co-citizens, but I didn’t realize just how unequal some of the basic components of life — like having a wedding — are for the LGBT community.

I dreamt of having a romantic lush wedding since I was a little girl. Yep, I’m one of those. And when I realized that it was a woman I wanted standing at the altar waiting for me, I never thought it wasn’t possible. Not once. You see, to me, a wedding is a wedding, whether a government legally recognizes it or not.

I finally met the woman of my dreams in 2003: She easily ticked off all the items on my checklist and then some. Maria and I began dating in 2004, and she proposed one frosty winter day in 2008. I was over the moon with elation, and quickly started the perhaps-tad-excessive planning process.

I settled in with my strong cup of joe and my self-made mountain of wedding-planning insanity in our living room, and I began flipping through the magazines, the glossy pages of beautiful brides and their handsome grooms. I didn’t mind seeing straight couples, of course, but page after page I didn’t recognize myself in these magazines. Where was I? And more importantly, where was my soon-to-be-wife, with her short hair, her masculine figure, her men’s clothing, most notably the wedding suit she’d soon purchase. The lack of information for gays and lesbians bothered me, but I also felt that not being included translated to rejection and what I could only imagine to be homophobia in the wedding industry at large.

It was at that moment that I knew what I was being called on to do. Don’t for a second think I have any delusions of grandeur or celestial inspiration. But I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for helping the underdog, even when that dog is me. So I did what any writer/editor who was about to marry a talented graphic designer would do. We decided to launch our own online magazine for engaged LGBT couples.

I still didn’t even know how much our kind of magazine was needed. When Maria and I started calling vendors to interview for our own wedding in the city that The Advocate named the No. 1 gayest city in America in 2010, I was shocked to have multiple phone calls and emails unreturned when I made clear in my initial message that it was two women getting married. When I spoke to some vendors, I felt rejected and unwanted. At one bridal salon, a saleswoman disappeared on me after I told her my fiancée was a woman.

As a credentialed magazine writer, I even pitched the honeymoon department of a popular bridal magazine known for its more modern presentations of weddings. The now-defunct magazine’s travel editor told me politely that they weren’t ready to run a lesbian’s honeymoon story in their magazine.

Every homophobic wedding vendor or wedding-industry professional Maria and I dealt with when planning our wedding rained on our gay parade. It was a light drizzle compared to the horrific stories I’ve heard from some gays and lesbians. But I was more determined than ever to try to help the members of my family, the LGBT community, be able to plan their weddings — enormously important days when we officially begin our lives as two, not one, with the person we love — without this hate and judgment.

After an intense nine months of research, writing, designing, coding and developing, we launchedEqually Wed, the nation’s premier online same-sex wedding magazine, in March 2010.

At, we showcase a myriad of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender weddings to serve as inspiration to those planning their own nuptials. In addition, we also offer Local Resources, a marketplace of gay-friendly wedding vendors across the United States, Mexico, Canada and parts of the Caribbean. We now have a team of editors and writers working at, bringing same-sex couples the latest in fashion, beauty and grooming for every wonderful sector of our diverse community of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and genderqueer, from the butchest of butch to the most feminine; honeymoon articles written by gay travel journalists who visit destinations to aptly review them for being gay friendly (who wants to worry about getting arrested or beaten on their honeymoon?); a plethora of wedding-planning inspirations for ideas and trends for each special moment on the Big Day and everything surrounding it. Because politics and marriage do mix when you’re gay, we cover the latest news in marriage equality, as well. We produce new posts daily, and later this month, we’re taking our quarterly magazine to monthly issues. Also later this month, we’ll debut our own wedding tools to further help our readers enjoy planning their weddings in an accepting and inspiring environment.

As we continue to grow our company and attract investors, we’ll be able to do more, but I’ve gotta say, I feel pretty good already. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a note of thanks in my email inbox from someone planning their own wedding, a relative of theirs (usually a parent) or a wedding vendor who just wants to say what we’re doing has helped them in some way.

Follow Equally Wed on Twitter:

Published in The Huffington Post: Jan. 25, 2012

Photos: Our Labor of Love

Equally Wed, The New York Times

When the Bride Takes a Bride, Businesses Respond

By Kevin Sack, published in The NewYork Times

When the Palladinos were planning their wedding, they found that traditional bridal magazines were all but useless in addressing their particular questions.


Questions like: Where does a woman find a man’s suit that does not make her look like a woman in a man’s suit? Should Kirsten and Maria both walk down the aisle, or was it O.K. for Maria, who sees herself as more masculine, to wait for her bride? At which of the Caribbean resorts in the honeymoon pictorials would two women feel most comfortable holding hands?


Kirsten, left, and Maria Palladino founded Equally Wed magazine after doing research for their own wedding. Photo by David Walter Banks for The New York Times

Kirsten, left, and Maria Palladino founded Equally Wed magazine after doing research for their own wedding. Photo by David Walter Banks for The New York Times

“On every level there was something lacking,” said Kirsten Palladino, who took Maria’s surname after their wedding in June 2009. “We didn’t see any couples like us. The language was all he and she, bride and groom, please your man.”

After their honeymoon in St. Martin, they decided to do something about it. This month, they published the second issue of their online same-sex wedding magazine, Equally Wed.

Almost from the moment Massachusetts became the first state to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, mainstream businesses have tried to find a way to attract customers from this new, lucrative market. But as more states legalize same-sex marriage, and the weddings take root in American culture, the marketplace is responding with a growing number of new companies, services and publications aimed directly at gay grooms and lesbian brides.

Equally Wed, published in a state where same-sex marriage is outlawed, is among a crop of Web sites that are filling the void left by conventional bridal publications. They join companies like, a Massachusetts stationery firm that grew along with that state’s same-sex wedding industry; photographers who promote images of gay weddings on their home pages; purveyors of groom-and-groom cake toppers; and cruise lines that advertise their embrace of gay honeymoons.

“The market doesn’t wait for politics to catch up,” said Katherine Sender, an associate professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market.” “As gay marriage becomes part of the national imagination, marketing to it and publications concerning it become more and more viable.”

Gay weddings have been depicted on network television since the mid-1990s, and about 70 percent of daily newspapers now carry same-sex wedding announcements, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. But some mainstream publications and broadcasters are only now taking their first halting steps toward inclusion.

This month, under pressure from gay rights groups, the “Today” show on NBC welcomed same-sex couples to compete in its annual wedding contest. Also this month, Brides, aCondé Nast publication, ran its first feature about a same-sex wedding, depicting the union of one of the magazine’s photo editors and her longtime girlfriend.

Martha Stewart Weddings, a publication of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, had already broken precedent in its winter 2010 issue, with a pictorial that showed Jeremy Hooper and Andrew Shulman stomping on glass and sharing a kiss.

Both magazines played it straight, focusing on menus and decorations, with no mention beyond the obvious of the couples’ orientations. “This is a part of the mix going forward,” said Millie Martini Bratten, the editor-in-chief of Brides. “The world is changing.”

But because it must appeal to a broad base, Brides does not plan to spotlight same-sex weddings in any deliberate way or to document their sociological evolution, Ms. Bratten said. That leaves an untapped market for Equally Wed and a handful of other Web sites devoted to same-sex weddings, with titles like Queerly WedSo You’re EnGAYged, and

In the six years since Massachusetts broke the barrier, there have been an estimated 40,000 legal same-sex marriages in the United States, according to the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. A comparable number of gay Americans have married in other countries, and an additional 84,000 couples may be in civil unions or domestic partnerships, according to the institute.

Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia have now joined Massachusetts in recognizing same-sex marriage, and court cases in California and Massachusetts are challenging the constitutionality of state and federal laws against it.

It is not lost on the Palladinos that despite the assertion in their publication’s name, they were wed and continue to live in one of the 41 states that prohibit same-sex marriage. But it is the very absence of state approval, they said, that made their own vows so meaningful and inspired the spirit of their magazine.

“We’ve done everything we can to be equally wed,” Maria Palladino said.

The couple are publishing their quarterly from a back room in their tidy house in East Point, an emerging gay outpost just south of Atlanta. Maria, 30, who works as a freelance Web designer, is publisher. Kirsten, 32, who manages the lifestyle sections of a weekly newspaper, is editor.

Their magazine, which features a more content-driven format than some competing sites, is attracting about 8,000 unique viewers a month, Maria Palladino said. It has about 20 advertisers, including a jeweler, a hotel chain and a car insurer.

Equally Wed can seem driven by conflicting impulses. On the one hand, it is devoted to making same-sex weddings seem ordinary, providing the same obsessive attention to floral arrangement and cake design as bridal magazines. On the other, it celebrates the distinctive, norm-flouting nature of gay unions and guides participants through their specific challenges.

In the summer issue, a feature about planning a green wedding shares space on the home page with an article about the legal dilemmas facing married couples when one spouse changes genders. A feature on boudoir photography gives way to an advice column on managing marriage license waiting periods in Iowa and Massachusetts.

Like traditional magazines, Equally Wed pulses with the love stories of real couples and lush photography of their ceremonies. Kirsten Palladino, who always dreamed of a white-dress wedding, writes a blog called “In Bloom,” which dispenses advice on invitation fonts and summer cocktails.

But she also answers reader questions about whether a man should propose to another man with a ring (why not?) and whether a couple should invite homophobic relatives to their wedding (better to send them an announcement after the fact). Maria Palladino, who said she has not worn a dress since high school, writes a blog from the butch point of view called “Broom Closet,” a term she coined for those who do not quite fit as either bride or groom.

The magazine includes a consumer guide to vendors who are practiced in avoiding heterosexist language and customs. When planning their own wedding, the Palladinos quickly learned to detect discomfort among the photographers they interviewed.

“They were so delicate in their handling of it,” Kirsten Palladino said. “They’d say, ‘You know, I’ve never shot a gay wedding, but I’d be happy to.’ And then sign off their e-mail: ‘Much love in Jesus Christ.’ ”

The Palladinos said that what excited them about the future, both of same-sex weddings and their magazine, was the chance to navigate between tradition and innovation. “There are no rules,” Kirsten Palladino said. “We can look to the history of straight weddings and take what we want and leave what we don’t.”

Articles, featured, writing

How optimism has saved my life (and sanity)

I don’t call myself an optimist to self-compliment. It can actually be a curse. I don’t get to wallow in self pity for long. I forgive people way too quickly. I trust others in bad situations, and I put myself in close proximity to toxic people because of my naïve nature, thinking that people will be good if I just give them a chance.

But I’m proud, too, of being an optimist. It’s gotten me through the dark times of my life. Very dark. I have survived a lot: When I was 8, my parents divorced. At age 10, my mother, the county jail nurse, moved a convicted felon straight from the jail into our home. By the time I was 15, I’d been molested by a family friend and then repeatedly gang raped by my boyfriend’s friends for a year and a half—all high school athletes—until numbness overtook me. For the remainder of high school, I acted out in every way possible, demonstrating just how poorly I thought of myself and found myself pregnant in my first year of college, but I lost the baby to a heart-wrenching birth defect. It took me seven years and five schools to graduate college, and I did it all on my own, amassing a huge amount of debt and hangovers and a strong circle of friends who believed in me as much as I did.

Finally, at 25, as I found myself through a career I’d wanted since I was a child reading books and magazines under the covers with my flashlight, I began to blossom, and my optimism, my ability to see the light through any tunnel I’d trudged through, started to do more than just save my life—it enabled me to fully enjoy it.

And that’s when the universe gifted me with Maria, a strong, sincere woman who loves me despite my troubled past and supports me emotionally through the good and bad times. For the next five years, our love bloomed and grew. The moment she proposed to me in Central Park, the day before I turned 30, rushing rivers of happiness plummeted through my body. I couldn’t wait for my father, a man for whom my affection was boundless, to walk me down the aisle.

When he was ripped from my life just 8 months before my wedding, my heart throbbed in a way I never knew possible. My whole chest ached as the loss drenched me. It would be years before I could even speak of him without tears quickly spilling down my cheeks, without warning. By my side through this has been my steadfast wife, but on my other side has been my sweet brother, a man whom I’ve admired and appreciated as a devoted father, a beloved uncle and a really fun comrade. George walked me down the aisle when I married Maria in 2009, and has stood by my side through thick and thin in every way. When my mother and I became estranged before the wedding, George helped me cope with comedic relief (how else are you going to deal with a woman who tells you a week after your dad dies that her responsibility to her children ended when they turned 18?).

It never got much better with me and my mom because every time we were around each other, I would open myself up with a forgiving heart, only to get hurt again (see how that optimism is my Achilles heel?). When my brother became terribly ill with severe acute pancreatitis this past November, it took me 24 hours of serious pep talk to embolden myself with nerves of steel and some serious detachment to put my strained relationship with my mother aside to help my brother. As George’s sickness progressed and he was put into a medically induced coma, my mother’s mental capabilities decreased and I had to take on the role of parent in addition to sibling, taking on all of George’s financial affairs and medical decisions.

It was a 15-week roller coaster of incredulous highs and rock-bottom lows, peppered with a sharp increase of verbal abuse from my mother (winning statements include disowning me and my children and telling me she was sick of me and didn’t want anything to do with me once George recovered), the death of our dog at Christmas, our water heater breaking, the threat of toxic air pumping into our lungs and thus our heat having to be turned off for two days, a close friend of George’s going absolutely mental on me, daily discussions with George’s doctors in ICU and then his horrid rehab facility and then getting him moved back to ICU, all on my own because my mother was essentially just a visitor coming to see George and looking to me to make all of the decisions.

The lowest point of the journey of George’s illness was his rapid decline at the end due to the development of three medically resistant infections. Ten days after he had taken 10 steps, the doctors were speaking to me with heartbreaking phrases such as “it’s time to think about hospice” and “we’re doing him more harm than good” and “he’s on the strongest antibiotics available and they’re not working” and “there’s nothing more we can do for him.”

We moved George into hospice on the last Friday in February. Those were some of the longest days, but they were no longer filled with the constant worry that had troubled me the last 14 weeks. While George was in hospice, I felt that I was watching his spirit being tangibly stilled with peacefulness, and though it was difficult to watch him slowly leave his body, it was an honor to be by his side throughout it all. By Tuesday night, his breathing became so shallow that it woke me up. I’m a heavy sleeper with serious hearing impairment in both ears. But I had watched him breathe for more than an hour before I’d finally given into sleep, only to wake three hours later when his breathing made significant changes. He was gone 30 minutes later, and I laid my head on his strong chest and let out my tears for my sweet brother, just 18 months older than me, with two children of his own, and his entire future wiped out. Poof. Gone. My heart remains broken, and I don’t know when it will be repaired. Maybe it won’t be. I’m not trying to fix it right now.

The family slowly gathered after I made the phone calls around 4:30 a.m., and by 11, the funeral home had come to take George’s body. At a family lunch at noon, my mother threatened the life of her only living child: me. And though I remained calm and polite and invited her to a therapy session with me, inside I knew that in order to protect myself and my own family, I needed to put some distance between us for awhile. Again. It’s not our first go at estrangement after all, and though I might be too forgiving, the time has come to be even more protective of what I have left.

Life will continue to hand out lemons, and though I’m honestly not trying to make lemonade from it, I am still able to enjoy the happiness that life offers, even in the midst of trauma and tragedy. Life is a bounty of smooth and rough patches, and I’m quite certain that it’s better this way, than always being easy with no challenges. Does life suck sometimes? Absolutely. There’s no question about it. Do people suck sometimes? Clearly they can. But most of them don’t, and I feel such a connection with the people on this planet, just for the simple fact that we are all in this together, that I haven’t lost any of my faith in humanity. Do I startle easily? Yes. Do I more easily suspect people of child abuse and molestation? All the time. Do I want to make sure my wife drives extra carefully and goes to the doctor once a month to make sure no crazy illnesses are developing? Yes, I’m guilty of now worrying that I might lose her, too.

But I’m not searching for any deep meaning for the reason that I have lost both my brother and my father and have been left with one family member—the one who loves me the least—from my original four-pack, because to me, there’s no good reason. Life just isn’t fair. We enjoy who we are blessed with for as long as we have them. I’m going to do my very best to enjoy the people I have left in my life while enjoying my own existence. I am just happy to still be here.

Equally Wed

Walking Miles of Aisles: Gay Couples Consider Remarrying in New York

By Tatitana Boncompagni for The New York Times

Illustration by Tom Bloom

Illustration by Tom Bloom

They’ve already exchanged vows and rings once before, say George W. Slowik Jr. and Patrick Turner. But that time, at a 2002 civil union ceremony in Vermont with four friends as witnesses, the festivities were limited to a luncheon followed by a round of facials.

This time Mr. Slowik and Mr. Turner, the owners of the magazine Publishers Weekly, are thinking bigger. After a marriage ceremony in New York City this fall, there will be a reception for at least 50 people. They also plan a rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding and a post-wedding brunch for out-of-town guests.

“We will go the whole nine yards,” said Mr. Slowik, who is considering Fire Island, where they have a house, or Studio 54 in Manhattan as the site.

Likewise, Pat Dwyer and Stephen Mosher are marrying again — for the eighth time. Last December, they embarked on a wedding “tour,” marrying in each of the five states that had by then legalized same-sex marriage, and the District of Columbia, which had done so, too — plus California, where they had a commitment ceremony in a yoga studio.

Each time, they exchanged newly written vows and new rings and, in one instance, earrings. Next month, Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Mosher are to wed in New York.

“I now understand why Elizabeth Taylor got married so many times,” Mr. Mosher said. “It’s fun.”

Dust off those vows, find that cake topper: With New York State’s law taking effect on Sunday, a number of couples who have previously wed in other states or have had civil unions are considering marrying a second time. And there are those who have taken vows that are not legally binding, sometimes referred to as commitment ceremonies, who are now looking to close that legal loop.

According to the 2010 United States Census figures, there were 65,303 same-sex couples in New York State. The Williams Institute, a group affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, that focuses on law and policy related to gay people, estimates that as of 2010 21 percent of them (about 13,700 couples) had already been legally married in other jurisdictions.

AND while those planning to marry again may be motivated by pragmatic concerns, like gaining certain rights and benefits long denied same-sex couples, a second ceremony also means having a second opportunity to celebrate, on scales large and small.

“If a couple already spent big bucks for the first marriage, the second celebration tends to be more subdued,” said Kirsten Palladino, the editor in chief of, an online magazine about same-sex unions. “And if the first time was smaller — maybe they had a backyard wedding — the second time they might think about renting out a venue and inviting more people.”

In 2009, she and her partner, Maria Palladino, EquallyWed’s publisher, had a wedding in Decatur, Ga., where both wore white, followed by a catered dinner reception for 75 guests. They are planning smaller for next month, when they are to marry in Central Park.

“I already had the big wedding,” David Bowen, an event planner in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., said of the 1993 commitment ceremony that he and Bennett Rink, senior director of external affairs at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, had before 85 people in a SoHo loft.

This fall, the couple, who have two children, plan a small ceremony at a Westchester County courthouse followed by lunch for 15 to 20 guests at a nearby restaurant. “I think of it as a happy seal on a great partnership and life together,” said Mr. Bowen, whose SoHo event featured a harp playing “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

Indeed, after so much time living together, plenty of couples may feel as if they’re organizing an anniversary party rather than a second wedding.

“We’re doing it as a celebration that we’ve been together all this time,” said Matthew Tudor-Jackson, a massage therapist, who had a Moroccan-themed commitment ceremony with Douglas Atkin, a founder of, a social networking site, in London 21 years ago. They plan to get their marriage license on Monday and then wed in Catskill, N.Y., the first week of August. Another celebration at the couple’s farm in Earlton, N.Y., including tennis, croquet and a tented dinner reception, is set for Oct. 11.

“It’s a further expression of trust,” said Jonathan Lester, a bookstore clerk in Edgewater, N.J., who entered into a civil union in New Jersey with Jack Lawhon, a baker, five years ago. They intend to marry in New York City next winter.

In lieu of a big reception, Mr. Lester said, he plans to take a cake topper — a pair of suitcases — on the road with them as they celebrate their legal marriage with family and friends in other states. “We’ll make it a string of lovely dinners,” he said.

For some, one ceremony is enough. Last May, Michael Pace, an insurance broker, and Joseph Carino Jr., the chief executive of a marketing and reservation service based in New York, traveled to Norwalk, Conn., to marry at the Roton Point Association, a waterside club. The next day, the pair re-enacted their vows in front of 130 friends and family members at a reception in Battery Gardens in Manhattan.

“We both collectively feel the State of Connecticut respected our relationship and honored our commitment,” Mr. Pace said. “I don’t feel the need to do it again in New York.”

After marrying legally in Massachusetts a year and a half ago, Zachariah Overton and Nicolas Taricco aren’t in a rush to do it again in New York. But they’ll do so anyway, most likely to celebrate their next milestone anniversary, but in part to appease friends and family who weren’t at the first ceremony. “Especially our mothers felt slighted that they didn’t actually get to see us say our vows,” said Mr. Overton, senior director of the entertainment group at Gilt City.

Those who do decide to marry a second time face the question of which date to celebrate as an anniversary. The Rev. Julie Taylor, a Unitarian Universalist minister who had a commitment ceremony two years ago with her partner, the Rev. Laurel Koepf, a minister of the United Church of Christ, said she isn’t worried.

“We already celebrate our first date, moving in together, our domestic partnership and our religious wedding,” she said. “Lucky for us we’re big into celebrations and rituals.”

It’s unlikely any couples will have more dates to celebrate than Mr. Dwyer and Mr. Mosher, whose latest ceremony is set for Aug. 7 on the beach at Coney Island at sunset or perhaps in front of Deno’s Wonder Wheel. Said Mr. Dwyer, who is making a documentary with Mr. Mosher of their many ceremonies, “We’ll toast in corn dogs.”

A version of this article appeared in print on July 24, 2011, on page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: Walking Miles of Aisles.

The Morning After: Atlanta

cilantro corn pancakes at Highland Bakery

Cilantro corn pancakes at Highland Bakery

Weekend brunch in Atlanta is almost as close to religion as college football, probably because it encourages continued drinking from the night before—or provides a cure from a hard-won hangover. It’s an obsession for many, and here are the spots we’re most addicted to.

By Kirsten Ott Palladino


655 Highland Ave., #10

This combination kitschy bakery and café is beloved by its Fourth Ward residents and beyond. Breakfast specialties such as heavenly sweet potato pancakes with brown sugar syrup and hearty cilantro corn pancakes are easy to throw back in a sparse, industrial setting highlighted by big windows and big art. Save room for the dreamy cupcakes—the pastry team has won several challenges on the Food Network.



240 N. Highland Ave. NE

When Parish opened in Inman Park, locals quickly embraced its funky vibe and New Orleans roots. Weekend brunch is relaxed with superior service and terrific Southern comfort food from the chef-driven kitchen. Highlights include the fried green tomato Benedict, which starts with a from-scratch buttermilk biscuit crowned with poached eggs, smoked ham, fried green tomato and béarnaise. Pair it with one of the many strong classic cocktails, like the housemade Bloody Mary.



1397 N. Highland Ave.

Over in Morningside, chef/owner Ron Eyester’s Rosebud thrives on creative cooking and speaking out for local growers and products. The seasonally driven menu delights at any meal, but for breakfast, the Big Nasty (a heart-stopping chicken biscuit), the turkey and pesto scramble, and the crab cake Benedict are standouts, as are the housemade libations, which will cure even the gloomiest of bedheads. •

LATE-NIGHT NOSH (…and by late night, we mean early morning.)

The folks at TOP FLR (674 Myrtle St. NE, have honed a surefire formula: quirky, modern American food plus an unquestionably hip Midtown setting that’s open late (for Atlanta, that’s 1 or 2 a.m., depending on the night). Young hipsters and their older, wiser counterparts return night after night for savory dishes such as crispy duck breast with fennel salt and lavender jus, thin-crust pizza and ooey-gooey mac ’n’ cheese.


Published in the print issue of Draft Magazine May/June 2011