Monday, July 4, 2011

Savannah: My Beautiful Whrilwind, Part 3

Spending a Moment in Paula Deen's Studio Kitchen


After falling asleep at almost 3am from all the day's events continually replaying in my head, Baby Bodhi decided it was time to wake up and nurse at 6am.  That stung a little bit, as I've always been a big fan of sleep and Baby Bodhi has always slept 10-12 hours a night.

We had a 9:45 meeting call and boarded the Old Town Trolley Tour.  Our guide was hilarious and was a big Paula Deen fan (most people in Savannah are).  It was a great tour that made me really appreciate the history of Savannah.  Many of the homes and buildings were build in the 17-1800s and the residents have gone to great lengths to keep them in beautiful, restored condition.  We passed the home of the founder of the Girl Scouts.  We passed the home of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  We passed the place where Forrest Gump said, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get."

Then we came up to Savannah's must beautiful Catholic church and were about to get off the bus for a tour.  Unfortunately it was closed for mass, but a second tour bus had pulled up in front of us.  To my wonderful surprise, The Philly Ladies began to exit the trolley!

Coleen McKrea Katz at Uncle Bubba's
I suddenly started seeing the gorgeous faces of the women who had shared so many wonderful memories with me over the last year on the RWOP website.  I saw Claudia Signal-Leon, the first person to tell me I was going to be a finalist...long before it actually happened.  I saw Donna Aveni and her husband Keith, with their beautiful smiles and open arms.  Screams of joy and of course, more tears started to appear.  I was holding my own, until I saw Coleen McKrea Katz.  Coleen is someone who has been a great cheerleader, a tireless supporter and a fierce competitor on the RWOP website.  She is always the first to make wonderful comments on our recipes, the first to lend a helping hand to newcomers on the website and the first to congratulate the winners.  She is a rock.  When I saw her I just wrapped my arms around her, squeezed as hard as I could (with what little strength I had left) and let the tears flow once again.

I was sick of crying.  Even thought these were all tears of joy, the emotion was draining.  My friend Josee and I decided at that point that we were done with the tears.  We decided to hold each other up for the rest of the day, even if it meant we had to slap each other in the face!

Uncle Bubba's
Since we were all starving, lunch at Uncle Bubba's, Paula Deen's younger brother was next.  They had prepared a delicious lunch of more incredible Southern food for us.  We had deep fried shrimp, collard greens, pulled pork and grits.  It was salty, sassy, southern goodness!  I wasn't expecting the Philly Ladies to be at our luncheon, but it was SO nice to be able to spend some more time with them and really get a chance to interact with these women that I knew so well, but had never seen face to face.
Lunch spread at Uncle Bubba's

Paula Deen showed up as soon as we were finishing up our lunch for an autograph signing and photo opportunity session.  She and Bubba were both so gracious and patient.  Every single woman had a chance to quickly chat with them, get a photo and whatever items they wanted signed.  I had her sign my new RWOP apron, a book and an RWOP poster.  Being the emotional train wreck that I still was, I couldn't really talk to her still.  I did manage to look her in the eyes and comment on how pretty she looked on the cover of her book, but that was it.  She told Bubba about my Hoopfinity nickname and all I could do was give a stupid look, smile and giggle.  I felt like the stupid hyena from the Lion King, Ed, giggling stupidly with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.  Would this torture ever end?  There were so many wonderful things I REALLY needed to tell her!  I wanted to say how much I appreciated her being the pioneer for normal women like us in the cooking world.  I wanted to tell her that without her genuine and altruistic personality, the RWOP website would have NEVER blossomed into what it is today.  SHE is the one who attracted all the women on the website who are just as beautiful, genuine and altruistic as she is. It would NEVER be what it is without her.  Instead, she got Ed.  A goofy, cross-eyed, giggling, crybaby mute. We ended the luncheon with some more photos and boarded our vans for what would now become one of the highlights of my trip, a private tour of Paula's PERSONAL home, and her studio kitchen.

Uncle Bubba, the giggling, goofy mute and Paula Deen

A Visit to Paula's
We approached the home in our vans and opened the gate into the driveway.  We were VERY strictly warned that there were to be NO cameras, NO cell phones, NO video cameras.  If they saw one, we would ALL be asked to leave immediately.  This was her personal residence and she deserved some privacy.  We all very humbly agreed.  

We entered into the front door and were instantly greeted by a large, Greek stone bust and a gorgeous mirrored sculpture hanging on the wall.  Behind the wall was the main living area with 6-8 hanging chandeliers, cabinets with refrigerators, freezers for ice cubes and drinks.  It was an amazing entertaining area.

RWOP Finalists and Philly ladies share a moment together
Off the main room was the one room that I REALLY wanted to see.  Her dish room.  This room was FULL of serving platters, dishware, cookie jars and utensils that Paula had been collecting for years.  It was about 10 feet high and about 20 feet deep.  There was a ladder in the room to reach some of the dishes that were stored all the way up to the ceiling.  My favorite pieces were the Wonder Woman and Elvis cookie jars.  This was a woman after my own heart.

Next it was off to the kitchen.  I would expect nothing less from Paula, but I instantly knew that this was the place where everyone in the house spent most of their time.  The main piece in the kitchen was a HUGE dining table, about 15-20 feet long, made of dark, distressed wood with about 12-14 chairs to match.  There were WOLF ovens, 6-8 burner stoves, a professional-grade deep fryer (full of oil for frying) and sign that read, "No Bitchin' in Paula's Kitchen!"  I immediately wanted to fire up the stove and start cooking.

We wandered off to the laundry room next and passed through a hallway with real stuffed quail and roosters.  Feathers and all!  Now, if there's one room in my house that I DON'T want people to see, it's my laundry room.  Paula's however, was one of my favorite rooms in the house.  The cabinetry was painted a subtle sage green and was lightly sanded to make it look very vintage and distressed.  From the ceiling hung an old bamboo laundry basket, turned upside down and fitted with a lighting fixture to create an adorable lamp.  More stuffed roosters and birds donned the shelves and made for a light, funny and cheery atmosphere.  Kind of like Paula!
Approaching Paula's Studio Home

This tour was just getting better and better.  Paula popped her head in for just a minute to say hello. She was rushing off to the store for some birthday gifts for her son.  She jumped into her Mercedes and drove off with her friend.  No big deal, just my new buddy Paula Deen.  We're hanging out at her house while she shops. OH MY GOD!

We next walked into the TV or theatre room with gigantic couches and a screen that lowered from the ceiling.  In the back was her Emmy award, locked in a glass case and on the wall was her "Wall of Fame," a collage of photos of her with some of her other favorite celebrities and TV personalities:  Nancy Grace, Kathy Griffin and Bobby Flay (one of my favorites) just to name a few.

We then walked to the left wing of the home.  We first got a glimpse of her grandson's guest room, an adorable little place with lots of toys, superhero costumes, games and photos of her little guy.  You can tell she is the typical, loving and adoring grandma that every little boy deserves.

So, now we went over to her closet...and hold on to your seats ladies, I just about fell over when I saw this.  First off, its about the size of my living room.  Next, she has a mechanical dry cleaner's clothing rack that is color-coordinated and spins around one side of the room and up around the ceiling for maximum space usage.  We saw her shoes (hundreds of them, mostly flats), her hats and visors, her pajamas and her jewelry.  I couldn't believe that I was actually standing in Paula Deen's personal closet.  NO, I didn't cry, but I did have to pick my jaw up off of the floor!  

Back Yard Kitchen at Paula's Studio Home
Attached to the closet was a hair and make-up salon with a professional chair, a large mirror and a television on the wall.  The following room was her bathroom that again, was the size of my living room, with a beautiful, elegant sofa, a huge television on the wall and a gorgeous array of fabulously feminine decor.  I could tell that this was one of her favorite rooms.  I could picture her waking up, getting out of bed and sipping her coffee in this room as she read the newspaper and waited for her hair and make-up gang to come over and start her day.  I wanted to live in this room.

Her bedroom, yes, Paula Deen's bedroom, was last.  It was so beautiful, yet so down to earth and normal (just like most of the home).  My favorite parts of this room were: 1) the mirror over the fireplace that was part of the entrance of a French building. It was brought over to her from Paris; and 2)  the little stairs that led up to her bed for her doggies.
We ventured out to the back yard that had a dark bottom pool with water slides for the kiddos, fountains and an incredible outdoor kitchen for barbeques.  Her home is right on the Savannah river that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean, so the shore of her back yard was full of barnacles and little soft-shell crabs running across the sand.  Her boat dock had an AWESOME little boat house that looked exactly like the inside of a boat cabin when you entered.  Dark wood, lots of little marine-theme knick-knacks, a small but very functional and cute kitchen and bed.  This was one of five guest houses that the compound contained.

We walked back up the side of the house and passed through her garden.  She was growing peppers, tomatoes, herbs, flowers and yes, CHICKENS!  She had five hens and I leaned down and had a nice little clucking conversation with them.  They were very pretty and friendly.  I felt as if I was among my little lady friends and I understood every word they said.  They were a very happy little bunch of ladies.  Baby Bodhi would have loved them.  My next house WILL have chickens in the back yard.

Back Patio of Paula's Studio Home
We walked past the garage which had another apartment style guest house on the second floor.  We made our way back to the front of the house where we toured one of two guest cottages.  Kathy Griffin had just left from a little stay with buddy Paula Deen and she enjoyed the beautiful king size bed, gorgeous European style decor and fabulous little kitchen.

The tour was coming to a close, and the only thing we hadn't seen was her husband, Michael's garage.  Apparently, the space was off limits, but its rumored that a 1967 GTO Judge sits in the garage and the guest house above is converted in to the ultimate "man cave."  I'm sorry we missed it.

We were then carted off to the studio home, about 1/2 mile down the street.  This house was where she originally lived and filmed all of her shows.  As the filming season got longer and longer and the staff got bigger and bigger, living in the house became quite an inconvenience for her, as she was always having to avoid production crew equipment, cameras and wires.  So, she built the gigantic and beautiful home down the street.  I don't blame her.

We were now on a tight time schedule, so we only got to view the indoor and outdoor kitchen in this home, but as soon as we walked in, there it was; the set for her show.  It looked bigger in person and the fireplace behind that I was so looking forward to seeing was absolutely massive.  We all got our own photo taken behind the counter and had just a few minutes to goof around and get some silly group photos.  We were quickly shooed back into the vans and left in a flurry.  I could not believe what had just happened.
RWOP finalists in Paula's Studio Kitchen

We came back and had some time at the hotel to decompress.  Baby Bodhi had been having a rough day with daddy.  I nursed him a bit and got him back to being himself, then I got ready and met everyone downstairs for dinner at Cha Bella.  
This place was a farm-to-table place that had wonderful mixed berry Mojitos.  I could have sucked down five of those, but one of them left me a little tipsy, so I held off with one.
I had a delicious appetizer of clams, sausage and shrimp scampi.  I could have eaten that for my entree, but soon out came organic beef short-ribs and gnocchi, followed by a quaint little pecan torte.  We were all very relaxed, we chatted about our cook-off experiences and we took lots of photos and shared lots of memories.  It was a very calm, relaxing night that I think we all needed.

The Hoop family waiting for dinner at Cha Bella
I opted not to go to the pajama party that ensued with the Philly Ladies, I really wanted to get back to make sure Baby Bodhi got off to sleep after his rough day.  Daddy had JUST put him to sleep when I got there, and I didn't hesitate to join him.  I really needed the rest.

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