OBSESSION: SCRIMSHAW PLATES
I’m not an impulse shopper. But these fabulous melamine plates ($35 for a set of four) at the smartly curated Mxyplyzyk, in the West Village, were impossible to resist.
I had to have them. And I’ll probably have to go back tomorrow for the oval platter ($28) enlivened by a very fetching whale.
What sold me was the fact that I could envision all sorts of wonderful things to eat on them. Lobster rolls (the crustacean is at its best in the colder months). Crab cakes. Peel-your-own Maine shrimp.
Let’s move along into another season, shall we? (February always makes me impatient.) Chicken salad cradled in tender leaves of butterhead lettuce. Strawberry shortcake. The summer’s first BLTs. A perfect triangle of watermelon—or, better yet for these clever repros of the scrimshanders’ art—watermelon sorbet with chocolate seeds, a trompe l’oeil triumph by my former Gourmet colleague Kempy Minfie. I mean, the two were made for one another.
The other reason I bought the plates was that they remind me of boats and of the joy of exploring islands. They made me reach for one of my favorite childhood reads, Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, a master storyteller.
My original copy, handed down to me by my mother, was published in the 1930s. By the time it fell apart, it must have been read a thousand times. It just now occurs to me that the book’s depiction of intrepid, self-reliant children and their adventures on Wild Cat Island, in the Lake District of England, probably influenced my mother’s child-rearing methods more than Benjamin Spock did.
A couple of years ago, a friend visiting from London brought me a new edition, published in the U.K. by Jonathan Cape. The endpapers conjure the same mood as my set of scrimshaw plates. They both make me want to go camp on an island, any island. Even Manhattan.