It’s not like I grew up with it. My mom learned to cook mostly from her own mom (though luckily got an excellent pie crust education from her mother-in-law). When we moved to the US in the early 70s, I remember seeing The Galloping Gourmet and The French Chef occasionally on our black & white kitchen television, but I think they were on more for entertainment than education. Mom subscribed to the Time-Life series of international cookbooks (the hardcovers now live in my house; the paperbacks, with more recipes, continue to get a workout in her kitchen) but never a cooking magazine, that I recall.
It was after college that I started to pick up Gourmet occasionally. It was a glimpse into another world. It was like a travel magazine to me, so glossy and beautiful. I tore out the occasional recipe – and if it looked good on the page, it always turned out well– but at the time mostly just dreamed over the beautiful pictures. And that’s one small reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet; for someone who doesn’t subscribe to fashion magazines or anything else with beautiful photography, and whose nightly dinner table can get a little dull with plates of pasta, every month Gourmet showed me lovely tables I could aspire to, and reminded me to set out a vase of flowers or put the vegetables in a pretty bowl.
When I moved to California, I had more time for cooking, and although I didn’t have much money, I saved a few dollars every month to pick up Gourmet. It was always fun reading, a perfect escape from my dense graduate school reading lists. When I broke up with my boyfriend and moved into a place without a kitchen, I would amuse myself trying to make some of Gourmet’s recipes with just a toaster oven, hot pot, rice cooker and electric skillet. I made great stir fries, a fabulous (small) lasagne, and baked cookies by the half dozen. When I moved in with a roommate (partly, to be sure, because of the kitchen) we shared a subscription to Gourmet, and celebrated when she passed her oral exams with a cocktail party fueled by the magazine’s recipes. Whether for a single woman without a kitchen, or two budget-conscious grad students who wanted to eat well, those recipes always worked. And that’s another reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.
And then just as I was finishing graduate school, I met Tony, and we bonded over food. I discovered, at his mom Nancy’s house, a veritable library of cooking magazines, refreshed with new issues every month: Fine Cooking, Food and Wine, Saveur, Cooks Illustrated, Gourmet. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet by then and it was becoming a home for writers, terrific writers like Laura Shapiro and Michael Lewis and Anthony Bourdain and Jane and Michael Stern. We would hang out at Nancy’s house leafing through all the magazines and tearing out the recipes, but Gourmet was the one to read and we would talk about the essays over dinner and long Scrabble games. I remember in particular an essay by Michael Lewis that came out the month Ben was born, in which Lewis describes a trip to Masa’s for dinner with his wife and toddler. For ages afterward, I paraphrased a line from the piece (which sadly I can’t find online), “If you won’t [fill in the blank with whatever I wanted Ben to do] we’ll just have to stay at home and eat broccoli.”
The magazine was always smart, relevant, and delicious, and I routinely incorporated its recipes into our life, from cookies or savory biscotti for our annual New Year’s Day party to banana muffins for preschool bake sales. Gourmet’s vodka-spiked tomatoes came camping with us this summer, and the magazine’s roasted potato and kale salad is now one of my favorite ways to eat those two favorite vegetables. Flipping through my messy binder of saved recipes tonight, I see that over half of them come from Gourmet. Without their monthly infusion of fresh recipes, the binders will stop bursting from their seams, which is probably a good thing, but it’s another reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.
After Nancy passed away, we had her mail forwarded to our house and that meant two copies of Gourmet each month. I called the customer service people, who were happy to consolidate her subscription and mine, but there was a little confusion over the name and so it has come to me each month with her name on it. If Nancy liked something, she put her money on it, so the subscription was supposed to go deep into 2012. It was a monthly reminder of the meals and conversations we shared, and that’s the last, biggest, reason I’m sad about losing Gourmet.