Saturday, November 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Martha's Entertaining by Martha Stewart

She is loved. She is reviled. To some, she is the most creative of cooks.  To others, she is merely the borrower of other people's creativity  Martha Stewart is one of the most polarizing figures ever in the culinary world.

When her original book, Entertaining, was published in 1982 it changed the face of home entertaining forever. Martha Stewart invited us all into the perfect world she had created with her handsome husband, Andy, at Turkey Hill Farm in Westport, Connecticut. There were occasions in the perfect barn, by the perfect pool, and in the perfect parlour, and perfect dining room. There were pasta dinners, omelets for dozens, a romantic meal for two, weddings...It was all about domesticity, about blood relatives, about doing it oneself.

For those who loved to cook and to make a backdrop for their food, this book unleashed their innate creativity.  For others less sure of their culinary and hosting abilities, the standard set by Martha Stewart was just one more ball to juggle in a sky full of balls. Personally, Entertaining convinced me I could, with the help of two friends, cater my own wedding. Borrowing heavily from Martha, we made a success of it with a minimum of tears!

Subtitled A Year of Celebrations, Martha Stewart's new book, Martha's Entertaining, presents entertaining in a different world.  In the intervening 30 years, Martha's life has changed. She is no longer merely a caterer, or even just a brand.  She is, like Ralph Lauren, a lifestyle icon. Now a multimillionaire through Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (billionaire before her unfortunate stint in jail), she has homes in Bedford, New York, in Maine, and in the Hamptons, all of which provide stunning backdrops to her entertaining in the 21st century.  Like Turkey Hill, her husband Andy is long gone--with a former staff member in tow.  Much of the entertaining situations now revolve around business occasions. Her work "family" plays as much part as her "blood" family.

Despite it all, despite the horse stable so pristine one can serve dinner in it, despite the fact she now admits she doe not do it all herself, despite the opulent floral arrangements and settings, the actual  food is, though more elegant, also simpler.  There are still simple grills, seasonal vegetables, delectable desserts with lots of Martha step-by-step guidance.  The events which comprise the first part of the book are organized by season and time of day, the recipes at the back are arranged by type of dish.

Most people who are producing a same topic book on the 30th anniversary of their first book would be satisfied to just re-issue said book with a few updates.  Think of the 25th anniversary of The Silver Palate Cookbook. Yet Martha, ever the workaholic, has made Martha's Entertaining a showcase to the way her style taste evolved over three decades.

In her first book, by way of reminding self-caterers to keep it simple and in line with the equipment at hand, Martha told a story about an early catering job for which she had made oeufs en gelee only to arrive at the site on a sweltering day to find that refrigeration facilities were definitely in short supply.  The oeufs en gelee recipe appears here too, perhaps a reminder to herself how life was once and how it could be again.

Martha's Entertaining
by Martha Stewart
Hardcover, 432pp, $75 (in the USA & Canada)
Reviewed by Jennifer Grange

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