I love the plain white round plates and, for that matter, white linens. This is not to say that I am not into adorned china too. But, in a restaurant, where a man/woman has been paid to make my food appealing, I don’t want them to be undone by wacky-shaped, brightly-colored plates. This is not universal. There was a wonderful breakfast place in Madison, Wisconsin that served everything on mismatching china. The casual elegance, mix-match aesthetic works well at a place where the point of the restaurant is not just the food but also that the diner is cool enough to know to eat there (but usually not as cool as the waitstaff.) But this is an aside. Generally, I want my fancy dinner to be served on white, round dishes.
But, last night, when my whole family was sleeping off a fever (it was a lonely Friday night), I decided to pay this topic a little more attention. Does the shape of the plate make the food tastier? Yesterday, one day after vegan glory, I went to the other extreme and prepared a whole animal. I made Chicken Soup. My friend M— made a lovely Asian chicken soup with coconut milk on Wednesday and I went to Heinen’s full well meaning to make that. When I got home, the situation was much more dire than I expected— both baby and husband had the flu. So, I threw some kosher salt on the chicken (washed and dried) and stuffed the whole chicken in the oven. In a pot, I browned some chicken bits and backs and bony parts of a turkey, along with onions, carrots, and celery. I had a full mind to add some fennel seeds, pepper corns and a bay leaf—but there was really no time. I added cool water to the pot and went on to be Florence Nightingale.
Sometime later, when the chicken smelled cooked, and everyone was dozing, I went to prepare the soup. I boiled some egg-free noodles, microwave steamed some butternut squash and purple carrots, and got to my food-styling. I took out two bowls that seemed like polar opposites. One had a wide rim and shallow bowl. The other was all bowl-no rim. One was high-dining by way of Crate and Barrel outlet. One was Korean import store. The only things that the two had in common was that they were white and that some time in the past I had seen fit to purchase them. After I got my bowls sorted, and began to photograph, Belle woke up. So, I made third bowl for her. I am not so affected as to have pure white porcelain bowls for her yet, so the closest I had was a peter rabbit bowl from my friend G—.
So which one made the soup taste good? I would like to say all did, but it’s not true. The pasta bowl did not—it accommodated little broth and I couldn’t curl up on the couch with it. The baby bowl might have been a hit, but Belle refused the chicken and was suspect of the celery. In the end, I put some broth in a glass and she drank it that way. (Glasses are the ticket to high sophistication and adulthood according to Belle.) It made me really wonder what vegans do for Chicken Soup.
So, the bowl mattered. I was reading my friends blog about Octopus balls and the special pan required to make them (click over for ridiculously good pictures), and it made me think about much of material culture, that stuff that humans make, is a reaction to specific needs from food. If you have a grapefruit knife, a gravy boat or a shot glass, you are party to this. So, perhaps this spate of square and oblong dishes at restaurants is just part of this mechanism. (How many of them will last the test of time is still up in the air? How many of us register or marrow spoons this days?) Will I stop noticing the non-round plates at restaurants? Probably not. Maybe.
Nightingale’s Chicken Soup
Roast at 400
1 chicken (free-range, pasture-raised, happy-lived, if possible)
In a stockpot, sautee
Carcass parts of 1 chicken or 1 turkey (love this more)
2 carrots, sliced
1 celery stalk and leaves, sliced
2 small yellow onions
Add enough cold water to cover. Cook at medium.
When you remember that you are actually making soup, take the bird out of the oven and let it rest. Turn off the broth. Boil some egg or no egg noodles. Strip the chicken of its meat. (Save the carcass for the next family plague). Assemble the soup in the most comforting bowl you own.