Staring at a Pile of Dirty Dishes: What Do You See?

When I see a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I sigh a big sigh. I don't see laziness in there, this formidable Jenga of mismatched tableware and utensils, I see time well spent and food going down easy.

What do you see when a lofty stack stares you straight in the eye?

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I see us nourishing ourselves.

Yesterday, my darling roasted brussels sprouts in good olive oil, dousing them in chili flakes and Maldon salt and loads of cracked black peppercorns.

The meal was served to me, sprawled out on the couch with a bad cold, by a loving soul, on a plate of robin's egg blue, fair-weather chips denting its imperfect edges. Can't bring myself to throw it out, although I probably should. You see, my collection of dishes is exactly that — not a set or a strategically–planned, cohesive white porcelain thought — each plate, vessel or bowl, was either given to me or I picked it up somewhere simply because I liked the way it felt in my hands. It's a mismatched evolution of gingerly-chosen objects . . . There's hot chocolate stuck to a pot. There's oatmeal glued to several surfaces.

As I stare harder at the daunting, unruly stack, I see endless cocktail parties where finger foods are served and cassis liquer is added to Champagne for the ladies — candies from childhood brimming in bowls around the dessert table — memories of being a kid, delighting in handfuls of glorious Sourpatch kids, Cherry sours and Swedish fish. As a young moviegoer, I used to first get a 'courtesy cup' of ice, then crack at the surface of the candy just slightly with my molars. I would then place my dented candy into the cup of ice. Repeat. Wait until previews were over and movie commenced (it was probably Money Train or Titanic or some such smut). Then, I slowly chewed on half–frozen candy, marveling at its transformation into a semi–frozen solid (my mouth is actually watering now thinking about this strange concoction). I would redo the freezing cycle in 10 minute intervals, until the candy had run out, then guzzle that sour sugar water down, so cool against the throat and sickly–sweet and pungent. Nectar of the celluloid gods, in my mind.

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I glance over at the pot of split pea soup, a greenish film still clinging to the lid — the same kind of soup my Grandmother Ruth made, the dried 'Manoshevitz Split Pea' I picked up from the kosher section at my grocery. The finished soup was too watery and lacked flavor, but it sent me straight back to her Brooklyn Heights kitchen, where I sat on a nearby stool in my hand knit sweater, drawing in my journal. I was probably sketching a portrait of my stuffed bear, Sarah, who always sported a matching sweater (of course, also knitted by Grandma). Late at night, I would sneak into her junk drawer, stealing away chocolates, only to find they were so old, they'd gone all white and chalky, the cocoa separated from the fat solids. I didn't even know chocolate could go bad, but that realization revealed one of life's simple truths pretty early: candy bars, unlike wine, do not get better with age. Ruth served the split pea soup to us, as she fussed about the kitchen with her crazy pile of pots — joining us in eating only a large slice of Key Food bakery's Devil's Food chocolate cake accompanied by a petite cup of weak Nescafe. I stare at my pot, it's a Le Creueset — the fanciest thing I own — it holds the remains of this same soup. Now I make it and add curry powder, coconut, chilies and white wine. It's a concoction my Grandmother would probably scrunch her nose at. I miss her adoring disapproval.

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Endless tea bags — and loose–leaf strainers, pods of cardamon and ginger slices lingering at the remnants of leaves, sugar and whole fresh milk . . . How many teas can one drink in a day? It turns out an ocean of the indefinable brew — herbal, green, black — it's evident I have no allegiance to color, brand, quality or creed. There's teas of all types and an assortment of condiments sitting out on the counter: honeys, agave, brown sugar, lemons and milk cartons reserved for this sole purpose. How the kettle rattles and the milk recedes into the calm tea moment. I literally swim in the stuff, Alice would be jealous.

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Every single bowl that we own is dirty. Could it be that we love cereal this much? We should work on this . . .

I catch a glance at a few more plates, lingering by the sofa and my husband's favorite coffee cup on a tray at his desk. There are many more dishes in fact. Many more parties, and many more cups of tea. Many loves preparing foods for each other. What's one more plate to add to the pile?

What is it that you see when faced with a sink full of dirty dishes?

Related: Ritual Meals: What Does Home Taste Like

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross, image of my Grandmother by Richard Ross)

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