Friday, March 25, 2005


I admit it. I want to live in Marthaland. To those of you that are unaware of what Marthaland is, let me explain. Marthaland is the land of Martha Stewart. It is the world that lies between the covers of her magazine, “Martha Stewart Living”. It is the place that dreams are made of for working women (and men) with too much to do and not enough time to do it.
A past issue of “Martha Stewart Living” is what prompted me to write my confession. I was flipping through it after coming in from a particularly harrowing Monday doing a job that I don’t really care for any longer. It came to me as I realized that not only would I not be getting a vacation this year; I probably wouldn’t even be able to take the day off on Friday as I had planned four months ago.
As I turned through the glossy pages, I came to an article about using clothes dye to transform mattress ticking into the summer home accessory this season. Apparently, in Marthaland, women have time to not only dream up these wacky projects, but to actually complete them. Never in a million years would it have occurred to me that I could buy mattress ticking (why would I want to? where would you find such a thing in this day and age?) but that I could transform it into wonderful items like braided trivets. If I were very industrious and had a few spare moments after doing my canning and polishing the silver and waxing the banisters, I could sew an entire comforter out of my freshly dyed ticking. In alternating stripe patterns. In a variety of colors. Accented with yarn at the corners of the squares.
The next article that caught my eye was about having a lakeside picnic. I don’t want you to think that I live in a little box somewhere and never get outside although it feels that way sometimes. I’ve been to picnics. Quite a few in fact. But I have never been to a Marthaland picnic, and sister, I want to go. At a Marthaland picnic, you do not sit in the sun at a splintery picnic table in a city park. At a Marthaland picnic, you lunch upon someone’s private dock that has been set with tables and umbrellas and chairs with cushions. There are rowboats for the guests’ amusement. There are lanterns and candles hung about and tiki torches to illuminate the edge of the dock and keep away those pesky mosquitoes that evidently do live in Marthaland. I could be wrong about the mosquitoes. The tiki torches could be for effect and atmosphere because I don’t think that insects are allowed in Marthaland. At a Marthaland picnic, you eat from real dishes with real utensils and drink from real glassware. At a Marthaland picnic, there are buckets of freshly cut flowers and rolled up pads to lounge upon, covered in, you guessed it, dyed ticking. And, at a Marthaland picnic, you do not eat soggy sandwiches, takeout chicken or charred burgers. You will dine upon steaks served with tomato salsa (homemade), crisp salad, and slices of grilled bread topped with chimichurrri, a traditional Argentine steak sauce made with garlic, oil, vinegar, and herbs. And individual fruit crisps. And homemade vanilla ice cream swirled with cinnamon. Where do I sign up? More importantly, why don’t I have friends like these?
I know that the magazine should be used as an idea book. I understand that no one can complete all the projects. I realize that you’re supposed to pick and choose among the riches that are offered each month. But, you see, I don’t want to pick and choose. I want it all. I want to step between the pages and soak up all that Marthy-ness. I want to be able to take a vacation to Paris and then come home and have time to create shadowboxes of my memorabilia. I want to have time to create stunning centerpieces from large shells and flowers I’ve grown in my garden. I want to be motivated to color copy the postcard blank from page 33 and laminate it onto fun photos and send them to friends. And I want to have the time to paint jazzy stripes on an aluminum tray and have the time and reason to use such a thing.
I recently took a hiatus from Marthaland. I had been a subscriber to the magazine from almost the first issue but became disillusioned as I slipped further and further from perfection.
At first, there were projects that I would attempt as time allowed. There was the Christmas I spent practicing gift-wrapping techniques that took a tremendous amount of time and were no more appreciated than the cheapo paper that comes from the dollar store. It was destroyed just as quickly. There were no appreciative oohs and ahhs of admiration.
I also made, with the help of my long-suffering father-in-law, a birdbath from an enamel dishpan, some copper wire, and a large rock. Three holes were drilled around the rim of the pan, the wire was threaded through it and tightened and the whole thing was then hung from a branch in a tree. The large rock was placed in the center of the pan so the smaller birds would have a place to stand while bathing. The effect was charming. It lasted one summer. The birds hated it and would not come near it. A sudden freeze in the fall cracked the enamel in the dishpan. The rim rusted and the whole thing started to look . . . trashy. Unworthy of Marthaland. I dumped it into the garbage.
Then, the much-anticipated Christmas issue arrived. The cover was adorned with the room dreams are made of – the walls stark and white – all the better to highlight the perfect (and I do mean perfect) Christmas tree decorated in red and white handmade paper ornaments. There were miniature trees lining the windowsills. In alternating sizes. With little red bases. Nearby was a very simple chair with clean lines upholstered in white with two perfect little red and white gifts placed upon the seat. This room does not exist in my house.
The true misery began once I started leafing through the pages. Here there is a lovely red and white dessert – Pistachio Dacquoise – with raspberry puree adorning the top. It’s beautiful. I am in awe. I can create this confection but by now I know better than to bother. I’m a pretty good cook and I can bake. I don’t mind the extra time it takes to make things from scratch and they actually do taste better. Let me share the experience with you.
For Thanksgiving Dinner this year, I was assigned dessert. I made a stunning, sugar-free pumpkin cheesecake for my dad who is diabetic. It was delicious and if you didn’t know it was sugar-free, well, you would never have known it was sugar-free. My dad chose that and he loved it. No one else was impressed. No matter. It was for my dad.
My other contribution to the festive day was a beautifully arranged plate of Lamingtons. For those of you who haven’t visited Marthaland, Lamingtons are a larger sort of petit four made of homemade sponge cake layered with a fruit jam (strawberry or raspberry usually, preferable homemade, but if you must use Smuckers, well, all right – and I admit it – I used Smuckers), then dipped in melted chocolate icing (homemade) and rolled in coconut (fortunately not grown at home). They were stunning and delicious. I know because I sampled one. I wasn’t about to take something that I wasn’t sure of. The few that were consumed were eaten in halves. They were only two inches square, for God’s sake. “Oh, I think I’ll just have a half.” Apparently true appreciation of Marthaland cuisine only comes from the initiates. My family is not among that group. I haven’t received my assignment for the Easter festivities yet but you can bet if it’s dessert, the name “Pepperidge Farms” will figure prominently upon my offering.
I’ll leave you with this closing thought. A flat openwork basket with handmade, red felt slippers in sizes to fit all your family and friends. Keep it by the door. You never know when Marthy may come to visit.