Sunday, November 15, 2009

What Would Martha Do?

Thanks to yesterday's downpour, we never left the apartment. What an excellent, soaking, dreary November day! I really enjoy bad weather when I can stay indoors and make decadent grilled cheese sandwiches (not the bogus kind, for a change).

It was a perfect day for napping, medicating felines, and going through stacks of magazines. Eliminating excess stuff is part of my new housecleaning routine, and I will be glad to stop wiping down my overloaded magazine basket, topped with a slippery stack of mostly unread "Martha Stewart Living, " "Real Simple," and "O." (I also get "The New Yorker," which accumulates by itself on the coffee table. And because they are cheap, I subscribe to "Elle" and "Marie Claire," which I usually toss the same month they arrive. I'm not renewing those; I've seen enough slick spreads of trendy clothing and weird shoes that cost 20 times more than I'd ever spend to last me a lifetime. I'm getting older, or smarter, or more jaded, or all three.)

Yesterday I started on a stack of "Marthas" because they seemed to be the most irrelevant in terms of my life these days. I've been a fan of Martha since the '80s, when she was just creating cookbooks. My introduction was her Pies and Tarts book, still my go-to source on those rare occasions when I'm in the mood to make pastry crust (thanks to Martha, I will never use store-bought).  Nearly 25 years later, the book doesn't seem dated; it's still beautiful, too. When I page through it, I see just how pure and unchanging Martha's message (or her "brand") has remained all these years.


This book not only taught me to make piecrust, it inspired me to collect antique silver and china — items from Martha's own collections are used in many of the photos. I sometimes think that my 19th-century Whiting and Gorham collections are the wisest investment I've made. I began by buying one fork or spoon at a time, at antique shows. When eBay came along, I went a little crazy for a couple of years. But I have no regrets.

From Martha's books and magazines, I've learned plenty over the years about cooking, housekeeping, collecting, painting (blue ceilings!), and decorating. I don't watch Martha's TV shows but I've seen a couple of segments at the gym or in a waiting room, and I'm not sure if I like that big-sister lecturing tone she uses whenever she's describing how to do something. Still I usually find something to learn or enjoy in every issue of "Living;" I tear out the articles I want to keep and stuff them into a huge folder with the plan to organize them in binders someday.

But, yesterday, the thought of constructing an elaborate meringue dessert, decorating my lampshades, or cutting out little butterflies to d├ęcoupage on blown-out Easter eggs was silly enough to cheer me up. I'd almost rather Swiffer my walls than braise a pork roast with all those ingredients and steps. With my furniture covered in ratty old sheets and the rooms bare of carpets, curtains, pillows, and throws, this is no longer a Martha-style apartment. And I have a cheap polyester fleece blanket on our bed instead of the luxurious European-white-goose-down baffled comforter she would have recommended. And we miss it. We're slumming in Martha land nowadays.

As I read, Possum napped next to me on the couch. When he woke up, he eyed the magazines suspiciously; I guess he'd rather I used my reading time for more serious, improving literature. But then he curled up on my lap, gazed adoringly into my eyes, and purred away. Reading anything with a cat on your lap is improving.

I began to wonder how Martha would handle an outbreak of ringworm at her estate in Bedford Hills. I've seen her place because our friend K. lives down the road. She has several longhaired, purebred cats, as well as dogs and horses. Ringworm is a recurring problem in many professional catteries; horses can get it, too. Imagine paying thousands of dollars for your ringwormy, pedigreed kitten or colt. At least I got mine on sale for $25.

It seems to me that Martha's first step for treating ringworm would be to set fire to the house. Her house is too big to clean from stem to stern every day the way you're supposed to, and she has a lot of outbuildings, too. Arson is an extreme step, but it would certainly kill all the ringworm, and then you could stop cleaning and focus your energy on treating the cats. Medically, I'm sure she'd follow her vet's advice and also try to add some holistic supplements, as I keep trying to do, to counteract the toxic medicines and dips. She'd probably also burn woodsy-scented candles to mask the smell of gunpowder, which is how the cats smell after they get their lime-sulfur dips.

Burning down the house really does seem like a smart idea. While Martha would have the resources to start again from scratch, I can imagine the six of us moving to a well-insulated tent or trailer down by the Charles, which I could easily hose down daily with river water — it probably has enough pollutants to be antifungal. We could get fresh, free blankets from Pine Street Inn every week, so I could burn the old ones, too. And we'd eat a lot more takeout. The cats' litter box would be the great outdoors. What more would we need? I'm really starting to like this plan.

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