Martha, Still Marvelous

The queen of perfection talks turkey, meat cleavers, and George Washington.
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With a new book for the home chef, an expanded line of retail products at Macy's and Wal-Mart, and a fresh batch of daily TV shows, Martha Stewart, 67, is once again doing more "good things" than the rest of us combined. She chatted with us recently from her New York office, where she was proofreading recipes, updating her new blog, and getting ready for another weekend of houseguests.

You do so much. Don't you ever want to just kick back and eat bonbons?
No, that would be boring. I like what I do; I love to create things and I like to teach. Sitting around holds no interest for me.

Your new book is called Martha Stewart's Cooking School. How did you learn to cook?
My mother was a really, really good cook. So were both my grandmothers. We also had two next-door neighbors -- an Italian family on one side and a German baker on the other -- so I spent a lot of time in their kitchens. As a child you pick up so much from cooking: science, arithmetic. When you cook with kids and want to double a recipe, for instance, let them do the math. Of course, you'll want to check their measurements, but making mistakes is part of learning.

Do you actually make mistakes?
I try not to [laughs]. But, of course, I do. Back when I had a catering business, we had some huge disasters. I remember serving oeufs en gelee -- eggs in aspic -- in August. It was about 110 degrees outside and the aspic [a gelatin typically made from meat stock] melted just as we were about to serve it to 200 people. But I'm very organized, and doing television in the kitchen has helped. I've learned to chop, squeeze, mince, and talk at the same time. I have A-list actors on the show who can't talk and slice a tomato without nearly cutting their fingers off.

How can people avoid mishaps in their own kitchens?
People get sloppy with measurements and seasoning. "Oh, I'm not eating salt," someone says, so she doesn't add any and her food is flavorless. Or they don't understand the terms exactly. When they saute a piece of meat, they might not brown it first, which you need to do.

What are you making for Thanksgiving?
We must have a turkey, and this year's will be one of my raised turkeys. I live on a farm and we've been eating turkey eggs all year. They're delicious in cakes. I'll also make a wild-mushroom soup in honor of my mother, who passed away last year. That was her traditional thing.

What are three essential tools every home chef should have?
First, a phenomenal knife. My favorite is a Japanese cleaver, which is lightweight and razor sharp. A Cuisinart food processor to make everything easier. And a KitchenAid mixer with a rubber scraper if you have any interest in baking.

You recently expanded your line of products for Wal-Mart. But tell the truth: Does Martha Stewart really shop at Wal-Mart?
Absolutely! At my house in Maine, it's really the only place around if you need something.

If you could pick anyone, living or not, to share a table with this holiday, who would it be?
George Washington. John Adams. Really, the whole Continental Congress would be great. I'd love to hear about the formation of the country, the difficult dealings with the English and the French, the challenges they faced.

It's still challenging for many Americans right now. Any suggestions for living well in difficult economic times?
Improving your surroundings needn't be expensive. Paint your dining room a new color. All you need is a couple of gallons of paint, a roller and a brush. Add a new border of plants in your front yard. Plant trees. One really easy fix is remaking the bedroom. Getting a new bed set, a new duvet cover, or a new mattress can change a home. So can adding flannel sheets for warmth and comfort. My mind is full of little ideas like that.

Do you ever get tired of being Martha?
It's the way I am. To be otherwise would be disturbing to me. I had eight people at my house in Maine for a three-day weekend recently and I organized it so everybody was busy all the time -- without being oppressive about it. Although they did accuse me of being a camp counselor.

You've been through a lot in recent years. What do you know about yourself you didn't know five years ago?
That I really like to garden.

Anything more personal?
[Long pause] Yes. That I could live on bread and water. I don't need to -- but I now know that I could.


Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2008.


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