Along with a stack of bills, a party invitation for G and half a tree's worth of fliers and coupons, yesterday's mail contained my copy of Cooking Light magazine.
Cooking Light has been a regular visitor to my mailbox ever since P and I moved into our first apartment together, nearly 11 years ago. When I first subscribed, it was because I wanted the recipes: I'd enjoyed cooking since I was a child, and we'd just spent more than a year living with relatives, where I'd never felt comfortable cooking more than a furtive pot of pasta to be quickly eaten and cleaned up before anyone came home. I was excited to have my own stove and refrigerator again and eager to use them, and I did. Some of the happiest memories of my life are of standing in that tiny apartment kitchen during the four seasons of that first year, making lasagna and grilled tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwiches (my favorite) and roast chicken with lemon slices (for P, the carnivore) and smoked cheese risotto (a disaster that came out like pink glue) and pumpkin gingerbread.
These days, with only myself and a finicky 8-year-old to feed, I rarely make anything more complicated than frozen dinners, the ubiquitous pasta, and maybe a burrito or quesadilla if I'm feeling ambitious. I still read Cooking Light every month, but it's become less a source of potential meals and more a sort of lifestyle p0rn. Those glossy pages are a glimpse into the fantasy life I've always secretly wanted to live, the alternate universe where, at daybreak1, I step out onto the wooden deck of my solar-powered home nestled in the lush, green forests of the Northwest, 2 dressed in a cozy wool sweater 3 and cords. There, I do a few tai chi moves 4 before settling down to sip my tea as my two Irish setters 5 lounge at my feet. When the sunrise has given way fully to morning, I go inside, where I bake some low-fat cranberry muffins 6, then meander up to my study and read the letters my agency has forwarded from fans of my writing. 7 This is about as far as you can get from my actual life as a harried suburbanite whose mornings consist of school drop-off followed by a commute to a corporate job, which is no doubt why I enjoy it so much.
Money is tight lately, and every time I see one of those "budget tips" lists exhorting me to get rid of my magazine subscriptions, I think of Cooking Light and remind myself that I ought to call and cancel. It's $22 I don't need to spend, and I often wonder if the escapism is worth the vague feeling of guilt that comes with knowing that I'll probably never do whatever it would take to have a life like that (if anyone even does). I haven't gotten around to it yet, though. Maybe next year.
1. I am not a morning person and only witness sunrises if I happen to have stayed awake that late.
2. I've never been north of San Francisco.
3. Wool makes me itch.
4. I bought a tai chi tape once and gave up after 10 minutes. That stuff is hard.
5. I do like dogs.
6. And muffins.
7. Usually a successful mystery series that is adored by readers and lauded by critics for transcending genre fiction. .
ETA: Okay, a month after posting this, I'm starting to feel guilty about all the poor people who Google "broccoli potato gratin" and end up here. Just for you guys, here's a link to an actual broccoli-potato gratin recipe from the November issue of Cooking Light. Enjoy!