12.29.2010

(Fruity) Cocktail Hour

When it comes to cocktails, I tend to like them fruity. (No surprise there!) In fact, the fruitier the better. I rarely drink, so when I do I like to make it an experience that's packed with flavour: a taste-bud dazzling experience. Below are some Martha Stewart cocktail recipes I hope to try. Each one is infused with a fruity element for a delicious kick. I've added them to my little rolodex of cocktail recipes and I hope you'll add them too. (Remember, please drink responsibly!)
CRANBERRY COSMO: Homemade cranberry- and orange-infused vodka is the base of these deluxe cosmopolitans. The classic cosmo ingredients -- cranberry juice, orange liqueur, and lime juice -- complete the cocktail. Click here for the recipe.
POMEGRANATE-CHAMPAGNE PUNCH: Pear nectar and orange liqueur are mixed with pomegranate juice and a bottle of Champagne to create this easy, elegant punch. In place of the Champagne, you may use Prosecco or Cava, or any other variety of sparkling white wine you wish. Click here for the recipe.
SORBET AND CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL: The classic Champagne cocktail is updated with sorbet in place of the traditional sugar cube and bitters. Use raspberry, passion fruit, lemon, or whichever sorbet flavor you prefer. Click here for the recipe.
COGNAC SPARKLERS: The distinctive flavor of Cognac is perfectly complemented by the soft sweetness of sparkling apple cider. A few dashes of bitters in each glass add just the right balance to this cocktail. Click here for the recipe.

MULLED WHITE-WINE SANGRIA: Honey syrup is infused with lemon zest, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, and mixed with dry white wine and sweet orange Muscat. This white sangria is garnished with a bounty of winter fruit, including apples, pears, Meyer lemons, and kumquats. Click here for the recipe.
LEMON-DROP CHAMPAGNE PUNCH: Simple syrup infused with lemon zest adds aromatic sweetness to this punch made of vodka, lemon juice, and a bottle of Champagne. Garnish each glass of sparkling punch with a strip of candied lemon peel. Click here for the recipe.

12.26.2010

Birthdays!

I follow in the tradition of all the great Capricorns whose birthdays fall somewhere between Christmas Day and New Year's Day: self-promote, or risk having your special day be forgotten in the fog of holiday madness. My birthday is December 27th (Marlene Deitrich, Gerard D├ępardieu) and I have no qualms about shamelessly screaming this from the proverbial mountain top. To help myself celebrate, and to help us all remember that birthdays are fun and special, no matter the time of year, I thought I'd mention the amazing assortment of birthday ideas in the 2011 January issue of Martha Stewart Living. Filled with downloadable clip-art and all sorts of colourful ideas, the feature article is sure to leave you inspired. Happy Holidays. And Happy Birthday. (To me.)

Transform a space in an instant with a series of giant paper globes and medallions. A sophisticated cake and flutes filled with champagne say that this is no kid's party. For sources, click here.
Among the clip-art downloads that are available are these printed numbers. The editors suggest to use them to wrap around chocolate bars as gift favours. Remove the original wrapper from the bar, add a band of plain coloured paper and then another band of paper with the number(s) printed on them. Click here to download the clip-art.Honour the birthday boy or girl with monograms. Fashion them from wire, glitter or wax and hang them on a wall, prop them up on a table, or set them on a cake. Click here for sources. Among the suggested use of letters and lettering are these bold characters: Use them on invitations or string them together to make a banner spelling a name or a word of your choice. Click here for the clip-art.


12.25.2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I just wanted to take a "moment" to wish everyone who takes time to visit and read this blog a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Your support over the last three years (soon to be four) has been tremendous tailwind for me; your energy and enthusiasm for all things Martha is what keeps this blog going. I've heard from so many great people from all corners of the world: Iceland, Israel, Germany, UK, and so many other wonderful places, including across the US and Canada - my fellow neighbours. Being on Martha's show this year was such an amazing treat and speaking with her again at an event last March was a great bonus. I've heard from some of the editors of the magazine who also give me great feedback and I'm anxious to see what 2011 holds! Until that countdown begins, Happy Holidays to you and yours, and thank you for your continued readership!

12.19.2010

Martha Stewart Living Year In Review: 2010

As 2010 nears its departure, I find myself with 12 more issues of Martha Stewart Living to savour and store for posterity. I also find myself writing my fourth-annual "Year In Review" column, summing up the year that was at Martha Stewart Living magazine and choosing my favourite and least-favourite issues, which is always tough to do.
This year was a year of transition at Martha Stewart Living. Gael Towey, who was the acting editor-in-chief in lieu of Michael Boodro's leaving, passed on the torch to Vanessa Holden, who had been working at Martha Stewart Weddings. Beginning with the May issue, Vanessa signaled her arrival in a bright and colourful way, indicative perhaps of her exuberant personality and Australian roots!
The 2010 issues seem to herald a new desire at the magazine to explore and experiment, which is refreshing for a publication on the cusp of its 20th anniversary. Each issue feels new and exciting and deftly defines the month it is celebrating through its content. This is why it was especially hard to pick favourites this year, but we'll get to that later...

First, let's look at some of the changes and trends that we saw this year at the magazine.

"WHEN YOU'RE THROUGH CHANGING, YOU'RE THROUGH"
That is one of Martha Stewart's favourite quotes, as I'm sure many of you know. We first heard it in her book "The Martha Rules" as advice to entrepreneurs about always staying fresh, open to the idea of evolving in business and keeping in step with the times. I think Martha Stewart Living magazine definitely adhered to that mantra this year, demonstrating a desire to stay modern and commercial without sacrificing its homage to the handmade, hand-crafted and traditional.


The May issue brought the first unfurling of change this year. Vanessa Holden ushered in her fresh take on "Living" with a bright and sunny issue that felt utterly modern and vibrant. At the beginning of the magazine, "The Briefing" was changed to a less-abstract section called simply "Great Finds." In it, editors choose their favourite things for the home, for entertaining, for gardening and for wearing.

Other changes I noticed this year were more subtle but had a powerful impact on the magazine's personality. For instance, the bold and unflinching use of colour in every issue was highly effective and captivating. This was, no doubt, an art-direction decision that definitely paid off with spectacular results. Take one look at the April issue, the May issue or the December issue and you'll see what I mean. The push for colour makes itself felt not only in the interior-decorating features but also in the food features, in the craft features, in the garden features and even in the wardrobe choices. I know colour is always a consideration in magazine design, but the results this year were especially powerful, I felt.


The September issue brought with it new design changes, icluding new fonts, new layout and new promotional strategies. Among the changes were little 'buttons' featured throughout the issue that denoted a special selection. One such button was called "Martha's Pick" (something she considered to be her favourite) and others would feature an icon, such as a printer, to indicate that it was available on the website to download and print, such as the remarkable array of clip-art and templates the magazine offered this year.


AN ALBUM OF COVERS:
This year saw so many covers: alternate covers, double covers and triple covers! Below is a gallery of some of the multitude of covers we saw on numerous issues this year. (I love the idea of publishing alternate covers and I hope it continues! It drives us collectors crazy, and we thrive on this sort of grist.)


Two covers for January, sold separately on newsstands. (Subscribers received the one on the left.)
The April issue had three covers, all contained in the same issue. (These were not sold as separate issues.)The August issue had two covers. The cover on the right was available only in certain parts of the United States, making it rare and collectible.Two covers for October, too! The one on the right was the newsstand issue, the one on the left was sent to subscribers.

For November, the editors did a double cover; the cover featuring Martha's Chow-Chow Ghengis Khan was published on the back of the magazine, upside down. It introduced a special 26-page section on pets.

Like the April issue, the December issue also featured three different covers all published within the same issue. (Not sold separately on newsstands.)


SPECIAL ISSUES:
As was the case last year, we only had two special issues in 2010: a special Halloween issue that was released in August and the twelfth Holiday issue to hit newsstands: an updated ode to cookies. (In years past, we had as many as six special issues throughout the year.)
The Halloween Handbook was a thick 'bookazine' that featured the best Halloween ideas the magazine has ever published. The Holiday cookie issue is another treasure to add your collection.


SPECIAL 'BEST OF' APRIL ISSUE:
Also of note was the special "Best Of" issue, which was the April issue. In it, the editors selected what they consider to be the best of everything: the best Good Things, the best tastemakers in the United States, the best garden tools, the best party tricks, the best kitchen tools, etc. It made the April issue a very special one indeed. Was it 'the best' issue of the year? Wait and see!

MY FAVOURITE AND LEAST-FAVOURITE ISSUES THIS YEAR:

I really do find this part hard. I love getting every single issue in the mail and I will be a subscriber for life, so I cannot begrudge a single issue that comes my way. BUT, I have favourites and as a longtime reader, I have definite opinions about what I like and what I think could potentially be improved upon.

My favourite issue of the year was the September issue. My least favourite issue of the year was the February issue.
For me, the September issue is always a highlight, year after year. It is the special decorating issue and the focus on home is something that is always close to my own set of interests. Having said that, there are definitely some September issues that are better than others. What I loved about the 2010 September issue - and what set it apart from all the other issues this year - was its unexpected celebratory nature. Sure, the July issue was filled with patriotic fun and hoopla and the December issue was more than festive, but September is not generally a time to party. I thought it was so fresh and fabulous to include features on a house-warming party (at Kevin Sharkey's new Manhattan apartment) as well as an amazing, mouth-watering story on icing. The house-warming story was a brilliant way to literally celebrate all things 'home.' The icing story served its purpose ironically and metaphorically: it was truly the icing on the cake for this issue!

Another component that is a 'must' for me each September is a feature on one of Martha's houses. I know I'm not alone here. The story in this issue was a look inside Martha's kitchen cupboards and drawers with space-saving and organizing strategies for all of us to learn from, some of them quite quirky and fun. It was a great treat!

For me, the best issues are the ones that link traditional Martha Stewart Living staples with fresh design and new approaches. I liked the familiar faces (Martha and Kevin) on the cover but I loved that what we saw inside was new and unexpected. I liked that we saw so many enhancing design changes in the layout and headings in this issue, but that the content was still timeless and classic. That's why the September issue gets my vote as my favourite this year!
I was so dazzled by the layout of the contents pages for this issue that I actually purchased a second copy of the magazine just so I could cut them out for my clippings binder.Peeking inside Martha's kitchen drawers felt sneaky, but it was all with her permission. I was glad to have an insider's look!Kevin's house-warming party was beautifully photographed and whimsically editorialized in this issue. Celebrating home is one of my favourite things!
To contrast the modern feel of Kevin's apartment the editors were brilliant to include something for everyone: a rustic, charming old house in Seal Harbor, Maine, provides a classic alternative and some new twists on country decorating. And the icing story. I just wanted to jump into the pages and go for a sticky swim!

As for the February issue, well, I suppose the word I would use to best describe it is 'predictable.' It is a gorgeous issue, filled with wonderful photography and delicious recipes. But we've seen the heart-shaped confectionaries, we've seen pink and red, we've seen chocolate and roses. I know that's what Valentine's Day is all about, and I know that it's the third-highest-grossing holiday in North America after Christmas and Halloween, and I know the editors would be foolish to ignore those very obvious trappings, but after years of hearts, chocolates and roses, I would love to see something new for February.

My favourite February issue was 1999 with Martha on the cover seated in a chair surrounded by her Himalayan cats. The whole issue seemed to be about 'warmth' not so much 'Valentine's' and the looser, freer theme gave it longevity and breadth. There was another feature that I distinctly recall from another February issue about 'perfect pairings' that was just sheer genius: bacon and eggs, salt and pepper, etc. There was another issue that had a piece about ice fishing.

I'd love to see the February issue stretch beyond the typical with a great travel piece, or a feature on a house built for a true love, or a collection of skates, or a great party at a ski lodge. Chocolates, roses and hearts are nice, but we know that already. Sorry, February. In 2010 I liked you the least.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

LIVING FOR THE I-PAD
A huge deal this year was the release of Martha Stewart Living for the i-Pad, a digital issue with fresh, new content exclusively available as an i-Pad application. For $3.99 an issue, users could download new content and view spectacular photographs and read new features that were unavailable anywhere else. It was definitely a milestone for Martha Stewart Living!

NO UK EDITION:

It had been announced earlier this year that Martha Stewart Living would publish a special UK edition this year, with its first issue arriving in September. Sadly, the publisher (Pizzazz Media) filed for bankruptcy just prior to the magazine's launch and the issue never saw the light of day. Hopefully the editors are working on finding a new publishing house in the UK to launch the UK edition.

12.16.2010

Martha's New Craft Furniture

New from the Home Decorators Collection and Martha Stewart Living is a line of craft furniture designed to facilitate a home studio. The line is called the Craft Space Collection and is designed to be highly functional with maximum storage capability. The pieces are based on the custom-made furniture in Martha's own personal craft rooms. There are pieces designed specifically to hold wrapping paper and ribbon and plenty of drawer and shelf space for tools, paper, sewing supplies and more. The furniture is available in two colours, sage green and white. Examples are shown below. Available December 21.

12.15.2010

Martha & Friends

In July, 2009, Martha announced on Twitter that her company was working on an animated series for television broadcast. A year-and-a-half later, that cartoon is set to air! The series, which has six episodes, is called "Martha & Friends." A 10 year-old animated Martha Stewart is the star of the half-hour show. She and her friends Lily, Hannah and Kevin embark on creative adventures together. (The show also stars animated versions of her dogs Sharkey and Francesca.) The cartoon kicks off on Monday night, exclusively on Hallmark, with a Christmas special called “Martha and the Christmas Tree." You can catch it at 7 pm.

12.14.2010

Martha's Chocolate Eggnog

I am a huge fan of eggnog - not eggnog flavoring, nor eggnog ice-cream, nor eggnog coffee (Starbucks has a version) - but pure, honest-to-goodness eggnog. Even better if it's homemade! Going through my recipe box last night, I came across a folded magazine tear sheet that intrigued me. (I do sometimes harm my magazines, but it's not something I make a habit of.) The page was from an issue of Martha Stewart Living. When I unfolded it, I was reminded immediately of why I had torn it out in earnest in the first place. It was a recipe for Martha's spiced chocolate eggnog, which blends two kinds of chocolates with vanilla, cinnamon and cayenne for a surprising and delicious alternative to the traditional holiday standby. Below is the recipe to try this season.
MARTHA'S SPICED CHOCOLATE EGGNOG:

2 quarts whole milk, plus more if needed
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod reserved
4 cinnamon sticks
12 egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
3 ounces milk chocolate, melted
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups of brandy (optional)
Whole nutmeg for garnish
Cayenne pepper for sprinkling

1. Heat 2 quarts of milk, the sugar, salt, vanilla seeds and pod, and cinnamon sticks in a large pot over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and the mixture is heated through. Remove from heat. Let stand for 30 minutes.

2. Prepare an ice-water bath. Whisk yolks in a medium bowl until pale, about two minutes. Whisk one cup of milk mixture into yolks in a slow, steady stream. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture registers 180 on an instant-read thermometer, about six minutes. (Do not boil.)

3. Remove pot from heat, add melted bittersweet and milk chocolates, and stir until incorporated. Discard vanilla pod and cinnamon sticks. Pour mixture into a large bowl set in an ice water bath, let cool, stirring often.

4. Whisk heavy cream until soft peaks form. Pour the cooled eggnog into a large serving bowl. Add brandy if desired. (Add more milk if necessary in order to reach desired consistency.) Top with whipped cream. Grate nutmeg over top and sprinkle sparingly with cayenne. Serve immediately.

12.12.2010

Oatmeal Cookie Clip-Art

While summer may provide a bounty of delicious fresh fruits and vegetables, winter's offerings are tummy-warming tributes to comfort. One such treat must be the oatmeal cookie, the chocolate-chip cookie's more health-conscious rival. Hardy and healthful, oatmeal cookies are also filled with flavour: cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla and golden raisins. The last page of Martha Stewart Living magazine (once dedicated to the Cookie of the Month) is now called "Make and Give" and will feature a yummy treat each month with fun packaging ideas for the gift-giver, including original clip-art from marthastewart.com. January's offering is the aforementioned oatmeal cookie - a classic and simple recipe - along with a beautiful label that you can download and attach to an empty canister of oats before filling it with your homemade cookies. Click here to get the template (PDF) and to see the recipe.
I love the templates. This one above is for the lid. Print the designs on peel-and-stick adhesive paper (available at office-supply stores) and cut it to size. There is room on the main label to write the recipient's name. The label extends around the canister and also features the recipe.

12.11.2010

Festive Stamps

Several years ago, when I spent a spring in Scotland, I visited an amazing antique emporium in Douane. The centre there was comprised of hundreds of thousands of square feet of amazing finds and treasures. (One could spend several days there and still not have seen everything.) My focus was postcards and Wedgwood, two of only three ''classes'' of goods that I collect, the third being tea cups. (For ease of travel, I avoided delicate china.) I found two black basalt Wedgwood pieces from the 1930s that I really loved and I found several troves of old postcards at various vendors within the complex. I purchased about 15 in total, including the postcards shown below, which depict the images of commemorative English holiday stamps. I thought I would share some of them with you since the illustrations are beautiful in their festive simplicity. You never know where you can find holiday magic!
In 1980, the Royal Mail designed this series of holiday stamps. They were sold in sets featuring all designs, as well as individually. This one depicts a stylized Christmas tree with pinecones, candles and partridges. The illustrations are by Jeffrey Matthews.
An arched bough of holly, crowned with a festive bow and adorned with ornaments.A beautiful candle vignette.Quinces, ribbon and mistletoe combine to make a striking design.
This stamp was designed by Fritz Wegner in 1981 and depicts a group of medieval Mummers in full dress. (Mummers are Celtic revelers or merrymakers who performed acts, door to door or in public squres, during the dreary winter months to entertain and enliven the community.)It's a bit early, but Wegner designed this charming Saint Valentine's Day stamp as well. Both of these last two postcards contain an example of the actual stamp, shown bottom right.

12.09.2010

From Fabric to Gift Wrap

I love this holiday Good Thing: Photocopying or scanning vibrant fabrics is an easy way to create unique, eye-catching gift wrap. You likely have some bold prints around the house, perhaps even a vintage dress or some antique linens. Scan the fabric and then make colour copies on white paper, enlarging and reducing the scale to achieve different looks from the same swatch. You could even use the material itself as a wrapping. Cut the fabric neatly to size and then stitch it loosely to seal the gift inside. The receiver can then simply cut the stitches to open the gift. Rather than throwing out the wrapping she will have a a beautiful swatch of fabric to keep.

12.08.2010

January's Martha Moment (in advance)

The arrival of an issue of Martha Stewart Living nearly a month before it hits newsstands is always a nice treat for a collector like myself; it gives me a sense of what the year ahead may hold for the producers of my favourite magazine and a glimpse at some of the changes the publication will showcase. The January, 2011, issue arrived today and it is as fresh and vibrant as I was expecting it to be, keeping those trademark January touchstones intact: a focus on celebrations, on cooking light and healthy, on sewing crafts and on homekeeping. And there are fresh, new features, too, including a new column called "Worth Doing Well" which will focus on a practical project that everyone really ought to know how to do well in order to simplify and streamline some everyday challenges.
The cover feels warm and welcoming, like the home-cooked meal it showcases.A new section in the magazine called "Martha Moment" (I take no credit, although I like to think the profile of this blog may have had at least something to do with the chosen title, however inadvertently) will feature a moment in Martha's world. This one features a photograph Martha took on her farm after a January snowfall.The Contents page was remade to be tidy and index-like, with a simple pictorial of some of the highlighted features.Martha's Calendar is now called "Martha's Month" and has been expanded to fill two pages, with more seasonal tips and how-tos to coincide with Martha's personal agenda.

Also in the issue is a great article on birthday parties and Martha's "From My Home to Yours" column is given a central placement among the main features with several pages of her floral arrangements. It's a fun and fresh issue!

12.05.2010

Scandinavian Trimming Tools

No one does winter quite like the Scandinavians. The intricate winter designs and bright, festive colours used on their seasonal textiles, wallpapers and stationery is indicative of a culture that knows how to celebrate winter with whimsy. I've always loved Scandinavian design. My grandmother (who is English, not Scandinavian) had a beautiful red and white blanket on her reading chair made of soft wool with snowflake and filigree designs. It always seemed to beckon with a quiet invitation to wrap myself up and drift into a nap for awhile.

The designers at Martha Stewart Living seem to understand the appeal of Scandinavian pattern and design, too. There is an entire line of Scandinavian-themed holiday craft products by Martha Stewart Crafts and EK Success (available at Michael's, select retailers and online) that I can't seem to stop thinking about. Even gathering the images for this post prompted me to make an actual list of items I want for this year's gift-giving season. Below I've highlighted a few.
Pretty patterns and bold, festive colours adorn these packages of 12 sheets of tissue paper. (My favourite is the red.)I am lost at Christmas without a good set of pretty labels that I can quickly adhere to a package or present, envelope or pouch. This set contains 90 labels in all!Speaking of labels, these die-cut stickers make ideal embellishments to a parcel. I find stickers to be the perfect solution for dressing up an otherwise bland package being sent to a loved one by mail. These ones would definitely herald the arrival of something special.This set of 13 stickers is a tad more elaborate. They are layered to be three-dimensional and are made of felt with pretty sequins and sparkles for a bit of glitz. They would be fun in a holiday scrapbook.I only recently discovered paper tape and it is my new true love. I have always been at odds with traditional ribbon and there is something so blissfully simple about 'taping' your pretty ribbon to the parcel you are wrapping. I love the festive designs on this set of four rolls.I have quite a collection of stamps: wooden stamps, that is. I may soon be adding these Scandinavian holiday stamp sets to my collection. The 16-piece set is my preference, but the snowflake stamps come with two glittered-ink pads. Kind of enticing!This 12x12 pad of 24 sheets of decorative holiday paper can be used in scrapbooks, for party favours, invitations and cards.Scrapbookers will love this mat pad of 18 sheets of decorative paper, containing five festive patterns. Perfect for creating a photo gallery or chronicling a holiday event.For the punch collectors out there (and I know there are a few!) be sure to add this delicate snowflake punch to your collection. The punch leaves a lovely area on the paper itself while also creating a tiny paper snowflake that you can use elsewhere by adhering it to another project with glue.I mean, come on! Look at these cakes! Those perfectly pretty patterns were achieved with a simple dusting of icing sugar or cocoa powder over an intricately carved stencil by Martha Stewart Crafts. Doesn't get much simpler or more beautiful than that!Smaller stencils were used on these cookies and cupcakes: simply striking!Remember to package your homemade treats in festive wrappings and boxes. A set of 48 treat wrappers with a lovely snowflake design will make your goodies seem even more irresistible.Cuteness overload! This set of six poinsettia treat boxes and six treat bags will make presenting your baked goods a cinch: not to mention adorable.These reindeer cello treat bags come in a set of eight. They are shown here filled with snow-white meringues. They would look equally lovely filled with homemade marshmallows, or even a bouquet of candy canes!A package of six treat boxes made up in candy-cane trim is the simplest and most attractive way of presenting your cupcakes, cookies, brittles and truffles to friends and family.An alternate set contains four inserts per box to help keep treats safely snug during transport. The lids of each box contain a cellophane window to make opening the box even more alluring.Finish off any parcel or package with festive baker's twine. This set of six spools (three red, three green, three brown) would be perfect for attaching gift tags to presents.