Friday, November 23, 2007

For those that consider themselves 'crafty' and for those that loved the old "Martha Stewart Living" television show, the new "Martha Stewart Crafts" show on the DIY Network is the show for you!

On Thanksgiving day, the DIY Network kicked off the new show with a 5 hour "Martha Marathon."

Each half hour show is filled with several craft projects. The Martha Marthon focused on holiday crafts just in time for the holiday season kick off. From flocked wreaths to glitter galore each episode was a trip down memory lane with all the favorite craft projects from holidays gone by.

"Martha Stewart Crafts" is proof positive that the television content from Martha Stewart Living Television is 'evergreen.' When repackaged in new formats, it's almost like the content is brand new. I've been a viewer of Martha Stewart Living since the beginning and there were segments I had forgotten about!

What I love most about the show is the calm, quiet instruction Martha provides without the annoying applause or the planned 'ooohhhhh's and ahhhhhh's' of a live audience. "Martha Stewart Crafts" is a return to the televised Martha I love best!

"Martha Stewart Crafts" will be shown weekdays at noon on the DIY Network. There will be select replays on weekends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And on Friday, We Decorate!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

I've been busy in the kitchen this evening doing as much pre-cooking as possible so tomorrow will be a bit less stressful. I'm not really one to get all stressed out during the holidays. I love to entertain family and friends and I love the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

While many refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday" I call it "Decorating Friday!" It's the day when the house is transformed from Fall Harvest to Holiday in a matter of a few hours!

Typically, I awake at my usual hour. (which is between 4-5 a.m.) David is usually up and around already, preparing for his early morning shopping journey with his good friend Barb. I prepare them a light breakfast and send them out the door. With a fresh pot of coffee (Starbucks Chirstmas Blend) and the 'vision' of what I want in my head, I begin the transformation process.

With HGTV on the television for inspiration (they always fill the day with holiday decorating themed shows) and a few hours of time, I will have successfully decorated the family room, kitchen and dining room. Even with two trees to do (one in the family room, one in the dining room) I can actually move through this transformation process pretty quickly. I usually plan weeks in advance what I want it all to look like. One thing about my decorating 'plan'... it's always subject to change. I may see something else that inspires me and the entire plan can change!

After the first 'rush' of decorating, I take a break and enjoy a traditional moment with my copies of the old Martha Stewart "Home for the Holidays" primetime specials from the mid and late 90's. My favorite is the very first special from 1995.. it was filled with decorating and gift ideas. It's a priceless piece of Martha history! After breaktime, it's back to work.. finishing my first round of decorating. By now, "White Christmas" is playing in the background (my all time favorite holiday movie) and I'm dancing along with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney! (I often wonder if it's just too much coffee!?!)

The first night snuggled in the family room with it all a-glow is like magic to me. I can sit and watch the lights on the tree.. the holiday season has begun!

As we work through the remainder of the weekend, I will continue the decorating process.. the tree in the project room/home office (the large window faces the street - so I must have a tree there!) will be up and I will make adjustments (if any) to the other rooms.

The last tree to go up will be in the master bedroom. That tree is always a live tree and it will go up the first weekend of December.

Am I a crazed man at the holidays? Ummm.. YES! But it's a good thing!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pumpkin Spice Cake Recipe

This cake is wonderfully moist and a delicious alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie!

1 stick unsalted butter
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 C pumpkin puree
1/2 C warm (110 degrees) milk


1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x2 inch round cake pan. Line pan with parchment and butter the parchment. Coat pan with flour and tap out any excess.

2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugar and butter togehter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined. Add pumpkin puree and milk; beat until combined. Add dry ingredients; beat on low speed until just combined. Batter will be very thick.

4. Por batter into prepared pan, abd bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool. Let cake rest for 20 minutes.

5. Unmold cake. Using an offset spatula, spread icing over top of cake and decorate with carmalized walnut halves.


4 TBL unsalted butter
1 C sifted confectioner's sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1-2 TBL milk

In a small saucepan, melt butter until nut brown in color. (For a 'nuttier' taste, brown it to a deep brown color) Remove pan from heat and pour the melted butter into a bowl. Note: Leave any burned sediment behind.

Add sugar, vanilla and 1 TBL of milk. Stir. If the icing is too thick, add remaining TBL of milk slowly until you achieve desired consistency. (icing should be thin enough to pour, but thick enough to not run over the edges of the cake)

Let the frosting cool 5 minutes. Use immediately.

For a more traditional taste, add one 8oz brick of cream cheese to the icing mixture and beat completely until smooth.

This recipe appeared in Martha Stewart Living magazine in 1998. It's been a favorite since then!

On Being Thankful

It is that time of year when we stop to reflect for a moment and aknowlege what we are thankful for.

It's very easy in our busy everyday lives to take a good many things for granted. We feel the love of our friends and family so it's easy to assume they will always be there. We wake up every morning to go to work and it's easy to assume that we'll always have a job to go to. We use our kitchen apppliances and assume they will always work. We turn on our faucets and we assume we will always have water. Some of what we take for granted we may want to stop for a moment and appreciate fully.

In recent weeks, my dear friend Nancy passed away. Her unexpected death sent my heart reeling into a tailspin. How could this be? I just talked to her and she was fine.. Why did God take her from those that love her? I was dazed. I was confused. I was angry. I was terribly sad. Yet, as I stop to reflect and give thanks, I am thankful that even for a short time, I had Nancy in my life. In the scheme of life, our friendship was brief. Yet, it seemed as though I knew Nancy all my life. She had this ability to pull from me the BEST in me and bring it to the surface. Through her friendship I became a better person. Through her death, I learned to value friendships on a greater level. Her passing is something I had no control of and I don't question the plan God has for us. In her death, I've learned more about life itself. It's brought me closer to wonderful people who also shared in a love for her. For Nancy in life, and Nancy in death, I'm eternally thankful to have had her influence in my life. I am forever a better person for it.

I'm thankful for new friendships. I'm thankful for existing friendships. I'm thankful for my partner, I'm thankful for my wonderfully supportive family. I'm thankful for having a home that brings comfort, peace and safety. I'm thankful for my boss, who sometimes drives me crazy, yet teaches me through our disagreements to be a stronger member of the team.

I'm thankful for my life and all the ups and downs that come with it. Each experience in life makes me stronger and wiser.

To my friends and family - I'm especially thankful for your love. I hope in some small way I have returned that love to you and you know it's there.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Big Martha" Video Tribute

This is a video that was shown on November 19, 2007 on the Martha Stewart Show. I laughed, I cried, I reflected after watching this wonderful tribute to a most wonderful woman.

This year, the menu for Thanksgiving will reflect the classic and timeless.

  • Assorted Snacks
  • Turkey 101 (the very best way to cook a turkey) with herb compound butter
  • Mom's Classic Stuffing
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Roasted Sweet Potatoes
  • Baked Corn Casserole
  • Green Bean Bundles
  • Potato Leek Soup
  • Fresh Whole Wheat Dinner Roll Twists
  • Pumpkin Spice Cake with Burnt Butter Icing
  • Pumpkin Pie w/ Fresh Whipped Cream
  • Cream Puffs w/ Cinnamon Ice Cream

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mrs. Martha Kostyra

Last week, Martha announced that her Mother, "Big Martha" was in the hospital following a stroke. Just this week, Martha shared on her "Ask Martha" radio show that her mother wasn't doing well and was not expected to make it out of the hospital. Sadly, despite the prayers for a miracle, Mrs. Kostyra, "Big Martha" to those in her family (and those of us in her extended family) passed away on November 16, 2007. She was 93 years old.

For those of us that have watched Martha over the years, we've been witness to the countless guest appearances Mrs. Kostyra made on the Martha Stewart Living and Martha television shows. As elegant and delightful as her daughter Martha, Mrs. Kostyra earned her own fan base over the years. There was talk for several years of a cookbook of Mrs. Kostyra's family favorites. Perhaps that cookbook will still be written one day.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Kostyra during a special Mother's Day edition of Ask Martha on Sirius radio. What a delight. To this day, the Kostyra meatloaf recipe is one of my family favorites and serves as excellent comfort food throughout the year.

The loss of a parent is devistating no matter how much we prepare ourselves. I don't think you can ever prepare yourself for such a loss. My heart, my prayers and my thoughts are with Martha, her brothers and sisters as well as all of the Kostyra related family during this time. Collectively, those that love Martha and I would venture to guess even those that don't like Martha are praying for healing and comfort.

This morning, I mailed off a donation to the Martha Stewart Center for Living in honor and memory of Mrs. Kostyra. I felt it was a fitting way to pay tribute to this very special woman.

Beyond the moon, beyond the stars, Mrs. Kostyra wraps her arms around us all. In so many ways, "Big Martha" was our Mom too. Bless you Big Martha.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Chicago is a magical place. With it’s diverse shops and eateries, the clean streets and friendly people, Chicago seems to open it’s arms and welcome you like an old friend. Chicago is a place of great culture AND a lot of weekend construction projects!

We left for Chicago at 6am Saturday morning. From our home in Michigan to the ‘windy city’ it’s a four hour drive (given good traffic) which left us plenty of time to get there. (Take into consideration there is a one hour time difference). The ride was smooth. It’s a fairly straight shot from our area to Chicago with I-94 being the greatest length of roadway to travel.

We arrived in Chicago within that four hour time period. With Mapquest directions in hand and the availability of On-Star turn by turn navigation, we weaved through the busy Chicago Loop and found our exit that took us to the downtown area. Construction. Lot’s of it. Not only were they doing some street repairs, they were also blocking off streets to put up the holiday lights along State Street and Michigan Avenue better known as the “Miracle Mile.” We made it through the detours and found a place to park. Note: Public parking in Chicago is a nightmare! There are few parking structures or places on the street to park since most people take the train (Metro) into the city. Anyway.. We found a structure to park for the day and we were on foot headed toward Macys!
We arrived at Macy’s along the Washington Street entrance. There, we found the “anti-Macys” group protesting. For those of you that don’t know, Macy’s bought the former Marshall Fields store, which was a landmark in Chicago. There was a huge protest when Macy’s decided to change the name of this flagship store from Marshall Fields to Macy’s. The protesters were handing out flyers and buttons that proclaimed that there wasn’t room for Macy’s in Chicago. I guess everyone has to have a ‘cause’ to participate in; but I think there are greater issues one could devote time to!

A line was already forming outside of the store at all the entrance points. The buzz on the street: Martha Stewart. Martha was in town for the lighting of the great tree, a two story giant of a tree located on the 7th floor in the Walnut room. As I was standing there, I overheard a couple conversations about Martha signing ornaments following the tree lighting. No other details. I was thrilled! Within minutes, John, who is another huge Martha admirer sent me a text message (he was at the other entrance) that he heard the same thing… Martha would be signing ornaments. I was even more thrilled now! However, I didn’t have any details… I had to get the ‘scoop’ and get it fast!

The minutes seemed to tick slowly by. When the store opened, it was a rush of people. Literally hundreds of people were rushing in the door at the same time, quickly fanning out into the store to their desired destination. Most were headed to the 7th floor to the Walnut Room.

As I walked in the door, the first person I saw standing in the center aisle was Terry Lundgren, the CEO of Macy’s. I recognized him from his appearances on the Martha show. I stopped and introduced myself. He’s a very elegant man. He extended his hand, and shook my hand as I told him that I had been a Macy’s shopper for years and I was especially thrilled with the new exclusive offerings with the Martha Stewart Collection. He was very kind. He took a moment or two to talk and thanked me for being a loyal Macy’s shopper. It was a nice way to start my Macy’s day.. But the crowds were running by me to get up to the Walnut Room! I had to get moving!

I was walking so fast I was leaving poor David in the dust! I kept turning around to make sure he was coming along.. He would smile, wave, and urge me to keep going! He knew how important this day was to me… I wanted and I needed to see Martha today!

When we arrived on the 7th floor, the line was already stretching around the corner. We found our place in line and secured it. Members of the Macy’s staff were announcing that the Walnut Room would take the first 400 guests to attend the tree lighting. With David holding our place, I went off to scan the crowd and take a quick assessment. Would we be part of that 400? Indeed we would! We made it! Now, we just had to wait.

As we were waiting in line a Macy’s staffer announced that Martha would be signing ornaments at 1pm downstairs in the Martha Stewart Gallery. You had to purchase a special ‘Great Tree’ ornament and had to have a special wristband to participate in the signing. I turned to David with this look of sadness on my face. All David could say was, “I had no idea…” Nor did I. Oh well.. A missed opportunity; but I could at least SEE Martha at the tree lighting and could watch from afar as she was signing ornaments.

A text message came through on my phone. “I have two ornaments and two wristbands” It was John. With a fury of text messages back and forth, we decided that we would meet in the signing line and he would slip a wristband off his wrist for me and give me an ornament to have Martha sign. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!! I was thrilled!

As we were standing in line waiting to get into the Walnut Room, there was a flurry of activity. Security was everywhere. Martha staffers were running about with clipboards and cell phones keeping aisles open and elevators ready for Martha’s arrival into the Walnut Room. Martha Stewart Television crews were on hand to record the event. Producers were interviewing kids and adults alike as we waited. The excitement was mounting! It was much like watching a Presidential candidate make an appearance. “Advance” staff running around making sure that everything went smoothly. It was exciting to watch.

We were up to be seated in the Walnut Room and our seat was actually behind the tree and lighting stand. DRAT! But.. Where there is a will, there is a way.. I would eat lunch, and venture off with camera in hand.

Lunch was wonderful. A delicious “Poinsetta” drink… cranberry and pomegranate juice with Champagne and a wonderful lunch of Chicken Pot Pie. There were other choices on the menu of course, but Chicken Pot Pie seemed to be quite “Martha” and seemed to be appropriate. It also reminded me of Claudine, who is another Martha admirer and loves Chicken Pot Pie! The room was so beautiful. Very elegant. There were great performances by local gospel groups and a local children’s choir. The anticipation was building and building quickly! We were soon to be moments away from the official tree lighting!

We finished our lunch and had “Martha Stewart gingerbread pumpkin cake” with ice cream for dessert. I looked at David and told him I was off to see if I could get a couple pictures. The tree lighting was minutes away!

The MC for the day announced the President of Macy’s North who introduced Martha and Terry Lundgren. Mayor Daily was also on hand to light the tree. When Martha came forth the crowd came alive! A thunderous round of applause for Martha who looked stunning. She waved and said a few words about the Chicken Pot Pie that SHE just had. (see.. I knew it was a great choice!) Members of the audience would yell out, “We love you Martha!” and she would turn, wave and smile in the direction of the admiring fan. It was wonderful! Television cameras were rolling and it was time to light the tree.

Unfortunately I do not have a high powered digital camera. While it takes great pictures in the right lighting, it was difficult to capture the moments due to the dim room lighting. Photoshop came in handy as I tried to enhance the pictures a bit! (Special thanks to John for his picture of the tree! )

With a loud countdown of “5-4-3-2-1” Martha, Terry Lundgren, and Mayor Daily pushed the magic button and the tree came to life! The applause was incredible! It truly was the holiday season! This picture of the lit tree does not do it justice at all. It is a tree that you must see to appreciate. It was adorned with hundreds of Kugels and “great tree” ornaments.

After taking photographs, I went back to our table. David was sitting there (quite patiently!) and I sat down. Tears started to flow out of me. I started to cry. David, with a quite puzzled look on his face asked me what was wrong.. Did I get too excited? I told him that I was thinking of Nancy.. My dear “Martha” friend who had passed away earlier in the week. I sat there and the tears were seemingly non-stop. David reached across the table and grabbed my hand… “are you missing her?” I nodded that indeed I was. I told him that if she were still alive, there would be a zillion emails waiting for me when I got home excited to hear the news of my Chicago trip. David gripped my hand, and said, “you know.. She’s probably looking over your shoulder right now enjoying this day with you.” More tears burst forth, but this time they were different. It was odd.. It was as if they were cleansing tears. Tears that finally put my grief into perspective. I was healing from the pain of losing my dear friend. Nancy was with me; Laughing at my child-like excitement and encouraging me to be the ‘kid’ that was inside. I could feel Nancy’s spirit surround me.. There was much more to do today.. My tears dried themselves. I think Nancy was holding a tissue to my cheek to catch the last drop of grief in my soul. I raised my glass… “cocktails at five, Nancy”

We were off to the races again to the ornament signing. I had to find John and James! The elevators were slow.. Very slow.. So we took the escalators down to the first floor. The line was long .. We finally found John James! We exchanged stories of the day so far and we tried to get one of his wristbands off. IT WASN’T BUDGING!!! There was no way to slip the band off his wrist so I could put it on. That was okay.. I figured I could go around to the other side and at least take a few pictures of Martha and enjoy the excitement of others. Just being able to be there and share in the day was fine with me. But a signed ornament would be a total bonus! We went around to the other side, through the wonderful Martha Stewart Gallery (it was incredible) and I wedged my way to the roped off section right at the signing table. There were a few people in front of me, so I raised my camera up and started snapping pictures. Slowly, people would move out of the way and I could get to the very front of the roped off area! I was just across the aisle from Martha! I was snapping pictures like crazy! I had positioned myself in the best “viewing” place!

I watched as Martha greeted her guests and signed the ornaments. She was quite warm and friendly with each person that came through. Macy’s made sure that the people coming through the line had NOTHING but their ornaments for her to sign. No cameras, no memorabilia, nothing but the ornaments. This would speed along the signing. You could see the excitement on the faces of those that were in line. You could see people saying things to Martha and she would look up and smile and say, ‘thank you.’ Martha was so gracious to everyone. People were moving through at a good rate of speed! A few people were introduced to Martha
by a person from Macy’s and Martha would shake their hand.

At one point there was a lull in the action.. Someone in line had a camera which resulted in a halt in the process. I took a chance.. “Martha!” I said in a voice loud enough for her to hear… she turned and I waved.. “I hope you’re having a good time today!” she said. I nodded and said, “I can’t think of a better way to kick off the holiday season” She flashed that wonderful smile again and said, “I’m glad you’re here!” A “Martha Moment” for sure! That brief exchange made the entire trip worth it!
During this time, David was going through the gallery finding items that we have not been able to find locally. I waved to him to come closer so he could see Martha. He too was thrilled to watch her. He commented that its strange to see her in person when he only sees her on TV. He said several times, “she’s beautiful.” And indeed she is a beautiful woman, inside and out!

A Total Surprise!

As we were shopping along, we met up with John and James again. He (John) opened his bag and said, “pick which one you want..” I looked at him quite puzzled. He said, “you came all this way to see Martha and you’re not going to leave without a signed ornament.” I was in shock! I couldn’t believe he was serious! I was thrilled beyond words! I picked a beautiful green ornament and there was Martha’s signature right on the box. I will be forever grateful to John for his generosity and his kindness. It was a day to remember. The only thing that could have made the day better.. to have my friends Andrew, Bill and Claudine there to share the experience. Nancy was with me... I had a craving for a cocktail right around 5:00.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Holiday Movie Favorites

There are so many things about the holidays I love; but there is one tradition that I look forward to each and every year.. the viewing of my favorite holiday movies.

The holiday movie season always kicks off with "Miracle on 34th Street." Not a remake.. but the original in black and white. The movie is just magical! As one of the original movie trailers touted: "It's romantic, it's exciting, it's charming!" After watching this movie year after year, you can't help but believe in Santa Claus!

It's available in a variety of formats but the digitally remastered DVD is the absolute best!

I typically watch "Miracle on 34th Street" the night before Thanksgiving. I have a couple favorite scenes: The first is the scene where Santa meets the little girl from Holland and speaks Dutch to the child to the amazement of her adoptive Mother. The look of the little girl when Santa speaks to her is precious! My second favorie scene is he closing scene when Susan runs into the house that she claims is "the" house that she's dreamed of. As the movie ends, you see Kris Kringles cane in the corner of the room... 'could it be?'

My next holiday favorite is Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." This 1954 movie is what I call the last of the big screen musicals. With painted backgrounds, faboulous music, and wonderful production numbers, I'm drawn to this movie year after year.

With a cast of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera -Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney - you can't go wrong! I remember watching this movie when I was very young and 'revisiting' it as a young adult. This is one movie that can never be re-made! The current Broadway show of the same name is excellent; but it can't replace this movie classic. My favorite songs include (of course) White Christmas, Sisters, and Count Your Blessings.

This movie is always playing when I'm decorating the family room tree. It's a 'Friday after Thanksgiving' must have!

These movies are the essential holiday movies for any movie collection. Coming up next I'll share my favorite holiday television specials!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Holiday Planning 2007

It's that wonderful time of year again when I begin my planning for the holidays. While I have to admit I've 'dabbled' in some thoughts prior to this point - I never consider it 'legit' to think about the holiday season until November 1st. (It's just a 'me' thing)

One of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday planning is thinking about the decorating scheme (or to some, it could be a 'theme') I'll use this season. I have a few ideas!

I'm leaning toward a 'natural' Christmas theme for living room/family room. I love the look of magnolia leaves mixed with seasonal greenery. I also love the look of the pomegranite, deliciously read and a natural accent to the green of the season. This wreath photo is my inspiration photo as I create the season in my home this year.

I also love the look of the magnolia garland draped over the mantel with the white candles. Very elegant. Last year, I found candles that look like pillar candles but are actually electric with 3 small LED lights inside that 'wave' and cast a light that replicates candle light. Much safer than actual candles! The photos used here are from Restoration Hardware - another of my shopping enjoyments!