Saturday, December 17, 2005


I don't watch much TV but it's always on, and usually on the Food Network. I really enjoy Rachael Ray's Thirty Minute Meals, and she has a line of cookbooks to go along with the show. I got to play with two of them: Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Get Real Meals: Eat Healthy Without Going to Extremes and her latest, Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats--A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook).

Lots of great recipes - but I must admit, while I really believe Rachael can get these done in thirty minutes, I usually can't. I don't chop as fast as she does, and her ingredients are always right in the front of the pantry or refrigerator - I can spent ten minutes looking for the fresh Italian parsley that somehow got buried in the produce crisper drawer. But even if it takes me a little longer, I don't mind because they really are easy, and always delicious.

And I'm not the only one in my house who's a fan - my husband is enamored of Ms. Ray. So when I heard she would be signing books at the Barnes & Noble store in Wellington, Florida, we made arrangements to go. Of course, that didn't turn out as easy as I thought it would be. I understand that Rachael is a big star but I've been to a lot of book signings and have rarely run across this many rules and restrictions. I blame B&N for part of it, they blamed the publicist, and either way there were a lot of angry people left outside. Let me backtrack...

The signing was scheduled for 6:00 pm. Rachael had another signing earlier in the day across town, and the day before, and so forth, so I'm sure she must have been exhausted. I called the store around 1:15 and spoke to a bookseller I knew from my Borders days. She told me to get my butt up there, that there were already about 50 people lined up. The publicist dictated no more than 225 people were to have books signed, not an unreasonable number.

B&N decided to start giving out wristbands to the first 225 people in line at 3:00. Not 6:00 as advertised. Although to be fair, apparently in their ad in the local newspaper there was some fine print about the 3:00 time, but most people did not know about it, including some that had been in the store early in the morning purchasing several copies of Rachael's cookbooks to be signed later in the day. They were not informed about the 3:00 wristband thing and they were angry. They were also not informed that she would only sign 3 books per person, and only the three books that had been released by her new publisher - her older cookbooks from her previous publisher could not be signed.

I tried to pull some strings and have my friend secure me a wristband, but nothing doing - I was told that no staff members could reserve places for friends, and that even staff were not guaranteed they would get their books signed. So I headed up there, figured I'd get my wristband, head back home, pick up my daughter from school, get my husband, and go back to get the books signed. But after waiting in line for an hour and a half for my wristband, I saw all the people that had been waiting ahead of me were now lined up outside the store. The wristbands were not numbered so another line was necessary. Well, actually they were numbered but they weren't using the numbers. And imprinted on the wristband was an ominous warning that having one didn't guarantee anything.

There were some lovely employees working that day

I got in the new line, called a friend to pick up my daughter, called my husband so he could leave work early, and they met up with me a couple of hours later. I met some lovely people in line, two teachers from NY, a canine cop (well, the human half of the partnership) and some old Borders friends who had jumped ship to B&N. After waiting for half an hour outside, B&N employees realized that there were people waiting in the line who didn't have wristbands and they threw them out. Then they let the rest of us into the store to wait.

A few friends tried to get in around 4, but were turned away at the door. They let in anyone who said they just wanted to shop, and my friend JP managed a glimpse of Rachael for his trouble. Bev said she couldn't get near the mysteries because of the line - it snaked up and down most of the rows of books, making shopping an impossibility except for the strongest willed reader.

When Rachael finally appeared, the crowd let out a roar, there were people screaming "I love you Rachael!" and general madness ensued. Protected only by a handful of booksellers, it had to be a little scary for her to run the gauntlet across the store to where they had a table set up for her signing. Most people behaved, but there were a few incidents, including some booksellers who were threatened with physical violence. One confided that perhaps a real security force might have been more appropriate than just some very non-threatening booksellers.

After waiting for five hours, we finally approached the front part of the line, nirvana, where an overtaxed, overwhelmed B&N employee informed me that I was only allowed to bring one person with me. My husband immediately banished our 13 year old daughter , who acted very nonchalant about the whole thing, but I was annoyed. I told the woman that I had spoken to Lauren (the B&N community relations person running this nightmare) and that she had said it was okay. Defeated, she let the three of us through. By the way, I lied - I spoke to Lauren but not about that. The things mothers will do for their children. Yech.

As we got closer to the promised land, we were informed that only staff members were allowed to take photos - they would use our camera and take one picture. No posed shots. No one allowed behind the table with Rachael - they had to lean in across the table while Rachael signed their book. She would only personalize her newest cookbook, and just sign the other approved titles.

Ahead of us in line was a woman with her young daughter. Paige was probably about 9 years old. She clutched an obviously well used but unapproved-for-signing Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals for Kids: Cooking Rocks! cookbook and chattered excitedly about Rachael. When it was finally her turn, Rachael invited her behind the table, explained who Isaboo is (her new puppy) and to her credit, not only looked through the cookbook with the little girl, she signed it, personalized it "Paige Rocks!" and made that little girl feel very special, and very happy. It was lovely to see after such a hectic afternoon.

Then it was our turn. My camera was confiscated, my husband and daughter told to lean in, and a bad photo snapped while Rachael signed our books. She never even picked up her head. We were ushered away immediately - my five hours in line garned us thirty seconds in the presence of Rachael Ray.

Was it worth it? For the smile on my husband's face, yes. And the cookbooks are ...definitely worth it - great stuff. I really like the new one, 365 No Repeats, which she says just about killed her, that is a lot of recipes! But it's really laid out well and they are easy to follow. The cookbooks read like she talks - she's not real big on measuring so while there are measurements in there, there are also her comments - a palmful of this, E.V.O.O. (extra virgin olive oil) around the bowl four times, etc. Some favorites are Boo's Smoky Chicken Patties on Buttered Toast (I eliminate the toast though), Turkey Saltimbocca Roll-Ups, and my daughter's favorite, Honey Nut Chicken Sticks. From Get Real Meals we like Pork Loin Chops with Sweet & Hot Peppers, Chicken Cacciatore with Rigatoni, and we love the Portobella Pizzas. Fun, fast, easy and delicious!

Search This Blog