Sunday, May 31, 2009

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes is on bookshelves Tuesday! Be sure to pick up your copy and get baking!

Book description: Swirled and sprinkled, dipped and glazed, or otherwise fancifully decorated, cupcakes are the treats that make everyone smile, and are increasing in popularity. They have become the star attraction for special days like birthdays, showers and holidays, as well as perfect everyday treats. In Martha Stewart's Cupcakes, the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine share 175 inspired cupcake recipes - with cakes, frostings, fillings, toppings and embellishments that can be mixed and matched to produce just the right cupcake for any occasion. Alongside traditional recipes like buttermilk cupcakes swirled with fluffy vanilla icing and devil's food cupcakes crowned with rich, dark chocolate frosting, there are also sweet surprises like peanut-butter-and-jelly cupcakes, dainty delights like almond-cherry tea cakes and festive showstoppers topped with marzipan ladybugs and candy clowns.

The 350-page book features cupcakes for every event and every season: celebrations (monogrammed heart cupcakes, perfect for an elegant wedding), birthdays (starfish cupcakes), holidays (ghoulish cupcakes for Halloween) and everyday cupcakes for casual entertaining or after-school fun (red-velvet cupcakes with cream-cheese frosting, caramel-filled chocolate cupcakes.)

In singular Martha Stewart style, the pages of the book are stunningly designed to be both useful and inspiring to the reader and home cook. Each recipe has a photograph of the completed confection and is paired with helpful how-to information, including step-by-step instructions, illustrative photographs demonstrating various procedures and creative ideas for packaging and presenting your cupcakes as gifts or at gatherings. Whether for any day or special days, the treats in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes are sure to delight! (It also makes a wonderful companion volume to Martha Stewart's Cookies.)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Grounds at Skylands

Martha's insatiable lust for flowers is nowhere in evidence on the grounds at Skylands, her summer home on Mt. Desert Island in Seal Harbor, Maine. Moss, leafy vines, towering conifers and ferns create a verdant tapestry around the estate, leaving little room for fussy florals. And this is entirely by design.

Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860 - 1951) designed the grounds at Skylands for the home's original owner, Edsel Ford, in 1926. Jensen, who moved to the United States in 1884, once worked for the West Park Commission in Chicago as a designer and gardener and was an avid promulgator of the Prairie school of thought, shared by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright. He began to take on private commissions from America's burgeoning industrialists and soon became a well-known name in residential landscape architecutre.

The prairie philosophy is one of sparsity, clarity and unpretentious fixtures, meant to highlight nature's original plan with careful, well-considered tweaking to enhance and refine it - never to outshine it. Prairie landscape philosophy meant plenty of open space, meandering pathways through wooded patches, mass plantings of one particular garden specimen and the repeated use of stone to create foundational structure.

At Skylands, Jensen was at his best. The house, designed by Duncan Candler, is rustic Italian revival and stands in perfect contrast to the hilly landscape with its solid square shapes and long, rectilinear angles. The grounds are undulating with rocky outcrops, strategically highlighted and shaped to create a feeling of discovered natural beauty. Throughout the 63 acre property, which straddles Ox Hill, overlooking the harbor, pathways lead wanderers to hidden treasures like beautiful reflecting pools in the forests, a Georgian guest house, an old chapel, a counsel circle with a fire pit, a greenhouse and restful vistas in the woods where glimpses of the sea can be enjoyed in the sun-dappled shade.

The large terrace at Skylands can comfortably accommodate 300 people. An adjacent pergola is ideal for more intimate outdoor gatherings. Kiwi vines climb the pink granite of the home's facade in summertime.

This plan of the grounds at Skylands highlights some of the original features, including the many pathways, the multi-level terraces, a mountain meadow, kept intentionally bare of trees to allow sunlight through, a fountain and a counsil ring.

The driveway at Skylands is layered with crushed pink granite and lined with a feature known as Rockefeller teeth - those large stones in the background flanking the driveway. These rocks, officially called coping stones, were a feature of many carriage roads in Acadia National Park, which were a gift from Mt. Desert resident John D. Rockefeller. Cut roughly and spaced irregularly, the large slabs of granite create a rustic feel and act as a safety barrier.

The driveway curves graciously where it meets the front entrance of the house. In the center island, Jensen had originally intended mass plantings of asters. Today, the island is made up principally of fern species. The pink granite on the driveway is gathered up each winter, washed and stored for the following spring.

Another view of the driveway reveals the height of the fern island and the rocky wall that lines the entrance. The 1958 Edsel station wagon was a gift to Martha from her daughter, Alexis.

An outdoor table at Skylands is set beautifully with a sunken centerpiece of succulents. Jens Jensen had specified in his original plans that nearly all of the potted vegetation on the terraces should be tropical: palms, cycads and ferns. Martha has kept that tradition alive.

Deep in the woods surrounding the house, the moss and fern tradition continues.

Closer to home, Martha planted these antique cement goat troughs with varieties of moss from the adjacent forest.

Pathways on the property are carefully lined with fallen pine needles from the swaying hemlocks and pines overhead. This creates a visual cue for explorers. This reflecting pool, above, is located just outside the dining room window.

A pair of glazed terra cotta sphinxes, designed by Emile Muller, stand guard at the entrance to the living room.

This sculpture by Aristide Maillol, called La Riviere, rests on a luxuriant terrace that Martha converted into a moss garden.

In fall, the kiwi vines become a golden hue.

The landscape at Skylands is incredibly steep. The photograph above looks like an ancient Mayan ruin, but it is, in fact, the foundation wall of the Skylands residence. To minimize upkeep on these steep and sunken regions of the property, the grounds are heavily planted with ferns.
Martha encourages moss growth anywhere she can. It looks almost primordial on this granite staircase leading from the terrace above.
A spectacular view of the harbor at sunset from the upper terrace.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The McLean House

I love a good house tour - public or private. So, today, on my day off, I went with my beloved to see the McLean House on the grounds at Sunnybrook. The house has been newly decorated by 70 of Toronto's leading interior designers brought on board by the Junior League of Toronto to help benefit the Sunnybrook Hospital.

The rooms were spectacular! Sadly, photography was strictly forbidden. At every turn, down every corridor, was a pleasant looking woman wearing a light-blue apron who had been instructed to severely punish anyone who dared to take a photograph of any of the rooms. My plan to take dozens of pictures and post them here was thwarted. Below, however, you'll see some photographs of the grounds.

My favourite room was the main study on the ground floor, designed by Brian Gluckstein of Gluckstein Design Planning Inc. Dark wood panelling, a stunning bay window with a view to the gardens, sleek, modern furniture and extraordinary lighting gave the room the perfect blend of traditional and modern. The main feature was an enormous Japanese screen made of ebony that stretched across one of the walls, giving the room added depth. A roaring fireplace was kept minimally adorned.

"We wanted to create an environment that reflects the trends from 1929 when the residence was constructed and today, in 2009. The study's pine panelling, which reflects a mixture of classical architecture, was a popular material in these houses and remains a key design element in the house today," says Gluckstein.

The update was achieved through the furnishings, which were long, sleek and sturdy, many of them reminescent of the Art Deco period but updated with a modern pallette of greys, lavenders and creams.

Another favourite of ours was a room concept in the basement called "The Apartment of Lady X" by Wiklem Design. The room was certainly as naughty as the title suggests. Made to look like the classy suite of an empowered mistress, the room just exuded dark sensuality. And the room was dark: brick walls painted a clean black, a large, round, black marble table, a black desk outfitted in black leather, black lamps and ebony dressers. Lightness was brought into the room through mirrors and a recessed counter made of glass, lit from behind by clean white fluorescents. A sunken lounge area was arranged with sexy chaises and a vignette of white sculptures. The photography in the tight space was black and white and glamorous, featuring glorious portraits of Tina Turner, Mick Jagger and Jackie Onassis. The feeling is one of strength and sensuality - totally compelling!

Tomas and I were the only men in the place, which seemed to make us popular with the ladies. Many of them asked us our opinions about the rooms, what we liked, what we didn't. There were moments that we felt like the guides. It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. The house is open for tour until Saturday. For information visit

All visitors are given this beautiful catalog, which has a designer's sketch of each room and biographies of the designers.

History of the McLean House:

The McLean house dates back to 1928 when James Stanley McLean, President and Founder of Canada Packers, commissioned architects George Moorhouse and and King Associates to design a country retreat for his family on 50 rolling acres in Toronto, which he purchased for just over $90,000. The result was a house called Bay View (known today as McLean House, which is located on Bayview Avenue) one of Ontario's most splendid mansions. The fieldstone manor was embellished with Palladian windows, classic crown moldings, a grand circular staircase 12-foot ceilings and spaciouis rooms for grand entertaining. The acres of gardens were professionally landscaped by Gordon Culham, a landscape architect who worked in the tradition of formal English country style, with courtyards, manicured hedges and numerous urns filled to brimming with all manner of foliage and flowers.

The home remained the residence of the McLean family until 1966 when the widow of J.S. McLean moved to a smaller residence. The University of Toronto took over the property and it was converted into a clinical facility by Sunnybrook Hospital soon thereafter. In 1982 the house was renovated by the Junior League of Toronto and the Interior Designers of Ontario, who opened it to the public as a designers' showcase home. Following its transformation, the estate was opened as a venue for social and corporate events, with proceeds going to fund medical research for the hospital.

Photos of the Grounds:

A view of the stately McLean house from the courtyard at the back of the residence.

Note some of the intricate architectural details around the windows on the second floor.

At every turn outside the home was an urn of some sort, piled high with flowers.

The back terrace was an inviting space.

On the same terrace were several concrete urns. This one is home to an enormous staghorn fern.

We were both taken by the gnarled trunk of this mysterious tree.

A conservative formality rules the many gardens on the property: restricted palettes of white and green.

The entrance to the coach house was a lovely space to consider.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cupcake Countdown

In less than a week, Martha Stewart's Cupcakes will be released (June 2), featuring 175 of the best cupcake recipes. In anticipation of the book's release, has compiled 40 of the most delicious examples here. Be sure to try some of them out...or just drool over the delicious imagery!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beekman at Anthropologie

Being the Home department manager at Anthropologie in Toronto means immersing myself in fabulous products for the kitchen, the bedroom, the garden and the bathroom, including wonderfully luxurious soaps, from French-milled Mistral to Saipua to the much-loved Cucina. Now, much to my surprise and delight, we'll have the handmade Beekman soaps to stock our shelves with! It's already being advertised on the website, Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell are the creators and founders of the Beekman goats-milk soaps, which are handmade at their fabulous farm in Sharon Springs, New York. I'm fortunate enough to call these intrepid young farmers (featured in last month's Vanity Fair) friends of mine and I can't wait to visit their farm in the fall for an apple-picking extravaganza! In the meantime, I'll happily place their "After the Sun" soap bars on the rustic shelves of a found piece of furniture. Oh, I know just the spot!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home

Following the release of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes on June 2, the next book from Martha will be Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home, featuring 52 quick meals to cook for family and friends. It's due on October 13 and will be 272 pages in paperback. Martha is the author of the book. It is not a compilation of previously-released recipes from the pages of Martha Stewart Living compiled by the editors. It should make a nice addition to the Martha Stewart book collection so mark your calendars!

Pioneer Nursery

I had the opportunity to visit my family in Ottawa this past weekend to celebrate my mother's birthday and to enjoy Canada's May long weekend, which is designed to celebrate Queen Victoria and her involvement as a founding member of Canada's confederation. One of the first things I did when I returned was to visit the Pioneer Nursery with my mom. Located just outside of the nation's capital in a town called Kemptville, the nursery is one of the best ones I've been to. The quality of the plants on offer, the knowledge of the staff and the beautiful variety available makes every visit there a treat. My mother had her eye on a few goodies for the garden, but we ended up loving just about everything we saw! Below are some highlights from the nursery and its greenhouses.
The entrance is welcoming. Inside the front building is a seed store and a section where houseplants are sold.
The expansive potting shed has a large assortment of ceramic, cement and iron vessels for outdoor plantings.

Potatoes, organically grown on site, are sold to visitors near the entrance.
A wide array of shrubs and small trees under the arbor.

There are eight large greenhouses where visitors can look at all kinds of potted plants and flowers for the garden.

The entrance to one of the greenhouses is a grand display of colour.

I loved the brilliant colours of this large fuschia flower. The petals almost look like intricately folded fabric.
Another gorgeous fuschia specimen.
These tuberous begonias were in full bloom, hanging above our heads. The stems were loaded with enormous flowers.
This deep pink tuberous begonia had already been sold to a lucky buyer.

This yellow begonia was my favourite of the day.
A pale pink fuschia that had yet to fully bloom.
This lemon tree had only one fruit, but it was large and looked ready to pick.
Fancy-leafed geraniums.
These alliums look like some kind of alien species silhouetted against the grey sky.
A brilliant spectrum of pansies.
They had many different varieties of heuchera.
These are flamingmound spirea - appropriately named.
I love the soft pallette of these salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki.'
Beautiful flowering almonds.
A weeping crabapple tree. I had never heard of such a thing.