Sometimes all one needs to chase away the goblins is a distraction. I’m not sure whether the size of the distraction needs to be commensurate with the size of the goblins, but on a cold and snowy night in January during what was a week fraught with political madness (that is, goblins of Herculean dimensions), a gathering of food-loving types met at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, to be distracted by Ina Garten and famed restaurateur Danny Meyer. And, despite the HUGE task that was set before them, it worked.
There was recently an article in the New York Times about Pop-Up Street Preachers who, during these trying times, were more than willing to offer their words of guidance and in some cases, hugs, in order to soothe “hungry hearts.” While it never occurred to me that my heart was actually “hungry,” I guess it did need some soothing. And although not a morsel of food could be found at the Garten/Meyer event, the mere talk of food was nourishment enough. Danny served the questions and Ina served the proverbial entree/answers.
Their discussion was precipitated by the release of Ms. Garten’s newest book, “Cooking For Jeffrey,” which she described as being a “love letter” to her most appreciative patron, her husband of 48 years. There was Antony and Cleopatra, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, and then there was Ina and Jeffrey. Theirs is certainly a love story to be admired with Jeffrey filling the role of lover, confidante, advisor, and of course, muse. And while he did not make an appearance on stage that night, his presence was definitely felt. The two met when Ina was fifteen and Jeffrey was a student at Dartmouth. Marriage came a few years later, and after making a few pitstops around the country, Ina found herself in Washington, DC at the Office of Management and Budget. Realizing that her heart didn’t love numbers as much as it loved food (yes, she got out of DC in the nick of time), and with Jeffrey’s encouragement—wouldn’t everyone want to be getting advice from the Dean of the Business School at Yale?—she plunged in and signed a lease on a specialty food shop.
The Barefoot Contessa, since shuttered, was located in one of the most chichi enclaves of Long Island, and her customers were largely the well-heeled. So well-heeled in fact, that Danny made reference to the priciness of her goods when he quoted his grandfather who, upon looking at his sales receipt back in the day said, “she won’t be barefoot for long.” But as fancy schmancy as her clientele was, the food she sold was not. Her customers didn’t want “fancy and fabulous,” they just wanted the latter. And her recipes are an extension of the food she sold: not so much simple to make, but simply good. Because as any good cook knows, simple does not necessarily mean easy. The viewers of her very successful TV series agreed, as do her readers: she sells upwards of a million copies of each book released.
“What’s your favorite comfort food?”
“What dish is best to freeze?
Anything in a sauce.
“Who was the one celebrity you’ve met that most gave you a thrill?”
“What are the three kitchen tools you cannot live without?
A good set of knives, half-sheet pans, and a citrus zester.
“Other than your own, what are some of your favorite cookbooks?”
Specialty store books, such as “Loaves and Fishes Cookbook” and “Nantucket Open-House Cookbook.”
“What makes a successful marriage?”
When there is nothing that each person would not do for the other.
It was the “gossip” that only foodies could appreciate. And we “ate it up.”
For almost two hours Danny and Ina regaled us with their stories and good-natured banter. We learned, we laughed, and then we headed out into the cold night air, feeling as though we had just spent some time with two friends. The goblins took a back seat for a while, and all was good. My friend Joan— a three-time Ina Garten event attendee— turned to me and said, “Ina makes everything better.” And on that night, she did.