NEW YORK — Rachael Ray had big plans for the quarantine break at her home in upstate New York. She envisioned “a Renaissance time," rereading the classics, resuming her Danish lessons and studying Italian.
“I was going to get more serious about my painting. I had all these lofty goals ... and none of that’s happening," the popular daytime talk show host told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
“We have never worked this hard in our entire lives," said Ray, who is taping “#STAYHOME With Rachael” two days a week from her home.
Her husband, John Cusimano, is now the cameraman, producer, cocktail maker and musical guest. Their beloved pit bull Isaboo accounts for the entire studio audience, she jokes.
She wears sweats and no makeup, cooking low-budget meals based around pantry staples like chickpeas and pasta, offering a refreshing peek into her kitchen — she misplaces the garlic sometimes — and a comforting smile.
“This is a weird time. I can't say there's a silver lining ... but there are found moments every day," she said at the start of the first at home show.
She recently announced her organizations will donate $4 million to several charities including food banks and relief funds for laid-off restaurant workers, saying she wanted to “help people more than just, ‘hey, here’s three things you can do with canned tuna'."
Half the money will go to animal rescue. The animal lover says “a lot of the shelters can’t afford to keep going, there’s no workers. Animals are in crisis too."
“The more you earn in life, the more you owe in service and the more you owe to your community," said a passionate Ray. “It is our absolute responsibility to take care of each other."
That’s the answer she gives when asked why she’s donating so much — and also she’s afraid of her mother.
No, she’s not afraid that she might contract the virus, she's “absolutely scared to death" of the 85-year-old tough Sicilian who lives across the street.
“I’m scared because she’s tough," Ray said. “She wants a daily update of what you're doing to help the world. In detail."
Ray grew up cleaning shrimp and helping out in her mother's restaurant kitchen. They spent holidays alongside police and firefighters feeding hungry families. Their family celebrated the following day.
“Every holiday was like that. You had to be of service."
In rare down moments, Ray catches up with friends by phone and cooks Moroccan couscous in bone stock for her dog, garnishing it with carrot tops, mint and parsley. Her husband plays a mini banjo concert for Isaboo a few times a day.
“It feels so good to get on the phone and kibitz and share," she said. “I just like how much we’re using the old fashion telephone."