Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Custom Borne of Necessity

     It's the day before we move to Atlanta, and our loft has been taken over by row after row of cardboard boxes of all sizes, rapidly dwindling rolls of green bubble wrap, spent shipping tape dispensers, and a mild state of panic. I awoke from fitful sleep at 0330, my mind racing. "How am I going to pack these pots and pans? They're all so heavy! How are Spartacus and I going to load this truck ourselves? Are we going to be ready when the movers come for the furniture tomorrow morning?" Yesterday, I got most of the kitchen packed, and was amazed at how much stuff I have. It's all stuff that I needed at one time, or thought I needed. Stuff like tiny glass bowls in graduated sizes and shapes, from minuscule ones that hold about a tablespoon to square ones with a capacity of 8 ounces.
     Why would anyone need so many wee glass bowls? Maybe it's something only a parent of children with cystic fibrosis could understand. When Nick and Rory were infants, their father and I had to figure out a way to give them pancreatic enzymes so they could digest the fat in my breastmilk. The enzymes come in capsules, full of tiny "beads". We'd break open a capsule, mix the beads with rice cereal and milk, and spoon feed them to our poor underweight babies who technically weren't even old enough for solid food. Those enzymes were truly miraculous. As soon as the boys started receiving them, their weight shot up before our eyes; they went from shriveled, malnourished-looking sacs of skin and bone to chubby-cheeked and legged bundles of energy. These tiny glass bowls were just the perfect size for mixing up the enzymes. After Nick and Rory could swallow pills, I used the bowls to hold various dips for carrots, apples, and homemade chicken nuggets. Over time, I amassed an entire army of little glass bowls. I was/am a big believer in arranging plates that are whimsical and attractive, especially for young children. Serving toddler-sized portions of mixed vegetables in these tiny bowls made it easy for the boys to use their spoons to get every last morsel, instead of chasing rogue peas around with their forks.
     Believe it or not, I use these bowls on a daily basis, some sizes more than others. I rarely use the tiniest ones anymore, unless it's to contain wasabi mustard in the event that we have take-out sushi. The medium-sized ones are great for a very small scoop of ice cream. Because the scoop completely fills the bowl, it fools me into thinking it's a full-sized portion, sort of a culinary trompe de l'oeil effect. Serving ice cream in this manner warrants the use of a spoon that harmonizes with the Lilliputian scale. I have an impressive collection of demitasse spoons which I've accidentally borrowed from a number of fine restaurants; the one from Chez Panisse is silver-plated and is my most prized miniature utensil. The larger bowls are wonderful for soup or fruit salad. If you're one of those people that can't stand having your food mixed together on the plate, employing a small bowl or two will assist in keeping it all separated.
     Now that Nick and Rory are grown and out of the house, the only person I regularly cook for is Spartacus. Even though he's a 50 year old man, I still enjoy arranging his plate of grub. Our dinner plates are a mismatched set of brightly colored and patterned Polish ceramicware, lending an eclectic, funky look to our meals. On soup and sandwich days, I'll serve blue corn tortilla chips or baby carrots with a teeny bowl of hummus on the side. If it's a take-out Thai food kind of evening, I'll use the boys' old "bead" bowls to hold the tamari-rice vinegar sauce for dipping our spring rolls into. These diminutive vessels represent a no-risk, high-yield marriage of portion control and visual appeal where form begets function, fully justifying my predilection for their continued use. It's a custom borne of necessity, and old habits die hard. I have one remaining square glass bowl to pack, and then, I'll attack the next project. I'm thinking hard about what to keep and what to donate. I don't really need all these coffee mugs and wine glasses; their versatility pales in comparison to that of my itty-bitty bowls. Indeed, every one of these glass bowls will be coming to our new home with us tomorrow. I just hope they'll survive the transit!

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