Martha has mellowed.
I know because we have been having lunch together. Her show is at 11 a.m., a perfect time for me to pop a flour tortilla under the broiler then, when it is brown and crispy, spread it with peanut butter. My favorite snack is not a Martha thing but she has come off her high horse considerably.
Last Friday was a good example. It was hot dogs with chili topping for Super Bowl Sunday. That's a considerable culinary comedown from the Martha I remember before she went to prison.
I gave up on her tips several years ago when she shared instructions on how to build and paint a chair rail in a barn. Then she demonstrated how to make wrapping paper and it was about five days before Christmas. I couldn't help but say, "Come on, Martha, get real."
I do believe she is getting there. She will never be one of us because she is too rich and has dozens of people to mince the onions, but I can't help watching her facial expressions and genuine smile as much as the celebrity guests who are trying their hand at pink heart-shaped meringues or whatever the subject of the day is.
The new format brings a cooking show into the talk-show circle with celebrities who chat freely. Rosie O'Donnell was a delightful celebrity. It was good to see her again. Football stars and twins Tiki and Ronde Barber were guest cooks for the hot dog number.
But it wasn't a homespun recipe or a celebrity appearance that secured my admiration for the new Martha. It was the BYOB - bring your own bulldog - party on the same show with the hot dogs. Many guests were accompanied by their pets.
Some of the dressed-up dogs performed, including Zelda of book fame. One little guy's bark sounded very much like "I love you." It was a fun diversion from cooking, especially for dog lovers.
From domestic diva, a tag the media has worn out, Martha has emerged as a gracious hostess on daytime television. That title may sound as old hat as Betty Crocker, but it's a nice fit for the new Martha.
She cajoles guests with frequent easy laughter, even when one says he hates what she is cooking.
Martha's patience and understanding as a cooking instructor is obvious most of the time, but occasionally an underlying twinge in her expression asks how anyone can be that stupid in the kitchen. That was noticeable during a segment on weddings when one guest couldn't get the hang of spreading frosting on sugar cookies and stacking them to resemble a wedding cake. The cookie pyramids were suggested as favors for wedding guests to eat on the way home.
The wedding program included tips for the upcoming season. Those of us who think all wedding cakes are of plain white cake and frosting are mistaken. Martha says the season of the year should be considered; light cakes in summer, chocolate or hazelnut in winter.
Personal reflections of Martha go back several years to include interviews and her guest appearance in Toledo and lunch in the Stranahan Theater. The salad for the lunch for several hundred people had been pre-set. What's that? Martha asked.
It was three-bean salad. I was almost too embarrassed to tell her. Now, any day, I won't be surprised if three-bean salad is featured on the TV show. It would have a gourmet twist to give it her signature. Martha is still Martha.
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