You know the type. They entertain fabulously at a moment’s notice, turn the $11 wing chair found at a yard sale into the focal point of their exquisitely decorated living rooms, and in their spare time, whip up show-stopping topiaries, elaborate birthday cakes, and prize-winning Halloween costumes. With the energy of a dozen lesser women, they’re homemakers on steroids, converts to the cult of Martha, the ones who make the rest of us feel anemic, inadequate, consumed by energy envy.
But wait, our Marthas admonish. We’re nothing like her. About the woman who, since the 1982 publication of “Entertaining,” has been setting the one impossible standard for all things domestic, Garrison Forest preschool teacher Mary Stewart growls good-naturedly, “she needs a reality check. I resent her assumption that everyone has 20 sets of china, let alone the cabinet space to store them.”
Amen, chimes in Judy Cullen, who can out-Martha Martha when it comes to showing guests a fabulous time. “She couldn’t possibly do everything she says she does by herself: gathering eggs, making muffins and training trees to grow up walls – all without even the slightest hint of exhaustion.”
“When you have a staff of 50 people and unlimited resources, who couldn’t keep 7,200-square-feet of perennial beds weeded within an inch of their lives,” adds local Martha number three, Carla Brumfield, who raises her own vegetables and cows on the family farm in Harford County.
Yet they all admit to owning at least one of her 18 books. Or to catching her on Oprah, or in the kitchen with Bryant, or on her half-hour television show. Or in the pages of her magazine, Living. Says Carla, “I hate to admit it, but I’ve learned a lot from her.” And that’s the thing about Martha. While she inspires derision on the one hand, she elicits emulation on the other.
New York Magazine delved into the Martha paradox in May, 1995. With Herself on the cover, under the nose-thumbing headline: “She’s Martha Stewart and You’re Not” (as if we needed reminding), the issue devoted eight pages to examining Martha in all her contradictory glory. She’s an American icon it declared, ” a blue-chip perfectionist” in “Schwarzeneggerian overdrive.” But it didn’t stop there. She’s “a walking Rorschach test of dissonance for contemporary women,” it continued, “a powerhouse workaholic insomniac divorcee…getting a message out about the need for balance, the sacredness of family rituals and holidays, and the importance of ‘homekeeping’ and gardenkeeping.” No wonder women I know roll their eyes when her name is invoked. Forget PMS. They talk about MSP – Martha Stewart Pressure.
And what woman hasn’t been stricken with MSP at one time or another? For me, it often strikes at my annual holiday cookie bake, when friends and their daughters bring batches and batches of dough to my kitchen to be pressed, cut, cooked, sprinkled and iced. Our Martha Stewart moment is inevitably spoiled when real-life intrudes. Like the time we decided to crown the holiday ritual one late afternoon by making gingerbread houses with the girls, just like Martha. Problem was, by then our patience had been spent. We mothers were soon wresting the little cookie roofs and gumdrop evergreens out of our daughters’ hands, intent on building the house the Right Way. The Martha Way.
“Martha has a cold image,” opines artist Sherry Miller, drawing a distinction between her friend Carla and Martha Stewart. “And that’s the exact opposite of Carla. Carla’s very sharing and giving. When I think of Martha, I think of conglomerate. When I think of Carla, I think of mother, wife, homemaker, friend.”
After meeting our Marthas, chances are you’ll be thinking the same thing about all of them. But get out your notepads first. These women are brimming with ideas and how-tos…
Queen of the Glue Gun
“Judy Cullen is sort of the-sky-is-the-limit,” says close friend Anne Croker, the alumnae director for Bryn Mawr for the past 14 years. “In terms of lavish entertaining, she walks away with the prize.”
Even a backyard crab feast becomes a Major Event under Judy’s direction, as we discover when she offers to show Style how she puts on a party. From the moment she opens the door of her sprawling rancher, which spreads out in two directions on a lush five acres in Greenspring Valley, we know we’re going to have a hard time keeping up. She’s got the drive of Arnold Schwarzenegger, all right, but also the good looks and earthy humor of Kathleen Turner.
“This is how I start a buffet,” explains Judy, decked out in blue blazer, khaki shorts, and tennis shoes, the better to run us through her magnificent home. She is gesturing toward the impressive array of objects on her dining room table, including a huge yellow tablecloth overlaid with a blue-and-white quilt, and sunflowers of every description. There are silk sunflowers, dried sunflowers, sunflower ribbons, and fresh sunflowers topping off a towering topiary.
Blue and white canisters stand at the ready to hold corn and long loaves of bread, and the blue-and-white spatterware purchased in Nantucket has been pulled out, too, the perfect “china” for an outdoor crab feast. For the actual party, all of this will be hauled to the patio, a flagstone perch overlooking Japanese-style gardens that terrace down to a dark blue-bottomed swimming pool.
Originally, the dining room ended in a long wall with windows overlooking the gardens, but now it opens right up to a sunken slate-floored sun porch. (This adds a unique dimension to the room, as well as another opportunity for Judy’s magic. But more on that later.) The setting for some of Judy’s most celebrated bashes, this part of the house is something of a shrine to her creative madnesses. Filling a sideboard, for example, are a profusion of the extravagant topiaries she sells to chi chi shops in Georgetown and Princeton. She also sold some at the Evergreen Christmas sale last year. “While everyone else was out enjoying the summer, I was in the basement gluing nuts,” she laughs. Gluing is an important skill for any self-respecting Martha, and Judy, once again, more than measures up. “She’s the queen of the glue gun,” quips Anne. “She probably owns more than anyone in Baltimore; she may be trading them on the black market.”
Judy continues to lead me through her planning process. “I decide if there is to be a theme, or if I want to use a collection, or whether it will be seasonal,” she explains. “When I begin figuring out the menu, I try to think of what will fit with the food. I thought the pink crabs would look good with the blue and yellow. Then I start pulling things out of cupboards, off of mantels, out of the attic and basement, and off the walls.”
Her whole house is a treasure trove of antiques and gee gaws. In every room there’s more than the eye can take in: blue-and-white Canton china, Staffordshire dogs, and a library’s worth of gardening and cook books. A pine cupboard in the kitchen spills over with literally hundreds of plastic eggs and a dozen stuffed chickens – we’re not kidding about this – vestiges of a chicken-themed Halloween party.
“You go, you travel, you look and see. And you collect stuff,” she says by way of explanation, adding that she’s married to an on-the-go businessman. “Once, we moved 11 times in 13 years.”
The attic alone could make a propmaster swoon. “Over here’s Chinatown,” says Judy, indicating a dozen or so cartons against one wall. She pulls out a pair of stunning Chinese figurines. “I got these at Gump’s,” she says, referring to the San Francisco import emporium. The pair made an appearance at a Chinese dinner party several years ago, one that was pure Judy, according to friends.
“Before you got to the front door, the fun had begun,” recalls Anne. “There were Chinese lanterns in the yard, and the entry had been transformed with more lanterns, an Oriental beaded curtain, and a huge stuffed peacock.” Inside, the Far East mystique of “less is more” had been turned inside out. The front hall was filled with bric-a-brac a friend had found on New York’s Canal Street. In the dining room, three tables for 10 were set for the soup course. A single gardenia marked each woman’s place. And remember the sunken sun porch? Flooded. It had become a lotus pond, complete with floating lotus blossoms, floating candles, and a fountain the center. Can you beat it?
“I tried one goldfish in it,” Judy chuckles, “but when it was found belly-up the next morning, I nixed that idea.”
“Mexico City is over here,” she continues on the attic tour, stepping around the vast collection of seashells she uses on her dining table in the summer, “spilling out of big buckets and onto mirrors.” In fact, Judy changes her dining room every month or so. “A lot of people keep their grandmother’s tureen on the table, but I get bored with the same old thing.”
The boxes of piñatas, Mexican hats, and basket burros, souvenirs of a golf weekend cocktail party, are stacked next to her Christmas decorations, enough to decorate up to nine trees for the annual Christmas Eve open house she threw when her children – Marnie, now 30, and John, 32 – were young.
“Entertaining in the ‘80s was wild and frivolous,” she muses. “Between the ages of 40 and 50 were just great years. After one party was over, I couldn’t wait to have another. And then your 50s set in, and all you want to do is play the piano and grandmother.” As it happens, Marnie is expecting, and Grandmother-to-be Judy already has an opulent nursery in the works downstairs, a worthy sequel to what friends refer to as The Wedding of the Century.
“There was not a detail that Judy didn’t have her hand in,” says Anne about the mother of all parties, Marnie’s wedding September, 1993. “The dance floor was from London, and the tent – if you didn’t have a wedding going on, you could have had a circus in it.” It was like a fairyland inside, remembers longtime friend Carolyn Beall, “with a profusion of greens and twinkling votives everywhere. And just when you thought you were ready to go home,” she adds, “something else would happen, like the incredible fireworks display.” (Some neighbors would complain for weeks about that finale.)
Unlike what we hear of Martha, though, Judy is happy to give credit where credit is due: Renny from New York helped with the flowers, Liz Nuttle did the wedding bouquets, and Classic Catering put on the lobster feast, which even Judy describes as decadent. “It’s the one time of your life when if you’re going to do it, just do it.”
But more typically, Judy does her own cooking. “It is my favorite thing in the whole wide world,” she says in typical hyperbole. “I’ve cooked with Jacques Pepin. And with Martha Stewart when she first started out. And with James Beard in Cleveland, when he weighed 5,000 pounds.”
“She’s a fabulous cook,” says Anne. “But conceptually is where she sets herself apart. She sees the whole thing in her mind, then runs around getting all the props.” Judy does big parties, Anne adds, unnecessarily. “She doesn’t do small and intimate.”
Friends say that all the elaborate props not withstanding, what really makes Judy’s parties fun is Judy. “She’s a real live wire, funny and outrageous,” says Anne. But she also proves her mettle in quieter ways, adds Carolyn: “If you’re sick, she shows up with dinner and flowers.” And sometimes more, as Anne learned when she broke her back. Judy appeared at the hospital with some “old hippy dippy sundresses of Marnie’s for me to wear over my back brace,” she recalls. “And being a person of excess, she didn’t bring two or three. She brought 15.” Would you expect anything less?
Arts, Crafts and Details
“I’m embarrassed to admit this,” Mary Stewart had told us over the phone, “But when I went out and got Martha’s magazine recently, I thought, ‘hey, stenciling your driveway could be pretty neat.’”
We’ve forgotten about this small confession on the glorious spring day that we turn up Mary’s drive. From the road, we see the Stewarts’ gracious, 70-year-old Dutch Colonial home crowning its 1 ½-acre Ruxton hilltop. Cascading down the hill in front are hot-pink and white azaleas. A blaze of more azaleas and daffodils flourish to the west, and a strawberry patch to the east – all testimony to someone’s prodigious green thumb. But it is the “garden” on either side of an otherwise nondescript bridge that signals we’re in the right place. Yellow and red tulips stenciled onto the curbsides beckon brightly.
“I’ve hated that bridge for five years,” exclaims Mary, a Breck Girl with a Pepsodent smile and Ivory complexion. She bounds off her front porch to greet us. Her generosity of spirit, spontaneity and quick wit remind us more of Mary Richards than Martha Stewart. If you didn’t like her so much, you’d hate her.
By now, we, too, think stenciling your driveway could be pretty neat. Explaining how she cut the pattern out of a sheet of acetate with an X-acto knife (an approxo knife in lesser hands), Mary whips out the round stiff brush she used to apply the paint. “I don’t know why I had this,” she says almost apologetically.
A quick tour of her house reveals the need: a handsome ivy border around the children’s bathroom; toy soldiers marching across her 7-year-old son Geordie’s pillows and walls. And the kitchen stencil, a whimsical combination of flower pots, vegetables and trowels, which for now dwells only in Mary’s fertile imagination. But, wait a minute, isn’t that where the seed for backhoeing the west garden sprouted?
She executed that plan while her husband, Bob, an investment banker, was away on a business trip. The backhoe leveled off the yard, all right, but also left a muddy cliff – one that would cost thousands to retain, Mary found out soon enough, and caused a tense “I Love Lucy” moment upon Bob’s return. But desperation being the true mother of invention, Mary quickly designed the sloping garden there now – as lovely, to be sure, as it is economical. In her mind’s eye she also sees – Heads up, Bob – a small, six-foot addition to the back of the house, the better to take advantage of the southern exposure.
But back to the real world. At our request, Mary has laid out enough samples and photographs of her work to convince even the craft-impaired that anything is possible. There are artfully woven Easter baskets for 9-year-old Ellie and her brother, painted T-shirts commemorating family trips, monogrammed baby blankets edged with lace and satin, all manner of hand-drawn stationery, and frames spruced up with decorators’ moss and dried roses. “Whenever my husband gives me roses, I hang them upside down in the basement to dry. All you have to do is follow the directions,” continues the former Sweet Briar art major, as if anyone could do what she does, “and pay attention to the details.” Yes, yes, the details.
We move on to the Southwestern watchbands Mary patterns on some she admired in the Sundance catalog. “Most of my ideas, I must confess, come from seeing something and then thinking, ‘I could do this,’” she says. But even the most enthusiastic can-do attitude is not enough without the proper tools. Remember those dental instruments Martha is always wielding, the ones that had Bryant Gumbel rolling his eyes one morning on the “Today Show,” when Martha whipped them out to carve intricate ornaments for the holiday tree? “But Martha,” he protested, “Who on earth besides you would have dental instruments hanging around the house?”
“I do,” says Mary. “I use them to make the clay beads for the watches.” Of course.
One of the many perks of being in Mary’s circle is inclusion on her gift list. Friend Kit Dale gushes over the chef’s apron Mary decorated with kitchen motifs and original verse. Ditto sister-in-law Stuart Stewart, about the watercolor of her Chesapeake Bay summer home that Mary left behind as a thank-you for a family vacation there.
“What I most admire about Mary,” says Stuart, “is that her creativity comes from the heart. She wants you to enjoy what she’s made as much as she enjoys making it.”
The children at Garrison Forest Preschool, where Mary teaches, will enjoy one of her gifts for years to come. She devoted a week of summer vacation to transforming two vacant walls into a children’s paradise. A vast meadow and stream fill one, a perfect site for a children’s picnic it turned out, with the Little Engine That Could chugging along in the background. On the other wall, familiar storybook characters climb a massive tree. Is it any wonder that her preschool colleagues began calling her Martha? Or that the News Channel 2 weekend team tapped her to orchestrate its occasional kids segment? “My angle there,” she says, “is doing ideas that everybody can afford. I was watching Martha on ‘Oprah’ one afternoon, and heard her say, ‘you take 200 roses,’ and I thought ‘200 roses!?!’” Perhaps Mary’s ideas adhere to a smaller scale, but they don’t scrimp on – all together now – the details.
A million went into her son’s recent birthday party. The invitation to Geordie’s Undersea Adventure set the tone; she and her son made them together. “We mixed blue paint, water and dishwashing liquid in an old margarine tub,” she explains, “and then blew into it with a straw until the suds were overflowing. Then we pressed the paper into the bubbles, which created a wonderful bubbly effect.” With lettering and a few fish pasted on, voila! A one-of-a-kind invitation. At the party, the kids ate tuna-fish sandwiches and dolphin-shaped pasta; scuttled backwards in “crab races,” and made placemats by enclosing fish cutouts and Easter grass “seaweed” between two sheets of clear contact paper.
But it was the cake that, well, took the cake. It consisted of an “island” cooked in a pyrex bowl, frosted with mocha buttercream and accented with plastic palms and sugar crabs (purchased at Icing on the Cake in Timonium), floating atop a sheet cake coated with blue sugar crystals.
Cake baking is central to Mary’s repertoire – and there’s a reason, according to Stuart. It has to do with the first time Mary invited Bob’s family over for dinner, before Bob and she were married. After serving up a sumptuous feast, Mary appeared triumphantly at the table carrying a yule log. “It was the piece de resistance,” remembers Stuart, “The chocolate icing etched like bark, and meringue mushrooms popping out all on a bed fresh pine boughs. We said to Bob, ‘marry her.’”
And so the Christmas yule log became a tradition, as would the cream-filled cupcake Easter Eggs, decorated with nine different colors of icing, and the Christmas coffee cake.
“Once Mary does something,” says Stuart, “it immediately becomes a tradition, because we never let her quit.” (For Mary’s sake, let’s hope Stuart didn’t see the four-foot breadstick Eiffel Tower Mary once built for a pre-gala cocktail party on behalf of the Cloisters Children’s Museum).
On the way out, we discover one more treasure – a unique stepping stone in the garden. “I did that for the [TV] show,” explains Mary. “You just pour concrete into a pizza box, have your children plant their little hands in the crying cement, and inscribe a message, like ‘Happy Dad’s Day,’ and when it’s dry, just peel off the box.” Yeah, we know, Mary, just follow the directions pay attention to the details.
Martha on Green Acres
Downshifting into second on an obscure, rutty drive outside Darlington in Harford County, we begin to imagine our third Martha, Carla Brumfield, as something out of American Gothic. The mile-long drive through the Brumfield family farm, past a herd of oblivious bovines, a big red barn on the left, and a quaint old farmhouse on the right, seems to be leading in that direction. But then, we’ve heard some things that would be a bit much for the dour-faced couple in the famous Grant Wood painting. Like the way Carla and husband Woody, a commercial insurance broker, put on a pig roast that would shame Memphis; how after first hearing from us, Carla took to calling her husband Marshall (as in “Marshall Stewart”). Then there’s the bit about cooking the Christmas ham in a pillow case.
As we pull up behind the unassuming, 20-year-old Cape Cod at the top of the hill and Carla opens the door, any remaining visions of Ma Kettle are obliterated. Carla is too cute, too petite – and talk about perky. She packs more perkiness per square inch than Kathie Lee Gifford, Katie Couric, and Mary Lou Retton combined. But her exuberance is balanced, to charming effect, by a droll, often self-deprecatory wit. “I hope you won’t be disappointed,” she had told us more than once over the phone.
Carla, it turns out, practically qualifies as a disciple. “I’d never heard of Martha until 1983,” she explains in her kitchen, a cheerful room anchored by a butcher-block island, where she is deftly twisting fresh dough into pretzels as she talks. Equipped with bookshelves, drawers, and storage space aplenty, the island was crafted by her brother-in-law, as were the French-blue cabinets. We can see right away that craftiness must run in the family.
Suddenly we feel weak in the knees, the delicious aroma from the baking pretzels reminding us that we skipped breakfast this morning. We pull up a stool and pray for a sample.
“I went to Greenwich, Connecticut, for my brother-in-law’s wedding,” she continues, “and Martha catered it.” What did she serve? “Everything in ‘Entertaining.’” Carla responds with a laugh, referring to Martha’s first book, the one that set the standard for all caterers ever after. “Huge tables of crudités, mounds of asparagus, elephantine cabbages carved out for dip, and 27,000 different kinds of bread.”
Thus began a devotion to The Martha Way, Green-Acres style. Carla tends 13 black Angus cows, four cats, a dog, and until recently, sheep. “My last knitting project was a fisherman’s sweater made from our own yarn,” she confesses. Once, there were chickens, too. “Mine laid brown eggs, not blue ones like Martha’s,” she smirks, an obvious reference to the notorious chicken issue of Living, the one that foreshadowed Martha’s Araucana house paints that sell for upwards of $110 a gallon. Still, Carla receives the magazine every month, and keeps them lined up chronologically in her bedroom bookcase, prioritized by Post-Its. “Except for the two issues my mother inadvertently threw away,” amends Carla, who did the Martha thing and called New York for replacements. “Martha has great ideas,” she adds. “The only thing I’ve ever made that didn’t turn out was her lemon meringue pie.”
In fact, Martha would do well to take a page or two from Carla’s book, like the Mennonite recipe for these yeasty pretzels now melting in our mouths. And these from an ordinary Frigidaire range, as opposed to the double-oven AGA that Martha swears by.
Yes, Carla does more with less. The same “seat-of-the-pants” approach to entertaining that had guests scampering around the countryside in a scavenger hunt 20 years ago, foraging for – among other things – chickens for dinner, still informs Carla’s style today. “Our entertaining is very casual,” she says, “and usually outdoors.” Like the croquet birthday party for Woody, which featured eight salads, all kinds of bread, and a “fish chowder we adapted from one we’d had in Bermuda.” Or their chuck-wagon dinners, where guests piled onto a big, old farm wagon (the Darlington convertible, the family calls it) and rode down to the stream to cook sausages, potatoes, and corn over an open fire.
“All their parties had to do with barbecuing a big piece of succulent meat,” recalls Sherry. “You’d drive up the driveway, and be greeted by a fragrant smoke wafting from one of Woody’s grills.” But that was before the family became cholesterol-conscious. Now, while Woody still operates on a range of six grills, including a pitmaster and a smoker, swine in all its fat-laden forms is off the menu. “We do a lot of turkey,” says Carla, brandishing a scary syringe they use to inject it full of liquid spices before smoking it, “and also salmon, swordfish, and chicken.” On the side, instead of a vatful of cheese grits, Carla now whips up a big spinach salad, or pasta primavera, using fresh vegetables, a smidgen of olive oil, and fat-free-Parmesan cheese. “We also cook potatoes out there, cut up and covered with herbs,” she adds, gesturing through the screened-in-porch to the grill area. “We might throw in some peppers – whatever’s handy.”
Around here, that covers plenty. Her big garden out by the drive produces an abundance that would keep a roadside stand in business all summer. Peas, lettuce, onions, and four kinds of tomatoes grow side by side with a dozen kinds of peppers, squash, potatoes, pole beans, and a crop of edible flowers, too. In the bay window of the family room – an addition built eight years ago to Carla’s specifications around a mammoth fireplace – there are also some 300 seedlings, including morning glories, astilbe, every herb you’ve ever heard of, and some you haven’t. “I just wish I had Renato and Renaldo here to help me dig all the holes,” she wisecracks, referring to the Brazilian brothers that Martha employs.
She also tends English boxwoods, roses, and a “wedding garden” at the east end of the house. “The rose-covered trellis is not actually rose-covered yet, but it’s getting there,” notes Carla, who is a step ahead should a home wedding actually transpire. There are three sources of hope: Tyson, a senior at the University of Delaware; Mollie, a sophomore at Dickinson; and Andrew, a high-school junior at The John Carroll School in Bel Air.
One sure sign that a family is in touch with its culinary side is if the number of dining rooms surpasses that of family rooms. The Brumfields fall into that category. (Top that, Martha!) After adding the large family room, Carla converted the old living room – encompassing the entire east end of the house – into a veritable banquet hall. Among its eclectic charms: the pastoral cornices Carla made and painted, her moss topiaries in the shape of a pig, rabbit and swan; and an almost-12-foot-long mahogany table, a “hand-me-down from my mother-in-law” that was refinished by her father (geez, this family…). Here is where the stuffed Christmas ham – sans the pillowcase in which it is simmered (“It’s my mother’s idea. It helps keep all the stuffing in.”) – is served, sliced down and garnished with the stuffing of collards, kale, onions, and mustard seed. Served on top of biscuits at Carla’s annual “get-dressed-up” Christmas party, “it is to die for,” according to friend Sherry.
This is also where 85 mothers and daughters gather round in the yuletide season, to sip tea and nibble “all kinds of Martha foods,” including tiny shrimp sandwiches and tri-colored marzipan cookies. For this, Carla brings out the antique china and her enviable collection of silver, including three-foot candelabras, engraved bowls, and dignified tea and coffee pots. She also brings her topiaries out from hiding, from underneath the Hepplewhite sideboard – which, by the way, she bought in Delaware for peanuts some years ago. (“I don’t stop at too many of what Martha calls tag sales anymore,” quips Carla. “Around here, it’s mainly Ames baby clothes.”)
Back in the kitchen, Carla is hauling out her album, a pictorial history of the furniture she has painted. By now we’ve already admired the rose medicine cabinet upstairs, with its dainty floral border climbing around glass-paneled doors; the bird house sitting on the auxiliary dining room table, “painted to look like Monet’s house,” and what looks like an antique Scandinavian corner cabinet in the front hall. “I bought that at the Unfinished Furniture Shoppe in Cockeysville,” explains Carla, “and before I painted it, I sanded it off where, if it were truly old, hands would have worn it down.”
She also makes items on commission, like the lingerie chest pictured in the album, abloom with perennials on its sides and morning glory vines creeping up the front. Others she makes to sell at the Darlington Country Store, such as the wooden sewing box, painted with tropical fish. Only that one she ended up giving to her sister-in-law as a gift. You’ve heard of giving away the store? Well, Carla gives away the stock. She also gives away her homemade jellies – strawberry, peach, grape, and hot pepper – if she’s in need of a quick hostess gift, or one of her incredible ornament eggs, blown-out and decorated. If you’re lucky, for Christmas Carla will paint your house, decorated for the holidays, on one and thread it with a fine red ribbon. And if you move, you get two. “She painted one of our old house,” says her friend Stuart Rodgers about her Windy Valley home, “and when we moved to the house we’re in now, she painted another one.” The second home is, apparently, rather grand. Says Carla, “I had to find a goose egg to fit it on.”
Where Carla really sets herself apart, though, is in the dingy basement workshop she calls The Pit. Known more formally as Greenbanks Designs, here is where Carla turns out swags and jabots, comforters and throw pillows, everything from kids’ snowsuits to a fabulous fake fur coat – so real, according to Stuart, that “we all ran up to her and said, ‘oh my God, where did you get it?’”
Crammed with bolts of fabric, this one-woman sweat shop boasts enough sewing paraphernalia to supply an entire garment district. “If she sees it, she can make it,” sums up Sherry succinctly.
With 15 jobs going on right now – between the gardening and the canning, the cooking and the painting, the farming and the entertaining – pardon our curiosity, but where on earth does she find the time? “I’ve learned how to do things piecemeal,” she says. “Twenty minutes here. Twenty minutes there.” Laughing, she adds, “Which probably means I’m ready for Martha Remedial School.” Not if our recommendation counts for anything: how about the head of the class?
Recipes from Judy Cullen
Country Potato Salad
1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil
12 new potatoes
1 pound green beans
12 strips cooked crispy bacon, chopped
8 ounces Boursin cheese
To make vinaigrette: Place pepper and garlic in mixing bowl and mash with the back of a spoon until combined. Add mustard, vinegar and olive oil and blend until combined.
To prepare salad: Boil potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. When cool, cut into quarter-size pieces and toss with vinaigrette. Boil green beans for 3 minutes or just until the beans become bright green. Refresh in cool water immediately. Cut into 2-inch pieces. Toss potatoes, green beans, bacon and dressing in serving bowl. Crumble Boursin on top.
Maryland Crab Cakes
1 pound lump Maryland crabmeat
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup parsley
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Remove cartilage from crabmeat. Mix breadcrumbs, egg, mayonnaise, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and Old Bay together well. Pour mixture over crabmeat and fold lightly but thoroughly. Form into 6 loosely packed cakes. Melt butter in skillet and slowly sauté cakes over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes.
Recipes from Mary Stewart:
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup cold water
½ cup lemon juice
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Sprinkle gelatin over water to soften. Put lemon juice, egg yolks, ½ cup sugar and salt in top of double boiler. Cook, stirring constantly until thick and custardy. Remove from heat. Stir in gelatin and 1 teaspoon lemon rind. Cool. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks, add ½ cup sugar then beat until stiff. Fold into lemon mixture, add whipped cream, fold in gently. Pour into a 2 quart soufflé dish, sprinkle on remaining lemon rind. Chill for 3 hours.
Overnight Coffee Cake
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup sour cream
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and sour cream. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg, then add to batter and mix well. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch round pan. Mix remaining ingredients, sprinkle evenly over batter. Cover and chill overnight. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until it tests done.
Recipes from Carla Brumfield
Soft Pretzels a la Crumpton
3 packages of yeast
3 cups very warm water (110-115 degrees)
½ teaspoon sugar
8 cups flour (Carla uses 6 cups unbleached flour and 2 cups bread flour)
2 cups hot water
2-3 tablespoons baking soda
coarse salt to sprinkle each pretzel
Preheat oven to 500-525 degrees. Dissolve yeast in water. Add a dash of salt and sugar. Let it stand (proof) for about 10-15 minutes. Add yeast mixture to flour. Knead by hand, in the food processor, or with a mixer fitted with dough hooks until dough is smooth and elastic. Let is rise, covered, 10-20 minutes. Break off a piece of dough about the size of a large egg and roll into a thin rope. Shape into a pretzel. Dip into a bath of hot water and baking soda. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 3-5 minutes, brush with melted butter or margarine and return to oven for about 3 more minutes. Pretzels freeze well. Reheat in microwave for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Makes about 24.
Soft Molasses Cookies
¾ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and molasses. Sift together dry ingredients. Stir into butter mixture. Roll a heaping teaspoonful between floured palms; dip ball into granulated sugar; place on cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until tops crack but do not brown. Makes 4 dozen.
Bermuda Fish Chowder
4 quarts water
2 pounds whitefish fillets
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3 large onions, chopped
8 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 green peppers, chopped
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 can chicken broth
1 cup ketchup
8 sprigs parsley
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
¼ cup dark rum
¼ cup sherry
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Over low heat, simmer the first eight ingredients in a large kettle. In the meantime, in a large sauté pan coated with non-stick spray, sauté onions, celery, garlic, green peppers. Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Simmer ½ hour. Add this mixture to the fish kettle along with remaining ingredients. Simmer about 2 hours. Serves 12.