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True Confessions of a Gourmand

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I confess. I am the pea shoot who broke the giant's back.

Earlier this week, as Conde Nast Publications declared Gourmet magazine, the grande dame of gastronomic glossies, toast, I experienced guilt.

No, I had not been late night snacking on fistfuls of Ghirardelli chocolate chips, but I did cancel my subscription to the 68-year-old magazine back in 2007 after a decade-long affair.

Now let me explain.

I love good food and good living. In this, my Iranian, not Anglo or American side, formed me. Persian epicurean culture goes back centuries. A mistake the former Shah made in 1971 when marking the 2,500-year anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire was having Maxim's of Paris do the banquet. Trust me, the international heads of state in attendance would have been far more impressed by an authentic Persian feast.

Growing up I ate well, but I did not cook.

Gourmet magazine put me barefoot -- and later pregnant -- in the kitchen. My husband Ron and I fell in love with each other over fine food. For us, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night opener "If music be the food of love, play on ... " read "If nosh be the food of love, eat on ... " Smitten, we subscribed to Gourmet and cooked up a storm.

Crab Cakes with Tomato Ginger Jam, Bacon-Wrapped Cornish Hens with Raspberry Balsamic Glaze and Lemon Poppy Seed Tartlets made for a midsummer night's dream. Just as Roasted Squash Soup, Flank Steak with Sauteed Portabella and Cremini Mushrooms, and Chocolate Souffle bespoke of perfection in a winter's tale.

A favorite Gourmet issue of mine remains March 2001. My copy is ribbed, food-stained, folded in multiple corners. At that time, Ron and I -- and our baby boy R.J. -- lived in Mississippi and belonged to a supper club. Four couples, rotating monthly dinners. Our first spin as hosts delivered from my beloved Paris issue: Cream of Asparagus Soup, Salmon on Salt, Raspberry Tarts, Mesclun Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette, Assorted Cheeses.

What happened to Gourmet? According to Mediafinder.com, an online database of North American periodicals, more than 300 titles have vanished in 2009. In 2007 and 2008, 1,200 or so publications folded. As well as Gourmet, others that shut down this year include Domino, Cookie and Country Home. Experts say declines in readership and ad revenue are to blame. I can only explain how Gourmet's circulation stood at 977,000, not 977,001.

I stopped subscribing to Gourmet, because our life changed.

My son R.J. grew, our family got a lot busier (especially after moving to the Washington, D.C. area) and our food tastes evolved in tangents.

The Internet blew the lid off the pot.

Just last night I made shrimp scampi after browsing recipes on Google for mere minutes. I served it on a bed of frisee lettuce.

Our new reality: Ron did not want to eat the garlicky shrimp because he had an important meeting the next day and justifiably did not want to reek. He also choked on a pesky frond and had to leave the table. R.J. took one look at the greens and said, "I'm not eating those weeds!"

I find that even the Gourmet magazine sections I have time for from my last issues -- Every Day Kitchen, Five Ingredients and Ten-Minute Mains -- contain recipes that simply would not fly. I cannot imagine talking my family into Peanut and Tomato Soup, Vegetable and Tofu Red Curry, and Chai-Poached Apricots and Plums. Cooking takes effort and time. There has to be a pay off. Let us call it dinner.

The other thing is Gourmet lost me.

Not so long ago, their artfully photographed food drove me to wield spatulas and skillets. I recall my sister comparing the cover of the 2002 Thanksgiving issue to our dinner. "It looks just like that," she said, pointing to the Plum-Glazed Roast Turkey with Kumquat and Cranberry Compote I had spent days foraging ingredients for and preparing.

But as I flip through my 2006 Gourmet issues, the pictures are affected: too many people having fun eating, too much overly staged food. There are also images that do not inspire me to eat, much less cook. For example, full-page close-ups of the Slovenian farmer Silva Gigoj, with straw styled in her hair, or the Montreal Chef Martin Picard kissing a pig on the snout.

Then there are the long articles with evocative yet irrelevant-to-my-life-today names like "Tunisia on My Mind" or "Baltic Dreams". These are well-written, beautifully photographed food travelogues by wonderful writers. I like to think I am their target audience: well-educated, well-read, well-traveled. But I look to Gourmet for recipes, not literature, and if I cook anything vaguely exotic these days, it really ought to be Iranian food.

Truth is dinner around here most nights is what I can do with the few ingredients I have on hand. Google gives me the quick inspiration I need. The rest is up to my spice cabinet.

Forgive me, Ruth Reichl.

Gourmet
simply lost relevance for me. I am sure that I will continue to cook from back issues over the years to come. This weekend, we are having another family for dinner. It will be tomato soup, roast chicken and apple crisp. Because I have some, I may toss in a frisee salad.

Instead of saying, bon appetit, which I always say before my guests start to eat, I promise, I will say gourmet.