This morning, I noticed my old Gourmet magazines on the bookshelf and nearly burst into tears (turns out fall and pandemics make me overly nostalgic). Then I thought of all the magazines that have influenced my life and actually did tear up.
There was a time I received four magazines a month, and, all month long, opened my mailbox hoping a new issue might be inside it.
I’d stare at the cover, which inevitably showed a delicious torte or pizza pie or golden turkey, and walk down the driveway feeling like I lived the life of the reader the magazine was intended for. The kind who twirls pasta into a nest before positioning it in a pasta bowl. The kind who owns pasta bowls.
My relationship with magazines started with my mom’s copies of Chatelaine. Thinking on it now, I’m not sure if she ever sprung for a subscription or if she just splurged occasionally while in line at the grocery store, but she would never, ever throw away issues, so it always felt like we had a lot.
Chatelaine was considered the premier magazine for the fashionable Canadian lady and every self-respecting mom in Winnipeg, Manitoba, owned at least a few copies. A little bit Glamour, a little bit House & Gardens, a little bit O, it had it all, not least a photo of a glowing woman on the cover who was running a hand through her hair or perching it against her jawline or placing it on her chest to show off a shimmery manicure. Regardless of the model, the cover of Chatelaine magazine always featured a Vanna Whiteish hand.
I’d flip through the mag as kids do, turning the page at least twice a second, dramatically licking a finger, telling myself I was too busy and important to stay in one place for long.
Not so when, at age 11, my best friend Kristin introduced me to Seventeen and Sassy magazines. My god, did I eat those up, absorbing every word, staring at every part of every picture. I would wonder if I would ever look like those girls, then promptly copy their clothes, take their advice, read their most embarrassing stories.
Remember that section? Oh god. My cheeks burned for them when I’d read about their escapades with bikini tops falling down or a bird pooping on them at a park or a nose bleed during a first kiss. I would cringe while I read, but if I’m completely honest here, I would also take pleasure in the fact that these Seventeen girls had been taken down a notch.
I mean, obviously their lives were fabulous enough if they were, a), brave enough to wear a bikini, b), at a park without their parents and, c), lucky enough to kiss someone.
Possibly because my mom was always protective of my girlhood (every outing, she made a point of identifying the girls we passed who had “grown up too fast”), I wasn’t allowed to get Seventeen very often. I also knew better than to ask for a copy of Teen Beat or Tiger Beat because the answer would not only be “no,” it would be accompanied with a long explanation that would end in the statement, “They’ll make you boy crazy.”
Interestingly, when I was 16, my mom had some kind of change of heart, because that’s the year Cosmopolitan arrived in our house. I noticed it one day in the magazine rack in the blue bathroom (yes, blue sink; yes, blue bathtub; yes, blue toilet). The cover showed a wild-haired woman wearing a red-sequined top and a line of blush so severe you wondered if it had been applied with a knife. I stared at her and she stared at me and I felt worried she might jump out of the page and take a bite out of my cheek.
And that’s before I even read the headlines and turned to the juiciest pages. To quote my friend Hannah Vogel, holy hat! Now that was an education.
I’ve never been a Vogue girl, though admire people who are. I’ve never felt smart or committed enough to be a National Geographic girl. I’ll read Vanity Fair and GQ on a trip, but I won’t shell out the dough otherwise. Where I did find my footing was in reading food magazines.
At one point, I was so in love with Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet, I felt tempted to write her a squealy fan letter. That magazine taught me how to cook, it told me which restaurants to visit, it improved my own writing, and it made me feel, even if I was on the couch in our living room, like I was traveling. Even after the magazine folded and I was forced to turn to other food mags, my affection never waned.
So, with acres and acres of time on my hands these days, maybe it’s time to revisit these old issues. And turn this nostalgia into dinner.