Pay no attention to the mounds of filthy frozen snow on the ground. Spring is here! We made it through winter and now it’s time to get sprung.
Anyway, if you’re anything like me, the harkening of spring means opening up your home for a little entertaining. The sun is out, people are in good spirits and we’ve all been cooped up at home too long. And when we do our entertaining, we defer to Ms. Martha.
Thrift stores aren’t generally my favorite place to stock up on cookbooks, because they’re usually circa 1960 with entries like chipped beef on toast and canned fruit suspended in jello. But a few months ago, I popped into my local Housing Works and scored The Martha Stewart Cookbook– Collected Recipes for Every Day, which is a culmination of her most popular recipes and tips from previous books. At 619 pages, I believe it qualifies as a tome. At five bucks, I considered it a bargain. I couldn’t wait to get that puppy home.
On the subway ride home, I cracked right into it, and knew immediately it’d be one of the funniest books I’d read all year.
“The eggs called for in these recipes are large. I raise my own chickens and always cook with the freshest eggs.”- Martha
“You pretentious turd”, I thought to myself. This is just classic Martha, and classic Martha is ridiculous. This is why we love her, but also why we kind of hate her. I realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to refer to any of her recipes without rolling my eyes, or picturing Anna Gasteyer topless, walking me step-by-step through the tedious preparation for a classic Buche de Noel.
This book is called “Recipes for Every Day” but I get the sense that Martha Stewart’s everyday life (and especially her “everyday people”) swings widely outside the norm, as many of her recipes would be better used by high-end caterers than a mom trying to put food on the table for two or three kids who’d rather be eating Gordon’s fish fingers. For example, she includes in this book a recipe for cassoulet (it serves 100) that costs at minimum $500 to prepare. Cassoulet– which I just learned includes several legs of lamb, a couple pork loins, two pounds of duck fat, three bottles of premium wine and five whole pounds of pancetta. A page away, she has a big chart illustrating how to set up the perfect raw bar. My assumption is that anyone who can afford to serve 800 cocktail shrimp can also afford a catering staff and a professional ice sculptor, since everyone knows the only way to do a proper raw bar is to first procure a series of gigantic clamshells carved from artisanal ice.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that her Jerusalem artichoke soup with pears and cream sounds delicious, but I feel like Martha should have included a disclaimer that those little tubers are going to give all your party guests diarrhea. I wish I had known that fact before trying (and loving!) Jerusalem artichokes for the first time. Now I can’t stay away from those little bastards, but I always stay close to home.
Now that I’ve caught your attention, let’s flip through a few pages together, shall we?
(Everything you see written below is straight out of Martha’s mouth, except for the words in parentheses beside them. Those are editor’s notes, and the editor is me. (For reference, the abbreviation, FOM is short for “Fuck off, Martha”.)
THE HOLIDAY PARTY “The year I was writing my Christmas book, I held one of my annual Christmas parties. The theme was “Christmas All Over the House”, (No. It wasn’t. The theme was I am very rich. Let me show you.) and the party was to begin at 6 p.m. and end whenever (See! See! I can be fun too!). Hors d’ouevres were served in the outside kitchen (FOM), a buffet supper was laid out in the barn (OF COURSE IT WAS), and champagne, eggnog and desserts were in the house.”
“It was a clear night; there was a bit of a moon, and the sky was filled with stars. The paths were lined with hundreds of luminarias (candles set in paper bags) and the fruit trees shone with little white lights. It was festive but warm, friendly, and simple” (Please, define simple. I actually dare you. This Christmas party was more elaborate than my wedding).
Tip #1: ”Changing the use of rooms can be fun for both host and guests, for it breaks tired habits. A formal dinner in a candelit finished barn (It tickles me that Martha assumes everyone has easy access to a barn, and that–if by good fortune you do–it doesn’t smell like horse shit, as every functional barn does), or cocktails in a Victorian bedroom (?) or a greenhouse, can have special moment and drama”. (Martha, my greenhouse is currently filled with imported orchids from Thailand. Guess our storage closet will have to do).
Tip #2: ”Entertaining provides a good excuse to (hire someone) put things in order (polish silver, wax floors, paint a flaking windowsill) and to be more fanciful or dramatic with details. It is the moment to indulge in a whole bank of flowering plants to line the hall (SO TRUE), or to organize a collection of antique clothes on a conspicuous coatrack” (TOO LATE, ALREADY DONE DID THAT).
TACOS LA SALSA
First of all, STAY IN YOUR LANE MARTHA. People come to you for nice WASPy classics like egg salad canapes and smoked trout with horseradish cream. No one plans a fiesta with Martha Stewart as co-host. You’re not who we turn to when embracing primary colors, melty orange cheese and actual fun. I do not need or want a recipe for borracho beans or gorditos from you. Second of all, you put sardines in your quesadillas and for that I will never forgive you. You’d probably fill a pinata with after-dinner mints.
Inexplicable Whining No One Can Relate To
“I have more than a hundred fruit trees growing in my orchard, but for some unknown reason, I have had no luck at all growing apricots.” (FOM)
Tip #3: “If you have time, marinate your own mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke hearts, and roasted peppers and crack and season your own green olives” (I did not even realize this was an option).
Deep Thoughts about Entertaining by Martha Stewart
“Entertaining calls for an extrovert’s heart and an introvert’s soul.” (Actually, I kind of love this and tend to agree. Maybe I’ll embroider it onto my hostess gown.)
Random Bragging About Being Able to Do Something No One Else Would Ever Want to Do
“Family traditions evolve over time, and one of my favorites is the yearly creation of the plum pudding. To keep up with demand (You are delusional– no one is demanding plum pudding. Banana pudding is where it’s at), I began collecting traditional English pudding bowls, and one year I made three hundred puddings to give as gifts. While you may not wish to produce puddings on such a grand scale (you got that right), it is one of the most wonderful gifts you can give (this part is true, because plum pudding is traditionally topped with Cognac and lit with a match, and I can think of nothing more festive than setting one of Martha’s original creations on fire).
Funny Anecdote to Wrap Things Up:
When I was 22 and stupid, I interviewed at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for an editorial assistant job. The lobby was exactly what you’re picturing– pristine polished floors, tarty little loveseats and oversized vases filled with seasonally appropriate greenery. The HR guy’s name was Adam– I’ll never forget it– or the look he gave me when I asked how Martha’s impending prison sentence would affect job security within the company.
I didn’t get the job, but I did get a free cookie while waiting in the lobby, and man was it delicious.