For years her impeccably over-manicured appearance assaulted my sense of worth. Every strand of her hair was perfectly in place. Every blouse perfectly pressed. Even every tooth was perfectly white. She carried around a sense of calm that only seemed to put me on guard: no one had it this together unless they were a lobotomized robot from The Stepford Wives. On top of it all, she was making money. Lots of money. Loadfuls of money. With a television show, radio show, magazine, clothes, home goods and decorating lines, Martha Stewart was organized and filthy rich and I couldn’t help but hate her for it.
Perhaps it was the ‘misery loves company’ motto that I was riding my hatred on. While I am hardly miserable, organized and impeccable I certainly am not. While the years progressed with Martha presenting a well-kept bob and hand-carved napkin holders, mine developed into further chaos as I stumbled through motherhood with two rambunctiously delicious, yet disorderly children. Taking care of them became my primary focus, and, like a rebellious teenager, I refused to take any of Martha’s organizational advice.
Shoes strewn about and long-lost remote controls stuffed in the crevices of stained couches (amongst a sea of other items I was too afraid to dig up) became my daily décor. Whereas Martha promised an orderly life begins with an orderly linen closet (label shelves by rooms where the linens are used), my linens (and life) seemed to wait helplessly forgotten in the dirty clothes hamper.
Something dawned on me, possibly after stepping on my son’s latest open Bakugan toy (a very unpleasant experience indeed), that I needn’t fight Martha so much as embrace her. It was a realization an adult gets when they finally appreciate what a great parent they fought with all those teenage years. Maybe there was some logic to what she was saying, even in a pink pinstripe button down, heavy-on-the-starch. Organizing my life would begin with my linen closet and all the tiny, scattered things around it. With the same Martha calm I had battled all these years, I sat down to create a new, color-coded organization system for my house, breaking up different disaster areas into hues: blue zone for living room, red for entrance way, orange for bathroom and purple for bedrooms.
It only took a few short training sessions (and lots of shiny stickers) before my house was a thriving organizational success. All I needed to do was shout, “Blue Zone” in the sternest sergeant voice I could muster and my children feverishly began cleaning it up.
I felt I was finally understanding Martha after all these years. Maybe even appreciating her a bit. Even her small stint in jail hadn’t slowed her down. She was right back out there organizing lives away, even, as it turns out, mine.
This Valentine’s Day I seek out her expertise. In this department, she doesn’t disappoint. This year she is suggesting we reconnect with the long lost art of penmanship and create love notes filled with whoops and swirls and fancy paper. Sounds lovely and looks breath-taking in her glossy magazine, but I can’t help to still scoff a bit at such time-consuming pointlessness and my new phone beckons me to continue decomposing my favored language with a love-filled text instead: ILU 4EAE. HPY VD.
Dessert, however, is another realm I am willing to venture in. Martha offers many options, some taking up to several days to assemble, and the thought of how much laundry will pile up if I let my guard down to prepare such concoctions scares me into choosing her simplest and most elegant Valentine’s Day dessert: rose water panna cotta with raspberries and lychees. It is aesthetically pleasing and calm and full of love. Just as I long to be on that special day.
rose water panna cotta with raspberries and lychees
(adapted from Martha Stewart Living)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoon (1 packet) unflavored gelatin
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 2 teaspoons rose water
- 1 drop pink or red gel-paste food coloring
- 2 cans lychee in syrup, drained and quartered, syrup reserved
- 1 pint raspberries, halved
- 2 tablespoons candied ginger, coarsely chopped
- 4 unsprayed or organic rose petals for garnish (optional)
- Mix cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and mixture just begins to simmer. Remove from heat.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand until softened, about 2 minutes. Add to hot cream mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves.
- Add rose water and food coloring.
Divide among four demitasse cups or 2-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours (or overnight).
- To Serve:
Dip bottoms of molds into hot water to loosen, then invert onto plates. Divide lychees, raspberries, and candied ginger among plates. Garnish each with a rose petal if using. Pour 2 tablespoons reserved lychee syrup onto each plate. Serve immediately.
- Serves 6