Old or new, it's shape that defines their use: large with high sides and rounded bottom for batters and doughs; medium and deep for hot rice and freshly mashed potatoes; wide and welcoming for pasta, tossed greens and tortilla chips; miniatures for dipping sauces or a nosh of leftover soup at midnight.
As you can imagine, antique stores and craft fairs are my downfall.
In the former, I'm encountering pottery that has already performed a lifetime of service in unknown kitchens.
Because I'm intrigued with each bowl's functionality, as well as its inherently artistic form, I can relate to friend Jeff Taylor's attraction to antique tools. In his wonderful book from over a decade ago, "Tools Of The Trade," Taylor delivered the essence of a carpenter's most basic aids through a series of essays focusing on each one of his favorites.
As he wrote in his introduction: "It takes a while to find the meaning of tools, the aura of them, if you will, the way they seem to be asleep until you learn how they work and how to use them.
"Suddenly you have a tool that is yours, and more than yours, because it has a history that precedes your ownership. It may have been handled by giants and wizards of the craft; it may act a little skittish in your hands, but at that moment, you are becoming part of its working life."
When I reach for one of my beloved well-used antique bowls, Taylor's words ring true. Its past -- although unknowable -- forever links me to a line of cooks who grasped its sturdy form and used it to feed grateful spouses and children.
For completely opposite reasons, I'm drawn to the work of present-day potters. We're lucky to have such a talented community of them here in the Willamette Valley. At any given art festival my resolve to cap my bowl collection is undermined by these alluring vessels; each one an original piece of art. So much beauty and purpose brought into being from a humble lump of clay, speaking to me on multiple levels.
But ultimately it boils down to shape, texture, glazing and something far too intrinsic to identify. I just know it's the right bowl for me.
Unlike the mysterious tales that accompany the antique beauties, for these brand new bowls, my ownership marks a journey just begun. Their inner surfaces will never again be as pristine. But hopefully their golden patinas will speak to future generations of the love and use they received in that first Corvallis kitchen.
Spinach salad with brown sugar bacon vinaigrette and roasted hazelnuts
1 pound tender young spinach, trimmed of coarse stems
10 slices bacon, snipped crosswise into julienne strips before cooking
1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar
1 firmly packed tablespoon golden brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 mushrooms, washed, dried and sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Wash spinach well in several changes of cold water, spin dry, then bundle in paper towels and refrigerate. When ready to proceed, mound spinach in a large heat-proof salad bowl.
Brown bacon in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden and crispy. Drain the crisp brown bacon bits on paper towels and set aside.
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Stir in the vinegar, scraping up all the cooked-on bits of bacon. Whisk in the brown sugar, salt, and black pepper. Add the olive oil, then adjust the seasonings; set the dressing aside while you assemble the salad ingredients.
Tear the spinach into bite-sized pieces, discarding tough stems. For individual servings, divide the spinach between 6 to 8 salad bowls or plates. Over each bowl, layer the mushrooms, hazelnuts and some of the dressing. Sprinkle each serving with some of the egg, crumbled bacon, and Parmesan cheese. For one large bowl, prepare as above, and toss the salad at the table, right before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Here's another great holiday salad. Persimmons are in season, as are new-crop Willamette Valley hazelnuts.
Salad of mixed greens with Fuyu persimmons and roasted hazelnuts for a crowd
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
6 cups of mixed salad greens, torn into 2-inch pieces
10 ounces total of baby spinach and baby arugula
1 large bunch watercress, stemmed (about 6 cups)
3 Fuyu persimmons, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings
2 cups coarsely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
Boil orange juice and orange peel in heavy small saucepan over medium-high until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Whisk in the balsamic vinegar, canola oil, hazelnut oil, salt, pepper, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. Season dressing with pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover, chill)
To serve: Place all greens and half of persimmon slices in large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide salad among plates. Top each with remaining persimmon slices and hazelnuts.
Makes servings for 10 to 12.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Contact her at email@example.com.
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