Hi, I'm Mathew and I got married a few weeks ago.
Like most of us loyal Ina fans will tell you, one of the essential elements of her show (besides reminders to use “good” ingredients) is Ina’s relationship with her “sweet husband,” Jeffrey.
Literally dozens of episodes are devoted to Ina cooking Jeffrey his favorite meals and randomly throwing parties/doing romantic things for Jeffrey just because she likes “any excuse to celebrate” her husband.
As a newlywed I’m impressed by the fact that Ina and Jeffrey have been together for nearly 50 years.
A lengthy, healthy marriage is something I aspire to have.
• In an effort to learn to become a better (new) spouse, I'd attempt to live like Ina Garten for a full week.
• The primary focus will be cooking meals that I'd consider David's favorites, and trying to make sure that no one else is cooking for him during the week.
• I'd also plan daily surprises and activities all focused on pleasing David. In essence, I'd spend the week completely devoted to my husband's needs despite the impact on my own sanity and stress levels.
I was up before the sun so that I could start the week with surprises for David, including homemade biscuits and brownies.
Trying to do my best Ina I even left out a handwritten note for David. I was feeling confident, like I was hella on my shit!
Then I walked outside. Into the pouring rain. ☔️
I'd been meticulously planning every meal and activity for the week, but didn't so much as google the weather when I decided to surprise David with an outdoor picnic at the beach.
Bad weather be damned, we were still doing our picnic! So I went to gather supplies from the same store Ina featured in an episode when she visited San Francisco.
Oh, here's what a $50 picnic looks like:
I know, it was an expensive-ass lunch, but my hope was that it would've been "the best picnic" David ever had. Because that's the compliment Jeffrey gave Ina when she served him something similar.
Yeah, no. David was appreciative of the meal, but after hearing all of the mega-compliments Jeffrey regularly gives Ina, I was totally expecting more.
Ina is always telling the story of how she wooed Jeffrey in college by sending him boxes of brownies, so I made sure to start off the week by surprising David with… you guessed it…brownies!
Once we returned home, I got right to work on Ina's grown up mac and cheese, a dish I normally wouldn't make because I'm not a fan of blue cheese.
David is though, so I was heavy-handed with the Roquefort.
Although he again didn't give me any Jeffrey-style compliments, he did seem to enjoy the meal.
My plan was to make a romantic breakfast for dinner meal, just like the one that Ina made for Jeffrey.
But while rewatching the episode I started feeling really irritated. Wondering things like, how the fuck was I going to find vanilla bean–infused sugar?
Long story short, I didn't. And I honestly didn't even know that "long-stem strawberries" were a thing, but after a few Google searches I realized it wasn't going to happen.
Overflowing raspberry royales were just the first of a few mini-disasters, which resulted in me sending David out multiple times for supplies.
By the time he got back from his second trip to the store I felt like I was almost entirely missing the point of this challenge.
Ina week had quickly became a source of extra stress for us both. The goal was to be completely devoted to David and his needs, not to send him out on multiple errands so that I could make an Instagramworthy dinner.
I was ready to call it a night, but then David finally gave me a legit Jeffrey-like compliment.
David and I had a small wedding ceremony and dinner, which did not include any sort of wedding cake. So, renewed after my first Jeffrey-like compliment, I got up super early and baked us a chocolate wedding cake!
Later that evening, I had two realizations.
First, I don't know how the fuck Ina manages to ice a cake wearing a fancy button-down shirt, because as soon as I turned on the mixer there was powdered sugar everywhere. I'd been trying to wear button downs every evening during Ina week, but on cake night it was impossible.
Second, trying to keep anything in the kitchen a surprise from David is really inconvenient.
Here's me guiding him through the kitchen into the bathroom between icing breaks:
I was tempted to obsess over the cake and spend another hour icing and piping. But honestly, I felt exhausted, and decided that I’d rather spend that extra time snuggling with David on the couch.
I couldn't resist.
Not two seconds after getting out of bed David asked me, "What surprise awaits me this morning?"
My response: "Toast." I was sassy, because I didn't like how he was coming to expect daily surprises. But in reality, there was another surprise awaiting David.
I had decided that not only would we do a movie night, but that we'd watch one of David's favorites: Before Sunrise. I honestly can't stand the film, but David has rewatched countless Disney movies with me over the years, so why not?
On my way home for work I picked up a few of the Ina-recommended products we needed for the rest of the week and goddamn, she has expensive taste.
I wanted to go with a simple, French-inspired menu since I'd be doing additional prep cooking for the next day. But these endive bites were a PAIN IN THE ASS to assemble.
The dressed pears were slippery, the endive leaves were small, and the blue cheese was sticky and smelly.
I grabbed a new plate to arrange David's endive bites in a pretty circle, and served myself the sloppy plate that I hid in the Instagram.
Replating endives for myself was two minutes I simply didn't have.
After dinner I was back in the kitchen making chili — 'til almost midnight — for David to eat the following evening.
To be honest I didn't mind spending the night making chili. First and foremost, it gave me an excuse NOT to watch Before Sunrise. But also, I really like cooking for my family.
I enjoy knowing that David relies on me for food, just like I rely on him for so many other things. The fact that we trust and rely on each other makes me feel like our partnership is strong.
I felt a little guilty about not being home for dinner, so I made something fancy for David's breakfast.
It was a bit of a dramatic morning though. David was up earlier than usual, and claimed to have reminded me, saying that he needed to be on the road by 8 a.m.
But he didn't need to leave that early after all. Come to find out the office he was visiting didn't open until 10. Whomp, whomp.
Potentially influenced by the unnecessary pressure to finish breakfast early, I tore into David about the fact that there were still dishes from the night before in our sink.
I was legit PISSED. I'd spent most of the week catering to David, and was irritated AF that he didn't clear the sink before going to bed. 😡
However, it didn't take me long to feel bad about maybe, possibly overreacting.
Although I was feeling irritable, I followed Ina's lead and posted a #TBT photo from our wedding.
I couldn't help but focus in on one of the comments.
One thing that became very obvious, very quickly, is how unrealistic is it to try and coordinate all of this cooking and surprises while working a regular, full-time job.
There simply aren't enough hours in the day. Ina's job is being the Barefoot Contessa. Sadly, mine isn't. So I took time off in order to spend the day really devoted to David.
To kick off our day of romantic activities I made David eggs, just like we had when we visited Le Café des Chats in Paris.
I was hoping that the breakfast would help set a romantic tone since whenever Ina serves Jeffrey a nostalgic dish he almost instantly recognizes it. Unfortunately, David didn't recognize the eggs.
It was starting to feel like I was just setting David up to fail. Food isn't a hobby for him like it is for me, so how could I reasonably expect him to get a reference as subtle as blue cheese on eggs?
For lunch I made us another picnic.
This time sandwiches and salads in take-out boxes that immediately became soggy, despite my best efforts to line them with saran wrap.
We also made a visit to our local Cheese Boutique!
I was eager to get home and get started on dinner, though, knowing that it would require hours of work.
Not only was I planning to roast a chicken, but I also had a guest coming over to transform our simple Friday night dinner into a surprise Hanukkah dinner party for David!
I was downright exhausted.
Between breakfast, lunch, and the roasted chicken, it'd been a marathon of cooking and baking.
But I had one last surprise for David, brownies and homemade ice cream, that quickly turned into an argument.
The events of the evening led me to a mini-revelation... Barefoot Contessa is a television show, and as such both Ina and Jeffrey are probably presenting a somewhat fictionalized version of themselves.
How can the rest of us possibly expect to replicate that caricature of a happy marriage in our own lives?
And by me, I really mean ME! Not necessarily me trying to be like Ina, but me focusing on myself.
During the first season of Barefoot Contessa, Ina devoted an episode to a "feel good" day for herself. It's full of Ina ridiculousness like her power-walking in a black button-down shirt then laughing at "slut" lip balm while out shopping. But the focus of the episode is Ina dedicating the day to herself, and that's just what I did.
After making smoothies for David all week, I started my day by making my own favorite smoothie.
It felt a little weird making just breakfast for myself, though.
For dinner I made two of MY favorites, cauliflower steaks and roasted pears.
And you know what? I made plates for David, too! Because it would have been dumb to cut up a cauliflower just to make one steak. And it would have been weird to heat up an oven and wait 90 minutes for just one roasted pear.
This final dinner turned out to be my favorite meal of the challenge. Not just because it was centered around items that I personally enjoy, but because they were dishes we were BOTH able to enjoy.
Focusing in on just David's favorites this week definitely created an aura of resentment, and I didn't like the pressure of having to cook dinner every single night after work. But that being said, I'll probably always love making food for the people in my life.
So what if I'm not showered with compliments? To be honest, I find it more satisfying seeing someone clear their plate, and/or go back for seconds, than to receive an inauthentic compliment.
• Ina and Jeffrey are obviously rich. The "good" ingredients she recommends are expensive, and kinda wasteful, IMO.
• Every relationship is different. What works for Ina and Jeffrey won't necessarily lead to a happy, long-lasting relationship for everyone. Trying to live like Ina was a lot of fucking work. David and I ate well, but I don't really feel like I became a "better" spouse.
• In my own personal life, I'll totally continue to be the partner who takes care of the food in our household, but recognize that pleasing my husband doesn't have to come at the expense of my own sanity. Why focus on cooking only his favorites, when I can make our favorites?