Anyone who knows me knows just how difficult it is to get through a conversation with me without having to hear about my good friend Ina. What she says, what she does, how she lives, Ina this, Ina that, interspersed throughout my day to day interactions with the world. And it's been this way for quite a while now. Like, uh, three or four years. I know, I know. I can't help it. What can I say, she inspires me.
We have a lot in common, Ina and I. We share a very similar philosophy about food, and friends, and life, and entertaining, about how to have a good time, wherever it is that you are. I love her house. I love her things. I love her friends. I love the relationship that she has with her husband. So, naturally, it is hard for me not to share this infatuation with the world.
Oh, have I neglected to mention that I have never actually met my friend Ina? That she, in fact, lives on TV.
That's right, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Best friends forever, entirely in my own head.
I love her. I adore her. I do. Not in a creepy, stalking, I'm hiding in the bushes outside your kitchen window with a copy of Martha Stewart's Living and a box of kleenex, "I'm your number one fan" (Kathy Bates in Misery) sort of way. More like, in an I love you and want to be just like you when I grow up, sort of way. I have watched every last one of her shows. I own all of her books, and I have read them all cover to cover. I cook all of her recipes. She is my go-to person for everything in cooking or entertaining.
Cooking and baking are very important to me, they are integral to my being happy, and a big way that I show my affection to the people around me. No one will ever know or fully appreciate every little step I take in my making cupcakes, or biscuits, or cookies, or whatever. How could they? But I perform each step, every kitchen ritual, every flourish and garnish, with love, to make the end product that much more enjoyable to whomever it is that I am cooking for. You may see just a plate of cookies in front of you, but in reality that plate of cookies is saying "I care about you."
Setting a beautiful table, pulling out the silver service, arranging flowers, drinking out of crystal wine glasses, is all a continuation of this act of love. While some might think that doing so may be slightly over the top, or that the overall effect is a little bit intimidating, I like to think of it as being luxurious, part of taking the time to pamper yourself and your loved ones. Why not surround yourself with beautiful things? And if you have them on hand, why not use them? Instead of waiting for that special occasion which never seems to come around, why not make everyday special? It doesn't have to be elaborate, or exceptionally fancy. It's the little things, the little touches, that can make every meal feel like a vacation.
And, though I was always well intended, before Ina and I became friends I was often overly ambitious in my menu planning. While I might have pulled everything off, it was certainly to the detriment of my own guests, as, in so doing, I would be rendered completely exhausted, and not much fun to be around. But now, like her, I strive to be a guest at my own party. Anything and everything that can be prepared in advance, is ready and waiting, and in the end it all comes together with ease. A well devised action plan can make dinner for a hundred as easy as any midweek meal.
And while Ina and I have never actually met, and our "friendship" is all in my head, and may ultimately be cause for my being committed, to me our relationship is still alive with everyday inspiration. Lord knows I talk about her enough to compensate for her lack of physical presence, and, you know, her not knowing who I am, or that I exist. So, for now, my other, "real" friends will have to cope with my incessant name dropping, pull up a fork and continue to reap the benefits from Ina's place in my life. And (as Ina would say) "how bad could that be."