Choosing Beauty in the Every-day: New Dishes

My first plate, resting on the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired placemats.

My first plate purchased in July, resting on the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired placemats: spinach fronted by fresh mozzarella, tomato, and garden basil.

Last week I bought the (almost) final dish in my new set of Bennington Pottery.

That’s important because three years ago, I found myself suddenly a one-person living unit, every room of the new apartment stacked with bins and cardboard boxes six feet high. I was Keeper of The Household as I had always been, but now with a much smaller Household to manage.  It was simultaneously frightening, sad, and a relief.

The containers spilled over with stuff saved for other people, for future needs and/or disaster: financial papers, cooking equipment, furniture, clothing, decoration–and dishes. Most of it had been purchased already-used decades ago, found on the street, or gratefully acquired as other people cleared out their basements and storerooms. The items didn’t necessarily match or work optimally, but they functioned, and when you are just barely surviving, that’s what matters.

Happy to have a very different life now,  I’ve been learning to go beyond the idea of just-surviving, especially since–as witnessed by the stockpiles of food I’ve been using up–I am releasing myself from the burden of so many belongings, the weight of saving in order to feel safe.

In addition, in the small amounts I keep, I want not only functionality but also beauty.  When my best friend was making a pittance on the front lines in human services, she would still buy a little piece of handblown glass or earrings, telling me:  Beauty is as important as food. 

Since Bennington Pottery is not only beautiful but relatively expensive, I’ve been acquiring the matte finish Elements design over time, buying most of them as “seconds” from the outlet or Potter’s Yard in Vermont (making me much more comfortable with the idea that I might break a piece here or there).  I certainly don’t need all of the sizes, just the couple that work for me ; I chortle over picking four different colors to mix and match, the option to make my table look different at every meal. The quirks in curvature and mis-splotches of color, part of being a not-quite-perfect dish, endear each salad plate and soup bowl to me.

Ham and lentil soup, toast with cherry preserves, in and on the new dishes

Ham and lentil soup, toast with cherry preserves, in and on the new dishes

During the factory tour on a slow day, one of the fewer-than-ten potters took visitors behind the scenes to see how they smooth and glaze and fire the clay.  To meet the artist-makers of my belongings moves me, and I often relive those discussions when I encounter the objects in my home.

Behind the futon on which I sometimes sit while eating out of my new palm-sized bowls, hangs a yellow-and-red Amish quilt, signed on the back by a northern Kentucky woman named Ella Bontrager.  As I study its shifting geometry, the rainy April afternoon of its purchase returns: talking in Ella’s little farm-shop, hearing how her husband and daughter work with her, why she used a nontraditional “proud” color in this artwork, what is valuable to her and her community.

A corner of Ella Bontrager's Amish quilt

A corner of Ella Bontrager’s Amish quilt

My gaze moves to the purple and green and brown placemats I splurged on at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin-Martin house in Buffalo.  The nuance in their colors and patterns frequently draw me to thoughts of architecture, simplicity and beauty–same as the quilt and the plates.

In the window, light glows through two tiny hobnail glass vases.  From over three dozen of varying sizes, I have kept only a few; the rest were donated, moving on to other people’s homes for their flowers and their meditations. The mis-matched plates and bowls from my past left in that give-away box, too.

Every day we eat off dishes and placemats, look at interior walls and surfaces, use the items we share our living space with.  How do we make this inside life beautiful?  What choices do we make, what do we get rid of, to add beauty to our lives?

Moments of startling light.

A moment of warm afternoon light.

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Eating Out: A Light-Hearted Post

Since I am on my way out of town once again, here are some meals to sink your eyes into, from local non-chain restaurants.

OUTDOOR FARE

Ok, seriously fried food: crab cakes and onion rings, outdoors at The Boardwalk, Lake George NY. The view of the water and people para-sailing was more fun than the food; washing lunch down with local brews helped.

I ended up taking most of this home, and reheating it in the toaster oven over several days. Also had to make big piles of vegetables to eat with it, as I am just not used to the oil.

P.S. Never reheat crispy/fried/texture-driven food in the microwave; it’s such a disappointment.

Next, cheeseburgers with slaw on top at Jumpin Jack’s Drive-In, Scotia NY, with a side of excellent onion rings; rode up hungry on bicycles for the first summer visit and on a motorcycle for the second. A large sweating cup of icy unsweetened tea rounded out the meal.

Last summer we saw television pictures of Jumpin Jack’s under water from Hurricane Irene. Apparently they are all dried out now and back to long but quick-moving lines of customers again.

I don’t eat that much red meat, so when I do it has to be worth it.  Even then, I usually split a burger with other people, and nibble on two or three onion rings. Ok, maybe four. I really, really enjoy the zesty crunch of the coleslaw as my teeth sink into the salty cheese and meat.  All right, maybe five onion rings, you know, if I’m really hungry.

BREAKFASTS

Oh my heavens, mascarpone-stuffed French toast topped by fruit compote at The Parkside House, Buffalo NY.  The Parkside is a B&B three blocks from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House (note the FLW inspired china).

This meal kept me going for absorbing architecture in the morning, followed by three hours of hiking Niagara Gorge at Whirlpool State Park. Thanks, Chris and Jonny–breakfast was delightful.

Home-made waffle and broccoli rabe (aka rapini, a brassica related to turnips of all things!) & mushroom omelet, with some of the least greasy breakfast potatoes I have ever eaten. Someone was bringing in fresh local bunches of chard, for lunch I presume, as I sat drinking tea.  Skyport Diner, Schenectady NY

DINNERS

Crab cake with–get this!–lemon & vanilla-bean aioli (kept thinking there was something “chocolatey” about it ’til I double-checked the menu) over mango coleslaw, at Waters Edge Lighthouse  Restaurant, Glenville NY.

I suspect most people who dine out have a food they just must sample and compare to previous versions whenever they see it. Mine used to be chicken fried steak with sausage gravy (known in Yankee country as “southern” or “country” fried steak), but since I spend most of my time in the north now, I eat much less meat and fried food–oh, and I’ve eaten more than enough chicken fried steak for several lifetimes—I am now a crab cake taster. This exquisite cake proved one of the best ever, not too bread-y or fried-tasting, accompanied by such exotic flavors! What’s your “search out food”?

The chicken satay appetizer (big enough for a meal), again at Waters Edge Lighthouse. Note the Mohawk River flowing by behind the food, and yes, boats are bobbing there with the sun reflecting on them. Eating on the water is wonderful—especially when Hurricane Irene is not overflowing the banks; this was another restaurant that flooded last summer.

Vegetable samosa nestled behind a bowl of shrimp masala at Shalimar in Delmar NY. The creamy masala sauce with its peppers and onions is best eaten by dipping garlic naan (bread) into it, though you can eat an awful lot of naan in the process. I am also partial to the bund gobi aloo (cabbage and potatoes) all golden and yummy.

NOT DESSERT—INSTEAD, PRETTY COLORS TO FINISH WITH.

The beer flight at Madison Brewery, Bennington VT. The color, just look at the color and the varying opacities!—so many shades of red, amber, gold. Included in this sampler were Crowtown Pale Ale, Sucker Pond Blonde, Wassick’s White Wall (the cloudy one), Buck’s Honey Wheat, Willoughby’s Scottish Ale, and Old 76 Strong Ale.

Cheers, summer!