Throwback: A Seminar With Martha at Turkey Hill

In the mid-1980s, prior to the publication of her magazine or the launch of her television show, Martha would occasionally host seminars at her catering kitchen and office on Saugatuck Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, and her home on Turkey Hill Road. Those in attendance were usually readers of her bestselling cookbooks, neighbours and friends. Martha would teach cooking classes and share advice on entertaining with style. These seminars were not widely advertised but were promoted in her early newsletter, which went out to subscribers between 1988 and 1990.

I recently received a wonderful email from someone who attended one of those seminars! Kevin Miller was just 18 years old at the time and had been working in catering. He was deeply inspired by Martha's books and had written to her several times. Much to his surprise and delight, Martha wrote back and suggested he attend of her three-day weekend seminars! Kevin, of course, wasted no time in saying yes. He traveled to Connecticut and stayed with his great aunt and uncle who lived a short distance from Westport. Below are Kevin's photos from the weekend and his description of what he calls "a dream come true" and one of his most cherished memories.

The first day of Martha's seminar was held at her Saugatuck catering kitchen for a cooking demonstration. We sat in her beautiful green chairs, observed and asked questions as Martha decorated a wedding cake and taught us how to make spun sugar with a clothes line. The class consisted of my 18 year old self , and 17 Connecticut housewives.
Martha's catering kitchen and office was housed in this building at number 10 Saugatuck Avenue in Westport, Connecticut. This is where Martha prepared all of her catered meals for clients, tested recipes for her early cookbooks and conducted her business. 

Notice Martha's burgeoning collection of Fiestaware in the foreground.
Martha had just published her first Weddings book (1989), which you can see on display in the cabinet. Her interest in collecting Fireking Jadeite was already evident.

The second day we all got to tour Turkey Hill, walk around the grounds, visit Le Palais des Poulets, walk through her apple orchard and gardens. We then went inside and had a seated lunch in her dining room. I sat at the table with six other women and dined on red pepper bisque, rack of lamb with mint pesto and chocolate mousse for dessert. One of the guests was the CEO of Kmart. 

I had a fairly lengthy conversation with Martha about catering; my catering career had just begun. She told me some catering stories about some of her top clients, including Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The next day it was back to the catering kitchen for another demo: bread baking. She made a delicious Rosemary Boule, grilled swordfish kebobs and a lovely salad from vegetables grown in her gardens.

Thank you, Kevin, for sharing your photos and your memories of this day! I'm happy to have this posted on the blog. Below is an image of Kevin visiting the same studio in Westport 30 years after he attended the seminar.


A Fun Chat With Martha!

Hello, everyone. I am presently in a state of afterglow since the airing of Martha's latest podcast, Super Fans! It was such a wonderful experience to chat with Martha via video-chat to discuss this blog and how her work has influenced her fans. I was joined by fellow fans (and friends) Bernie Wong and Dennis Landon, who met through the Martha Moments Facebook Group and are now a couple living in Madison, Wisconsin. I met Bernie and Dennis at the tag sale Martha hosted last spring, although I had known them for years through online correspondence. 

What struck me most about the conversation with Martha was how effusive she was. She was genuinely touched by our support and impressed by our knowledge of her brand and her life. As she noted in the introduction to the podcast, it may be the first time a "star" has interviewed her "fans", quickly adding that she considers Bernie, Dennis and myself to be friends of hers. It was almost surreal to see Martha's face on my computer screen via video chat, talking directly to me about our shared interests. I was so genuinely touched by her kind words and her interest in our lives. It was an experience I won't soon forget. Martha even blogged about it, too! You can read that blog by clicking here

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here, and I hope you do!

You can follow Bernie and Dennis on Instagram @berniewonggreen and see their glorious culinary and decorative creations. You can follow the Instagram component of this blog @martha_moments.

To read about my experience at the Great American Tag Sale, and all the fun I had with Bernie and Dennis, click here. And to see some of my purchases, click here.

During the podcast, I mentioned my two favourite covers of Martha Stewart Living, and here they are: March, 1999 and February, 1999. The March issue features a flower arrangement by Kevin Sharkey photographed by Christopher Baker. The February issue shows Martha surrounded by her Himalayan cats, Teeny, Weeny and Mozart in a photograph by William Abranowicz. 
Here is my Martha by Mail caramel glass squirrel and acorn dish at home on the buffet in my dining room. I think he needs to be part of a pair, though, so I'm searching for its mate!
This was the set up the day of Martha's podcast at the home of Bernie and Dennis, and I just love it. Almost everything you see is Martha Stewart brand; even the green chairs were purchased at Martha's tag sale. 


Martha Moments Members Celebrate the Holidays

Every year at this time, I'm always so impressed by the talent and imagination of members of the Martha Moments Facebook group who do the holidays with such flare and verve. Inspired by Martha's vision of Christmases filled with beauty and delicious foods, so many of the members enjoy the process of filling their homes with festive decorations, baking and good cheer. These photographs were compiled from the Facebook group. Thanks to everyone who makes that group a fun, safe and inspiring place to be!

Louie Villar decorated a beautiful tabletop tinsel tree using Martha Stewart ornaments. 
Hayden Regina's tree was similarly decorated with an assortment of pinecone ornaments. 
Tabletop trees were popular this year! Julio Torrado's tree looks so whimsical in traditional green and red; it rests atop one of Martha's faux-bois plant stands. 
Bernie Wong's natural tabletop tree looked gorgeous dressed in silver and white ornaments.
Jeremy Lambertson's maximalist style of tree decoration leaves no branch unadorned! I love the explosion of exuberant colour.
Christopher Baker's living room is all decked out with three small trees. Orange was his theme this year. The two surrealistic portraits on the walls were his inspiration. 
Bernie Wong found the perfect spot for his collection of bottle-brush Christmas trees!
Chris Tamez used a pyramid of Martha Stewart cake stands to great effect in this festive display in his kitchen!
Concha Velasco Lomas set a beautiful table on her balcony this year.
David Siza adorned a collection of silver and glass candle sticks with festive decoration for a lustrous, elegant display.
Krista Jeanne decorated her impressive mantel with real boughs of conifer clippings, red ornaments, berries and feathers.
Julio Torrado's bookshelves are aglow with twinkle lights! Martha's polar bear figurines playfully examine a disco ball!
Chris Tamez tried something similar in his window, which is fronted by "Martha's village" - a collection of tin houses made in the image of Martha's summer house, winter house and stables. 
Some of Bernie's smaller bottle-brush trees found their way to this display of brown transferware. 
Laura Guisebert-Clark made a delicious looking bouche de noel.
Steven Fraser also made one, complete with meringue mushrooms.
Chris Tamez used Martha's cake stands to glorious effect to serve his assortment of festive cakes, cookies and chocolates.
Todd Hall made Martha's gingerbread recipe and fashioned giant snowflakes from the dough using Martha by Mail snowflake copper cookie cutters.
Bernie Wong also made gingerbread snowflake cookies and decorated them in his signature palette of green and white.
Krista Jeanne's front entrance looks inviting with its fresh garland and mini lights. 

Click here to join the Martha Moments Facebook Group and be sure to answer the two required questions for membership approval. Happy New Year, everyone! Click here to read more about Entertaining. 


Twelve Days of Martha Bakes!

 I was recently going through my photo library on my computer and came across the "Baking" folder. In it are numerous photographs of the various things I've baked over the years; I always like to style a little photoshoot of the completed dish, just for posterity. It's a means of celebrating the act of creation, for me. Of these photographs, nearly all of the items I had baked over the years were derived from Martha Stewart's recipes - either from the magazine, the website or one of her cookbooks. 

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I decided to pick the twelve Martha Stewart baking recipes that I use continuously and repeatedly - or ones I've starred to make a again for future baking projects. Each of the recipes was delicious and turned out exactly as expected with no need to adjust baking time or temperature, ingredient quantities or preparation methods. They were simply perfect.

Below, I've made a list of each of the baked goods shown in my photographs in the gallery above, with links to their respective recipes. I hope you try some of them! They are my favourites and have been enjoyed by my family and friends.

From top to bottom, left to right:


"Entertaining" Turns 40!

 Martha's landmark first book will turn 40 years old this week! Published in December of 1982, "Entertaining" was to become the foundation for all that Martha accomplished in the decades that followed, setting her course as America's leading arbiter of taste, home cookery and home keeping. 

It was Alan Mirkin, an executive at Random House, who convinced Martha that she was capable of writing a book about the subject of hosting parties. He had been a guest at many of Martha's catered affairs, as well as at her home for many of her parties. The two became friends. Martha took her book plan to Clarkson Potter who gave her the okay with Mirkin's backing, and production began in earnest with Martha documenting many of her catered events and private dinner parties at her home, Turkey Hill, in Westport, Connecticut, with recipes for the menus and photographs of the completed dishes. 

When it was suggested that the book be printed in black and white, Martha insisted that the beautiful photographs in the book (which were taken by her then husband Andrew Stewart and photographer Michael Skott) be published in colour.  Having underestimated Martha's appeal, the publisher initially printed only 20,000 copies, which immediately sold out, forcing Clarkson Potter to follow up with a second printing of 500,000 copies. Today, Entertaining is one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, having sold well over one million copies. 

What makes it such a treasure is the scope of its vision. Martha's determination and imagination are on full display on every page, surrounded by imagery that documents the resplendent results of her efforts: tables dressed with quilts and then laden with cakes and desserts under towering flower arrangements, or a table set perfectly for a formal dinner party under a crystal chandelier by a roaring fire. In the early 1980s, Martha intuitively understood the ambitions of her peers to have a home filled with fine food and good friends. 

The book helped to introduce Martha to the American public and what followed, in addition to many more books, were television specials, a partnership with Kmart, a magazine, a weekly television series that later aired daily, and finally a company that produced not only content through all media but produced the products to support the lifestyle the company promoted. Entertaining was the first step in Martha becoming Martha. 

I'm happy to celebrate this book's 40th anniversary. Below are quotes from the book that illustrate Martha's intentions for the book and some of her advice for hosting. Enjoy!

"I hope this book will give people ideas, just as other people, stories, experience, and food itself have me ideas. It is not intended only for the culinary elite, who are working to refine their cuisine, but especially for all those people who regard cooking as "preparing meals", as drudgery or duty - and entertaining as an even greater worry. For them, I hope to show that there are many ways of entertaining and that each ultimately depends not on pomp or show or elaborate technique, but on thought, effort, and caring - much like friendship itself."
"Entertaining is an opportunity to be individualistic, to express your own ideas about what constitutes a good party. For one hostess, it might be a small and elegant dinner, with poached salmon; for others, a large and boisterous pasta buffet, make-your-own sandwiches and an old movie, omelets on the patio, or tempura in the kitchen. There are as many good formulas as there are personalities."
"My catering business began by chance. I had taught a cooking class for my daughter, Alexis, and her peers. Then, tentatively, I placed a single ad in the local papers offering my services as a caterer, only to find myself preparing blindly for a wedding for three hundred. The menu was a novice's - extravagant, demanding and unprofitable: hors d'oeuvres, homemade pates, cold cucumber soup, salmon mousses, chicken breasts chaud-froid, and homemade breads. Down by Long Island Sound, on a sweltering August afternoon in an unsheltered beach club in Darien, I stood by the buffet and watched the aspic melt off the oeufs en gelee, and the top tier of a basket-weave cake slip starboard. I eliminated the oeuffs and pushed the cake back into place. Nevertheless, it was a very good party, and I knew I was hooked."
"Think of how the colors of your food might contrast or complement your dishes; think, too, of how the colors work together on their own. Sometimes the size of the ingredients makes a statement. Carrots left whole and then aligned in a graceful diagonal on a plate have a different, interesting look. A stew appears dramatically hearty if you choose large mushrooms and whole vegetables (baby carrots, new potatoes) and cut the meat into two-inch cubes. A chicken salad composed of big chunks of white meat makes an extravagant statement, while the same ingredients finely julienned make a delicate one. A sweet spring lamb is more appropriately carved into several thin slices than one hefty slab. In assembling a plate, respect the integrity of and the nature of each element: don't be haphazard, don't crowd, for the results are worth the extra few moments of time."
"Any form of entertaining involves expanding a private world to include others. It calls for an extrovert's heart and an introvert's soul. It is essential that you consider your guests' inclinations and interests in the planning, but it is equally important that you follow your own instincts. Entertaining, like cooking, is a little selfish, because it really involves pleasing yourself, with a guestlist that will coalesce into your idea of harmony, with a menu orchestrated to your home and taste and budget, with decorations subject to your own eye. Given these considerations, it has to be pleasureful."
"When I was in grade school I used to organize all the birthday parties in our neighborhood, just for the fun of arranging little dramas. And as I read all the classics, what remained most vivid in my memory were the banquet scenes in Sir Walter Scott, the Roman punch dinners in Edith Wharton novels, and the country weekends in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Entertaining always seemed natural to me, a matter of taking something very appealing to me - a favorite dish, a holiday, an activity - and making it bigger, to include others."


Jeremy's Vintage Jack-O-Lantern Collection

I've known Jeremy Lambertson for almost a decade now. He was a frequent reader of this blog and later joined the Martha Moments Facebook group where he became a contributing member. I met Jeremy, in person, for the first time this year at Martha's Great American Tag Sale in late April and it was nice to finally connect. 

Jeremy is a great cook and a wonderful baker, but his real passion is collecting. In fact, he's the most prolific collector I know. While he collects all manner of objects, including china and furniture, his real passion is collecting vintage holiday items, particularly Christmas and Halloween. 

When I saw Jeremy's Instagram stories recently, featuring his extensive vintage Jack-O-Lantern collection, I was inspired to do this blog. He perhaps has one of the largest vintage and antique Halloween collections in North America. What I love most, though, is that every year he brings everything out for display, filling the rooms of his house with his hard-won treasures. 

Most of the Jack-O-Lanterns in his collection were made in the United States between 1930 and 1960. They are quite rare, mainly because they were not mass produced and because they were primarily made of soft materials, such as papier-mache and paper pulp. Many of the examples from that time period were irreparably damaged by water, breakage or fire. As a result, those that did survive the rigors of time and the elements are quite valuable. I had a little chat with Jeremy recently about his collection. I hope you enjoy his collection as much as I do!

1. What do you look for when collecting vintage Jack-O- Lanterns?

I look for what catches my eye. Also I don’t mind collecting multiples of the same jack-o’-lantern because I feel more of them together creates interest and a certain wow factor. There are some that are very hard to find, for example the pumpkin man is rare and I was lucky enough to find one this year. 

2. What is their level of collectability?  

They are very collectible! Halloween was seen as disposable during the 1940s and '50s and not collectible at all when all these were made. People rarely saved their Halloween decorations. Also, these pumpkins were meant to hold candles and they are paper pulp so as you can imagine many 
caught fire, and if they got wet, from the rain for instance, they just disintegrated, so that makes them hard to find. Vintage Halloween is much harder to find than vintage Christmas, and it usually costs more.

3. What can a collector expect to pay for a good specimen?

For a small pumpkin you can expect to pay between $80 and $190 and for the larger common ones around $125 to $380. For the rare examples, or those made in Europe, expect to pay $350 to $1500+.

4. What are some of the best places to shop for these rarities? What states? What shows or stores?  

I shop everywhere: estate sales, online, yard sales, antique shows and flea markets. Recently this past July I attended Brimfield in Massachusetts, a huge week long show. And I found the most Halloween I’ve ever bought. I believe I bought 19 paper pulp pumpkins that week.
5. Your displays are so captivating! How do you make them so appealing? 

I like to say you gotta stack and pack a display; when you think it’s done, add more! I feel it’s never done. I move things all the time. But I do like to have similar colors together and usually a theme. For example, I’ll put all the vintage Halloween candy boxes together and all the costumes together. Also since I collect year-round I always have new stuff to add to the next year's collection and that keeps it fresh.

6. How do you typically store your Halloween collections and what considerations would you suggest people keep in mind when storing their own collections?

I keep everything in clear totes, stored in the basement with a dehumidifier. I also put the silicone bees in each of them, that way they suck up any moisture. Remember, these are paper pulp just like egg cartons so you can imagine how fragile they are and susceptible to moisture damage, given their age, some dating back to the late 1930s . I don’t over crowd the totes and package similar items together so they're easy to find next year.

Jeremy lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the caretaker of two elderly sisters, Emma and Gloria. He has several booths at the Ohio Valley Antique Mall where he sells many of his treasures. Be sure to visit if you're in the area. Jeremy is also currently restoring an early nineteenth century Federal farm house on 13 acres about an hour from his home. 

Happy Halloween!