Thursday, April 24, 2008

Break Out the Good Dishes

We human beings are a strange lot. We spend a lifetime acquiring things that we're afraid to use. The precious jewels and luxury timepieces reside in a safe deposit box or home safe in favor of wearing faux gems. The Mercedes convertable comes out of the garage only on days when the weather is perfect. The $800 suit stays in the garment bag waiting for a state occasion and (this is my favorite) we rent designer handbags while we keep the well-crafted ones we purchased in chamois sacks in the closet. Does this make sense? I think not. I'm reminded of a woman I met who had a gorgeous state-of-the art kitchen. When I asked her how she was putting her new custom copper mixer to work she replied, "Oh, I don't know how to bake but the copper finish matches the hood on my range!"

My mother used to say that one should never drink 12-year-old single malt scotch out of a Flintstones jelly glass. Use the Waterford, for heaven's sake! People make shrines out of their china cabinets - not to mention their dining rooms (come on, admit it, you know who you are). You've seen them - beautiful cabinets with subdued track lighting, some as wide as eight feet built right into the wall - with enough shelf and cabinet space to house the reference section of the New York Public Library. All manner of china, crystal, silver service and flatware are on display, along with the requisite porcelain tchotchkes and candle holders (if you're housing one of Fabergé's lost Imperial eggs, you get a pass). There they stay, except perhaps for Christmas dinner or a papal visit. Goodness, what if Great-Great-Aunt Violet's turkey platter bites the dust? What then? How can we move on?

There was a relative on my former husband's side who had some lovely china and crystal residing in an attractive curio. During the 18 years of that marriage and multiple visits to said relation, we never ate on anything but paper plates and certainly not in the dining room. If the weather was nice, we ate in the back yard (certainly plasticware is appropriate around the pool and with
small children in tow). During the winter months, we gathered in the basement. Why? To protect the good china! God forbid anyone should shatter a wine glass. We gather and hoard and protect. Then we get on in years and pass the stuff along to our children and grandchildren who repeat the process. Generations of families relocating from one place to another, wrapping and packing all the delicate stuff with extraordinary care so the movers don't break it. Then, back into the cabinet for another ten or twenty years, and so it goes. Nonsense!

There are exceptions of course, and many of the young couples getting married today opt for a more practical approach. My daughter and son-in-law registered for porcelain place settings - but they chose classic white in an affordable range. Their flatware is 18/10 stainless, so if a fork gets caught in the disposal, life can go on without a fuss. Their stemless lead crystal makes great sense as it's less apt to get broken - but if it does, replacements don't cost a week's salary.

Look, if you're going to enjoy preparing and eating good food, serve it on the good stuff - even if it's just for youself - and sit at the dining room table instead of standing at the kitchen counter. Go ahead, live on the edge, open that bottle of Shiraz and pour it into your best crystal. Throw caution to the wind and get out the Royal Doulton or Lenox or Coalport and treat yourself. Great-Great Aunt Violet can't object and you'll still have a few things to pass on to your children. The better thing to pass along to them is the idea that some things in life are meant to be enjoyed and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich served on a pretty plate accompanied by a double-damask dinner napkin is one of life's small and civilized pleasures.

Caveat: Do not, however, store fruit juice or wine in a lead-crystal pitcher. The acids can cause the lead to leach out and that, my friends, is a toxic situation.