Growing up, I only had three dolls who were not named Sally: There was Molly McIntire, who doesn’t count because she arrived as a Molly, though I mention her because she’s still around (I need to practice my inverse fishtail braiding on someone who doesn’t put up a fuss about her scalp). I called the other two non-Sallys “Martha” and “Stewart,” respectively, and in tribute.
You could say I was Martha Stewart’s youngest fan back in the day. I was enamored from an early age by Martha’s New England sensibility. I found her tidy bows and artfully placed cable knit throws (like on the floor of a barn or something) extremely calming. If most girls dove into Vogue for an aspirational, dreamlike escape, I lost myself in Martha Stewart’s perfect world when the awkward burden of adolescence felt too messy.
I was not a crafty kid. Cooking did not interest me. I didn’t know how to sew and I still don’t. In fact, I don’t think I learned a thing beyond the importance of owning pinking sheers, but since when did fans of art need to know how to paint?
One of my most fun neuroses, besides “being grossed out when things smell like 7-Eleven” and “feeling aggressively hateful toward soup,” is that I experience a very real, sinking sense of dread when December doesn’t feel like Christmas. If the weather’s just a tad too warm, the sun not bright enough, the lights on my street hung a bit late, I begin to suspect, ever so slightly, that the world is ending. Last year’s weather sent me into a tailspin. This year, I took a proactive approach and assigned myself a week of being Martha Stewart, the most inherently “holiday” person I’d die to know.
Meeting her IRL
During the hour where I had absolutely no idea what was going on, she told us to hammer out our aggression on blocks of peanut brittle and suggested including a literal hammer with any homemade brittle we plan to gift. She made a joke here about how she had “no aggressions today” because that morning, she found out Roy Moore lost. She told us about the huge herd of wild turkeys in her yards, who she’ll feed an entire bag of cracked corn to for their Christmas supper this year. She said she adds light brown sugar* to everything she cooks because it enhances the taste. She’s not scared of your sugar propaganda!
*The Facebook live event was part of a collaboration with Domino Sugar, integration partner and sponsor for her PBS TV show, Martha Bakes. It felt very 21st century in that way.
At one point, she asked Nancy Barbee, her guest, if she had a ribbon closet. Nancy Barbee did not; she had a box. Terrified Martha might one day ask me this question, I made a note to myself: Invest in real estate to store ribbons, immediately. Later, I’d make a subtask to buy twine upon seeing some in her studio; the woman binds home goods in twine with reckless abandon, be they stacks of towels or edible treats.
She showed us a life hack that stops molasses from sticking to the inside of bowls (coat them with non-stick cooking spray first) — a tip I jot down with diligence, even though I’m not sure what it would take for me to get to a place in my life where I use molasses enough that I need a hack. I’m not sure what it would take for me to get that ribbon room, either.
Becoming her IRL
Which brings me to the one small (big) hiccup in my plan to become Martha: I, my friends, am utterly inept in the kitchen. But that’s where Martha changed my molasses-less life again. She refuses to let the food industry, or my kitchen, be disrupted without her. A meal delivery company called Martha & Marley Spoon, which makes cooking “Martha Stewart’s best recipes” a winter’s breeze, kindly sent me their holiday cookie kit. I was intimidated but, as they say at the gym, pain is progress, or whatever.
I decided the brownies looked the easiest, and given their crushed peppermint topping, the most festive. The whole thing was indeed a winter’s breeze, I can’t believe I don’t bake more. Although, if I’m being honest, my boyfriend did most of the work while I tested my body’s tolerance for salmonella. Either way, I brought them in to the office for everyone to enjoy like a real domestic whiz-boom. Ask me how cocky I was that day. The best part was all of the Yelp! reviews my coworkers emailed in. My favorites:
“I’ve had three and am about to go get another.” — Kelsey Lim, Freelance Graphic Designer
“That was arguably one of the most enjoyable brownie-eating experiences of my life.” — Reed Redman, Social Media Intern
“Best brownie I’ve ever tasted that didn’t really taste like a brownie. 5/5 would eat so many I felt sick before 11 a.m.” — Haley Nahman, Digital Editor
It helped me to understand all those who say they enjoy the act of baking more than eating the baked goods themselves, who I’d formerly judged as serial killers. That night, I made drink-drinks: two Martha Stewart Manhattans. I’m not sure how they’re any different from regular Manhattans but part of Martha Stewart’s genius is in her branding.
Toward the end of my week of Martha, my mom sent the office a holiday care package. Little notes like “twinkle, “joy,” and “peace” floated out from the box upon my opening it. She included two fist-fulls of plastic painted bubble rings, enough for everyone in company. She also included bags of home-spiced nuts and dried pineapple, labeled in the penmanship of a thoughtful elf, all stuffed into cellophane bags that were tied up with twine. Beautiful, Martha-approved twine.
Of course my mom has twine at the ready, I thought to myself in reverie. And then I recalled a tip that both Martha and my mom taught me: Always save the gift-wrapping.
I passed out the nuts and pocketed the twine. Later, I brought it home, feeling nice and creepy as I pulled twine from my pocket like a craft-happy, domestic magician. There’s not a whole room yet dedicated to ribbons and things, but this collection is a start. Maybe next year, I will use it to wrap a present for once.
Collages by Kelsey Lim. Photos via Amelia Diamond.