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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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10.29.08

Tragic Triage

Food Memoir


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Gourmet Vintage

My wife and I subscribe to a number of food periodicals. We’ve been doing this for the greater part of our 38 year marriage. Fortunately, we’re not zealous pack rats. However, some items are harder to part with than others are. For us, food magazines top the list.

An advertisement in a late 1950’s issue of National Geographic formed a good part of my sense of the romantic. It pictured a formal but intimate living room, a military officer’s overcoat and hat draped over the couch, rainy weather seen outside through a picture window, and two wine glasses set on a coffee table. Heady stuff for an early adolescent….and over the years, it morphed into numerous scenarios. After Army service and marriage, food magazines became a great, romantic stand in for the uniform. The rest remained the same. My wife and I spent numerous afternoons, wineglass in hands, poring over the latest food mag.

Then one Sunday the inevitable happened…

“Throw them out!” said my wife, with an indignant, morally outraged touch to her voice.

I retorted: “We could give them away or sell them at our never to be held garage sale, or I could schlep all this tonnage to a recycling center?”

“No, I wasn’t suggesting that we get rid of all the magazines.”

I should note that we had somehow accumulated DECADES worth of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and a few years of other titles. They lined bookshelves in our den, the kitchen, living room, and even the attic. Aside from the collection’s sheer bulk and incendiary potential, the odds of locating a recipe other than by random chance made the lottery look like a sure thing.

The negotiations were swift. We faced the problem head on. Triage was the only viable remedy. Triage, that great ethical exercise I learned in Army medics school……the modern equivalent of the Roman Coliseum’s thumbs up/down routine. How cold, how calculating, how prudent, how necessary, and still, how tragic.

We began with some ground rules. We’d retain no more than one year of past issues. After all, with a good food website, you can locate any recipe since the dawn of man. Issues need not be thrown out in their entirety. Recipes could be saved. Theme issues had a chance (though they usually had more hype than content). We decided that the likelihood of a given recipe already existing in our cookbook collection was high. I should note that in addition to all the mags, we collect cookbooks, with over 500 volumes lining those same shelves, walls, in the kitchen dining room, and on bedside tables. There has never been or nor will there ever be a suggestion that we pare these down. After all, is nothing sacred?

So, we periodically go through our triage process. We’ve learned a few things along the way. First, several publications have taken a different editorial path. Many have become overwhelmed with ads. You know of what I speak. These ads are so seamlessly inserted into the publication that you really cannot tell where they’ve drawn the line between pitch and text.

Frankly, others, namely Bon Appétit, have fallen over the lifestyle falls in an aged oak barrel. Food had a well known high-speed collision with Ralph Lauren (crushing Martha Stewart in the process). You know the article type: The Pfeffermans are having a few dozen of their best friends over for an impromptu tapas session, or the Palmers entertain a crowd for the Oscars, or the Rabinowitzes invite the whole meshpucha over for a Reformed Jewish take on Passover, complete with exotic dishes from Eastern Europe (for Bubbie & Zaydeh) through the Sephardic cuisines of the Levant, all the way to the original recently discovered Seder menus of the long lost Sherpa Jews.

Gourmet has huge ads, but retains its dignity. Food & Wine appears to be leaning toward fluff, but at this writing seems to hang on. Cook’s Illustrated has been a favorite for some time, but I have little emotion tossing the article on the perfect bowl of Shredded Wheat, or the best nutmeg grinder. Fine Cooking is a favorite. To begin, it isn’t published monthly. Its articles are useful, nicely written, and informative. The layout is very attractive. The best thing is the detachable insert at the back cover, with about a dozen recipes reflecting the issue’s overall temper. Saveur is an occasional acquisition if the themed feature catches our eye.

Sifting through the massive collection of tabloid, I think about how our mothers both kept loose leaf binders stuffed with recipes from numerous sources…the newspaper, the Hellman’s Mayonnaise jar label, the synagogue newsletter, the homemakers’ magazines of the day, and hand written recipes passed down from mothers and grandmothers, some even in Yiddish. My wife and I retain those binders now. Our friends and we wrote and printed a cookbook for our kids. Suddenly the magazines seem a bit irrelevant. There are a lot more meaningful food related things to read with that glass of wine when it’s raining outside…

One Comment on "Tragic Triage"

We Are Never Full

you are definitely a man after my own heart. great post.



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