It's rare that a magazine jumps out at me from the newsstand and practically cries, "Yoo hoo! Troll boy, over here! No, here, right next to the Peppermint Chiclets! Review me!" And so it was that I happened upon Eat at a Hudson News in Port Authority the other day.

I decided to check it out because I found its cover sublimely, majestically stupid. It promises a "picture of every recipe!" (because if there's anything skillet-happy readers won't tolerate, it's inadequately illustrated recipes) and boasts a nifty little " after its "easy family food" tagline (can you imagine the mad rush to the government registry to claim that one?). Additionally, it guarantees "82+ recipes" -- not 82 or 83 or 87 or 109, but "82+."

I bought the mag hoping to unravel that very mystery. Did somebody get bored and stop counting at 82? Was there a half-recipe hidden somewhere within the issue? Maybe one with a "to be continued..." cliffhanger ("Stir together eggs, arugula, cocoa butter and bacon bits, then sauté in a... For the shocking denouement, visit our Web site!")?

Tragically, my careful perusal of the Fall 2006 Eat produced no answers, only more questions. You know, like "are the editors so thesaurusally challenged that they feel the need to use 'easy' or some variant thereof ten times in the table of contents?" or "if a publication is so relentless about dumbing down its material for consumption by anybody musculoskeletally able to operate a toaster, why not just run stories like 'How to Chew'?"

Whoever put this magazine together believes one of two things about its audience of time- and cash-crunched moms: either that they are irredeemably slug-witted or that they care more about a pleasing magazine aesthetic than they do actual content. Whatever the case, Eat actually depressed me. The sharp, savvy folks at Meredith research the dickens out of their every publishing endeavor; if their data indicates that this is what a majority of U.S. moms want to "read," we're even more intellectually sorry as a nation than I'd thought.

The Fall issue of Eat doesn't waste a lot of time with front-of-book gunk, jumping into its feature well on page 12. Every story follows the same editorial recipe: a pithy, blithe opening blurb ("nothing says 'winter warm-up' better than grilled cheese and tomato soup"), then onto the ingredients/directions and the lavish, food-porn photos. The ideas don't bring anything new to the table: "Express Lane Meals," "Brown Baggin' It," "Picky-Eater Pleasers," etc. Maybe there's something that distinguishes the recipes themselves from similar ones in All You or Everyday Food, but if there is I can't identify it. And really: a recipe is a recipe.

The mag touts a story on "dinner that comes together in a snap with only one dirty dish" as if they've cured chronic eczema. On the other hand, the "Mmm... Just Like Mom's (But Quicker)" piece vacations in the scenic burg of Redundantville: "Mom's way" includes "making barbecue sauce from scratch," "making dough from scratch" and "making chocolate cake from scratch." My mom's way, on the other hand, involved sticking Impressionable Young Larry in front of "Three's Company" and having some alone time with Mr. Gewurztraminer (just joshin', Ma -- I know you're a Pinot Grigio gal).

On the plus side of the ledger, the Fall Eat features a nifty tear-off cover flap with recipes, plus it fosters the ahead-of-its-time notion that pancakes can be "dinner-worthy." The "Kids in the Kitchen" family-involvement bit ranks as the mag's one truly inspired idea; unfortunately, the writers don't seem to have a clue what to do with it. As part of a family effort to assemble a salad, for instance, the young'uns are encouraged to "locate and gather ingredients from the pantry, refrigerator, and cupboard" and "set a pretty table."

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh here. I mean, only an idiot who takes his mission way too seriously (cough! cough!) would work himself into a lather over a benign mommy-meal magazine. Also, Eat has been released under the "Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications" banner, likely meaning that the parent company hasn't yet committed to a regular publishing schedule.

But I can't get past the excruciating dumbing-down of material that ain't exactly Einsteinian to begin with. Eat represents yet another downward step in the Real Simple-ification of the magazine world; it is simply beyond my comprehension that any reader, lobotomized or not, could be swayed by such a saccharine, obvious presentation. If somehow it makes the cut as a regular monthly title, I'll be forced to Eat crow; I can only pray a copy of the magazine will be nearby to render the process "easy."

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