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Posts from the ‘Alfresco Aspirations’ Category

Alfresco Alterations

Primarily, I was shocked for obvious reasons upon hearing of Gourmet’s demise. It’s always been one of the more literate food magazines and with 68 years of history behind it, no less. I’ve never understood the appeal of Bon Appetit—new younger font or not—which is the same to me as Food & Wine (though I subscribe to the latter along with Saveur and Cooking Light) a little fluffy, entertaining-driven and more caught up with celebrity. I always thought of Gourmet as a glossier, less homespun Saveur, not the stuffy, elitist luxury rag some believe it to be (for me, that’s The New Yorker).

Superficially, though, I’m saddened because I really liked picking apart their frequently over-the-top alfresco photo spreads. I looked forward to what nuttiness they may have come up with each month, whether it be a forest picnic amidst discarded TVs and bric a brac or moody barefoot youths in fedoras and suspenders indulging in stone fruit pies while hammocking.

Just yesterday afternoon I was dismayed to realize I’d never received my October Gourmet (or Saveur, for that matter). I need my monthly dose of alfresco porn, though I’m quite certain that I’m the only one who was so amused by these jaunty photographs. Clearly, McKinsey was not. Those props and models don’t come cheap.

At the very least, I hope to get the final November 2009 issue. I’ve always marveled at how you can make Thanksgiving turkey seem exciting year after year.

Two Wheels Good

Ok, I'm breaking my August silence because I'm kind of obsessed with the Brooklyn mom in this month's Gourmet (not talking about the one with the furry, cratered green blob on the cover yet). This is the season where all magazines are awash in alfresco porn, but Gourmet keeps veering younger and hipper with their models, so much so that I can’t even avert my eyes when trying to take a month off. I know that's not their core readership (once again: a 50-year-old woman with a household income of $81,179) so are these photo spreads succeeding in wooing their bloggy target audience?


I initially thought freewheeling Brooklyn mom but she actually strikes me as a bit young for motherhood in this milestone-delaying city (maybe all that cycling keeps you youthful). Maybe she's more Portland or Austin or Madison, Wisconsin. You always see those young families with amazing houses in Dwell or quirkier versions in ReadyMade, but they live in places like Minneapolis (unless they are power couple architects and then it's NYC and SF). It's not as if they don't stage cookoffs, can preserves, read Meatpaper, drink fair trade coffee, beekeep as a hobby and, I don't know…pay $300 a night to do farm chores, in the rest of the country, right? Please tell me they do that elsewhere.

Flip Flops, Fedoras and Suspenders…Oh My!

Yes, the August Gourmet has already arrived, which means that I’ve been slacking on my alfresco porn-monitoring duties. July had me spoilt for choice, though.


Blue Skies Ahead, the tale of a weekend lunch with friends at your farmhouse, was tempting. And I could definitely go for some grilled Buffalo shrimp with a few black and tans. Or course, the beer bottles would have to be removed from their cardboard carrying case and transplanted into an antique metal basket with handle. “You never know who might drop by?” If I had a farmhouse in the country, that would be no one. It’s hard enough to get people on the F train.

Sail on home

Sail on Home suggested that instead of meeting friends at a restaurant, you invite them over for a Mediterranean meal served on your lakeside table crafted from a wooden slab placed atop lobster traps weighted down with beach ball-sized glass buoys in weathered fishing nets. It actually looks kind of chilly and lonely.

American idyll

Clearly, the best time is being had over at American Idyll where the young folks are stuffing themselves silly on honey caramel peach pie while swinging in hammocks. Flip flops, fedoras and suspenders, oh my!

American idyll2

American idyll3

A Breath of Fresh Air


Maybe someone is listening to me because I got what I wanted in this month's Gourmet (well, not a grill-free June issue…I can't have everything). Yes, a totally natural alfresco photo shoot, discussed in detail in Ruth Reichl's editor's letter.

“…it is not difficult to understand why Richard had reservations about shooting, 'Fiesta Forever' in real time with real people. There was no casting, no script, no backup food. There would be no margin for error. If the light was wrong, if the guests did not show up, or if all the food got eaten too early, we would have no story.”

Plus, the menu from Maricel Presilla’s (which reminds me, I need to try one of her restaurants, I'm usually in NJ twice a month and could stand a break from Cheeseburger in Paradise) annual barbecue contains tons of things I would really want to eat and cook, never mind the insanity of 16 recipes in total. I could probably tackle 3-4 at a time, though.

I wonder if it's only a matter of time before I start longing for those miniature lighthouses and portable '70s TVs tossed in as random props.

When You’re Here, You’re Family


One of the most unwelcome things this time of year is the barrage of food magazines blathering on about grilling. I do not have a yard. I do not care about grilling. When these useless issues come charging out the gates, I become sad.

But on the upside, if the weather is warming up enough that means crazy alfresco porn is on the horizon. May’s Gourmet only hints at what’s to come with a feature, Cucina Paradiso, that showcases a little trompe l’oeil teasing, birthing a new genre in the process: fresco porn.

The mural provides a mere illusion of Italian countryside. This could easily stray into Olive Garden territory (I’m seriously obsessed with what goes on at their Tuscan Culinary Institute) and yet it remains tasteful. I am not bothered by this. The plate of lamb chops is making my hungry, I love that green-and-white polka dot dress and the woman with cheery pink lipstick just out of the frame would come from a modeling agency’s plus-size division (so cruel at 10+) which I appreciate.

Fox in the Snow


Gourmet has forsaken me during these chilly months. Instead of the wintry alfresco tableaus I crave, I’m getting cauliflower with rye crumbs served atop chipped-paint, artfully aged dressers that may as well be straight from an Anthropologie catalog.

Luckily, some old British men threw a black-tie snowfall party in a fancy tent (they like calling these “marquees” over there—when my sister was describing her Welsh wedding I half-imagined her name in lights) for their hunting dining club and wrote about it for The Telegraph. Who knows why the taxidermied animals are wearing glasses, and I won't even ask about the paper crowns. Just add foie gras brûlé, black pudding and er, brambles, and you’ve got yourself a festivity.

Flea Bitten


Gourmet really let me down this month. Not only is the entire issue devoted to Paris, a city I try to get excited about but can barely muster interest over, but there’s not a single alfresco photo spread either. What? All those bon vivants eat indoors?

Bien sur, but believe me they do it with great whimsy. The next best thing to an impromptu lakeside picnic is supping in a flea market, correct?

I’m not convinced that the raven-haired gamine eats (that might be a miniature chamber pot beneath her thigh—the French are rustic that way, right?) but the burly guy in the back probably partakes in some butternut squash soup with chestnuts whipped up on a hot plate by the gentleman with a chapeau jauntily balanced atop his curls.

What’s Next, Thai Me Up?


Gourmet never disappoints, and their alfresco tableaus grow more perplexing by the month. Some Enchanted Eating? I think they might just be fucking with me at this point.

August finds us in a woodland fantasy bereft of picnickers and composed of bric-a-brac that might’ve been dragged into a clearing by hoboes with an affinity for cool, cerulean-olive tones.

Tarnished silverware?  A patchwork leather ball? I suppose…but…wicker rockers and a plastic-paneled television, black and white, most likely? Now, I’m starting to get scared.

The feeling is damp, maybe a little dank. If this were the Northwest, which it doesn’t appear to be, logs would be covered in moss and slugs would be having a picnic of their own using toadstools as tables. The climate doesn’t stimulate my appetite at all—frankly, it freaks me out a little.

Perhaps I’m just taking the eerie setup too personally. It brings to mind the Enchanted Forest, a musty amusement park of my youth.

A Boatload


Oh, Gourmet’s done it again. Like clockwork, they tantalize me with an unattainable outdoor fantasy on a monthly basis. Sure, this looks casual on the surface, but lakeside parties with a Spanish-inflected menu don’t just plan themselves. “Rollin’ on the River,” they call it.

A snippet from Ruth Reichl’s letter from the editor is very telling, “…we remembered how it feels to have the sun smiling down while you’re dangling your legs in cool water, sipping green-grape sangria, and munching on spicy slices of perfectly medium-rare tenderloin.”

That sounds lovely, but I have no such memory. And it’s not even for lack of trying. Three summers ago I attempted to wrangle friends and acquaintances into renting a lake house just around this exact time of year. I couldn’t get any takers. I haven’t bothered since. The only way things get done is if I just plan and do them myself for my own enjoyment.

And it wouldn’t work anyway. I know too many vegetarians and chorizo even in the wax bean and pea salad wouldn’t win me any favors. And then there would be someone who would insist on bringing hot dogs or chili. On the up side, there probably wouldn’t be any shirtless dudes in fisherman hats or dragon tattoos in sight. (I do find it strange that Gourmet focuses so heavily on 20-somethings in photo spreads when their readers’ median age is 50).

It wouldn’t work because I am an anti-catalyst. Not only do I not make things happen, I make them fall apart.

The inability to drum up interest in a cheap summer share (Poconos or Adirondacks not the Hamptons) is one of many things I feel remiss about. Years ago I detailed a comprehensive list of things I hadn’t done by 25. Stupid things like never having been to summer camp (do kids really go away for an entire summer? I did day camp and one-week camp with Girl Scouts in grade school but it was nothing like Meatballs) and never having been on a real date (being picked up, taken to dinner that doesn’t involve nachos, having the guy pay and not putting out beyond kissing) which was finally rectified in my late 20s. Oh, I’d also like to sip lemonade on a porch swing while I’m dredging up fully obtainable experiences that never present themselves to me.

Now I’m on a tangent for sure, but weddings are a realm where I feel very much like an outsider. Every summer, everyone around me bemoans the slew of weddings they must attend or participate in. And every summer I’m taken aback by this.

I’ve been to a whopping three weddings in the past 15 years: two were my sister’s, and the other was for James’s sister. The only wedding I was actually in took place in 1981 when I was my aunt’s flower girl. Even both of my parents who re-married in the early ‘90s went wedding-less.

Is it that I know the wrong people? I swear I know people, just not many married people.

So no, I do not foresee any weddings or meals served on overturned rowboats for summer 2008. Which isn’t to say that 2009 couldn’t totally surprise me.

Finally, I apologize to Googlers looking for alfresco porn and end up here with only a dock-side picnic to ogle.

Update: has just posted a behind the scenes look at some of the food styling for this photo shoot.


When I first started taking serious notice of alfresco porn in food magazines, I had no intent of singling out Gourmet. But it has become obvious that they’re the only ones who do it with such aplomb.

Granted, I only subscribe to four food magazines: Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur and Cooking Light (which lapsed a few months ago) so for all I know full on alfresco worship is thriving on the pages of Taste of Home and Bon Appétit (Cooks Illustrated, not so much).

Just to be certain, I checked the most recent issues in my possession for wantonly staged outdoor dining photos. Yes, there were open air scenes galore, especially since this is start of grilling season. But the non-Gourmet tableaus seemed like real scenes captured on camera, staged but with a snapshot feeling. They didn’t make me feel crazy.


Saveur’s “Bold Flavors, Ancient Roots” has regular folks in Cyprus eating mezedhes and toasting with zivania, a grape schnapps. Not even amateur porn.


Food & Wine’sThe Chef, the Pig and the Perfect Summer Party” focuses on Jean-Georges’s new Westchester weekend home and a backyard pig roast shared with family and friends. High potential for porn, yet the overall feeling is one of people having a real picnic. It just happens to be a famous chef’s picnic.


Gourmet’sSerious Pig” has many similarities to Food & Wine’s feature: barbecued pork and a table set in a backyard near a lake. But where Jean-Georges has a regular table, chairs and an umbrella like anyone could buy at a store (maybe a “nice” store but still mass produced) this young, child-free, multi-culti crew clad in overalls and fedora, sups on a wooden plank held up by sawhorses flanked by weathered wooden boxes. Presumably they’re in North Carolina and nowhere near NYC, rural bon vivants. No new construction, but a stone shed as a backdrop. The scarlet watermelonade isn’t housed in Rubbermaid or even a run of the mill pitcher; it’s in an oversized jar, kind of agua fresca style, with a metal ladle. All this hyper-stylized rusticity is what makes the scene porny. So unreal, and so alluring.

I think I’m just easily influenced. Does anyone else experience inexplicable pangs of jealousy when viewing such manufactured images?