November 23, 2012
What's so Great about Martha Stewart?
I am not American, neither am I rich (well, not in money anyway), I am artsy, but not particularly crafty, so why have I, every November for the past twelve years, bought a copy of the December issue of Martha Stewart Living? What do I see in that magazine that is so enticing for me to spend 6 bucks on it, read it cover to cover, and then keep it enshrined with all the others on a shelf in my dining room to be brought out and pored over every year? I will attempt to answer these questions, for anyone who cares, in the following post.
Martha Stewart is an American icon by now. She seems to be an expert on everything from breeds of fowl to how to keep foxing (those brown age spots in old books) out of your collection of First Editions. She speaks with the alto voiced drawl of the more laughable New York Yuppies depicted in Norah Ephron and Woody Allen films, and her hair is forever blonde. She will hand roll her own wrapping paper in a faux bois pattern and curl ribbon to emulate wood shavings to extend the woodland theme she has chosen for all her Christmas decorations of a particular year even to her packaging of gifts. She will hand make all her Christmas gifts, be they delicious puddings or be they begonias produced from cuttings of her own perfect plants, and present them in re-usable vessels, such as terra cotta pots made locally in her Bedford, New York neighbourhood and stamped with the name of her farm, or specially chosen bowls from her collections, all wrapped exquisitely, of course, as mentioned above, and personalized with a handmade, thematic gift tag. I'm not sure how many of these gifts she gives out to friends and family, but I am willing to bet the number is a high multiple of ten - at the very least. I also hear Martha Stewart, like many powerful people, only sleeps four hours a night. Go figure.
I started my interest in Martha Stewart back in 1995, when I was talking to a friend about cooking my first Turkey for Christmas. My friend gave me an edition of MSL magazine with an article entitled 'Turkey 101'. I followed the directions to the letter and every year I use the same recipe because it makes for delicious results. How can it not, when basted in a bottle of white wine and lashings of butter? Martha Stewart recipes make up a large portion of my special occasion recipes, as well as some of my everyday ones. My mother-in-law heard I was getting into Martha recipes and bought me one of her cookbooks for Christmas in 1996. The best chicken or turkey stock, the best chicken soup (with leeks and fennel) to cure a cold with, the best devilled egg recipe, the best pumpkin pie recipe, the best gingerbread cookie recipe, are all to be found in that falling apart book. My husband bought me a subscription of MSL magazine in 2002 and, while I enjoyed receiving an issue per month, I was a bit overwhelmed with a new baby at the time, and one solid year of fantastic gardening tips for my nonexistent garden and advice on where to find the best bookbinder for one's antique tomes was enough for me. Fortunately, 2002 was a great year for the magazine and I still have all my copies and refer to them often for the best recipes for coconut cake, quesadillas with caramelized onions and zucchini, various cookies and punches, and for a delicious recipe for the chicken and corn empanadas my daughter has requested I make for her birthday party tomorrow. Her birthday cake recipe is also coming from a back issue.
I remember a party we had to which we invited a few friends for quesadillas and margaritas. I made a rich, hot fudge sauce from MSL for the ice cream sundaes I served for dessert. Like all MSL recipes it makes an overly generous amount (I have learned to halve some recipes, particularly for dessert sauces and such), but I made the full recipe thinking I would have leftovers to warm for a future dessert. No such luck. Three of the women at the party proceeded to sit down around the bowl of hot fudge sauce and polish it off. There went a pound of good quality chocolate, but also, there lay the proof of the appeal of MSL recipes. They just taste so darn good.
Martha Stewart Living is about more than recipes and beautiful, artistic photos of food. The magazine contains ideas and instructions for craft projects, features on wonderful American artisans, decorating ideas for houses and apartments, and even occasional articles on how to invest your extra money in a seaside cottage or mountain retreat (which I ignore because I already spent all my money on chocolate). What I like about the magazine is that it sticks to these themes, and it knows what it's about - gracious, good and healthful living, which celebrates the home and family and those who care for them creatively. It's honest about its purpose, too: good taste and quality matter. I also like the fact that much of what is presented in the magazine to be created at home is approachable for 'the rest of us' if we have the time, the desire, and the energy to make some beautiful, delicious things from scratch for our family and friends, and for ourselves. To be completely honest, I'm a busy person and I do not have time or energy to embark on a lot of projects. The times of year that I do make a point of doing so is in preparation for the major holidays, and most of my chosen projects involve creating good things to eat. So, in that way, I am not a thorough devotee of the great Martha. I am not always looking for patterns to make my own dog bed, or ways to stencil my furniture. But for a new cake to make for Easter, or a pretty ornament to make for Christmas gifts? Yes, I'm there, studying the Martha manual along with all the well-to-do housewives of Connecticut.
Martha Stewart Living put out a magazine for kids for a few years. I bought several issues and found them to be full of beautiful ideas to do with my children. We made batches of marshmallow fudge for their teachers, personalized gingerbread people with the neighbourhood kids, lots and lots of cut paper snowflakes after learning the real way to do so, and various other projects. I taught one little boy I looked after to make paper snowflakes and he and my daughter wiled away many hours making them and taping them up in my hallway. One year, my kids and I made little ornaments out of pipe cleaners - little skiing Santas and skating snowmen, wreaths, candy canes, stockings and tiny deer. The project was so much fun and definitely inexpensive. We sent one to everyone on our list with their Christmas card and a mix-tape of seasonal music. The kids made those pipe cleaner ornaments the next year, too, and the year after that.
The other night I bought this year's December issue of Martha Stewart Living. I brought it home with the groceries, which my eldest daughter, Emma, nearly sixteen, helped to put away. After the groceries were in their proper places, my daughter went to bed, but not before she had picked up the new issue of MSL and asked me if I would let her take it to bed with her before I had had a chance to read it. Emma is a baker, beginning to be a good cook, is crafty and like her mother, loves pretty things and good food. The next morning she said she had stayed up late, reading the magazine cover to cover and getting all kinds of ideas for projects to make. For the past two years, Emma has made a beautiful wreath from cuttings of cedar and holly for our front door at Christmastime. Every year she also chooses some kind of special dessert to make for Christmas, and just the other night, she came up with a prototype for our annual Christmas card. It was lovely, so I said, 'go to it!' and she has. I think I will end up being her assistant for that project - if I can keep up.
Years ago, a woman who immersed herself in cooking, baking and decorating would be called a 'little Suzy homemaker,' conjuring up images of a 1950's smiling housewife in a ruffled apron and pearls, but now, she might be called something like 'the next Martha Stewart,' which means something different entirely. I mean, does the owner and brainpower behind Martha Stewart Omnimedia look like a 'little Suzy homemaker' to you? Heck, she's even done time in the big house.
Photos found online. Happy weekend, friends!