I have stacks and stacks of plain white serving pieces. I pick them up all over the place — Target, yard sales, World Market, second hand shops, other people's houses when they aren't looking — whenever I see them and the price is right. They're easy, because they go with everything and give my party spread a nice, clean look, letting the food shine.
But I also have plenty of pretty, artsy and interesting pieces, whether they were gifts or something I spotted and just had to have, like a ceramic platter I scored at a recent arts gala. It came with the equipment to hang on the wall, but I want to use it! How do I use a pretty platter — for food — without detracting from the design?
Years ago, I worked in a fancy gift shop, mostly for ladies, though nowadays the guys seem to be getting in on it. (Hey, they have to eat off of and live with this stuff, too! Funny how that isn't gender specific.) Every small Southern town has a shop like Non(e)such: the place where everyone registers and everyone shops for wedding gifts. When I got engaged, I didn't plan to register. We were only engaged for a week and a half, and it seemed greedy. Until my mother got a very kind, politely frantic, call from Non(e)such. News travels fast, and though we hadn't sent an invitation and were only planning a small celebration, there were people who wanted to give gifts, and they wanted to give them right then. How gracious is that? So I did my duty and registered. (The china and silver really are lovely, even though, at 23, I didn't know I would one day appreciate them.)
But this is the point: Mottahedeh's Tobacco Leaf pattern was a popular, and very pricey, choice for brides when I worked in that shop. And it's pretty beautiful, actually.
→ See it at Neiman Marcus: Mottahedeh Tobacco Leaf Dinnerware
But, even at 15, I wondered what it would look like with food on it. In my own family, we only took out the fine china on big holidays, when there was always a buffet. A plate full of samples of twelve different casseroles is a many splendored, but very aesthetically displeasing thing. A plate with an elaborate design wouldn't have helped matters. As an adult, I'm thinking that candlelight puts a soft edge on everything, and most nice dinner parties don't involve heaps of self-served food. Still, I'm kind of glad my china only has a simple border.
But back to my pretty platters. I never really know how to use them. If I do, I tend to use one or two, mixing them in with the plain white pieces. My latest acquisition is by a local artist named Betsy Kaemmerlen, who is also a well known, talented landscape artist. (As an aside, why is it that so many talented people are able to do so many things? The mind of an artist is a wonderful thing, and I wish I had one.) I really want to use this platter, pictured at the top of the post, and I want to use it a lot.
So far, it has held scallop cakes (not so pretty, but delicious) and asparagus (fairly aesthetically satisfying). Because I know there is some Japanese influence in the artist's work, I'm also thinking of making sushi soon, arranging the rolls on the patterned paths. (Yes, this will also help fill the first long, rainy afternoon of summer.) Sugar cookies would be pretty, but that's too easy. Boiled shrimp might complement the soft reds and purples.
How do you incorporate unusual pieces into your table scape? And what would you serve on my new platter?