8.15.2019

Remembering: Martha Stewart Living Music

The bone-chilling cackle of a witch, ghoulish growls and the lonely howl of a wolf... The single-track CD called "Spooky Scary Sounds" released by Martha Stewart Living on Rhino records was the first in a series of CD compilations released by Martha's company in 2000. Running 45 minutes, the CD was meant to be played at Halloween parties or at the front door on Halloween night when trick-or-treaters arrived. It was the first in a series of CDs that the company released over a four year period to diversify its portfolio.

With footing in every form of media at the time (publishing, television broadcasting, radio, web, e-commerce) the last frontier for Omnimedia was recorded music. The deal with Rhino Records saw the release of five other CD compilations after "Spooky Scary Sounds", each based around a particular theme with tracks personally selected by Martha to enhance atmosphere, whether it was to soothe a baby to sleep, get kids excited for playtime, to relax with a cup of tea or to play as background music while entertaining summer guests.
Artists sampled on the CDs include Carly Simon and James Taylor, Harry Belafonte, Jane Siberry, Lucinda Williams, Eva Cassidy, Linda Ronstadt, k.d. lang, Paul Simon, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson and many others. A holiday Christmas CD rounds out the collection, providing songs to "get you in the spirit" for holiday baking, decorating and entertaining. Many of the albums contained bonus material inside, accompanying the liner notes: recipe cards, craft instructions, ideas for entertaining, etc.
A new deal in 2005 with Sony records saw the release of four more CD compilations. All were based around holiday music to be played at Christmastime. Classified by style of music (jazz, classical and traditional) the CDs contained holiday music, selected by Martha, to be played at parties or just around the house during the holidays to set a festive mood. The three CDs, which were sold individually, were also packaged as part of one collection (The Holiday Collection) and listeners could get all three in one.

Although no longer being produced, many of the CDs are still available on Amazon or on eBay in either new or used condition. With the advent of Spotify and digital streaming, however, some may find the notion of a CD compilation a bit old fashioned. However, if you're a real collector of Martha's products, these CDs are fun items to have.

8.14.2019

Martha's Cornmeal Cake

When I bake for myself and my partner, I select recipes that are simple and delicious. And in the summer, it's all about using the oven for the least amount of time possible! Aside from crisps and cobblers, one of my favourite Martha dessert recipes to make in the summer is her cornmeal cake with blueberries and cream. It's a very simple recipe. I would classify it as rustic - nothing fancy about it at all. But it's delicious with a cup of tea at the end of a light summer meal.
The cake is light and crumbly with a hint of honey and a sugary crust. The addition of sour cream in the batter helps retain some moisture. The serving suggestion is to cut each piece, lengthwise, to create two layers, sandwiching the cream and fresh blueberries between the two. Other berries, such as strawberries or raspberries - or a mixture of several varieties - would also work in this recipe. I will occasionally add a drizzle of honey between the layers before adding the whipped cream for an extra bit of sweetness.
The cake bakes for just 30 minutes at 375 degrees: a blessing on hot summer days. The top of the cake is moistened with water and sprinkled with 1/4 cup of granulated sugar before baking. This creates a sweet crust that adds a nice bit of texture.
The recipe can be found in Martha's book "Dinner at Home." With few ingredients and very simple instructions, the cake is easy to make on a weeknight.
The book is becoming a favourite of mine as time goes on. What I like is that the recipes are grouped by season and then grouped into meals (usually four recipes per meal) including a main course, a side-dish, a salad and a dessert. This makes menu planning a breeze. Most of the recipes are quite simple to make and are designed to be made quickly. You can order the book here.

ABOUT CORNMEAL:

Cornmeal is used throughout the world as a cooking staple in myriad ways. It is dried corn that has been ground to either fine, medium or coarse consistencies - although never as fine as corn flour. Steel-ground yellow cornmeal is the most commonly used variety in North America: the husk and the germ of the corn kernel is almost completely removed in the grinding process. If stored in an airtight container and placed in a cool, dry place, cornmeal can be kept for up to a year. It is used in baking (cornbread, spoonbread, corn fritters, hushpuppies and johnnycakes), as a batter for fried foods (fish, corn dogs)  and in mixtures, such as porridge and grits.

8.13.2019

Martha's New Book on Organizing

Martha's follow-up to The Martha Manual: How do to (Almost) Everything, released earlier this year, will focus exclusively on the art of organizing. Published by the same imprint, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Martha Stewart's Organizing (288 pages) promises to be an indispensable textbook for those seeking to learn not only how to organize the home but also how to maintain ongoing organization practices.
Lessons are divided by the various approaches to organizational strategies (room by room, seasonal, daily and weekly) complete with organizing lessons, charts and to-do lists. Through setting goals, learning the principles of organizing, obtaining the right tools to help in the process and creating effective systems for ongoing tidiness, the reader will develop practical techniques and good habits. There are lessons, too, on how to keep your home clean as well as DIY projects to make tackling the challenge of organizing a little more creative and fun. Martha also shares her own organizing schedules with the reader as examples to work from.

This is Martha's second book on organizing. The first was published in 2001: Good Things for Organizing. It is still available in paperback on Amazon. It is a collection of the best organizing ideas from the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine, published to that date.

I'm looking forward to this book. While my apartment is extremely organized, I think there's always room for improvement! Martha Stewart's Organizing will be published on January 7th, 2020.

8.05.2019

Summer at Sklyands

Skylands was built for summertime. With its enormous terraces, decks and balconies, twelve bedrooms and grand dining room, this Seal Harbor residence was designed to entertain summer guests. The commissioners of the home (Edsel and Eleanor Ford) had it built in 1925 specifically as a summer hideaway where they could entertain family and friends during their holidays. Located high atop Ox Hill on Mount Desert Island in Seal Harbor, Maine, the 63-acre property is secluded but accessible, surrounded by conifer forests and Acadia National Park. (Click here to see all posts about Skylands).

Since acquiring the home in 1997, Martha has spent several weeks each summer at Skylands to continue many of the traditions and activities once enjoyed by the Fords: playing tennis and squash, hiking, boating and entertaining large groups. She almost always celebrates her birthday at Skylands and did so again this year on August 3rd, surrounded by special guests and loved ones.
Under Martha's care, Skylands comes alive in summer. The planters and pots on the terrace are filled with greenery every Memorial Day weekend. About the same time, the crushed granite gravel for the driveway is brought out of storage and redistributed on the lanes. From that date onward, things never really slow down. In June and July, the home's full-time caretakers go into overdrive preparing for Martha's visit: polishing silver, washing every dish, dusting, cleaning and organizing the guest rooms for their occupants. The grounds crew gets to work planting vegetables and flowers in the garden. The forest trails are once again topped with that silky carpet of collected pine needles and all the leaded-glass windows are expertly washed. Tropical plants are selected by Martha from her large greenhouse in Bedford, New York, and are driven up to Maine where they are placed throughout the home and on the terraces.

Just before her arrival, flowers (usually lilies but sometimes hydrangeas) are cut from her New York cutting garden, too, and are driven to Skylands where they are arranged by her friend and colleague, Keven Sharkey in massive, awe-inspiring displays to herald Martha's arrival and her guests.

Below is a collection of photographs gathered from various sources, including Martha's magazines, books and blog, to illustrate the beauty of this home during the height of summer. I hope you enjoy them!
Martha is shown posing with a guest beside her vintage Ford Edsel station wagon, named after the original owner of the home, Edsel Ford. It was a gift from her daughter, Alexis. In the background, a Skylands van is shown. It is used to pick up guests from the airport and take them around the island on excursions and day trips.
Martha looks excited to be in Maine! The crushed pink granite gravel on the drive is collected every fall, washed and stored until the following spring, a tradition that has been in practice since the home's inception. (This procedure keeps the stones from being plowed away during the winter months when the lane is cleared of snow.)
This urn looks beautiful potted with a tropical palm and begonias. It is one of two that flank the front entrance.
At the back of the house, the terrace looks lush with all the summer plantings. The pair of glazed terracotta sphinxes by Emile Muller (left) look as regal as ever.
The house is almost obscured by the lush greenery on the terrace. Day lilies bloom every summer, surrounded by hostas and a massive kiwi vine that is almost 100 years old.
More day lilies and lush foliage in this pretty corner of the terrace. The gnarled trunk of the kiwi vine hints at its age.
This antique stone trough is used as a planter, proffering a variety of succulents. Moss is encouraged to grow between the spaces of the stones on the terrace. Martha refers to the look as "cracked ice."
Tall hemlocks and pines surround the house and terrace. Beyond is a view to Seal Harbor.
Party time! This view of the terrace taken from a second-floor balcony demonstrates its scale.
Around the corner from the main terrace is a smaller one used for more intimate dining occasions. It is located under a pergola that is canopied by the prolific kiwi vine.
Outside the living room is the western terrace and pergola where Martha frequently entertains small groups outdoors.
What was once the service entrance at the east end of the house (used by staff to access the kitchens) is now one of the most frequently-used entryways to the home. Martha hangs Boston ferns around its small porch.
Faux-bois planters figure heavily as a motif at Skylands - both indoors and outdoors. Here, by the service entrance, they are planted with staghorn and maidenhair ferns.
The driveway outside the service entrance is frequently used as an entertaining space.
The summer menus at Skylands always include fresh Maine lobsters!
Young and curious onlookers marvel at the live crustaceans that are soon to become their dinner!
Martha had dozens of these special lobster bibs made for her guests.
Not far from the service entrance is the counsel circle - a landscape design element that was not built by the Fords when Jens Jensen presented his plans for the grounds. Martha went forward with the plan and built it as Jensen had intended.
The myriad pathways that wind through the 63 acre property look magical when lined with the soft pine needles that guide visitors through the woods. Just as with the crushed granite on the driveway, these pine needles are gathered up every fall, put through a special contraption to remove any forest debris, and are stored for the winter until the following year.

Quite a distance from the main house is the service area of the property. Shown here are the large vegetable and cutting gardens as well as the carriage house, stables, greenhouse and garages. There are several guest rooms above the carriage house, which is also frequently used for entertaining.
The vegetable garden is planted every spring to yield a good bounty by the time Martha arrives for her summer sojourn.
Guests enjoy a special meal prepared by Chef Pierre Schaedelin of PS Tailored Events outside the carriage house.
In the main entrance of the main house, one of Kevin Sharkey's lily arrangements sits in a massive concrete urn on a console designed by Martha.
In the main living hall, a gorgeous arrangement of white hydrangeas and lilies dominates the central table, which is always laden with books from Martha's collection.
Martha's massive guest book sits on top of the faux bois table, which was made by Studio Cortes.
Another gorgeous arrangement of lilies in the living room.
A multitude of colourful roses look beautiful in this faux-bois basket planter.
The flower room at Skylands is where all the magic happens!
 Not all of the arrangements boast flowers. This grouping of moss was taken from the surrounding property and propagated indoors in a large pewter dish.
Microcosms of the forest floor beyond the walls and windows are planted in Martha's various faux-bois planters indoors. They are the perfect foil to the robust look of the interiors.
The guest house at Skylands, located a short walk from the main house, is painted sunset pink.
The bedroom in the guest house is all set up for a good night's sleep.
This bedroom, too, looks just as inviting!
Above the trees: the view of Seal Harbor from the upper deck at Skylands. I hope you've enjoyed this little summer stay! For a look at Skylands in the winter, click here.

Special thanks to Alan in Scotland for suggesting this post!

7.08.2019

Summertime And the "Living" Is Easy

I've been enjoying the July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living, which has been on newsstands for a couple weeks now. My preference is always for the fall/winter issues of the magazine but I've been gently training myself to linger a little longer on the pages of the summer issues. I've already decided to make the pasta salad recipe featured in the Everyday Food section of the magazine for a big family BBQ in August (I will likely double the recipe) and those gorgeous looking brownies on page 60 of the magazine (Fudgy Turtle Brownies - hello!) will be made for a summer potluck later this month.
What I'm enjoying about the summer issues is the simplicity of the recipes; there is an ease to them that I find appealing and yet the editors are still aiming for complex and layered flavours. Like summer itself, the food presented in the issue is down-to-earth, lending itself to alfresco dining with just that little touch of elegance that keeps it from being paper-plate fare.

Speaking of paper plates, the lean towards a greener life in the magazine is something I've really taken to. I'm enjoying the overt and subtle ways the magazine is steering the content towards a more eco-conscious track: more making, a little less buying; raising awareness through the "Change-Maker" column and always including a garden feature to make the reader stop and think about the earth and its bounty. This magazine is still my favourite.

This will be my last post for awhile. I'll see you when the September issue hits the stands. Happy Summer!

6.24.2019

Martha's Coffee Available on Amazon

When Martha Stewart first opened her cafe in New York City (at her company's headquarters in the Starrett Lehigh Building on West 26th Street) a kind American friend of mine sent me a small care package containing some of the best the small cafe had to offer: Martha's favourite breakfast tea blend, her favourite coffee blend as well as a beautiful apron.

The cafe's online store, where you could once order these products and more, is no longer in operation. Happily, however, the consumer can now find an assortment of Martha's coffee blends at Amazon.com - a recent addition to the Martha Stewart Shop, the company's online shopping hub of its product lines.
The coffees were all produced in partnership with Barrie House Coffee Roasters, a New York based company founded in 1934. All of Martha's coffees are Certified USDA Organic (grown without pesticides or herbicides and harvested in a sustainable way) and are certified Fair Trade, meaning the farmers who grow and harvest the beans are not exploited. Martha's Blend is described as smooth and mellow, sweet and balanced, complex in flavour and never bitter or burnt. Each of the 10 ounce bags shown above is $10, or $1 per ounce. Martha's Blend is available in whole bean, whole bean espresso, whole bean decaf, ground and ground decaf.
Also available are boxes of single-serve capsules: each box contains 22 individual servings. You can purchase one package or a grouping of up to four boxes, amounting to 88 capsules. (I personally don't recommend single-serve packages of any product because of the waste they produce).

These coffees are currently only available for shipping within the United States.  Click here to shop.

5.27.2019

The June Issue: Sheet Cake Surprise

The arrival of the June issue of Martha Stewart Living always imparts a sense of excitement in me. While it is true that the fall/winter issues of the magazine are my favourites, the delivery of the June issue brings with it that childlike anticipation of the longer, warmer days ahead; caution is thrown to the wind and as many hours as possible are spent outdoors enjoying the best of summer.
The best feature in this issue is the cover story: six delicious sheet cakes to get you through a myriad of summer occasions, from family picnics to gatherings at the cottage with friends. The cover photograph is a beautiful tribute to these easy summer treats. Shown here is a strawberry shortcake sheet cake, topped with mounds of whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Inside the issue are five other sheet cakes you'll want to add to your repertoire of summer entertaining recipes: easy as can be and perfect for a crowd. (There is something nostalgic about sheet cakes, too. They make me think of my grandmother and the wide, icing-laden versions she would make when we would visit her at the cottage).
Dennis Landon, a member of the Martha Moments Facebook group, tried his hand at making the cover's confection in the breakroom at his office! In a pinch, he used a standard cake pan instead of a sheet pan and a toaster oven instead of a standard oven, but says the recipe held up perfectly. Since his colleagues were eagerly awaiting their slices, he topped each piece individually with whipped cream and fruit and served it immediately, rather than decorate it as shown on the cover. Dennis says this will now be his "go to" shortcake recipe because of its delicious flavour and its ability to adapt to his whims of improvisation! (I can't wait to try it, myself!)