Saturday, March 26, 2011

Precious Dishes

If I had to evacuate my house for a fire, what would I grab?  After making sure my husband and I could get out safely, followed by our animals and our computer (we have a fire safe for important documents), my knee jerk response is a plate from my Depression Glass set my grandmother gave me.

The first piece of furniture I ever purchased as an adult was a lovely federal style buffet sideboard.  That should be an indicator to you of my love for my dishes.  My appreciation for beautiful dishes started back as far as I can remember.  On special occasions my mom and my grandmother would pull out their china for whatever celebratory meal was going to take place.  The festive meal was a great excuse to use these special pieces.  They both showed me how to lovingly handle the dishes including hand washing, never to put in the dishwasher for fear of destroying the paint or the gold rim around every plate. 

Pink Cherry Blossom
Collector s Encyclopedia of Depression Glass,19th EditionCollecting Depression Glass has been my grandmother's life long quest.  She would hit antique stores or garage sales at every opportunity in search of her beloved patterns.  By my merely tagging along on these adventures, by osmosis, I became just as enamored.  She cultivated my interest by beginning a collection for me...Pink Cherry Blossom Depression Glass.

If you are unfamiliar with what Depression Glass is, Wikipedia provides a good synopsis,  "Depression glass is clear or colored translucent glassware that was distributed free, or at low cost, in the United States around the time of the Great Depression. The Quaker Oats Company, and other food manufacturers and distributors, put a piece of glassware in boxes of food, as an incentive to purchase. Movie theaters and businesses would hand out a piece simply for coming in the door.  Depression glass has been highly collectible since the 1960s. Due to its popularity as a collectible, Depression glass is becoming more scarce on the open market. Scarce pieces may sell for several hundred dollars."

Once I married, my grandmother passed on her china set to me as well.  As I prepared my own special occasion meals, I repeated what my grandmother and mother would do...pull out my special plates.  I thought that was what everyone does.  Not so I discovered.

As I prepared one Christmas meal, I went about setting the table.  One of my guests suggested I not go to the trouble of pulling out the china and silver. What?  She said it wasn't necessary to make such a fuss.  But a pretty plate enhances the pleasure of the meal and the time spent with guests!  It signifies the specialness of the occasion along with celebrating tradition and etiquette of days gone past we so rarely get to visit or experience.  At least that has been my perspective.

I'm not sure what her motivation for making the suggestion was, but I've tried to consider that what's seems important to me is not necessarily so to others.

Even so, recognizing when something is important to me doesn't mean I should sacrifice it to make other people happy.  So what if the china requires hand washing and seems fussy.  It's the company and the celebration of our family traditions that remain important.  My dishes are sentimental but also hold an intrinsic value...they are meant to be used.

Since the Christmas event of long ago, my collection has grown even more.  We inherited yet another set of china and silver from my mother in law.  The buffet could no longer accommodate the all the dishes we accumulated.  Let me put it this way, I could (if my house were large enough), have a place setting for over 45 people...mix and match of course.  Out of necessity, my husband and I scouted out a new piece of furniture...a fabulous one-of-a-kind hutch from Lots of Furniture, a salvage store in Dallas.  When we moved back to Southern California...the #1 requirement for any house we were going to buy had to accommodate the hutch!  (It's as big as a small car and weighs about as much!)

p.s.  By the way, if any of you out there may have an idea of where this hutches origins are from, I am all ears.
Yes, it's a hand-carved gargoyle on the front of the hutch guarding my dishes!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recipe (Dis)Organization

Unless I am making something insanely simple, most of my kitchen creations start with a recipe.  I have a decent collection of cookbooks, okay, probably more than the average.  But I also source many of my recipes from a variety of other places.

Back in the day before the Internet, I would watch PBS cooking shows and do my best to jot down the recipe as it was playing out on the screen.  Obviously this was before the Internet was used as a supplemental tool to a television show.  Nowadays the Internet has become a great resource for anything I might fancy.  Of course friends and family have shared their recipes with me over the years.  My greatest resource, much to my husband's chagrin, is from my magazines.  I say chagrin because I have difficulty reading through them in a timely fashion.  But once I finish that magazine I'll rip out the recipe for testing and toss the magazine.

All of these pieces of paper sit in pile awaiting their audition in my kitchen.  Once selected for preparation, the audition begins.  As the casting director (my husband is co-casting director) we put the candidate through its paces.  If the outcome is a success, the recipe will be cast for future meals at our table...a repeat performance!

Harnessing all these index cards, notes, printouts etc. has been my challenge.  I've had systems in the past for organizing the recipe cast members, but the last system I put in place is unmanageable.  I started a notebook, with plastic sheets to protect the recipes.  But the order in which everything was filed into this book was in the order in which we tried a recipe.  It's become unwieldy.  I can't lay my hands on recipe for the life of me.  Clearly, I was not applying my mis en place philosophy to my recipe management system.

Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)Mis en place as explained by chef/writer Anthony Bourdain in his memoir, Kitchen Confidential is, "your station, in a state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system. The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it, everything you need during the course of a shift is at the ready at arm's reach. If you let your mis en place run down, get dirty, get disorganized, you'll quickly find yourself spinning."

Some would advise I scan all of these little tiny pieces of paper into my computer and go digital.  My kitchen just isn't large enough to accommodate even the smallest of laptops nor does scanning, naming or filing sound like an efficient solution.  So my spring cleaning project .... organize the notebook into categories as you would find in any decent cookbook.

Knowing when its time to change something that is not working is the first step.  In drawing that conclusion for myself, I realized with all of the other things in the world to worry about, finding a recipe should not be one of them.  On to the second step...doing something about it!
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