Plate Tectonics

I make ceramics because it’s relaxing, and because I make the plates and bowls that I want. It’s the same reason I paint; the images I want to look at are not in the world so I need to make them if I want to see them. It’s not complicated. That simplicity is important, and I try to always keep it in mind. What happens to the work after I make it is largely out of my control (though that fact chafes sometimes) so I try not to worry about it too much and trust in the process of making. It has not let me down so far.

I like the daily practice of cooking; it’s easy to get better at something when you do it regularly. And since I’ve been back in the ceramics studio a bit lately, that familiar feeling of climbing the learning curve has been a welcome part of the process. I unloaded a kiln today, and unpacking all the work back here got me excited to make a dinner worthy of the new pieces. My plates make me cook better.

Time was a little tight, but I knew that I wanted to make soup since there was a big container of whey sitting on the counter from the last batch of camembert. So I grabbed a celery root and a fat leek from the garden, and cubed them along with a couple of potatoes and half a rutabaga that needed eating. They all simmered in the whey with some salt and a clove of garlic. Once soft, I stick-blended it all smooth and served it in the new blue bowls. With more time, I would have pushed it through the tamis for silkiness, but I’ll do that with the leftovers.

While the soup was simmering, I browned a small mouflon shoulder (I wrote about the source here) in some duck fat in the pressure cooker and then threw in carrot, onion, celery, and some baby turnips. I added some 5-spice, cumin, pimentón, and lots of garlic, followed by a splash of wine and enough stock (duck/chicken/lamb) to almost cover the meat. I let it go for half an hour while we ate the soup, and while a nice big pile of slivered onion and red pepper melted and caramelized in still more duck fat.

Once the cooker was open, I pulled the meat out and cut it off the bone–it wasn’t shreddy and falling-off yet, but it was tender–and arranged the sliced meat on top of the stewy liquid and vegetables, followed by a generous drape of the onion-pepper mixture and some minced parsley.

The soup was good. Whey is a wonderful stock substitute; it’s tangy with acidity and has an assertive but not overpowering dairy flavor without the heaviness of milk or cream. It plays well with roots like these, as well as greens and meat. I would have braised the lamb in it if I had known what I was going to do with the lamb before I made the soup. But a nice thing about making cheese weekly is that it’s hard to run out of whey.

The lamb stew was excellent for such a quick version, and it was the caramelized topping that really made it special. Initially, I planned on adding the soffrito to the stew, but then I figured that the chewy, browned magic of peppers and onions would be better as a topping that offered contrasting flavor, color, and texture. Turns out that was true.

I have lots more things planned for these plates and the others that I brought home, and I’ll get some pictures up soon. I started a new painting today, too; after a few hours of mixing and remixing a gradient of six colors I think I arrived at a good beginning. Creativity begets more of the same.

8 comments to Plate Tectonics

  • El

    So I have to ask: do you roll out your slabs or do you toss them? All these look like slabs to me, slabs that are allowed to dry within a bowl, and then you add a slab foot later if required. All lovely btw.

  • Peter the food looks wonderful but the dishes are fantastic!

  • Peter

    El: There’s a slab roller at the studio. These are made in wooden bowls, and the feet are actually rings. I’ll be posting more pictures soon so you can see.

    Janis: I’m pretty happy with this batch. More to come.

  • Love your plates. Reminds me of my long forgotten college intention to make my own dinnerware. I’m waiting for you to make butter bells… nobody I’ve seen is making an artisan butter bell.

    You’ve got a creative flood going on! Awesome!

  • Mo

    Salivating over the food. It’s about 80* outside and about 60* inside here. I had to open the windows to warm up the inside. I know we don’t get seasons here..but it was in the 30′s when I took the bean to school this morning! I don’t know how the hell it’s now so warm outside. Anyway…

    The bowls are gorgeous, too. Not that I got any pictures of it, but your plates I bought were highly featured in a potluck party we threw last weekend.

  • Thing is, one of the things I loved most about Japan when I went years ago, was the way the plate and the food were related…. just the way the calligraphy matched the sentiment expressed. Brilliant. Wondered why we never did it that way in the West. Now we do of course with people like Grant Achatz etc. It seems such a natural progression between food and art….

    Love your work, Peter… the bowls are splendid.. wish I could use them in the food scene in the film but alas… it’s traditional!!! Oh well.. another time!!

  • Karen

    If you put a set of the blue and white bowls up on your Etsy site, I would buy them. These are all gorgeous!

  • Peter

    Jackie: I’ll add them to my list.

    Mo: Well, it’s snowing here now, so I wouldn’t feel too bad.

    Deana: Thanks for thinking of me in any case.

    Karen: I just did. Thanks.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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