Two Butter Dishes. (And then there was one.)

[I wrote this in the early afternoon of November 28, 2016. At ten o’clock that night, everything changed.]

My husband and I have lived together for a fairly long time now and in all these years we’ve always had sticks of butter in the house but only in the last couple of years did we acquire the once-common household item known as a “butter dish.”

When I was a kid, in my parents’ household, the butter dish was actually a plastic dish with a lid and it held sticks of margarine.

I don’t know what they had in my husband’s parents’ household when he was a kid.

But neither of us brought a butter dish to our union, and I genuinely had no idea that this was any kind of an issue until one day in 2013. It came to light that my husband was frustrated deeply by the fact that we did not own a butter dish, plastic or otherwise. I was taken aback but duly noted his woe and made a mental note to present him with a handsome butter dish come his birthday in 2014, which I did. I could have ordered something pretty from a catalog, or gone to Marshall’s and found something inexpensive-but-perfectly-nice, but because I am who I am I spent weeks stalking my favorite vintage kitchen goods shop downtown until a butter dish appeared. Every week I’d go in and ask, “Any butter dishes?” and be told, “Nope, not today.” And then a butter dish appeared. It was heavy, thick, cream colored porcelain and not designed to hold a conventionally-sized stick of butter, which was strange, but I liked the look of it and I bought it. It is perfect for holding a stick of butter that’s had one tablespoon cut off it. (Why? I will never know.) I wrapped it carefully and presented it to my husband as a birthday present.

In the years since then, another butter-related issue has come to light, which is that I am the only member of our household that believes in using unsalted butter on things like toast. It turns out that my husband and child prefer salted butter. This might have thrown me — it definitely annoys me — except for the fact that six months after my husband’s birthday, I was at a concert and there ran into a friend who had in his pocket a glass butter dish. His wife remembered that I had been looking for a plain butter dish, and she’d found one somewhere, and, knowing that her husband would see me at this show, she’d said, “Oh, bring this butter dish with you.” So he did, and I accepted it gratefully, and we came to have two butter dishes in our kitchen.

It was only recently, though, that it dawned on me that having two butter dishes solves the problem of wanting to have salted and unsalted butter available on the counter for spreading nicely on toast. I have taken to keeping salted butter in one, unsalted in the other, and using the kind of marker you’re meant to use to label wineglasses, I write SALTED on one of the dishes. This way, there should be no confusion.

It means that our spice shelf — which is where I keep the butter, not on the counter, per se — gets a little crowded with butter dishes. I’m winnowing down my spice collection, in fact, so as to make room for the butter dishes. (I’m still putting up with the jar of Marmite that lives there, though, because I do grasp that if you’re going to keep butter on the spice shelf, you might as well keep the Marmite there, because that’s how it is here.)

At ten o’clock, a few hours after writing this and saving the draft to post the next day, my husband and I were settling in for the night, he with his enlightening tome on something or other and I with an episode of The IT Crowd, when we both heard the unmistakable sound of glass shattering in the kitchen.

Since our daughter was already out cold in her bed, we knew that the cats — recently acquired, evil cats — were the culprit. What we couldn’t possibly imagine was what had fallen. We rushed downstairs and at first couldn’t see anything wrong but then on turning to look more closely at the kitchen counter, I saw the clear glass butter dish had been knocked to the countertop. The dish was broken; miraculously, no soft, eminently spreadable butter had smeared across the counter. Two cats stared at us with “Who, me?” expressions on their faces.

“You rat bastards,” I said to them.

“BAD! BAD kitty!” my husband said to the stripey one, who stared back at him completely unimpressed.

I took a water sprayer and sprayed the all-black one. “BAD kitty!” I said. He shook off the water and walked away smugly, then sat down to lick his long fluffy fur. Within seconds he looked as though nothing had happened at all.

We cleaned up the broken glass and then retreated back upstairs, speculating that the stripey one had jumped up to the counter to sniff at the butter dish on the spice shelf and knocked it down intentionally without anticipating the chaos that would result. But the truth is, we don’t know. Both of these cats are sneaky little rat bastards, and either one of them is capable of silently hopping up onto the counter, putting their little paws in places those paws don’t belong, and then abruptly wreaking havoc and running away before we can get to the scene of the crime.

“You know what we need,” my husband said to me as we settled in again.

“Two different cats,” I said angrily.

“A stainless steel butter dish.”


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