Hello, fellow citizens, did you get the very important pandemic advisory this morning? No, not that ominous robocall from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser warning Washingtonians to stay home. I am referring instead to the guidance issued by another woman we all need to be listening to in this time of crisis: Ina Garten, who has ordered us to mix up a gallon of Cosmopolitans and drink the entire thing midday.
Look, in times of crisis, we need to listen to the experts. For public health advice, we turn to Anthony S. Fauci. And when it comes to all things food and drink, it is our sworn duty to follow the directives set by Ina Garten, the unrivaled queen of good living.
Garten, the prolific cookbook author, cooking-show host and lifestyle guru known as the Barefoot Contessa, on Wednesday posted a video to her social media channels with the kind of instructions we’re used to getting from her on her cooking shows or in other short videos she posts. But this one was off the rails from the first few seconds, and it’s exactly what so many of us needed.
Let us first note that Ina’s video came out midmorning, or in the parlance of my new work-from-home calendar, snack o’clock. (Yes, we’re on a first-name basis — I own all of her cookbooks, I have repeatedly tried to get my husband to do a couple’s costume with me as Ina and her doting husband, Jeffrey, for Halloween, and I even interviewed her once.) This deviance from the usual scheduling, according to Ina, is okay. “During a crisis, cocktail hour can be almost any hour,” she tells us. This seems like good advice.
The best thing about the video is its embrace of a world turned upside down. Ina offers up the usual touchstones we’d expect to see on one of her tutorials — reminders of gentler times, when we worried about matters like finding “good” olive oil, instead of things like losing our jobs, finding face masks or the possibility of our loved ones perishing — only to obliterate them. “You never know who’s going to stop by,” she says, by way of explaining why you need to make a party-size pitcher of the drink. That’s exactly the kind of line we’ve heard on so many of her shows, where friends are always popping into her hydrangea-ringed Hamptons farmhouse for brunch. But then she plunges into the abyss: “Wait a minute,” she says with a laugh. “Nobody’s stopping by!”
She deploys her signature lines, advising us to use “good” vodka and asks, rhetorically, “How easy is this?” as she splashes cranberry juice cocktail into the pitcher.
Such on-the-nose flourishes makes it seem like … Ina is in on the joke? It seems as if Ina Garten, who always seemed completely sincere and in the moment, has gone meta on us. For all these years, has Ina Garten been just a performance artist playing Ina Garten? Who knows? Perhaps that’s something to contemplate after downing a pint of vodka.
And so by the final beat of the video, we are ready for the twist. The right martini glass is important, she tells us. “I’m going to show you the one I use.” Ina fans love these moments — the ones where she shares her favorite linen napkins or brand of vanilla extract, so that we might emulate them in the hopes of getting ourselves a life just a little like her charmed one.
Then she reaches off-screen and pulls out a massive glass, one of those jokey ones like the wine-guzzling characters on “Cougar Town” use, claiming that a glass (big enough to fit a bottle) a day is healthy. “Stay safe, have a good time, and don’t forget the cocktails,” she tells us, before offering up a last trope of Ina-ism — the one where she enjoys her own creation with an enthusiastic “Mmmm.”
What can I say? The queen has spoken, and I must follow. I decide to channel Ina’s anarchistic cocktail-hour energy myself, a task made easier by the fact that I happen to already be wearing a denim shirt, which is Ina’s iconic lewk. It’s midafternoon, but as Ina reminded us, this is a crisis, people.
I don’t have cranberry juice, not even the bad kind. So I figure I’ll shake up a margarita instead of a Cosmo. It’s got lime and triple sec, so it’s close enough. Midafternoon cocktail hour isn’t a recipe, I tell myself, it’s a mood. It’s Ina’s mood. I turn up my collar.
I forgo the jigger I usually use to measure out ingredients and instead slosh the booze in the pitcher confidently, just like Ina. I shake it until it is icy.
Ina’s coronavirus-era Instagram feed was already a joy — lately, she’s been offering comforting glimpses of her own pantry and freezer, sharing recipes for the kind of scrounge-cooking we’re doing these days. A video she posted last week of Bolognese bubbling on the stove while classical music plays in the background is the visual equivalent of an anxiety-reducing weighted blanket.
But with this video, Ina has become the coronavirus hero we didn’t know we needed.
I pour the pale-green concoction into glasses, the biggest I have, large Duralex ones, because I don’t own a proper fishbowl-size martini receptacle. I deliver one to my husband, who has just finished a work call upstairs. Unlike Jeffrey always does when Ina serves him whatever she’s made, he does not look delighted, merely a little concerned.
Alone, I sip the concoction and think of the things I learned from Ina today. Like that in times of crisis, traditions such as cocktail hour can feel grounding — even if they aren’t in exactly the right place. And that I shouldn’t care how this looks, a woman sitting in front of her computer, ostensibly in the middle of a workday, guzzling a massive margarita.
After all, there’s no one to judge. We are our own company. As Ina has reminded us, “nobody’s stopping by.”
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