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!

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