Domestic Insight: Made to Measure

Consult any cookbook written prior to 1945 and you will likely be slightly mystified by the measuring units: a jigger of milk, a teacup of flour, a dessert spoon of sugar and a wine glass of water. While it may not sound terribly accurate, generations of women baked using these 'heirloom' measurements with, presumably, fairly successful results. (For a full heirloom measurement conversion chart, click here.)
The standard measuring-cup units we use in modern cookery today were founded by an American named Frannie Farmer in 1896, although it took decades for this system to be adopted worldwide. That year, Farmer, who was then the director of the Boston Cooking School, authored The Boston Cooking School Cookbook using these new measuring concepts - the first time they were published. Once the new system took hold (by the Mid-20th Century) manufacturers began to make standardized measuring cups and spoons for home cooks in a variety of materials.
Measuring cups today are an essential kitchen staple needed to carefully measure ingredients for baking and cooking. Few kitchens are without sets of measuring cups and measuring spoons. These 'cups' usually come in a set of 4 with different measuring units. The different measurements usually range from 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup to ¼ cup. Odd-measure cups are also available: 2/3, 3/4, and 1.5 cup sizes. They are used for measuring both wet and dry ingredients and come in a variety of shapes and colours.

Stainless Steel Measuring Cups – Stainless steel measuring cups are both durable and easy to clean. They are also dishwasher safe and retain the temperature of the ingredients being measured very well. These are my personal favourite and ones that I personally recommend for all the reasons stated above. They are utilitarian and sturdy. The ones shown above are from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy's and include the measuring spoons.

Plastic Measuring Cups – Plastic measuring cups are the most popular on the market today. Their low cost and availability make them almost ubiquitous. They are dishwasher safe, easy to clean and durable. They were introduced in sets similar to the ones shown above in the 1940s and often come in exuberant colours - a nice feature when trying to visually distinguish between measurements. Many silicone varieties today are heat resistant.

Ceramic Measuring Cups - Ceramic measuring cups are more decorative, but are still functional. They tend to be novelty pieces, such as the ones shown above from Anthropologie. They are easy to clean and dishwasher safe but are fragile and heat-sensitive - their biggest drawback. They can shatter when dropped or crack when exposed to extreme temperatures. They often come in very pretty, whimsical designs and can make a nice addition to a countertop or an appropriate gift for a collector of kitchen gadgetry.

Wooden Measuring Cups – Like their ceramic sisters, wooden measuring cups are mostly decorative and are not very commonly used. They were introduced in the 1970s but fell out of favour. Frequent use and dampness can cause the wood to crack or become warped with time. They are also more challenging to clean.
These stainless-steel measuring cups by Williams-Sonoma are my personal favourite. They are professional quality and come in every size you might need - both standard and odd measures. I love their wide, curved handles that are comfortable to hold, and they won’t bend as you scoop dry ingredients out of a canister. Flat bottoms allow the measuring cups to rest securely on your countertop  for easy filling. Capacities are listed in both U.S. and metric units on the handles and they are all made with 18/10 stainless-steel construction. Click here to see more.


Martha Stewart Living - my "Non-covers"

Even as a child, I used to enjoy playing with other people's things: my dad's tools, my mom's baking utensils. As an adult, little has changed. I enjoy the art of repurposing and reimagining, which is probably why collage remains one of my favourite art forms. As a fan of Martha Stewart Living magazine, I love rethinking the beautiful covers and coming up with my own ideas for the ideal cover image, something that hints at the content inside without being literal. It's something the editors already do very well and perhaps I am bold enough to think I can play along. It's a fun little passtime. Some people play Angry Birds, I redesign Martha Stewart Living covers! Below are five covers that I came up with recently. Let me know what you think of them!

I was always a little sad that the editors of Martha Stewart Living never put together an article index for the 2000 -2009 decade. The index the editors issued for the first decade of the magazine's publication is a treasured collector's item today. This is my imagined cover for the second index volume.


Eat Clean

Several weeks ago, MarthaStewart.com introduced a new section on its website featuring videos that demonstrate recipes for healthy meals, snacks and beverages. The new video series is called "Eat Clean" and it coincides with the newly-renamed section in Martha Stewart Living magazine; what was once the Healthy Living portion of the Food & Gathering column has now been renamed Eat Clean.
The online how-to videos are hosted by Shira Bocar, a Martha Stewart Living food editor. A graduate of New York University, Shira received a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography and art history in 2000, as well as a Culinary Arts Diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City in 2002. Before joining Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 2004, Shira cooked in restaurants and worked as a recipe tester. Her favorite ingredient is olive oil, and she can't live without freshly ground black pepper at the table. Born and raised in Oklahoma, she now calls Brooklyn home.

I have really been enjoying this video series. The recipes are so delightfully simple and uncomplicated to prepare, yet they don't skimp on flavour. They're also extremely nutritious and perfect for anyone who is looking to eat a more health-conscious diet. (Try the strawberry and grapefruit smoothie! It's so delicious!) Click here to see all of the Eat Clean videos so far. You're likely to find something intriguing to make.


Remembering: Martha's Westport Television Studios

Westport Digital Studios, Inc. in Connecticut was leased by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from 1998 to 2004. The studios were housed in a 1929 office building and warehouse, which Martha converted into one of the most beautiful television studios ever built. Prior to leasing this building, Martha filmed her television show on her personal properties: Turkey Hill in Connecticut and Lily Pond in East Hampton. Her private kitchens and gardens were the backdrop to her teaching segments. The new space, however, allowed Martha to greatly expand her television production team. 

The studio included three sound stages, a broadcast-ready control room, a shoot-ready prep kitchen with stainless work surfaces, radio broadcast facilities where her Ask Martha segments were taped, editing suites, offices, a guest cottage for overnight housing, an on-site gym featuring an entertainment system, a cafeteria and 8.5 acres of wooded grounds, aesthetically maintained for outdoor filming with multiple barbecue grills. Two primary kitchen studios were designed to film the cooking segments; Studio B was based on Martha's kitchen at Turkey Hill Road and Studio A, shown below in the top photograph, was based on her Lily Pond Lane kitchen on Lond Island. Studio C featured the 'home' vignettes: a living room, two dining rooms and a craft room. All were all designed by Martha to replicate rooms in her own homes.

The studio spaces were designed by a company called Meridian Design Associates and built by contractor Structure Tone Inc., a construction firm that operates across the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia. Structure Tone worked with Martha and her production team to ensure all of the requirements were met to Martha's exact specifications. On its website, Structure Tone breaks down the design:

The new 32,000 square-foot space included two 2,000 square-foot stage kitchens, a 1,000 square-foot prep kitchen, a 500 square-foot commissary with seating for 40, fully equipped gym and post production and office support facilities. Representatives of Martha Stewart Living preferred natural gas instead of electric or propane for cooking purposes. Since natural gas was not currently in this area of Connecticut, our staff worked closely with Yankee Gas to bring the service to the building to supply the kitchen equipment and new HVAC system. In addition, Ms. Stewart requested the ability to change the kitchen set-up in the main studio. With all the necessary hook ups for kitchens, including connections for gas, water and vent lines, our staff installed six separate valve locations under the studio floor. These lines facilitate quick and easy changes to the kitchen layout.

You can watch Martha give a tour of this space by clicking here in an episode of Martha Stewart Living from 1998. I would like to thank Joseph Patz for editing this video specifically for this post and for your enjoyment. I think it is a treasure to have this video link. In it, Martha takes you through the studios, inch by inch, drawer by drawer. It is a marvelous tour. Thank you again, Joseph!


Happy Fourth of July!

I would like to extend warm holiday wishes to everyone south of the Canadian border today! I rarely share blog statistics, but I will tell you that 90% of the traffic Martha Moments receives is from the United States. I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable Independence Day as you celebrate your nation's 238th birthday. Below is an image from a 2000 copy of the Martha by Mail catalog. I was enchanted by the flags and swags on that perfectly American white picket fence. Enjoy your day!


Domestic Insight: Drying Laundry on the Line

Drying washing on an outdoor line has been done for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest and most widely-used domestic chores, practiced in nearly every culture around the world. From the moment human beings began to wash their garments, they began to dry them outdoors. I have very fond memories of helping my grandmother hang the laundry on the line when I would spend summer days there as a child. As soon as the warmer weather arrived and there was no risk of showers or damp, my grandmother would begin hanging her clean laundry outside to dry in earnest. Clothing, towels, bed linens and table linens were all strung up with those old-fashioned wooden clothespins in her backyard. Summer is the perfect season to adopt this cost-effective, energy-saving practice. Not only is line drying an easy and effective way to save energy, by reducing electric dryer usage, but it also has many benefits to the clothing itself. The sun acts as a natural brightener and actual outdoor scents (as oppose to synthetic ones) will give your laundry a bonus boost of freshness. Below are some exerpts from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook on how to line-dry laundry.
Anything that can be tumble dried can also be dried on a clothesline or drying rack. If weather and space permit, outdoor drying  is best. But for apartment living, during the cold, wet months, and for items that might fade in direct sunlight, the basement (if not too damp), attic, utility room, or in a pinch, the bathroom are all appropriate places for air drying laundry. Store-bought wooden or plastic-coated wire racks are handy for this purpose. Wherever you dry clothes, you'll minimize wrinkles by folding directly from the line or rack and placing the laundry in a basket or tub before putting it away.
Outdoor clotheslines should be hung as close to the laundry room as possible in a space with a four-foot allowance on either side to keep the clothes from snagging on branches or rubbing up against the sides of fences or walls, which may be dirty. Clotheslines should be long enough to accommodate at least one load of wash - about 35 feet is optimal - but not much longer than that, or the weight of the wet laundry may bring the load sagging to the ground. (All clotheslines will eventually stretch out, so you will occasionally have to remove it and tighten it again.) A spot that gets generous sun tempered by periods of occasional shade is ideal.
The most common types of clotheslines are plastic, nylon and cotton rope. All will need to be changed if they develop mold or mildew. Cotton lines are the most prone to mildew and mold growth, but they are very sturdy and provide a good gripping surface for the clothespins. Nylon lines are lightweight, water- and mildew-resistant and very strong, but their slick surface can make fastening clothespins a challenge. Plastic lines with wire or fiber reinforcements are generally stretch-resistant, waterproof and inexpensive. However, dirt can often cling to plastic lines so they will need to be wiped off occasionally with a damp cloth.
Laundry will dry faster and with fewer wrinkles if a breeze is allowed to pass through it, thanks to strategic hanging standards. There are two basic kinds of clothespins. One is simply a split piece of wood that slides over the fabric and the line, fastening them together. The other type works like a pair of scissors, with a hinge that allows it to pinch the fabric and the line together. Which type you use depends entirely on your preference. Here's how to hang laundry effectively:
Hang clothes upside down to avoid stretching the material where it might be most visible, such as the shoulders. To avoid leaving clothespin marks on a cotton sweater, thread the legs of an old pair of pantyhose through the sleeves and pull the waist of the hose through the neck. Pin the clothespegs to the feet and the waist of the pantyhose rather than the sweater itself. This will allow the sweater to hang freely. Turn coloured or dark items inside out to avoid fading from the sun. A few hours in the sun is not likely to adversely affect them, but they can fade if they are left in full sun all day.
Instead of draping them over the clothesline, fold these large items in half and pin the corners of the hem edge to the line, allowing the fold to hang open at the bottom. Then, in between those corners, pin each hem to the line separately, creating gaps at the top to catch the breeze.
Drape the short end  over the line so it overlaps by three inches, then clip. You can reduce the stiff texture towels acquire on the line by giving them a few sharp snaps just before pinning them to the line and once again before folding them. Alternatively, you could add 1/4 cup of white vinegar or baking soda along with your laundry detergent during the wash cycle, or remove them from the line while they are still slightly damp and place them in the dryer for a few moments before folding them.
TIP: Periodically hanging your pillows and cushions on a clothesline will freshen them and minimize the need to wash them. Before hanging them, aggitate them gently with your hands to release dust. Repeat this when you take them off the line.


Book of the Month: Cookery Illustrated (1936)

Looking for a great recipe for Roast Ox Heart? How about for Calf's Head? If so, the 1936 edition of Cookery Illustrated and Household Management by Elizabeth Craig has got you covered. Truth be told, it also has some of the simplest and most effective recipes for anything you could ever dream of cooking at home, along with timeless and useful tips on keeping your home running like a well-oiled machine. As someone who is interested in the history of the domestic arts, and the art of a well-written cookbook, I decided to choose this long out-of-print book to highlight as this month's pick. Searching out old domestic manuals like this one at flea markets and used-book stores can be extremely rewarding, not simply because the books are excellent records of how households used to be run but also because they contain some very good ideas and recipes, actually.
My copy of this book came to me from my mother, who inherited it from her mother, who inherited it from hers. Knowing this book has been in my family since its publication in the late 1930s in England makes it all the more special to me. It has been very well used over its 80 years and I love that the cover and many of its pages reveal the evidence of its use through faded sauce stains and pages that have notes scribbled down with pencil: "keep at a low simmer for longer," reads one note on a recipe for poached eggs.
Since the book was published before photography was widely used in books such as these, there are illustrated examples of some of the dishes, which are really charming. Hand-painted depictions of a freshly-baked pie or a row of jelly moulds really add to the book's vintage allure.
Many of the book's suggestions and much of its information are outdated and not useful to the modern-day homemaker. Few of us, for instance, need tips on how to reduce our coal bills. Nor are many of us searching for how make Creamed Sweetbreads. But these glimpses at bygone domestic needs are fascinating. The majority of the information and how-to presented in the book, however, does stand up today. There are very helpful stain-removing tips at the back of the book and an enormous amount of recipes (many of them sound extremely delicious) that require only the most basic of ingredients. Times then were tough, after all. Their simplicity and purity makes them intriguing.
The book is a vast tome, almost biblical in scale, with 760 pages of content and indexes. It is divided into several chapters and subsections, including cooking methods, cooking in emergencies, cooking for the invalid and infirm, household management, home remedies and household tips. There are vast chapters devoted to various types of foods: meat and poultry, vegetables, preserves, sauces, fish, salads and dressings, pastries and puddings, ices, cheeses, biscuits and cakes, etc. Each section is filled with dozens of recipes - most of them unillustrated.
Martha Stewart referenced many books like this when she was gathering research for her book The Homekeeping Handbook. In her foreword, Martha writes:
"Always fascinated with vintage books on all subjects having to do with home and garden, I found Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management especially charming and curious...So fascinated was I with Mrs. Beeton that I wondered if authors in other countries had espoused similar treatments of 'household management' and I started looking...To me, these books were unusual and actually cutting edge in the way they treated the subject matter of the house, the home and living in general. It was enlightening to find out that these books were very, very successful, some selling millions of copies to avid homemakers in need of help in establishing, running and maintaining households."
Martha's enthusiasm for these kinds of books mirrors my own. I now proudly keep Cookery Illustrated next to Martha's Homekeeping Handbook on my bookshelf and I'm hoping that I'll find similar books on these subjects as well.