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Articles, featured, Fitness & Health, Food & Health, writing

A juice cleanse before the wedding

Warning: This isn’t a “how to lose weight in X amount of days before your wedding” article. Fact: I loathe those types of articles.

I was the kind of bride who eagerly showed up to cake-tasting appointments hoping to try all the flavors, not just the three I’d selected. Sorry, not sorry.

But beyond my personal weakness for sugar, there’s a difference between getting skinny for someone else’s vision for the perfect bridal size and achieving a state of wellness. That’s what I want to talk to you about today.

rainbow-juice-cleanse-book

There’s a new nutrition book that piqued my interest: The Rainbow Juice Cleanse: Lose Weight, Boost Energy and Supercharge Your Health by Dr. Ginger Southall
 (Running Press,
 April 2015, 
$17.00). The tummy-toning tome focuses on how juicing popular high-glycemic vegetables will affect the intricate physiology of the body. Each day of the program focuses on a different color of the rainbow—that is, drinking different colored veggies each day of the cleanse—ensuring the best possible nutrition profile and guaranteeing positive results.

While Dr. Southall’s book, The Rainbow Juice Cleanse, does promise losing seven pounds in seven days, those are likely seven pounds of gross things you don’t even want to know about. Toxic sh*t you need to get rid of. She also boasts that her book will help you boost your energy levels and supercharge your health. Well, I took her challenge—not the seven-day one (yet!), but I have felt extra wonderful when I’ve drank her recipes, so without further ado, let me show you what I did with her book, a trip to the farmer’s market, my newest kitchen toy, Omega juicer (NC800 series), and my Kenwood X-Pro blender (which I seriously don’t think I could live without in the summer or winter because it blends both hot and cold foods).

The first recipe I made was what Dr. Southall explains is definitely not juicing. It’s a smoothie. It’s a way to get your taste buds ready for the change that’s coming your way when you start replacing meals with liquid veggies. And these are veggies, not fruit. One tip I’ll never forget from her is “Eat your fruit, drink your veggies.” She’s still pro-fruit, but she explains over several useful pages how fruit is full of sugar, and how “eating whole fruit, with its fiber and full nutritional and phytonutrient package, is entirely different than drinking a glass of condensed fruit juice or even adding a few pieces of fruit in your veggie juice. This is especially true for someone facing a health challenge (as most of us are today) and for those trying to lose weight. From a healing and weight loss perspective, try to keep your total fruit consumption between 5 and 10 percent of your total daily calorie intake. The cleaner and healthier you become, the better your body can handle fruits and even fruit juice.”

Eat your fruit, drink your veggies.

— Dr. Ginger Southall

OK, doc. With that lesson, I think we’re ready to dive into Drink No. 1 that I tried, the Green Cilantro Smoothie, which was positively delicious, tangy, refreshing and filling.

 

 

Next, I made the Thai One on Tonic. Honestly, this one made me want to break up with cauliflower, for like, forever. But, it’s packed with many of the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and omega-3s, which promote healthy sugar metabolism, according to Dr. Ginger, which she says helps with blood sugar stabilization. So I mentally pushed myself to finish it, and I was proud that I chugged it down. It tasted good, but it was more like a creamy soup. Mixing in some (pure) stevia and pouring it over ice could really help.

 

The Red Pepper-Mint Juice might resemble a Bloody Mary in appearance, but don’t add any vodka if you’re going for a cleanse. It’s full of vitamin E, manganese and more than 30 known members of the carotenoid phytonutrient family!

 

 

All photos except book by Kirsten Ott. Recipes copyright Dr. Ginger Southall, The Rainbow Juice Cleanse.

This article was first published on Equally Wed Magazine.

Blog, family, healing, writing

Rememberance

Six years ago today, on a Friday morning full of promise, my wife, her best friend and I had just left our home en route for Florida to visit Maria and Cristina’s childhood friends. We were less than a mile from home when my cell phone rang. I was in the backseat with Lucy, our squatty white labrador-dachshund mix. It was my brother, George. I answered cheerily and cautious. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with my father or stepmother for two days before. I had called my brother in tears just 24 hours ago. I had a terrible feeling and I wanted to speak to our father. But he hadn’t heard from him either. And now my big brother was telling me in a croaking voice full of sorrow, “Dad’s dead.”

“No way,” I responded as my world went from sunny and light to gray and bleak in a matter of seconds. There was no possible way that my father, 61, healthy, loving and wonderful, could be gone. I choked on my own air that I was gasping in far too fast as my brother explained what he knew: that it appeared he’d had a heart attack while his wife, our stepmother, was at the barn checking on their horses. He’d died alone. That crushing new knowledge bent me over. George said he was headed to Athens, and we hung up, exchanging “I love yous” as we always did.

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What happened next was unbearable as I looked up at my wife and Cristina and said that my father had died and could we go back home. It was an absurd request, but I wasn’t thinking clearly, that of course my wife would be turning the car around and driving the half-mile back to our home and that Cristina would get on the phone to try to fly back to New York while I curled myself into a crumpled ball of hideous heartbreak on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, unable to do anything but moan as salty tears soaked my cheeks, meeting a runny nose, connecting to the saliva pooling at my open mouth, jaw slack.

My wife came and checked on me but there was nothing she could do. My world had come crashing down and I was shaking from the shock and the grief.

In the week to come while we took time off from work and life to grieve at my father and stepmother’s home in a lake community outside of Athens, my brother and I bonded more than ever before. We were already incredibly close and now this – the loss of our shared hero – had left us clinging to one another in a state of devastation. Every year on Oct. 3 since my father’s death has been difficult as I remember the punch to my chest of the shocking loss. But every day without him has been far more challenging. Every time something big has occurred, like my wedding or the launch of my own magazine or the birth of my twin sons, I’ve wanted him there to celebrate with.

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My dad never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud he was of me, and it meant the world to me to have a parent like that. And when things have gotten rough, as they often do, like when my mother disowned me or I found out I had a life-threatening genetic heart disease or I watched my brother suffer in a hospital bed for 14 weeks before passing away from organ failure at age 36, or when my son was diagnosed with autism, it would have been soothing to have my dad to lean on. And then the lazy, normal days, when there’s nothing going on but an ambling walk on a dirt road, surrounded by eager, wet-nosed dogs and our precocious sons my dad never met, sunlight glinting through the green-leafed oak trees, my heart hurts for him, then, too. Sometimes I just want to call him up and say hi, and hear him say again in his sweet Long Island voice, “Hey, darlin’. I’ve been thinking so much about you and what you’ve been up to. Tell me everything.”

 

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dad-us

Articles, changes, pain, recovery, relationships, writing

Why We Stay: One Woman’s Lens Into Psychological Layers of Suffering Abuse

The country is abuzz about abuse again, and the talking heads and twittering fingers are asking why people stay in abusive relationships. Why is Janay Palmer Rice standing by her man even though he punched her in an elevator and dragged her body out? (And then she proceeded to marry him one month later.) Why did Rihanna have such a hard time leaving and subsequently going back to Chris Brown, even after the world saw her blood-crusted, bruised face after Brown crunched his knuckles into her eye socket? Why did Tina Turner take Ike Turner’s slaps and punches again and again?

Guess what? You’re not the only person to wonder this. People currently in abusive relationships and those who have successfully escaped them ask themselves that very same question. Why do/did I stay?

In order to truly understand the answer to that question, it’s helpful to think of abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional, as a series of tiny subconscious extensions of permissions. Each time he hits you or she tells you you’re worthless and you—for whatever reason—don’t take a stand right then and there that you will not tolerate such abuse, you’ve made a docile statement that it’s OK to treat you this way. Of course, it’s not OK and you don’t want it to happen—you never did and you never will. But each time it happens and there is no serious repercussion for the abuser, they are granted more permission and you’ve given them more rope to tug you around with, much like a master with a dejected mutt on a leash.

For victims of abuse, the internal question often is “How did I get here?” and one part of the puzzle is all of those tiny permissions.

So there you are, a scared, frightened pup on a leash, right? But that’s not all of who you are. You might be brave at work, pumping your fist in the air and demanding your employees follow the rules. You might never lead on about the troubles at home when hanging out with your girlfriends, and possibly even telling elaborate stories about what a good man you’ve got, how he spoils you like a princess. Or you’ve been so desecrated for so long that you no longer recognize your former spirit and you walk around with empty eyes, shoulders slack, wondering when you’ll have the courage to just walk out into the middle of the street and let a bus hit you because that would be easier than leaving.

Not everyone being abused is suicidal and not every survivor would agree with being likened to a gnarled stray dog, jerked around on a chain. In fact, the abused can get downright defensive about their situation, telling you things like, “You don’t know him like I do,” “You don’t know the whole story,” “I made him do this to me,” or “She’s a good person; this only happens when she’s stressed.” But in the quiet darkness or in their quick trips out alone, they’re lost in a reverie at the red light, wondering how their life spiraled out of control and what can possibly be done about this. If you leave, he’ll come looking for you. Maybe she’ll take the children and hurt them instead of you. Maybe he has all the financial control and you don’t have a dime to your name. Oh, and then the bone-crushing shame of admitting to anyone that your life has fallen apart—that you chose an abuser. There’s that, too.

We still exist in a world where the victim is blamed: A rape victim’s experiences of consensual sex are paraded in front of her in a courtroom as if an experience of forced sex isn’t as big of a deal if the victim wasn’t a wholesome virgin. A child molested again and again by an adult is outrageously asked what he did to encourage the abuser. An emotionally abused middle-aged woman is asked if she’s just being too sensitive. Talk show hosts say you must have provoked him. Friends say there’s no way that he could be so different behind closed doors—it’s you who is failing to see things as they are, not the friend.

And, then, if there are emotional ties between the abused and the abuser, it’s a thick, tangled web of thorny branches and it feels like no one can escape unscathed or at all.

***

But then, there’s hope.

Even prisoners of war, locked in dank cells for years, beaten routinely until they’ve lost both health and self, are miraculously able to retain hope.

And survivors of domestic abuse know that feeling all too well. The abuser doesn’t always abuse you. Oftentimes he’s sweet as pie, reminding you of why you fell in love with him. It can even feel like you’re being courted, receiving flowers, chocolates and poetic texts. And you wonder—for a moment, albeit fleeting—if you shouldn’t take the bait this time. But your sense of danger is warped now. He’s successfully convinced you that you’re not a victim, this isn’t abuse and you two are madly in love, and you can make this work. So you bite the apple, and ingest more of this charmer’s poison, waiting with hopeful baited breath for things to get better. But they don’t. And they won’t.

***

It’s a bit like falling down a rabbit hole when you choke down the forbidden dry, crusty cake, which turns everything upside down and suddenly you don’t know what is normal or OK even is anymore. It’s all an illusion. Is everyone laughing at you? Have you hidden the bruises—internal or external—enough? Is that a trick mirror you’re looking into? Is this really your life? Is your partner your friend when he says, “Come here, love. You know I can’t live without you.”? Or is he a foe, when he says, “Why do youmake me so angry? Why are you so fucking slow? Get out of my fucking way, you fat bitch!” as he kicks you to the ground, causing the plates in your hand which you couldn’t put away fast enough to collapse beside you, clattering in slow motion, sharp pieces flying. “Jesus, you’re so fucking clumsy!” as he takes one last swing at your head, rearing his leg back like

Beckham and pointing his toe right into your temple, making you so dizzy you’re unsure if this is even happening, and why, oh, why is it happening again? “Clean this mess up, bitch.” And he walks out the door while you hold back your anguished moan because between two bloody clumps of your hair you can see your children standing solemnly in the kitchen entrance, holding each other, curious, scared and masking their fear with false bravery at their tender ages, seeing too much, learning the wrong thing. And yet. You’ll stay for their sake.

***

As for those asking the abstract victim the inflammatory question of why stay, know that the very inquiry places blame on the struck, the raped, the broken.

“Why did you let him do that to you?” The haughty superiority in this question is enough to make us want to choke you, not the abuser. You think you could have done better? You think you would have fought back, run, gotten away, gotten help? You. Don’t. Know. Anything.

When are we going to start hashtags such as #handsoff or #wewillhelpyou or #leavethemcomehere? Instead of gnashing our teeth at each other on social media, how about extending your hand to someone in need? You don’t have to know them. Send comforters and comfort to women’s shelters. Show up for the soup kitchen line. Say something when your friend is entering into an odd relationship where she is giving up all power. Say something when that kid who used to have light dancing in his eyes is all burned out, can’t look you in the face and is struggling to hold his life together. Step in. Step up. Show up.

It is not enough to just tell a victim to “just leave.” It is always complicated. And she (or he) needs your help. We need your help. #helpusleave #wewillhelpyou #wecanbestrongtogether

Kirsten Ott Palladino is an award-winning editor and writer working on a memoir about surviving repeated gang rape, emotional and verbal abuse and child molestation. She’s the co-founder and editor in chief of equallywed.comthe world’s leading digital LGBTQ wedding magazine. She can be reached on Twitter at @kirstenop.

This was first published on The Manifest Station.

Articles, Atlanta, featured, restaurants, writing

Brewed to perfection

New Atlanta gastropub delivers a myriad of beers hailing from Atlanta to Belgium

By Kirsten Ott Palladino

ormsbys-atlanta

Tucked away in the bottom of the White Provision building (a former meat-packing plant in the early 20th century) on the Westside of Atlanta is Ormsby’s, a self-proclaimed good place to be. Co-owner Michael Goot won’t exactly confess to it being either a pub, speakeasy or a tavern, but the low lighting, dark milled walnut floors, oak booths, copper-topped bar with mahogany leanings, slightly secretive location with just a metal-worked O hanging by the front door and casual atmosphere of good times speak for themselves. The newly minted restaurant opened in December 2009, and has been packed most every night. The camaraderie found at Ormsby’s is scholarly in a grad student/professor way, but the fun to be had is for all drinking ages and personalities: A flight of stairs below the restaurant is a host of games, ranging from bocce ball, darts, pool, shuffleboard, ’80s videogames (think Donkey Kong, Pac-Man) and even Skee Ball is in the works for April. Ormsby’s is a collaboration between Michael Goot, a man whose work history is steeped in beer, and Warren Bruno, who opened his first bar in Atlanta in 1974. This is Bruno’s 12th bar, and he says it’s his final. He had a bocce ball court at his first one, and to bring it full circle, he wanted to have the precision game available at his last venture. Bruno also owns Atkins Park Tavern, Atlanta’s longest-standing bar and restaurant, which has two locations. The pair looked to Executive Chef Andrew Smith to design their easygoing but respectable menu, which features American-style pub dishes such as house-made sausage, hand-dipped corn dogs, New England clam chowder, bratwurst, fried cod, veal and mushroom meatballs, as well as more than 10 hearty sandwiches. But the real shining star of Ormsby’s is the beer. With more than 20 offerings on draft and 45 to 50 bottle brands available on any given day, it’s no wonder beerophiles flock to this hidden gem. Choices abound, from complex Belgian beers like Dupont Fore, which has the “Belgian funk,” according to Goot, because of its orientation in a Belgian farmhouse where the windows stay open to allow the yeast to blow in from the farm (also known as spontaneous fermentation) to simple craft beers like Avery Ellie’s Brown Ales from Boulder, Colo., which shines with vitality. Local Atlanta beer is a top seller, especially SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, with hoppy characteristics and a crisp finish. Trappist beers like St. Bernardus Abt12, a dark ivory-colored beer with a high fermentation, is on draft, while St. Bernardus Prior 8, a fruity malt with a purple-ruby hue, is available by the bottle. While no favorites ever leave the beer menu, Goot continues to tweak the list to continue to intrigue and satiate Atlanta’s thirsty palate.

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THE PERFECT PAIR

Savor the weekly special pot roast braised in red wine and served with root vegetables and buttered noodles with the notes of fig, raisin and dark stone fruit in Dogfish Head Paulo Santo.

Loop your fingers through local pale ale-battered onion rings, and wash it down with Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, a light, citrus IPA.

Southern hospitality takes center stage with shrimp and grits, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and cream sherry. The spice in Dupont Foret Organic keeps up nicely.

The spicy orange blossom, caramel malt and crisp hop at the end of the Ommegang Rare Vos Amber Ale balances out the spicy lamb merguez (sausage) with Tzatziki sauce, cucumber and pickled red onion served gyro-style in a grilled pita.

This article was published in Draft Magazine.

Equally Wed, Portfolio, writing

Real Wedding: Brooke and Joana

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

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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.

VENDORS
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, Etsy.com (Brooke’s engagement ring), Worthmore Jewelers (Joana’s band), The Mobley Company, Villa Rica, GA (Brooke’s band)
Flowers: A Perfect Day, Destin, FL

Atlanta, Bios, Portfolio, writing

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

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E.J. HODGKINSON: EXECUTIVE CHEF – JCT. KITCHEN AND BAR

QUICK HIGHLIGHTS:

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.

FULL BIOGRAPHY:

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 ko@kirstenott.co. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.