Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Martha Stewart Weddings By The Sea

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Sandals Resorts International have announced a new, multi-year partnership that will bring personalized Martha Stewart weddings to all brides and grooms celebrating a destination wedding at any of the Sandals resorts in the Caribbean beginning in January, 2010. Guests will be able to book a Martha Stewart Wedding at any of the 12 luxury resorts and 4 Beaches resorts beginning this October. In addition, Martha Stewart Craft classes will be offered at the resorts for adults and children. The Martha Stewart Wedding plans are available in five special themes - all of which can be personalized and customized to suit the specific needs of the bride and groom.

Fekkai Appointed to Board

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has named renowned hairstylist and entrepreneur Frederic Fekkai to the board of directors. The world-famous salon-owner, product developer and stylist is expected to broaden MSLO's platform as it continues to expand into new realms. "I'm proud and happy to be joining MSLO's board of directors," said Fekkai. "MSLO is a fascinating company and Martha Stewart is a visionary. I truly believe the company has incredible potential to grow, not only in the United States but overseas." (Just as an interesting aside, Frederic Fekkai styled Martha's hair the night she was released from prison.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Classics

As a child, summer seems limitless. Endless days of yellow sunshine are capped by fun-filled evenings repleat with delicious food, impromptu swims and chats on the porch. Today, as an adult, summer has an ephemeral quality, an almost surreal experience of hasty bouts of heat, thunder storms and ice cream, all rushing headlong into the impending chill of autumn, which always seems to sneak up on us.

There are - and always will be - summer classics that I cannot live without: those moments and experiences that I must enjoy every summer whenever possible. I've distilled them below, using Martha Stewart Living imagery (so quixotic and charming in its quality) to illustrate my essential summer moments.

COUNTRY AIR: There's just nothing like it, frankly. There is no treat finer for the lungs and the spirit than a deep intake of breath filled with clarity, fragrance and energy-giving life. And there is nowhere one can find this air but the countryside with its majestic trees, farms and fields.

DOCKSIDE DREAMING: Having been fortunate enough to grow up with a cottage never too far from home, I simply cannot do without at least one weekend of cottage life, populated by friends, family and rambunctious pets who are as pepped about the wilderness as I am. And water. There must be a body of water - whether calm or churning - to reconnect us with our acquatic origins.

CORN ON THE COBB: I mean, really. Can summer truly be called summer without corn on the cobb? I admit that I cannot control the way my eyes roll slightly back into my skull, somewhat shark-like, each time I sink my teeth into a warm, buttery cobb of golden corn, just bursting with tremendous flavour, heated liquid that runs down the chin and chunky pieces that stick between the teeth, annoyingly but gratifyingly.

SUMMER WALKS: Whether they are in the city or in a pastoral setting like the one above, summer walks are always memorable for me. I generally prefer evening or morning walks, since there is something magical about the light at these times that cannot be replicated at midday. Still, walking in the brilliance of the noon hour gives me that heady intoxication of a tropical drink without the alcohol - and the blushing complexion to match.

SANGRIA: Speaking of alcohol, I share at least one pitcher of sangria every summer with a loved one. I prefer the red wine version, full of sharp fruits like grapes and nectarines, crisp apples, blackberries, strawberries and dark cherries.

SEAWEED: You know its smell if you've ever been to the seaside: rapturously oceanic, salty and almost throat-catching in its pungency. I've never had the experience of attempting to press it onto paper, as shown above, but I vow to try it one day, since the finished imagery is stunningly intricate.

FLORAL PATTERNS: There were chairs at my grandmother's cottage that had plastic seat covers designed with orange flowers against a green backdrop of stripes and diamond shapes. It was almost psychadelic in its wildness. I still have an affinity for bold floral patterns in intense colour palettes, especially on linens. They remind me of picnics, tea towels drying in the sun or the dress of a favourite aunt.

FRUIT AND HERBS: In the summertime I have fruit every single day, since it is plentiful and fresh and inexpensive. The cool juices of a ripe peach or plum are irreplacable. And who can resist the sensual experience of devouring a slice of watermelon in the hot sun? Herbs, too, are summer companions at many meals this season: the freshness of mint and parsley, the boldness of oregano and basil. Mmm.

SUMMER TREATS: Crumbly and gooey, cobblers and crumbles are must-have desserts for me these months, especially warm and slightly carmelized under their sugary crusts. Topped with a dollop of happily melting vanilla ice cream, the experience is taken to a whole new level of satisfaction.

DINING OUTDOORS: Food tastes better outside. I came to that conclusion years ago when eating a barbecued steak under a big oak tree at a family cookout, potato salad and corn on the cobb not far from my fork. Maybe it was the gingham I was wearing or the way my senses were attacked by delight (a setting sun, a cooling breeze, a wiff of fragrant honeysuckle) but outdoor dining became a new passion. And every summer I seek it out, with memorable rewards.

SHADE: In the summer, shade is a treasure or an island of respite amid a sea of hostile sunshine. It's a lure, an invitation to sit, chill, relax and enjoy the refuge of a sunless piece of paradise. And so we seek it out, like nomads seeking an oasis, often competing for the most prime real-estate.

LEMONADE: During the summer months, lemonade becomes a food group all its own. Sugary, sour and squintingly sunny, it is liquid gold on a hot, humid day. Like many of you, I had a lemonade stand as a child, which I manned with my brother. It was nothing terribly fancy, but we always made enough to buy ourselves an ice cream cone each at the end of the day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Martha Cartoon Update

As mentioned on the blog earlier, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is developing a cartoon series for kids between the ages of 5 and 11. The 'star' of the show will be a ten-year-old Martha Stewart avatar who starts her own catering business with her friends, working primarily from her tricked-out treehouse. The working titles for the show are "Little Martha" or "Martha and Friends." Martha isn't the only celebrity or business tycoon to start up their own cartoon series; Warren Buffet will have a cartoon version of himself teaching kids about finance (seriously!) and Brazillian model Gisele Bundchen will also have a cartoon in her honour. Strange.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Parisian Perfection

Sometimes, an apartment comes along in the pages of a magazine that makes me swoon to the point of dizziness. One such apartment is this one, below, owned by a former editor of French Vogue. Located in Saint-Germain-Des-Pres, a section of Paris, France, the apartment is graced by tall, bright windows, a wide terrace and high ceilings. The owner, who was also once a set builder, gutted the apartment herself and brought her own unique touches to the place, which started out as a rabbit warren of small rooms in a non-descript, concrete building dating back to the 1950's. When the owner first saw it, the apartment was a mess of tastelessness: Artex tiles on the ceiling, flat and hollow doors, a built-in bar, shag-carpeted platforms, hacienda doorways and a tiled breakfast area on a plinth. "Hideous" was the word she used to describe the place. And yet, she saw the potential.

To achieve her vision of the perfect apartment, she reformulated the entire plan of the apartment, transforming two of the bedrooms into new rooms entirely: one became a large kitchen, the other an even larger ensuite bathroom - two domestic dreams she had been unable to attain anywhere else in Paris. She also peeled back the worn-out carpets to reveal stunningly intricate parquet flooring - the only apartment in the entire building with such a feature, which enraged jealous neighbours who had told her, prior to the renovation, that she was buying the worst unit in the apartment. Ha!

The most effective and revealing element of the place is the owner's own stylistic imprints, achieved through her artful arrangements of cherished objects and eclectic, even unusual, decorating concepts in her rooms. I'm in love. You?
In the sparse and graceful entrance, a nineteenth-century globe of the galaxy strikes an imposing and impressive pose next to a custom-made hat stand and an 1860s gilded mirror.

An eclectic mix of antique Spanish tiles create an amusing frame for the fireplace, which is surrounded by much-loved objects from her travels.

I love this display of the owner's collection of ceramic and porcelaine birds: a delicate aviary full of whimsy and charm.

The owner's most treasured painting - an original Andy Warhol - hangs in the dining room/library, surrounded by antique books and a collection of rare china.

Although the owner prefers warm, rustic tones, she opted for cool blues in the living room to bring a visual calm to the space. The French doors were originally designed to have panes of glass sandwiching vintage butterfly specimens between them to give the appearance of fluttering wings each time they were opened, but the specimens in question were too expensive and elusive.
The parquet flooring was a stunning surprise to the owner, who peeled back the well-worn carpeting to reveal its treasured patterns. The bedroom beyond the glass doors is a well-appointed but small space, anchored by a custom-made iron bed full of spade-shaped leaf patterns and playful monkeys. Love it!
The enormous bathroom is a rare treat, indeed, in a city like Paris. The owner transformed one of the three bedrooms into her ensuite bath. A shelf above the sink nicely displays her colourful collection of Clichy vases.

The kitchen is an ode to personal flights of fancy. It was also a bedroom at one time but has found new spirit as a much-used kitchen, with access to the terrace. The owner displays her collection of glass bowls on the ceiling, an idiomadic expression I adore!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Martha, the Cartoon!

Yes, you heard right, folks. Martha will soon be animated! In a surprising announcement on Twitter earlier this week, Martha Stewart revealed that the television department at her company is developing a new cartoon geared to kids between the ages of 5 and 11 with an animated version of herself as the star. This further broadens her audience, ensuring a new generation becomes very familiar with the name Martha Stewart.

Details at this point are mimimal, but I imagine the show will have an instructional component: how to help mom in the kitchen, how to enjoy your veggies at dinner time, how to make your bed, fun craft projects, etc. Martha did say that the cartoon will be animated with the help of Red Digital Cinema Company, which provides one of the highest resolutions in digital animation. No word yet on whether Martha will be doing the vocals for her avatar, shown below.

Martha Stewart or Wilma Flintstone? "It's a Good Thing!"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

John Barricelli's Book

John Barricelli, co-host of Everyday Food and Everyday Baking on PBS, has been a Martha Stewart staffer since the mid-1990s, working primarily in the kitchens of the television studio and contributing food ideas to Martha's many magazines as an editor. In recent years, John has opened his own bakery: The SoNo Baking Company and Cafe in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Offering an incredible array of breads, cakes, pastries and pies, the bakery has been a huge success, offering onsite dining as well as catering services.

Those of us who have watched John on Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food, Everyday Baking and The Martha Stewart Show, or who have visited his bakery, will understand how exciting it is to finally have a cookbook containing his best-loved recipes from his bakery: The SnoNo Bakery Cookbook: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion.

We'll have to wait awhile, though; the 288-page hardcover book won't be released until March, 2010. We can also look forward to a personal foreword by Martha Stewart in the book!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cookie & Cupcake Companions

After I discovered that Martha Stewart would be releasing a companion book to her much-loved and best-selling "Cookies" book called "Cupcakes," I decided to embark on a little literary journey through Bookland to see if perhaps there were other cupcake and cookie companion books by the same author. There was nothing that really satisfied my hunt until I discovered these delightful books by Christabel Martin, simply and aptly titled "Cookies" and "Cupcakes." To me, they represent fancier, loftier versions of Martha's down-to-earth books of the same names. There is something strikingly French about these books and they are beautifully designed to be as attractive as possible. The best things about them, however, is that they are more than affordable (only $8.99 each at Barnes & Noble, which is a steal for a brand new hardcover book!) and that the recipes are easy, unique and delicious! I'm dying to try the baklava cupcakes and the mango cakes with lime syrup. Or maybe the chocolate coated quince cookies or the sinister looking chocolate shortbread... Anyhow, I wholeheartedly recommend these books to you!

The covers are linen-covered hard-back with beautiful photography by Brett Stevens.
The photographs are artful and beautiful, enticing the reader to reach in and have a sample.
The books were designed by Reuban Crossman and Melanie Ngapo. Intermingled with the recipes and food photography are beautiful 'lifestyle moments' like the one above that set the context and give the reader a thoughtful pause.
The Cupcakes book is divided into three distinct categories: Family Favorites, Sweet Afternoons and Dressed to Impress, which contains the most elaborate and fanciful concoctions!Pistachio and cardamom cupcakes, overseen by a porcelaine onlooker.

Another lovely lifestyle moment in the Cupcakes book.

Nigella Lawson Bit Me!

"For us northern Europeans, sun starvation for much of the year means the constant craving for warmth," she says in her luscious English accent. "A taste of anything red," she notes, "instantly conjures the decadence of an August heat wave. A taste of raspberry, and I'm there in an instant! And chillies are crucial to the palette when recreating the heat of summer. The spice brings food to incendiary life."

I fell in love with Nigella Lawson the moment she spoke those words, lounging on a white chaise, sipping some fruity concoction called "slut-red raspberries steeped in chardonnay." Not the most heterosexual of men, I still happily concede that I find Ms. Lawson - an English food writer and television hostess - utterly sensual and attractive, something that is not lost on her legions of followers. In fact, her sensual delivery and presentation is intrinsically linked to her entire persona. The full lips, the buxom figure, the languorous vowels of her posh, Highgate accent, the bouncy brown locks and the insistent use of her hands while preparing even the stickiest of foods make her irresistible to any foodie who is even remotely human.

Her upperclass upbringing in London and the ivy-league education it afforded her combined to make Nigella Lawson one of the most respected and articulate food writers of our time - her feminine wiles aside. The author of seven cookbooks, including the indespensible classic "How to Eat," Nigella creates visual and edible delights on the pages, which are filled with food philosophy and a roster of easy and delicious recipes to accompany the sumptuous photography.

A comparison, of course, must be drawn between Nigella and Martha, since this is a Martha Stewart blog. I don't think I can stress enough how different they really are, despite their shared love of food, their careers as food writers and television hostesses, their love of entertaining and their somewhat vain "it's-actually-about-me" approach to presentation.

First of all, Nigella has no desire to create an 'empire' of domestic goods and publications that bear her name - although she does have some. She mostly limits herself to food and entertaining: no laundry care and craft projects for her. Martha, on the other hand, is much more an executive, and therefore more calculating and strategic in her plans, not to mention more diverse in her talents.
Every Sunday now at 4:30 I find myself rivited to the television set, watching Nigella's program, Nigella Bites, on the Food Network. It's the same kind of mild obsession I experienced when I first discovered Martha's show, Martha Stewart Living, eleven or twelve years ago. I'm not a cooking-show aficionado by any means, so it's a rare event when one of them hooks me to the point of addiciton, when I cannot miss an episode under any circumstances and refuse to be interrupted for the duration of the show.

I used to think that watching Martha Stewart Living was like watching ''homemaker porn" - a term coined by Business Week writer Diane Brady - but watching Nigella Bites takes it to a whole new level. Where Martha is exacting and almost prim in her preparation and delivery methods, Nigella throws caution to the wind, sinking her hands into a canister of brown sugar and sprinkling it liberally over some sizzling hot peaches. The production of her show, too, is almost profane: uber-closeups of molten chocolate drizzling over homemade ice cream, partially melting in the afternoon sunlight streaming from her kitchen window sheers; tight shots of ravenous champagne bubbles devouring plump strawberries plunged into a sparkling glass, and almost naughty depictions of Nigella's hands squeezing the juice out of a lemon onto the crispy body of a trussed-up, roasted chicken. All the while, softly in the background, there is steamy salsa music playing, keeping the pace motivated and unpredictable.

I'm never going to abandon Martha with her endless ideas and fascinating life. But I will be making room for Nigella's rambunctious presence in my living room and kitchen from now on, thank you very much.

Friday, July 10, 2009

August Preview

Of the summer issues of Martha Stewart Living, which generally are not my favourites, the August issue stands out each year as the most impressive. This year is no exception. The August issue arrived today in my mail box and the cover alone was enough to endear it to me. The issue is devoted to the best American ideas, from coast to coast to coast. From Louisiana's fishing traditions to the best New York cocktails, from a California garden to a summer home on Lake Michigan, the editors bring us the best of the nation. I already have my favourite articles, but here is a preview!

The cover is an invitation to sit back and relax, take in the summer breezes and sample delicious summer fare.
The style section of this issue is a great one - a look at some of the classics that all wardrobes should have, based on the theme of a weekend excursion: the best bets for the country, beachside classics, etc. An article on the history of American cocktails is a thirst-quenching delight!

Make a bold statement with your own handmade necklaces. A step-by-step article on string beading shows you how.

A look at the best of American produce - and the best recipes to match!
Fishing and cooking in Louisiana!

A visit to a lakeside retreat with rustic and modern elements in Michigan.

Martha at Home Depot?

There is a rumour on the Martha beat that the Martha Stewart Everyday line, currently being phased out at Kmart, will be moving to Home Depot in late 2010. This is still just a rumour and no one has officially confirmed or denied the news. I'm waiting to hear back from a contact at MSLO to see if more light can be shed on the subject. Home Depot would be an interesting choice for the Everyday line. I can see some of the housewares fitting in nicely: the patio furniture, the garden accessories, the bath and kitchen hardware, the Colors line of paint, the furniture. Some of the soft lines, such as the table linens and bedding, seem a bit unusual for Home Depot, but nothing is beyond the realm of possibility. It could be that Home Depot, a rapidly expanding company, is broadening its focus to include more household products. We will have to wait for the confirmation, but it's an interesting first look at the possibility!