Away for a while

Hello friends! I am currently enjoying a vacation with my family in Puerto Rico, which explains the lack of posts. We will be here until Christmas but I do have several more holiday posts to share so check back after the 28th. In the meantime please enjoy everything the season has to offer and have a wonderful holiday with family and friends! Feliz Navidad!


Peppermint Bowls by Jodi Levine

When I asked author and crafts editor Jodi Levine (formerly the editor in chief of Martha Stewart Kids magazine) if she would like to participate in a blog post about one of her projects, she replied with a very enthusiastic "Yes!" Many of us remember Jodi from her days as a crafts editor and product designer for Martha Stewart Living and from her regular appearances on Martha's television shows. Several months ago she released her first book, Candy Aisle Crafts, and it has become one of my favourites. I reviewed Jodi's book in an earlier post but wanted to showcase one of my favourite projects from the book: peppermint bowls.
Here's what Jodi told me about the project: "These bowls look challenging but really aren't...and they're so much fun to make! I love the way that peppermint swirl candies look (more than I like eating them!) so this is a great way to have them around your table at holiday time. They can serve as a candy or sugar bowl...or make a bunch of them for a centerpiece!" Below are instructions on how to make the bowls and some background about the inspiration behind the project. 

parchment paper
heatproof bowl (Jodi used a 6" metal bowl)
vegetable oil
18 starlight mint candies

Preheat the oven to 275°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Very generously grease the outside of the bowl with the oil.

Place 1 candy on the baking sheet.

Place in the oven for 2 to 2 ½ minutes until the candy starts to look shiny and softens but doesn’t melt or sag.

Remove and place six candies around the heated candy, touching it (Image 1).

Return to the oven and heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven as soon as the candies start to soften. Don’t let them melt.

Place eleven more candies around the circle on the baking sheet (Image 2). You can try this step with nine or ten candies for a smaller bowl.

Return to the oven for 7 minutes.

Remove and let cool for 1 minute. Quickly trim off some of the parchment paper (Image 3). With the candy still on the parchment paper, and using an oven mitt, flip the candy onto the greased bowl (Image 4) and quickly center the middle candy on the bowl's bottom. Shape the candy around the bowl, using the oven mitt to press the candies into one another (Image 5). Remove the parchment paper (Image 6) and gently lift the peppermint bowl off the bowl (it should slide right off, but if it sticks, let the candies cool for another minute or two and gently lift it off).

Place the finished candy bowls on top of small circles of parchment paper so they don't stick to surfaces.
The inspiration behind the project is just as interesting as the method itself. Jodi based the project on a form of glasswork technique called millefiori, which was developed in 15th Century Italy. The technique produces distinctive decorative patterns on glass. The term millefiori is Italian and means, literally, "a thousand flowers." The process involves forming coloured glass rods which are then cut to form small floral shapes, arranged into intricate patterns then encased in clear crystal. Click here to watch a video on how millefiori is made.
 This is an example of Italian millefiori.
Please be sure to get Jodi's book for the crafters, young and old, in your family this year. It's a wonderful book filled with imagination, inspiration and a lot of fun! Click here to get it on Amazon.


Martha Stewart Living: Year in Review, 2014

Dan Dienst, the CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, said on his second-quarter conference call that the company is going through a quiet phase. As MSLO diligently works to balance its books and get its portfolio in order as it slowly transitions from a publishing company  to a merchandising company, readers of its magazines and books have had to be patient, even stoic, while the company prunes its branches to cut costs. Over the last few years, longtime readers of Martha Stewart Living magazine have had to endure numerous changes:  a reduction in the magazine’s circulation (from monthly to 10 months a year), a reduction in content, a depletion of special issues that once supported the flagship, routine changes to its format and design and a seemingly endless rotation of editors-in-chief, each with his or her own ideas about how the magazine should look and function. 

Now, as the magazine heads into its 24th year on newsstands, its operations have been signed over to Meredith Corp., which will now handle the advertising, production and distribution of Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings. This is the first time Martha has looked beyond the walls of her eponymous company to handle the production of her magazines.

Meredith Corp. is a leading media marketing company dedicated to leveraging media platforms that serve American women. It handles production, advertising and distribution for magazines such as Family Circle, Traditional Home and Better Homes & Gardens. I feel this is a very “Good Thing” for Martha Stewart Living, which has struggled to attain the advertising dollars needed to properly sustain the content on its pages that readers have come to expect and rely on. (Many of us readers have commented on how thin the issues are today compared to previous years.) It is certainly my hope that the new deal with Meredith will ensure more ads, thereby encouraging more content, which will still be handled by the editors and designers at Martha Stewart Living headquarters, by the way. Readers will likely not notice any change to the look or feel of the magazine when Meredith distributes the February issue of Martha Stewart Living next month.

Let’s look specifically at the 2014 issues of Martha Stewart Living. The most notable observation, of course, is that this is the first year since 2000 that the magazine has produced ten issues instead of twelve. Gone from the roster are the January and August issues, which have been sandwiched into the December and July issues, respectively. While I did love getting a new issue every single month, and I do miss the freshness of the January and August issues, I can’t say I was overly disappointed by the new ten-month distribution schedule. The content in the bi-monthly issues is strong enough, I feel, to provide editorial sustenance for the season.
There were almost no editorial or design changes made to the magazine in 2014 – Eric Pike’s first full year on the job as the flagship’s editor-in-chief. One exception was the content on the last page, which changed from a personal essay written by an author to a featured entrepreneur nominated for a Martha Stewart American Made Award, beginning with the March, 2014, issue.( The last page of the magazine has had several incarnations over the years: Martha’s Remembering column, Cookie of the Month, Save Room For, the Essay and now American Made.)

The design of the magazine continues to be sparse, clean and modern, which is in line with the company’s branding and keeping pace with the look of its newsstand competition. Comments on my review last year were not entirely supportive of the design, with many people saying they miss the old format. Hopefully, now, the design makes more sense to these readers. I personally find it very pleasing to read; it is neatly organized by content type with the well of the magazine showcasing the thematic features of the issue with full-page colour photography. I am also pleased to see more writing in these features. I enjoy context and am always delighted by a good story to back up the luscious photography.I suppose my only real complaint this year is that there were no special issues.There were two issues planned for 2014 but the decision was made to cut them last January. A special Everyday Food issue was to his newsstands last spring and there was a special Halloween issue planned for a September release. I was disappointed that these were cancelled, and I know I’m not alone. I really missed having one or two special issues to look forward to. The traditional Halloween issue, especially, ought to be an annual treat for readers that is non-negotiable. There should always be one. Fans love it!

I sometimes choose a favourite issue and a least-favourite issue of the year but I honestly can’t pick these for 2014. No issue stood out as being exceptional. No issue stood out as being disappointing, either. This brings me back to the words of Dan Dienst and the reiteration that the company is going through a quiet phase as it charts the next phase of its course. There was nothing especially spectacular about the 2014 issues, nor was there anything troubling or disappointing to note. Each issue fulfilled its duty. Each issue was informative and beautiful with good advice, excellent recipes and dazzling photographs. Having said that, they didn't stay too long on my coffee table and were relegated to the magazine file folders for storage sooner than I would have liked. Perhaps now that Meredith is handling the business operations of the magazine, there will be more time, more money and more passion to invest in the creativity, the inspiration and that indescribable “Martha-wow-factor” that Martha Stewart Living readers have come to expect.


Martha Plans to Open NYC Coffee Shop!

Martha Stewart fans are all abuzz about a new coffee shop that Martha and her team plan to open in New York City. According to a Bloomberg report in Advertising Age and at least one representative from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, the new coffee shop will be located at the Starrett Lehigh building in Manhattan, where the MSLO headquarters are located. Martha hinted at this new venture in an interview she gave with Closer magazine earlier this year. No word yet on when the café will be opening or whether any of the tasty treats on offer will be based on Martha Stewart recipes, but I know I speak for many, many fans when I say that this is extremely exciting news!


Some Vintage Finds

At a flea market last year, I found several original examples of vintage Christmas cards in pristine condition. Based on their designs, I would say they are from the 1960s. I had actually forgotten about them until I sorted through my "Christmas box" (a wooden storage box I keep at the back of my closet just for Christmas stationery, ribbon, stickers, stamps, etc.) to start writing some Christmas cards to family. I was so dazzled by the saturated colours and the childlike nostalgia of the designs that I took a snapshot of two of them, paired with some plastic peppermint tie-ons and woodland letterpress gift tags that also emerged from the box. There is a visual theme here that may guide my giftwrapping plans this year. It makes me happy!


Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to extend warm holiday wishes to all of the American readers of this blog who are celebrating Thanksgiving today. You have inspired me, informed me and supplied me with the grist for this Martha Moments mill! I do the blog for you as much as I do it for myself and I thank you for keeping me going. Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to (hopefully) inform and inspire you in turn. Happy Thanksgiving USA! (And to everyone who may be celebrating today around the world.) Cheers to many more Martha Moments!


The Ginkgo Tree

Ever since I was young, I was enamored of the ginkgo tree. I love the shape of its leaves and the uniformity of its signature vibrant yellow hue during the autumn months. It seems I am not alone, either. The tree, also known as the maidenhair tree, is native to China and was considered beautiful enough to be planted on the sacred grounds of Buddhist temples. It was first cultivated in North America in 1784 in Philadelphia and is now planted worldwide as a landscape plant.  The fan-like shape of the ginkgo leaf has been used as a decorative motif for centuries: from furniture to jewelry, wallpaper to textiles.
My friend Lori Coleman photographed this ginkgo tree in her back yard last month. Lori, who lives in Culpepper, Virginia, shares my love of ginkgo trees. I love the light in this shot and the vibrancy of the yellow leaves.

The ginkgo’s charm may lie in its resilience. It is one of the oldest trees in the world. Modern ginkgoes are virtually the same as fossil specimens of the same species dating back more than 100 million years. The only plant older than the ginkgo is the fern. Much like the fern, the ginkgo reproduces itself using ovules that are fertilized by motile sperm, which are released by pollen grains when the tree germinates. There is a ginkgo grove planted not too far from where I work and I love visiting it this time of year on my walk home to marvel at the swatch of vibrant yellow and the striking shape of the fallen leaves. 

Martha also loves ginkgo trees and has many planted at her farm in Bedford. Below are some beautiful examples of the ginkgo - both in its natural state and as a decorative motif in art, furniture and textiles.
I collected these ginkgo leaves several weeks ago at a park near my home and pressed them to preserve them. They look striking against this black background.
From left to right: ginkgo patterned sateen by artist Kristina Isola for Marimekko; "Pigeons on a Ginkgo Branch" by artist Ohara Koson; ginkgo soft-ground etching by California artist Sharon Parolini.
 These Art-Nouveau style chairs are made of cast bronze by Parisian-born artists Claude and Francois Lalanne. They use the ginkgo motif in their work to striking effect.
This ginkgo-motif pumpkin was the starring attraction in the October, 2010, issue of Martha Stewart Living. The rug on the right from Anthropologie is called the Tufted Ginkgo Carpet.
Martha's ginkgo tree is original to her property in Bedford, New York. It is more than 250 years old with a trunk measuring more than 13 feet in circumference. Martha has designed a 'boxwood room' adjacent to her Summer House with the giant ginkgo as its centerpiece. She has planted several more ginkgo trees along the perimeter.