DID YOU KNOW? Amazon.com sold out of their entire stock of the Wii on the morning of November 19, 2006, in less than one minute.
So Mitra asked me to blog an entry that she wrote in Zambia last night, and I realized that it’s kind of bad when Mitra blogs more frequently than I do and she’s in a third-world country. So I decided to finish up this entry, which I have been working on for over a month.
I think it was July or something when I found out that Ina Garten, the incomparable host of TV’s Barefoot Contessa, was coming to the Crate & Barrel on Boylston Street to do a book signing in December. Since finding this out, I had been excited about said book signing basically every moment of every single day of my life, and spent every mile of my marathon training basically just dreaming about what I would say to her in person. Since MIT is actually RIGHT NEXT TO Boston, unlike a lot of other prominent colleges that purport to be near cities, this Crate and Barrel is about a 30-minute walk from my dorm.
For those of you who are not aware, Barefoot Contessa is this unbelievably charming cooking show on the Food Network. Basically, the premise is that in very episode, Ina is throwing some kind of a party in her huge house in the Hamptons for her brilliant husband Jeffrey and all of her flamboyant friends. But Ina doesn’t want to be cooking while the party’s going on, so she gives you helpful time-saving tips on how to prepare everything for the party well in advance and just toss it together when your guests get there. Sometimes she has to go get some flowers or something from her friends, so she hops into her BMW or her Mercedes and rides off to the flower store so she can have an awkward conversation with the Hamptons’ number one florist, who is also her best friend. “Today I feel like the flying doctor of flowers,” he once said. And all the while she’s describing her cooking techniques and admonishing you for not using the “GOOD olive oil” or the “GOOD vanilla” but she’s doing so in this deep, hypnotic, tremendously sexy voice, like melted butter on velvet, to the point where you really can’t leave the room once you’ve started watching an episode. All glory to Ina Garten!
I found out sometime last year that my friend Dugan ’08 was a huge fan of hers. I don’t know how that’s even possible, because he’s a vegan and she uses heavy cream in basically every dish she makes (chocolate sorbet, roasted asparagus, fruit roll-ups… everything). Not only that, she’s always so coy about adding the heavy cream. “And now,” she says, “we’re going to add two cups of heavy cream… because how bad could that be?” I think one time she might have made a vegan-friendly brussels sprouts dish or something. But really, who eats brussels sprouts?
I was even more surprised when I saw a Barefoot Contessa promotional bookmark hanging on the wall of Colin ’10, since Colin ’10 is like Sam’s Mom in that he eats a total of like five different foods in the world. Usually when Sam’s Mom is watching the show with me, she’ll say something like, “Well that looked good, but then she had to go and put all that junk on it.” And what Ina did was like bake a potato and then put chives on it. So I imagined that would have kind of been Colin ’10’s experience too. But anyway, when I told Dugan ’08 and Colin ’10 that Ina Garten was coming to Boston, they both just about exploded.
It was just about the perfect scene: the signing was on a Wednesday, so I only had a class from 11:00 to 11:30, and then from 3:30 to 5:30. The latter was with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison, but I see him almost every day, so who cares? I think I told him that I had kidney stones or something. No, not really. Anyway, we decided to head over at 1:00 PM for the 4:00 PM signing, because Colin ’10 had an 18.02: Multivariable Calculus recitation from 12:00 to 1:00 that he couldn’t miss. Dizzle ’09 made fun of us for leaving so early, telling us that she went to a Harry Potter book premiere 2 hours early and was the second person in line. Clearly, she didn’t know exactly what level of celebrity we were dealing with here.
At 1:10 I called Colin ’10 and woke him up, then abruptly informed him that Dugan ’08 and I could not wait any longer and that we’d try to save him a place in line. Gloves on hands, Dugan ’08 and I ran over to Crate and Barrel as fast as we possibly could. When we got there, we were greeted by a 5’4″ armed sentry dressed in a Crate and Barrel apron.
“Are you here for Ina Garten?”
“Okay, well you have to buy one of these books. (I’ll just stand here silently and make sure you do that.)”
Snap. The cookbooks cost $35 each, because they’re about full-color pictures of Ina Garten’s fabulous lifestyle as much as they are about her recipes. Dugan and I had discussed on the way over the prospect of just splitting one cookbook, just for the opportunity to meet Ina. However, standing there in front of the creepy Crate and Barrel woman and the stacks and stacks of cookbooks, we shot each other a few glances that basically said, “$35 is totally worth it for the two seconds Ina is going to spend thinking about my name.” I even purchased an additional cookbook for my across-the-street neighbors Dot and Herk, who had once proudly showed me a copy of her earlier “Barefoot Contessa: Family Style” cookbook.
So, with three cookbooks in hands, we made our way upstairs, where we were directed into the rapidly-growing Ina Garten line. Contrary to Dizzle ’09’s assertion, Dugan ’08 and I only secured ourselves spots number 17 and 18 in line. Since 17 is my lucky number, I was pretty darn excited–I knew that something good was about to happen. So we settled into line, Dugan with his detective novel about a chemistry professor and I with my digital camera and notepad, prepared to blog every aspect of this occasion, right down to the lady distributing complimentary Crate and Barrel water.
“Ha, are you just testing to make sure that your camera still works?”
“Oh, I just want to remember everything about this occasion (and I secretly love you, water lady.)”
But Dugan sure did like the water.
While waiting in line, Dugan and I got to sign up for a new Barefoot Contessa mailing list, from which I still have yet to receive an e-mail. But the lady setting it up sure seemed excited! Maybe we can invite her over to MIT and let her make roasted loin of pork with fennel in one of Burton-Conner’s spacious kitchens. We also had several members of the Crate and Barrel gestapo go by to describe the signing procedure:
“Ina will only sign books for the first 200 customers in line. She will only sign books that you bought at Crate and Barrel, not ones that you brought from home. She will only sign books that have a sticky note in them. She will only sign on this page. She will not sign any special greetings. Ina will not pose for pictures, but you can take a picture of her while she’s signing your book.”
I thought it was funny that everything was phrased as if it were Ina Garten’s decision and not just the set of rules Crate and Barrel established to sell the most cookbooks. Like you would get there with a copy of Barefoot Contessa Parties from home and Ina would say, “What the hell is this? Where’s your Crate and Barrel receipt? Ina don’t play that way. No more signings.” And then she flips the signing table over and gives you the finger as she disappears back to her waiting BMW.
The line grew quickly, and by the time Colin ’10 arrived, it was already 90 people long. Luckily, I was able to sneak downstairs with him just in time to try a sample from one of Ina’s delicious baking mixes.
Yes, for only $9.00, plus eggs, GOOD butter, and heavy cream, you can make your own 8×8 sheet pan of Ina’s Outrageous Brownies.
At around 3:55, we knew that Inageddon was approaching, so I started testing my camera.
I was THIS excited.
I tried to explain to Colin that I wasn’t really taking his picture; I was just using his form to get an idea of the lighting conditions in Crate and Barrel, kind of like how Whistler’s Mother is just an arrangement of rectangles and circles according to Whistler. But Colin ducked out of the shot anyway, and on the basis of the above picture I decided not to use flash to get a picture of Ina as she walked by.
THANKS, COLIN. No, seriously, my camera takes a while for the flash to go off, so I probably would have timed it wrong and gotten a perfectly-lit picture of Ina’s posterior otherwise, so this is just as good. Anyway, Ina moves much, much, MUCH faster than you would expect watching her television show, when she always seems about one outrageous brownie away from passing out in her bœuf bourguignon, if you know what I mean.
Luckily, we had many more opportunities to take pictures of Ina, even if many of them were purposefully blocked by Crate and Barrel staff and her friend Barbara.
Even today, over a month later, I’m still a little shell-shocked by my twenty-second conversation with Ina. I must have blacked out, because there are definitely pieces of the conversation that I don’t remember, despite people telling me specific things that I said to her. But piecing together my own recollection with that of Colin and Dugan, I think it went something like this:
“OH INA, your butternut squash and apple soup recipe is the best recipe EVER.”
“The best recipe ever? In the world? (Oh Barbara, look at this silly little man.)”
“I MEAN, everyone I… I made it… they tell me that, and I won fifty dollars!”
“Well, it’s one of my favorites too. Oh, do you have another book to sign?”
“YES! OH YES! It’s for my neighbors. My across-the-street neighbors. I DON’T KNOW if they have it already, but I’m sure that they’ll like this one better, you know, because you signed it.”
“Well, that sounds to me like it’s a (let me raise my eyebrows suggestively) good neighbor policy. Bye, now. Thanks for coming.”
“Okay, bye! (thank you so much, I will treasure this for the rest of my life).”
I think that INA GARTEN FLIRTED WITH ME! Unfortunately, that was probably the closest I will ever get to greatness.
But fortunately, the story of Ina Garten flirting with me is not even the best story of this fine evening. Now, the way that the signing works is that a helpful Crate and Barrel employee comes by and gives you a sticky note. You write your name on it, and then you put it on the title page of the work, because Ina Garten doesn’t really care what your name is. Now, it just so happens that Dugan ’08 has a friend who is nicknamed “Bucket,” but she was too busy in class to come get her book signed. So Dugan got the book signed to himself and Bucket ’08 and gave it to her as a present.
The best part is when Ina signed it, she just asked, “So that’s DOUG-an? D-U-G-A-N?” And even though his name is pronounced “DOOG-an,” Dugan just said, “Yes, ma’am!” Now, you’d think that Ina Garten would be fazed by being asked to sign a book to Bucket, but…
…it almost made me feel bad for getting one of my books signed to just me. I should have gotten it signed “to Sam and Quasar.” Then I would just need to find someone else who liked Ina Garten. And I would be like, “Here you go. Happy Birthday. Your new nickname is… Quasar.”
I think that’s everything. WOW MY LIFE ROCKS.