My Mother’s China
BY TOM YATES
My mother’s wheat pattern bone china has logged quite a few miles over the years. Purchased in Stuttgart, Germany sometime during the 50’s after marrying my father and moving to Germany, her precious china filled the very modern Danish teak buffet that my father apparently couldn’t live without.
Neatly stacked and arranged, entree plates, dessert plates, bread plates, finger bowls, serving bowls, serving platters, crystal glassware, teacups, coffee cups, and individual salt and pepper shakers rounded out the complete service for 12. I imagine it made quite a statement in their army base apartment.
Shortly after I was born, our stint in Stuttgart ended and we were on the move, china in tow. Over a 60 year stretch, the china crossed oceans and continents several times, following my family from Germany to Washington D.C., Austria, Africa, and back to Virginia before landing in my father’s farm house in Kentucky.
Sometime between moves, my mother passed away. She vanished. Left in the dark at the time, I was told years later that I was too young to fully understand. You can’t miss something that you don’t remember losing. Day by day, I guess I just went with the flow. We were always on the move. Without much thought, I went from waiting for the ice cream truck on a curb in suburban D.C. to staring out the window of a cold apartment on a busy Vienna strasse. Normal life. Not skipping a beat, we simply kept going and going like nothing had ever happened.
To ease his load and maybe some guilt, my father secured nannies and housekeepers to fill what he thought was my void. Despite navigating a few cultural and language barriers, I held fast to my German, Czech, Swedish, and African caretakers. They were all that I knew to love. They formed me. Loved me. Molded me. Still, as much as I counted on them, they changed as often as our addresses, vanishing as my family moved on. As an innocent Buster Brown-clad kid, I grew accustomed to constant change and frequent good-byes. Even then, one thing never changed. Throughout all the moves and rotating surrogate stand-ins, my mother’s china was a constant. Pieces of her were always present. Delicate. Pristine. Familiar. An unknown connection.
Years later, when my father passed away, her china made one last journey to our home here in Lexington. Although a bit too matchy-matchy and over the top for most folks, we adore it. And while all the previous caretakers of the china handled it with kid gloves for special occasions, we drag it out and manhandle it all the time. It’s too precious to be precious. Stacked and arranged in what is now considered a noteworthy mid-century modern Danish teak buffet, the well traveled china endures. Dinged up somewhat from years of use and bumpy journeys, her delicate whisper thin china mysteriously haunts me, reassures me, and comforts me. A tangible lost memory I can touch.
Mothers are the storytellers and keepers of our secrets.
My mother’s china is my story.
Teacup Carrot Soup With Chilled Crab
After peeling and chopping 2 pounds of carrots, I diced 1 medium sweet onion, minced 5 Bath County spring green garlic bulbs, and set them aside.
After heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a larger dutch oven over a medium high flame, I tumbled the carrots, onions, and garlic into the sizzling hot oil before adding salt, ground white pepper, and 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger. When the carrots and onions softened (without taking on color), I added 2 cups water, 3 cups chicken stock, and 2 fresh bay leaves. I brought the soup to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered the pot, and let it rip for 45 minutes.
Gilding the lily.
While I’m a sucker for crunchy deep fried or baked croutons as soup toppers, I took a softer route.
I carefully separated and flaked 4 ounces chilled crab claw meat before gently tossing it with lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, olive oil, snipped chives, slivered red bell pepper, a pinch of salt, and a dusting of ground white pepper. After a quick taste to adjust the seasoning, I slid the crab into the refrigerator to chill.
The silk road.
When the carrots were knife tender, I removed the bay leaves, transferred the soup to a blender, pureed the soup in batches until it was silky smooth, and let it cool just a tad before tumbling the chilled crab salad into the vibrant puree and finishing flaked sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and Elmwood Stock Farm spicy micro greens.
Clean and fresh, hints of ginger and spring garlic poked through the inherent earthy sweetness of the carrots, giving the simple puree a subtle spicy warmth and depth of flavor. While the delicate flaked crab brought understated briny lux to the party, the punchy lemon, slivered peppers, and micro greens provided acidic fresh crunch.
Pureed carrot soup. Chilled crab. Precious worn china. Hold fast to the storytellers.
This article also appears on page 11 of the April 2018 print edition of Ace.
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