9.02.2019

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.

8.22.2019

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.

QR CODES: ARE THEY WORTH IT?

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. 

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. 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.

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 Upcoming 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. A variety of lilies blooms every summer, surrounded by hostas and a massive kiwi vine that is almost 100 years old.
More 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!