Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Our Visit with Martha!

In June, I was notified that I was the winner of the Martha Stewart Living the Good Long Life challenge, a promotion for her new book Living the Good Long Life: A Practical Guide to Caring for Yourself and Others.  The prize was an all-expenses paid trip to spend a day with Martha at her farm in Bedford, NY.  The trip was intended for one recipient, but knowing what a massive, long-time fan my dear friend Lily is, I asked if we shared accommodations and she could paid her own airfare if I could bring her along.  The team member coordinating the contest and trip asked Martha and got approval.  This approval came through on June 20th.  I got the email while checking out at Costco, and immediately tried to get Lily on the phone.  I tried calling and left urgent messages for the next hour, then decided I'd better cool it and just wait for a return phone call.  In the evening, I got a call from Lily.  Her family was in the background as she was having a birthday celebration.  I shared the excellent news and was delighted to hear her squeals of excitement as she relayed the info to her gathered family.  I was pretty sure at the time enjoying her reaction would be the highlight of winning this amazing prize.

It took some work to find time in Martha's schedule, but the trip was eventually set to spend September 28th with Martha.  It worked out perfectly for Lily and me, is a beautiful time of year in Bedford, and also was a day Martha was hosting a garden tour/cocktail party fundraiser for the Bedford branch of the Audubon society.

On September 27th, I kissed my sweet little girl goodbye and boarded a plane for New York.  The flight was long, but I was thoroughly engrossed in THE MIDWIFE by Jennifer Worth, the book that the popular PBS series "Call the Midwife" is based on.  I arrived in New York around 8:30 PM, where I met up with Lily and a driver collected us for the trip to the Homestead Inn in Greenwich, CT.  The inn sits on a beautiful piece of property on a hillside.  The gardens are lovely and the decor eclectic.  While I would probably not stay there again, with plumbing issues, inflexible though friendly staff, and doors that stuck, I would be tempted to return to enjoy a dinner at the highly rated restaurant.

In the morning, we woke up with the sun streaming in through an ill-placed window with no shade.  I nervously prepared for the day, putting more attention to my hair and make-up than in my dating days.  Lily treated me to a posh breakfast at the inn's restaurant.  I had brioche French toast with fresh fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice.  They didn't have any music going and it was a bit awkward with the sounds of other diners munching or gulping.  Soon, though, we were completely distracted by the task of penning a.thank you note.  Lily had the foresight to bring some gifts for Martha, including Utah honey, a favorite peach syrup, and some huckleberry taffy.  We were worried about how to present it and, Ben would have laughed to see us debating how to least awkwardly get these tokens of appreciation into Martha's hands.  I'm sure our shared fear of being awkward or inappropriate is one reason Lily and I are such great pals.  In the end, we pared it down to the syrup, as we had no basket to corral the others in a pretty package.  We decided to conceal the gift and note in Lily's purse until we could leave it in Martha's kitchen for her to find after our visit.

A car picked us up and took us to the farm, where we met several employees.  Suzy, Martha's Bedford assistant; Heather, events producer; Dominic, security; Ryan, head gardener; Pierre, caterer; Lily, housekeeper; Daisy, make up artist.  It was fun to ask them what it was like to work for Martha.  The general consensus was- it starts out quite intimidating, then is exciting, though high-pressure.

The stables at Bedford, I would happily move in tomorrow!
We took a tour with Heather and felt a little overdressed, though we were later glad of our carefully-chosen attire during the cocktail party.  The tour ended at the stables, which Martha had built on the original footings.  Gorgeous!  Incredibly nice and filled with beautiful black horses.  There was a courtyard where the event, an Audubon fundraiser garden tour/cocktail party was to be held.  There was a lot of set up in progress and we jumped in and helped a bit before exploring the stables.

Helping with party prep- the event will be featured in a future edition of Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Later, Suzy came to get us send take us up to Martha's home.  Martha was making biscuits for the party in one of the most beautiful, yet highly functuional, kitchens ever.  It was spic-n-span and completely organized.  Martha greeted us warmly and offered cappuccino, she was very proud of her machine and told a story later on the garden tour about hosting the Clinton's for some cappuccinos when they were in the neighborhood.  We accepted water, Evian, and settled in at stools at the island to chat and watch Martha make the biscuits.  She made baking for a party of 150 people look like nothing.  Martha gave some tips like blending part of the flour into the butter in the food processor then mixing it into the rest of the flour, and to make your own buttermilk with vinegar and whole milk.  She gave Lily a taste from the same spoon she had tasted from and I thought Lily would burst!

Daisy, Martha's makeup artist of 4 years, was there and we all chatted easily.  They were really fun!   Martha was incredibly gracious and welcoming.  They had been to a birthday party for her daughter, Alexis, 46, the night before and were discussing it but still included us.  Martha showed us all pictures from the party and boy does she have some beautiful grandchildren!

Martha is a lot like what you see on TV, a very genuine person.  She is very direct, but also very warm.  After learning Lily was from SLC and I'm from Boise, she asked "Are you Mormons?", and asked me, "Are you pregnant?" (a somewhat risky question at the 16 week mark, though the twins are growing fast!)  Another example of Martha's straightforward nature came when Daisy asked if Martha thought that her date to the party was attractive. "No." Was the honest reply.  It was pretty funny.  Side note- her daughter has 5 nannies!  What a life!
After whipping up the angel biscuits (see Martha's video tutorial - she doubled the recipe for the party of 150), Martha served up the lunch she had made us: lamb shanks, green beans from her garden, and stuffed bell peppers.  It was beautiful as it was delicious.  I sat next to Martha, while Lily and daisy sat across.  We chatted about lots of things including our favorite TV programs.  Martha is loving Homeland right now.  We all agreed The Walking Dead is too gory.  I was the only Breaking Bad fan, though I gave a rousing defense of the series.  We all loved House of Cards.  I asked Martha if she knew when the new season was starting and she replied, "Oh, I just saw Kevin Spacey last week playing tennis and asked him that same question.  He said sometime next year".  Crazy!  Martha told us all about her neighbor, billionaire George Soros, and his lavish three-day wedding where he flew in the Hungarian orchestra and Hungarian gypsy dancers.

After lunch, Martha needed to run the biscuits down so she asked Daisy to treat us and do our make-up.  Oh, this whole time Martha was in her workout clothes and make-up free!  (thus our lack of pictures of the lunch and live cooking show).  Daisy took us on a tour of the downstairs of the house.  We saw Martha's doves and canaries.  The cats were in hiding.  The dogs were so cute and well-behaved.  Martha's home was really lovely and classic.  It is monochromatic in this lovely green gray (Bedford Gray in her Home Depot paint line).  Daisy took us down to the basement, which held a laundry room, a large storage room, a craft/gift wrap room, and a make-up station.  There was a lady doing laundry.  Daisy took us to the make up area. It was loaded with products people send Martha, as well as ones she loves.  While Lily had her face done, I checked out the adjoining store room with neatly arranged boxes of crafting supplies and an organized gift wrap station.  Then
Daisy did my make-up.  She told us all about life working for Martha- lots of travel and excitement!  She asked about how I met my husband- I smiled because this was one of my big conversation starters when I was a missionary.  I told her our story and she wanted to see pictures.  She proclaimed Ben handsome and Cady adorable.  The make-up was heavier than I was used to, but we looked gorgeous and were ready for the party.  Just in time too, because Martha came down and needed to get dolled up so Lily and I headed off to join the gathering Audubons.
Handsome Ben and Adorable Cady

Martha's Canaries

Martha's Dining Room

Francesca fell asleep sitting like this on the back patio.
Post-Makeover, in the butlers pantry

A view of the impeccable kitchen.

Genghis Khan taking a nap

A view of the stables from the back door.

We took our time strolling there, admiring the gorgeous views and scenery.  We walked by the peony garden, through an allee of trees, and recapped our favorite portions of the day so far.  Once with the group, we were gathered with the VIP segment for a garden tour led by Martha.  She had her chow chow Genghis Khan on a leash while Francesca and Sharkey roamed free.  The tour made us look at the garden with new eyes as Martha talked with passion and love.  She purchased the farm 12 years ago in dilapidated state and renovated it into something akin to paradise.  There were lovely boxwoods, stately trees, pastures, an apiary, greenhouses, flower and vegetable gardens, a shade garden, a tropical courtyard garden, and much more to tour and admire.  It was wonderful and my pregnant self didn't mind the long walk- thanks, body!- and I ignored my aching feet.

The view from Martha's back door.

A photo of the cider we enjoyed being made.
The hour long tour ended back at the beautiful- I cannot fully stress these gorgeous buildings- stables and we rejoined the party.  Martha had mentioned at the cider served was picked from her apples and pressed the day before.  We tried it, it was very good and garnished with thin apple slices.  I also had water during the evening, sparkling Pellegrino with lime, and the bar tenders and waiters were all gorgeous.  The event was a fundraiser with many donated items, including the best macaroons Lily and I have ever tasted.  I had a pistachio and a raspberry and wished I had room to try the others.  There were sugared salty almonds, and cheese sticks at the bar.  There was a table of cheeses, crackers, and quince jelly.  There were two more dessert tables with delectable looking offerings, though I was only able to find room for a mini cookies-n-cream cupcake.  There were passed hor d'oeuvres (did you know if you run a google search of 'hor d'oeuvres', Martha's site is the second result? She is truly the expert!) as well.  One tray had toast bits with various toppings. I tried the chicken salad- just OK, and this soft cheese and beet combination topped with a sugared walnut- amazing.  There was one server who always made sure to come by the pregnant lady.  I didn't want to discourage this, so always took something, and so enjoyed several of these treats throughout the evening.  The hot tray that went around had spicy corn fritters- a bit greasy but very good; potato latkes with applesauce- yum!; the biscuits Martha made filled with sliced ham and her homemade mustard- very good, and so easy to do!; crepes with aged cheddar- I love the sweet and savory options; butternut squash soup with croutons; and, the very best offering, sliders made from grass fed beef- out of this world good!

   Side note: The sliders were very popular.  Lily and I were determined to try them after hearing the buzz about them, but that proved difficult and they quickly disappeared from the passed trays.  There was a funny lady who had these made and delivered to her personally at her seat, after asking the waiters in a loud but not rude tone "What do I have to do to get a slider?  Go to the grill and make one myself!?"   At one point, as the speeches were about to begin, Lily and I thought we'd finally get to try some- two left on a tray headed right for us!  We headed for the tray, only to have this funny lady hop up from her seat, race up, and grab them both!  One was shoved directly into her mouth (no, these were not bite-sized), and the other jealously hoarded until she was done chewing the first.  I had to cover my mouth, first opened in shock at how quickly this before completely sedentary lady had scampered, and then to keep my laughter silent to not disturb the speeches.

The speech portion was interesting, but one part stuck out that showed Martha's sense of humor.  A man shared a story of being called up for jury duty.  He explained how the form asked about the magazines he read, and he put 'Martha Stewart Living' down.  When the judge saw, she said "Oh, I love that magazine!  Did you see October's issue?"  "Those pumpkins were fabulous! -  Hey... does this mean I get out of jury duty?"  "Oh no, buddy, you're family now!"
Martha pipes up, "Well that wasn't my judge!"

The table Lily and I helped set up.
Ramon made quite the fuss during speeches.

The food was delicious, the service excellent, and we were rubbing elbows with some very friendly, bird-loving hoity-toits.  We really enjoyed our evening and ended it with pictures with Martha and I had her sign my book.  We walked back up to the main entrance in a daze, where a car was waiting to return us to the Homestead Inn.  Martha had been upset that our trip was so short and that they had not scheduled us for a day in the city to see the offices there.  Heather let us know if we are ever in New York again to send her an email and she'd set us up with a tour, so we were left with not only a wonderful day of memories but also something to look forward to. 

Breakfast at the Homestead Inn before heading to the airport.

The Homestead Inn's lovely porch.

What I get to come home to!

Martha's blog post:  http://www.themarthablog.com/2013/10/i-hosted-the-bedford-audubon-societys-centennial-celebration.html


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