Ina In A Year
A chronicling of my epic culinary adventure.
This was the last “real” week of the project in regards to the cooking. I hosted the final Ina Lunch at Hurley House, and in a moment of sentimental nostalgia, as I looked around the store and saw every chair filled, I took a panoramic video. It was a weak attempt to capture the energy and electricity filling the space….
I can feel the end. I can taste it. It’s so close, I think it’s already here. My days feel like I am coasting downhill, gaining momentum. The finish line is in sight, and I know I will get there. The fear of “Will I make it?” has transformed into “I’m going to make it!”. There is a calm surrounding me that feels equally reassuring and unnerving all at the same time….
With our new horizons fast approaching at Hurley House, my time this week began to center around creating the infrastructure necessary to launch our new social media channel, the Lunch Party, and the Hospitality Hotline. It was a lot of work, with so many details I had to create a chart to keep it all straight….
After a wonky summer, I finally found myself getting my children ready for school to start. It felt perfectly right and appropriately timed to be moving forward. Sometimes a break is what you need. And sometimes, the return of routine is beneficial for lots of reasons….
This week my youngest, Lillian, turned ten. Since Timm was out of town on his birthday, we made it a double birthday celebration with a big family dinner featuring Ina’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches from Cook Like A Pro. They were a hit!
I effort to make these posts honest, but positive. Yes, there have been hard things, but I try not to focus on them. This week, the unimaginable happened, and I cannot tell the story of this summer without divulging the worst nightmare coming true….
After a week in Africa, my husband and two older children returned. Hurley House reopened after our summer break, and we got the store up and moving again. Then, at the end of the week, my husband and son left for a sixteen-day Boy Scout hiking trip. The massive amounts of travel this summer were something we both signed up for, but the staying home part is hard. The girls and I have fun together, but nothing is quite the same when Timm is gone.
Every year we shut down Hurley House for the week of July 4th, and it is the highlight of my summer. No work. Little to no agenda. And this year, only two children. Timm and my older two children left on Monday for Africa, not to return until the following Tuesday. This meant me and the little two had a wide open week before us, and I was determined to stay on track cooking at home.
This was our last week before closing for the holiday. At the last minute, at the end of last week, I accepted an invitation to do a live presentation on the same day as our third VIP party. The only way I was able to say yes was because of how expert my team has become at rising to the occasion and executing events. I was so grateful to be able to do an off-site event, and then walk into a VIP party that was 100% ready without one ounce of effort from me. These girls are incredible.
For the first time in this entire year-long project, in the middle of Week 38, I had the quiet thought, “I am going to make it." I have led with confidence this whole time that I would make it, but inside, I’m sincerely not sure. I believe in myself, but there are a lot of things I cannot control. This week, when Treslyn flipped the countdown clipboards, the number of recipes left read 286, and I knew I could do it.
Good times continued in Week 38. I was continually handing over more and more responsibility to our kitchen manager Rachel, and finding myself able to focus on things that I had neglected for way too long. I loved the feeling of working alongside someone, showing her the ropes, and then stepping away knowing it was taken care of. What a feeling of freedom!
The rumors are true. Hurley House has hired a kitchen manager! After four months of carrying this responsibility on my own, I now have a comrade who is taking over the management and oversight of all aspects of the kitchen. The burden that has been lifted is significant. This week my steps were lighter and my spirits lifted.
Guys. What even? Can we just skip right over the embarrassment of Week 36? I feel like I’m walking around in my underwear or something. Can someone hand me a robe or a towel so I can hide the ugly truth? No? Okay, fine. I’ll be brave, truthful, and in my skivvies at the same time….
In Week Thirty-Three I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got back in the ring. After the pathetic week prior, I had motivational quotes on repeat in my head this week. Sayings along the lines of It’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it! and It doesn’t matter if you fail, what matters is that you keep trying! Hokey, sure. But also very helpful and true…
On Tuesday afternoon of Week Thirty-Two, Rachel arrived for her weekly Hurley House visit with her fifteen-month-old son, Hogan, in a bit of a crisis. On the way over, Hogan had blown out his diaper in the worst possible way. Poop was everywhere. All over the carseat, all over his clothes, and worst of all, all over him. Hair. Face. Clothes. Hands. Everywhere. To make matters worse, Rachel had just the day prior removed the extra outfit she normally keeps in the diaper bag for situations just like the one she found herself in. It was a mess….
In Week Thirty-One, I was able to begin writing blog posts again, thanks to the magical work of Emily. It is an interesting exercise to learn how to ask for help, and then to figure out what it looks like to actually allow someone to help. I find it equal parts exhilarating and exhausting….
In Week Thirty, I made a Big Decision. In Week Thirty I hired a personal assistant. Typing that sentence, or even saying it out loud, still brings me a smidge of discomfort because who do I think I am? But also, if you’ve been following along, how could I not ask for help?
In Week Twenty-Nine I forgot to take notes about what happened, so I am working purely from memory on this one. It was a busy week at Hurley House due to five private events. This always translates into more hours for me, because most of the cooking and kitchen tasks fall into my lane for special events (on top of all of the normal kitchen duties)….
In Week Twenty-Eight I decided to stop caring about whether or not what I was cooking was appropriate for the time of day or if it went together in a well-constructed menu. I just cooked. On Sunday night I served scallops, oatmeal, biscuits, an omelette, french toast, and fruit salad. It was hilarious, and odd, but memorable.
In Week Twenty-Seven, I was still struggling to figure out how to get everything done. I began to treat the Ina recipes like a catering order, trying to work it into my daily work flow, tricking myself into making sure it got done. It helped a little bit, but I was still working ten hours every day in the Hurley House kitchen, and then going home to recover before coming back the next day to do it all over again.
In Week Twenty-Six I started to feel sad. The kind of sadness that comes with being overwhelmed and not sure how anything is ever going to get better. The kind of sadness that looks around and hears a tiny voice whisper from the darkness of a fear-filled mind, “How will you ever pull this off?” The kind of sadness that expresses itself in angry tears, full of exhaustion, confusion, and doubt.
After the week that almost ended me, I continued on in the same way during Week Twenty-Five. It is interesting me to look back on my notes from this week and see a marked difference in the word count. Up to this point I had poured out any and every thought, feeling, response, description, and possible follow up plan for every recipe I was cooking. This week, my notes were bare-bones, concise, and straight to the point. Reduced to a single sentence sometimes (“This is a cinch to prepare.”), you can tell that I am in a state of no nonsense, without room for any fluff of any kind….
In Week Twenty-Four…well, how do I say this and still remain family-friendly? In Week Twenty-Four, the dirty diaper really hit the fan. Does that get the point across? Week Twenty-Four, and I want to be real careful not to overstate this or exagerate, but Week Twenty-Four almost gutted me emotionally, physically, and mentally….
In Week Twenty-Three there were a lot of frustrating cooking experiences. I’m not sure why so many things went poorly, but there were a lot of disappointing moments. I always find it particularly frustrating when things don’t turn out the way I expect. Cooking from scratch takes a lot of time, not just in the kitchen, but also in the planning, the grocery shopping, the list making, the ingredient gathering. If after all of that effort the dish does not even turn out, the whole endeavor feels like a waste of time and resources. Of course, there are always lessons to be learned through failures, but they are not fun or easy. This week held a lot of those lessons, which left me tired of cooking.
Week Twenty-Two the details of life fell back into place. Timm arrived home from Africa, the Valentine’s rush was behind us, and I caught my breath. I celebrated by knocking out thirty recipes and feeling pretty good about it.
I also posted a rant on Instagram about how much I hate red velvet cake (it’s saved in my highlights if you care to check it out), and proceeded to receive the highest level of follower engagement I’ve ever had. It turns out I’m not the only one with strong feelings about this cake flavor (or non-flavor, if you’re asking).
This was a good week.
Week Twenty-One was Valentine’s Day week, and as it goes, the week I reaped the harvest of my emotional crisis from the week prior. When you take a break from everything, things pile up. Even though that break was much-needed, the deluge of tasks waiting for me was almost as brutal.
Week Twenty was the week I wanted to quit. I knew it would hit at some point, and right on time, my desperation set in. I was flooded this week with unmet expectations, jealousy, disappointment, frustration, fatigue, aimlessness, and none of it felt good. It all hit hard and made for a rough week. I stopped posting on social media. I stopped writing. I barely made it through the cooking.
Guess who had a birthday in Week Nineteen? The Barefoot Contessa, that’s who! Ina’s birthday is February 2, and I love pretending like we’re friends, and you know, her birthday is on my calendar because that’s what friends do. In reality, I looked it up at the beginning of the project because it seemed like the kind of date worth noting. Maybe my birthday is on her calendar too?
In Week Eighteen I caught up on all the blog post writing! I know you can’t tell from reading this after the fact, but somewhere around Week Four, I started not being able to keep up with the cooking and the writing and the running of the business and the family and the holidays. So I started keeping notes, made a promise to myself to pick it up in January, and after Christmas came up with a very strict schedule to get it back on track. This week I completed the plan and am now positioned to return to writing these posts in real time. It has been a huge hurdle to churn out all of these posts after the fact, but I am committed to telling the story of this project as much as I am committed to actually cooking all of the recipes. Huge victory dance over here this week! Thank you for reading along.
Week Seventeen was busy for me personally as my daughter Annie turned 16, then we celebrated my birthday the next day, and the we hosted a party for Annie for following day. Birthday week is always a lot, in the best way possible. I find is weeks like this, where the calendar is overflowing and emotions are running high, that having a plan ready and waiting for me is a source of direction and comfort. The work of figuring out what we are going to be eating along the way (because no matter what is going on, people still need to eat) is taken care of, and working the plan ministers to me in very tangible ways. Yes, cooking is quite a lot of work. But I find that trying to find ways to escape work (eating out, eating processed food, eating food that isn’t worth the effort) brings another kind of work or negative consequences. Preparing food, even simple food, with care and quality ingredients has yet to fail me.
In Week Sixteen, I finally had success with ice cream! If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that my first go at ice cream failed miserably. As this week showed me, sometimes there are bad recipes. It takes getting a good one to be reminded that a good recipe is a required first step.
We fired up our Ina Lunches again this week after a break for the holiday. Everything from this week was stunning. There is not one thing on this list that I regretted making, and trying to choose what to summarize proved challenging for this post. If you have questions about anything on this list, I am so happy to tell you my experience and share what I learned.
The unexpected wow factor from this week was the Celery and Parmesan Salad. I think I have told everyone I know about this crazy good salad. I thought it would be terrible (celery salad? really?), but I find myself craving it. I love discovering new and excitingly unexpected winners in the flavor category!
After a week off for Christmas, I hit the kitchen as hard I could the week of New Year’s. We have standing plans on New Year’s Eve with another family, and we take turns hosting each year. We have been ringing in the new year together for twenty years, and this was our year to host. Knowing that one of our guests is a pescatarian, I took full advantage of the opportunity to prepare on of Ina’s many seafood dishes. This week I also made two cocktails in two days, tasted a dish I’ve never tasted before, and had an onion soup cook-off later in the week. I had a lot of strong feelings about most of what I cooked, and as a result, this post is longer than most. Here we go…
Into every life (and project) a little Christmas must fall. Week Fourteen was spent primarily celebrating Christmas, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Eve Eve with family. It was a whirlwind of wrapping up everything at work (including hundreds of pans of Cinnamon Rolls), traveling, wrapping gifts, traveling, and then collapsing when it was all over.
‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through Hurley House, we were losing our minds and working our tails off, trying to get everything done. This is our busiest week of the year, and yet, somehow, I managed to cook.
Week Thirteen was also when we had to say goodbye to one of our employees, Ellie….
Twelve weeks in, and I am starting to realize a few things. The more you keep trying something, the more you are inclined to learn to like it. For example, lamb. I’m not sure I love it yet, but this week’s Rosemary Rack of Lamb was the first time I glimpsed wanting to eat this by choice….
A funny thing happened at the Week Eleven Ina Lunch, which in hindsight was only funny because I knew the people involved. If they had been strangers, it might have been less funny and more stressful. Basically, there was a reservation misunderstanding, and we had two unexpected guests show up ready to sit and enjoy a leisurely meal together. Babysitters had been arranged, and alternate dates were not an option….
In Week Ten we hosted our first Ina Dinner. It was a lot like the Ina Lunch, only twice as many people, and more elegant. I loved it. A dinner party for sixteen people, with amazing food, table settings, and lots of lingering conversations is my dream scenario….
Week Nine was Thanksgiving week, my favorite week of the entire year because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of all the holidays. Even though I had a trove of options to pick from, most of what I chose to serve at our family’s table were not Ina recipes….
Week Eight was a great week. I love that I can scroll over the list of recipes I cooked and be reminded of so many sense memories. This food was all delicious. In fact, with the exception of the Rum Raisin Truffles, I don’t think there is a single thing on this list that I wouldn’t make again. And the Rum Raisin Truffles weren’t bad, they were just way too much fuss and work for what the finished product produced. I choose to leave candy making to the professionals. The steak, the surprisingly amazing vegetable lasagna, the roulades (sweet and savory!), and the salmon, made Week Eight one for the books….
I never get sick. But in Week Six, I got the flu. It hit me on a Thursday morning, and by lunch time I was in bed, as miserable as I can remember being in a long time. Not only was the process of being feverish and achey awful , the recovery period the week after was almost as difficult. I had no stamina, and I felt weak and not able to do as much as I normally could. No one talks about the flu recovery process, and I was not prepared….
In Week Five, Ina released her eleventh cookbook called Cook Like A Pro. We celebrated by hosting our first VIP party for our sponsors. In my head, this was going to be easy. I would choose party food from the project and then make it, which would both serve food to our guests and cross recipes off the list. What I failed to consider was the increased work that comes with making increased batches of each recipe….
In Week Four, I felt fairly proud of myself. I was doing it. I was working the plan, cooking almost every day, producing delicious food, and serving it to people I loved. I was full of life and feeling invigorated by the process.
Week Four also happened to be the week where I lost my ability to do it all….
In Week Three, I found my stride in the kitchen. After a thirty-recipe, husband-out-of-town, dinner-party-hosting Week Two, this week felt like a cake walk. My body was feeling less sore, my emotions less erratic, my pacing more predictable. This week I really started having fun!
In Week Two, due to some calendar complications, I was slated to cook thirty recipes. If you’re thinking thirty recipes sounds like a lot for one week, you would be correct. I could have chosen to change it, deleted a few menus, pushed some recipes into another week, but I am really trying to avoid messing with the schedule this early in the process. I powered forward….
Welcome to the first official Ina In A Year weekly update! It has taken me a little while to get my feet underneath me, to learn the rhythm of assimilating all of this cooking into my weekly routine, and to finally figure out what I want to write and share.
The good news? I have a lot to write and share. In fact, I can already see the potential for ongoing content that will come as a result of this project, long after the year is finished. My goal for these weekly update posts is to share with you a summary of how the week went, to list the recipes I cooked (including the cookbook in which they can be found), and to highlight anything notable that I learned along the way.
Choose your own adventure, and read as much or as little as you like. Let’s dive in!
I am two days into the third week of this project, and only now am I taking time to pen the first “weekly update” post, and this isn’t even a “real” update. I had every intention of writing a summary post every Sunday evening, posting it on Monday morning, and allowing you, the reader, an almost-real-time account of the details of the project.
Three weeks in, and not a single word I’ve published.
I thought I knew what to write, what to share, what to list. I thought I knew what this project would be like. I thought I knew the story I wanted to tell.
But then, reality hit…
Today is the day! September 24, 2018. I start cooking all of Ina’s recipes today, and I am excited!
Today seems like a good time to share with you some of my goals for this project. So here they are, raw and vulnerable. Some of them are practical and easy to measure, some of them not-so-much, yet equally important to me….
As I sit here, writing the last post before the project launches next week, I have a confession to make. I’m nervous. The nerves arrived on Friday afternoon. I couldn’t really catch my breath. My heart began pounding, my hands started shaking. It came over me like a cloud, and I couldn’t shake myself free.
It is Monday morning, and after a weekend with my family, a good night’s sleep, and all the healthy coping strategies in my toolbox…I am still nervous.
Hey guys. It's me. Fourteen days left until I cook all of Ina Garten's recipes in a year. NBD.
As you can imagine, things have escalated quickly over here. For me, the project has officially started because my staff and I have a system of work flows for each week of the project, and that work flow begins two weeks out. Which means we are in motion now.
This is not a drill. Things are getting real! It's all happening, and it's happening fast. Let's put on our listening ears and pay full attention because I have some super important pieces of information to throw your way. Here we go...
Four weeks sounds both an eternity away and simultaneously not near enough time for what needs to happen between now and when I start cooking over nine hundred recipes. A lot of my feelings are complicated by the fact that my husband leaves for another trip to Africa this weekend, and it is a long two weeks while he is gone….
Ever since I made the announcement about the Ina In A Year project, I have observed one of two responses from people. Either they get a really big smile on their face and can't wait to follow along, or they get a deer-in-the-headlights look as they scramble to try and figure out what I am talking about….
Last week I made the announcement. This week the real fun begins as I start to share the journey. The cooking won't start for five weeks, but we have a lot of ground to cover between now and then! So many things to share and show….
I have news. BIG!!!! NEWS!!!!!
Do you know who Ina Garten is? Ina Garten is a beloved cookbook author and television host, commonly referred to as the Barefoot Contessa (which was the name of the specialty food store she owned).
Ina taught me everything I know about cooking. I watched every episode of her show, read her books cover to cover, and have modeled my kitchen and culinary approach after her. Her imprint on my life is profound….