Dinner with Martha

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Hello, goodbye. Photo: JH.

Monday, January 18, 2021. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Mild weather for mid-January winter in New York. But nothing new; it’s getting warmer (than it used to be). Mid-30s to mid-40s; some rain to wash the streets, sometimes a little windy. Sometimes sunny and other times cloudy or overcast. But at least — because it’s not freezing — it’s good for the restaurant business and their street side tables.

The city is quiet after-hours. It wouldn’t surprise me, although I haven’t been there,  that downtown — SoHo and beyond – is bustling. A whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on; even if it’s not.

Back to last week. Wednesday I had a dinner date with Kathy Sloane. We were joined by Martha Stewart, who is an old friend of Kathy’s. I’ve known Martha for a long time now, also.  But from “across the room” to lunch and dinner partners at events.


Martha, front and center, at Kathy’s home (in 2011), with Abigail Davenport, Erin Sloane, Patrick Sloane, GK, Sloane Davenport, Charlie Davenport, Kathy Sloane, and Harvey Sloane.

I’ve seen her only once on TV (as I’m not a watcher). That was years ago. I tuned in out of curiosity since she was hugely popular for it. I had no expectations but was immediately taken by her style. She spoke quietly and clearly — a Good Teacher. You listened and you learned how easily it could be accomplished. She made everything she was doing seem possible to any viewer.

A mid-1950s portrait of the Kostyra clan: parents Martha and Edward, seated, with (from left) Frank, Kathryn, Martha, Laura, Erik, and George.

At table, Martha is very accessible. She’s just living her life like the rest of us. We talked about our backgrounds. Her family background was Polish — when Poland was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire — which ended with the First World War. Her grandfather had emigrated to this country in the late 19th century and settled in Buffalo, where he created a business for himself. He prospered, invested in the community real estate and lived into his early 90s. He left a deep impression on his granddaughter.

At table we had been talking about books. She mentioned her first. That was in the mid-70s. Since then she’s published 98 (!!!) more on her subjects (gardening, recipes, dinner parties, table settings). Of particular curiosity about her to me is her relationship to age. I’m actually three weeks older than she; to the day. This year is the 80th inning in this ballgame. Martha seemed unfazed both mentally and physically.

For the better part of 2020, she has been doing what most of us have been doing; staying home at her farm up in Bedford. I’ve never been there but I understand that it’s everything a Martha Stewart would have — gorgeous, apple pie, impeccable and wonderful. She also has lots of animals and birds in house and out.

What impresses about her is her natural ability to project an interesting and creative — and therefore optimistic — attitude about living one’s life. She’s naturally curious. Wednesday night, she was very excited that the following day she was flying out to L.A. to make a commercial with John Travolta to be shown during the Super Bowl. I asked her if she had met Travolta. She had. He has a house on the Maine Coast as does she, and she’s motored by boat down to visit him there.

Martha with her old friend, Snoop.

They were shooting the commercial in Pasadena. And after that, on the next day, she was doing another commercial with her friend Snoop Dogg. It’s for a TV special called the “Puppy Bowl,” which is slated to air around the same time as the Super Bowl. She was excited like a newcomer about it — the trip, the shoots, her partners.

We talked about her earlier career — that I was not aware of — thirteen years as a stockbroker. She had a sharp eye for stocks. She’s a big fan of Elon Musk (she considers him a genius in his work) and owns the stock; and has a Tesla which she loves.

Flash-forward: Martha in LA with John Travolta, who “was in great form!” according to Martha.

Lately, being housebound like the rest of us, she spends a few hours in the morning, studying the markets, all for making investments in her grandchildren’s accounts, and teaching her 7-year-old grandson how to look for stocks with a future. Fairly recently he came up with a company selling at $3 a share. Her grandson’s interest in it was the company’s product. When grandmother learned of his choice, which was practical and sensible (she asked him all the right questions), she bought it. It is now at $13.

She requires very little sleep. If she wakes up at 4:30 a.m., she doesn’t fret it. She’ll maybe turn on the TV and look for something interesting to see and learn about. The very early morning before our dinner she ended up watching a docu on which there was a video that shocked her. She photographed it with her new phone — top of the line iPhone 12.

She put the vid on her instagram account. I asked her how many looks it got. She pulled out her phone and looked it up. It was about 18 hours after she’d posted. I was in awe. 120,000 and counting. I think Martha was in awe too, but she’s used to those numbers obviously.


 

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I asked about her family background, just curious to get an idea of where that kind of organized perfection and energy came from. Her mother, she said, was an incredible cook and approached it the same way her daughter does. And her father and her siblings all had those qualities. Then there was her maternal grandfather who had emigrated from Poland in the late 19th century. He settled in Buffalo where his talent for making ironwork turned into a successful business. It’s the classic American success story.

From what I can gather, Martha has three residences, including Bedford. In Maine she owns the Edsel Ford oceanside estate “Skylands” built in 1928 in Seal Harbor; and the property in East Hampton. The last time I had dined with Martha (and also at Sette Mezzo as a guest of Kathy Sloane) was more than a year ago on a Sunday night in early autumn. She had spent the day in East Hampton preparing her gardens for the Fall and Winter.


Martha Stewart with her Chow Chow Ghenghis Khan and French bulldogs Sharkey and Francesca alongside her 1958 Edsel Roundup at her Maine residence, Skylands, a ’20s masterwork for Edsel Ford, and his wife, Eleanor. Photograph by Pieter Estersohn.

It turned out she’d started her day early in the morning in Bedford, made the two-and-a-half hour ride by car (and driver) out to East Hampton; worked on the grounds all days, and back to Manhattan for dinner, and then back to Bedford afterwards.

Hearing her schedule, I realized that she’d spent hours that day in the car — going and coming and going even before dinner (or returning home). I asked her how she handled all that traveling in one day. Her reply: it gave her time for paper work — on her schedules, correspondence, and projects. Never wasting a moment.

Sitting at dinner Wednesday night, covering a lot of territory in our conversation, Martha was not unlike the Martha you see on TV,  as comfortable as when she is talking about executing a perfectly complicated recipe for a delicious dinner. After our delicious dinner at Sette, Martha was the first to excuse herself. Her driver was waiting to take her on the 50-minute trip back to Bedford; she had plane to catch in the morning.


Martha playing GOZO on plane back from LA. “Two great days being creative.”

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