Sunday, June 28, 2009

English Summer Puddings

Having an English grandmother means having memories of superb and peculiar summer desserts. Considered quite unusual by North American standards, these desserts rely heavily on molds and gelatin tins, pound cakes soaked in fruit juices and swirls of heavy cream whipped with well-cooked berries, rhubarb and apples - mashed and chilled and arranged in a semi-formal presentation that is best given outdoors. With strange names like Whim-Whams, Syllabubs and Fruit Fools, the array of English summer desserts are as lively to the palette as they sound.

In the June, 2000, issue of Martha Stewart Living there is a wonderful and nostalgic look at these grandmotherly, English 'puddings' and how to prepare them yourself.

The classic summer pudding terrine takes center stage in front of an arrangement of fragrant roses in Martha's back yard. The dessert consists of white bread soaked in berry juices molded around a melange of cooked, sweetened and chilled berries and fruits. Towards the back of the table is the blancmange, a molded jelly dessert made of almond-steeped milk. Each place setting offers a healthy helping of red gooseberry fools - a mixture of whipped cream and sweetened berry preserve.

Plate cakes are an English tradition that date back decades. Black currants, raspberries, gooseberries and apples are mixed inside a flaky dome of pastry crust. They are baked on oven-proof plates and can be served either warm or cool.

Fools are made with crushed, sweetened, soft fruit that is folded into whipped heavy cream. Green and red gooseberries are used to make two of the fools above. Blueberries flavour the third.

Whim-Whams are essentially miniature trifles, combining delicious custard, berries, cream, brandy (optional) and crisp almond biscuit pieces.
A closer look at the blancmange: For presentation, sugared currants are placed around the cake plate. The flavour is light, nutty and creamy.
Iced lemon-and-raspberry syllabubs look beautiful topped with candied lemon rind. These simple and refreshing desserts have been popular in England for more than 300 years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Martha's Herbs

Whether you pronounce the word Martha's way (with a firm and definite 'h' sound) or the British way (silent 'h' all the way) there is no denying the importance of herbs to any edible garden. This is why the New York Botanical Garden is presenting a summer-long exhibition called 'The Edible Garden' at its facilities in the Bronx, including a highlight called "Martha Stewart's Culinary Herb Garden." This will be a collection of the finest culinary herbs, personally selected by Martha Stewart. The living spice rack will include 50 different types of herbs from around the world, including French tarragon and sorrel, English thyme, Italian parsley, Mexican cilantro and Greek oregano. The show begins on June 27th and runs until September 13th. I'm still waiting for confirmation, but there is speculation that Martha will be giving a lecture at the event later this summer. The special exhibit will also feature sections on growing tropical fruits and children's vegetable gardens.

This is a plan of the Nancy Ryan Luce Garden, which Martha was asked to redesign for her herb exhibit. To explore the garden further, visit

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Down-to-Earth Gardener

Suzy Bales knows I love her books. Ever since I first read her amazing book "The Garden in Winter," I've been collecting her extraordinary books on the simple but entirely consuming art of gardening: "A Garden of Fragrance," "Garden Parties" and my personal favourite, "The Down-to-Earth Gardener," which is the subject of this particular post.

Suzy was gracious enough to send me two review copies of her books, including "The Down-to-Earth Gardener" when she read my glowing review of "The Garden in Winter." Always thankful for such random acts of kindness, I sent her a thank-you card and since then I've been scouring her books for all the tips and insight needed for the outdoor cultivator. (I should point out here that I do not have a garden of my own and could easily write a book entitled "The Eventual Gardener" since much of my existence in the spring and summer months is spent pining restlessly after flowers and plants that do not grow on my premises.)

I've always loved good gardening books, and I've collected my share. Suzy's books find venerated spaces on my bookshelves amid my gardening-tome collection. It's precisely this 'down-to-earth' perspective she has mastered that first hooked me on her writing in her book about understanding and loving the garden in the cold, foreboding season of death. Even the concept of such a book intrigued me. In "The Down-to-Earth Gardener" we see Suzy at her best, tending and loving and exploring her property in the Hamptons with the wisdom and fearlessness of a gardener with focus.

What makes her books unique is their conversational tone. You feel, sometimes, that you are sitting on her patio, gazing out at the landscape, listening to her speak about this section of the garden or that one. Or perhaps you're strolling with her through her lilac and peony walkway, inhaling the incredible fragrance as she directs your eye to a particular cultivar the average visitor may not notice.

The book is filled with 'vignettes' - little moments of wisdom that will prove to be invaluable to you as you plan your own garden. Though the advice stems from her personal experience in her personal garden, it is applicable to any northeast garden and to any gardener.

Below are some photographs from the book. I highly recommend it!

Suzy Bales and a fluffy companion in her garden, pictured on the cover of the book. Many fans of Martha's publications will relate to the well-written and personal perspective of Suzy's advice.

A breathtaking scene along Suzy's driveway. An ornamental crabapple tree and a linden are dressed with skirts of early blooms, including tulips and forget-me-nots.

Climbing roses and Boston ivy grow profusely along the walls of the carriage house on the property. Suzy explains in detail some of the successes and hardships she has had with climbing roses.
The entrance to the lilac and peony walk on Suzy's property begs the explorer to linger a little on a quaint iron bench.

A walk along the lilac and peony walk in spring must be a fragrant delight!

A large pond at the base of a hill on Suzy's property is filled with perennial water lilies, lotus and fish. The pond adds a light, reflective element to the property. Hydrangeas bloom along the shore.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Everyday Food's New Look

I read Martha's magazines for all kinds of reasons. There are the usual lures: great recipes, creative craft ideas, beautiful decorating projects, all kinds of information on the domestic arts and, of course, those momentary glimpses into Martha's homes and gardens. I also read them to study their aesthetic: layout, font, photography, page design and graphics. Each of Martha's magazines has won awards in design categories and these publications are truly leaders in the magazine publishing industry. When I got the July/August issue of Everyday Food recently, I was so pleasantly surprised by the beautiful new look of the magazine. It seemed cleaner, brighter, fresher and more vibrant, with added punch and vigor. I produced some tear sheets below to demonstrate:

The cover did not change much. It's still impacting and bright, but I still find it too cluttered. And I'm still not convinced we need three reminders on the cover that it is a Martha Stewart publication: "Great Food Fast From Martha Stewart", "A Martha Stewart Magazine", and Martha's smiling face on each issue, in a changing spectrum of pastel blouses. We get it: Martha has a hand in Everyday Food.

I love the gigantic font on this page in the electric blue tone. It's a perfect contrast to the rustic image and gives the page so much impact.

Another fantastic use of font and design, mixed with high-contrast photography to create a really powerful page.

This page is reminiscent of a page from Martha Stewart Living, with a streamlined mix of information and photography in a casual glossary format.
The July/August issue is filled with full-page photography, something that used to be a rarity in Everyday Food. Minimal dialogue on certain pages (or none at all) give the eye a needed visual pause and a chance to linger on the delicious-looking completed recipes, which is important to see for the home cook.

Summer School in Session

Pay attention, class! Martha University is now in session. and have launched a new pay-per-view video service, allowing customers to buy and download old segments of the Martha Stewart Living television program, as well as segments from her old how-to videos, such as Martha Stewart's Secrets for Entertaining and New Old House. The average cost for an hour of instructional segments is $7.95. The download time is long for most of us, but seeing these old classics again is worth it. Visit the i-amplify Martha Stewart page for more information.

The template for the new download service is clean and straightforward with a description of each video segment and the length of each segment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Father's Day Card Ideas

With Father's Day just a few days away, now's the time to get started on your homemade cards for Dad. As always, Martha has the most creative cardmaking ideas and I've chosen some of my favourites from past issues of Martha Stewart Living to help get you inspired! For more Father's Day ideas, including homemade gifts and meals, visit

How adorable are these shirt-and-tie cards? A few simple folds and a little imagination go a long way to create a memorable keepsake.

Present an attractive pocket square in a Father's Day card that highlights its beauty.

Paper airplanes never felt so useful! Pre-fold your airplane and then unfold again to write your messages, using the fold marks as guides for your pen. Create a coupon system or an I.O.U. chart letting him know how you'll help make his day extra special.

Use old buttons to embellish this cufflink-style card that unbuttons to reveal the message inside.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Les Biscuits, en Francais

"Martha Stewart's Cookies" will be released in French on December 25th, 2009. This is the first book of Martha's since "Pies and Tarts" to be translated into French. The French title is Biscuits, Sables, Cookies: La Bible des Tout Petits Gateaux. The book has a new cover and will be released in France, parts of Europe and Canada. It is available to North Americans through Amazon Canada. Also, on February 23rd, a new edition of the Everyday Food cookbook will be released with a new cover, shown below.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Must Have: Martha's First Videos

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, before the first episode of her television show debuted on public television, Martha released a series of how-to videos through Kmart, which today are definite collector's items. One series was based on entertaining, Martha Stewart's Secrets for Entertaining: buffet parties, formal dinner parties, etc. Another series was based on the renovation of the Adams' house in her Connecticut neighbourhood, which she oversaw as part of a fundraiser: Decorative Finishes and Renovating with Style. What's fun about these videos, aside from the glimpses of a long-haired Martha in 80's garb, is viewing the foundation of her business taking shape before your eyes. The formative years of Martha's television show are artfully filmed on these old VHS tapes, with strolls through Martha's various kitchens at Turkey Hill, her dining room, her gardens and her greenhouse. The viewer can see the larger model of her eponymous company formulating. My favourite is the formal dinner party video, which shows Martha in one scene lounging in her dining room wearing her 'formal dress' (a see-through black number with sequins) espousing the virtues of dressing up and entertaining friends at home. It's over-the-top elegance at its best. And it's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Must Have: "Entertaining"

Hosting a country luncheon for 85? Having 20 people over for a midnight supper after the opera? Planning a gourmet Chinese dinner for 12? Well, you can't really call yourself a Martha Stewart fan if you don't have "Entertaining" - Martha's groundbreaking first publication (1982, Clarkson Potter) about the fine art of hosting fabulous events. It was really the first book of its kind. It is notable not only for its dozens of original recipes developed by Martha (who at this point had been working as a Connecticut caterer for ten years) but also for its focus on the author's lifestyle, driven by a pioneering spirit, a self-sown, entrepreneurial determination and an uncompromising love of all things beautiful. The book was both loved and despised at the time of its release and is, to this day, a timeless record of Reagan-era pomp and circumstance. The book's large, glossy pages are filled with photographs of tables laden with home cooked dishes, arranged and merchandised to maximum effect on Martha's dining room table, or set outdoors in the orchard, by the pool or in the perennial garden. The glimpses at all of Martha's 'things' are key to the book's allure. We want to see her kitchen and the dishes she collects, not just the food she serves on them. We want to see her antique furniture and learn about where it came from, not just the ingredients in the meals she prepares. It's the quintessential lifestyle book and inspired an entire legion of do-alikes to follow in her footsteps with similar tomes. But Martha was the first. The book has had two editions and both seem slightly dated today. (The proliferation of doilies, eyelet and fussy floral arrangements are too much for the eye to handle at times, while deep-fried shrimp toasts and snow peas with piped cream cheese now look dolefully old fashioned.) Still, it is a must for any afficionado of the Martha Stewart brand, anyone interested in the depiction of the American homemaker and anyone interested in entertaining!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Must-Have: Beach Towels

The warm weather is upon us and it won't be long before we head for the beach, our tote bags stuffed with surf-side essentials. I'm a quasi-collector of fabulous towels (only large beach towels, thank you very much) and many of the ones I have are hommages to various brands and designers: an orange Ralph Lauren towel with the giant pony logo in navy blue, a rainbow Lacoste towel with a giant alligator logo, an Egyptian-cotton towel with large, red embroidered butterflies and a very campy towel with an Erte diva in full-glam apparel. These ones below, part of the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's, would make fantastic additions to my large large-towel trove: a Martha must-have! (Does anyone remember, by the way, those fabulous towels from the Catalog for Living from 2001 with the classical nautical motifs - fish, coral, etc. - beautifully overlaid on plush, dark cotton? Sigh. The towels that got away... I should have ordered one when I had the chance.)

Garden Beach Towel Tent Beach Towel For Two

Koi Pond Beach Towel

Dahlia Beach Towel

Kimono Beach Towel

Beaded Beach Towel

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Must-Have: North River Server

At the moment, this is my favourite piece of kitchenalia. Boring, you say? Well, practicality and functional design have always won out over opulence and extravagance for me. The North River Server, one of the latest additions to the Martha Stewart Furniture collection with Bernhardt, is without a doubt functional and practical - and beautiful. What I love about it is its versatility. It can be used as a sideboard in a dining room or as an island in a warm Colonial kitchen. Its diversity owes itself to the form and substance. Its top is made of heat-resistant granite, meaning even the hottest of simmering pots can be placed on top of it without the fear of burn marks. Its rugged, hardy surface makes it perfect for kitchen prep, yet it's smooth and elegant enough to hold silver turines, a crystal lamp or a vase filled with freshly cut roses. Nicest of all, the back of the piece is finished, giving it the looks needed to stand freely in the center of a kitchen. Two deep drawers, which come with cloth liners for silver storage, are adorned by sturdy iron hardware and can hold any number of serving utensils. The spacious shelves are ideal for large bowls and platters and adjustable glides make it even more accommodating.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Martha on i-Google

Martha Stewart now has her own i-Google page, which you can download and save to your desktop. Designed in pretty pastels and decorated with an image of puffy paper pom-poms, Martha's i-Google features all of her favourite online gadgets, including highlights from her website and her blogs, Picasa (a photo-sharing gadget), BBC News for all the latest world headlines, Twitter, Amazon, O'Reilly Radar, CNN and the Financial Times. You can add on as many gadgets as you'd like. The image below is an example of what the Martha Stewart Google homepage looks like: