Monday, September 28, 2015

Back in the Day Gourmet

The first magazine I subscribed to was Gourmet.  Like so many, I was dazzled by the combination of education and inspiration to be found in Gourmet's pages.  It was a window into an elegant and beautiful world.  The abrupt ending of Gourmet has been attributed to many things: the crumbling economy, therefore the (then) plummet of the luxury market, and the death of print publication.  I don't think anyone will confirm or deny exactly what happened that caused Gourmet to be axed, and wonder if there is a concrete reason at all. 

I wonder if it was felt Gourmet was too out of touch for our modern climate.  Gourmet was nonchalant about including a $30 mail-order only ingredient in their recipes.  Though I wouldn't usually end up ordering said ingredient, I was happy to know about it and where to find it.  But in that time, especially, there was such a backlash against luxury and wealth.  In three short years (2006-2009), fashion went from logo head to toe to rustic and unassuming
Her John Deere must have been in the shop 

My theory is that Instagram saved the luxury market.  Or at least turbocharged its revival.  Instagram is a rabbit hole, down which any object of desire can be found on beautiful display.  As Instagram began bulking up in 2010, those banished luxury items were to be seen in the background.  Not even mentioned, but there.  Suggesting while flash may be gauche, wealth certainly is good.  Tactics like taking a photograph of your free-trade hand woven artisinal free range organic cruelty free thrifted buy one donate one bracelet with the top quadrant of your BMW logo peeking through took hold, and with that, luxury was back.  I am acutely aware of those douchebag moves, because I was a pioneer of the movement. 
Before I did society a favor and banned myself from social media, my favorite person to follow on Twitter was Ruth Reichl, influential editor of Gourmet from 1999 to its end in 2009.  Her tweets were all in the moment.  The way the steam rose from her coffee, the zing in the air when you squeeze a grapefruit, or the way snow swirled in the breeze.  Microscopic, meditative moments.  Things Gourmet wasn't really about.  Ruth Reichl seems particularly uninterested in the decadence of luxury nowadays.  I enjoyed reading this article about her, and watching the accompanying video. She has a new book coming out about the recovery from the shock following the end of Gourmet.  I can't help but think the resurrection of the luxury market has created a nostalgia for Gourmet.  Making it the perfect time to release this book.  I hope it does well for her.  
Interestingly, Gourmet has been at the front of my mind for a few months.  In July, I was sifting through one of my favorite vintage/antique stores.  A shelf of cookbooks caught my eye.  I never pay much attention to stacks of old books; as the last thing I need are more books.  On this day, I had time to kill before the farmers' market started.  So I tilted my head and read the titles lining the shelves.  I saw Best of Gourmet 1996 and was hit with a wave of memory.  I remembered wanting those books as they were released.  Likely searching for a bit of that old feeling I'd get reading Gourmet monthly, I bought it.  At $2.50, why not? Plus it made the antique store owner a little less annoyed at my habit of cutting through her store on my way to the farmers' market. 

How can one keep track? The Sicily trips run together.

Great idea! I'll have the staff ready the bedrooms.

I'll admit this is dated, but I love it nonetheless

For a short time in the 1980s,
whole squash was considered a finger food

I don't expect to see this again

pom poms have certainly fallen out of favor

Though most of the features are timeless
























































































































































It was a pleasure seeing that now unpopular style of grand photography, meticulous plating, and lavish matching sets of china, crystal, and silver.  I realized just how influential Gourmet had been for me.  Well, you can imagine what happened next.  I wonder how many editions of Best of there are...
I've always been a collector.  Unlike many collectors who enjoy a slow and steady pace of collecting, I like to skip right to collected.  I'd like to thank eBay and OCD.  At around $2-4 each with free shipping, this collection wasn't a budget buster.  Plus, it's recycling...right? So over the past many weeks, volume by volume have been showing up in my mailbox (at work, my USPS carrier at home is horrible).  I still have a few to source.  Some of them arrive kind of grimy, so they all get a quick cleaning treatment.  A little hand sanitizer on a paper towel, rub down the dust jacket, and then the covers.  I'm sure there's something awful about this method, but I feel it works well.  If you buy old books, how do you clean them? 
I love seeing the subtle changes year to year in the books.  It's a great way to assess what holds up and what doesn't. 

Before this, I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to source expensive books on eBay.  It's a way to pick up cookbooks and expensive lifestyle/design books at deep discount.  With the upcoming holidays, keep this in mind.  A stack of lovely books is a great gift, for yourself or others. 

A few eBay sellers I've bought from to get you started: 1 , 2 ,  3

50 comments:

  1. A trip down memory lane! It has me thinking of old recipes that I used to make for pot lucks with the bridge ladies and the Victoria Horticultural Society...tomato aspic and crab mousse are two that stand out!
    I wonder if your Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations will be retro themed....

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    1. Oh I'd love to hear more about those! I'm sure some of this new inspiration will infiltrate into my holidays. Though I've already had them pretty much planned since June!

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  2. I can't believe this because I was also obsessed with Gourmet magazine, oh I loved it so. I was shocked kind of, not really, when it was shut down, I did feel that it was done a bit rashly? In our celebrity chef/cooking shows culture you'd think it could have been saved.
    But I love your examples because I had forgotten how precious it all was.
    "I'd like to thank ebay and OCD", hehehe you kill me Stephen Andrew.
    Now I want those books too... XO

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    1. I think there is definitely a story we're not hearing! I thought it was especially odd that they kept Bon Appetit going. Or did they axe that then bring it back? I can't remember. But Gourmet was always so much better than BA. Nothing against BA, I enjoy it. I love the books. They really are like super bulky versions of the magazine.

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  3. How wonderful to collect these. And now I know one of the places where you learned the gracious art of table setting! Have you done any of the recipes yet and do they need 2015 updating? Some of the ones you posted look yummy, and others rather frightening lol.

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    1. Absolutely! I loved seeing all the china and layers on the Gourmet tables. I haven't followed any of the recipes closely, but a common theme seems to be nowhere near enough spice or seasoning. Granted, I am heavy handed with herbs, spices, and seasoning. But I can't help but think if I followed a lot of them closely they would be bland!

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  4. The latest issue of Gourmet sat on my Nana's coffee table for many years. She was a wonderful cook and I always thought she was so sophisticated reading that and living in a little Ohio steel town. Have you already collected 20 of them?!! I have used the Ebay method and also Amazon to find used cookbooks too! Did you see that Ruth Reichl food travel series on PBS a couple of years ago? I liked it, maybe available on You Tube?

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    1. Oh I remember you saying what a great cook your grandmother was! You have many of her cookbooks, right? 21 of the annuals and 3 other Gourmet books. Moderation hasn't ever been my strong suit! I never saw that PBS series! I'll need to find it somewhere.

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    1. How is Bodhi?! I miss seeing his pictures!

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  6. What a beautiful throwback! Though I don't (cannot) cook, I loved looking at all the pretty food and the gorgeous table settings in Gourmet. Okay, what is that thing with the mushrooms on it? And Barbie is looking very svelte!!

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    1. Oh, Loi, I believe in your talent. You can cook! It's really not hard! It's some type of awful terrine! I've never been a fan of those. Barbie is soooo thin. I'm so jealous. I wonder if she might have greyhound in her. Her physique is very greyhound like. It's funny because she eats SO much.

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  7. Oh, me too! I have some old issues in my basement which bring me joy so I cannot release them. One of my old partner's sister was one of the chef writers and dear dear Laurie Colwin (RIP) wrote wonderful columns that became her 2 nonfiction books. You would love them if you loved Gourmet.

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    1. I've flipped through Home Cooking but never really knew much about the author! I'll source those next! So sad she passed away so young. Never get rid of your Gourmet issues! I clicked on your profile and saw your URL-I threaten to run away to Maine constantly. I love the abundance of old houses (...and mainly lobster).

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  8. I subscribed to that magazine too. May even have some in the attic. A perfect choice for you and your flair for cooking, decorating, plating, table setting.....etc. etc. etc.
    A cool move, collecting all those back issues!

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    1. Oooh! You should go up there and check! I didn't keep any of mine because with my tendency to hoard china and silver and crystal and, and... I just can't hold onto magazines too!

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  9. Good news Stephen Andrew - the Australian Gourmet magazine is still thriving… although they've conceded to more modern style food styling (flour dusted linen sacks from France etc and some manky knife you'd never cut anything in real life with that looks like it came from a flea shop that has real live fleas). But the recipes are still full of ingredients it takes forever to source! And things that say "begin this recipe one week ahead". You should try downloading it on your ipad (if you have one) as it may be a good substitute.
    I read Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone - her memoir of growing up with her bipolar mother who cooked appalling food and regularly food poisoned everyone. It was funny, evocative and her writing style was so lovely.
    I too miss the big party style entertaining. I revived it two weeks ago for a dinner party using all my silver, crystal, table linen, flowers on the table, best china etc. Think the guests were slightly stunned/ bemused at it all. The compromise was that I made the menu old style - hors d'oeuvres, soup to start etc but very simple (and delicious) to make my life easier (essential with three kids now. The days of dinner parties that would take me several nights after work preparing for are over). It was kind of retro, everyone got into the swing of things and we had a very late night.... I think everyone is sick of dining off boring white plates, everyday cutlery and glasses. Yawn. The past decade and a bit has been dull. I blame Donna Hay magazine (the complete opposite to Gourmet). Have you heard of her? She's Australia's answer to Martha (and has appeared on Martha several times).
    Love the way you write- you always make me laugh so much! x

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    1. I've never heard of or seen Donna Hay! but the covers of her books certainly look Marthaesque. I'll look for Australian Gourmet! Ugh I am soo sick of everything looking the same! I love clean, minimal style for those who actually *have* that style. But I can't believe everyone is that attracted to it. I'm sure your party was so fabulous! I'd love to come for dinner to your house! Your dinners and tables are always so fresh and elegant.
      I'm also very happy with these great Gourmet-centric book suggestions I'm getting. Thanks!

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  10. So sorry to hear about the demise of Gourmet - only now caught up with this - as I too had stopped buying. Have to admit to being old fashioned and loving those old G issues and beautifully dressed tables with fine china, crystal, silver, flowers and candles (have never done the paper pompoms though). I still do it for family occasions and the odd dinner party. Though almost no-one does dinner parties now. We all meet at restaurants instead.
    I've collected quite a few of old cook books at fete bookstalls, particularly Elizabeth David's tomes. They lack the beautiful pictures of later books (and also lack detailed cooking directions and ingredients quantities) but are so interesting to read. I learned to cook using Julia Child's "Mastering the Art...", which is really a fool's guide, so didn't buy the David books at the time. Can now pick them up for $2.00.
    I never buy anything that is really dirty or tatty, never mind how good the recipes might be, so I don't worry about cleaning the books before they come into our home. Have never picked anything unpleasant up from a second hand book. Have never used antibacterial wipes on counters or sinks either. I suspect the chemicals involved are far worse for people than a little exposure to everyday bacteria which helps us build effective immune systems.
    I enjoy real meals - and not those trendy restaurants with share plates and weird combos. Sometimes it can be hard to find anything on a restaurant menu that is tempting - what with the nettles and other fossicked greens pies, vegetable "stems" etc. Give me a good traditional Michelin star restaurant in Paris/France (even a one star can be brilliant) where they serve fabulous food! Best wishes, Pammie

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    1. I so agree with you, Pammie! I am sad dinner parties are rather out of fashion. They're so much more intimate and special than dinner at a restaurant. Truth be told, they probably appeal to me so much since I'm a control freak and love managing every element. But that's what makes them so unique. Having control of the music, lighting, color, tastes, smells--it really affords the opportunity to get a sense of magic going.
      I'm all for ingenuity in cooking but I agree wth you about using ridiculous ingredients just for shock value. I wish you had a blog and would share your favorite places in Paris and throughout France!

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    2. After the "Julia and Julia" movie came out I had a Julia dinner party, with recipes from her book. One or two of the guests kindly offered to bring courses from the book too so all I had to make was the boeuf bourguignon and something else (forgotten what, having a senior moment). We also had French cheeses - and French champagne and wines throughout. It was a great evening. Of course, the table was set with the full catastrophe - fine china, silver, linen, candles, flowers and Waterford crystal. Pammie

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    3. Ooops! "Julie and Julia" movie. P

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    4. Oh I've always wanted to have a Julia Child themed dinner party! I'll bet that was such fun! I loved that movie. I had to get Larousse Gastronomique, Mastering, and a copper egg white bowl after I saw it!

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    5. It was great. We were all fans of the book - and the movie.
      I have the Larousse Gastronomique and Mastering - my first copy is falling apart - it's held together by a big rubber band - but have also bought a re-print in hard copy of the original edition. I still use the falling apart one though because it holds so many memories of cooking for dinners etc over the years - it's got pages with wine stains and drops of stock and is very messy, but at least it's my mess. But don't have the copper egg white bowl - later on she admitted that it was possible to use modern labour saving devices like electric mixers. My mixer works a treat in beating up egg whites. Much easier - though early on she'd probably have regarded this as cheating.
      Have also been to some cooking courses (at the Ecole d'Alain Ducasse) in Paris and it was great fun and learned lots. But I thought of Julia and how she'd have turned her nose up at housewives' - and husbands' - cooking classes. She was only interested in the professional courses. Pammie

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  11. I'm sure it's no surprise that I love buying cookbooks from thrift stores and my favorite is when I find all the old William Sonoma ones for a buck or two.
    I was sad when Gourmet shuttered and even sadder when they shut down Domino so unexpectedly. While Domino has resurfaced as a seasonal publication, it's a shame that Gourmet has not returned in some capacity.
    Speaking of foodie magazines, Bon Appetit has it ALL going on for the past few years. It is really great and has made Food & Wine feel a bit stuffy and antiquated. Curious if you read either?

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    1. Yes! I was thinking about you when I published this and wondered if you have these books? I love the Williams-Sonoma books! I actually just got one in the mail yesterday :) a Thanksgiving edition I hadn't seen before.
      Yes, I've been loving BA lately. Though I do slightly tire of their closeup, just of the food photography. I loved Gourmet's style of big shots of tables in beautiful rooms. But, I'm always eager to download the next issue of BA. I actually had the thanksgiving etiquette guide from last year printed because I loved it so much. Food and Wine had never been my favorite, nor do I read it religiously. I can pretty much take it or leave it. Do you read Cooks Illustrated? I like it a lot, too--being that it is so technique driven. The other one I recently tried and did not like was the Gather Food Journal. It is described as being modern and fun, but the backdrops look like a motel. Not sure why we must pretend every millennial has bad taste and s bleak outlook.

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  12. This post made me look at those cookbooks sitting untouched on the kitchen shelf. Yep, there it is 'The best of Australian Gourmet' published 1987. A Smoked Salmon and Dill Cheesecake that is obviously related to that mushroom encrusted terrine (?).
    The Lentil and Knackwurst Soup reads like it would power a spaceship to Mars.
    Love to Barbie.

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    1. Oh how fun! I'm going to explore Aus Gourmet. So curious about how the ingredients differ. Funny you should mention savory cheesecakes! I saw a recipe for one and it kind of triggered my imagination. I kinda want to try to make one with a heavy hand of roasted garlic, mushroom, thyme, and cayenne. I could see that working. But not sure what to do about the crust. Hmmm...

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  13. long before the food network surfaced all we had was Gourmet. i always kept a stack on my kitchen counter thinking it was quite chic to do so. i rarely made a recipe from them but they were so inspirational.

    stephen andrew someone somewhere must find your talent and you need to be writing for a magazine or your own book. you truly are gifted...x

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    1. Agreed. And this coming from a former travel writer. Stephen has the goods. It is like a best friend talking to you - always the best kind of writing - just like Ellie's too.

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    2. Wow, well thank you both so much. Those are such lovely and meaningful compliments. I rarely made any of the recipes in Gourmet either. I just loved having them :) my pie crust is based on a recipe that appeared in Gourmet though.

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    3. this is so funny b/c i actually do remember making a Gourmet recipe! how could i forget? it was quite exoctic, chicken, mushrooms and something called tarragon. it was the 70's and i searched high and low for it. it took all day to make and was quite delicious until i added the tarragon. lol, i had to throw the whole thing out. x

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    4. Oh that's so funny! I love tarragon! But it's definitely a love it or hate it flavor. guessing you're not keen on fennel or star anise either.

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  14. I have an ancient Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook - it was a gift and my first! I still love how everything was photographed and while not a recipe person per se, I will turn to it quite a lot. Oldies but goodies...that is me! heehee
    Bisous to Barbie, pretty girl.

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    1. Oh my gosh! Crabtree and Evelyn! I'm not really a recipe cook either. But, like you, I love the beauty and suggestions of cookbooks :)

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  15. I loved Gourmet but rarely made any of the recipes.

    The economy tanked, people didn't subscribe to print publications, advertisers no longer advertised...all leading to its demise.

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    1. It's such a shame they couldn't keep it! Funny how most of us who loved it didn't actually use many of the recipes!

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  16. It's always a great day when I see a post from you, especially one that opens with such a wonderful photo of Barbie.

    Cookbooks and recipes? Never been my thing. The only one I have is a tattered Joy of Cooking. It was my go-to when I wanted the basis for something new I was itching to try. Learned to make blender Hollandaise from that book. Have heard many a chef poo-poo blender Hollandaise since then. Caught an episode of Barefoot Contessa a few months ago, I love her, and she makes her Hollandaise in the blender. Redemption, I tell ya.

    Book collecting is so easy and rewarding in this Internet age. My favorite source are sellers on Abe Books. It only took me a few months to amass a nearly-complete collection of American Rose Annuals (1916-1970-something). Pretty much any rose book I see referenced in an article is now on my shelves in the library. It's as easy as click, pay, done!

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    1. Oooh I'll bet those rose annuals are beautiful books! You're right, it is so so easy to pick up books on the Internet! Maybe too easy!

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  17. God I loved those Ruth Reichl memoirs…so so so good- have you read them? You would love Australian Gourmet Traveller- they LIVE FOR an inaccessible and expensive ingredient that will cost you $87.

    I luff an old cook book too- it fascinating to see the settings and how different they look. I was looking at a gardening book today and thought the gardens looked a bit dated and tortured and then I realised the book was 15 years old and times have changed.

    Can you please write a book or get a tv show?

    I will not read library books because of the germs. I know they are free but something holds me back.

    You need to drug your self brave up, breathe the recycled air on a plane and visit Australia. You will see real life human beings whose love of luxury knows no limits.

    Personally I'm a fan but I like to mix it up with hard core thrift and frugality. Because that's just how I roll.

    Am quite stressed about my neutral tree. Execution being everything and all. xxx

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    1. No I really need to read them! I will add them to my list. Isn't it funny just how much trends in gardens can change? Oh FF I know I really need to handle air travel better. If only it weren't so awful, uncomfortable, loud, and I could stop and start the flight at my leisure. I think I'm going to bring back turn of the century sea travel. I love thrift shopping and second hand too.
      I understand about the neutral tree. I always say I'm going to do a different tree and then do nearly the exact same thing. This year I'm doing a crystallized tree. At least that's the plan...

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  18. Gourmet used to be my cooking bible...along with Julia Child. Those were the day of grand dinner parties and gourmet food clubs. I still refer to Mastering the Art of French Cooking but alas, I have no copies of my old Gourmets. It is difficult now with so many recipes available online and on Pinterest and fewer people with the time to lavish on involved food preparation. I still love to cook and invite people in but not many people do this anymore...too bad, sigh!

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    1. I wonder all the time now how hard it is to learn to cook now. Pinterest and blogs are great buy often the recipes are not! At least you always knew recipes in Gourmet and most cookbooks had been tested! It's a shame dinner parties have fallen out of favor. So much nicer than a restaurant.

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  19. Stephen, Wow this is timely as I was just nostalgic for Gourmet last night after watching Ruth on PBS Newshour cooking in her kitchen. Cool lady. I so wish they'd bring back Gourmet, but nothing beats those old issues. Seriously have thought of framing some for my pantry if I had more wall space. I'm with you when I begin discovering something, I want it all immediately! Lol. Well, at these prices you can afford to indulge and darn right you are being green! It's called upcycling baby! Have a good weekend! Kim

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    1. Oh I wish I had seen that! I love her house so much. Her kitchen is way too tiny for me though! But I like that she said it's to her scale. I'm thinking about going to Pittsburgh in a few weeks to attend a lecture she's giving. I've loved these books!

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  20. I'm sure you can believe it... but I don't think I've ever paid attention to Gourmet - now you've got me hooked on the idea....how did I miss this?...

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  21. I'm sure you can believe it... but I don't think I've ever paid attention to Gourmet - now you've got me hooked on the idea....how did I miss this?...

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  22. 'The Sicily trips all run together', oh, how funny! I've got a bit of an addiction to old auction catalogs dealing with Tiffany, so I'm very familiar with Ebay and old books. I'll have to get me a personalized farm license plate of some sort, hmmm.....trying to think of a catchy abbreviation, but alas, it won't look too cool on my 1989 Oldsmobile.

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  23. Let's bring back the dinner party...and the pom pom. xo

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  24. Lovely post! A perfect choice for you and your flair for cooking, decorating, plating and table setting! I just can't hold onto magazines. Thanks for sharing this!

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