It was a little embarrassing, everything I bought that day. Thank goodness I was with a bunch of food writers who could appreciate passion for the table.

Our group was in Umbria, in the heart of central Italy. We were staying in an enchanted villa in Umbertide (I pronounced it as one might: Umber-tide, and a cabbie denied such a place existed. Then a light bulb went on and he said, AHHHH! oomBEARteeday!). Each day, we took field trips of the most delicious kind: truffle hunting, bee-keeping, vineyard-tromping. And a visit to learn about the specialty of the town of Deruta: Italian pottery.

The entire village is devoted to pottery in every shape, size, and pattern you could imagine. Grazia Deruta is among the finest of them, and as we walked into the workshop, I felt urges I could not, and would not, control. Maybe it was my dormant love of throwing clay, which I had indulged in by taking a couple of elective classes when I was in college at Saint Mary’s. I remember running into one of my English professors in the art building with clay all over myself and he said: I get it, words and clay. You like to shape them both.

Selecting a pattern was difficult, because there was no time to think anything over. I’m not usually an impulse buyer; I want to stew about it before pulling the trigger. But not here.

I went for the classic Raffaellesco for its brightness, its yellow rope-like border, and the contrast of ribbons and flowers with dragonheads that you might not notice amid all of the color unless you look closely. Eight soup and pasta bowls, several large platters (one large enough to serve a whole salmon on), and a few serving bowls later, I boarded the van outside with my compadres (including our creative leaders, Antonia, Elizabeth, Sharon, and Don) cheering me on, yet wondering what kind of 90210 crazy had taken over.

Since then though, these are the pieces that make the table for me, even when there is no table and I’m eating off my solitary lap on the couch. It’s quite possible that I consider making soup first and foremost with thoughts of getting to use the bowls, knowing that with them, everything really does taste better.


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