Sunday, March 6, 2016

Nerdy Martha Stewart: Into the Kitchen

This part of my Nerdy Martha Stewart series comes uncomfortably close to just being plane Martha Stewart. A few years ago, while walking through Bloomingdale's on 59th Street I saw this china set:



 


I thought that I'd look a little ridiculous buying fine china. But it didn't feel wrong to me on the inside.

I do like women, and not for their personalities. Yet I also care about how my apartment looks. If I'm going to eat off something, why not the best? So I bought all of that.

 Here's some of it on my "wall", which is a very Soviet thing to have in one's home:



As you can see, the set includes a teapot and teacups. I hadn't drunk much tea since childhood, so I took that as an opportunity to acquaint myself with the tea world. There's Steepster, Teaviews, and other places where people talk about teas using the same style and vocabulary ("notes of bergamot", "nutty, autumnal flavors") that one usually sees in fancy wine reviews.  

I ordered a few of their teas. They were all horrible. Some tasted like you'd imagine lawn grass to taste if it was doused with hot water. These people's teaware preferences should have served me as a warning - they're all into squat, low, ugly Chinese-style pots. If none of them have any aesthetic taste, why should I have expected them to have any actual taste?

I tried buying teas in stores and ordering them in diners. All in all I probably tasted around 50 varieties. The best ones were like regular black tea from childhood, which is an OK kind of taste if you drown it in enough sugar, but not something I wanted to experience regularly.

So I eventually gave up. I continued to eat from Wedgwood plates, but left the teaware as a cupboard ornament. Some months later I was dining with a friend at a restaurant. The stuff he ordered was delayed. Eventually a waiter appeared, offering wine, coffee or tea on the house as compensation. For some reason I said "tea".

I was surprised by how much I liked it. I'm not going to imitate wine/tea/coffee connoisseur talk here. They say that talking about music is like dancing about architecture, but I disagree. I love talking about music. But I really have no idea if tea connoisseur talk is made up and I don't know how to talk about tastes intelligently. It was certainly the best tea I've ever tried.

The label on the bag said Kousmi St. Petersburg. Kousmi turned out to be the manufacturer's name and St. Petersburg the flavor. The company was started in Russia in the 19th century but has been based in Paris since the Revolution. I've tried about a dozen of their teas by now. St. Petersburg was by far the best.


During this period I was surprised to discover a practical, non-aesthetic reason to use fine china. My regular, cheap mug at work is easily stained by tea. The only way to clean it afterwards is by rubbing it with soda. Those Wedgwood cups never stain that way.

It felt wrong to eat off beautiful Wedgwood plates with regular spoons and forks, so I started looking for something that fit them better. I got into my nerdy-obsessive mode and looked through many hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, flatware sets online and in stores. Nothing looked good until I noticed an old fork in the back of one of my own kitchen drawers.



How did it get there? I certainly didn't buy it. I'm guessing that it was one of the things my mom and I took from my father's apartment after he passed away years ago. He must have bought it at a garage sale. He had an eye for beautiful things.

The fork had the manufacturer's name in tiny letters on the back: Rogers Bros. I looked it up online and quickly discovered that it was in the Ambassador pattern, which was in production from 1919 to 1973. Sets weren't all that expensive on eBay, so I bought a large one.
 










 
I use the ladle when I make pancakes.
 
 




 
I took all of the above pics off the Internet. Here's a less professional-looking picture of some of my actual flatware, the pieces I always keep on the countertop, in front of some of the plates I talked about earlier.
 
 

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