Every Day With Rachael Ray

It's urban-grit-and-despair week here at Chateau Magazine Rack. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a preview copy of "The Wire," which starts its fourth season Sunday night on HBO. Even as a guy who makes a living by using words to describe, like, stuff, I cannot begin to tell you how astoundingly well-written and acted this show is.

It actually bothers me that I live in a country where a vast majority of people prefer the glossy drivel of "Law & Order: Scaffolding Trespass Brigade" and "CSI: Your Pants" to the no-happy-endings/no-entirely-sympathetic-characters mandate of "The Wire." I want -- nay, need -- a fifth season of the show. Comparing "The Wire" to "The Sopranos" is like comparing prime rib to pencil shavings. If you don't watch it, I won't be your friend.

The show's fourth-season story arc touches on the state of public education in inner-city America, and does so in a manner that makes your heart ache for its four child protagonists. Thus I headed down to the magazinatorium intending to find a publication that addresses, even peripherally, such concerns. Of course, the magazine world doesn't acknowledge ugly reality; people get enough of that in their day-to-day lives, so the business understandably lavishes its attention on sun-kissed anterooms and recipes for celery soup. My mission thwarted, I decided to go in the far opposite direction and purchase a copy of Every Day With Rachael Ray.

My first question upon perusing its pages: Does this woman ever stop smiling? Seriously, she must need to ice her facial muscles every night. Even Oprah allows us to see a disappointed smirk every four or five months.

O, The Oprah Magazine is the obvious blueprint for Every Day -- no big surprise, given that Ray has since partnered with Winfrey's production company on a syndicated TV show set to debut in a week or two. But where O fills its pages with inspiring profiles and all sorts of empowerment banter, Every Day confines itself to eats and related endeavors. The August/September issue of the magazine offers foodie tours of Portland, Ore., and Atlantic City, a pullout seven-day menu planner and a ranking of jellies and jams and such. Plus recipes. Recipes everywhere. Recipes for Berry Fizzes and bonbon s'mores and Bento Box lunches and cider-steamed custard. So many recipes.

Tonally, Every Day more or less apes Oprah's you-go-girl enthusiasm. Oprah, however, generally plays the role of the sage older sister (unless you lie in your Oprah-approved memoir, in which case she castrates you on her show and, as a deterrent, displays your testicles in a trophy case for all to see). Ray seemingly wants to be your bestest pal in the whole wide universe.

In the magazine, she comes across as immune to any emotional state besides giggly bliss. Recipes are appended with quickie blurbs like "This is an old favorite of mine!" and "My mom Elsa's favorite cocktail party shrimp." She chirps about raising her dog as a Red Sox fan (poor Rover) and about liking birthdays "because they humble me. They remind me to be grateful for my life, my family, my friends and my work." Her emotional munificence is exhausting, frankly.

My mistrust of impossibly cheery human beings notwithstanding, Every Day is an expertly constructed magazine and one with a perfectly defined central premise. Moms across the demographic spectrum will find plenty of useful food-centric tips here, on everything from school lunches to entertaining to travel. Smartly, the mag offers suggestions across a broad range of price points; it manages to be inclusionary without dumbing down the material for consumption by slower-blinkers.

The mag's designers also deserve a few totally affirming hugs and high-fives. Every Day mixes fonts and colors without getting too flashy about it. The mag affords every item ample space -- a rare achievement in the overly busy world of food/mommy mags -- and graphically depicts the material in the airiest possible light. Take the 16 side-by-side photos of an in-progress pizza, or the pyramid of lunch boxes/totes: just about any title, in this genre or any other, could learn a few things from the way Every Day goes about its business.

I do not like Rachael Ray as a personality. After clawing through all 152 pages of the August/September issue, in fact, I found myself wishing upon her a very public meltdown -- say, the stealth release of footage of a feral, drooling Ray attempting to skin one of her assistants with a vegetable peeler. But as a magazine overlord, she is a very savvy gal indeed. I'd be shocked if Every Day With Rachael Ray proves anything less than a monumental success.