I don't mean to be hopelessly materialistic, but I bought a platter (well, actually three - a smaller one and two larger ones, for a grand total of eight dollars) at a thrift store the other day and it filled me with deep-seated satisfaction and joy. I'm kind of into all that stuff, you see. Plates please me, as do tablecloths from flea markets and silver salt shakers from my mother and etched glasses in green and yellow crystal that we bought as seconds a few years ago in Berlin. For years, I've been making do with a few Sarreguemines plates I bought on Ebay years ago (they reminded me of my puces forays in Paris), with glasses that roommates contributed to the apartment, with a hodge-podge assortment of forks and knives, with paper towels instead of linen ones. But now that we've found our place in Queens, I've been thrilled to leave those things behind.
It was fine, at first. After all, at twenty-three, I was far too busy staying up until 6 am with my girlfriends in bars and eating hors d'oeuvres for dinner at book parties in the East Village and Tribeca to care about the state of my kitchen. I'd visit my mother and she'd show me the wonderful things she'd started saving for me, "for when you have casa tua", and I'd admire them, an antique ceramic bread box, linens she'd salvaged and starched, her grandmother's silverware, champagne coupes bought piece by piece at the flea market. But casa mia was a faraway concept, one I didn't particularly long for yet. I liked having roommates, a communal home, the freedom to break a glass or eat with a plastic fork. Linen towels would have been awfully annoying to launder compared with the disposability of a paper napkin. So I'd stow the treasures away in her closet and go back to New York to resume my life.
The years progressed, though, and as is wont to happen, I grew up a little and started hungering for a home of my own. One in which I could assume that the dishes would always be actually clean after being washed. One in which I didn't have to worry about an old plate being stuck carelessly in the microwave. One that made me want to wash linen towels and vacuum more than once a month and not to have to serve dinner directly from the pots on the stove. For years, I shied away from thrift stores in New York precisely because I didn't want to be tempted to buy anything I wouldn't be able to use. My life felt temporary. Why would I need to bring anything more into that life but the essentials?
Hence my joy the other day about finding those platters. It was an unexpected gift. Oh, I know I sound so bourgeois. But it's the truth - the collection of all those little things that I've been storing away for years and the release to be able to make this apartment my home, our home, well, nothing could please me more.
So I brought the platters back to Queens, the weight of the bag digging a red stripe into my shoulders, and washed the price stickers off in hot, soapy water. Then I made dinner - a punchy salad of watercress and parsley, dressed with horseradish and capers and two kinds of mustard, and topped with slices of broiled steaks. Arranged on that clean, white expanse, the salad really shone - glossy, green leaves, crisply browned croutons, juicy, pink meat with those perfectly crusty pockets and corners, while the capers provided briny little pops of flavor. The sensation of croutons crunching and rare meat yielding and fresh greens folding was totally sublime. (Though when I make this again, because I will, I'll use skirt or hanger steak instead. The rib steaks were a little fatty, and I prefer a chewier cut with salad.)
I know that stuff doesn't define us, that if all of those "precious" things were gone tomorrow, it wouldn't really matter. Love, family, health - that's what counts. And on those points, well, all I can ask is how I ever got so lucky. So, of course a good thrift, then, is just icing on the cake, a midday treat, an excuse to make a little victory jig in public, if anything. But it can also make you stop and think about life, its small yet profound changes, the immeasurable gratitude you have towards the universe, and the funny fact that sometimes all you need to do is serve dinner on a simple, white, oval plate and contentedness is yours.
Rib Steaks with Parsley and Crouton Salad
4 rib steaks, about 1 inch thick (this was far too much meat for us - I'd suggest 3 rib steaks instead)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons salt-cured capers, rinsed thoroughly
1 tablespoon horseradish, more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups day-old bread cut into 1-inch cubes, lightly toasted
Leaves from 1 large bunch of parsley
Tops from 1 bunch of watercress
1. Line a broiler pan with aluminum foil and heat broiler. Season steaks with salt and pepper. Put steaks on broiler pan and broil for 5 minutes on each side, for rare.
2. Meanwhile, in a salad bowl, whisk together capers, horseradish, lemon juice, mustards and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add toasted bread cubes, parsley and watercress and toast until lightly wilted.
3. When steaks are done, let them rest for 5 minutes on a cutting board. Pour a tablespoon of the steak juices over the greens and toss. Arrange the dressed greens on a platter. Slice and arrange the steak on the salad and pour remaining juices over the steak. Serve.