Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's Up Doc?

Bluffton Today column
July 20,2011

This one is dedicated to my doctor, who never actually became my doctor, because even though my primary physician felt that there was an issue that needed a specialist’s attention, that specialist refused to see me.

As I am sure you can imagine I was beyond thrilled by this scenario. For entertainment purposes, let me shed a little on the conversation for ya. It went a little something like this.

Me: “Hi, this is Courtney Hampson. My doctor sent over a referral and my file and I’d like to make an appointment.”

Them: “Let me connect you with our referral specialist.”

Referral Specialist: “Yes, I see a note that says, ‘Dr. Evil cannot see you at this time’.”

Me: “So, he’s too busy or is just offended by me in general?”

RS: “Your symptoms are not really something he treats.”

Me: “Really, what specific symptoms are not valid enough for Dr. Evil?”

RS: “Well, I don’t actually have your file in front of me.”

Me: “So, you’re making this up? Or you are just not qualified to answer my questions?”

RS: “All I can tell you is what it says here.”

Me (under my breath): “Specialist may be a stretch in your job title, don’t ya think?

Me: “So what you are telling me is that my doctor of five years thinks there is an issue and wants a specialist to take a closer look, but you are refusing to see me?”

RS: “Well.”

Me (louder): “So what you are telling me is that my doctor of five years thinks there is an issue and wants a specialist to take a closer look, but you are refusing to see me?”

RS: “Yes.”

Me: “Ok. What was your name again? Susannah? Great. You and Dr. Evil can look forward to seeing your name in print real soon. What is it they say … any PR is good PR? Have a great day.”

Then I burst into tears.

I’ve been feeling crappy for awhile. We’ve tried a few things to regulate the ol’ hormones, but nothing seems to kick the symptoms in the arse. I experienced years of reproductive challenges, so I basically chalked this up to faulty plumbing and darn it stinks to be a woman. My doctor (and my Mom) finally convinced me to have someone else take a look.

Enter Dr. Evil, who won’t see me and whose name I can’t pronounce, and since I read aloud as I write, and because I wondered if a name drop would make it to print, I changed his name. He is, of course, the only endocrinologist in my health plan. Oh, and his office is in Savannah. And, his practice might have the word endocrinology in the title. Maybe.

So now what? Well, I’m thinking witch doctor. Which doctor? A witch doctor. Which (isn’t this fun?), in our first world usually refers to chiropractors, homeopaths and faith healers. Homeopathy you say? I’m in. Homeopathy is a system of medical therapy that uses very small doses of medicines, or remedies. These remedies are prepared from substances found in nature - plants, minerals and animal substances.

So, I’m putting on the white jacket and headed to my laboratory. (Since you now know that I read aloud as I am typing, you should know that I annunciated that as “la-BOOR-atory.”)

Plant material – I’m going mint. I will mix said mint with a little rum and some soda and Mojito my way to a healthier me.

Mineral – do diamonds count? I’ve got a new one on my left ring finger. And, frankly that makes me feel better already.

Final ingredient – animal. Pig is big, so I’m going bacon.

Oh, stop. I know that is not how homeopathy is practiced. But it was funny. And it took my mind off the fact that there is a bigger issue here and I am debating how to tackle it, however the last thing I want is a political debate a la health care, or a retort from Bill Roe. So, I guess the only question I have is … what’s up doc?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dave Miner: The Man, The Myth, The Legend, My Friend

CB/CH2 goes bi-coastal in the July issue with an interview with Napa winemaker Dave Miner.

He loves grapes and his girls. And if you throw in a little jazz guitar, Dave Miner is in seventh heaven. The stories of his three great loves intersect often. In fact, it kind of makes you believe that some things are indeed meant to be.

Music was his first love. Dave’s aunt was a musician, and guitars were always lying around the house for his amusement. He was also known to fiddle with the ivory keys on occasion. But practicing music was much less interesting than playing sports. So music remained something he did “just for fun.”

Wine came next. In his twenties, Dave began collecting wine with his uncle, the founder of Oracle Software Company. He would visit his uncle in San Francisco. They’d get to talking. Then they’d get to drinking. And as Oracle continued to take off and more money was rolling in, they started buying to satisfy their ever-evolving palettes.

Soon, Dave was working in the Oracle sales department, seeking a closer connection to his uncle and the undulating Napa Valley. And then, the stars aligned and his uncle bought a vineyard. And there, he fell even deeper in love, with wine. He made a break from Oracle, started his own technology company, sold it, and was pondering his next move when he got the call.

His uncle was sick, and Dave was asked if he would take over operations of the winery. “I needed less than five minutes to make that decision,” he quipped. To his uncle he said, “I’ll be there tomorrow.” That was 1993.

By 1996, the first vintage of Miner Family Wines was available. But, not until after he met his third and true love, Emily. As he told me the story of the first moment he saw her, he paused to catch his breath and tears formed in his eyes (and, in mine). With wistfulness he admits that he was “diggin’ her from day one.” Emily was his first employee and after she spent six months trying to set him up with someone else, she finally “got it” and agreed to go out with Dave. After a whirlwind romance, and in a ‘how cool is that’ moment, Emily’s father hired the celebrated jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli to play their wedding reception. Talk about a perfect match!

Today, Miner Family Vineyards is a labor of love. True love. Dave’s jazz guitar collection (all crafted by the legendary Bob Benedetto in Savannah) adorns the winery’s tasting room. And, appropriately, a painted portrait of his wife and two daughters (and the vineyard) adorn the back of one of those guitars.

When you meet this man you are immediately drawn into the warm embrace of his laughter. He is funny, and sassy, and ever so sarcastic. He’ll tell you how it is. And then he’ll ask you if want to share a bottle of wine.

The next time you meet him, he’s an old friend. Indeed. Chances are … you have met him.

Dave makes the journey from the wine country to the South Carolina Lowcountry multiple times each year. He says, “there is an allure to the Lowcountry.” The first time he visited our fine area was to meet with the guys at Benedetto Guitars and make a little music. Six years later we are frequent destination for this vagabond, where he has forged many relationships via his wines.

Yet, Miner’s reach is truly country-wide. When talking to his pal, Jason Carlen, Sommelier at the renowned Spiaggia in Chicago (and former “wine geek” at Palmetto Bluff), his thoughts are sincere toward Dave, “Golly I love that man. He and Emily are some of my favorite people in this crazy world we live in. His wines emulate him beautifully. They possess the ease of someone you want to know, the class and sophistication that only comes from being so well-rounded and worldly, and something un-definable and a little bit dirty that makes you want to do naughty things. I can't get enough of him or his wines. I am honored to know him and call him a dear friend.”

As for the wine, Dave says, “You can collect it, but I’d much rather you open the wine – with your friends and family and create some memories. I mean, the best part of my job is hearing that Miner was at someone’s wedding or family milestone. We were there. What’s better than that?”

Now, I’m no wine connoisseur, but I can tell you that Miner – the wine and the winemaker – are easy to fall in love with – they are both pretty darn smooth.

Dave will tell you, “Pull the cork and drink it. If you get lucky, then I’ve doubly done my job.” He may have the best job ever.

Check out Miner Family Vineyards online

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Luciana Label

I don't know if I am hip enough to wear The Luciana Label, but at least she let me interview her for the July issue of CB/CH2!

With brow furrowed and lips pursed Luciana Quiroga moves around her client, studying the fabric, the way it drapes, how it moves, and perhaps just as important -- how the client feels donning her creation. It is no doubt that this serious approach to her work is what puts Quiroga in the fashion spotlight.

In contrast, I’m in the background drooling over this line of clothes that appears both comfortable and fabulous in the same stitch.

A native of Argentina, with a Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) fashion degree under her belt, Quiroga is a young fashionista with a desire to spread the word on the art of custom made clothing. Nearly two years after the opening of her self-dubbed boutique – “Luciana,” Quiroga is also putting her name on the fashion map.

As her career takes off, I had the opportunity to go behind the seams (so clever, that I stole it from Quiroga’s website) with the designer to get the scoop.

Where did your love of fashion originate?
I’ve always been curious about how all these dresses and skirts were made. My mom exposed me to fashion very early – taking me along to have a dress made by a local seamstress in South America. Also, I did a lot of shopping for clothes as a teenager. Attending SCAD was a dream come true for me - I finally had the opportunity to create my idea of what clothes should be.

Tell me about how your travels have inspired you? I’ve been very fortunate to travel in South America, Spain and throughout Europe. Seeing different styles in person, touching the fabric, from a variety of cultures, definitely inspires me and my designs. All that together defines what Luciana is today.

Are you ever surprised by what inspires you? Not necessarily. Inspiration for me is everywhere and can come from anything – people, places, music …

Did you play dress up when you were little? No, my love for design was a teenage escape. Although I always enjoyed dressing up my sister – and now I love dressing my customers.

If you had to pick one outfit from your closet to wear forever, what would it be? Shrugs. I love them and have plenty of them! They are easy to wear, simple to carry around, look good, and of course, come in handy in cold places like restaurants or movie theatres.

When you are designing for a specific person, what is the first question you ask that client? What colors do you like? Do you like solids or prints? And many more questions naturally follow. The more I know about my customer enables me to create a better design.

How do you want someone to feel when he or she is wearing your clothes? Comfortable, confident and glamorous! In fact, those words also best describe my designs.

What is the one article of clothing that every women should have in their wardrobe? A stylish dress of course! That’s what I create - one of a kind, super comfortable dresses that can be for every day wear or, made formal with accessories.

How long does it take you to complete a piece – from concept to finished product? Each piece is one-of-a-kind and every customer is unique, so it truly depends on the design, the fabric and the print.

What is the last book you read? When time permits, I read Couture pattern making books and anything related to fashion.

Favorite movie? I love so many – particularly ones that make you think - but no movies about aliens!

Is there any one person who you would love to design for? My clients! I get so much pleasure and satisfaction from seeing a client in one of my pieces…

What is your greatest extravagance? My Senior Collection at SCAD. Out of about 200 students I was selected to show my collection in the 2010 Senior Fashion Show. I keep the video, pictures, sketches and the actual clothes close by. I am so proud of what I created – it has helped me greatly in making the transition from student to professional.

What is your most marked characteristic, and is that reflected in your design?Creativity is probably what most of my friends would tell you, but some think my sense of humor too. I like to transform things, and not just clothing - from simple to fabulous and unique.

Tell me a little about the clothes we’re seeing in this issue … Colorful, couture, comfortable and very “now.” And, if you don’t see what you like, please come in and I will design something specifically for you.

What can we expect next from Luciana?I’m very excited about the new “Luciana Ready to Wear Club” launching on July 1st. There is no membership fee for our current customers and each item purchased offers them fantastic opportunities such as exclusive showings and very special pricing. It’s my way of showing appreciation for their loyalty and support.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Celebrity Chefs: Why All the Fuss?

Things are heating up in the kitchen and in the July issue of CB/CH2

In the summer of 2002, I moved from semi-metropolitan New Jersey to farmland New Jersey (yes, there are farms in NJ, it is the “garden state” for crying out loud!), for my ex’s job. While he was working every day, I was twiddling my thumbs trying to determine where I should set my career sights. I settled on a (short-lived) stint as marketing manager at a local winery (yes, they have grapes in NJ too). Each summer the winery would host a local festival – food, wine, entertainment, etc. I unfortunately started my new gig about 10 days before said festival. So, when a local chef who was going to do a cooking demo cancelled at the last minute, I was volunteered to man that post.

My boss had no way of knowing that my culinary repertoire was limited to (burnt) grilled cheese and scrambled eggs, that usually morphed into fried eggs because I tended to over-scramble.

I’m not sure if having the aforementioned knowledge would have mattered all that much to him, so I kept it to myself. We were desperate and desperate times call for desperate measures. I did what any professional would – I panicked. And then I turned to the Food Network for support. Lo and behold Rachel Ray was whipping up a 30-minute meal that I was certain I could master. I went to bed feeling a sense of relief until …

I received the news that my demo recipe should, of course, include ingredients sourced locally. I was planning a teriyaki and ginger grilled chicken topped with mango salsa. Feeling pretty confident that mangoes were not indigenous to NJ, I had to get creative. And I did. I added wine. Heck, it was local!

Come festival day, I stood atop a shoddy stage, with propane burners and demonstrated to a crowd of old ladies, “my” recipe. And guess what? They loved it. (Did I mention the free wine flowing at the festival that likely numbed the palate?) Alas, I didn’t burn anything and there were no reported illnesses. Success.

I learned a lot that day. Anyone can cook – if they channel their creativity and have fun with it. Today, chefs who used to be “back of the house” personnel are now front and center, infusing their personality into each dish. They’ve come a long way.

In 1963 Julia Child waltzed into our living rooms from her kitchen. With her almost jarring yet endearing vocal pitch and inane ability to honor the five-second rule when a chicken would find itself on the floor, Child brought French cooking and the allure of everything French to the American people. Dubbed “our Lady of the Ladle” by Time Magazine in 1966, Child was likely our first on-air celebrity chef. Under her PBS-documented tutelage, desperate housewives everywhere found the wherewithal to become masters of their kitchen domain.

Fast forward a few decades and then, BAM! Emeril Lagasse shows up on the Food Network scene and kicks it up a notch by tossing his signature “essence” into every dish. Folks were tuning in by the kitchen-load not necessarily for the recipes, rather for the entertainment -- live music, audience participation, sass and sarcasm. And a celebrity chef is born!

As the Food Network began to take shape and adding more notable chefs to their repertoire, a cult following slowly began to take shape. America was interested in cooking at home again. We would watch Bobby Flay conduct a cooking demo on the Today Show and then find ourselves in line at the butcher ordering twice-ground-brisket for our burger buffet that night because, “Bobby told us to!”

Food Network knew the recipe for success, and adding hunky chefs to the mix didn’t hurt the cause. Easy recipes for the at-home cook and eye-candy to boot? The chef-groupie is born!

Tyler Florence was my chef crush. And that was my little secret ... right up until I had to work with him. I have no shame and I will admit that the first time I met Tyler, I got a little hot and bothered. Ok, a lot hot. And I can probably also admit that my cheeks flushed with every exchange for the first year we worked together. By year three, I was cured of the flush and the crush, but remained ever-impressed by his uncanny ability to whip up a Thanksgiving meal, on stage, in front of hundreds, in 30 minutes, and then work the crowd as if it was full of his closest friends.

Locally, our celebrity chef star shines bright. Food Network’s “Dinner Impossible” star Robert Irvine, opened eat! on Hilton Head and made having his food totally possible for locals and tourists alike. Irvine also appears completely at ease in the national spotlight, and the Lowcountry limelight. In fact, I bumped into him on the sandbar a few years ago. Of course, I was so star-struck that the only thing I managed to say was, “I know Tyler Florence.” Classic.

And lest we forget that our very own Orchid Paulmeier – of One Hot Mamas fame - is battling it out plate for plate each week for the crown of the “The Next Food Network Star.”

We are a country obsessed!

Melany Mullens, publicist with Wagstaff Worldwide, who represents some of the biggest names in southern cooking has this to say, “The rising popularity of food-focused TV networks and shows has given the at-home chef a chance to learn from kitchen masters and makes intricate cooking and constructing complex dishes more accessible than ever.

It’s hard to imagine a time before the Food Network when Emeril, Mario, and Bobby weren’t around to show us behind the scenes of their kitchens and give tips. How can you not want to test recipes and expand your palette to try foods you see others enjoy! Thus, a foodie is born. Molecular gastronomy, innovative flavor profiles, and making beautiful, tasty food are some of the simplest ways to be a rock star chef and accrue the requisite foodie groupies.”

And groupie I am. I subscribe to three foodie newsletters and have a grossly ridiculous collection of cookbooks from “celebrity chefs.” I rip recipes from magazines, as if I may go hungry without. And I get a smirk on my face each time I realize how lucky I am that my day job allows me be a part of the team that plans the annual Music to Your Mouth food and wine event at Palmetto Bluff – juggling chefs, winemakers, pig farmers, bbq-masters, and honey-bee herders, among others. (Shameless plug!)

Who have I become? With thousands of Food Network hours logged, I actually relish my time in the kitchen. Now, I don’t have the fever to ever perform the mango salsa shuffle on stage again, but I’ve definitely come a long way from burnt grilled cheese.

Who’s hungry?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tourist 101: You Could Learn Something Here

Bluffton Today column
July 6, 2011

Last week a friend celebrated her fourth wedding anniversary. In keeping with Emily Post’s etiquette rules, her hubby presented her with the traditional fourth anniversary gift – fruit and flowers. Yup, he dressed as a banana and delivered a huge bouquet of flora. She, of course, posted the picture on Facebook, for all the world to see, and in return he gains extra credit points for creativity.

So, as we celebrated the 235th anniversary of our nation’s independence this past weekend, it made me wonder exactly what the traditional gift should be. I didn’t have to look very far, as I gifted myself with what were to be a few relaxing days at the beach. And, oh, there was some good people watching this weekend – in fact, this column almost wrote it self.

I could make a fortune teaching a “how to pay the parking meter” course at the Island beaches. There must be no parking meters in Ohio and Kentucky, I can’t rationalize any other reasons as to why folks can’t seem to slip some coins in a simple slot. I’m ten people deep in line and the situation goes a little something like this. “How much does it cost? Do you know how much it costs? No, I don’t know how much it costs, its’ my first time here too. What space are we in? I said, what space are we in? Well go back and check, we have to enter in what space we were in. Yes, I’m serious. I know its hot, just go get the space number. It doesn’t take debit cards? What do you mean it doesn’t take debit cards? Do you have cash? How much does it cost? Do you know how much it costs? I put in five dollars -- that gets us 10 hours.” Yup, the only thing you forgot to pack into the mini van was a little common sense folks.

Fifteen minutes later, after I have proven that it can indeed take less than 30 seconds to pay the meter (I am the master!), I am finally sinking my toes in the sand. But, how can I relax with a plethora of people watching before me. Now that the meter-illiterate family has settled on the beach with their two tents, four coolers, and folding chairs from an era when Bo Derek was actually a 10, it’s picture time. This is when the patriarch of the family insists that the entire family gather in front of the ocean for a family portrait. Well that’s nice, you may think.

Unless … you happen to be the unsuspecting local who is asked to take the picture. She kindly obliged, put down her book, and waited for 90 seconds while the family decided who should stand where. Papa passed off the camera to the local, but not before clearly illustrating how to take the picture. Because the button you press hasn’t been on the top right of the camera for oh say, 100 years.

Ay, yi, yi … all this entertainment for only 50 cents an hour? Now I am deciding if in addition to teaching the meter class, if I should expand the franchise and write a primer on how to go to the beach.

Ladies, a little bit of advice. If in a blind panic you think you've lost your child in the ocean, only to find that in fact he's just hidden between your two stomachs – skip the two-piece swimsuit. I believe Jeff Foxworthy said it best, “Go ahead and bring the spare tire to the beach but leave it in the car.” I’m all for a positive body image. But, I am also quite positive that if the scale is tipping two-hundy, a modest one-piece is for you.

Sea gulls are still utterly disgusting. This hasn’t changed since I dedicated an entire column to the topic last year. Sea gulls poop where they eat. So, when you lay with Cheetos between your toes, calling to the sea gulls to take a bite, just know that if they nibble, you’ll be soon running to the water to wash off their feces. Hey, it’s your call “cheese toes.”

As the beach expands at low tide, this means you can leave a little room between you and the nearest beach-goer. For example, if I am sitting minding my own business, with a 20 foot radius of space around me, you don’t have to erect your tent within 12 inches of my chair. More specifically, when you have to move my flip flops (why are you even touching my flip flops?), to pound in your tent stakes, you are a little close. When I am now in the shade, of your tent, you are definitely too close for my comfort. And I have had it.

I look over my left shoulder just to be certain I’m not day-dreaming. Nope, you have indeed invaded my personal space. So, I stand, brush off the sand, gather my bag to move and suddenly -- lightbulb! You realize I exist and as you lamely mutter an apology, I say …

“No, no, it’s ok,” with a smirk, disguised behind a sweet smile, “You’ve given me the perfect topic for my next newspaper column. Enjoy your stay.”

How do I get syndicated in Ohio?

Friday, July 01, 2011

A Line in the Sand: Marriage Schmarriage

Ok, this month I may have gotten myself into a little trouble. But, I tried my best to explain my way out of it. CB/CH2 tackles marriage: is it an outdated instituion? I say yes and Frank disagrees (in fact he lumps me in a pile of the eroding moral compass of the country.)

Marriage is outdated. You can’t deny that there is something wrong with an institution that carries a more than 50% failure rate. If a high school graduated less than 50% of their students, they would be shut down. If 50% of cars spontaneously crashed and burned, the industry would be out of business.

The institution of marriage needs a makeover (especially for elected officials ). An extreme – bring out the industrial strength spackle and the back-ho – makeover.

Marriage is no longer your grandparent’s marriage. Folks are meeting – and falling in love with – their betrothed on the internet, for crying out loud. Women choose to work. Women choose not to have children. Men choose to stay home with their children. Men love other men. The times they are a changin’…

Oh, the allure of happily-ever after is so enticing. I’m sure the cave-women were all a tizzy when their intended would drag them by the hair, back to their lair, post ceremony. But, that had to end. And so too must our outdated expectations for what marriage is.

Listen, I’ve been down the marriage path. Heck, I even have a ‘left the guy at the altar a few months pre-wedding’ episode under my belt. It hasn’t worked for me. After years of trying to figure out why, I come up with only one answer. Because I was trying to make “me” (oh right, and “him”) fit my perception of what marriage should be. My perception was wrong. Every marriage is different. Because, let’s face it, every person is different. Marriage is not a fairytale. It is work. A labor of love.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to believe in love everlasting. I love, love. After all, when I was little, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to watch Lady Diana marry Prince Charles. And, when I was 37, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to watch Kate marry Prince William.

Back when plaid pants were fashion du jour, I used to sit in my childhood bedroom (that coincidentally donned plaid wallpaper), with my Fisher Price push-button phone, flipping through the JCPenney’s catalog bridal pages, planning weddings for fake couples, right down to the hideous teal satin dresses that their 14 attendants would wear. One could argue that planning a wedding was actually more alluring to me than getting married.

You can only crash and burn so many times before you get smart. And so I did. I decided that I would never get married again, which by the way is extremely easy when you are dating dopes. Knowing that my expectations are extremely high I modestly called a moratorium on marriage. And I stopped looking for perfect.

And then … wouldn’t you know it. Girl meets boy. Girl and boy fall in love. Boy pops the question. Girl says, “yes,” and scoffs at all of the “when are you getting married” inquiries, because this time she is much wiser, ten years wiser, in fact.

“We’re in no hurry,” she says. (She is me, by the way.)

And then it hits me (she). Do people get married because other people tell them that they should? I mean these ‘other people’ are downright relentless. No matter how many times you say, “I don’t know,” they come up with seven different ways to ask the same question.

You are, in essence, forced to have a wedding -- and were probably forced to get engaged in the first place. Just because people (who are these people anyway?) think that 1) your life is their business and 2) that marriage is the “natural next step.” Well, I’m here to tell you that is utter nonsense! And likely a direct contributor to the fact that 50% of marriages fail. For argument’s sake, it may also be possible that the 50% who are still married remain so because they think they have to! Next thing you know, those people also have three kids (because they should), a dog (because kids need a dog), and a mortgage (because buying is so much wiser than renting) - and they are trapped and downright miserable.

I realize here that I am arguing against the institution of marriage. And there is some irony in the fact that I recently responded in the affirmative to a proposal. But let’s be clear, my argument is against the outdated-irrelevant-archaic institution of the last century that for some reason we’ve come to accept. Let’s visit the 21st century shall we?

It is 2011. Life is hard. The world is scary. (The world with in-laws is twice as scary.) The rules are different. There are no guarantees. You should make your own decisions. And you cannot expect to live in bliss without work. Hard work. Being married is the hardest job anyone will ever have.

This girl – and her boy – included.