Despite her recently marred reputation, Martha Stewart still represents perfection -- at least in terms of homes, weddings, flower arrangements and food. More perfect still, in terms of marketing, anyway, is Stewart's message: You too can be perfect, if you buy her magazine or watch her TV show and can follow simple directions.
Last summer, Austinite Kelsey August, who owns a marketing company of her own, decided to use a dessert recipe from Stewart's Living magazine for her Fourth of July dinner party. In the photo, the frozen raspberry bombe looked cool and sophisticated.
But August's problems began at her local grocery. The recipe called for nine pints of raspberries -- at $4 per pint. She scrapped the raspberries and went with blackberries, which were half the price. Another ingredient, raspberry sorbet, wasn't sold at the store, so again August improvised, choosing strawberry ice cream.
At home, she followed the 500-word recipe to a tee, that is, until she reached its last words: freeze overnight. August was dumbfounded.
"I'm mad at Martha," she told her guests later that evening. The party laughed about the "raspberry bomb incident" while sampling August's concoction, which was delicious but in no way resembled the dessert in the photo. August and her friend Sara Singer got to talking about how complicated and expensive Stewart's recipes could be.
"I'd tried a lot of her things, too," says Singer, a stay-at-home mother of two, "and they're not as easy as she makes it seem. It's probably because she has an entire staff. She steps in front of the camera and acts like she's done it all. But she has food stylists and sous chefs."
The women came up with an idea: a cookbook for the anti-Marthas of the world, with cheap, quick recipes made from simple, easy-to-find ingredients. They began to gather their own recipes, scrawled on flour-encrusted index cards, and six months later, they published Mad at Martha.
"There have to be people out there," says August, "who want to be like Martha but don't have the time or budget. We thought, 'Let's put [the recipes] we do well together and give them to women who are frustrated.' "
The cookbook contains many types of cuisine. "Both of us like all kinds of different things," says Singer, "so we've collected a variety of recipes, for Russian tea cakes, enchiladas, meat loaf, Irish soda bread "
The recipes are easy to read and fit on a single page. But Mad at Martha's biggest strength is its humor. "We tell [Stewart] what she should read," says August, "and we tell her to look away from things she wouldn't like."
The recipe for fancy hash browns, for instance, comes with this warning: "Martha would freak out. I make these hash browns with bacon on weekend mornings." The pancake recipe boasts, "Martha would be proud -- no box mix!" And on their queso recipe, the authors joke, "Martha will love this one. Two no-no's processed cheese and the microwave!"
Sometimes all it takes to attain perfection is melted Velveeta, a few veggies and ten minutes.