If you’ve ever felt nervous when company’s coming, Martha Stewart assures you’re not alone.
“Everybody does,” she says. “It’s normal to feel a bit of stress when you’re entertaining.”
America’s domestic goddess shares that comforting thought, along with plenty more on home entertaining, cooking and decorating, on the afternoon she welcomes WAG into her Bedford home.
That the rainy-day visit is capped by an impromptu round of warm cappuccinos and decadent chocolates from Beverly Hills simply serves to underscore Stewart’s reputation as a charming hostess.
A study in contemporary grace, Stewart boasts not only a thoughtful manner and a flawless complexion but flat-out rocks skinny jeans and wedges as she continues with straightforward advice that touches on organizing, setting a menu and preparing things in advance.
“Don’t get too elaborate,” Stewart says. “People don’t care if it’s casual or fancy.”
In fact, sometimes casual wins out.
“Here, it’s pretty casual at night.”
And here is nestled into a working farm set on the sprawling property that Stewart considers her true home.
Stewart has settled into a chair in a well-appointed living room awash in the loveliest green hue, taking a breather following a morning series of photo shoots for upcoming issues of her namesake magazine, Martha Stewart Living.
It’s just another typically busy day for the lifestyle expert, who seems to always be on the go. On this day, she’s just back from a trip to Los Angeles and is soon off to China, “on business.”
The California trek found her again in the gossip columns, this time her chic leather pants earning praise. That a visitor would know what she wore a few days earlier is no surprise. As Stewart says, there are always “some spies” out there.
“You can’t do anything,” she says with a laugh.
Indeed, that accepting attitude serves her well as she chats as easily about Rodeo Drive as about what’s brought us here today, a discussion of summer entertaining.
Her attitude and outlook are a big part of what made – and keep – Stewart such a fascinating public figure. The driven woman, who’s the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and an Emmy Award-winning television host, is equally known for her commitment to the ideals of what makes a home and how to entertain.
Though now an international figure, Stewart got her start back in New Jersey, first as a model. After college and a move to Westport with her then-husband, Andrew Stewart, her catering career blossomed first into a book and then far beyond. Her landmark “Entertaining” in 1982 kicked off a career that has taken her through various incarnations, encompassing even more books, her signature magazines, television and radio work, a popular blog and a branding of Martha Stewart products that spans the lifestyle spectrum.
A SPECIAL PLACE
For Stewart, though, it all draws on the broad concept of home, and her home is welcoming on so many levels.
“I like it smaller like this,” she says of the property that includes a number of smaller buildings and barns. The vistas seem endless, the vignettes equally charming, from gardens to cozy outbuildings.
“I live here,” she says, simply of her home of the past 11 years. “I felt so lucky to find 150 acres.”
Settling into Bedford was no accident.
“We’ve been coming to Bedford since I was first married in the 1960s,” she says of the time visiting her sister. “My husband and I gardened for them.”
The northern Westchester town held an allure.
“I love Bedford. I just like the feel of it.”
And here, Stewart isn’t cloistered but participates in her community, as her conversation touches on nearby restaurants, garden centers and the movies.
She recalls a Sunday movie night with a friend when they were the only ones in the theater.
“That’s the nature of the country,” she says. But it was fine by her, a fun outing that ended with grilled cheese – “It was so good” – at the local diner.
Stewart, who also owns a place in Manhattan, is happiest in Westchester.
“I generally come here at night. I’m one of the few people who actually commutes from Bedford. I’d rather come home and see my animals.”
And keep an eye on her property, where her attention to detail is seen at every turn. Tasteful antiques dot the casually elegant rooms.
“We collected a lot. I have three houses full of treasures, and right now, I’m buying trees.”
While her antiques-buying days may have slowed, they are far from over.
“I go to all the antiques shows. If I see something that I have to have, of course, I’ll buy it.”
Most recently, this included a vintage airplane-themed swing for her grandchildren.
But Stewart isn’t all about possessions.
“I think editing is a good thing,” she says of what she feels is a growing trend. “I think people are editing their homes, and I’m so happy about that. I think they’re realizing that a few great objects are better than a lot of not-so-great ones.”
Outdoors, the commitment to what is good continues.
“My equipment shed is filled with tree seedlings, hundreds, probably thousands,” she says of her work reforesting some 75 acres on her property, which she says were “badly, badly timbered by the previous owner.”
“I’m planting it back. It’s all for the future. The more we grow, the better it will all be.”
A neighbor, she shares, is also reforesting but opts to plant mature trees.
So, is Stewart more patient?
“I’m not in for the instant gratification,” she says with a laugh.
FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Stewart often opens her gates for charitable causes.
“I’m very interested in education, environmental endeavors, good food naturally grown.”
She mentions a recent garden tour and luncheon held for the board of the Central Park Conservancy.
And, she adds, “I entertain my friends, too.”
That can range from her expansive annual Easter celebration, complete with egg hunt, to the most casual weekend gathering.
“Sunday night is a good time to have people over for sandwiches and soup.”
Throughout, Stewart makes time for philanthropy including a cause dear to her heart, the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“I built that in my mother’s honor,” she says of the geriatric center that each year hosts a major fundraising gala that honors someone over age 65 who continues to have an effect on the public good.
Stewart is also a supporter of Hudson River parks and is a fan of the High Line, the elevated railroad track-turned park on Manhattan’s Lower West side.
“It’s wonderful. It really transforms downtown.”
And she’s keen to support greenery in urban settings.
“My daughter and her two babies live right on the river,” adding a most personal element to her efforts.
FARM TO NEARBY TABLE
For Stewart, her commitment to fresh food starts at home.
“I grow vegetables all year long, so that impacts my entertaining,” she says, noting everything from beets to tomatoes to rhubarb.
She’s “very careful” about what she eats (hence, those skinny jeans) and serves.
Good food, she says, transcends fads. Sure, everyone might be fixated on kale, but that doesn’t mean a good kale dish, such as a personal favorite of hers served at the Inn at Pound Ridge, can be dismissed simply for all the hype.
“The best kale salad is at Jean-Georges’ inn and not out of date at all.”
Serve what works, in whatever setting suits you. In summertime, the possibilities expand.
“It’s so different because you’re not confined by a house,” Stewart says.
While she may entertain al fresco all year – last year, she had Christmas guests savoring Norwalk oysters over a fire pit – she knows summer means barbecue season for most.
While she loves a good hot dog, “I don’t like to do the typical hamburger and hot dog thing.”
Stewart prefers to serve steaks, grilled vegetable kebabs or even that traditional picnic favorite.
“My favorite outdoor thing is to make fried chicken,” she says, sharing her preparation secrets include first soaking the chicken in salt water and then buttermilk.
And no matter the locale, she’s always happy to serve up a crowd-pleaser that can cook up in some 40 minutes.
“One of my specialties is a giant paella. You can make it for 20, 40, 60, 100 in a giant pan.”
Summertime for Stewart often means travel, as it gets “a little hotter here” in Bedford. She’s often hosting at her other homes, in East Hampton, N.Y., and Maine.
“Maine is where I do most of my home entertaining,” she says.
“We climb in Acadia,” she says of the nearby national park, and after a long day it’s time for lobster or a traditional clambake on her oversize grill. Sometimes she serves on the water, taking guests out on her picnic boat.
But even Stewart admits that a hostess does need some down time, which is where breakfast and brunch come into play.
She says with a smile, “Once fed and say goodbye, you have the rest of the day.”
When back in Bedford with a day to herself, don’t expect to find Stewart curled up with a book, though.
“I’m outdoors from early morning til night,” she says. Most all days here include horseback riding in the morning.
Stewart, of course, is a noted animal lover. Dogs Francesca – who “writes” a blog with Stewart’s other French Bulldog, Sharkey – and prize-winning show dog Genghis Khan, a Chow, are wandering about during our visit, with a cat spotted here and there.
“It’s the cats that are the bad guys,” Stewart says. The cats include “two old guys who are lovely and sleep all the time. I have two little babies that are just naughty.”
And there are also birds.
“I have doves, and I have red canaries,” she says, stopping to check on her little creatures.
IN THE KITCHEN
If you think Stewart has seen it all when it comes to cooking tools, think again.
“Today I used a new tool, an avocado slicer.”
Anything that solves a perennial kitchen problem is desired. “I’m always looking for the new way to peel eggs, to peel a garlic,” she says. “I probably have every good gadget made. I look for that, and I design a lot of that.”
It all adds an ease when it’s time to get ready for a gathering.
“People love to eat and people love to be entertained. They love to see and experience new and different things, and I try to be one of the people who bring new and different – and delicious – things to my friends.”
Sometimes it’s the unexpected, such as a steamed artichoke filled with a cheese soufflé or a homemade ice cream enlivened with a zing of lemon curd. Sometimes it’s a traditional dish not had in years, such as the intricately made meat pie served to an elderly Moroccan guest who was as surprised as he was pleased.
“It felt so good,” Stewart says.
And that’s the power of food and entertaining, the way it can spark a memory – or make a new one.
As Stewart leads visitors into her kitchen, one senses this is the heart of her home. Despite the decidedly commercial equipment, it retains a homey feeling down to the classic farmhouse sink.
As she talks about that trip to California, which also included a stop at a farmers market, she steps up to make espresso drinks, joking that she’s now in “Martha Stewart’s Cappuccino Corner.”
Preparing cup after cup, she shares that others have sampled these same beverages.
“President and Mrs. Clinton came by one time for cappuccinos,” she says. “They loved it.”
Prompting the visit was a simple comment: “I told them I had a cappuccino maker, and they dropped by.”
Recipe and photograph courtesy Martha Stewart
Note: You don’t need a paella pan to make this meal. Use a wide, shallow sauté pan with a lid. If you are taking this dish to a party, reheat it covered; add water as needed.
Prep: 25 minutes.
Total time: 50 minutes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 (12 ounces) chicken sausage, sliced in 1/2-inch rounds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
In a heavy 12-inch sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Cook shrimp until just pink on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes (do not overcook). Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining tablespoon oil and sausage to pan; cook over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and rice; cook, stirring to coat, until rice is translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in paprika, turmeric, tomatoes and broth, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover, and cook until rice is tender and has absorbed almost all liquid, 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in peas; cook 1 minute. Stir in cooked shrimp; serve immediately.
Martha Stewart’s Paella
Courtesy Martha Stewart
Perfect for a large dinner party, this paella serves 12, but the recipe can easily be doubled to feed a crowd.
12 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 5 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons paprika
4 large tomatoes
1 large red bell pepper, cut into quarters, stemmed, seeded, and ribs removed
1 large green bell pepper, cut into quarters, stemmed, seeded, and ribs removed
2 teaspoons saffron
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups homemade or store-bought chicken stock, warmed
1/3 cup cognac
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large white onion, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 1/4 pounds calamari, cleaned and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch rings
12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 pounds short-grain white rice
16 littleneck clams, scrubbed
18 mussels, scrubbed
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 pound blanched haricot vert, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving
Place chicken in a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika; turn chicken to coat. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; meanwhile prepare an ice-water bath. With a paring knife, core tomatoes and score an X on the bottoms. Working in batches, carefully lower them into boiling water; when skins begin to split, after 30 to 60 seconds, use a slotted spoon to transfer tomatoes to ice-water bath.
When tomatoes are cool, remove skins (using a paring knife, if necessary) and discard. Halve tomatoes. Remove seeds with a spoon, and discard. Finely chop tomatoes.
Cut peppers crosswise and into 1/4-inch strips; set aside. Using a mortar and pestle, grind together saffron and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Add saffron mixture to a medium bowl and add 1 cup chicken stock and cognac. Whisk until well combined, set aside.
Heat an 18-inch paella pan with at least 2-inch sides over two burners set at medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to pan. Cook, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Season pork and add to pan. Cook, turning, until browned, about 6 minutes more.
Add peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, about 8 minutes. Add calamari and shrimp and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more.
Add rice to pan and stir to coat. Add reserved saffron mixture and let cook about 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups more stock and bring to a boil. Cook, rotating pan and stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. If rice appears dry around edges add more stock as necessary. Nestle clams, mussels, and peas into rice and add 1 cup stock. Cook, stirring occasionally, adding more stock as necessary (you may not need to use all the stock), until rice is tender, shellfish has opened, and nearly all the liquid has evaporated from the pan, about 20 minutes.
Turn heat to high. Add haricot vert, and stir to combine. Cook, without stirring, until vegetables are warmed through, and remaining liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
© 2014 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.