Though she’s never branted about this, Laura tends to get crushes on people. It’s a long story which Laura The Reluctant Branter will someday tell, but for now she’s going to cut to the chase and get right to the heart (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the issue:
Laura has a new crush.
After spending almost two months recuperating from surgery in bed flipping channels, she ended up, oddly enough, tiring of her usual favorites — true-crime-forensic-into-the-mind-of-a serial-killer-documentaries leavened-by-grotesque-and-annoying [because of Vincent D’Onofrio] “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”-reruns — and instead watching the Food Network. It took only a day or two (let’s be frank — it actually only took a few minutes) for Laura to get deeply bothered by most of the Celebrity Chef Line-Up — Emeril (annoying); Rachel Ray (too chatty and gabby = annoying), Nigella Lawson (too bosomy), Giada De Laurentis (too thin); Michael Chiarello (too lounge-lizardy); Paula Deen (frightening), and the worst of all, Sandra Lee’s “Semi-Homemade Cooking” (extremely frightening). But just as she was about to give up on the TV Food Network and grab the remote she fell in love:
The minute Laura first happened upon the Barefoot Contessa show, she was hooked. She loved everything about Ina Garten and her show (which has been on for a long time and which clearly shows Laura to be a little slow on the uptake and quite the opposite of a trend-setter). She loves how good and simple Ina’s food is and how Laura thinks that even she, if she wants to, could make it herself. She loves Ina’s enormous shingled house in East Hampton. She loves Ina’s terrific sense of humor. She loves her plumpness and her frequent acknowledgement of using too much butter (“Why does eveything always start with a half a pound of butter? I’m getting a bad reputation…”) but how she uses it anyway (“I know it’s a lot of butter but it’s a lot of pecan squares”). She loves her shiny hair and her black coat and green scarf she wears to go shopping in town. She loves her key phrases — “How easy is that?” and “How fabulous is that?” and can’t get enough of her perfect mixture of sophistication and self-deprecation. And she loves that it makes her slightly uncomfortable and grossed out to see how adoring she is of her husband Jeffrey.
[Jeffrey Garten promotional/press photo.]
Laura thought long and hard about why she was developing such a crush on this woman, not just because it was increasing exponentially by the day like a giant rising mushroom cloud, but also because Laura doesn’t usually develop crushes on celebrities (okay, except for Hugh Jackman and Nia Vardalos, but she’s admitted that before: see “Who’s Laura?” website page), let alone on chefs, mainly because Laura hardly ever cooks (it’s a long story, which will be told in a future brant). Episode after episode, rerun after rerun, Laura watched and self-analyzed until finally she understood what it was that she was truly responding to:
Ina Garten’s devotion to making her friends and family (Jeffrey) reallllly happy with realllllly good food.
This selflessness and single-minded goal to focus on making other people happy was a novel concept to Laura. Most people in general — and television chefs in particular — are full of ego, and while they can cook (well, Laura’s not too sure if what that creepy Sandra Lee does on her “Semi Homemade Cooking” show officially constitutes cooking), they are usually more pre-occupied with the attention they’re getting than with the attention they’re giving.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long before Laura developed a full-blown obsession with Ina Garten and her Happiness-Making-Mission and wished there were a way for her to meet Ina and become part of her life so that Ina would cook for her. The more she thought about their non-existent friendship — how much she and Ina had in common since Ina had left her career years ago as a White House nuclear policy analyst to try something completely new and different and life-altering for which she’d had no prior experience — buying and running an established gourmet store in the Hamptons — and Laura had left her career as a publicist to try something new (having a life) and different (having a bedroom) and life-altering (moving to Washington to have a 9 to 5 government desk job) for which she’d had no prior experience — she realized finally what goes on in the minds of celebrity-obsessed-people: they truly begin to believe that they and the celebrity would be “best friends” if only they could meet.
This realization scared Laura — she’d not only never thought like that about anyone, but certainly never about a “celebrity” — and she decided to try to ground herself and contain her crush by going through proper channels — namely, Ina Garten’s website. It didn’t take long for Laura to see that she was not alone in her demented wish-fulfillment fantasy disorder because when she clicked on the “Questions and Answers” section, there were lots and lots and lots of similarly infantile people ahead of her desperately wanting in with Ina. The first two questions that Laura focused on were bad enough:
“I’m coming to East Hampton. Where should I stay?”
(Is Laura crazy or does that last one sound like a threat?). But the third question is the one that really showed Laura how [creepily] “devoted” Ina’s fans are to her:
Q: How can I be a guest on the show?
A: As you probably know, all the guests on the show are really my good friends. Many people have asked to be guests, but my producer and I feel that it’s more authentic if the guests continue to be my friends. Since the show is filmed in my kitchen in East Hampton, unfortunately, there’s no extra room for an audience.
While Laura marvels at the graciousness of Ina’s response, Laura knows that her crush must remain that way — just a crush. Laura still watches Ina Garten on TV as she cooks for all her friends, and she still wishes she were one of them so that Ina would cook for her, but Laura knows the limitations (boundaries) of her crush and where the firm lines of reality and fantasy must be drawn: She will brant endlessly about having a crush on Ina Garten, but she would never be so pathetic as to ask if she could be a guest on her show.