Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Plastic, both cheesy and stylish, is back

By Kaui Philpotts

Summer, with its emphasis on outdoor meals, is the perfect time to liven up your table with brightly colored, inexpensive and durable plastic ware. It's also light in weight, making it great for your next picnic.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Other stories in Taste:

Market Basket: Some fruit doesn't like your fridge
Off the Shelf: A licorice-flavored star attraction
Cook's Tips: Keep liquids covered to avoid evaporation
Culinary Calendar
The Light Touch: Asian stir-fry delivers taste minus fat
Profiles: Moumen El Hajji and Holly Hadsell Hajji of Beau Soleil Catering
The Vegetarian: Frugal use of saffron adds new flavors to veggie dishes
Asparagus dreams comes true with spring's greening

On a foraging trip recently to a Chinatown shop, a very stylish friend remarked on how wonderful a grouping of plastic plates looked.

I come from the Melmac generation, the one raised with plastic tableware that resembled kidneys and flying saucers. Like most of my generation, I

suffered a Melmac reaction later in life and came to think of plastic as cheesy, nothing we wanted to own.

Still, I kept my mouth shut. We're all entitled to taste slips now and then.

But I kept thinking about those plastic dishes with the rose pink and gold design trying to look like nice, traditional china. Maybe I had missed something. Like so many things, my prejudice against anything plastic might need to be re-examined.

Not long after the Chinatown incident, I was picking up a few quick items at the supermarket when a grouping of brilliantly colored plastic drinking tumblers caught my eye. Their size was generous and best of all, they were in luscious colors: bright blue, canary yellow, pea green and orange. And they were only 69 cents apiece. I couldn't resist.

Soon I was seeing plastic tableware every time I turned around. There were glasses with cactus stems for margaritas, tall thin ones for iced tea, short fat ones for poolside drinks. One store featured nostalgic wicker picnic baskets filled with rainbow-hued plastic plates, flatware and cups.

I picked up a home magazine and there it was again: an article on collecting old harvest gold and avocado plastic dishes from the 1960s. Plastic, it seemed to me, deserved another look.

Plastic, you may remember, hit the market right after World War II when they stopped making helmet liners with it, and turned to sets of dishware for boomers' parents. I can still see my brother dumping a bowl of cereal on the floor from his high chair without it breaking into a million pieces. This was good stuff. It bounced.

These dishes also come from a time of great optimism, when you knew that if you worked hard you would get ahead. You could buy a home in some place like Hawai'i Kai or Wahiawa for your little family, and nothing really bad was going to happen ever again.

There were three familiar kinds of plastic: polystyrene (the shiny brittle type used in picnic ware), polyethylene (ahhhh, Tuppeware), and the resin-based melamine. Melamine was heat resistant, and in the 1950s came in the most popular shades of coral and turquoise. This is what we held most dear.

By the time we were burning our bras in the late 1960s, plastic stood for everything we hated: corporate America, war and that house in the suburbs. Now, plastic has made a comeback.

Whether you remember plastic dishware the first time around or not, here are some ideas. Believe it or not, some people are actually beginning to collect the old stuff at garage sales and on Internet sites such as eBay. In most cases, this stuff is still very reasonably priced. Many of the dinner plates have scratches and knife cuts if they were much used (not quite as indestructible as we thought). But you can find some wonderful shapes of serving bowls, pitchers and platters because modernist designers like Russel Wright and Massimo Vignelli got into the act.

The older plasticware will have trade names like Styson, Heller, Branchell Colorflyte and Home Decorators.

But even if you are not into collecting, how can you resist the newer, brighter acrylic merchandise on the market, and for the same reasons: its practicality, kid-friendliness and sense of careless fun? You can find it everywhere and not have to pay an arm and a leg.

At hardware stores like City Mill, I've picked up acid green picnic tubs with handles and covers to haul food and paper plates to the beach. In places like Costco and Home Depot, I've found big, tough, brightly colored tubs perfect for filling with sodas, beer and lots of ice when the friends and family are over to barbecue.

Don't neglect supermarket shelves for rice and saimin bowls in traditional Asian designs, as well as water tumblers. Not all plastic is good looking, so you must be discriminating. Other great places to look now and through the summer, are K-Mart, Liberty House's home furnishing department, Pier I Imports and the home shelves of Ross for Less.

When you've collected your summer plastic, don't attempt to make it look like anything else. Celebrate it?s man-made flakiness. Mix up the colors. Serve a gin and tonic to your snotty aunt with a wide grin on your face, ignore that your nephew is watering the plants with his passion-orange drink, and have a great time.

When you are grilling this Memorial Day weekend or all summer long, try this pineapple dish for dessert. (Adapted from "The Ultimate Barbecue Cookbook," by Christine France, Lorenz Books, New York).

Grilled Pineapple with Rum Butter Glaze

  • 1 fresh pineapple
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • Bamboo sticks soaked in water

Prepare the grill. Leave the outer skin and the top on the fresh pineapple, and with a sharp knife, cut the entire fruit into quarters. Cut out the central core and discard. Cut the fruit away from the outer skin leaving the skin intact. Then cut the fruit crosswise into thick chunks, leaving it sitting on the rough outer skin. Soak the bamboo sticks in water at least 15 minutes to keep them from burning; push them through each wedge and into the stalk to hold the whole quarter pineapple in place.

In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar, ginger, melted butter and dark rum. Brush the mixture over the pineapple chunks. Cook the pineapple on the grill for about 4 minutes. Pour the remaining glaze over the warm pineapple and serve for dessert. Serves 4.

If you don't want to hassle with the whole outer skin and top, just thread the pineapple chunks on the bamboo sticks and grill as directed.

This would be great hot atop ice cream.