Lunch with Lydia: Martha Stewart has long had Miami connection

04/02/2014 7:10 PM

04/05/2014 10:44 PM

Martha Stewart has long had a thing for the 305. She rarely misses a South Beach Wine & Food Festival, each year playing a starring role as host or honoree of the most coveted events, her fans always giddy to see her and Martha always gracefully obliging in that cool Martha way when they ask for autographs or permission to shoot selfies with her.

She has attended a number of Art Basel Miami Beach blowouts, too, strolling the convention center floor by day, seemingly oblivious to all the rubbernecking she creates, and making cameos at the most exclusive parties by night.

It was just a couple of Basels ago that she let you in on a major revelation. Her relationship with South Florida goes way back — to an unexpected place. Turns out she had an uncle who lived in Hialeah, a mechanical engineer who worked for Eastern Airlines.

“I’ve been coming down here since I was a kid. My uncle used to send me these tiny Seminole dolls. I used to dream about them all the time,” she said recently, kicking back in the sun at the James Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach, latte in hand, after a day of touring Fairchild Tropical Garden. The day before, right in the middle of wine-fest madness, she managed to carve out time to check out Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.

“I had a guided tour of Vizcaya with the botanist there. It was a beautiful day. And I hadn’t been to Fairchild in a long time. It’s just so nice and there is so much happening, new buildings going up, amazing exhibits. I just love all the tropicals.”

Unlike many of the celebs who descend in winter for Basel and the wine fest, Martha regularly steps out of the glamorous fray to check out local eateries, shop the antique stores along Biscayne Boulevard just north of the Upper East Side, and tour attractions. She has a thing for the Cuban sandwiches at Three Palms Cuban Café, 11500 Biscayne Blvd., and has raved about their iced café con leche. But not as much as she has raved about the chicharrones at El Palacio de los Jugos at Flagler Street and Red Road — as downscale as a joint can be, but such a favorite spot for Martha that she once shot an episode of her TV show there.

She has such a connection to the area that you have to wonder if she has ever considered getting a place here.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m looking for three acres on the beach. No houses. I want to build three shacks, one for me, one for my daughter and one for my friends,” she deadpans.

Three acres on the beach? In Miami? Good luck. But she’s pretty serious about scouting for properties.

“OK, maybe not the beach. But on the water. Tell the Realtors. I would love to bring my boat down and grow tropicals. I’m so enamored of tropical plants. I have a collection of palms and cycads that I would love to bring down here.”

Outside on a balmy afternoon in a courtyard at the James Royal Palm, Martha seems eons away from some of the controversies that have plagued her, both the old and the more recent. She served a five-month prison term in 2004 after being found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying to federal investigators about a stock sale. But she handled being locked up with typical Martha finesse, taking to power waxing the prison floors and throwing herself into Martha-style pastimes like ceramics.

“They said you could do one ceramic every three months or something, but I sort of persuaded them that the entire nativity crèche was one project,” she told Oprah a few years back. “I had from baby Jesus all the way to the wise men. And they were large figures, and I did them all in drabware.”

Early in 2014, Martha settled with Macy’s over a lawsuit it filed against Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and J.C. Penney after the two announced a partnership in 2011. Macy’s, which claims exclusive rights over Martha Stewart-branded housewares, was not amused when J.C. Penney started carrying similar items. The Macy’s suit against J.C. Penney is ongoing, but:

“I’m happy to report that all the controversies seem to be pretty much over. We have settled with Macy’s. We have settled with J.C. Penney. And we’re set to grow again,” Martha says.

She managed to survive the rough patches and occasional Martha-bashing in the media with such elegance. How exactly does she manage to keep her cool?

“There’s not much else you can do. You learn that. I still scratch my head about the way some people in the media have talked about me. I think, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ All I do is create beautiful content for the public. Look at the cover of my latest magazine,” she says, and reaches for the March edition of Martha Stewart Living. The cover photo showcases rows and rows of macarons in a variety of colors, from lime green to hot pink.

“I don’t think the macaron has been on the cover of an American magazine before. All you have to do is follow the directions exactly. There are three ingredients, plus food coloring. And you can make them for 18 cents each as opposed to paying a couple of dollars apiece for them.”

And just like that, Martha has steered the conversation away from anything ugly.

She goes on to talk about the Ebay-based store her company runs. Called Martha Stewart American Made Market, it sells domestically crafted gifts and food items and gives most of the profits back to the creators. And she pitches her latest book, Martha Stewart’s Cakes, with more than 150 recipes for everything from a spiced prune cake to a lemon-blackberry semifreddo roll.

OK, but does she actually sit around the house with nothing to do and decide, hey, let me bake a cake from scratch?

“Just this past weekend, I baked two pound cakes for my guys on the farm. They really appreciate when I leave something for them. I usually have a freezer full of beautiful berries and things from my garden. I always have a refrigerator stocked with milk, butter, buttermilk. And when I don’t have buttermilk, I make it myself. It’s so easy to make. I made kumquat marmalade the other day. It’s harder because you have to pick out every seed with your fingertips. But I grow kumquats in the greenhouse, and we had a bumper crop.”

Surely she must cut corners somewhere? Even Martha has to have a dirty little house-making secret, no? There must be something she serves that’s storebought, out of a can, not made from scratch?

“I really do make everything from scratch. I make my own vinegar. I save the dregs of all the good wine I serve, and it all goes into a giant bottle. I just decanted this year. The mother vinegar I got from my father many years ago, and I have kept it alive.”

Even her dogs luck out.

“I buy some really great fish heads and boil them in water and then take out the big bones — they can eat the little bones — and I mix it with their dry kibble. It’s really good for them. And it’s very easy to do. I don’t buy expensive salmon for them or anything like that. Maybe bluefish when it’s 99 cents a pound. But they love the fish heads.”

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