Ciao'd while watching my son's lacrosse tourney. Go Titans!
My friend, Beth, and I passed each other on Park Street. She was on her way from class back to the Kappa house, I was on the way to my poetry workshop in Richardson Hall. We did this every Tuesday and Thursday (Thursdays often in a hangover haze. Shout out to The Hoot!). This day, she handed me a copy of the newly published book by an upstart who would go on to change the way we think about cooking, entertaining, and style. Entertaining, by Martha Stewart.
Beth’s mom sent her the book. Beth had no interest in its contents. She knew that I was a writing major and wanted to write about delicious and beautiful things like food and flowers. It was lagniappe.
Martha Stewart’s first and seminal book was (and remains) a stunning study in composition, symmetry, and pleasing proportions. A mix of Meissen porcelain, milky green Jadeite, translucent yellow Depression glass, French damask napkins (embroidered with other people’s monograms no less) picked up at the Brimfield flea, drabware dinner plates, shimmering blue lusteware dessert plates. Centerpieces ranging from a nodding cluster of orange and yellow ranunculus in a vintage stoneware mixing bowl (English, no doubt) to pale pink peonies in bulbous porcelain vases. It was an unexpected, tasteful mash-up expressed in spot-on harmony. Hand. Slapping. Forehead. Why didn’t I think of that? I didn’t. I doubt anybody did. Except Martha. I liked her recipes, but it was her ideas and her unerring eye that floored and inspired me.
The recipes in Entertaining reflect back-in-the-day mores. They represent a pinnacle of perfection that so many of us yearned to reach. Who else but Martha could lift fruitcake’s reputation as a sweet-non-grata? She baked Mrs. Maus’s Fruitcake, still one of the most popular recipes from Entertaining, in a vintage copper mold, studded it with glistening citron, candied cherries, and walnuts and pecans, generously doused it with brandy and decorated it impeccably with glacéed fruits. You could give this fruitcake to anybody, secure in the knowledge it would not be re-gifted.
And then there’s The Perfect Omelette (and the omelette party). Bring on the blue-tinged Araucana eggs, gathered by Martha from her architecturally-notable chicken coop at Turkey Hill. “One person adept at the operation can easily serve thirty people quite gracefully – approximately one a minute – making the duration of the actual serving half an hour.” I have no words.
Paper lanterns illuminated her parties; her name was in lights. To lift a phrase from Mary Poppins, Martha was “practically perfect in every way.” Until she wasn’t. But that day was a long stretch away from Entertaining. “Stars, they’re just like us.”
Even then, in an era that had not yet morphed into the more relaxed, less tedious and more informal style that defines cooking and entertaining today, I still have to give it to her. The recipes and ideas from Entertaining may no longer be realistic or desirable, but they can still inspire and inform our dolce vita.
Fifteen years after Beth dropped Entertaining into my hands; I published my first book, Real-Life Entertaining. It was (is) full of more accessible and simpler recipes and style ideas than Martha's book. Truth be told, though, it was (is) a paean to Martha. My publisher, or more accurately, the publicist, proclaimed me “the next Martha Stewart.” Not. I mean, c’mon.
Back in the day, contemplating a table set for a summer dinner, Martha would have sewn the napkins and hand-embroidered the flower embellishment onto them. Today, I think she would appreciate this shorter route to “wow.” No-Sew Flower-Trimmed Napkins. You got this.
NO-SEW FLOWER-TRIMMED NAPKINS
It’s almost a travesty how easy and inexpensive it is to make these flower trim napkins. They add color and texture to table settings and because you made them yourself, you won’t see these napkins on anybody else’s table. See ya, bye, PB.
Makes 4 napkins
2o-inch by 20-inch plain cloth napkins
Flower trim, approximately 7 feet
Fabric glue, such as Fabri-Tac
Measure the bottom edge of the napkin and cut the flower trim to that size. Use fabric glue to attach the flower trim along the bottom edge of the napkin. Alternatively, cut single flowers from the trim and glue onto the napkin in a pattern of your liking. Press the napkin again to secure the trim.