Ina Garten, my substitute mum

A sad new obsession began on a drab Monday night while waiting for University Challenge to begin. Flicking around the channels, I saw that Food Network UK had been added to Freeview.

Until last month I only knew Ina Garten as that lady that Adam the Amateur Gourmet adores; the one who did that roasted broccoli years ago. But as soon as I started watching my first episode of Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, I was hooked.

She was making a simple orange pound cake, loaded with butter. Sure, the cake looked good and hearty, and I admired her foresight to bake two so there’d be one for the freezer. But it took me two weeks to realise just why I found myself rushing home to be in front of the telly at 7 o’clock every night: Ina Garten looks an awful lot like my mum.

Ina Garten

The hair, the complexion, the smile; it is truly uncanny. Tuning in is like hanging out with a wealthy, American, cooking goddess version of the much-missed faraway Mothership.


  • both ladies
  • similar vintage
  • same hair colour and style
  • similar taste in shirts and chunky jewellery
  • same olive complexion
  • same twinkly eyes when smiling
  • equal enthusiasm for life, friends and food
  • both place an affectionate hand on someone’s shoulder when they’re about to say something nice to them


  • does not say “How easy is that?”
  • does not buy posh cheese
  • does not own a Kitchen Aid
  • does not have gigantic fancy house with a separate “barn” just for cooking
  • does not have fabulous friends constantly dropping by to arrange flowers while she cooks them a fabulous lunch
  • does not have bartenders naming cocktails after her (but surely this has to happen someday)


Sometimes as I watch I’ll imagine Freaky Friday life swap scenarios, where Mum is driving around East Hampton in a gigantic car buying artisan foods, attending charity auctions and yammering to camera in her Aussie accent. Meanwhile Ina is in Goulburn, hunting down the best prices at Aldi and Coles then hanging out the washing beneath the bleached sky.

Ina in the Rosemary

Even Ina’s banter with her beloved husband Jeffrey reminds me of Mum and her wonderful husband Ray. Both couples are truly cuckoo in love. When Jeffrey arrives home with steaks or French wine and Ina gazes at him with ga-ga eyes, it reminds me of the Skype chats when Ray appears with a cup of tea for Mum and she beams like a schoolgirl. And when Ina and Jeffrey wax lyrical about their recent trip to Tuscany as they scoff a bowl of pasta, I think of Mum and Ray in raptures over their latest bargain.

Ina and Jeffrey

“Did I tell you about the chicken drumsticks,” said Mum on our last Oz visit. She’d cooked a lamb roast and was recapping much she’d saved on each individual ingredient.

“I don’t think you mentioned it before?”

“Ray. Ray! Get those drumsticks out of the freezer.”

Ray sprang up from the dinner table, a man on a mission.

“Only three dollars a kilo!” he crowed triumphantly, waving two frosty packages in the air. “We got this steak, too!”

“We rescued them from the chuck-out bin,” finished Mum. “Nothing wrong with ’em!”

Gareth and I nodded with suitable reverence, realising that Mum had indeed found her true soulmate.

It might be February blues or general mumsickness, but until I see the Mothership again, Ina and her butter-laden creations are a very decent substitute.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for February 2023.

13 thoughts on “Ina Garten, my substitute mum

  1. When I was living on the other side of the country, I remember seeing replicas of my relatives in people I met. I guess it let me make sense of my new world. Though I never did see my Mum, you’re really luck to have two of them, specially one who cooks so well!

  2. Of course I had to click through to the ice cream story — eww.

    Your mom must miss you a lot too! My mother was angry when I thought about moving to Michigan — just across the state line — and you’re half a world away (I’m still in Ohio, couldn’t risk The Wrath of Mom).

  3. I love Ina! Russ and I spent our honeymoon lounging around watching Barefoot Contessa and drinking cava (so romantic). I like the episode where Jeffrey buys her a tent.

  4. This is just hilarious. I love that Ina reminds you of your Mum! Plus, loving the fact that you still enjoy the cooking shows….you are the reason I found Nigella Lawson! I read about her in your book and still DVR her old shows since we didn’t get the pleasure of seeing her in action her in the US for a long time! (Or at least we didn’t get her in the middle of the US…behind the times always…)

  5. How lovely to find someone so much like your own dear Mum that you can watch on TV, since your own is so far away. I was just writing about my dear departed Mum (but I called her Mom) this morning in my blog. I find myself using expressions that she did, and it makes me happy cause it makes me think of her in a very dear way, not that I don’t think of her anyway…every single day in the almost 23 years since I lost her. MUMS or MOMS are the best people in the world, aren’t they? Nobody loves us like our mothers, and when they’re gone, there’s a big fat void in your life. So enjoy your Mum, she sounds wonderful!

  6. Aw, so sweet. My own mom passed away in 1998 and my mission is to make my sons (and husband) feel like they “know” her, even if they never met her. Just yesterday I was telling my youngest how Snickers was her favorite candy bar 🙂 Because these are the important things to know about people, aren’t they? So glad you have a substitute TV mom and that you get to have Skypes with the real one!

  7. Shauna.. I laughed so hard when you said your mom doesn’t say “now how easy is that” I love Ina!! Her life does look amazing. Thanks for sharing with us. I enjoy your writing so much!!

  8. I’m obsessed with Ina, too! She is living the dream. Cooks, eats and doesn’t seem to mind carrying a few extra pounds.

  9. I cried when I read your comments . . . I imagine Ina as the ideal ‘mom’ that I never had. She looks so much like me that she COULD be my mom. I love to cook and entertain and travel, but I never had a nurturing, supportive relationship with my own mother. I often wonder why Ina was never blessed with children . . . but why my own mother was . . . and did not appreciate us. I would have given ANYTHING to have been Ina’s daughter, I know she would have loved me and been proud of me! I would have been so proud to show her off as my ‘mom’!

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