Monday, October 17, 2005

A Commonwealth of Magazines

One of my secret passions is British and Australian food magazines. After reading and/or subscribing to most of the popular and some of the more esoteric American foodie bibles, I was hungering for some new perspectives and new traditions to explore.

My first exposure was to BBC Good Food, a publication of the television network and featuring personalities from its food shows and an emphasis on the foods and regions of Great Britain. Most of the recipes were appealing, and it was kind of fun to have to “translate” the ingredients and measurements from British to American.

But BCC Good Food is hard to find, so once when I needed a fix I picked up Olive, a bit more “American” in style with more feature length articles and a bit more of a gourmet/gourmand feel. (It is also published by the BBC, though).

Olive had more travel articles and fancier photo spreads but still shared its sister magazine’s “sense and sensibility;” its recipes and written directions were clear and direct, and it shares an appreciation of the senses that cooking and eating good food entails.

After reading these magazines I began to understand a bit more the Nigella Lawson phenomena. The British food seductress’s sensual word choice and cooking experience seems a like an exaggeration of the British way of writing recipes and describing food. Not that the British food magazines recipes aren’t straight forward and the directions complete, but some how they often seem to veer from the clinical, almost scientific recipe writing we Americans have come to expect ever since Fanny Farmer weaned us off our teacup measurements.

(An aside – One of Nigella’s products is actually a set of measuring cups designed to look like teacups.)

One of the reasons these magazines are my secret passion is because the reaction I get from fellow food lovers and food writers when I mention them. At first, they thought it was a joke. “Ha, ha,” they’d snort. “You. Reading. British. Cooking.” They couldn’t even get the words out.

I’d try to explain how the recipes were really, really good and the emphasis is on locally grown and sustainable seasonal cooking and how much fun they were to read, but their eyes were beginning to water from laughing so hard that I don’t think they heard me or my explanation that British cooking has drastically changed since the days of a meat and two vegs.

Once I had already read the available issues of both magazines and still wanted the thrill of a foreign food writing experience, so I explored the magazines down under with my first issue of Delicious, produced by the Australian Broadcast Company as an offshoot of its food programming. Delicious is absolutely one of the best-looking food magazines I have ever seen – photos, design, layout are, well, delicious. Again, I had fun translating recipes into American tastes with American ingredients and American measurements (Some Australian measurements differ from both American and European). Luckily, the magazine includes a conversion guide on the back cover.

Donna Hay's Magazine is also good looking, but there are so many photo spreads and the like that there seems to be fewer things to cook. Donna Hays is the Australian Delia Smith who is the British Martha Stewart, give or take.

One thing about the Hay's magazine I find off putting is that it is not marked with the month of publication, just a volume and issue number. I expect that way they can market a winter issue in July down there and not turn off buyers here when they offer it up for sale in the states in December.

I especially like the articles in Delicious showcasing regions and cities in Australia I might not have otherwise known about and the articles about Australian wine in both magazines.

I’ve read some others from both countries, but none of them regularly make my shopping whim list. These magazines are pricy in America because of their import status ($8-$9 each at larger independent bookstores and selected Borders and Barnes and Nobles stores). They have really helped me lose an American provincialism and superiority about food I wasn’t even aware I had and given me a good dose of armchair adventure. Although I am not quite ready to host a cricket party no matter how appetizing the recipes seem.

Some resources:

www.bbc.co.uk/food/ is a great site with lots of info on the shows and recipes, although not articles from the two BBC food magazines themselves.

Nigella Lawson’s website, http://www.nigella.com/, has info on her products, books and shows. It also has recipes.

ABC’s site has subscription information for Delicious and not much else about the magazine or food. However, it is a comprehensive news site. http://www.abc.net.au/

Donna Hay has her own website at http://www.donnahay.com.au/
While there is no online access to the magazine or sample recipes to try, there is a recipe conversion feature to help you figure out your grams into cups and your silver beet into Swiss chard.

1 comment:

The Blooms said...

I didn't know you were reading Australian and British cooking magazines. I wouldn't have laughed at you! I would LOVE to hear more about the Aussie recipes that I could convert to Kosher. :-)