Martha Stewart has many reasons to celebrate this holiday season. A first grandchild was born earlier in the year. Despite a lingering recession that has decimated some of her competitors, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the multimedia empire she founded 35 years ago with a Westport, Connecticut, catering business, still carries a valuation of around a half-billion dollars. And her 75th book, Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations, its cover shot at her East Hampton home, was published in October.
The release of Martha’s Entertaining (Clarkson Potter), a tantalizing 432-page tome showcasing a timeless collection of memorable events with family and friends, is a poignant milestone. “It’s my second entertaining book since 1982,” says Stewart. That was the year her debut title, Entertaining, was published and quickly found its way onto the New York Times best-seller list. Entertaining also became a best-selling cookbook, with popularity comparable to Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and helping launch Stewart’s megawatt career.
Stewart says her basic approach to entertaining has not changed much in the past three decades. “It’s not how much money I spend; it’s how can I do the most appealing parties for a special occasion.” But she admits her menus, enriched by far-flung travel and a fascination with global cuisine, have taken on a more exotic cast over the years. “People want new inspirations so they can expand their own adventures in entertaining,” she says.
While the settings for Martha’s Entertaining are haute American—her houses in East Hampton and Bedford, New York, and Seal Harbor, Maine—the recipes have a far-ranging reach, including everything from Beraweka bread, a specialty of the Alsace, and root vegetable boulangere, a dish popular in France, to Japanese Shishito peppers. Stewart says that as she entertains so often and has a lot of repeat guests, she makes a point to “change things around, make up lots of interesting menus, drinks, and desserts.” For example, if she does barbecue, it might be Cuban rather than American style. Says Stewart, “Tradition with a twist! I always like to interject new ideas into the mix.”
Martha Stewart: Hamptons Entertainer Extraordinaire
Stewart’s creative freshness and spirited entertaining flair have marked her Hamptons parties from the moment she jumped into the local social scene. Shortly after purchasing a six-bedroom 19th-century Victorian-style home on Lily Pond Lane—and before the moving vans even arrived—she hosted a housewarming bash at the property, drawing guests like Lee Radziwill, Allen Grubman, and Billy Joel for a classic Hamptons firehouse-style barbecue. “I had 300 on my front lawn,” says Stewart. “I put up a giant tent, and firemen from a nearby town came over and cooked the chicken and corn and made blue parrot margaritas.”
The fireman’s barbecue was the first of dozens of parties hosted at Lily Pond Lane over a period of two decades. Despite the addition of the upstate New York and Maine properties, Stewart still visits and entertains in the Hamptons year-round. “I love it out here,” she says. “I love my wonderful, big, old rambling place.” (She oversaw an extensive renovation of the three-story shingle-style house and its garden soon after buying the property in 1990.) “I open my gardens to tours for fundraisers, and I host dinners and luncheons and even horseback rides.”
Stewart features one of the many summer cocktail parties she organized for Guild Hall in her new book. She likes to time such events to when her lavish peony-studded gardens and other flowers are at their peak, but unfortunately, the weather remains beyond the control of even a worldfamous lifestyle guru. “This party was almost rained out, but the house’s giant porches, a spacious ground floor, and lots of umbrellas near the pool” saved the evening, she recalls. In addition to crafting a delectably innovative round of hors d’oeuvres and edibles for her events—in this instance, she served curried crabmeat on crisp fried mini pappadams—Stewart always crafts a signature cocktail. For this party, she offered a fresh take on a Sazerac (a New Orleans classic), mixing bourbon, Herbsaint, lemon, orange juices, and bitters. (It likely had a wonderful effect on prospective donors.)
Stewart’s love of entertaining and giving back over the years has made her an integral part of the East End community. In 2010 she was honored at the annual James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne event, and in June 2009, she was recognized at the Ross School’s annual scholarship benefit, Live at Club Starlight. “It was an honor,” she says. “I was recognized for my belief in the power of learning, for my achievements as a teacher, and for serving as an inspiration to children everywhere.” Stewart’s popularity on the Hamptons charity circuit and her chronically filled-to-the-brim work schedule may be most responsible for why she now prefers to host Friday evening suppers when at her Lily Pond Lane house. “You get the entertaining out of the way and can then relax for the weekend,” she explains.
Some of Stewart’s fondest East Hampton memories center on the holidays, particularly those spent with her late mother, also named Martha. The two would head out to East Hampton a few days before Thanksgiving or Christmas and make the local rounds to shop for food, stopping in the local A&P for staples and Citarella’s “because they have every kind of olive oil, mustard, and salt,” as well as the local farmers’ markets, open late in the year, and Marders for greenery to deck the halls of Lily Pond Lane.
The Holidays, Martha-Style
Stewart is famously an early riser, so it is not surprising her Thanksgiving-day routine begins at 5 AM. Linens and décor are set up days before (holiday decorating officially starts right after Halloween in Stewart’s homes); she changes menu items every year but makes sure to include all the traditional dishes. “And I always stuff the bird. Since my daughter, Alexis, and other guests are vegetarian, we also try to make a stuffing that is a meal unto itself.”
Stewart’s Christmas menus so elaborately turn tradition on its head that even top chefs are likely to scheme and plot for an invite. She recites the elements of one dinner: “a salty country ham for hors d’oeuvres, wasabi caviar and daikon canapés, pheasant potpies with black truffle and root vegetables, bucanti with brown butter capers and anchovies, seared pheasant breasts with endive Meunière, and cream puffs with warm chocolate sauce for dessert.”
Christmas 2011 promises to be memorable for Stewart beyond what she serves at the table, because it’s her first grandchild’s first Christmas. Stewart recently made several updates to the Lily Pond estate to welcome the eight-month-old baby. “Jude has her own bedroom with a crib and a little changing table,” says Stewart, who assembled the crib herself, although the project took two days. “It was horrifying. The directions were not correct,” she says emphatically.
Despite Jude’s tender age, Stewart is eager to introduce her to a Martha kind of Christmas. “At my house, there’ll be at least 20 trees, so she’ll get into the Christmas spirit, I am sure. I don’t know what Alexis is contemplating in terms of decoration, but definitely my house will be all for Jude. This year each room will have a tree and a theme, blown glass or pine cones.”
As if all of this is not reason enough to celebrate, Stewart will also raise a glass at year’s end to mark the seventh season of The Martha Stewart Show (the second to appear on Hallmark Channel), which premiered in September. And in yet another example of Stewart’s brilliant ability to synergize, the set featured a new kitchen—one she designed, of course, in this instance for a Home Depot kitchen line (there are 13 different kitchen styles). “We thought of every detail to make creating in the kitchen easier,” Stewart says. “Wonderful brackets, open shelves, quiet drawers, and hidden refrigerators. We even have permanent grooves in the countertops to create a drying area.”
As for the near future, there are more kitchen designs in the works and, now, with a granddaughter for inspiration, perhaps a line of nursery items and cribs (undoubtedly with clear instructions). In fact, Jude is likely to factor into much of Martha’s far-ranging activities in the coming years. Going forward, she says, “It’s all for Jude.”