8.03.2021

Happy Birthday, Martha!

 Martha celebrates her 80th birthday today! She has already posted several photos of her celebrations at Skylands,  her home on Mount Desert Island in Maine - including a luscious looking, meringue-covered cake, decorated with rudbeckia flowers, sunflowers and ferns. (If you're not following Martha on Instagram @marthastewart48, you really need to be!)

I often take the opportunity on Martha's birthday to reflect on how she's influenced my life. The effect she's had on my approach to living has been profound. She taught me how to cook, how to bake, how to care for a home - all things no one else would really deign to teach me. They were subjects sloughed off as 'unimportant' or a 'waste of time.' How silly those admonishments were. I feel I can accomplish any task now with aplomb. The confidence Martha unlocked in me has been, I think, her greatest gift. It was there all along, but her guidance and instruction made it shine a little brighter. 

So, happy birthday to this legend, this amazing public figure who has accomplished so much in her lifetime and has shared it all with us along the way. Thank you, Martha! And cheers to you!

7.05.2021

Remembering: Lily Pond Lane

It was reported recently that Martha has sold her iconic home on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton, New York. I know that many of Martha's readers and viewers consider that home to be a beautiful reflection of her design aesthetic. Second only to Turkey Hill, perhaps, it is the home Martha's fans considered to be most familiar in terms of its style vernacular - particularly throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. It goes without saying, then, that we will miss seeing it in the pages of Martha's books and magazines going forward. The home was reportedly sold to former Huffington Post publisher Kenneth Lerer. 

I thought it would be fun to do a post about the house and the role it played in Martha's work. From a line of paints to a complete furniture collection based on the home's atmosphere and aesthetic, Lily Pond was enormously influential in the creation of many of Martha's products. It was an oft-used site for her magazine photoshoots, both indoors and outdoors, and was also frequently used as a set for her television show: season five of Martha Stewart Living features an extensive number of episodes filmed at this address, particularly cooking and gardening segments. Below is a brief history of the house, how it came into Martha's possession, how it influenced her business and a brief synopsis of some of its iconic style signatures. I hope you enjoy it!

Built in 1873, the house once belonged to one of East Hampton's most memorable preachers, Reverand Talmage. It stands on the site that used to be called "Divinity Hill" for the many ministers from New York and Brooklyn who stayed at its boarding houses. Some still call Lily Pond the DeWitt Talmage House, named after the longtime summer resident who commissioned extensive renovations to the home in 1893.

Martha first fell in love with the Hamptons in the early '60s when she would vacation there with her husband. One of her favourite streets in the area, even then, was Lily Pond Lane, known for its stately width and the rows of majestic beech trees that line the street, as well as towering London plane trees and elms. In one of her "Remembering" columns, Martha describes her initial attraction to the street she would one day call home:

"I was attracted to its quiet, serene appearance, and though most of the houses were tucked behind privet barriers, some of the gardens were fully exposed. The most wonderful one was on the pond itself. It was breathtaking. I stood and gazed at the profuse and colourful flowers, making mental notes of the types that were blooming so perfectly - dahlias, salvias, asters, daisies and roses."

Thirty years later, Martha would have her own home on this lovely street. It was apparently Martha's daughter, Alexis, who encouraged Martha to purchase the old house in 1990, shortly after her divorce from Andy Stewart. It was a place to start a new garden, make new friends and create something that was entirely hers.

Martha completed an extensive renovation of the shingle-style summer home, which had been badly neglected. Replacing the cracking plaster ceilings with beadboard and removing the outdated heating system in favour of a more eco-friendly modulating gas boiler were among the necessary changes. Martha also completely renovated the kitchen, installing new marble counters, mahogany cabinetry and a beautiful floor of handmade cement tiles from Mexico that had been dyed a deep teal. She enclosed a screened-in porch to create an expansive breakfast area with wall-to-wall windows. Outdoors, Martha planted  sumptuous gardens of climbing roses around her front porch and big patches of purple hydrangeas. There are over 1,800 tulip bulbs planted on this relatively small lot (just one acre) as well as hostas, Japanese maples and other shade-loving plants. The interior features large, open rooms with hardwood floors and big, bright windows. The six bedrooms played host to numerous guests during the summer months, when Martha entertained there frequently.
As with Turkey Hill, Martha used Lily Pond Lane as a design laboratory, a place where she could derive style inspiration and then turn that into product. Many of Martha's products at Kmart (the Martha Stewart Everyday line) were influenced by the style of Lily Pond Lane, with its summery-beachy cottage feel. There were paint colour palettes in each of Martha's paint lines that were inspired by the colours found at Lily Pond Lane, particularly soothing greens and blues, soft pinks and shades of yellow. A later collection in the early 2000s introduced deeper colours: mauves, olives, ambers and browns. 
When Martha leased Westport Digital Studios in the mid-1990s, Studio A was modelled after her East Hampton Kitchen. 

In the summer of 2001, Martha partnered with Bernhardt Furniture to create two lines of furniture, both based on two of her homes: Skylands and Lily Pond Lane. The Lily Pond Lane collection borrowed heavily from the design aesthetic of the furniture Martha used to decorate the home. In the opening of the Lily Pond furniture catalog, the collection is described this way: "The Lily Pond Collection embodies the beauty of a sun-filled cottage by the beach with airy interiors and a cool, seaside palette that welcome casual, carefree living."
The Tides Turn faux-bamboo bed was part of the Lily Pond Lane collection, based on some antique bamboo bedroom furniture Martha used at the house. 

STYLE SIGNATURES

Each one of Martha's homes has a distinct and distinguished personality, usually composed of elements drawn from the area where the home is situated but sometimes inspired by a certain way of life. (At Bedford, for instance, Martha employs visual cues reminiscent of Shaker villages). At Lily Pond the decoration scheme was very much about the garden, about the sea and about summer. 
The colour green (and all its various hues and shades) was very influential in the design philosophy that guided the interior decoration of the home. Reminiscent of sea foam and the underside of hosta leaves, the teal/turquoise shades used on the trim of the exterior of the house as well as several areas of the home's interior evoke a calm and cool atmosphere. Martha once painted the ceilings of several rooms in the house a vibrant combination of these saturated hues. 
The handmade Mexican tiles in the kitchen and breakfast room were dyed a deep teal colour, almost matching Martha's vast collection of teal-toned McCoy pottery, which resided at this house for decades. 
It will be interesting to see where Martha will integrate her collection of McCoy into other spaces.
Even exterior spaces, such as the porch, were treated with refreshing hits of teal.
Martha once kept all of her books about gardening and art at Lily Pond Lane. 
Taxidermy also figured very heavily in the decorating scheme, particularly fish and aquatic birds. Martha once said these Victorian specimens, which she has collected for decades, make a loud and peculiar statement. This antique mounted tarpon is a specimen from the late nineteenth century. Taxidermy suits the home's Victorian pedigree.

Many of us, too, will remember how enchanted we were by the prolific climbing roses that grew along the openings of the main front porch. Martha transplanted them to her home in Bedford several years ago. In their hay-day, however, the roses were among the most widely-admired features of the home's exterior.

To replace the roses, Martha planted clematis vines, barely visible here but beginning to make themselves known. She also painted the trim of the house a light shade of taupe, foregoing the familiar teal.

As years passed and Martha's lifestyle changed, she found herself spending less and less time at Lily Pond Lane - only a weekend or two each year. As she herself would say, "When you're through changing, you're through." I'm sure Martha is extremely grateful for the 30 years she played caretaker to this beautiful, historic home. 

If you're interested in reading more about Lily Pond Lane, click here. I also suggest buying the book "How to Decorate" by Martha Stewart Living, which was published in 1996. There are numerous photographs of Lily Pond Lane in its pages with very specific details about its decoration. 

6.30.2021

Making Martha's Best Summer Pies

I'm a sucker for a good summer pie - pies that are laden with cooked in-season fruits, or pies that derive their personalities from vintage-diner days of yore. During the last lockdown in Ontario, I endeavored to make more pies and I was inevitably drawn to some of Martha's recipes.

First of all, I find her recipe for pate-brisee to be the best one I've encountered, mainly because it is an all-butter crust. Shortening is great for flakiness, but it is lacking in the flavour department. I also like how all-butter crusts turn a beautiful golden-brown colour, rather than the pallid beige of a crust made with shortening. Her recipe is quick to make, too, using a food processor - basically, just a few seconds. I've included her recipe below.

All of the pies I made, shown below, were made using one of Martha's recipes. I've provided a link for each one. They each appealed to me for different reasons, but I hope you find one of them alluring enough to make yourself this summer! Enjoy!
Banana cream pie is one of my favourites. Even as a kid, I would seek it out at restaurants and diners. They became increasingly difficult to find over the years as apple pie emerged as THE pie shown on almost every dessert menu. Thankfully, having this recipe in my repertoire means never having to search for one again! The filling is luscious and creamy, studded with slices of fresh banana, then topped with sweetened whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Click here for the recipe or find it in "Martha Stewart's New Pies and Tarts".
Rum raisin is my favourite ice-cream flavour, so rum-raisin pie was an obvious choice for me. The custard filling is very subtly-flavoured with vanilla and rum and sits atop a layer of golden raisins along the bottom of the pie crust, which when cooked become plump and juicy. Topping each slice with whipped cream is essential. Click here for the recipe, or find it in "Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook."
This decadent tart is also inspired by an ice-cream flavour: the ever-popular Rocky Road. I made this one for Father's Day, since Rocky Road is my dad's favourite ice-cream flavour. This one uses a simple graham-cracker crust and is filled with a chocolatey ganache studded with roasted salted almonds, mini marshmallows and chunks of dark chocolate. The recipe for the crust calls for five tablespoons of melted butter. I didn't find this to be quite enough. I would increase the amount to one stick (half a cup) next time, since I found the crust came out quite crumbly. But... this is one of the most delicious desserts I think I've ever made. My father loved it, as did my entire family. I was asked for the recipe several times. Click here for the recipe or find it in the August 2004 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
It was the plethora of fresh apricots at the market this month that inspired me to make this pie. When I saw Martha's recipe for apricot pie with a coconut-crumble topping, it wasn't long before I settled on it. The flavour is excellent and apricot and coconut is such a summery combination. It's best served slightly warm with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Click here for the recipe, or find it in the June 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Next on my list is a coconut-cream pie... or maybe a cherry pie, or maybe a peach pie...

Martha's Pâte Brisée (All-butter Pie Crust)

(Makes enough for one double-crust 9-inch pie or two single crust pies)

INGREDIENTS:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

¼ cup to ½ cup ice-cold water

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

Step One: Ensure all your ingredients are cold before using, including the dry ingredients. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about ten seconds. (To mix by hand, combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then cut in the butter with a pastry blender or use your fingers).

Step Two: With the machine running, add the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, just until the dough begins to hold together without being wet or sticky. (If doing by hand, mix with a fork as you pour the water). Do not process for more than 30 seconds. Test by squeezing a small amount together; if it is still too crumbly or sandy, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, until it begins to come together. It should still be somewhat loose but hold together when squeezed.

Step Three: Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Shape the dough into flattened disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. The dough can be kept frozen for up to one month. Thaw in the fridge overnight before using. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes before beginning to roll it.

 

PREPARING AND BLIND BAKING A PIE SHELL:

Step One: On a lightly-floured surface, roll out dough to a 13-inch round, ¼ inch thick. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough, leaving a one-inch overhang. Tuck overhang under, flush with rim, crimping edges. Pierce bottom of pie shell with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Step Two: Preheat oven to 425. Line shell with a large round of parchment and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges are slightly golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove pie from oven and remove parchment and pie weights. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and return pie shell to bake for an additional 20 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before filling. 

6.17.2021

Martha.com is Live!

So many of us on the consumer end of the Martha Stewart spectrum have been wishing for a one-stop shop where all of Martha's products can be viewed, accessed and purchased. That wish has now been granted! In the wee hours of the morning, Martha.com launched - a new online portal to all of Martha's partnerships and product lines. No more skipping from one site to another to another to another in order to shop for Martha's wares. Martha calls it her "shop of shops."

The site is categorized by your shopping needs (entertaining, decorating, cooking, outdoor living, organizing, wellbeing and Good Things) with separate sub-shops linking to each of Martha's manufacturing and distribution partners, from Macy's to Marley Spoon. You can shop Martha's line of CBD products here, her wine selections, her furniture line with Wayfair and her products with Amazon. 

The site is still new and is still very much in development. Martha hinted that there will be new features to the site added weekly, including her full library of books, how-to videos and some of her favourite resources for the home, from gardening to antiquing. Be sure to keep watch!

6.16.2021

"Martha's Flowers" 2022 Wall Calendar

I've always been something of a calendar buff. I love a bright, engaging wall calendar to hang in my kitchen each year: they keep me organized at a glance and the monthly change of imagery is always refreshing. I tend to go for art calendars most often; ones that feature the work of a particular artist or a collection of works that fall under a specific theme - Japanese woodblock prints, for instance. If the calendar doesn't feature artwork, then it's definitely something garden related. Currently, I've got Martha's 2021 "Flowers" calendar up, published by Andrews McMeel. It will be replaced in January with the follow-up, "Martha's Flowers" 2022 Wall Calendar which came out yesterday. You can find out details about it below.

The calendar arrived today, much to my delight. It measures 12" by 12" when closed and 12" by 24" when open, featuring 13 full-colour photographs from the "Martha's Flowers" book, which was published in 2018, many of them unused outtakes that have not been published before.
The calendar opens with the last quarter of 2021, so you can get a head start in putting it up on your wall. 
The photographs are beautiful, printed on semi-gloss paper that was sourced responsibly. The calendar is marked with a seal of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council of America, meaning the paper was ethically and responsibly harvested. Similarly, all the printing was done with non-chemical soy ink. The dates for the previous and following months are also presented in the upper righthand corner for easy reference, negating the need to flip back and forth from page to page - very handy. 
What I love most about this calendar, aside from the glorious photography and fine paper, is the format of the grid and the thoroughness of the prelisted dates. There is plenty of room to write any personal text or memo, and many of the highlighted dates are international, which is helpful when you have friends and family living in various countries, as I do. Lunar cycles are also listed. At the bottom of each page there is information about the flower featured in the photograph - very helpful to novice gardeners.

The calendar is available to order online now and will soon be available in stores where calendars are sold. I highly recommend it. Two more Martha Stewart calendars (a ring-bound planner and a desk calendar) are slated to be released later this year, based on her "Organizing" and "Martha Manual" books.

6.05.2021

Martha's Dried-Apricot and Sage Scones

Sometimes you just need a scone. I grew up with my grandmother's scones and still use her extremely simple recipe when I want to make a quick batch. But I was intrigued by a recipe I found recently in the January, 2004, issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine: dried-apricot and sage scones. The imagined flavour combination sparked my curiosity and I had to try them out. I'm very glad I did!

The scones were flaky but moist and studded with soft, orange pieces of dried apricot. The real brightness of the flavour, though, comes from the addition of finely-chopped fresh sage, which infuses the batter with an unusual but perfect dash of something herbal to counteract the sweetness. (These scones smell amazing as they bake in the oven!) 

They are ideal served with a very good apricot jam at the breakfast table. I've even had them with slices of smoked turkey meat and a bit of salted butter, using them more as a sweet-and-savory biscuit. Below is the recipe. If you're a scone aficionado, I highly recommend trying these.

Dried-Apricot and Sage Scones

(Makes 8 scones)


INGREDIENTS:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon fine salt

5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup chopped dried apricots (about 4 ounces)

2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh sage

1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Sanding sugar (or regular sugar) for dusting

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

Step one: Preheat oven to 375. Place flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Work in butter with your fingertips or with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in dried apricots and sage. Add cream. Gather mixture together with your hands until it starts to hold together. (Don’t be too rough with it; this could toughen the dough).

Step two: Place mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Quickly bring the dough together: pat into an 8-inch round disk that is approximately one inch thick. Smooth the top gently with a rolling pin. Cut into eight wedges using a metal bench scraper or a large, sharp knife dusted with flour.

Step three: Arrange the wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with cream and then dust with sanding sugar, or regular sugar if sanding sugar is not available. Bake until cooked through and lightly golden-brown, about 30 minutes. Immediately transfer scones to a wire rack to cool. Let cool at least ten minutes before serving.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Cook’s note: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to four days.