I couldn’t agree more and what better time to talk about fun and eating than the holidays? It’s the time of year when we gather round tables with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry. I also couldn’t agree more with Ms. Child as when she famously said, “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.” I cannot stand cilantro…it tastes like soap and smells like stinky feet. I am so happy I am not alone in this aversion!
I am not a serious cook but I do enjoy serious food. There are so many TV chefs and cooking shows these days it’s almost stress-inducing, and cookbooks are written by everyone from Rachael Ray to a take on “Fifty Shades of Gray…” for real! In honor of good friends, good food, and good cooks, I’m dedicating today’s blog to two of my favorite famous chefs: Ina Rosenberg Garten and Sandra Lee. Amazingly, other than a love for cooking and entertaining, the two women could not be more different.
I have long enjoyed Sandra Lee’s “Semi-Homemade” television show and I recently her autobiography, “Made From Scratch,” which gave me a whole new level of respect for her. There is a huge misconception that Lee was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and grew up in a life of privilege. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Lee and her sister were raised by their Grandma Lorraine in California after essentially being abandoned by their mom. Although their life wasn’t extravagant, it was filled with love and set the stage for how Lee would live her life, despite many, many obstacles.
“I was going to be kind and nice, generous, supportive and nurturing, thoughtful and disciplined, and all the things Grandma Lorraine taught me to be – a lady,” writes Lee.
After raising her sister and two brothers, Lee headed out on her own and became truly a self-made, albeit homemade, millionaire. She first arrived on the scene with “Kurtain Kraft,” a window treatment system that sold like hotcakes. Before you could blink, she was on QVC, self-publishing her “Semi-Homemade” books, and becoming a “lifestyle goddess.” None of it came easy though.
“I was dealt a hand that might have had a very different outcome if I ever allowed myself to feel like a victim,” she writes. “But I have taken the lemons that life has handed me and made sweet, delicious, homemade lemonade.”
Her ideas were genius: easy-to-follow recipes using specific brand-name products combined with fresh ingredients. Her demographics are women she calls “semi-homemakers.” They include both stay-at-home and working moms who run their households and run around all day doing things for others. They are the ones in charge but make their husbands believe they are and she wants to do things quickly but efficiently so she can cross them off her ever-growing “to do” list. On the outside these women are calm, but inside they are overwhelmed with pressure. They take care of others, and they take care of themselves.
“A woman of grace is the hero of her home,” says Lee. “She makes everything happen for the people in her life but never forgets to make herself a priority too.”
Sandra Lee practices what she preaches. She creates all recipes and menus under her brand, as well as the themes, décor, and tablescapes…all designed with the intent of being easy to duplicate. Her goal is to inspire viewers to believe that no matter what they are going through, they still have the ability to create a happy home.
“I have a passion for making a room look beautiful and a flair for doing it on a budget,” she boasts.
Lee did end up marrying wealthy, but always felt more in tune with her beloved semi-homemakers than the luxury she was surrounded by. She says the jet set life was perhaps “fun,” but not “fulfilling” and ultimately divorced.
She still talks daily to her siblings and her most prized possession is a pair of her grandma’s shoes. She says they represent the fact that until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, it’s impossible to know the challenges they face and the adversity they’ve overcome. Fittingly, her grandma’s favorite poem was the popular “Footprints in the Sand,” which Lee says reminds us that we are never alone and that no matter who you are or where you’re from, sometimes everyone needs a helping hand.” Indeed, as she says, “asking for help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you smart.”
Love her or hate her, you cannot deny that Sandra Lee is one smart cookie…literally and figuratively. She’s lived a life that would make her grandma very proud.
It’s Not Rocket Science
My other favorite TV cooking personality, Ina Rosenberg Garten, grew up anything but disadvantaged. Garten was once a White House nuclear policy analyst but today we know and love her as the Food Network’s popular “Barefoot Contessa” host. I love her low-key style and her cookbooks are some of my favorites. She is, in a way, the antithesis of Sandra Lee yet I love them both.
Known for recipes that emphasize fresh ingredients and time-saving tips, Garten had no formal training and taught herself culinary techniques. Quite an accomplishment for the Brooklyn-born daughter of an otolaryngology surgeon dad and opera aficionado mom. Little Inga was always encouraged to excel in school and showed an early aptitude for science. Today she credits that scientific gift for many of her experimental recipes.
She dabbled in cooking and entertaining as a military wife and also earned her pilot’s license. A later trip to Paris prompted her to study the culinary talents of Julia Child and she began hosting her now famous weekly dinner parties. All the while she earned an MBA at George Washington University after a move to Washington, D.C. with her husband and ultimately wrote nuclear energy budget and policy papers for Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Her job stressed her out though and she found comfort in cooking and ended up focusing on it. It all started with a gourmet food store and now includes several best-selling cookbooks, magazine articles, self-branded products, and her popular TV show. I love how this accomplished and educated woman is now teaching all of us how to braise, blanch, and baste. It’s not rocket science, but it has launched her into kitchens everywhere, and as Gary Allen Sledge says, “It is difficult to know what counts most in the world, but I am beginning to see that the things that really matter take place not in the boardrooms, but in the kitchens of the world.”