Lunch with Ina
I love having parties. It’s so much fun to get people together to share great food and drink. It doesn’t have to be fancy. For me, it’s about the people, not just what’s on the plate. Whether it’s a barbeque, dinner party or holiday soiree, I’m in. So, years ago when I saw Ina Garten’s book, Parties, I snatched it right up.
In the cookbook, she describes a brunch she gave early on – a sort of cautionary tale of what of how not to do it. She tried to do too much and everything just fell apart. Not many people would put their mistakes out there for the world to see, so naturally I liked her right away.
She gives great advice for folks who might be new to cooking or intimidated by entertaining. For example, she recommends buying some simple hors d’ouvres like tapenade, pate, cheeses, nuts, olives, etc. Don’t make things that are too complicated and prepare as much as you can ahead of time. You should be with your guests having fun, not working in the kitchen while they’re noshing. After cooking from the Parties book, I began buying the rest of her cookbooks over the next few years.
Then, something really fun happened.
Lia – my best friend of 30 years – is an architect in Paris and she often works with American clients who have homes there. She told me she was designing an apartment for Ina and her husband Jeffrey. I must admit, I was thrilled. Like, silly giddy, actually. When she came home for the holidays, she took my Parties book back to Paris and had Ina sign it for me. Oh, how I love my bestie.
Fast forward a few years: I took an amazing trip to London and Paris for my birthday – the trip of a lifetime for sure. Before I left London for Paris, Lia called to say that Ina was going to be there at the same time as me and that we might have lunch with her. Deep breaths. This is sort of like one of my five brothers grabbing a beer with one of the Ravens…seriously. After Lia set up the lunch, I’m sure she was hoping to God that I didn’t flip out and completely mortify her. I had to be on my best behavior.
As I walked with my best friend, in my favorite city, about to meet someone I admire immensely…I felt so, so lucky. How did I get here? What would we have in common? What could we talk about? Would she be as nice as she seems on television? Would it be awkward or fun or what?
It was perfect. Ina is incredibly warm, funny, engaging and full of life. We talked about food, music, travel, wine, flowers, parties, Paris, etc. I told her that I was really getting into cooking at 40 and that she’d been very, very helpful to me. She seemed pleased and kind of touched, actually. I also had the pleasure of meeting her husband, Jeffrey. He’s quite friendly and genuine. As we sat in their lovely, yet simple, Paris living room, he asked about my work and life in Baltimore. Seriously nice people.
I have no idea what we ate at lunch, but remember that we had chilled red wine. Don’t you just love Paris…wine with lunch. Wish the US would embrace that concept. As we neared the end of our visit, I felt a little silly asking her to sign my favorite of her cookbooks, the first one – The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook – but she was so nice about it. We chatted some more and said our goodbyes.
Best day ever. Ever.
To me, Ina makes everything she does look un-scary. You think, “I could do that.” And then you actually do. I made roast chicken for the first time after I saw on her show. Grilled a pizza for the first time after I saw it on her show. Bought my first Le Creuset dutch oven after I saw it on her show. Yes, I’m a nerd, but I know what I like. Of course, I do use many other cookbooks, but I tend to go to my Barefoot Contessa cookbooks first. For the most part, her recipes are not super complicated, with very few ingredients you can’t find at an area grocery store. I like that.
Here are some of my favorite Ina recipes.
Perfect Roast Chicken
Cheddar Corn Chowder
Fresh Pea Soup
Bibb Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
Salad with Warm Goat Cheese
Mac and Cheese
Being able to meet someone who’s inspired you and thank them for that, well…that’s something special.