7.07.2020

The July/August Issue

As summer quickly unfurls and temperatures soar to new heights, there's something comforting about a lakeside lounge with a good magazine. That's precisely how I enjoyed the new July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living, which is on newsstands now: seated on a chaise-longue at "the point" (as we call the rocky promontory that juts out into the water) down by the lake at my parents' cottage.
I was a bit taken aback by how thin the issue is for a double issue - just over 100 pages - recalling the summer issues of years past that approached the 200-page mark. But such is the state of the magazine industry these days. I'll take what I can and savour it just the same.

The issue feels good - a nice ode to 'summer splendor' as the front cover announces. There is a thorough summer guide to 102 places in the United States worth visiting that I'll file away for my next visit south of the border, which may not be until a year or so from now, given the state of things. The Good Things section has a nice recipe for homemade vanilla ice cream I may have to try and a nice five-ingredient chocolate-chip cookie that is gluten-free. Everyday Food presents four easy summery pasta dishes that look truly delicious and a tart-looking fruit kompot that uses peaches, plums and strawberries to give it an extra zing.
The well of the magazine covers all the bases, from food to gardens to interiors - which is something I always appreciate. It opens with a feature devoted to simple, seasonal meals that make the most of summer produce and fresh ingredients. A garden feature by Johanna Silver and photos by Claire Takacs about the evolution of a Washington state property from a fussy English garden to something decidedly more Zen (and lower-maintenance) was a good read. It proves you can change your mind when it comes to your garden choices and still come out ahead. The star of the issue, however, is the cover story about peaches by Christian Wright and photos by Paola + Murray. Who doesn't love a ripe, juicy peach -  not to mention that cute emoji? This versatile fruit is the very definition of midsummer.
Five desserts are presented that put peaches in the starring role. There's a fluffy meringue, a creamy tart, a tangy fruit salad and refreshing fruit pops. But the centerpiece of the article is definitely the Cardamom-Scented Peach-Apricot Cobblers with its warm, syrup-glazed fruit under a fluffy shortcake topping. It's on my "to-bake" list for August.

The issue quietly fades out, literally, with a feature on using sheer fabrics in interiors to lighten the space. The ideas are great but I found the palette of the feature to be a bit grey and dull. I know they were going for "light as air" but some blue or light green touches would have infused the photos with a little more vibrancy. Still, the little mesh screen on page 94 would look wonderful in my living room.  All in all, a fun issue and a nice poolside or lakeside read on a warm summer afternoon.

JULY/AUGUST ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Favourite Good Thing: Five-Ingredient Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies, page 54

Favourite Recipe: Cardamom-Scented Peach-Apricot Cobblers, page 86

Favourite Find: Colour-blocked pillows by Coterie, page 27

Favourite Feature: A Natural Progression by Johanna Silver with photos by Claire Takacs, page 76

6.26.2020

Martha's Strawberry Cake

If June was a question, strawberries would be the answer. There is no fruit I associate more closely with the month of June than the gorgeous local strawberries of southern and eastern Ontario: plump, deep red, delicious and in-season. A few weeks ago I was leafing through the Martha Stewart's Cakes book, taking note of some of the recipes I was interested in making this summer. One that stood out for its simplicity was the strawberry cake on page 239. (You can also find the recipe online: click here). I decided to make it for the Summer Solstice weekend and I am very glad I did. The ease with which it's made belies the satisfaction of its flavour. I highly recommend you try this one this summer: simple and scrumptious!
Baked in a pie dish and bursting with berries, this homespun dessert offers an excellent excuse to go strawberry picking - as if you need an excuse! Take it with you on a picnic or to a backyard potluck, and serve it straight from the dish. (You can bake it in a 9-inch round cake pan if you prefer).
This cake is best served warm, in my opinion. I served the pieces with a couple fresh strawberries per slice and wish I had had some vanilla ice cream to accompany it, although it doesn't need it - and neither does my waistline.
Summer on a plate! So good!

6.25.2020

Martha Returning to HGTV and Food Network

No one knows how to take "free time" and spin it into pure gold better than Martha Stewart. Not only has she been putting her cooking and gardening skills to the test during quarantine but she's also been developing new television shows!

A new program for HGTV called Martha Knows Best is tentatively scheduled to air later this year, although it is still in production. Filmed at Cantitoe Corners, Martha's farm in Bedford, New York, the show will invite viewers to follow Martha around her property as she completes household and gardening tasks. This is exciting news for all of us viewers who have wanted, for so long, a show that takes us inside the workings of Martha's farm. Episodes began filming recently and will continue throughout the summer. Stay tuned to HGTV for news about a firm air date.
Martha will also be returning as a guest judge on Chopped on the Food Network for its next season and is also developing a "holiday-themed series" for that channel. We'll have to wait for more details about that show, but it does sound intriguing.

6.14.2020

Lemon Snack Cake with Raspberry Cream-Cheese Frosting

Snacking cakes were a staple at both my grandparents' homes when I was growing up. My paternal and maternal grandmothers both enjoyed making small cakes for 'anytime' and there would always be a glass cake dome on the kitchen counter with a confection of some sort when my brother and I would visit. Cut into small squares and served with a glass of milk, they were always welcome treats.

In the June issue of Martha Stewart Living, my memory of these cakes was triggered by the recipe by Greg Lofts on page 64 of the magazine: a lemon cake with raspberry cream-cheese frosting. It was not a matter of if I would make it, but rather when! Last weekend I seized the opportunity - and I'm glad I did. It is moist, fluffy and delicious with a lemony tang. Paired with the richness of cream-cheese frosting, spiked with the light flavour of freeze-dried raspberries, it's the perfect cake to enjoy with a cup of tea or just on its own. Click here for the recipe.
I made my cake in a square pan since I wanted to cut it into small squares, but the recipe calls for a 9-inch round cake pan. Finding the freeze-dried raspberries was a slight challenge since my usual grocery store did not carry them. I visited my local health food store and found them there. They are an important ingredient because they tint the frosting a light pink (I avoid food colouring as much as possible) and add a subtle berry flavour that balances the lemon taste of the cake nicely.
I encourage you to try this recipe if you haven't yet. It's simple to make and so very easy to enjoy!

6.11.2020

The June Issue

Although summer has not yet officially arrived, the June issue of Martha Stewart Living is always a good pre-launch read. I've said before on the blog that summer issues of magazines are not generally favourites of mine. In Canada summer is basically just a sneeze in a long, long winter cold (to borrow a Joni Mitchell line) so there's such an urgency to get outside and experience it rather than read about it. Still, Martha's summer issues are always good guides to making those long, languorous days a little more inspired. The June issue - which is the annual food issue - has an excellent flow to it that keeps the reader engaged.
It's been interesting to witness how the editors of the magazine have re-imagined the content to suit a quarantine situation these last couple of months. Traditionally, the June, July and August issues of the magazine have heralded outdoor entertaining and summer gatherings with friends and family. The editors have not descaled their presentation of food and drink but have certainly been responsible about presenting socially-distanced scenarios or suggesting the reader file away their ideas "for future gatherings."
There is some excellent photography in this issue, particularly in the well of the magazine, which has a generous wealth of visual delights. An article called "Crystal Clear" by writer Kevin West with photographs by Chris Simpson is a chronicle of a charmed third act for an older, creative couple who began a new business on the Caribbean island of Bequia. The photos just immerse the reader in everything summer; you can almost feel the warm sun, smell the salty sea air and taste the tropical fruit.
Another favourite is the article "Kentucky Classic" by writer Monica Michael Willis with photographs by Ngoc Minh Ngo: a historic house, long abandoned, is restored by a landscape designer who had long admired the property. The results of his efforts as a gardener are beautifully chronicled here.

There are other great things to admire about the issue, too. The requisite June article on grilling was lost on this apartment dweller (who has actually never been attracted to the art of grilling) but many will enjoy the plethora of delicious-looking offerings. There is a delicious cake recipe to try. I tried it and it's been added to my list of 'Best Cakes' which I keep on file on this clunky old PC. There are some fun Father's Day crafts and Martha serves up some fun cocktails to try this summer. It was a pleasure to read this issue.
Subscribers will enjoy an alternate cover featuring Martha wearing a dress by Nili Lotan.

JUNE ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Favourite Good Thing: Fun Father's Day shirt cards, page 25

Favourite Recipe: Lemon Cake with Raspberry Cream-Cheese Frosting, page 64

Favourite Find: Christophe Pourny's Studio Store, particularly the hats, page 46.

Favourite Feature: "Crystal Clear" by Kevin West

5.26.2020

Modern Domestic Manuals

I'm one of those rare individuals who not only enjoys cleaning, but also enjoys reading about it. No, seriously... The act of cleaning and getting your house in order can be an enjoyable process once you've learned to appreciate the benefits and rewards they bring: not only do you achieve an aesthetically-pleasing space but one that is easy to navigate, simple to maintain and comfortable to live in. By reading about some of the best practices for cleaning, organizing and maintaining a home, I've come to understand some of the best ways to do "chores" as well as how often to do them, what tools to use, even what thoughts to keep in mind while doing them!
Building a homekeeping library is something I've done over a period of time. I didn't just go out and buy every single book on cleaning and organizing I could find. Instead, I've curated a small library of good reference materials that I do source often for good advice or for a refresher in the philosophy of clutter-free living. Below are the books on the subject I have in my own personal library that I find informative and inspirational with a brief description of each.
If you can only get one book on the subject of maintaining a functional home then Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook is the one I would recommend to every homeowner or apartment dweller. I refer to it consistently. Put simply, the book has all the answers to all the questions any homeowner or renter might conceivably have about the maintenance, layout and function of a home's exterior and interior spaces. It contains specific, detailed instructions and how-tos for all forms of cleaning and organization. It has checklists, timelines and trusted techniques that are beautifully presented in an organized and well-formatted book that is encyclopedic in scope and size, with over 750 pages of information. This is THE book on maintaining a safe, functional, inviting home - day to day, week to week, month to month and season to season. The design of the book, too, is a pleasure to admire: all of the photography is black-and-white and the only accent colour used throughout the book is a cool teal. It enhances the pleasure of referencing its pages. Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook is the modern day encyclopedia of household maintenance and I feel every household should have a copy.
 The Martha Manual is similar to the Homekeeping Handbook but is less of a giant and has a slightly more approachable air about it. The book promises to teach you how to do (almost) everything and it very nearly does! Whether it’s organizing, celebrating, cleaning, cooking, decorating, or any number of other life skills, the team at Martha Stewart Living delivers its strategies for meeting frequent challenges with basic how-to knowledge that everyone should have at the ready. Also included are plenty of solutions for the not-so-common conundrums, such as how to transport a decorated cake to a party, bathe a cat, or the proper way to fold an American flag. It teaches cooking basics, gardening basics, even how to play lawn games and wrap presents! It's definitely a fun book for a new homeowner to receive and its friendly layout, full-colour photography and bullet-point information makes it a pleasure to read.
The follow-up to The Martha Manual is Martha Stewart's Organizing - published in exactly the same hardcover format but with a specific focus on getting your life and all your personal spaces to work more efficiently. 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 develops practical techniques and good basic 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 and calendars with the reader as examples to work from.
Cheryl Mendelson may not be the household name that Martha Stewart has become, but she's enjoyed tremendous success as the author of several books on the art of keeping house. She's even been a guest on Martha's television show, just to illustrate there's no real rivalry here. The two books shown above (which were purchased secondhand at a used bookstore - hence the lack of dust jackets) are Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House at left, and Laundry: The Home Comforts Book on Caring for Clothes and Linens shown at right.

The former is the largest of the two, coming in at over 900 pages! Published in 1999, the book was a national bestseller and is considered today to be a classic. Choosing fabrics, cleaning china, keeping the piano in tune, making a good fire, folding a fitted sheet, setting the dining room table, keeping surfaces free of food pathogens, watering plants, removing stains — Home Comforts addresses the methods as well as the meanings of hands-on housekeeping, which is what gives the book its charm and wit. 

Laundry is essentially an embellished excerpt from Home Comforts - the entire section on laundering from its parent book is presented here in a revised and updated format with a new introduction by the author. If it's caring for clothing and linens (and rugs and upholstery and curtains) you're interested in, this book dives deep into that subject. Not only does the book instruct you on how to wash literally every form of textile in your home (from the canvas of your shoes to the fabric of your drapes, to every form of carpet and rug and table cloth) it also deconstructs and evaluates the chemical compositions and effects of the various detergents and solvents we use to clean those textiles. Every form of washing is researched at length, from hand washing to dry-cleaning to every cycle of the washing machine to every cycle of the dryer: every type of stain and every single way that stain can be removed. It's a lot. But as resource books go, this is THE book on laundry.

If you can only choose one, choose the Home Comforts book, since it covers everything and contains most of the content found in the laundry book. I found both books in used condition for very good prices so I decided to add the two of them to my library. 
From the creators of that amazing design repository, Remodelista, comes The Organized Home, one of a series of books on the art of creating a considered home. Employing a "less-is-more" approach, the constant push towards minimalism in the book can at times feel a bit pedantic but the principle of the book and its multitude of ingenious little ideas makes it worth having. The slim book is not at all prosy - staying true to its minimalist nature - and relies instead on bright, crisp imagery of a perfectly-organized pantry or closet to say what it needs to say. Bullet-point notes and captions beside the images guide the reader through the finer points of achieving the look. The chapters are divided by rooms and there is a definite emphasis on paring down to the most essential of essentials. The book advocates natural cleaning, living in a plastic-free environment and investing in quality storage that is also stylish. Remodelista has a very definite and recognizable brand and it may not be to everyone's taste: pared-down rooms awash in neutrals with not a stitch out of place. But if you can get past the branding, the ideas are quite useful and stylish. The resource guide at the back of the book has excellent information on how and where to donate, sell or recycle your unwanted goods as well as an extensive list of retailers that procure containers and stylish storage options to help you get the look.
No discussion of modern domestic manuals can be complete without a look at the ever-controversial Marie Kondo. Her books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy were both international bestsellers, suggesting we all needed a little reminder to take a good, hard look at the 'stuff' in our lives. The two books really should be read as a series; they are meant to be companions. Although, if you can only choose one, choose the former. 

Essentially, the subject is about the "Japanese art of decluttering and organizing," written by professional organizing guru Marie Kondo, who lives and works in Japan. The book is much, much more than that, however. It is really a philosophy book. Although it does offer up some step-by-step advice on getting rid of things you no longer need or want, its primary purpose is to get you to think differently about the material things that surround you: treating objects as though they have energy or a kind of life force of their own. Throwing your clothes on the floor, for instance, is a sign of disrespect for that object; even hanging your sweaters, which leads to stretching and pulling, is a form of abuse in Kondo's world. Folding garments is a much gentler and kinder option, she suggests, and the gesture symbolizes your gratitude. 

The book forces you to look at the objects you keep near you as things that have the potential to be sacred. If they are not sacred or have no purpose, they are taking away from your enjoyment of life and sapping you of energy. I find the philosophy to be very positive and quite accurate. My criticism of the book is that too often the solution is to simply "throw it away." In today's world, the concept of donation and/or repurposing would have been a more responsible suggestion. Also, not everyone will be inclined to organize the way Kondo suggests: putting everything of one type (clothes, books, shoes, papers) into giant piles in the middle of the floor and then sorting through the items to determine what to keep and what to remove. I'm sure it is effective but it requires absolute devotion and the strictness of her insistence of doing it this way - and only this way - may put some readers off. The book is well worth a read, however, as I do believe it has the power to alter your way of thinking about how we live with objects.

Its follow-up companion book, Spark Joy, is the practical guide you'll need to put Kondo's suggestions into practice. The book features step-by-step folding illustrations for everything from shirts to socks, plus drawings of perfectly organized drawers and closets. Kondo also answers frequently asked questions, such as whether to keep “necessary” items that may not bring you joy. With guidance on specific categories including kitchen tools, cleaning supplies, hobby goods, digital photos, and even building your own personal “power spot” in your home.

TO SUM UP:

If you enjoy the subject of the domestic arts (and I think if you've read this far, you probably do) then these are my personal recommendations to start a homekeeping library. I suggest starting with the gargantuan tomes, acutally: Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook and Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts contain such a wealth of information that you really get more bang for your buck. In another post I may look at the original books (from the early 1900s and on) that lay the foundation for books like the ones mentioned above. Books like An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy, The Concise Household Encyclopedia and Mrs. Beecher's Housekeeper and Healthkeeper were the great-grandmothers of today's modern domestic manuals and are worth sourcing if you can find them.

5.24.2020

The Tulips of Canada's Capital

Each May in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada - the nation's capital city and my hometown - there is the Canadian Tulip Festival, which celebrates Canada's unique relationship with the Netherlands.

In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude for Canadians having sheltered the future Queen Juliana and her family for the preceding three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War.

A view of the tulips and a statue of Lt. Colonel John By, best known for his supervision of the construction of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. Beyond the statue is the Peace Tower of Canada's parliament buildings.
The tulip festival has been ongoing since 1953 and every year Ottawa receives new bulbs from the Dutch which are planted in huge swaths around the city: along promenades, in city parks, adjacent to the Rideau Canal and in urns and flower boxes around government and public buildings. There are over one million tulips, planted en masse, in various parks and public grounds around Ottawa. The city really does bloom this time of year!
This year, because of the pandemic, there is not really going to be a "festival" (there are often booths with artisans from around the world, musicians, and souvenir kiosks) but citizens who live nearby can still enjoy the scenery, as my husband and I did today. We visited two locations where the tulips are planted in large groupings: Major's Hill Park and Commissioners Park. There are some incredible varieties and there’s a lot to learn here in terms of design. Unfortunately, the National Capital Commission, which maintains these grounds, does not provide information about the specific tulip varieties on display. I hope you enjoy the photos!
MAJOR'S HILL PARK:
 This is Major's Hill Park, directly across the street from the National Gallery of Canada, shown in the background: seas of tulips!
 In the background of this photo is the Chateau Laurier Hotel, which has been closed due to the pandemic since March.
 Tulips have always been traditionally planted in large groupings to best showcase their beauty.


In the background of this photo is Ottawa's Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the oldest in the city.

COMMISSIONER'S PARK:
At Commissioner's Park, where the Rideau Canal meets Dow's Lake, there are more than 350,000 tulips planted.
 There are many unique kinds of tulips on display in this park.
 The colour combinations are spectacular.


This house has always been one of my favourites in the city: it's right on the edge of this beautiful park, overlooking the lake and all these tulips.



CLOSE-UPS
Of all the tulips we saw that day, this one was my favourite. It's utterly beautiful.
 This one is almost rose-like.

 Fascinating to peek inside a tulips petals.

Another stunning variety.