It seems that in the past six months, Living has gone the way of two other of my once-favorite magazines, Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Whether this is a result of new editors/staff or a sign that Martha (and her "people") are finally running out of new things to do, I cannot be sure. What I can say is that this is not the Living I first fell in love with years ago.
For one, the projects (and some recipes) have become overwrought, in that many of them require materials and/or tools which are either difficult or expensive to acquire. My best example of this is December 2008's issue, which featured Christmas cookies made using vintage Springerle molds. (I believe that in the same issue, an ornament project also featured the use of these molds, not to mention special clay AND paints.) My point is, at one time you could turn to Living for Christmas cookie recipes and find new and inventive ways to make your ordinary kitchen ingredients into veritable visual and gustatory masterpieces. Now the same task requires that you have vintage tools, specialty ingredients, and an aesthetic for all things faux-boix. Could it be that Martha's people are scraping the bottom of the rare, flea-market-find inspiration barrel? I fear so.
I ought to note at this point that, where projects/recipes are NOT overwrought, they seem to be little more than recycled ideas from isssues past, with a few tweaks here and there (insert stand-up table place markers in the shape of _________ here, fabric-covered corkboards and shoeboxes there, the ubiquitous fruit-liquor gelatins and drab, stale-looking cookies of the month everywhere...)
No less disheartening are the pages and pages of glossy ads I find myself ripping from the magazine each month, an act which literally reduces the issue to half its original size. The two most recent issues went from my mailbox to my couch to the recycling bin within two or three hours. March's gardening issue focused less on actual gardening tips and techniques than it did on the landscaping/garden design of a few notable (and no doubt stinking rich) individuals, and the requisite familiar, tiring features on cut flower arrangements and houseplants. April's "Easter/Passover Issue" was not really that at all, save for a few passover recipes and easter crafting projects.
All in all, aside from the occasional gem I might mine from "Good Things" or craft project which does NOT require a Swiss bank account, I am increasingly underwhelmed by each issue of Living that slinks its way into my mailbox each month. It's kind of like the sibling who visits monthly and who can never seem to quite pull his life together: each month you search for a subtle shift, a brightening, any change whatsoever, desperate to find your loved one in some way redeemed, only to be disappointed by the same patterns, the same dismal staleness once again.
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