Asking Martha

Sometimes it's the little things in life that can really make you smile. While flipping through the November issue of Martha Stewart Living, which is on newsstands now, I was delighted to see that the editors had selected a question I had submitted to them back in the spring. On page 68 you'll find my question about ironing vs. steaming and the helpful answer that accompanies it:


The last time I sent in a question to the Ask Martha column was in the early 2000s. My question wasn't selected but this past spring I thought I would give it another go. Sure enough, one of my two questions was chosen! I have a few tips on how to get your questions noticed out of the hundreds that I'm sure the magazine receives each month.
  • I suggest sending your questions via post, rather than by email. It's just a hunch, but I feel as though the editors will take more notice if you've taken the time to sit down and pen your queries on pretty stationery, as I did.
  • Ask more than one question. I sent in two, but you could send three or four or five: it gives the editors more to choose from.
  • Ask very specific questions. Don't be vague. A question like, "Are apples healthy?" is far too broad for the editors to respond with a succinct reply. An alternative question might be, "Do the skins of apples contain any added health benefits?"
  • This may seem obvious, but keep your questions in the realm of home, health and lifestyle: food, cooking, cleaning, organizing, collecting, gardening, repairing, mending and crafting are all topics the magazine deals with, so start with that footprint. 
  • Be patient. I sent in my question last May and it was only published in the November issue. Don't be discouraged if you don't see your question in the pages of the issue immediately following. 
I hope some of you take the time to Ask Martha a question or two! It's nice to get a direct response from actual experts and to see your name in print in your favourite magazine. Below is the address to send your letters to as well as the email.

c/o Letters Department
Martha Stewart Living
225 Liberty Street
New York, New York

The other alternative is email: Ask.Martha@meredith.com


Cookie Perfection

Martha's next book, Cookie Perfection will be out on October 15th. The book promises to take cookie classics to the next level with interesting flavour and texture twists. I'm pleased that the book will be hardcover: there's something so nice about a hardcover book. It is already a bestseller on Amazon and I'm betting it will be featured under quite a few Christmas trees this year. Below are some samples from the book you can try in advance of its publication. You can also find some recipes from the book at marthastewart.com. They all look soooo good! Click on the images to enlarge them.


The October Issue

I recently told friends that the October issue of Martha Stewart Living is to me what the September issue of Vogue is to its readers. I anticipate its inspiration and its commitment to celebrating fall. There is something about the magic of October that just invigorates a sense of creativity, it seems. It's not just Halloween; it's the changing of the leaves, the crispness of the air, the longer shadows and longer nights. All of these elements lend to a sense of change and reflection, I feel, and maybe therein lies the key to its allure for me. October is one of the best months of the year and Martha Stewart Living always seems to recognize that.
This year's issue is really quite excellent. The cover is gorgeous with its gourd owls perched on an autumn tree. Inside, too, there are pages of inspiration. The disappointment (and frustration) I experienced with the September issue is nowhere in evidence this time around. All the boxes have been ticked: there is plenty of Halloween content; there is lots of interior design content; a buffet of fall recipes to keep you and your family satiated: pasta by hand, hearty fall salads, soups and more. There is even a garden feature about how to use stone in a landscape with beautiful photos of an estate in Vermont. 

I was also very pleased to see the return of downloadable templates. Almost each issue of the magazine used to have templates the reader could download and print to use in craft projects. There would frequently be labels for organizing, checklists and calendars one could download, sometimes even entire booklets on preparing for Thanksgiving or for a holiday party, let's say. In this issue, there is a template to create the bats shown on page 19 of the Good Things section. The cute little sign used on the log candy dispenser on page 24 is also available to download and print. 
The QR codes so many readers had difficulty with in the last issue are still in this issue but they link to content that is truly extraneous. With the September issue my gripe was about the fact that the recipes for all of the cookies in the feature "Bite Club" were not printed in the magazine; the reader had to follow the QR code to obtain them. I felt this alienated quite a few readers. (The link for the cookie recipes happened to be malfunctioning at first, which also didn't help matters.) I feel that if food is shown in the magazine, the recipe should also be printed in its pages. In the October issue, the QR codes take the reader to additional content that merely enhances the content already printed in the magazine, which is how it should be. 

I hope all of you have the issue by now and that you're enjoying it. Happy Haunting!


Martha Stewart For True North Seafood

Last February, it was announced that Martha had partnered with Canadian seafood giant Cooke's True North to launch a line of four seafood entrées, including Atlantic and sockeye salmon, Alaska pollock and a seafood medley. Each entrée comes with Martha's signature seafood spices and herb butters. The line now has fairly wide distribution through Amazon.com and various retailers around the United States. Click here to learn more about the selection and where it can be purchased.
Consumer reviews on Amazon are strong. The online retailer is currently selling four entrées in one package for $75: a very good price for such prime fillets. The package includes two trays each of the sockeye and Atlantic salmon. All of the fish in these entrées was farm-raised in U.S. waters at True North's state-of-the-art fisheries.


The September Issue + QR Codes

The September issue of Martha Stewart Living is on newsstands now and it is always a little reminder that the routines of fall are something of a comfort. I'm anxious to organize my closet and put on a sweater again; I'm looking forward to making lunches for work and finding time on Sundays for a flea market or two.
The current issue is quite food heavy. There is a gorgeous shot on the cover by Marcus Nilsson of a roasted chicken with a rousing chant in bold print beside it: "LET'S GET COOKING" - a not-so-subtle indication that the content inside will be mostly culinary in nature.  Inside there is a full feature on cooking chicken 10 ways - a helpful repertoire for serving the most popular meat in America. There is also a feature on cookies that uses examples from Martha's forthcoming book Cookie Perfection (October 15, Clarkson Potter) and an Everyday Food section that is overflowing with ideas for weekday lunches, quick after-work dinners and a yummy dessert.

Sandwiched between all this food are the topics I enjoy most as a reader: a great garden feature about the cacti and succulent garden at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California; a feature about New York artist Kiva Motnyk who makes natural dyes and weaves gorgeous textiles, and a really fun feature on hardware store DIY projects for the home: think pegboard organizers, sawhorse desks, copper piping towel racks and steel shelving.

Best of all is the Good Living section, which encourages us to print some of those smartphone photographs that are perpetually locked on our screens. The editors urge us to display them and frame them in evocative ways at home. There are great insider tips from professional photographers and stylists on how to compose and arrange your photographs to great effect. I've taken note!

Kudos to the magazine, too, for continuing its monthly American Made and Change Maker features: they are two columns I always look forward to reading.


For the first time, the magazine has included QR codes throughout its pages, enabling readers to access online content and the company's social media platforms. By hovering your phone (having your camera on helps) over the digital icons that are subtly printed on the pages you are taken immediately to online sources for content not included in the pages of the magazine. This, of course, allows the magazine to print fewer pages, which are costly. For instance, the recipes for the cookies featured in the article "Bite Club" are not printed anywhere in the magazine. The reader must access the QR code to be taken to an online source to retrieve them. As a reader, I'm not entirely on board with this and I'll explain why.

From a business angle, this is smart, of course: Meredith Corp. can save by not having to print the recipes on an extra page or two and the reader is exposed to more advertising through accessing the online platform. From a reader's perspective, it's not great. If you don't have a smartphone you simply cannot access those recipes, unless you find them online after the fact. This alienates a chunk of readers. In my opinion, all of the recipes for all of the foods presented in the magazine should be printed in its pages. It is content we are ostensibly paying for as subscribers and newsstand shoppers so it should be there, in print, ready to be used - now and in the future. It is part of the parcel, part of the product we are buying.

Then there's the potential for technical difficulty. For example, I encountered quite a bit of trouble trying to access the aforementioned cookie recipes by attempting to scan the QR code on the page. I was taken to a Meredith Corporation page that asked me to log in. The image above depicts the login page I was taken to when I hovered my phone over the code. Perhaps it's a glitch with the code? Whatever the case, it was a frustrating experience and I soon gave up. The link has since been fixed, and the reader is taken to marthastewart.com for the recipes, but I would simply like to turn the page and see the recipes for the cookies presented in the pages of the magazine. The QR code should be an alternative, not the only way a reader can get content she is ostensibly paying for by buying the printed magazine.

I suppose my point is that shuttling readers to other sources to get content that ought to be right there in front of us is not especially user friendly. This is not really "additional Living content" we're accessing; it's content that is actually missing from the pages of the magazine we paid for in order to complete the recipes for food showcased on its pages. I hope the editors rethink this approach to perhaps make the process of hovering one's phone over an icon a little more rewarding for the reader, such as providing original or behind-the-scenes content. 


The editors have since provided a link to the recipes from the Bite Club feature in this issue. It is a PDF of all the recipes, which you can download and print if desired. Click here to get it.


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. The company released ten albums based on different themes over a four year period to diversify its portfolio and help the homemaker choose music that would be suited to different scenarios in her life.

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.


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.


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.