As anyone who is a regular consumer of available news media is doubtless aware, there was a bit of confusion over just when Martha Stewart was actually going to be sprung. By the time you read this, it will have happened. We were told it would be sometime this week, but there was some obfuscation over the exact date and time. My own experience (and no, I haven't yet had any long-term incarceration at Rikers, just that one civil-disobedience rap, your honor) stems from having known someone who was released from prison a while ago. The authorities kept changing the date of the release. I think they do that either to throw the press off the scent, or maybe to keep the rest of the institution's population quiet.
Think about it. If there's this much furor among those of us on the outside, can you imagine what's happening with the inmates of Alderson? They must be in an uproar. Martha's leaving? Who's going to make them crab-apple jelly from fruit stolen on a grounds walk? Who's going to up their vegetable intake with wild dandelion greens? Who'll teach morning yoga class, and help them with decorative stencils for their cells? Okay, the other stuff is more or less true (or at least reported in the press) but I made up the part about the stencils. I couldn't resist. Long before her current period of infamy, Martha was an easy target for domestic humor. In the past she has occasionally appeared to be angered by that. She's mellowed, though, apparently, and perhaps developed a better sense of humor about herself. I'm sure she's well aware of being the probable subject of even more ragging and roasting upon her release.
Whatever I personally may think of her crimes (and I do think harshly of them; I'm not a fan of insider trading), I must say that I have long thought her punishment absolutely ridiculous. Why incarcerate this woman at the taxpayers' expense? Here's a person who's not an immediate danger to society (unless the population at large takes to eating the macaroni and cheese referenced below at frequent intervals, since if they do so they will collapse from carb/dairy/fat overdose). I also didn't think it likely that she would be "rehabilitated" by a prison stay. If any rehabilitation were to occur, it would more likely be the result of the sheer humiliation of exposure and bad publicity. I had a completely different plan for Martha.
As an education consultant I'm exposed to the evils of public school food on a daily basis. I'm not going to terrorize you with graphic details of the aromas that emanate from school kitchens, the sad evidence on children's lunch trays, the dreadful waste of it all. But I will say that it's not a good situation. The food is at best indifferent, at worst quite inedible and sometimes spoiled, often cold, and dreadfully lacking in dietary balance and fresh produce. And it is a simply awful reality that there are many, many children, at least in New York City, for whom the school lunch is their one shot at a real meal during the day. Given all this, I came up with my Martha scheme. Why not give Martha a community service term instead of a prison sentence? Harness all her brilliant organizational and considerable culinary talents, and put her in charge of the NYC public school lunch program! Let her contribute something to a service infrastructure instead of being a financial burden on the public. I'd be willing to wager that she would have whipped that system into shape in no time. I'm not saying she would have become Alice Waters or even Jamie Oliver, but she could have been Martha, doing something good for the undernourished bodies and spirits of schoolkids.
But I was not consulted when Martha's sentencing came due. It was probably just an oversight. In spite of that, she's apparently made good use of her time in the clink. She does indeed have a couple of sweet deals pending her release, and there'll be no lack of work for her. Not for Martha the depressing case of the released inmate who faces poor odds in the search for a decent and sustaining job. However, Martha has apparently been sensitized to the plight of prison inmates, and is going to use her celebrity to champion their cause. If, despite her different social class and situation in life, she doesn't cut, run and turn her back on her recent mates, perhaps prison's actually been something of a transformational experience. I still think my plan was the better one, however.
I've never been much of a Martha fan. To say the least, my domestic style is pitiably lacking in Martha-ness, and I don't even own a hot-glue gun. The girl does have some serious recipes though, and a goodly number of them are right out there for no charge on her website -- a refreshing difference from those pricey subscription recipe sites. So, in honor of her imminent freedom, I want to share with you my own favorite recipe from the domestic-diva-turned-jailbird.
I know you can't really tell what this is. I'm still photographically challenged, especially when I don't notice that my own big head is getting in my light. But it's an extra-large pan of Mac 'n' Cheese -- Martha's "Perfect" Macaroni and Cheese, to be exact. Here in celebration of the very idea of "release" is G's and my all-time favorite dish of creamy, starchy, cheesy, crumby, crunchy comfort food. It's basically a high-carb, high-fat (albeit also high-protein) coronary-on-a-plate, containing butter, whole milk (you could modify it I guess), and lots and lots of cheese in the sauce (I often use a mix of various types). Then there's a layer of MORE cheese on top of the mac 'n' sauce, and then a thick overcoat of fresh breadcrumbs tossed in butter. This provides excellent browning and serious crunch factor enhancement. It makes enough for 12 people, so you can cut this recipe in half if you wish. I never do. I make the whole gigantic panful for our household of two, and we chow it down blissfully over a period of several days as dinner's main course with a salad, as a side to other mains, and for lunch. I also freeze lunch containers and take it to work. I like to side it with sauteed spinach, which gives a good, green-leafy counterpoint to all that creaminess.
So whether you love her or hate her, raise a fork to Martha, and let's hope that she'll donate some of her well and/or ill-gotten gains and her considerable talent and energy to help those less fortunate, whether in prisons or schools. As she herself might say, it would be a good thing.