Monday, April 29, 2013

Fine China and Elevating the Daily Family Dinner

A couple Sundays ago, we were on our way home from Mass and noticed a sign in our neighborhood saying "Vintage Sale."  We excitedly followed the arrows, hoping that the signs weren't just leftovers from a sale that had already taken place the day before.  We finally found it.  We knew it by the stacks of boxes overflowing with glassware and china on a little back patio of a tiny Pittsburgh house.  We made it just in time, it seemed, as the guy was in the process of packing everything up.  He told us that the sale had been going on the day before as well, but he'd hardly had any customers.  He was ready to give up and call it a day.

Most of what he was selling was dishes, glasses, and old china sets.  He explained that his wife had always hoped to start a business selling vintage items, so had collected the pieces for years.  For some reason, the business had not panned out.  He was happy to finally be getting rid of all the boxes that had been cluttering up the basement.

 Justin - that was his name, I just remembered - remarked that all this stuff would have sold immediately in New York, and for a lot more money.  We asked what he meant, and he explained that they had lived there previously, and only moved to Pittsburgh a year or two ago.  It made me feel bad to hear that people in my hometown doesn't appreciate nice things or antiques as much.  Although...I guess I'm thankful in a way too, since it means I've been able to find so many great things at real bargains over the years.

I love vintage housewares, and there were lots of nice things.  But I'm trying not to bring excessive clutter into the house, so I have to be pretty picky about my dishes these days.  There was one set of nice china that kept catching my eye.  I found myself walking back over to its box, and peering in, picking up pieces to look at more closely.  It was calling to me...but I already have a set of nice china, plus my everyday Pfalzgraff dishes.  I really did not have a use for it.

White with pale green and grey floral pattern

I said to Tom, who was kid-wrangling on the other side of the pile of boxes, "I think I really like these dishes...but I can't justify buying them."  Tom agreed that we did not need them, and gave me the "are you done yet?" look. Then Justin whispered to me, "what if they were free?".  My eyes lit up.  "Hey Tom!...what if they were free?"  And Justin echoed - much to my amusement, -"Yeah, Tom.  What if they were free, huh?"  haha.  Well, we were sold.

I mused about possibly just making this second set of china into our new "everyday dishes", and packing away the Pfalzgraff ones.  Justin told us that his grandmother used to do that as well.  She would even bring her nice china with her for picnics.  All her friends were shocked, and asked why she wasn't worried about breaking it.  She would tell them, "Well, who am I saving them for?  The next wife?"

I like that attitude.

So the next day, I unpacked all the new china, washed it off, and went about replacing my regular dishes in the cabinets.  There's nothing wrong with my Pfalzgraff dishes.  I did pick them out originally, when my mother insisted that I should have a set of them for a wedding gift.  But I don't know.  Maybe I've just become sick of them.  The colors don't actually match the color scheme of my kitchen or dining room, though.  And I feel like the pattern is just a bit childish and whimsical.

My former everyday dishes
It's been nice having some pretty china to eat off of every day.  I feel like it helps to elevate a casual family meal to something a little more special.  Which really, it is.   

Another thing I've been trying to do more often is put food into nice serving dishes for the table.  I'm not to the point of putting condiments or dressing into special little bowls or anything - they can stay in their original store-bought bottles! 

Some of my pretty serving bowls
But instead of bringing the whole pot or pan straight from the stove or oven and setting it on a trivet at the dinner table, it's nice to scoop the contents first into a pretty bowl or plate.  I find that when I do this, dinner is just more pleasant somehow.  It seems less rushed.  It becomes less utilitarian - just a time during which to get food into our bodies - and more about the experience of enjoying the meal in the company of family.

But Sly still gets a plastic Peter Rabbit plate, because I'm not completely reckless with my china!

Also, it's easy to remember to bring out the nice china when guests are over, if that's all that's in the cabinet to begin with ;-)


  1. Such a wonderful idea! I'm seriously going to have to try this!

    Hope you have a great week!


  2. I definitely agree with the serving dishes idea! Usually I just dish thing out onto our plates in the kitchen right now, since it's just two of us really eating a full meal. But when we have tacos (which is quite a lot...) I try to make a point of dishing all the toppings into nice serving bowls. The last time we had tacos for dinner, I was really rushing to get dinner together and just put the sour cream, salsa and cheese out on the table in their original containers. It really did make dinner seem like a significantly less important affair!

  3. I've been trying to use my serving dishes more often lately, too (or, I was, until Chuckie went on night float for the past couple weeks...) I like how it makes an "everyday dinner" seem more special. A few months ago I got some fancy-ish table cloths at a flea market, and I've been meaning to use those more often, too, like on feast days and such, but I keep forgetting.

    I liked your old dishes! But I see your point too, and the new china is pretty :) Obviously I don't feel quite the same about "fancy" china, but I think my case is maybe different since mine's a "family" china pattern. Ever since my mom started collecting its been for both every day and holidays, and I think my grandma was the same way with her set...