The Demise of Gourmet Magazine, A Cultural Icon

After 70 years of publication, Conde Nast is ceasing publication of Gourmet magazine, while maintaining its support of Bon Appetit magazine.  As with many (most?) corporate decisions, it was a precipitous one, announced to its staff on Monday just as the November issue was off the presses.

As an immigrant to this country, I learned about the cultural rituals of my new country through the Girls Scouts manual– obtained from my small, neighborhood library, another American treasure– and later on, the pages of the food magazines.  The National Geographic was too arcane for me, but Bon Appetit broadened my cultural horizons past my family’s tenement apartment in New York’s Chinatown.  It showed me what people really do eat in their own homes and how to prepare their dishes.  It gave me a cultural passport, even before I could afford to travel on my own salary.

The New York Times reported on Gourmet’s demise in its Wednesday’s Food section—my favorite section of the whole week!—and noted that now-prominent chefs and food writers were weaned on the pages and recipes of Gourmet and how it provided a “home for literate, thoughtful food writing.  Its stable of contributors included James Beard, Laurie Colwin, and M.F.K. Fisher…”  It even quoted Alice Waters saying that a “review in Gourmet used to mean everything. ‘Yes, you could be in The New York Times, but that was sort of fleeting.  Gourmet was just a bigger cultural picture.’”

Well, if you’re not a subscriber (who may be getting the good-bye letter by now), you’re out of luck.  The newsstands and bookstores did not get any additional copies and they’re most likely sold out by now.  You could check with your local library.   Me, I’m relishing my September issue of Gourmet, which was billed as the “The Ultimate Harvest Cookbook” with recipes for everything in season from A (apples) to Z (zucchini).

Welcoming the Stranger: A Sukkot Meditation

The other night we had a most unusual guest in our sukkah — a three-inch-long praying mantis.  We didn’t know they even thrived in our eastern part of the United States.  It landed on the cornucopia my husband had placed on the table and it was moving its mouth like it was praying (or most likely, chewing its prey).  It was very appropriate for our Chinese sukkah, as the praying mantis is prominent in Chinese folklore and martial arts.  For us, the praying mantis and the Biblical Yitzhak were among the ushpizin (guests) for the second night of Sukkot.

Before the onset of Sukkot, I’d attended the Pennsylvania HIAS’s annual luncheon billed, “A Matter of Faith: Embracing Immigrants and Refugees.”  HIAS was established over 126 years ago as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and it has an illustrious history of assisting Jewish refugees from all over the world.   In recent years, HIAS has merged with the Council Migration Services and their clients are now refugees fleeing political or religious persecution from places such as Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Eritrea.

The panel of speakers were members of the clergy of various faiths, including the Reverend Suzan Hawkinson of the Wallingford Presbyterian Church (her sermon gave me shivers!); Pastor David Shaheen of the Christ Lutheran Community Church (whose parents hosted Displaced Persons after WWII); Monsignor Hugh Joseph Shields, who works in the Office of the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics (he’s lived and worked for years in Latin America); Achmad Munjid, an imam of the Al Falah Indonesian Mosque (his doctoral dissertation is on key thinkers of inter-religious dialogue in Indonesia); and Rabbi David Strauss of Main Line Reform Temple.  Rabbi Strauss spoke about how the mitzvah that’s repeated most often in the Torah is the one to “remember the stranger, because you were once a stranger in the Land of Egypt.”  Pastor David Shaheen spoke about how “we are all pilgrims journeying to another Land and we have to learn to travel together.”  The moderator, Abby Stamelman Hocky, executive director of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, noted that Jews would soon be celebrating the holiday of Sukkot and that we can work to make a real Sukkat Shalom with our embrace of the stranger in our midst.

The message of both Sukkot and Pesach is about remembering the stranger.  We can do so with a shared meal, a gift of our time, or a helping hand in learning to adapt in a new culture.  As a new HIAS volunteer, I’m learning about the customs of the Burmese and one nice ritual that HIAS offers is a welcome meal, prepared by other refugees– those who’d landed earlier, that is– for a family newly arrived from the airport.  With my budding interest in Burmese culture, I even made a traditional Burmese dessert, htamane, which is made with glutinous rice, coconut milk, a whole cup of vegetable oil, and generous handfuls of roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, cashews and pistachios.  I served it for Rosh HaShanah, but my guests did not appreciate it.  I guess it was too foreign for their taste.

Back to Sukkot: The Chinese Harvest Moon Festival falls on the 15th of the eighth month and as it’s also on the lunar cycle, it always coincides with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  I’d never marked the coincidence before, but this year I researched the moon cakes which are traditionally served on the Harvest Moon Festival.   However, the molds used to prepare the cakes are not available to the general public, so I attempted a recipe for Buddha cookies, which Chinese bakers make from the leftover pastry dough of moon cakes.  Alas, my attempt failed and the results tasted nothing like the real thing, but more like the Jewish egg kichel, which is sometimes served on Pesach/Passover (probably from the liberal egg wash I gave the morsels of dough before baking).  The Cantonese-style moon cakes are shaped round or square with a sweet filling of black bean paste or lotus seed paste.  Some have the addition of duck egg yolks, which when baked appear round and golden like the moon, surrounded by the rich, dark filling that can stand for the dark Outer Space.

Well, I did have more success with hospitality than serving authentic holiday Asian food on Sukkot, as my guests did well enjoy the other foods that I served.  And I have hopes for greater involvement in Welcoming The Stranger as I have my appointment with HIAS to discuss my shidduch (match) with a Burmese family due to arrive on the 15th.  I’m looking forward to introducing them to American culture, with a Jewish twist.