Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ina Knows Best

I've never been shy about my love of cooking shows. 

(Actually, sad/upsetting note: I was going to say "I've never been shy about my love of Food Network" - but that just isn't accurate anymore.  They now have too many dumb reality and competition-based shows.  There aren't enough straight-up cooking ones.  [Although I do love Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives; The Best Thing I Ever Ate; and the one about sweets with Chef Duff.  So kill me.])

Anyway....  I love cooking shows - like, person-in-front-of-a-camera-making-a-meal shows.  And one of the best hosts, in my opinion, is Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa.  One, she's freaking adorable.  Two, she prepares food that looks delicious (and the few recipes I've tried have been).  Three, she can cook and bake, when many of the other hosts lament that they don't know how to bake.  And four, she lives in the Hamptons, so you always get to see shots of her glamorous life.

But another thing that draws me into her show is her sort of quiet confidence.  The woman just exudes confidence, but not in a showy or snobby way.  She seems to have found her "real self" and feels comfortable and confident with who that is.  (Which is not all that uncommon for a woman in her 60s - but she's one of the only older women hosting a show, so that's why it stands out to me so much [especially contrasted against Paula Deen.])

I watched her show last week when she was hosting a get-together of friends at her house.  It wasn't entirely casual, because she was setting her table nicely, buying flowers for the occasion, etc.  But it also wasn't as dressy as a "dinner party" probably would be.

One of the things that stood out to me was her choice of menu.  It was super simple (a soup and a hearty salad with a homemade dessert).  But the reason it stood out so much was because she was completely confident in the menu and comfortable serving it to her friends.

I couldn't help but think of myself when we have people over.  It becomes such a big to-do for me.  I take a long time to carefully plan a menu - one that's unique but not weird and that will appeal to everyone.  I then spend a day or two a little stressed about it: is the house clean enough?  Do I have every ingredient I need?  Do I have the timing of the cooking down?

And then when people are actually at our house?  I sometimes find myself apologetic about something.  "Don't mind any dog hair you find in the bathroom;" "I hope this _______ is cooked alright;" "Sorry we don't have a lot of crackers for the cheese plate" etc.  The most recent time I had book club at our house, I remember making an announcement along the lines of, "I'm sorry you guys didn't come in a week or two because we're getting new couches."

But all of these comments are so dumb!  No one would've noticed my old couches if I hadn't drawn attention to them.  And when I go to other people's houses, I don't notice hair in the bathroom or complain if there isn't enough of something I want to eat.  And generally, I'm an alright cook - I should have more confidence in that.

Watching Ina serve her friends a dinner of soup and salad (and not say anything along the line of, "well, it's nothing fancy, just soup and salad"), and then watching how grateful they were to have food served to them sort of clicked with me.  It's all about confidence.  If you forget to buy crackers to serve with your cheese plate, just don't serve any - and don't say anything about it.  Most likely the guest won't notice, and if they do, most likely it won't impact their overall night at your house.  If something isn't cooked to perfection, it doesn't really matter (and quite possibly your guests won't really notice unless you point it out).  And maybe most importantly, when inviting other people into your house and serving them, there's probably not a meal out there that is "just" something.  "Just" soup and salad is still a delicious meal that the guest has served to him and doesn't have to cook himself.

I hate that I judge myself so much more harshly than I judge other people.  I never leave someone's house and think, "well, that would've been better if they had done X differently."  Even if the food they served wasn't awesome - it doesn't really matter.

I need to remember Ina's confidence next time we have people over.  Or, first things first, I need to remember the confidence first, and then invite people over for dinner more often!

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