2.13.2018

A Dessert Table Inspired by Love

I love it when inspiration begets inspiration. Martha Stewart and her work completely inspire this blog and, by extension, this blog creates more Martha moments outside of the webisphere; it's a glorious chain reaction. One of my long-distance friends, and a longtime reader of Martha Moments, Rowaida Flayhan, wrote to me recently to inform me that my Instagram post about Martha's heart-shaped linzer cookies last week inspired a dessert buffet she created for her daughter Nour's birthday. Rowaida and her family live in Kuwait most of the year but also call Lebanon and London home. My own Lebanese and British heritage may be what solidified our friendship but our shared love of all things Martha certainly helped bridge the geographical gap as well.
I've featured Rowaida's work here before. You can click here to see the other posts I've written about her baking. Rowaida was kind enough to share photographs of her dessert buffet table with us. The photographs were taken by her son, Ramzi, a talented photographer, and edited by her other son, Samo, who is studying architecture. Below you will find a list of what Rowaida served. If you have questions about the recipes, all of which are Rowaida's own, please leave a comment with your email. Enjoy the photos! I'm sure you'll agree Rowaida is a tremendous baker with an eye for detail and elegance. The beautiful results of Rowaida's efforts were inspired by her love for her daughter - and I believe that really shines through.
All of the desserts you will see here are vegan, dairy-free, gluten free and made without the use of refined sugars or processed flours. This vanilla almond cake is made with gluten-free flour and coconut whipped cream frosting. Rowaida surprised Nour with the dessert buffet on her birthday.
These vegan red-velvet cakes are beautifully heart-shaped. Steamed beets were used for the colour and sweetness was added with medgool dates. The little roses on top are completely edible!
The chocolate cake was baked with raw cacao and sweetened with chocolate frosting made with raw coconut sugar. It was decorated with fresh berries. Rowaida also made dairy-free raspberry ice cream, seen far right.
These truffles made with raw chocolate, coconut milk and chestnuts look absolutely delicious!
The heart-shaped cookies were made with oat flour and topped with homemade raspberry chia jam. This photo is by Nour Flayhan.
This image from a past issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, which I posted on the Martha Moments Instagram page last week, was the inspiration for Rowaida's dessert buffet. I love how the seed of an idea can come from practically anywhere.

INSTA-FAMOUS FAMILY:

The Flayhans are a talented group!
Follow Rowaida on Instagram for so much cooking and baking inspiration!
To see more of her son Ramzi's work, follow him on Instagram here.
Samo, who is studying architecture, can be found on Instagram here.
Her daughter, Nour, is a very talented artist and designer. Follow her on Instagram here.

2.08.2018

Heartbeats Accelerating: Martha's Valentine's Day Goodies at Macy's

Every single Valentine's Day, my mom breaks out her heart-shaped cake pans to make a double-layer chocolate cake with vanilla frosting - tinted pink - with its perimeter lined with red cinnamon hearts. She has been doing this since I was a child and, to this day, still enjoys celebrating Valentine's Day to the hilt. 
For as long as I can remember, Martha has always advocated the celebration of Valentine's Day, whether it's with your family or your sweetheart. February editions of her magazines and episodes of her television shows have provided an endless array of ideas for cooking and entertaining and crafting for this most amorous of holidays.

For people like my mom - and many of you out there, too - Martha will satiate your heart-shaped cravings this year with a fairly extensive line of Valentine's Day merchandise at Macy's, some of which I "heart" quite a bit. 
Among the classics is this timeless heart-shaped, enameled, cast-iron casserole, which comes in pink and also a deep red. At two quarts, it's perfect for a delicious peach and berry crumble or a hearty stew for two!
As a variation on a theme, Martha created a set of four glazed ceramic cocottes in festive colours. Perfect for individual servings, these cocottes will make any Valentine's Day celebration a little bit brighter.
Martha suggests using them for a chocolate fondue for four, which I kind of love. A platter of marshmallows, berries, macarons and squares of pound cake are the perfect fodder. To make the chocolate sauce, chop one pound of bittersweet chocolate and place into a saucepan; add two cups of heavy cream and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the chocolate has melted and the mixture begins to thicken. Ladle into the cocottes and serve!
Left: a set of four dozen cupcake liners in festive heart-shaped themes: 48 heart-shaped paper toppers included. Right: an oversized, heart-shaped cookie cutter made of copper coated stainless steel.

Left: a heart bunt pan with ten-cup capacity and non-stick coating for a glamorous cake. Right: a set of three ceramic nesting bowls for candies and nuts.
Martha partnered with Tovolo to create this hearts-on-a-skewer ice-cube tray, which is sold in a set of two. They are made of rubberized silicone for easy removal. 
It can get hot and steamy on Valentine's Day, so be sure you're prepared! A cute heart-themed pot holder and a "LOVE" trivet made of copper-coated wire will offer protection.
Whimsical! A wood-handled spatula with a heart motif could certainly run away with this spoon: a handsome Beechwood variety with a heart-shaped opening. Center: Bring your colleagues homemade treats on Valentine's Day in this set of festive melamine storage containers with lids. 
Fans of snail mail - and the always-in-fashion love letter - will fall head over heels for this set of three dish towels embellished with painterly details and pretty script: 100% cotton.

To find out all the details on these products, click here.


ORIGINS OF THE HEART SHAPE:

The origin of the 'heart shape' dates back centuries and some historians trace it to the seedpod of the Silphium plant, which was used for medicinal purposes in the 1200's in the North African continent and the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene. Its seeds were idolized and early depictions of its shape bear a striking resemblance to the modern-day heart shape we now associate with  love and Valentine's Day. 

Other scholars, such as Pierre Vinken and Martin Kemp have argued that the symbol has its roots in the writings of Galen and the philosopher Aristotle, who described the human heart as having three chambers with a small dent in the middle. According to this theory, the heart shape may have been born when artists and scientists from the Middle Ages attempted to draw representations of the heart in medical texts. Because of its poetic associations with human emotion and pleasure, the heart shape eventually became a symbol of love.

2.02.2018

Season Nine of Martha Bakes Starts This Weekend

If you're a cookie monster, as I am, then this ninth season of Martha Bakes on PBS is the one for you. Martha will be making cookies from around the world with guest experts to help her along the way. This season was filmed at Martha's Maple Avenue kitchen at her home in Bedford, New York. To promote the show, Martha hosted a Facebook Live video where she made two of the cookies featured on the program. Be sure to check your local PBS listings to find out when Martha Bakes airs in your area.
This season of Martha Bakes was filmed in Martha's Maple Avenue kitchen - one of several kitchens at her home in Bedford, New York.
 These Russian cookies are called Gusinie Lapki (this translates to "goose feet" in English) - a delectable, flaky cookie that resembles the webbed feet of geese.
 One of the best-known French cookies is the Meringue. This one is infused with chocolate.
In Finland, these Cream Cheese Star Cookies are popular during the winter holidays.
 These are Baci di Dama (Ladies Kisses) from Italy and are made by fusing two chocolate cookies together with a dollop of delicious chestnut frosting.

This season will feature cookies from Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand, North America, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Italy, Great Britain, Middle East, Greece, Netherlands and France. 

2.01.2018

Martha's New Faux-Bois Planters on QVC

For those of us who know Martha - I mean really know her style - then the words "faux bois" should make perfect sense, even to those of you who may not speak French! The words mean "false wood" and Martha has collected this style of furniture since purchasing her home in Maine (Skylands) in 1997.

Faux Bois is a decorative technique that mimics the physical qualities of wood, whether it is the grain, the texture of the bark or the gnarled shapes of tree branches. The style originated in France about 150 years ago when outdoor public spaces, such as zoos and parks, incorporated whimsical 'false wood' fences and bridges made of sculpted concrete to give the appearance of gnarled, branch-like railings and stools that looked like log stumps. Faux-bois garden furniture gradually became popular: tables, chairs, planters and flower pots were made of concrete to resemble found, untreated logs and branches. At Skylands, Martha uses much of her collection indoors to create a rustic, woodland feel. Martha's collection is quite extensive, encompassing both antique examples from England and France as well as original pieces that she had specially commissioned for Skylands.You can read about her use of faux bois at Skylands by clicking here.

Martha has now designed and produced several reproductions of faux-bois planters, based on designs from her own collection, and has made them available for purchase on QVC. This is so exciting to those of us who have loved and admired Martha's collection from afar! Below are the details.
This raised faux-bois planter box is based on the design of one of Martha's own concrete planters at Skylands. The planter measures 24"H x 30"L x 15"W and weighs 28 lbs. It is made of lightweight resin and has three drainage holes at the base of the planter. The planter can be removed from the base, which has protectors on the bottoms to keep floors from scratching. It retails for $169 at QVC.com.
This is Martha's original, antique faux-bois planter that the design was based on. It is made of concrete and is shown here at Skylands planted with separate pots of Venus Slipper Orchids. Pine needles gathered from the surrounding woods conceal the pots and unify the look.
Also part of the faux-bois collection is a series of three wood-stump planters in various sizes: the smallest is a 9" pot, followed by a 14" pot and finally a 19" pot. The designs of each are identical, with the exception of their varying sizes. As with the raised planter box, these pots are made of lightweight resin, have drainage holes and small 'feet' with rubber protectors to prevent surfaces from scratching. The pots range in price from $30 to $90.
The carved details are so realistic - they perfectly mimic the look of weathered tree bark.
Here are the originals that Martha based her design upon, shown in the upstairs hall at Skylands planted with begonias.

1.29.2018

Martha's Brown Room

When Martha purchased Cantitoe Corners in 2000, designing spaces for large-scale entertaining was top of mind. According to architect Allan Greenberg, who worked with Martha on the restoration of the property's houses and the design of the stables, the original plan was to build a 4,500 square-foot house in the center of the property where Martha would entertain. The design was to incorporate three large rooms for entertaining on the main floor - each room 30 by 50 feet - with guest rooms on the second level. The plans were drawn and the applications for building permits submitted but they were denied by the Town of Bedford's council. Martha's plans for this house never came to fruition. It was back to the drawing board.
The final plan, which was approved by council, used the existing footprints of the buildings on the property: a 1770 Colonial house, a 1925 farm house and various adjacent outbuildings to create a complex of houses that would serve different functions. The original tractor garages, which were adjacent to the 1925 Winter House were converted into a large space for entertaining, connected to the main house by a new addition: a corner kitchen with an apartment above and a servery that led to the main residence. 

The new entertaining room was eventually called "The Brown Room" due to Martha's chosen colour palette for the space: brown sycamore veneer paneling, brown putty walls, dark hardwood floors covered by sisal rugs in a soothing neutral and a mix of wooden dining furniture and luxuriously upholstered seating. 

Connected directly to the kitchen by double doors, the long, rectilinear room lent itself perfectly to large-scale entertaining. Martha installed two enormous tables: one was a table she designed that could be separated into two halves or pushed together to create one long table. With marble tops and wide, sturdy legs the look was sleek but traditional. The other table was a 15 foot-long wood table Martha purchased in Maine that once belonged to a convent. Between the two tables (three, if Martha's original table was separated into two) dozens of guests could be seated at once. 

At the north end of the room, which connects to the kitchen through double doors (shown above) Martha installed a wall of shelving and cabinetry to house her collection of glassware.
At the opposite end of the room, there is a marble fireplace with seating arrangements for gathering and conversation.
Tall, triple-hung windows on two sides of the room let in light from both east and west directions 
This photograph shows the south end of the room with the fireplace and reveals how Martha's table can be separated into two dining arrangements. 
This photograph shows the long convent table set beautifully for an Easter lunch.
Martha's tables are always spectacular. 

1.23.2018

Winter Care for Houseplants

Houseplants, like their human caretakers, need a little more TLC this time of year, during the darker, shorter, drier days of winter. They rely on us to keep them strong during a season that is anything but forgiving. There are helpful winter-care tips I've come across that I thought I'd share with houseplant lovers out there.
I recently acquired two beautiful Autumn Ferns (Dryopteris erythrosora) that are keeping my dining room looking lush. 

There are four primary factors to monitor for happy, healthy houseplants: water, soil, light and temperature. During the winter months, these factors become even more important to consider. Here's a look at each of these factors with some basic winter care instructions.

WATER:

Every houseplant is different. Different species require different water levels and different levels of humidity to thrive. Finding out what species of houseplant you have and how much water it requires for a healthy existence is crucial; a little research goes a long way. As a general rule, however, plants actually require less water during the winter months because they are in a natural dormant stage. They are not expending as much energy to grow or reproduce.

The drier indoor air during the winter months does tend to sap moisture from your rooms. Dry soil surface, however, is not a good indication that your plant is thirsty. A good trick is to insert your baby finger into the soil of the plant at least an inch below the soil surface. If the soil is dry at this level, the plant can use a drink.

Moisture loving plants, like ferns, may need watering a little more consistently than others, but succulents and cacti will likely need no watering at all until spring. Signs of under-watering include dry, brittle leaves and wilting stems. Signs of over-watering include yellowing tips on the leaves, soggy soil and wilting.

Humidity: 

Houseplants generally like a 50% humidity level; in the winter, indoor rooms can be as low as 10%.

Misting your plants won't help much during the winter. The air is so dry that most of the mist will evaporate before the plant has time to absorb the moisture through its leaves. To help improve moisture levels for houseplant care, consider using a humidifier in the home. You can also stand the houseplants on a large tray of water filled with pebbles. The water will evaporate around the plants, keeping their immediate atmosphere moist. Continue to refill the water as it evaporates. Just ensure the plants are not standing directly in the water as this may cause root rot.

Another good tip is to cluster your plants together. Since plants naturally release water through their leaves, the plants will share the emitted moisture and create a supportive mini-ecosystem!

SOIL:

Your plants will be just fine without any plant food or fertilizer for the winter months. They are naturally resting and may resent the added injection of energy that comes with supplements. Hold off until early spring.

LIGHT:

The shorter days of winter can be detrimental to light-loving plants. The increase in cloud cover also doesn't help. You may need to move your plants closer to the windows or relocate your plants to a brighter spot in the home during the winter. A south- or west-facing window would be ideal. Even plants that do not need much light to survive will appreciate improved lighting during the winter. If windows are few and far between, you could invest in a grow-light but be sure to read the instructions before using it.

TEMPERATURE:

Most plants thrive between 60 and 75 degrees Farenheit -- rarely any lower than 50 degrees or higher than 85 degrees. Adjust your thermostat accordingly and keep plants away from cold drafts (entryways) or heat sources, such as radiators and fireplaces.

References: 

These books, above, are considered the bibles of houseplant care. Both were written by botanist and professional gardener Peter McHoy.
My own sources are my grandmother's old copy of Better Homes and Gardens special issue, "Favorite Houseplants" from 1977 and the New York Times "Book of Houseplants", published in 1973.

1.17.2018

Artist Profile: Marcie McGoldrick

It is rare to connect with a true artist. When that opportunity arises I am always thrilled. Last week I was able to interview Marcie McGoldrick, the former editorial director for crafts and holiday at Martha Stewart Living and I'm so pleased to be able to share her story and her work here on the blog.
For those of you who loved Martha by Mail or any of the craft projects that appeared in Martha Stewart Living between 2002 and 2015 (and I know that's all of you!) then you probably have Marcie McGoldrick to thank. The Martha Stewart alum and Pratt Institute graduate (Masters in Industrial Design) began working for the company in 1999 as a product developer for Martha by Mail but soon transferred to the editorial department, putting her innate and learned skills as a serious crafter to work.
Many of the products and craft kits at Martha by Mail were designed by Marcie.

Marcie's first story was "Paper Bag Luminaries" which appeared in the fall, 2002, issue of Martha Stewart Weddings. Working closely with Eric Pike (former design director and editor-in-chief) Marcie honed her skills as an editor and was soon overseeing the Martha Stewart craft department, working with six others to interpret, re-interpret, imagine and re-imagine all of those holiday crafts and how-to's that so many of us have tried at home.

For the last 17 years - aside from her work at Martha Stewart Living - Marcie has been developing her skills as a ceramicist, using a small studio (and kiln!) in her Brooklyn apartment and selling her wares on Etsy and at craft fairs around New York City. Since leaving Martha she has relocated to Pennsylvania (her home state) and has started up a website to showcase her portfolio and sell her incredible ceramic work.

Marcie has been focusing primarily on two creative oeuvres: a collection of cameo jewelry and a series of porcelain eggs, which you can see below. In the interview, I found out more about her inspirations and her process. She was also kind enough to send me two photos of her studio and some of her work in progress. I'm sure you'll become just as enamored of her work as I am. Enjoy!
What is it about cameo jewelry that inspires you? Is there a personal connection to this style of jewelry or simply a love of the design and the creation process?

The answer is really all of the above.  I was initially attracted to intaglio rings, having seen some in really simple settings I was struck by how modern they felt.  At the same time, a friend had started collecting grand tour cameos.  In case you are not familiar, they are plaster replicas from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the original souvenir!  I decided to cast some of them in the porcelain colors that I had developed for bowls and plates.  Once fired the pieces were perfect sizes for rings and pendants.  The real learning curve was figuring out the casting and setting.  I had never worked with metal before, so it was a great opportunity to learn something new! 

Tell me about the eggs! What inspired these gorgeous creations?

Last spring I decided that I wanted to approach a project without a specific outcome in mind.  There was no plan to sell them, it was just going to be an exercise.  At that point I was working out of my apartment in Brooklyn and only had a small kiln, so the eggs were a good scale.  I used wooden eggs and real eggs. I made plaster molds and started to cast them.  Since it was going to be more of an experiment, I used only clay that I had on hand.  Once cast, I cracked most of them and then reacted to the shapes created.  When you crack greenware there are sometimes surprises that don’t appear until they are fired.   I tried to approach these imperfections as opportunities, so I adapted a version of the Kintsugi repair method. [Kintsugi: the Japanese method of refining broken ceramics by highlighting their scars with gold or other metallic substances.]   Once I had made a few groupings, I decided to photograph them and put them up on the site.  
An example of kintsugi.
The eggs have obviously been very popular – many of them are sold out! Are there plans to continue the egg series?

Yes, there will be more up on the site soon but they are also available at John Derian Dry Goods in NYC.   

Where do you make your creations? Is there a studio space? 

For the past year and a half, I was mainly working out of my apartment in Brooklyn.  The size of my kiln really dictated the scale that I was working in.  I recently relocated to Pennsylvania and am in the process of setting up a studio with a larger kiln.  
Marcie snapped these photos just yesterday! Exciting to see the work in progress!

Who are some of your mentors? Who are you influenced by?

I consider myself fortunate to have worked with some incredibly talented passionate people!  I learned so much from them.   As far as mentors go,  Eric Pike and Fritz Karch were certainly two of them.  They both have unique perspectives and generous creative spirits.  I learned so much by working with them and observing where they saw beauty in things. 

As far as influences go, I think I am most inspired by Eva Zeisel’s ceramics.  I have collected her work for years and I think the biggest accomplishment would be for someone to feel about my work, the way I feel about hers.  

The craft department at MSL, under your direction, was outstanding. What does the word ‘craft’ mean to you and how did you impart that meaning into the magazine and the products you helped create?

That is so nice of you to say!   As a department, we approached crafting as an opportunity to solve a problem and to learn something new.  Our goal was to create projects that were things that you wanted to keep or give.  The experience of making something and learning something new is invaluable but it should also yield something of value. 

I’ve always wondered: What happens to the crafts after they are photographed and documented for the magazine? Please tell me they aren’t thrown away!

All of the projects were archived!  We would often use them for television segments, events and our merchandising team would also use them for inspiration.

Is there a craft that was featured in the magazine editorials – or a series of crafts – that you worked on that you were especially proud of? Any projects stand out as personal favourites?

That is a hard one!  I always enjoyed working on Halloween stories and would certainly count many of them as favorites but I think my favorite story might be the Christmas trees from December 2014.  
Some of the Halloween stories and craft projects Marcie created.
Marcie's Christmas tree from the December, 2014, issue of Martha Stewart Living. It was suspended, like a mobile, from the ceiling!

What is one thing you learned from Martha Stewart – the person – while you were there?

The thing that impresses me the most about Martha is her insatiable curiosity.  She continually wants to learn new things and improve the things she already knows. She is best known as a teacher but she is also a perpetual student.  I certainly learned the value of this philosophy and it has influenced how I approach my own work!

***

Be sure to watch Marcie's site for more work coming soon. Marcie also works as a creative consultant, freelance stylist and product developer. Thank you, Marcie!