10.5.10 Bowled Over
Once upon a time there was a very spoiled glutton who whined to her potter friend that she really, really needed some condiment bowls. Never mind that said potter had already made the glutton an adorable set of tiny plates, several vases, and a gorgeous platter that the glutton accidentally dropped and has been mourning for the last 8 years. Still, the glutton had the gall to voice this bold wish, and the potter friend had the grace to grant it. Thus the postman delivered a box last week from the lovely and talented Mirena Kim containing a set of five little beauties, and they were immediately pressed into service. (Want some of your own? She's just beginning to make her creations available here.) Do you know what mise en place means? It's sort of the culinary equivalent of one of my favorite sayings: "A place for everything and everything in its place." (Yes, that's been especially beloved by all of my housemates.)
Mise en place is the French term used in professional kitchens to refer to the organizing and arranging of ingredients that a cook will require during his shift. Still don't know what I'm talking about? A good reference is Alexis Stewart's blog; she may be even more anal than I am. But truly, if you set out everything you need when you're about to start cooking—with the diced onion in one little bowl, and the 3 teaspoons of salt in another, and the tablespoon of capers in yet another—I think you may radically decrease the amount of confusion, sweating, frustration and panic you undoubtedly endure on a regular basis. Especially if you like to enjoy a glass of wine (or two) while cooking. If you ever make Indian food, you know what I'm talking about. Between the minced garlic and the grated ginger and the diced shallots and the minced chile and the black mustard seeds and the fenugreek and the cardamom and the cumin and the coriander...well, you get my drift. It you lay this all out ahead of time, you're golden when it comes to the moment of truth. My big secret? Little bowls.
Because she is an excellent chef (and being of Korean extraction is used to the whole banchan thing), Mirena understands the value of the small bowl. And because we're both Aquarians from California, we share a similar aesthetic: earthy, warm, clean, textured. So the stoneware bowls she made for me—some brick red, some buff colored—fit right into my kitchen aesthetic. I love having a little bit of my friend in my home, and I really appreciate how everything she gives me transcends the merely decorative to be truly useful. When my bowls are not being pressed into service for the daily mise en place, they're being used to serve olives and nuts, to bring a little melted butter or special salt to the table, or simply to create a little countertop vignette with a few chiles or cherry tomatoes from the garden. It's the little things that count.