Friday, 11 December 2009

The Art of Dish Arranging

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I was introduced to the art of dish arranging at an extremely young age. My mom started me washing the dinner dishes when I needed to stand on a kitchen chair backed up to the sink. I'd wash, she'd rinse, and I'd watch as she'd put each item into the dish drainer to drip-dry. As I stepped down to a mere stool, I took over the rinsing and stacking while my younger sister washed. By the time I was standing on the floor, I'd begun perfecting my technique.

Dish arranging techniques are individualized visions. Trying to dictate how another arranges dishes can lead to resentment, discord, and outright rebellion. It's far better to allow each to develop his/her own style than to risk losing the services of a dishwasher completely. Even though I cringe when unloading a dish drainer my husband has arranged, no way am I going to say a word. He must be free to follow his own path.

I prefer an orderly approach - plates lined up, graduating down in size, from the far end of the drainer (while at the same time allowing enough space for any pot and pan lids to slip in at the very end to allow for the protruding handles). Bowls, on the other hand, start from the right, graduating up in size. Mugs align alongside the bowls, and glassware, according to fit and drip range required, either on the pegs or with the mugs. Table flatware goes handles down in the nearer hanging bin section, cooking utensils and paring knives (handles up) in the farther one. Judicious arranging of serving bowls and cooking pots above allow for everything to fit while preventing anything from retaining water.

Automatic dishwashers also require dish arrangement expertise, but their very design dictates much of the process, and stifles the creativity and flexibility only available in a well-stacked drainer. I've had very limited experience with automatic dishwashers. There wasn't one in my childhood home (why get a dishwasher when she already had five of them, my mom always said). I was 16 when we moved to a house that did have one, and I left home at 18. Not a one of the various rentals I lived in after that had one, and neither does our home now.

That this is far from the usual state of affairs nowadays was brought home to me very vividly a couple of years ago. My sister and family were visiting for Thanksgiving, and after a day spent in the kitchen and a wonderful meal, we decided her teenage sons, my nephews, should do the washing up. It was a bit of a shock when we realized they had never in their lives faced a sinkful of dirty dishes - a life lesson lacking up until then. They were given a rudimentary lesson and then left to develop their own techniques. It was only right, after all. Dish arranging is a personal quest. By this year, they had the basics down, and are well on their way to realizing their own artistry.