Nov 15, 2020by tracey Comments

We’re nine months into this nightmare.  Nine claustrophobic, sad months, if you’ve been doing what you’re supposed to – wearing a mask, limiting your exposure to people and places.

And if you’re smart you’ve done what the High Priestess of Cooking, Ina Garten has done, you don’t leave your house.

I’ve been an Ina Garten fan for years. In fact, I go far enough back that I remember when she still owned The Barefoot Contessa food store in East Hampton.

It is now a Theory shop. But in its day, it was where you could find all the yummy comfort food staples Ina has become so well known for.

My daughter, Taylor, told me this morning she fell in love with roasted carrots at The Barefoot Contessa. There were big chocolate chip cookies, crusty chicken breasts, soups, and wonderful side dishes- many of the irresistible things that now fill her eleven best-selling cookbooks.

So many of us own and use these books. She and her beloved husband, who has his own cookbook she wrote just for him, “Cooking for Jeffrey” are very well-known figures. People dress up like them on Halloween.

There is a man with a blog and on Instagram called @storeboughtisfine who is working his way through every single Ina recipe. His version of Julie and Julia.

Ina has had her own show on The Food Network for years. She even has ten of her playlists on Spotify.

But yesterday it dawned on me Ina is perhaps keeping many of us going and sane throughout this pandemic.

Staying at home. Cooking at home. Comfort foods, this is what we rely on each day. And who have we gone to for some succor, sweets, side dishes, and savories?  Ina.

I know I have been using many of her recipes.  But I didn’t really think about how others have been too. I’ve had a lot on my own plate, pardon the pun.

Then yesterday the Inaness of it all really sank in. I got a random text from my sister Wendy. It’s not random that she texts me, but out of the blue, she said, “Have you tried the butternut squash in Ina’s new book? So good!!!”

I responded, “No, but the girls are in the kitchen making her chocolate pudding pie. “

Wendy texted back that we had to try the apple pie bars.

Wendy and her two daughters are amazing bakers.  My niece, Willow, has been winning the Marin County Fair bake-off since she was five years old.  And she hasn’t lost since.  They know good baking and good recipes.

Wendy and I have discussed our mutual love for all things Ina in the past. But lately, having lost our father over the summer, baking and cooking have not been at the top of our discussion list.  It’s been a much sadder and more serious type of exchange.

But suddenly, Ina’s apple bars, butternut squash, and turkey roulade were lifting us out of the loss fog that we’d been in.

Lucy,  on her own, not knowing that Wendy and I had been chatting about Ina, came in my office, plunked herself on my daybed clutching a copy of Ina’s latest book “Comfort Food” (I read they rushed it out knowing people were in great need of comfort food at this time) and asked if we could go through the whole book together.

I stopped what I was doing. Lucy needed some serious comfort.

Months locked inside. Her junior year of college totally shredded, the daily news of COVID cases rising, and a discussion earlier in the day about whether she would get to return to school for spring term clearly rattled her enough she was seeking some way to self-soothe.  And going through Ina’s Comfort Food book with her mom was the way she chose to do it. So, recipe by recipe, we chilled out together.

An hour of looking at the flawless photos and the tantalizing yet simple ingredients for things like Spring Green Spaghetti Carbonara, Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip Cookies, Ultimate Tuna Melts, Chicken Pot Pie Soup, and Creamy Tomato Bisque with Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese Sandwiches lifted both our spirits.  And we made a list of all the things we were going to make and try from the book.

We had something to look forward to.  We picked out things for the holidays. Ina with her calm demeanor and inventory of recipes that please but don’t overwhelm transported us to a happier, safer place.

Lucy left the room feeling better.

That evening I got a text from Wendy about turkey roulade for Thanksgiving.  This is a hard Thanksgiving for many.  Big families are suddenly reduced to four or five around the table. This is Wendy’s first holiday without our dad. I didn’t spend Thanksgiving with him, but I knew what she was feeling and thinking.

This year none of us need a big turkey.  Her family is four; Mine is five.  Ina, saving another moment with a great substitute for the 16 pounder – Turkey Roulade.

That’s when it came to me,  Ina is getting us through this.  Through long days at home, through one more night of staying in and only having the TV and the fridge for amusement.

She’s getting us through holidays that will lose most of their festivities and many of their participants.

When you’re sick of working out at home, or homeschooling the kids, or dealing with death and new surges in disease, not getting to see your friends, and now the holidays reduced to few key players; who is there to make it all better? Ina Garten.

Ina feels like she was made for this gig. She’s totally dressed for it.  Her uniform of the blue oversized top hanging over comfy looking trousers is a slightly chicer version of what most of us are schlepping around in. But it’s total stay-at-home wear.  Her hair is simple, makeup barely visible.  She is not all decked out like say, Nigella Lawson, who would make you feel like the schlub so many of us have become.

You don’t feel like Ina is living some life you aren’t. She’s tucked inside her house with Jeffrey, eating roasted chicken and broccolini with cheddar.

Hey, we can do that too.

It’s not aspirational or inspirational. It’s doable and comfortable.  And that is exactly what we need at this moment.

When I decided to do this blog, I reached out to people via Instagram and Facebook and asked them what Ina meant to them and which of her recipes were they addicted to.

The responses were varied but very specific. People had their Ina Garten go-to’s. I was not off base she was and is helping people get through these tough times.

My friend Arthur Brooks, says his favorite book is her new one, Comfort Food because he loves the German Chocolate Cake.

My friend and exercise Guru of CorreBarreFit  Elisabeth Halfpapp loves her maple oatmeal scones.  OK, I’m totally not working out hard enough, if Lis can eat those scones and have the abs she does.

Shari Hershon who is a professional chef on her own, says Ina’s recipes are easy to follow, contain ingredients you can find in most stores and are foolproof.

She is so right. I love Ottolenghi cookbooks. But half the time you need access to a souk to find the things you need to make the dishes.

Brooke McMurray uses her angel food cake recipe and “no other.” It’s her husband’s favorite cake for his birthday.

In her down-to-earth, non-fussy way, Ina is a total guy magnet. And what woman is not jealous of the way Jeffery looks at her?

Lucy and I watched them hold hands one day at Williams Sonoma in Bridgehampton.  And he kissed her at the checkout counter, then and they drove off in a Mini Cooper.

It was like they had just met and fallen in love, not been married for over forty years.  Ina makes you want to be a better wife.

Ellen Rose used to own the best cookbook store, The Cooks Library in LA. She is the one who helped me build a great cookbook collection back in the nineties.  Ellen chimed in on my Facebook page. Ellen really knows cookbooks.  “I love all her books, but the garlic bread in her newest book is truly outrageous.”

Kate Betts loves her arrabbiata sauce.

Actress Kelly Wolf says she has made fifteen of Ina’s Sour Cream Coffee Cakes since the pandemic started. “It’s comforting and satisfying”  And she has three of her mac and cheeses in the freezer at any given moment.  Kelly has two grown boys and a husband so she clearly needs to be prepared to feed.

Someone whose name I don’t have, I only have their handle, said something I adore.  “She speaks to you like you are capable of doing something you’ve never done before.”

Someone else said, “Her segment with Seth Meyers, drinking with Ina really did it.”

YES!  Who can forget the bit where she over poured her drink and downed it like the rest of us do so many nights now. Owning that she too is feeling the pain and a little extra booze does the trick.

Then America’s only true couture designer- acknowledged so by the French Government; The impeccable Ralph Rucci, who wastes no words.  FRENCH TOAST!

Wendy Reifel says “Ina is my best pandemic friend. I make her buttermilk biscuits all the time.

Her best pandemic friend!!!  This is exactly what I was looking for.  Ina is our best pandemic friend.

She’s reliable.  She’s either on the shelf, online or on TV.  She responds to people on Instagram as she knows they need to hear from her.

She’s not asking too much of us, but she’s giving us tasks we can do, easy ones if we don’t feel up to a challenge and more complex ones if we need to prove we can do something other than changing the channels and wash our sweats.

She’s providing comfort and good easy food at a time when we need both. She’s like the perfect mom.  And the amazing thing is, much like her predecessor Julia Child, (but that is another blog) she has no children, so we can all be her kids.

Ina hugging us into bliss through French Toast, Creamy soups, German Chocolate Cake, biscuits, angel food cake, Penne Arabiatta, and on and on.

Ina Garten is the Anthony Fauci of food. We can depend on her and trust what she says and tells us to do. She is going to get us through this. It’s not always easy.  We have tough times ahead, but if you follow her lead, she will help keep you calm and well-fed.

If you follow Dr. Fauci you will likely stay healthy.  And come spring, hopefully, we will all be back around our tables with each other, sharing in big main courses, drinks and hugs and good times again.

We won’t need virtual friends.  Our real ones will be back as will our more normal lives.

But one thing we will always need is more Ina Garten!

I have to end this now. Lucy is making one of my favorites, Ina’s Chicken Thighs with Creamy Mustard Sauce.

Thank you, Ina. We are all forever grateful to you for helping make this pandemic a lot more livable and giving us things to look forward to and do to keep our minds off the sadness and isolation.

You are a hero!

And I agree with Ellen Rose- that garlic bread is outrageous!

And for the record, my favorite Ina cookbook is Cooking for Jeffrey.  Because who can resist a great love story?  And the brisket is perfection.

The book that’s getting us through the pandemic.

Ina’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake. A staple of Kelly Wolf. And she’s really skinny too. How do these girls do it?

Her awesome garlic bread.

America’s only true Couture Designer Ralph Rucci’s go-to French Toast.

Chicken Thighs with Creamy Mustard Sauce. Yum!

If your Thanksgiving group has shrunk this year and a big turkey feels like too much, try Ina’s Turkey Roulade. Wendy convinced me to try it. She says just to all the traditional sides.