At 35 years old, Ryan and I decided to take the plunge and go for our first round of IVF. Married for almost 10 years, with no natural success at making babies (with no lack of trying, my friends) it was time to go to medicine to fix my baby maker. It was July and as summers for us are always light, it would be the perfect time. I took the drugs, quit the martinis, went to acupuncture, drank green juice, made the eggs, and voila “You’re Pregnant” was announced to me on the phone.
This news came to us on August 1st, and then three weeks later, one the day I was driving out to Montauk to do a party for my favorite client, I lost my first pregnancy. With not much time to dwell or grieve, we, loaded into my car and headed to Montauk to do what we do best.
A new dawn
That morning as the sun came up over my client’s house, I looked at it sparkling down on the ocean and spoke a few quite words to my Grandmother, asking her for strength to get through the day. I asked for the vision to see how lucky I was to be where I was and the courage to find the message rather than dwell in the disappointment.
Since humor is always where I find comfort, I even joked with the event planner at my favorite client’s house that happened to own a fashion chain, “Do I at least get 10% off for having a miscarriage in his kitchen today!?”.
With my game face on…..I went into my zone. My place of comfort and happiness. My home. Work.
The day and party could not be more perfect or beautiful. My client and his wife, whom I adore, were all smiles. I was working in a kitchen that one can only dream of being in…panoramic ocean views, the same ocean my Grandmother would look out at 30 years earlier, that inspired her to change her life.
I found comfort in the ocean that day. Her ocean, her Montauk…how proud she would have been to see where I was. But my gaze was interrupted by another vision. Wait really, could it be!? Is that Ina? Is that Ina Garten? Is that Jeffery!? Holy SHIT it was!!
The Barefoot Contessa
“Mary, I would like you to meet someone.” My favorite client announced as he entered the kitchen.
There she was, Ina, the Barefoot Contessa. And JEFFREY!!!!
I was a blubbering, non-brain-to-mouth-connected fool. I smiled, spoke sentences that made no sense, and all I remember was she was as kind and as warm as any of you who buy her books, watch her show, or imagine she would be.
She asked ME! For my business card, introduced me to Jeffrey!!! And said a kind and warm goodbye. I was still in a euphoric trance when my client re-entered the kitchen, 10 minutes later with…MARTHA STEWART!. But sorry Martha, your two minutes didn’t even come close to my beautiful two minutes with my Ina.
A FEW WEEKS LATER (and try to stay with me because this gets good)
Hurricane Irene hit the Hudson Valley. My fellow neighbors were unprepared, shocked, devastated, and lives were turned upside down. There was nothing to do but help, so Ryan and I headed into Phoenicia (the neighboring town to our Woodstock), and asked where we should go what we should do.
We were handed two shovels and told to head down a road, “Find any house that needs help, and get to work.” There were about twelve homes on the block, so we picked up our shovels and headed in.
We walked into the backyard of a home that was hurt so badly, the water had come up to the second floor of their house. The pool furniture was lodged under the deck that surrounded the pool and the pool was brown with clay and dirt. There were about 7 of us. I was given gloves, paper towels and a bucket of warm water. Ryan and one of two men started to lug out the large furniture to the backyard for us to hose down and try to save.
We cleaned off diplomas, pictures, books, remote controls, anything we could to save their family memories.
In the rubble, I found a small green tin box (retro-green my favorite kind). It was a recipe box. I am a sucker for an old-fashioned recipe box, especially one with handwritten cards, you know the kind with that beautiful script of grandmothers. I grabbed this box and took it to the owner with pride I said “I think we can save this if we put it in the sunlight and let it dry.” A warm smile came over this very kind woman who had lost everything, and she said, ‘that would be wonderful. They were my Mother’s, and my Daughter works in television and food and I would love to give this to her”.
“Well then this MUST be saved,” I agreed.
ONE WEEK (to the day) LATER
I receive a call from a kind Producer from Ina’s show that Ina told her that we had met and that she wanted me to come on the show and cook with her. ME!?
Two months later, Ryan and I are driving from my parent’s home in Montauk to Ina’s house in East Hampton. It’s raining heavily, and a beautiful and sweet woman greets me about the same age as me at the door. I am SO nervous. She tells me to sit and hang out for a moment until we walk into the set.
I think the very kind producer could see how nervous I was, because instead of going back to her emails and important things she needed to do, she invited me to come talk to her. She calmed with her kindness and asked me questions.
Do you live out here?
“No, I live in NYC. My folks have a home in Montauk, but my heart and real home is in Woodstock, where my husband and I have a home.”
“My mother lives in Phoenicia.” she says.
“Oh Wow! How did she do in the storm?” I ask.
“Not well, she replies. Her home was destroyed; they had water up to the seconds floor.”
Water, Flood, Second Floor, Retro Green Recipe Box, Wet Handwritten Cards “My Daughter works in television and food” start popping into my head. Goosebumps up and down my entire body. Time stops for a second.
My eyes wide, I say “I think I may know your Mom!”
I begin to tell her my story, and we realize that it was her Mother’s backyard that my husband and I took our shovels that day. Here we were connected in The Barefoot Contessa’s kitchen.
The day went on. Ina was as warm, and as incredibly impressive as you would imagine. Whatever draws you to watch her show, multiply that by a thousand, and that is what the day was like. She calmed my shaking hands (by offering me lavender lotion from her kitchen drawer) that were trying to make grilled cheese, and mostly she inspired me to continue to do what I love.
The baby, the no baby, the hurricane, my grandmother, the producer’s grandmother’s recipe box, the devastation, the repair.
When we wrapped the show, I thanked the Producer who calmed me down and she has something to show me. She had emailed her mom, while I was shooting with Ina, and her mom sent her this picture of ME in her backyard on the day we randomly showed up with our shovels to help.
Mini Grilled Cheese with Pepper Jack, Mango & Watercress
We made three grilled cheese sandwiches that day but this was Ina’s favorite.
Yield: 8 pieces
Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 2 minutes
- 2 slices of soft white bread
- 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons of mango puree (made from store bough frozen concentrate which is then heated until reduced)
- 2 tablespoons of chopped watercress
- 2 slices pepper jack cheese
- Brush both sides of each slice of bread with the butter and mango puree
- Arrange the watercress over the top of one slice of bread, place the cheese on top of the watercress and top with the second slice of bread.
- Heat the griddle over medium-high heat. Place the sandwich on the grilled and grill for approximately one minute on each side or until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted.
- Remove from pan and set sandwich aside to cool.
- Once cooled, cut into 8 small triangles. Pieces can be served at room temp or stored and reheated in over at 350 for 10 minutes and then reserved.