Upon purchasing my Sunday newspaper, I first throw away everything that overlaps with my online reading and then anything likely to piss me off (is this an appropriate forum in which to put a bounty on Dilbert's head?). After filling up the recycling bin, I'm usually left with the crossword puzzle, the Week In Review section and the Best Buy circular.

On Sunday, owing to some urgent personal business, I rushed home without having first hollowed out the huge pile o' paper. After lighting a bunch of matches, I found myself staggered both literally (the Sunday edition weighed in at 11 pounds) and emotionally (that trees die every day so that Mike Lupica can make a living is among our society's most profound injustices). This is how newspaperdom plans to break out of its death spiral?

Between the coupon books and the Viva-Something-Or-Other "special advertising supplement," I happened upon the June issue of Relish, which seeks to do for the kitchen what Parade does for semi-literacy. Much like its name -- It's a verb! It's a condiment! It's both! -- Relish is nicely multidimensional. It delivers the expected recipes, which are presented in the most moron-proof manner humanly possible. But it also attempts to convey local flavor, in the form of visits to regional festivals and comparable outings.

Never mind the later-in-life psychological ramifications of anointing a young girl the town's "tomato queen" -- these visits, supplemented with appropriate recipes, are the mag's sweet spot. Every food magazine attempts to convey a sense of place; Relish does so very successfully by keeping its observations succinct. Like, four-paragraphs-and-out succinct.

Along those lines, Relish's family-friendly items compare favorably to similar content in parenting and food magazines. I can't imagine too many kids would be jazzed by the idea of noshing on raisin-packed "Chewy Energy Circles," but the tips for involving them in the cooking/baking process seem spot-on.

The mag sure could benefit from hiring a real writer or two, though. Not that Relish will ever publish a 6,000-word exegesis on the gustatory marvel that is chateaubriand, but even weekend-numbed readers demand story leads more involving than "There are few things in life that are perfect, but pimiento cheese may well be one of them." I also wonder why the piece on a New Yorker's brush with CSA (community-supported agriculture) doesn't bother to answer the question "What is CSA?" In any event, kudos to the copy staff for resisting the obvious "CSA: New York" headline.

Relish suffers by its association with direct-response advertisers, those mainstays of Sunday circulars. I acknowledge the necessity of filling pages and making money and such, and have always gotten a kick out of tchotchkes like chintzy "Faith Mountain" collectibles ("a true testament to Jesus' love, faith and strength"). But should a family-food publication be running ads that boast, "I lost 11 pounds the first week (and 35 pounds in all) while continuing to eat as usual"? What'd the person in question do, cut off an arm? It's not metabolically possible to have a Kate Bosworth breastplate on a Dan Aykroyd diet, and it's irresponsible for a mainstream food-and-frolic title to suggest otherwise, even if it plasters ADVERTISEMENT in 72-point type directly above the boasts.

I'd also advise Relish to simplify, simplify, simplify. Small, smudgy pix do little to illustrate small, smudgy stories, while the leadoff "That and That" pages clutter themselves needlessly with factoids about candy commercials and lovey reader letters ("thank you for an absolutely splendid publication"). In that spirit, I'll end today's exercise with my own testimonial, which the mag can take or leave at its own discretion: "Relish is everything you'd expect from a Sunday-newspaper insert about food, and then some. Also, it's only 28 pages long, which frees you to spend an extra few minutes on the TV-section word jumble (clue: TV dad "I B L L" Cosby). More cobbler, please. Fondly, Uncle Larry."

Published by: Publishing Group of America (all together now: U-S-A! U-S-A!)
Frequency: Monthly
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