Why Ina Garten Makes Domestic Life Seem Awesome
4:30 pm, January 18th | by Amy Tennery
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It’s tough to imagine anyone on the Food Network who’s inspired a cult quite like Ina Garten. Otherwise known as “The Barefoot Contessa,” she’s acquired a legion of adorers. She’s been called the next Martha Stewart. She’s been referenced on “30 Rock” on more than one occasion. She’s inspired countless essays detailing her greatness — including this fantastic one from The Hairpin today, which you should check out.
But what makes her so great? What makes her speak to so many different people?
For the uninitiated, Ina Garten is a former nuclear policy analyst (I know), who worked in the White House until the late 1970s. She hosts a show on the Food Network, she’s written seven cookbooks, and she’s a known champion of alternative families and causes like conservation. She’s famous for her catchphrase “how easy is that?” So famous, in fact, that the phrase became the title for one of her cookbooks.
I ‘met’ Ina shortly after college. A graduate of a lefty-lib “chick school” in Southern California, I decided to pack up and move across the country to Boston with my boyfriend at the time. To put it mildly, this was not the magically seamless transition I had hoped for. First of all, I was a graduate of a lefty-lib “chick school” living in Boston. Making matters worse, my “southern accent,” nearly imperceptible to everyone I’ve met before or since, was immediately and unfavorably picked up on by New Englanders. I might have stuck out more had I sprouted a horn from my forehead, but it’s hard to say for sure.
I had followed a boyfriend across the country; I was waiting tables, writing freelance, and walking around like the non-Yank, bleach-blonde Marylander that I am. In Boston I had no family and no friends. And, of course, there was the aforementioned boyfriend, whose interest in and enthusiasm for me was waning so clearly and rapidly I could have tracked its deterioration with an egg timer. Things were grim.
But there was Ina. Lovely, in-your-face-blissful-all-the-damn-time, Ina. And, as I spent nearly 95 percent of my downtime at home, she and I became quite close. I nested. I cooked. I dove full-bore into everything I allegedly stood against, with her by my side. (What is blanching something? How do you julienne? She knew these things.)
While, just a year earlier, I never could have imagined a monogamous domestic life (certainly not at age 22), her brand of non-apron-wearing ladyhood made cooking and cleaning seem chic — almost progressive. Her childless family, filled with fabulous parties and delicious food? How European! Her husband who splits his time between her place and New Haven? Effortless! Ina gave me the notion that domestic life wouldn’t always be so lonely. That staying home and roasting a chicken for you and your husband could seem downright stylish — and unironically fun.
I know, this sounds blasphemous on a site like The Jane Dough. But whether you’re a conservative or, well, someone like me, domestic life (be it part-time or full) is an inevitability for many of us — in all of its delights and disappointments. And even “the liberated” may attempt that happy domesticity that other people promised us. And we might fail. And when it happens, it’s scary and it breaks your heart.
This is not to say that I’m any kind of expert on domestic life — I’m not. At all. But what Ina gives us (or gave me, at least) is this idea that things could be different from what decades of other cooking shows told us it would be. She is a tireless defender of domestic life — while simultaneously shattering every stereotype of what that life has to be. She teaches us that it can be exactly as we want to chart it. That we can prance around our kitchen, cooking delicious meals for our friends or our significant other and think to ourselves, “how easy is that?” Even when it isn’t.