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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Dish Dilemma

It started as a generous gesture. I offered a set of dishes to Bub, the Princess’s closest and oldest buddy. Finally, I thought, I can justify another set of dishes with the old set going on to college apartment life. We are not a single set family- more like a six set family (I forgot! We had seven sets until last year when #7 went with the Princess to college). Not all sets are complete but there are enough at any time to serve a small army of at least 75.

So why do I need a new set? Why can’t I be happy with five sets? Therein lays the question. You see, it’s not only food that I’m passionate about. It’s the plating, garnishing, and yes the dishes I want to use on any given night to express my feelings toward my family and to showcase the meal.

The everyday workhorse of my sets is a very pale pink Sasaki set. The plates themselves are slightly concave making them perfect for pasta or center presentations I have become a maestro of vertical presentations. Mounds of mashed potatoes studded with alternating green beans and slices of pork tenderloin. Keeping food separate is a bit of a challenge unless it will adhere to the sides. Sauces follow gravity.

Just for the record- I didn’t buy the second set- it was given to me, and how could I refuse a service for eight of Russell Wright American Modern in 4 amazing 1950’s colors? This set has put a new twist on setting a table. Sometimes it is an all one color night (well yes, I have added a few more plates, bowls, serving pieces-I have drawn a line on more cups and saucers), Sometimes it’s very calculated “spontaneous” combinations.Then if I’m particularly annoyed at one part of the triangle I give them the dreaded puke green plate. I usually find the dark turquoise or dusty salmon at my place. Salads look nice in the scoopy grey bowls and the chop plate and salad bowl are to die for!

Set #3 was a calculated purchase. Having been a caterer in the great mid-west I carefully washed more sets of dishes than I care to remember. One event introduced me to Manhattan Glass. Depression glass at its best with a smooth surface and ribbed underside. Food was back lit by the tablecloth and framed by the ridges. It became a must have and I gave two Ben Franklin’s to my favorite antiquing friends who were doing a foraging mission in Michigan. They were men with a goal. To return with a reasonable set of Manhattan’s for $200 or under. It became their quest and I became the owner of a budding collection of Manhattan dishes (did I say budding- well through the years it has become fleshed out with serving platters, large bowls, and sherbet glasses that I call Martini glasses). In the hierarchy of dish to guest these say: “Slightly formal, great care in the meal and its components, good wine, enjoy.” To the family they say, “Mother made a good meal, don’t complain, no elbows on the table, good wine, enjoy-or else.”

Set#4 is my dear Rosenthal. It took me years to decide on a formal set of dishes. Every time I looked Lenox and Wedgwood I imagined the plates with food on them. How would a Thanksgiving dinner look with flowers popping around the edges? Texture? Gilt? Bone? Porcelain? It became too much for me until one day I was stomping around Chicago with Baby Princess strapped to my front. I was sweaty and tired but there was a little china shop just a few steps down. I peered in the window and spied a demitasse cup and saucer. Pushing through the door I was met with cool air and a store full of glassware and dishes. As soon as my eyes found the demi- set I new Rosenthal was for me. There is just the ever so slight decoration around the rim. On the plates it is little blue rectangles that form a “sky scraper”. On the bowls this same design has gold demurely looping through the sky scraper. I was told that Rosenthal brings patterns back and this was a revival pattern. I feel I’m never far from NYC with these dishes. This set is FORMAL- sterling silver-always, good starched table cloth, generous napkins, best behavior, and great wine, ENJOY.

So far we’re talking about complete sets with the never used cups and saucers. My NSSP suggested one day (Oh, silly him!), that I could branch out and just get a few dishes- not a complete set- and that’s where four rectangular green back, cream front and bamboo design plates, came into my clutches. I don’t really consider them part of the set family- only four dishes- but they have become the Sunday Breakfast Dishes. And then there is the placement of the food. Do I cover up the arched bamboo design? Do I use it to separate the fruit from the eggs? Where should the wedges of toast reside? “T’ain’t easy”.

Sets #5 and #6 have been purchased On the Edge. Summertime is a time to enjoy decks and I discovered a Winsome pattern by Franciscan. What caught my eye was the elongated shape-little did I know that I had fallen in love with the rectangular servomg platters but they were perfect for a complete meal on one dish. The plates are big enough for corn, salad Niçoise, or perfectly grilled flank steak. Nothing touches and these burly boys come out and shine in the summer. I have added a couple of side dishes and a divided plate for fresh veggies. Lastly we have a new addition created from a purchase of very swank black bottom, cream top and the Z for Zorro in gold and black brush strokes on the top. How could I pass up $2 a piece and a set of 5? These dishes-and not to be alone- I complemented them with black bowls and triangle black plates from Crate and Barrel: are all about swell times and jaunty drinks. Food selection is crucial, stay away from brown sauces. Salads and fruit go great in the side dishes. Entrees can be artfully arranged on the plates with salsas, curry with condiments, or snow white rice. Silverware is stainless and tablecloths colorful.

And now to replace my Sasaki-I have settled on two patterns at Crate and Barrel and have enlisted my NSSP to give his opinion. One set is the palest of blue with slightly darker blue circles. The second makes a statement. It is dark on the back and a crackled cream front with a studied Asian influence. Which dish will reign supreme?

Any thoughts? Queen Art-o-Eat

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