Sunday, December 28, 2008

And so we come to the end of another year with the promise of a new year ahead to bring us fresh insights, new opportunities and…new issues of Martha Stewart Living!

(Part of what I try to do here on the blog is archive the achievements of Martha Stewart and her many colleagues, so forgive my slight obsession with her ventures. I’m sure it must seem weird to at least some of you out there!)

Last year I compiled some observations about the 2007 issues of Martha Stewart Living: noting some changes, some trends, some Good Things and Bad Things about the issues at hand. You can read last year's review in the 'magazine review' link at the side. This year, I’ve conducted the same exercise with the 2008 issues.


I began by laying out all of the year's issues on the floor and studying their covers. I took the photograph below of each issue, lying side by side. My first observation is that there was a lot of green in the photography used on the covers this year – an unwitting suggestion, perhaps, of our ecologically-conscious times. The second observation was that Martha appeared on the cover twice in 2008 – three times if you count her tiny image on the little countertop television set in the January issue. She appeared three times on the cover in 2007 as well, including the May and September issues, whose covers she also appeared on this year.

The covers are striking for their simple elegance. Subscriber issues of the magazine are slightly different than the issues that appear on the newsstand. They are particularly spare in their design, since the bar code has been removed and many of the sub-headings that appear on the newsstand covers are not included on the covers that subscribers receive in their mailboxes. I like this very much. I enjoy the more unfettered cover photograph and the magnetism of the unadorned design. Sometimes, subscribers receive issues with a completely different cover than the one that appears on the newsstand, but 2008 had no such double covers. And now for some specific observations...


*The Ask Martha column moved from the beginning of the magazine to the middle of the magazine in the January, 2008, issue.

*The June issue heralded some subtle design makeovers, including the following items:
1. A revamped layout of the "Gentle Reminders" page
2. Slimmer, quieter heading font for the various articles
3. Bold, different font for the headings in the "Table of Contents" listings
4. A revamped layout for the "On the Web" page
5. A revamped layout for the "From My Home To Yours" column: a large, single photo on opening page instead of two smaller photos.
6. Different department-heading font: Gardening, Homekeeping, etc. The font is smaller, bold and underlined.
7. Dashed lines between the "Ask Martha" segments instead of dotted lines.
8. White background on the "Where to Find Martha" section. (The pages used to be tinted a pale hue to set them apart from the rest of the content.)
9. Larger photographs in the well of the magazine, with particular attention paid to clarity of style and colour harmony.

*More people! Many of the issues in 2008 featured several pages with prominent photographs (some of them full-page) of people, of all ages and both sexes. It was nice to see a man doing the baking in the “Hidden Assets” story in last January’s issue, just as it’s nice to see men who collect and decorate. There’s nothing like seeing a bit of yourself in your favourite magazine.

*The May issue marked the second-annual Color Issue. May, 2007, was the premier Color Issue.
*The February issue saw the debut of a new column called “Object Lesson.” The column is about the latest and greatest versions of a particular object, from candle sticks to lanterns, key rings to notebooks. It’s ostensibly a design article with subtle advertising benefits, since most of the ‘objects’ featured are current commercial items on the market.


There were six beautiful special supplemental issues to feast our eyes on this year. (Six tends to be the average number of special issues MSLO releases each year.) In 2008 we saw far fewer Good Things digests than in previous years. This is not a disappointment to me, since I was never really enamored of them. Two Good Things issues came out this year: Good Things for Kids (the fourth of its kind in the series) and Good Things For a Healthy Home, which I found very helpful and nicely structured.

The Good Things digests are essentially compilations of repurposed content from the vaults of Martha Stewart Living under a new banner topic, like kids or home or organizing. If repurposing is necessary at all, I prefer to see the content more lavishly illustrated in a form that is more luxurious, like the larger special issues I’ll describe in a moment, and preferably mixed with some new content as well.

It’s not clear if the Good Things digests have now been shelved as a concept or if we’ll see new ones in the year ahead. If they do continue, I hope that they will be more in the vein of the Healthy Home issue: a collection of very helpful, green tips and information for making one’s home as healthy as possible. An annual issue with the latest health information, as it relates to house and home, would be welcome.

This year also marked the first year when two Holiday issues were released, back-to-back. The Season’s Eatings issue and the Handmade Christmas issues were beautifully put together and were brilliantly conceived as companion collectors’ editions. Both issues felt fresh, despite a reliance on repurposed content, and they both succeeded in being inspiring and helpful.

We saw the second annual Outdoor Living issue this year as well, and I’m really crossing my fingers that this will be an annual issue we can consistently look forward to. I love the garden and the outdoors, so these Outdoor Living issues are treasures for me. They’re beautifully designed with gorgeous photography and information. They are definitely keepers.

Since 2004, Martha Stewart Weddings has also been periodically releasing an annual special issue. We’ve had Good Things for Weddings (2004), the 10th Anniversary issue (2005), the Special Color Issue (2007) and this year the Collector’s Edition. While it obviously wasn’t advertised as such, the Collector’s Edition is basically a reprint of the 2005 10th Anniversary issue, so it’s not much of a gem for collectors, unless you absolutely adore the new cover.

There wasn’t a special edition of Everyday Food this year, unlike the last two previous years when we saw a special cookie issue and a special baking issue, consecutively.


It was a rather tough year at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, from a human resources point of view. The year marked the departure of some very key individuals from the corporate head offices as well as 100 layoffs across all platforms to help restructure and streamline the company’s mandate. These layoffs were confirmed by company spokesperson Elizabeth Estroff earlier this month.

In March, Margaret Roach, formerly the chief editorial director of MSLO, resigned to pursue her goals and “get back to the garden” (literally) but stayed on in a consulting capacity working on the websites. She was replaced by three staffers (Kevin Sharkey, Lucinda Scala Quinn and Hannah Milman) who now run the various editorial departments, indicating her tiny yet enormous shoes were not so easy to fill. Among other names to vanish from the editorial masthead in 2008 include Jodi Levine, who was editor of the Kids department for over a decade. Her position (indeed the entire Kids department) appears to have been eliminated, as it no longer appears in the editorial list.

Also gone, of course, is Blueprint magazine, which published its last (eighth) issue in January/February 2008 before shutting down. Many of the staffers there have slipped out from under the MSLO umbrella, including editor-in-chief Sarah Humphreys. Last summer, the Bluelines blog, associated with Blueprint, was also shut down, although it remains up in archive format to peruse. I was very sad to see Blueprint go. I felt that it was just beginning to hit its stride and find its voice and personality. I enjoyed the last four issues of the magazine immensely and I treasure all eight of the Blueprint issues.

June saw the surprising departure of Susan Lyne as CEO, who went on to become the CEO of Gilt Groupe (a luxury goods distributor) in September. Lyne indicated that she was looking for a new challenge and a smaller company where her influence would be more strongly felt in shaping the direction of a young start-up. Lyne was replaced with two co-CEOs, Wenda Harris Millard (president of media) and Robin Marino (president of merchandising) raising some eyebrows on Wall Street about the viability of having two people running the show. The jury is still out on how effective the co-CEOs have been in handling the company. Rumours surfaced late this year about some professional discord between the CEOs and company founder Martha Stewart, but these rumours are unsubstantiated.

The CEOs are also ultimately responsible for the decision to lay off 100 people this year and it remains to be seen whether their HR methods prove to be beneficial to the bottom line. Among the layoffs was Dr. Brent Ridge, who lost his title as the vice president of Healthy Living at MSLO, but who still remains active as a contributing editor to the magazines. A friend of mine who worked in the merchandising department at MSLO was also let go. Since 2007, there have been four rounds of layoffs at the company, something that is both an indication of the economic times at hand and the difficult decisions associated with them.

Another significant departure in 2008 was Howard Hochhauser, who had been the chief financial officer at MSLO for eight years. He resigned to pursue new career opportunities in Arizona as the chief financial officer of The Generations Network Inc., the parent company of
For Michael Boodro, however, 2008 marked the first full year as editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living magazine, the company’s flagship. He replaced Margaret Roach in that capacity in September, 2007. Under his direction, I feel the magazine has taken on a more fresh and lively personality – dare I say more youthful? The changes to the magazine layout in June, mentioned above, are just one aspect of his influence. I also feel the content is more focused but with a broader range of topics. The inside look at the offices of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in the January, 2009, issue is an example of his understanding of the readers’ interest in the people who put the content together, as much as the content itself.


I really don’t like this part very much, but it must be done. I have to pick the best and the worst issues of Martha Stewart Living from 2008. Rather than look at the worst issue as “the worst” I simply look at it as the “least best” from a series of excellent issues. There. How’s that for optimism.

The worst issue of the year was the July issue. I traditionally don’t enjoy the summer issues as much as I enjoy the fall/winter issues to begin with, but the July issue stood out to me as being just a tad lacking, or perhaps a bit unsure of itself.

The cover is summery, but not particularly celebratory or patriotic. My favourite July issues of years past have always been the ones that tout the old Red, White & Blue – which is strange, considering I’m not even American. But I do love Americans, so there you go. Canadians keep their national holidays on the quieter end of the spectrum, so I rely on Americans to really pull out all the stops and toot all the horns. The July, 2008, issue was disappointing primarily for its lack of Americana and its somewhat generic content. The subheading on the cover reads: “The easiest entertaining ever.” This falls below the “Summer Made Simple” tag.

I suppose this vocabulary is the magazine’s answer to its ever-growing number of competitors, like the derivative Real Simple magazine, which consistently relies on keywords like ‘easy’ and ‘simple’ and ‘no fuss’ and ‘relaxing’ on its covers to thwart Martha Stewart’s more hands-on approach to living. It gives over-worked consumers at the newsstand a guilt-free exit strategy when they feel too pressured to take on a project or a recipe in DIY fashion. But I never like seeing “easy” on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. That’s not why I buy it.

The features in the magazine were good enough, but a tad predictable. There was the requisite article on grilling and barbecued hamburgers, saved only by the incredible photographs by James Wojcik. There was also the typical article on ice cream desserts. (Ice cream in July? Wow, that’s different!) The “Swedish Accent” article was sort of a blend of decorating and entertaining technique, but neither pursuit seemed adequately observed in this feature.

The same is true of the “Shore Dinner” feature. It was a lovely place in Rhode Island with a lovely family celebrating a lovely holiday. But there was something lackluster about it. Perhaps it was the continued use of words like “relaxed” and “laid-back” and “lifestyle.” I have no problem with relaxing or being laid-back. But I don’t want to read about other people relaxing or being laid-back, thanks.

There were some saving graces in the magazine. One of my favourite articles of the year was found in the July issue: a feature on one of my favourite flowers, the astilbe. Martha’s column was delightful and so was the Object Lesson on pitchers. But, overall, the July issue just fell short of the month associated with traditional Americana.

A magazine as lasting as Martha Stewart Living, which has many longtime subscribers, must struggle to balance its reliability with the precarious peril of predictability. The magazine must offer reliable content while not disappointing with too much retread and regurgitation. It must surprise without straying too far off course. It’s a difficult task.
The Best issue was the December issue. It was, hands-down, the most exciting issue of the year for me. Its cover is so striking with that plethora of holiday cookies against a vivid green background. The content behind the cover matches that vibrancy. This December's issue was a magazine heavily devoted to crafts. Many of the past December issues have relied very heavily (too heavily) on food and entertaining. The 2008 issue was more for crafters. Hannah Milman and her team came up with some wonderful projects in this issue, from gift tags to paper Christmas trees, from wrapping techniques to table decorations.

I loved the article on making cameo ornaments and the article on homemade natural beauty projects felt fresh and updated. Doily crafts were updated in a beautiful article about using them as decorative motifs on cushions, cakes, wreaths, cookie tins, picture frames, table cloths and ornaments.

What made the craft projects this year all the more accessible and modern was the very helpful link to downloads and instructions on the website, I’m a total sucker for beautifully-designed templates and the December issue heralded dozens of these! All of them could be easily accessed and downloaded at the website, printed up in the various colour schemes that were offered and used for the projects at hand. These also came with very clear and detailed instructions about how to put them all together with new photographs that were not featured in the magazine.

It was all a triumphant example of the synergy concept at work: projects conceived in the magazine could be realized via the website, and even demonstrated on the television show. It was very useful.

As always, the December issue is filled with beautiful photography and wonderful ideas, but this issue felt fresh while still managing to pay tribute to the classicism and elegance of holiday issues past. Definitely a job well done!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Thank you so much to all the wonderful people who read this blog and make putting it together so much fun. Thanks to Martha and to the staff at Martha Stewart Living, also. I've received such kind and helpful comments, emails and correspondence from people all over the world in the last year. I hope everyone has a blissful and relaxing Christmas this year with friends and family. I'll leave you with these photos of the Christmas lights in my hometown of Ottawa, which is Canada's capital. Enjoy, my friends! Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad!

Every year on December 10th, the National Capital Commission flips a switch somewhere and hundreds of thousands of tiny Christmas lights come on across Ottawa. They remain lit until January 10th, from 5 pm onward. Above are the Parliament Buildings all aglow. Enormous snowflake patterns are shone onto the walls and they rotate slowly in a beautiful dance. The towers are illuminated with coloured spotlights.

A closer view of Parliament. All of the shrubs and trees around the government house are covered in lights.

The Chateau Laurier Hotel and the National War Monument are surrounded by trees in purple lights.

In Confederation Park outside the Lord Elgin Hotel, nearly every tree is lit up with lights.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Aunt Sharron sent me this photograph of a holiday craft she created yesterday. It's a glass block with a string of 35 LED lights inside (white or multi-coloured), wrapped to look like an icy present. Select a glass block that is hollow inside then simply drill a small hole into the side of the block using a special glass cutting drill, which has a diamond head that does not break the glass. The drill bit should be one inch in diameter to allow the lights to fit through. Wear goggles and gloves while doing this to avoid glass particles. Carefully insert the LED lights (it takes a bit of practice, I'm told) and leave the plug for the cord exposed. Wrap the glass block in pretty ribbon and place it near an electrical socket to plug it in. Sharron has two - one on the kitchen counter and one in the family room. As you can see in her photograph, it creates a warm, festive glow. Sharron also says you can add a string of glass beads into the block to fill some of the empty gaps and to add to the sparkle.

Last year's amaryllis bulb was very, very kind to me. When I buy an amaryllis bulb and plant it, I do so with the intention of reusing the bulb the following year. A relatively unknown feature of the amaryllis is that the same bulb can be used perennially, provided you follow a few simple guidelines, which I'll explain below. Sometimes the reused bulbs cooperate and sometimes (often) they do not. This year, the bulb I had been keeping in storage for eight weeks, beginning in September, was very cooperative! Below are some photos I took yesterday of the towering plant, which is blooming just in time for Christmas.

The amaryllis is a Dutch variety called Minerva. It offers several large flowers with petals six to seven inches in length on a stem that can grow as high as 18 inches. Mine grew 14 inches this year.
A towering beauty! Amaryllis look so untouchable and powerful, and yet they're so resillient and hardy - not at all the fussy flower you think they would be. They require little water, lots of light and warmth, and coarse, well-draining soil.
Storing Amaryllis:

If you want to save your amaryllis bulbs and try to get them to bloom the following year, follow these instructions.

1.) Once the plant stops blooming, cut off the long stem but allow the foliage to continue to grow throughout the winter and summer months. Amaryllis foliage is not the most attractive (long, plain leaves that sprout from the bulb) so I often put the potted bulb on the balcony in the summer, making sure it gets lots of sun. Keeping the leaves on the plant allows the bulb to store up much-needed energy prior to its dormant phase.

2.) Water the plant regularly, as you would a house plant - keeping in mind that amaryllis likes its soil on the drier end of the spectrum, but never bone dry. (When planting amaryllis, the soil should be well-draining with a healthy proportion of sand. Martha Stewart recommends a combination of well-rotted compost, coarse sand and vermiculite in a ratio of 3:3:2.)

3.) In September, cut off the leaves and place the pot in a cool, dark place for up to eight weeks. This is the plant's dormant stage. Do not water the plant at all during these eight weeks and allow it to rest. This mimics the African dry season.

4.) The first week of November, remove the bulb from its soil and place it in a fresh batch of soil mixture. Discard the old soil. Water it well. This will restimulate its growth. Place the bulb in bright sun. A south-facing window is ideal. The warmth of the sun will further provoke the bulb to begin to grow again.

5.) Water every week until the plant begins to bloom again. Once the blooms start, withhold water for a while. This will ensure constant blooming. When the soil is parched, water again.

If your amaryllis doesn't bloom a second time, do not despair. It seems to me that reused amaryllis are a bit temperamental and it takes the perfect conditions (which you can not always control) and a healthy dose of luck for the plants to bloom a second time. I've had several no-shows in the past. Often the bulb will only yield several leaves and an awkward looking stalk, if anything at all. But give it a try. Last year's blooms were bigger and brighter, but I was still very surprised and delighted by this year's results!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Although I'm fully aware that 99% of all Christmas wrapping paper eventually ends up torn to shreds on the living room floor, I just can never bring myself to wrap my presents haphazardly; there is always a theme, usually based on a colour scheme or a pattern. This is not to say that I spend a fortune on wrapping paper. As noted, most of it will eventually be tossed (hopefully recycled!) and I'm nothing if not frugal.

I generally splurge on one deluxe roll of wrapping paper and then supplement the rest of my wrapping with plain paper, tissue paper and gift bags.

This year I went with gold and white as my theme. I was inspired by beautiful gold toile wrapping paper I found at Hallmark. The gold is warm and traditional, while the white is modern and cool. I liked the mix.

Knowing I had a stash of gold and white gift bags at home from Christmases past, I decided on the theme. I then used plain white wrapping paper that I had purchased earlier in the year at a discount price to wrap the rest. To make the plain white paper more festive, I used some gold twine as ribbon and labeled the gifts with Martha Stewart Crafts label stickers.

A gold toile pattern on the Hallmark wrapping paper is fitted with a plain white ribbon.

Leftover strips of the toile wrapping paper were used as embellishments on the plain white wrapping, making it look like part of a collection. Two gold gift bags from last year fit in perfectly with the theme.
Inexpensive gold twine found at a craft store dresses up the plain white wrapping. I also bought a small gold gift bag in the same toile pattern as the wrapping paper.
Small Martha Stewart label stickers were used to identify the packages.
European chocolate bars for stocking stuffers are wrapped in plain gold tissue paper and then embellished with scrabook paper. The names of the recipients will be written in gold ink on the brown sections.

My stationery this year was also gold and white (in red envelopes.) This beautiful partridge/pear tree letterpress design was found on

Andrew's Wrapping Paper Tips:

1. Shop early for the most unique patterns on wrappings; they go the fastest. I got my gold toile wrapping in early November. I also bought a roll of lovely blue and silver snowflake-patterned wrapping paper for next year.

2. Wait until a week before Christmas to buy wrapping paper in bulk. It invariably goes on sale by December 15th.

3. Stock up for next year by buying the leftover holiday wrapping paper in January, when it's the cheapest you'll ever find it. (I once bought three deluxe rolls for just one dollar each.)

4. Look for wrapping paper in unusual places: Dollar Stores and many grocery stores have bins of discounted wrapping paper. While the quality is not the best, it's ideal if you're wrapping lots of gifts for children who couldn't care less about the pattern or quality of the wrapping paper. (Although, I did. But I was weird.)

5. Use plain paper or craft paper for smaller gifts, like books or perfume. If you've got a stash of scrapbook paper, a roll or two of butcher paper or large sheets of plain newsprint, use it for wrapping. Just embellish the gifts with holiday ribbon for a clean, modern look.

6. I'm not a fan of regifting, but I do reuse some of the wrapping paper that covers the gifts I open on Christmas day. I have a small bin of wrapping paper scraps that comes in handy for making homemade cards and even in scrapbooking.

7. Keep wine bags that you're given, as well as gift bags, and reuse them next year.

8. Think about how you want your wrapping to look before you buy it. Do you want it to be traditional or more modern? What are your favourite colours? Are you into plaid this year? Ask yourself what you are most attracted to.

9. Instead of buying oodles of ribbon, use twine, yarn or scraps of cut wrapping paper to embellish the wrapped gifts.

10. Recycle the ripped up wrapping on Christmas night!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The daytime series "The Martha Stewart Show" will return for a fifth season in syndication in September, 2009, giving Martha the chance to cook and create for her viewers in at least 60% of the country, according to distributor NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution.

The series averaged a .7 in the November sweep, down from the previous November, but showing year-to-growth in most of the top 30 markets and on par with previous-week performances.

"We are pleased to have 'The Martha Stewart Show' back on many of our stations for a fifth season," says John Wallace, President, NBC Local Media. "Martha and the team behind her show continue to produce an entertaining daily program that resonates with our viewers."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I thought it would be nice to feature a gallery of some of the best Christmas trees dreamed up by the staff at Martha Stewart Living magazine, most of whom work under the guidance of Eric Pike, the magazine's "Father Christmas" as he's been called. The photos I've selected below are the ones I think are the most alluring and beautiful, and also timeless in their elegance. There is nothing like a beautiful Christmas tree. When I was very young I used to ask to have my nap time right beside the Christmas tree during the holiday season. It didn't matter where I was - at my grandparents' house, at the babysitter's place, or just in my parents' living room - when it was time for my nap I'd demand to sleep near, or even under, the tree...with the lights on. Most of the time I got my wish and I recall falling asleep staring up into the maze of decorated branches, all lit up. The best nap times ever! Anyhow, enjoy the gallery of Christmas trees from Martha Stewart Living issues past and present, and please consider having a nap among the presents.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This is probably one of my favourite segments from the first Martha Stewart Holiday special. Miss Piggy stops by Turkey Hill to help Martha put together a gingerbread house modeled after the 1805 abode. It's quite an undertaking! Not only is the finished product amazing (and kind of outrageous) but the interraction between Miss Piggy and Miss Martha is quite funny. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Every year my family gathers to make the annual Christmas cakes. This past weekend we all took part yet again. It involves not only baking, but wishing! Below are some of my photographs taken at this family tradition three years ago along with a description of the history of these traditional English cakes and the customary wishful stir that is involved while making them. I've also included the recipe. Hopefully I didn't miss a step in transcribing it! Enjoy!

For over 80 years, the descendants of the McLaren clan (my mother's side of the family) have been making wishes over bowls of raisins, cherries and nuts. If it sounds a little fruity, you're right. "We did it when I was a girl," says Valerie McLaren, an 85 year-old war bride from England, who also happens to be my grandmother. (She will henceforth be referred to as Nana.)

She, along with her sister, Eileen Hornsby, made traditional Christmas cakes with her family in Bedford, England, in the 1920s and '30s. Today, a variation on that same recipe and the tradition of the wishful stir are still enjoyed in the home of her daughter, Gail Ritchie, who also happens to be my mom.

"We'd take turns stirring the ingredients and making wishes as we stirred. It's an old English tradition," says Nana.

After adding several spoonfuls of mixed fruit and dry ingredients at a time, participants take turns stirring the glutinous mass while making a secret Christmas wish. For the last nine years, this tradition has been enjoyed by four generations in our family - the most inclusive it's ever been - with the participation of my nephew Jacob and his dad (my brother) Adam.

From left to right: My mother Gail, my grandmother Valerie (85) and my brother Adam look on as my nephew Jacob makes his holiday wish.

My mom makes her annual wish with a good stir of the ingredients. It's important to keep the wish a secret!

The scene is my parents' kitchen in Osgoode, just south of Ottawa, where three lined and buttered cake tins await the gigantic batch of batter, nuts, raisins and candied fruit, which is all mixed and wished over in a huge roasting pan for convenience.

It should be noted for the sake of pride and prejudice that this recipe is NOT a fruitcake – neither literally, nor figuratively - even if some of its makers are. It mostly consists of mixed fruits and nuts with a hint of batter to hold it all together, giving it an extremely dark, dense and robust look when cooked and an almost intoxicating flavour when served: deeply rich, not at all like those white, unpopular fruitcakes with the sporadic bits of dried fruit.

Lots of raisins - three varieties - keep the cakes moist and dense.

The three sizes of cake tins are shown with the unbaked batter. The tins are prepared by lining them with greased parchment paper on the bottom and along the sides. This ensures they do not stick to the pans and helps to easily remove them.

Many fruitcake snobs lower their defenses when presented with a moist slice of this decadent dessert, which is best enjoyed on its own, either cool or slightly warm. Nana permits serving it with tea or coffee, but please no eggnog: your arteries wouldn't survive.

The recipe below makes enough for three cakes in three sizes: a 5 and a half inch pan, a 6 and a half inch pan and a 9 inch pan. The smallest cake size is ideal to give as a gift to any dessert-lover on your list. Two 9 inch pans would work to make two large cakes instead. These cakes are ideally made a few weeks before Christmas to allow the flavours to develop. Once cooled, the cakes should be tightly wrapped in foil and kept in tins in a cool, dark place until they’re ready to serve.
I took a photograph of the original recipe that my grandmother wrote out for my mom in 1973, the year she was married. As you can see, it's been well used since then: torn, burned and pieced together with tape.



1 lb currants
1 lb dark, seeded raisins
1 lb light, seeded raisins
1 lb golden, seeded raisins
half cup water
half lb candied fruit
half lb mixed peel
quarter lb chopped walnuts
quarter lb chopped blanched almonds
quarter lb glacé cherries
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup pineapple juice
half lb butter
1 + half cups brown sugar
6 eggs
3 cups flour
1 + half teaspoons cinnamon
half teaspoon each: nutmeg, ginger, Allspice
1 teaspoon of salt
1 + half teaspoons baking powder


Day Before: prepare fruit Combine raisins and currants in a saucepan
Add water and simmer on high heat for five minutes
Add mixed peelCover and let stand overnight.
In a separate dish, combine cherries, candied fruit, walnuts, almonds, pineapple and pineapple juice. Cover and let stand overnight.

Next day: Prepare three round cake tins of varying sizes (9 inches, 6 + half inches, 5 + half inches) or two large tins (9 to 10 inches) that are at least four inches deep by lining them with three layers of parchment, greasing the layer that will touch the cake mix

Preheat the oven to 275
Measure flour, spices, baking powder and salt into a bowl
Whisk to combine
Cream butter, sugar and eggs into a large mixing bowl (a deep roasting pan works well for a recipe this size)
Sift part of dry mixture into butter mixture
Combine well

Add part of prepared fruit, alternating with dry mixture between stirs
Turn mixture into prepared tins

Bake at 275
4 hours for the large cake(s)
3 hours for the medium cake
2 hours and 45 minutes for the small cake

COOKING TIPS -Place a shallow pan of water at the bottom of the oven before baking to ensure the cakes retain their moistness. -When cooling the cakes, place clean, damp dish towels over them to keep the moisture in.
The finished cake is a dark, rich treat that looks festive when decorated with glazed pecans, dried figs, almonds and other glazed, dried fruits.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

By Martha Stewart
Syndicated Columnist
Fun and easy ways to make your holidays more festive.


Decorate inexpensive pillar candles to create homemade presents or a display for the holiday table. Working in sections, warm the surface of a candle with a hair dryer for 30 seconds. Arrange waxed twine, available at crafts stores, in a looped pattern (cut twine from the roll when the design is complete). Press the twine in place with a bone folder. Repeat to cover. When burning the candles, peel off twine when wax melts to half an inch above it.

Give bits of ribbon left over from gift wrapping a new life as merry tree ornaments. The ribbons' colors and patterns don't need to match exactly, since their similar shape will tie the look together. Begin by knotting scraps into basic bows around a few inches of floral wire. Next, twist the wire to secure the bows to tree branches, indoors or out. To remove the ornaments, untwist the wire and store flat.


With simple centerpieces made from candles, bowls and amaryllis blooms, the whole holiday table will shine. For each one, use candle wax to attach a small floral frog to the center of a shallow bowl. Push a taper into the floral frog to secure. Pour water into the bowl. Clip amaryllis blooms (or other large flowers) from stems, and arrange three or four of them in the bowl around the candle. Place several centerpieces along the middle of a long table, spaced evenly, or one in the center of a round table.


Paperwhite narcissus are a favorite for the season — until they grow too tall and flop to one side. To rein them in, root the bulbs in gravel with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol and 10 parts water. They'll stop growing at about two-thirds their usual height.


The long, flexible neck of an automotive funnel, available at auto-supply stores, can give you access to a hard-to-reach tree stand. Rest the funnel's tip in the stand, and use a measuring cup to pour water from funnel to stand. Place a kitchen towel below the funnel to protect your tree skirt from drips.


The best material for stringing cranberry or popcorn garlands is inside your medicine cabinet. Waxed floss is strong and slick, so cranberries and popcorn will slide on easily. Knot one end of a piece of floss, and thread a needle onto the other; just pierce through items and slip them on.


For a cook, happiness is a freezer full of homemade stock. Freeze it in 1-cup portions, and it will be easy to know how much to thaw for a recipe. The next time you make a batch of stock or want to freeze the contents of a store-bought package, ladle it into 1-cup muffin tins and place them in the freezer. After the stock is frozen, pop the portions out of the tin; store them in resealable freezer bags and label them with the date.


When you polish a fork, dip a length of cotton twine into silver polish and rub it between the tines. This will help remove every trace of tarnish from those hard-to-reach crevices.


Drum-shaped ornaments are among the most iconic Christmas decorations. But you don't need to scour antiques stores and flea markets to drum up your own set. All it takes to make the ornaments are round chip-wood boxes, festive ribbon and glue. Buy the drum-shaped boxes, available in various sizes, at crafts stores. Decorate them by attaching patterned ribbon around the bases and lids with craft glue. To create a strap for hanging the ornament, cut a length of thin ribbon and glue each end to the inside lip of the box lid.

If using the ornaments as party favors, line their interiors with decorative paper cupcake liners and put cookies, truffles or other small treats inside.


Replace the blooms that fill your hanging basket in warmer months with potted holly, juniper or other evergreen plants that can be displayed outdoors. As an added touch, string together bundles of cedar with floral wire to make a garland. Attach the garland to the basket edge with wire and use more wire to fasten a bow. Hang outdoors.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

SIRIUS XM's Martha Stewart Living Radio will be auctioning Macy's Martha Stewart Collection Christmas ornaments for charity on eBay. Each ornament will be signed by a celebrity, including Martha and other SIRIUS personalities. Proceeds from the charity auction will benefit Taste of the NFL, an organization that raises money to fight hunger in America.

New autographed ornaments are expected to be available daily through December 12th, so check eBay:

This ornament is signed by Everyday Food editor Sandy Gluck.

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi has done a stylish job on his ornament.

Other celebrities who have signed the Martha Stewart ornaments include: Howard Stern; Gayle King; Dr. Maya Angelou; David Archuleta; Tom Arnold; Jacqueline Bisset; David Cook; Gary Dell'Abate; Derek & Romaine; Dido; Mitzi Gaynor; Bob Greene; Patti, Nona and Sarah LaBelle; Emeril Lagasse; Artie Lange; Isaac Mizrahi; Naughty by Nature; Nickelback; Fred Norris; Jamie Oliver; Dr. Oz; Chef Charlie Palmer; Pink; Robin Quivers; Carolyne Roehm; Rabbi Shmuley; Michelangelo Signorile; Joss Stone; James Taylor; Peter Walsh; The Wiggles; Marianne Williamson and Lee Ann Womack. Taste of the NFL has raised more than $6-million to fight hunger in the United States.

Martha's ornament is a glittered bird with an attached glittered acorn and a note card with her signature on it.

The ornament with the highest bid so far is the one by Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Hutt. Currently (December 4) it's at $300 with 20 bids.