Long before Ina Garten bought a little specialty food store bearing the name, and even longer before she launched her empire, I was the Barefoot Contessa. It was one of my father's favorite nicknames for his only little girl, who reveled in the feeling of grass between her toes. (Dad loved Bogart movies.)
When I remember the happiest times of my childhood, my days of Contessadom, they are forever intertwined with Easter. Easter was my dad's holiday; Easter was Polish. Every year he would tell us of his mother making up the basket of food, the Swieconka, and how they took it up to church to be blessed. There were tales of his days playing polka music on the radio in the 30's (across the river at WEW?), of all the different ethnic neighborhoods in East St. Louis in the 20's and 30's and of Easter Mass at St. Adalbert. I loved these stories, as they were so few and far in between. Not unlike myself, my father was plagued by ghosts and stirring up the past often brought him more sorrowful than fond memories; Easter was one of the rare moments that his family history, my family history, would come to life.
Then to celebrate, we'd have the feast. Real Polish sausage from Madison, ham, beets, burnt flour Polish green beans, chalka raisin bread, vinegar potato salad, stuffed cabbage, perogies, ham and be sure to leave room for dessert! It was enough to last our tiny family for days. I can only replicate a fraction of it all, but whenever I brown flour or wrap up a golabki, it's Easter again. Even though my childhood and my father have both long since passed, I will forever hold those Polish Easters as timeless in my heart. And Ina be damned, I will always be the "real" Barefoot Contessa.