Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mixed Plate: The Story of Grandma's Noodle Dish

Almost two years ago, my family had to do the sad but necessary task of cleaning out my grandparents' home when my grandfather passed away. My grandmother had passed away several years ago and he had been taking care of the house on his own. Our family had a lot of memories invested in this house; it's the home where my father and his sister grew up, and I spent a lot of childhood summers there. Time and life's adventures combined to create a situation where stuff accumulated. Lots of stuff. To put it lightly, Grandpa had collected a lot of things, and were the powers of cable TV trending to have happened a few years earlier, I think we could have had a prime candidate for one of those "Hoarders" shows. It was no small task to sort through this life of collected objects. But amid all the junk, there were still treasures worth keeping, like a large, elaborately decorated serving dish my grandmother would use for dinners and potlucks. My parents paid the price of a blackmarket orphan to have this plate shipped safely to my home, and it's sat as a centerpiece on our dining room table since the family home had its final cleaning. It wasn't yet used as a proper plate, that is, until the recent visit of my Aunty S.

Pad Thai with a heaping side of family memories - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Right now our house is a mishmash of family objects. That same hoarding mentality my grandpa had has clearly taken root in my own personal habits, but I hope to not let it get so out of hand that my stuff starts to own me. When Aunty S. visited, I showed her old photos of her and my dad's childhood organized in an album, pieced together by a narrative from her brother's weirdly good memory. I took possession of her childhood jewelry box, a beautifully painted wooden box with little drawers and a rolling two-door shutter, along with their collection of kokeshi, painted Japanese wooden peg-like dolls of varying size, plus the porcelain Japanese dolls rescued from the old glass case in my grandparents' home. Our house has become like a family museum, and I hope to keep the items in as good condition as I can, for no other reason than a sentimental crazy fear of losing memories to time's passing. And yeah, I'm probably a hoarder at heart, so consider my application to TLC and The Discovery Channel pending.

My homemade Thai carb-fest dinner - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Family keepsakes aside, I wanted to make at least one big dinner for my aunt's visit, so I made a three-course Thai meal. We're not Thai, this wasn't anything either of us grew up with, but I like the flavors and I was comfortable shooting from the hip with these dishes, so that's how the meal came to be. I made a spicy/sour coconut and chicken soup, Swimming Rama creamy peanut sauce with chicken and peppers, and a giant amount of Pad Thai. The family serving dish came into the picture, as Aunty S. mentioned she remembered her mother serving up many noodle dishes on this plate, so I thought it would be fitting that the Pad Thai be served up on this platter. Plus I didn't have anything big enough to hold all those noodles, and gosh darn it if it didn't look pretty.

Unfortunately, I didn't have anything as picture-pretty as the noodle dish for the soup and chicken with peanut sauce, but that's fine -- most family potluck dinners are a rogue's gallery of servingware, so consider this just "keepin' it real." It was a lot of food for just three people -- Auntie S., Mr. Wasabi, and myself -- but it was a rich, hearty meal to enjoy with loved ones, plus the added benefit of leftovers for several days and my not having to cook.

Washing the large dish that night, I noticed on the bottom, it still had a bit of old tape with the family name written across it, along with my grandpa's initials painted in what I can only assume to be my grandmother's nail polish -- it was a bright coral hue. No doubt these were put there to help assign ownership when plates were left at someone's house after a big potluck dinner. I often get overly precious about using fancy platters, not wanting to use them in fear of wearing them out or risking breakage, but seeing how much better they look when piled with food made me feel less fussy about letting this platter rediscover its humble, but useful place in the food universe. I saw my grandmother's handwriting and it truly felt like this plate was home.

A family feast with lots of leftovers! - Photos by Wasabi Prime 

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  1. What a sweet story. Always feels good to use family treasures. Hope you enjoy using it for many years. r&r

  2. I loved reading this. My mom collects antiques and I often wonder where they came from and who enjoyed them in past years. Having dishes that have been in your family makes them even more meaningful and special. I firmly believe that food is enjoyed more thoroughly when it looks as beautiful as it tastes. Having a special dish to serve it on helps as well. Great post!

  3. Beautiful story! It's wonderful how you are keeping all of your family memories alive through your writing. I think it's just our grandparent's generation because my grandpa was very much like that. Never wasting a thing, always frugal. We used to buy him a lot of t-shirts and pajamas because the ones he had were really worn and tattered, but he never used them. When he passed away we found all of his new and unused t-shirts and pjs tucked neatly away in his closet. :)

  4. What a lovely tribute to your grandma. There's no better way to honor the memories of those we've lost than by making family recipes or using the dishes that once graced the table with those who sat before us.
    ---Nice job with this one Wasabi.

  5. This was so great to read. I too have a fondness for family heirlooms and have helped clean out the homes of my verging on hoarder grandparents after they had passed. It's hard to see these items sent off to a place where no one will know their story. Your serving dish is really living on in a great way. Your meal looks like it was fantastic!


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