Sunday, November 28, 2010

Some tips for getting along with Martha

Martha, Martha, Martha! "Doesn't everyone have a pleasant disdain for Martha Stewart?" My husband remarked. I like Martha. But our relationship hasn't always been so rosy. She can provide an endless source of inspiration for everything from gardening to baking. But she can also make you want to slit your throat with some decorative scissors. Everything she does sounds so simple. Like, how could the project possibly turn out anything but perfectly?!? And yet. Sometimes it doesn't look exactly like (or anything like) the picture. And then you feel very upset because you spent all of this time doing something that Martha can do blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back and yet you couldn't even do it with the intensive use of all of your faculties and a truckload of craft supplies from Hobby Lobby! Is there something wrong with you?!?

No, there is nothing wrong with you. It's not you, it's Martha. Martha has a legion of minions doing her creative bidding. Some of them are magic elves. She also has more money in her flower budget than most people will make in a lifetime. Thus, she has resources that you can't compete with! But she and her crafting army still have a lot of good ideas. And with a few principles, you can be friends with Martha and not feel like a complete failure along the way!

There's one main rule when working with Martha. It's simple really: lower your expectations. Much lower than they've ever been before. Think back to a time when your standards for yourself were bare minimum and then let them free fall until they hit rock bottom and then dig down for a while.

When you find a Martha project that suits your fancy, whether it be a stunning Fall (winter, summer spring, etc...) centerpiece or a gorgeous table made out of popsicle sticks, carefully observe the way Martha's turned out. Notice how everything looks so perfect and color coordinated! It's almost as if the entire universe was designed to complement that particular craft! Now, picture your version of the project looking at least 90% worse (At least 90%!). If you are okay with that outcome given the resources that the project might take, then go for it! And have fun! If, on the other hand, you would be disappointed if your popsicle stick table looks like it was made by a drunk chimpanzee even after you spent all of those hours carving popsicle sticks from the tree you cut down and boiling a horse carcass to make the glue, then you should probably find a different Martha project.

Case in point: I had it in my mind to make this Martha cake for Thanksgiving. Carrot cake might not be traditional Thanksgiving fare but it is a ginger carrot cake which sounded sufficiently fall-ish to me. And the presentation was intriguing so I wanted to bake this to crown my Fall Favorites baking season. So, I followed my 90% rule and reasoned that even if the cake looked like a dead animal by the time that I was done with it, it would still probably taste good. So I went for it! And I was pleased with the results. Don't get me wrong! It did not turn out looking nearly as good as Martha's with her legion of magicians ( let me tell you there is no way to get cream cheese icing to look that smooth or cake layers to be that even unless you are practicing some sort of dark arts)! But I don't think it looked 90% worse- perhaps only 70% or so. I was pleasantly surprised! And it did taste great. Here it is:

This cake was actually a big hit at our Thanksgiving feast. It really is a delicious carrot cake recipe. People even chose the cake over the pumpkin pie which was still in tact at the end of the evening! Thanksgiving heresy! Anyways, the difficult part of this cake was the candied carrot strips. But they weren't as difficult as you might think. The problem was mostly that I had purchased an inferior mandolin* and could not slice the carrot strips thin enough. (Also, I nearly sliced my fingers open.) And, my carrots were not long or broad enough to cover the the cake like they should have. There were also some structural issues because I couldn't find the right pan size and I couldn't get the cake layers sliced evenly.

While I was arranging those candied carrot strips onto the cake I was commenting to my mother that it looked vastly inferior to the prototype. She, trying to encourage me, said essentially that it could be a conversation piece and that people might remark: "I've never seen such a thing before!" We had a good laugh over that knowing that that comment is not necessarily a complement. But people actually were impressed, I didn't show them the picture of the original so they didn't know how mine paled in comparison. (That's another trick when doing a Martha project, don't show anyone what the finished product is actually supposed to look like.) Though, I consider it a success because I think it could have looked a great deal worse than it did and it did win many accolades for taste! I might consider trying it again having learned what I have learned regarding carrot sizes and mandolins.

Thanks Martha! I look forward to working with you on future endeavors!

Baby John can sit up all by himself for a long period of time! He can also go from his back or tummy to sitting but for some reason he is loath to do so. So very proud of my delicious little sitting boy!

* My husband read this and suggested that I clarify that the mandolin I refer to is a slicing tool and not a stringed instrument.

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