Outrageous Brownies

30 years ago my dear friend, Sally, gave me a copy of Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts. At the moment neither of us realized how significant that gift would be in my life. It was way before Instagram and the endless blogs filled with impossibly gorgeous recipes. Who am I kidding, it was before the internet. I had that one cookbook and a shitty student apartment kitchen to bake in. I made almost every recipe in the book and as a result learned how to make everything from cookies, cakes, pudding and even candy, but these outrageous brownies were the best thing in the whole book. I would splurge on really good chocolate, which meant something beyond Hershey’s. God only knows what brand it was back then, but I remember spending my entire food budget on chocolate, nuts and butter just to make them. I must have survived on rice cakes and peanut butter for the rest of the week.

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Dreams Do Come True…A Cookie Swap with Ina Garten!

Ina Garten

(photo by Quentin Bacon)

This summer I got an email that I thought was spam. It said something to the effect of…”Ladies’ Home Journal would like you to attend a private brunch and cookie swap with the Barefoot Contessa!” I sat on the email for about 30 seconds and then decided..what the hell, what if it is legit and I really get to meet her! It was and I did. Pinch me. I was dying to ask WHY ME? But, I was nervous if I brought it up they’d realize I’d made the list by mistake and take back the invitation. So, I kept my mouth shut and off I went.

We all have THOSE people in our life who we’d love to share a meal with, aspire to be like and find utterly compelling and delightful. For me Ina Garten sits at the top of the list. I remember, as a kid growing up in Westport, CT in the 70s and 80s, her store in the Hamptons was the “it” place to shop. The Barefoot Contessa was the epitome of sophistication and yet it wasn’t fussy or pretentious. She managed to make the “good life” seem accessible. Thirty some odd years later I’m invited to meet her. It was an OMG moment. With all of her fame and success, I couldn’t have faulted her for being aloof and a bit guarded about inviting her adoring fans into her home. She’s nothing of the sort, Ina is as kind, open and generous as she appears on TV. Not only that, she is deeply passionate and genuinely in love with food. She is the ultimate hostess.

ladies' home journal

This story gets even more surreal, because I also got to meet and spend the day with a group of intensely talented, driven and outrageously funny food bloggers. We shared a ride in an RV from Manhattan to the Hamptons, which was a bonding experience, not only because of the close quarters, but the sense that we’d all survived a tumble in a clothes drier. I’m not sure I’ve laughed that hard in my life. When we arrived in East Hampton, which is like an Audrey Hepburn movie set, we had brunch at Ina’s favorite restaurant. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until she arrived and I could feel my body relax. It was as if she were greeting a group of old friends. She immediately put us all at ease and we sat and chatted over a lovely meal, which I know was delicious, but I hardly recall what I ate. We talked about everything from blogging, throwing the perfect party, the crazy world of publishing, to her husband/muse, Jeffrey. Since we’d all been invited here to attend Ina’s very first holiday cookie swap, we also talked about cookies. You can read all about our chat with Ina at The Ladies Home Journal.

After brunch we walked to Ina’s house for our cookie swap.  Read More