'Twas a red-letter week in Bookland! We completed the final three of our 16 interviews (totaling 20 people), and even though I wish I could keep going and interview people forever, it’s gratifying to have crossed the finish line with one phase of the project. Each and every interview was tremendously fascinating, and often people felt comfortable enough to open up to us and reveal very personal thoughts and reflections. It was sometimes a little like taking confession or conducting therapy, and I remarked to David that so many people wound up saying, “You can’t write this but…” and then telling us something they apparently rarely admit to others. Of course all that off-the-record stuff stays in confidence!

So yes, if you haven’t yet heard, the “Big Ask” who agreed to be interviewed for the book was the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. I didn’t want to share the news until the interview had taken place, and yesterday, David and I found ourselves sipping coffee with Ina on the patio of her barn in East Hampton. We are fortunate to have a mutual acquaintance who thought the premise of the book was important and timely, and she encouraged Ina to participate. From my research, I can tell you that Ina doesn’t grant many interviews, so we were thrilled and very grateful to our friend for making the connection. Since we started our food blog last summer, so many people have asked me if I’ve met Ina, but to be honest, I’ve always sensed her quest for privacy, and I’ve wanted to respect that, so I haven’t actively pursued an introduction.

I will tell you that the interview was just as wonderful as with the other 19 incredible people who have graciously spoken to us, it’s just that Ina may happen to have a more familiar name than some of the others. And I won’t tell you what subject we interviewed her on –you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

But admittedly the setting was far more inspiring than, say, when we’ve conducted telephone interviews from my boring old writing office! Question: how do you possibly show up empty-handed to Ina’s barn? Answer: you don’t! My boys and I baked her Outrageous Brownies the day before and wrapped up a bunch for her in cellophane with a big bow. Matthew decided he and his brothers should take the opportunity to thank Ina for sharing her recipes, so he wrote a note and all the brothers signed it and stuck it on the package of brownies. And really, brownies make everyone smile.

The barn is positively stunning. If you watch The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, you’ve seen the long work island, and there is also a long dining table along the huge French doors. There were vases of spectacular flowers around, and the table had lots of work piles. Jazzy background music was playing in the barn, wafting up to the sky-high rafters. The interior colors were soft and natural, highlighting the sunshine and green shrubbery outside. The barn has a warm, organic feel to it, and you can instantly feel how much Ina adores being there, just steps from her main house. Because it was sunny and warm, Ina invited us to sit at the picnic table on the patio, where we spent an hour with her.

Like nearly all the other folks we’ve interviewed, Ina didn’t initially think she necessarily personified the virtue we were talking with her about, but then, like nearly all the other folks we’ve interviewed, she had a revelation and came to view herself a bit differently. I think that has been the most rewarding aspect of this project: helping people see themselves in a different light and recognize something admirable in themselves that they may not have realized.

We had timed our interview perfectly, and after an hour, Stephen Drucker, her editor at House Beautiful, pulled into the driveway for a scheduled meeting. We left feeling enriched to have become acquainted with a lovely human being – not a celebrity. My gut had been right that Ina is just a real person who loves her private life and eschews the trappings of fame, and I think she appreciated the fact that Dave and I were just real people and not obsessive, sycophantic fans. We learned from her just like all of our interviewees, and considered it to be meaningful time with a wise, kind person.

I’ll be writing fiendishly this week to finish up these last few profiles, and then the fun really begins when we start writing our own thoughts and observations in the letters that will make up the meat of the book. For a while, I’ve been under-satisfied with the “hook” and the subtitle, and during a preliminary discussion about the letters over sushi and sake last night, I think I may have finally stumbled upon something significant. Let’s just say that there was another time that I had an epiphany over sushi and sake –and our twins were born 36 weeks later. I guess the combination just makes me prolific! ‘Nuf said.

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