Dangerous conditions have lifeguards on high alert during “Beat the Heat” Sprint Triathlon

Dangerous conditions have lifeguards on high alert during “Beat the Heat” Sprint Triathlon

 

Journal entry: Nov. 10, 2013 – Daytona Beach, FL

An hour before sunrise the sound from the parking lot was of an angry ocean – waves crashing, wind screaming – mother nature roaring its displeasure at the coming of the sun.

Karla was here to compete in her first sprint triathlon and the kids and I were here to cheer her on.

As the competitors gathered their gear, sand whipped across the parking lot, stinging the right side of my neck and biting my cheek.

A rumbling sound drew my attention to the beach. Somewhere close, still hidden behind a veil of darkness, lurked the churning ocean. I caught a shimmer of moonlight dancing atop an enormous white-capped wave.

When I think of that morning I think of that wave, at the peak of its power, cresting above a sand bar before racing out of view and smashing onto the beach. The violent crash still brings a shudder of fear as I think, “How are they going to swim in these conditions?”

The more experienced racers had gathered in small groups and were talking in hushed, excited voices. “It looks bad,” they agreed.

We mulled about as race organizers gathered away from the water’s edge, debating whether they should cancel the 400 meter swim and alter the race. Then in then end, it was decided that the event would continue and those who wanted too test their mettle could race.

The athletes were happy. This was a sanctioned event with prize money for the winners. A season-long points race hung in the balance.

Sunrise was spectacular, its deep hue’s of orange and pink and purple filling the sky. Then the whistle blew and the athletes ran into the sea.

And by all accounts the struggle during the swim was intense and personal and the fight with the waves and the current was very real.

The dangerous conditions had lifeguards on high alert, as they patrolled in well rehearsed unison, guiding weaker swimmers and encircling the pack until the last athlete was safely back to shore.

32 participants, including Karla, received notice: 
INCOMPLETE COURSE DUE TO SWIM PORTION HAVING TO BE HALTED 
BY DIRECTION OF BEACH PATROL
201 Karla        Katon              1:54:33 1:01:03    2:41   40:06

Despite having been halted during their swim, all emerged victorious. Maybe not in numbers, but in self-discovery, as each had pushed themselves to the limit.

After catching her breathe from her swim, Karla gave the girls a quick hug and hurried into the transition area to gather her bike and continue her race.

For me the bike and run events were almost an afterthought, as the race was won the moment everyone emerged safely from the sea.

Official Race Results

Photographs by Chris Katon

Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

 

“During my training workshops about creating a Hospitality Culture I always always share my Walt Disney World Story to illustrate how engaged customer experiences result in Raving Fans.” – Chris Katon, Dine Write Hospitality

 

When the kids were young we made it our tradition to take a yearly vacation to Walt Disney World.

For two years in a row we had stayed inside the resort at Port Orleans and were afforded the royal treatment. About a month before leaving on our now third annual family vacation, that a friend-of-a-friend offered us his condo in Orlando.

“It’s a great place, located about 10 minutes outside the gate,” he said. “It’ll save you a bunch of money that you can spend on the kids.”

And so for about a month I was a hero. My CPA wife was excited about all the money we would be saving. I was simply exhausted after a long season and was looking forward to margarita’s by the pool.

The five hour drive from our home in Bluffton, SC was spent singing songs and eating snacks and playing the license plate game.

A busy tourist season had just a month earlier smashed headlong into the 2008 Banking Crisis and the start of the Recession. That, on top of the stress from her most recent Quarter Close had been weighing heavily on Karla.

We arrived at the condo in Orlando ready to relax.

I was still holding an armload of suitcases when chaos ensued.

“There is a bug in the sink,” squeeled Amanda. “This bed looks slept in,” said Karla. “I’m not moving,” said Sarah.

A quick look around and the bathroom was filthy, there were cobwebs on the windowsill and the sheets looked slept in. I’m not going to lie, we were completely grossed out. Amanda wouldn’t sit on the toilet. Sarah started crying.

“Grab your bags, we’re outta here,” I said. Karla looked at me sideways, knowing I was winging it and didn’t have a plan.

But I did, my plan was simple: We would throw ourselves at the mercy of the staff at Walt Disney World and trust that they would take care of us.

Karla was not impressed. She thought it would be too expensive to stay inside the resort and I didn’t think we could afford not to. I arrived at the front gate and met John from Arkansas.

“How ya’ll doin’ this fine day,” he said.

“Well, actually…” And so it was that I gushed our story of a family vacation gone wrong and shared our plight. I held my breathe for a minute waiting to learn how our fate would unfold.

He simply said, “Welcome Home!”

Welcome home? – Karla was stunned. Heck, I was stunned.

But John from Arkansas was as sincere as could be. He asked for my name and reached forward and shook my hand. “Ya’ll just drive up ahead about a mile to Registration, my friends will be waiting to take good care of you.”

I gave a silent fist pump,”I knew I could count on Disney,” I said.

The Assistant Reservation Manager spotted me with eye contact from across a crowded room and met us 10 feet from the door. Extending her hand and smiling warmly Emily from Texas said, “We’re so excited to have you back at Walt Disney World. Please follow me and we’ll take great care of you.”

That bottomless pit feeling of ruining your family vacation by trying to save you a few bucks was quickly fading into distant memory. And then Emily from Texas turned our experience from Good to Great and transformed me into a Raving Fan.

“I’m pulling up your reservation history on the computer and I see that you enjoyed your last stay at Port Orleans Riverside, is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Karla said. “We tried the French Quarter our first year, but I think Riverside has more activities for the kids.”

“It’s settled then,” Emily from Texas said. “I’m upgrading you to a suite in the same location for the same price that you paid last year.”

Neither Karla or I could believe it.

I’d thought we were going to be begging for a room. Karla thought that they would see we were desperate and charge us through the roof. Instead we were getting upgraded for the same price as we paid last year? Seriously?

That my friends, is Raving Fan Hospitality!

I have learned first hand about that warm, peaceful feeling when a complete stranger goes above and beyond to ensure that my average guest experience is elevated into Return of Guest Service.

“Welcome Home,” such a simple, warm, genuine, feel good response and the #1 reason that I’ll never consider staying off property at Walt Disney World again.

A Taste of Gullah Culture

A Taste of Gullah Culture

 

“A TASTE OF GULLAH CULTURE”
BY CHRIS KATON | PHOTO BY ROB KAUFMAN

Published HILTON HEAD MONTHLY | 29 JANUARY 2014

 

World famous Lowcountry cuisine consists of everything fresh and local
In the Gullah culture, storytellers have the important function of reciting and remembering genealogy and historical information for their village.

These islanders, former slaves from the West African coastal countries of Senegal and Sierra Leone, have inhabited the Sea Islands for generations, and their unique traditions remain largely intact. Equally important to local culture are the recipes they preserved.

“Growing up Gullah means that you learn to make do with what you’ve got,” said chef David Young, owner of Roastfish & Cornbread restaurant on Hilton Head Island.
Young is a locally famous island ambassador and institution to Gullah cooking. He invited us into his kitchen to experience the flavors of the Lowcountry.

On the morning of our visit a delivery from a local farmer brings a bounty of fresh vegetables including collard greens, celery, parsnip, onions and carrots. Minutes later, the fish truck arrives. Today’s fresh catch is red fish and Young is all smiles.

“Traditional Gullah cooking is very vegetarian based, with lots of fresh vegetables, fish and shellfish Anything that’s local,” he said. “We were raised to live off the land, so we planted our vegetables and fished our waters and caught our shrimp and did the best we could with what we had.”

On the day of our visit, Young featured shrimp and grits with sides of collard greens, sweet potato cornbread and red rice that looked, smelled and tasted like a slice of heaven.

Other house favorites include heirloom tomato salad, roasted portabella mushrooms and shrimp gumbo, which includes local shrimp, diced peppers and stewed okra. Native treats include fruit cobbler, homemade meringues and sweet potato cheesecake pie.

Gullah-style grits are a staple in Young’s kitchen as a quick, easy and versatile side dish. In his recipe, Young uses four cups of water, half cup of butter, one cup of stone ground grits, half teaspoon of black pepper and half teaspoon of garlic.

The new Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s is located at 840 William Hilton Parkway in the Atrium Building on Hilton Head Island. Scott Rhodan is an outland Gullah, raised in Ridgeland. Her late father Nathaniel Scott was a skilled farmer. Her mother Earline is a master chef, perfecting recipes handed down from generation to generation. Scott-Rhodan uses those same recipies in her popular restaurant today.

“I often serve them Gullah-style with sautéed shrimp and onions, fresh tomato’s and basil,” Young said. “I also like to pair them with gumbo, bean dishes and fresh vegetables.”

Young is locally famous for his veganstyle Lowcountry red rice, which he serves with collard greens and ovenroasted fish “Slow roasting is a gentle cooking method that guarantees the fish remains moist and tender,” Young said.

He said the most versatile ingredient in his kitchen is homemade vegetable stock. He recommends simmering a hearty mixture of carrots, parsnips, leeks, onion, celery, mushroom, garlic and assorted herbs. The user-friendly stock is then added to flavor vegetarian style soups, stews, bean dishes and rice.

“My goal is to cook it real slow, so that I draw all of the flavor out of the vegetables,” he said.

Hilton Head Island native Elnora Aiken is chairperson of the 18th Annual “Taste of Gullah” to be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1 at the Arts Center.

Aiken’s favorite local dish is Conch Stew, with includes meat from the shellfish cooked with a ham hock and served over white rice. Some people serve the dish with a side of fresh collard greens.

“Either way you serve it, it tastes real good,” she said.

Visitors to the event should try her family recipe for Hoppin’ John, which is served with red field peas and rice. “It’s red in the package and after it’s combined with the rice some people put in a hog jowl or ham neck bone combined all in one pot,” she said.

Other local favorites to be featured are shrimp and okra gumbo, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, oysters and grits and stewed crab. “For us it’s a breakfast meal or dinner meal, depending on your mood,” she said.

Stewed crab and grits include the meat of crab, fried with bacon, then layered with gravy. “Today some people put green peppers in it, but back in the day it was only onion, salt and pepper,” she said.

We discussed the importance of oysters on local culture.

“My mother made a living out of opening oysters at the Oyster House,” Ms. Aiken said. “I remember the men would go out and pick the oysters and the ladies would be back in the oyster house opening them up, then we’d go home and make oysters and grits.”

Her mother’s recipe was fried oysters and rice with onions, bell pepper, celery and seasoning. A traditional Gullah dessert is bread pudding.

“As time passed on people used different flavors but traditionally we used peaches and sugar and real cream and butter,” she said.

Across the island, visitors and residents alike can enjoy homemade oldfashioned pound cakes including “Plucker up Lemon Delight” and “Butter Pecan — Coconut” courtesy of Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s.

“My father was a skilled farmer who was rich in something that money could not buy — the cultural heritage that was passed along from generation to generation,” said chef Dye Scott-Rhodan. “One of the skills he mastered was farming the fields My mom added perfection by preparing the dishes with recipes she got from her mother and grandmother and their mothers. That was passed to my sisters and I.”

Popular menu items include the shrimp burger, crab cakes, whole fried catfish and Lowcountry Boil of shrimp, seasoned with onion, peppers, country sausage, taters and special seasoning. A favorite dish is Grandma’s Pork Chop, served fried or soaked in whiskey sautéed onions with homemade butter sugarcane sauce.

Chef Dye Scott-Rhodan is proud of the rich tradition of the Gullah culture and is doing her best to keep the flavors of the Lowcountry alive. With recipes passed down through generations, she uses only the freshest ingredients from the land and sea.

Feature: For the Family – Hilton Head Island, SC

Feature: For the Family – Hilton Head Island, SC

HILTON HEAD MONTHLY MAGAZINE

“CITY GUIDE ISSUE” – SEPTEMBER 2013)

 

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC –

Blessed with natural beauty, white sandy beaches and temperate climate, Hilton Head Island has earned a reputation as one of the most family friendly vacation destinations in the United States.

At the top of many must visit lists is a climb to the summit of the iconic lighthouse in Harbourtown.

Visitors will learn about the island’s rich natural history and are rewarded for their climb with spectacular views of Harbourtown Golf Links, Harbourtown Yacht Basin and Calibogue Sound.

Active families enjoy eco-kayak or stand-up paddle boarding tours through salt marsh estuaries, where naturalists and photographers have frequent sightings of alligators, bottlenose dolphin, manatee, bald eagles, hawks and osprey.

img_4654Thrill seekers will enjoy a visit to Zip Line Hilton Head for an adventuresome canopy tour. Dolphin sightseeing tours, sailing trips, parasailing, waterskiing and tubing are especially popular.

A custom pirate ship is outfitted for a pirate adventure tour. Sport fishing charters, night shark trips and a catamaran sunset cruise are also available.

A boat trip to Daufuskie Island offers a glimpse of what other sea islands were like before bridges and causeways opened them to development. Most native residents of the island are descendants of freed slaves, who have made their living oystering and fishing for decades.

Family-oriented singer, songwriter Gregg Russell can be found performing beneath the famous Liberty Tree six nights per week throughout the summer season.

At Lawton Stables a guided trail ride through the scenic Sea Pines Forest Preserve is offered. Young children will treasure a visit with Callie, the island’s pet deer.

IMG_4489A visit to Coligny Beach is an open invitation for people watching, where the flip-flop-tapping rhythm of steel drums and Jimmy Buffet songs sets a casual mood.

Jennifer Moscar of Atlanta, who is formerly of Bluffton, took photographs of chocolate ice cream mustaches on her two young children as they splashed and danced through the water spouts in the Coligny Beach Fountains.

Thousands of family’s annually enjoy Harbourfest at Shelter Cove, where Shannon Tanner has entertained audiences for the past 25 years. Live entertainment, bouncy houses, food, arts and crafts, and evening fireworks display are featured.

For the Freeland family of Rochester, New York, an afternoon at Islander Beach was an opportunity to construct an elaborate sand castle of a giant alligator, drawing admiration from a family of four on Fat Tire bicycles out for an evening ride along the shore.

OLD TOWN KAYAK TOUR 952013Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which includes more than 4,000 acres of salt marsh estuary and small islands.

Many families also enjoy championship caliber golf, tennis, cycling and miniature golf. Others relax during a game of bocce or kite flying. In addition, Sandbox Children’s Museum, a video arcade, bowling alley and several movie theatres are also available.

Did you like this story? Follow me at dinewrite.org

Feature: Dark Matter Coffee – Chicago, IL

“I decided pretty early on that if I was going to make it, I’d need to travel to the source to see and understand all the work that goes into making one cup of espresso.” – Jesse Diaz, founder @DarkMatterCoffee

TIA-article-DarkMatter

(Published for Camel.com, Taste It All Project, August 2013)

The Moscow Mule and other craft cocktail phenomenon

The Moscow Mule and other craft cocktail phenomenon

Bluffton, SC – Spring has sprung in the south, where chef’s and restaurateurs are rolling out new beverage menu’s in anticipation of a busy summer season.

Here in the Lowcountry I’m fortunate to have upwards of 1,000 restaurants within a half hour drive of my house, where competition is fierce for attracting a regular customer base.

Is your business looking for a boost?  The growing trend in craft cocktails and culinary inspired beverage lists has guests at some of the area’s most popular restaurants coming back for more.

If you haven’t noticed, Homemade Bitters, Fresh-made Everything, Moscow Mule Parties, Ladies Night’s with complimentary Champagne and Prohibition Era Cocktail Lists are all the rage.

If you’re up for a road trip – or simply craving a good drink, check out:

  • Bluffton: Bluffton Room (ask for Bob), NEO and Pour Richard’s.
  • Hilton Head Island: Lucky Rooster, Wise Guys and Ocean Lounge
  • Savannah: Chive, Local 1110 and Circa 1875
  • Beaufort: Breakwater, Luther’s and Lowcountry Produce

Cheers! … and don’t forget to tell them Chris sent you!

I learned to Salsa Dance on Hilton Head Island

Learning to Salsa Dance with fitness dance instructor Alyssa Petro (Photo by Chris Katon)

Learning to Salsa Dance with fitness dance instructor Alyssa Petro (Photo by Chris Katon)

Hilton Head Island, SC – You’re oceanfront at Daniel’s nightclub with professional dance instructor Alyssa Petro learning how to salsa dance.

The energy in the room has a sexy, silky feeling that makes your shoulders rock back and forth and head sway side-to-side. Your view from the dance floor is of flashing lights synchronized to the rhythm of the Latin beat.

Without thinking, you’re body falls into step with the music – sliding forward, then back and side-to-side. Alyssa shows us how to count to the beat, then step together.

“We just do basic steps because there tends to be a new group of people every week,” Alyssa said. “There’s just something that comes alive when I hear that music. To me it’s just lively and happy and it makes me feel amazing.”

Making memories is what vacation is all about. When’s the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

For more information, visit http://spicefitnessdance.tumblr.com

Local restaurant hosts benefit for Napa earthquake relief

Bluffton, SC – They’ll be popping corks on some good juice in Bluffton tomorrow night when Hogshead Kitchen and Wine Bar hosts a farm and sea-to-table wine and food pairing dinner with Cakebread Vineyards.

The famed winery is one of the many Bay Area vintners affected when a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck just six miles southwest of Napa California’s famed wine country on August 24, 2014.

It was the strongest earthquake to strike the Bay Area in 25 years and has caused an estimated $x in damages to the Napa community.

Executive Chef/ Owner John Pashek is locally known for creating twists on contemporary Southern cuisine. Here’s a sneak peek at his casual, yet upscale pairings menu written special for tomorrow nights event:

Reception: 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (Napa) paired with Crispy May River Oyster with Lavendar Honey, “Sugar Beet” Tuna Tartare with Bruleed Pineapple

2012 Chardonnay (Napa) paired with Grilled Lobster Tail with Orange & Chili Marmalade and Gorgonzola Beignets;

2012 Pinot Noir (Two Creeks Vineyards, Anderson Valley) paired with Crispy Pork Belly with Buttered Turnips, Greens, Roasted Pistachios and Blueberry Gastrique;

2010 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain) paired with coffee-crusted New York Strip Loin with Buttered Leeks, Truffled Mushroom Risotto and Bing Cherry Demi Glace;

2012 Zinfandel (Red Hills) Warm Fudge Brownie with Double Chocolate Ice Cream and White Chocolate-pecan Caramel.

“There is Magic in Old Town” – at 10th Annual Historic Bluffton Art and Seafood Festival

photo

10th Annual Historic Bluffton Art & Seafood Festival (Photo by Chris Katon)

Bluffton, SC – I spent the better part of Sunday immersing myself in the sites and sounds of the 10th Annual Bluffton Art and Seafood Festival and one things for certain, this once sleepy artist community is exploding with energy.

“There is magic in Old Town,” said Bluffton resident Ed McCullough. “Great things are happening here.”

We were talking about two renovation projects that he’s involved in, along with the exploding growth of the Bluffton Promenade.

McCullough, who is founder of the Bluffton Farmers Market, couldn’t be happier about the positive vibe of the day.

Both sides of Calhoun Street were lined with 100 vendor booths of artists from across the South East showcasing beautiful paintings, photography and other original art.

Two dozen local restaurants including Red Fish, Mulberry Street Trattoria and Joe Loves Lobster Rolls were on-hand to cater the event.

Bluffton Middle School Junior Naturalists manned touch tanks with Taco the Turtle, horseshoe crabs and fiddler crabs to share information about Low Country marine life.

Collage Illusion is an award-winning technique of collage art on glass by artist Carl Crawford of Columbia, SC. Crawford uses a mixed media style to create an illusion of an oil painting. The technique has earned him numerous national awards, including Most Creative for the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.