Martha and Me (Originally published July 19, 2007)

Mom tells me I need to pick up the Thanksgiving issue of Martha’s magazine. Sue, Mom’s desk person, brought it to the studio to show everyone Martha’s Thanksgiving dinner in a barn, with horses peering out at the guests. All anyone can talk about is how immaculately clean the barn is. It is pristine. There must be a real barn somewhere else on the property, and they walk the horses over (in horse-diapers, naturally) for the photo shoot.

I have always loved Martha, but I especially love her more post-trial, post-conviction, post-prison. She is more human somehow. Watching her hair grow out grey really humanized her. For women, this is a powerful thing.

My former public defender colleague Joni inherited an already well-aged worker’s comp fraud case, and by the time it came to trial, the defendant had been in custody at the county jail for almost a year. The case was a slam dunk winner for Joni, though for mysterious reasons the previous public defender had been hesitant to try it and the DA refused to dismiss it, as he ought to have from the start.

Watching this poor, beleaguered woman, a doughnut shop employee who slipped while mopping and hurt her back, then visited doctors and filed for worker’s comp, only to later be accused of committing fraud (yes, I am a bleeding heart, but in all sincerity that really was the substance of the case, which I can back up with the fact that a Riverside jury acquitted her in twenty minutes), the main thing that struck me, day after day, was the fact that Mrs Tolstoy (for that, dramatically, was her name), had been a blond. During her year in jail, her hair grew out in an aging, unflattering stripe. And hearing the testimony, witness after witness, showing that she had simply done nothing wrong, the main thing every woman in that courtroom (including the judge, a stern Englishwoman who, come to think of it, bears more than a passing resemblance to Martha, then later lost most of her own hair during chemo for breast cancer) could think was, “That could be me!” And not only did we think “there but for the grace of god go I,” but we all, to a woman, hated the (male) DA who locked Mrs Tolstoy away from Clairol for a year. You can’t get a year of your precious life back, and there’s nothing like a grey stripe growing out of your head like the ring of a Sequoia to perfectly illustrate the point.

For someone who loves Martha (and Carolyne Roehm, and B Smith, and Susie Coehlo, and all the other lifestyle goddesses), I am not very domestic. I don’t own an artisanal stand mixer. In fact, I just broke my $20 hand mixer today. Eva and I were making cookies from Martha’s 2005 holiday cookie issue (yes, I am persistent; I am sure I will get around to making some of her 2006 recipes this time next year.) The thing literally blew a gasket (something I thought only happened in expressions and Road Runner cartoons.)

Scott happened to call from Costco right at that moment: “Do we need anything?” “Yes! Hand mixer!”

“I’ll try” (doubtfully.)

“What do you see right now?”

“Um, deli.”

“You’re in the deli?”

“I’m not in the deli, you just asked what I see.”

“Do a 180 so you’re facing toward the cash registers, and walk slowly down aisle by aisle toward the front of the store. Tell me when you see the red Kitchen Aid artisanal stand mixer on the end cap on your left.”

I do tend to give over-explicit directions, but this is the man who once packed a denim slipcover in our luggage (he thought it was maternity jeans.)

“I see the Food Saver. Okay, I see it! I see the red Kitchen Aid mixer.”

I led him via cell phone down each aisle. No hand mixers. I was tempted to improvise, but I had to remind myself that that’s what separates me from the Marthas of the world. They know better than to figure there couldn’t really be much difference between baking powder and baking soda, for instance.

Eva and I are stopped dead in our cookie-making tracks. Tomorrow I’ll buy another $20 hand mixer, plus the one forgotten item from my cookie ingredients shopping trip (there’s always that one thing, isn’t there? Mine is parchment paper today. Martha uses a lot of parchment paper.)

So for tonight, we’ll have to content ourselves with watching Food Network Thanksgiving themed shows. They all began this weekend, and I set Tivo to record about two dozen of them.

“Honey, do you want something called “All American Pie Championship?” Scott calls from the living room, where he’s doing the Tivo maintenance (the obligatory clicking, sorting, setting, and deleting every Tivo owner is must do to keep Tivo in top working condition.)

“Don’t delete it! That’s the one with the weird people with tight perms and all the pies.” I especially love looking at the judges. The “American Pie Council” carefully selects top pie lovers from around the country, who gather in a hotel ballroom in Florida to judge “pahs” (as one of my favorite contestants, shown picking strawberries with sturdy pie-making hands at home in Winston Salem, North Carolina, pronounces it.) My favorite contestant is the flaming gay guy who grew up baking pies with his Grandma on a farm in North Dakota (his most daring entry is a Vidalia onion pie, which is from his grandma’s recipe.)

So I will settle in tonight for an orgy of cooking shows. Sandra Lee, Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, they’re all there. Eva and I watch Giada de Laurentis cook for two moppet like little kids, improbably named Charlie and Lucy (who does that to children?), and I can’t stop drooling, not over the food so much as over her adorable little house. Looks like Brentwood or possibly Pacific Palisades. She has a short white picket fence with white roses tumbling over the edges, and a bright blue-green tile backsplash in her kitchen. She makes a simple casserole, which Eva decides she wants for our dinner tonight. We don’t have cheese, a must-have ingredient, so she settles for a bowl of Puffins and a glass of milk, even though I’ve made tacos (she’s spice-phobic these days, after a scary experience eating burritos with Scott last month. Scott likes his food so spicy that all the ladies, including mother-daughter owners Josie and my Junior League friend Naomi, would come out from the back and huddle around giggling as he ladled the spiciest of the spicy salsa onto his burrito at our old haunt the Tamale Factory.)

I think I will start off with Sandra Lee. I know she’ll have some great gravy tips for me. Scott normally refuses to watch any cooking shows with me (with the exception of the original Japanese Iron Chef, though never the anemic copycat American version, with its annoying nebbishy host), but he’ll watch Sandra Lee for the comic value. No laughing during the last five minutes, though, honey. I’m taking notes for my “cocktail” and “tablescape.”


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