Seasons by the Sea: Martha Came Calling

It is a very good book, well illustrated with recipes ranging from simple coffee cakes to a more elaborate chocolate truffle cake
Lemon fig cake is one of the simple and easy-to-execute recipes included in Martha Stewart’s “Cakes.”

    This is the saga of an attempt to get an interview to publicize a cookbook for the benefit of an author who approached The East Hampton Star for said story in the first place.
Martha Stewart, or more accurately, the editors at Martha Stewart Living have published a book called “Cakes.” It is a very good book, well illustrated with recipes ranging from simple coffee cakes to a more elaborate chocolate truffle cake. There are bundt, tube, cheese, and layer cakes. Some recipes are charmingly old-fashioned, such as the blueberry buckle, and some are modern and more sophisticated like the Meyer lemon coffee cake and blackberry cornmeal cake. There are some gluten-free recipes and a few that can be converted to kosher for Passover. The illustrations for techniques are very user-friendly, not intimidating at all. Ingredients and technique are so important in baking and this book is very thorough and helpful in listing the best of the former and easiest of the latter.

    Given the choice between an actual interview or an e-mail-submitted interview, any journalist will take the real-time interview. It is spontaneous and more revealing. One question or answer can serendipitously lead to another and so on. E-mail answers to questions can often be a bit stilted, too literate, just not the same. So I was delighted that Martha’s people offered mea 15-minute interview over the phone.

    With some fairly innocuous, softball questions at the ready, I eagerly awaited the appointed time, 2 to 2:15 p.m., but with an open window until 3 on a Monday in September. A friend called me earlier in the day. “Your interview will probably be canceled! Have you seen today’s Page Six of the New York Post?!” No, I hadn’t, I don’t read that crap, but that day I did. Indeed there was a snippy item at the top of the page about Martha and a tawdry alleged affair with a married fellow in East Hampton and blah, blah, blah. At 2 p.m. on the dot, my interview was canceled. This was distressing to me, as I had traveled into the city that day, blown off a lunch date with my only child, and scheduled a much later Jitney bus to accommodate the timing of the interview with Martha Stewart.

    Her people were very apologetic and assured me it would be rescheduled. It never was, but then they/she agreed to an e-mail interview. I submitted my fun questions. Long story short, three more deadlines were missed. My editors and I gave up completely and moved on. Then, out of the blue, came a reply. It appeared that Martha had cherry picked through my questions, answering only 5 out of 12, and most assuredly not answering the most interesting and revealing of them. Sample: “This is a question I ask all of my chef and foodie friends: What would be your last supper?” And, “Considering your life and career up to this point, what would you most like to be remembered for?” “What is your daughter’s favorite birthday cake? What is your favorite cake?” Some answers I received: The chocolate cake on the cover was chosen because “it’s beautiful and delicious and anyone can put it together ‘from scratch.’ ” Her favorite cake is lemon meringue. She dines at Nick and Toni’s and La Fondita. She supports “the local small farmers and gardeners that use fresh locally-sourced ingredients.”

    This entire process of being courted by a person (or her people) who wants your paper to give her publicity, thereby making her more money, and then being blown off numerous times got me to thinking. How hard is it nowadays to reach an ultra-famous, super-busy, accomplished person, and get him or her to answer your questions? I gave myself a challenge. As Martha chose not to answer “What is your daughter’s favorite birthday cake?” and this made me very sad, I thought I would put that simple question out into the atmosphere.

    A friend of a friend of a friend knows Jeff Bezos’s mother, Jackie. We wrote her an e-mail asking what Jeff’s favorite cake is. Keep in mind, these people have no reason to reply, they are not promoting a cake book or asking our newspaper to interview and write about the author. F.Y.I., Jeff Bezos is the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon.com, just bought The Washington Post, and is on the Bloomberg Billionaire Index as one of the world’s wealthiest people. His mom wrote back within 12 hours. “I don’t know what Jeff’s favorite cake is actually. Think it has changed since he was little. He had four kids so birthday cake is a frequent offering. You could ask Jeff [his actual, personal e-mail address inserted here] or I could forward for you.” Within 24 hours we got an answer from Mr. Bezos himself: “Zebra cake. It also might be the easiest cake in the world.”

    Thank you, Mr. Bezos, for being human and accessible and taking the time to answer a simple personal question. Thank you, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia employees for doing your best.

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