Anybody ever hear of Martha Stewart? It’s been many a year since I received my first genuine M.S. cookbook. Having subscribed to “Gourmet” magazine for years I felt reasonably accomplished in the kitchen, my yardstick for comparison being fellow vet students who lived on Top Ramen and cheap hamburgers. Spaghetti and big salads were also popular.
I was entranced by that first book. A Big City girl at first, Martha used her bathtub, as I recall, to cool down drinks before a party. And then she got that country house. There was no stopping her then. And as for me? I sucked up every glossy page of recipes and food presentation. Yes, presentation was everything! How could you enjoy time with your friends if the crusts were not removed from the bread? Wait, back up! Make that home-made bread (get out the yeast! Is it alive? Did somebody proof this yeast?) And the chicken breasts, skinned (no one sold them already skinless back then), pounded thin and carefully rolled around the filling. Martha’s looked sleek and elegant. I stuffed as much ricotta filling in as I could and they looked, well, lumpy. We loved that recipe. Ahhh, those were the days.
Books make a good Christmas present and one year Santa granted me my wish. I received the Martha Stewart Christmas Cook book. I forget the actual title. Being the sort of person that reads the introduction, I found my holiday anticipation deflating faster than, well, a soufflé. By this time in my life I had a couple of kids and worked up to 6 days a week, with nights on emergency duty thrown in for good measure. I still loved cooking and planning dinners but reality in the form of only-so-many-minutes-in-a-day simply clubbed me over the head every night. Bedtime. In her Christmas cook book Martha detailed how she started Christmas preparations in November. Her cookies may have been home baked, but they were made many weeks before Christmas and stuck in the freezer. It sounded like she had a big freezer. And she mentioned her several merry little helpers – six? seven? who assisted her in the kitchen around the clock. Help? She had HELP? I had my own merry little helpers, all of them under the age of 5 and nearly impossible to keep OUT of the kitchen. They stirred enthusiastically and sent the flour flying. They measured out chocolate chips and ate half when I turned to get the vanilla. They shared with the dogs, who also refused to leave the kitchen, and spilled anything and everything to test Newton’s Law of Gravity and my patience. Don’t talk to me about eggs. There’s some movie where Audrey Hepburn learns to crack an egg and turns out gorgeous (Audrey, not the egg) (It was in “Sabrina”). My kids mastered the art of egg cracking at an early age, often while still in the crate. We did collaborate once on cracking an egg on the sidewalk to see if it would cook, but that wasn’t over the holidays, too cold, and now perhaps I see where they got their childlike curiosity….
I had had my doubts about Martha, but this book was the tipping point. Henceforth I viewed her recommendations with suspicion. In the years to follow I did occasionally succumb to some new Martha-ism. I bought the big turkey molds to make cornbread. Ten pounds of cornbread later, after everyone took a single bite because the turkey wasn’t the only thing stuffed, I threw in my apron.
And then, in her monthly magazine, she published a Martha Thanksgiving. Martha has horses, kept in a barn cozy with warming tiles for those cold Eastern winters. And that year she proposed to serve her annual Thanksgiving dinner in the barn, on tables covered with fine linens. There were pictures to prove it. I, too, love horses. I’m sure I would love Martha Stewarts’ horses. But did anyone tell the HORSES that it was Thanksgiving? I can’t imagine saying grace with the noise of a horse whizzing comfortably in the background. Making the Holiday Toast while the aroma, not of your Cab Franc, but rather horse manure, fills the barn air. A happy horse was pictured leaning over his stall door, a cart of goodies nearby. When excited, horses snort and spray flies. I have never recovered from this Thanksgiving with Martha and was in stitches when I came across an on-line letter “Martha Stewart Will Not Be Dining with Us” (author unknown). I shall be thankful this year that I have not consulted M.S. about any of my dishes. And this Christmas, when you consider your book list, be careful what you wish for.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM