Although the positive psychological benefits of feeling comfort are subjective, most people are able to identify a nourishing meal they hold dear. Among the numerous emotional benefits of comfort foods, they remind us of a sense of place, of home, and of security.
Recognizing this, I realize that if I’m indeed what I eat, then during my formative years, much of my growing physical structure benefitted greatly from crunchy delicious tacos. As far back as I can remember there was taco night. When I moved away from home I continued this tradition, which was an easy and inexpensive all-in-one meal to be enjoyed individually or communally. As I began to realize its importance to me, and the possibilities it presented, I wanted to elevate the experience. Developed with this in mind, the Taco Night Taco Tray is a mobile cradling apparatus, which enables the preparation, transport, and consumption of tacos.
The Taco Night Taco Tray construction process relies on leather-hard slabs. The whole process can be done with minimal tools. I mainly use a rolling pin, a round, fat dowel, a fettling knife, a ruler, a scoring tool, and a series of smoothing ribs. I roll slabs out the day before I construct the trays and let them stiffen so that the next day I’m able to complete the whole tray. The steps in the process allow enough time to work on a few trays at a time without having to stop and cover anything in plastic.
Constructing the Tray
The slabs I use are 3⁄8-inch in thickness. For the taco holders cut out rectangles from a larger slab measuring 3¾×7½ inches. Using a fat, round dowel as a form, create U-shaped holders (figure 1) and let them rest upside down as you cut out the sides of the tray. Cut out the sides after measuring the height of the U-shaped holders and adding a 3⁄8-inch edge, creating a 2-inch wide slab. The extra 3⁄8 inch will form a foot running the length of the tray. The length of the sides depends entirely on how many tacos you like, and how many holders you are incorporating into your tray. To determine the length, measure the holders and add 1½-inch for the handles. Then use your height and length measurements to cut out the slabs and round off the corners on each side. Setting these aside to stiffen, begin to work on attaching the holders together. Score and slip the top edge of the U-shaped holders, pinch them together, arranging each section so that the U-shapes are formed evenly (figure 2). Stand the holders on end, score and slip the edges, and make a print of the wet clay onto each side to have the correct pattern to score and slip to connect the sides (figure 3). Using a paddle to ensure a firm connection, join each side with the holders (figure 4). Reinforce each seam with a small coil. Use very wet clay coils and smooth them into the tray (figure 5). When completing the rest of the tray, rest the bottoms of the U-shaped holders on foam to avoid putting pressure on the feet. Add the overhanging, built-in handles to each side and reinforce these connections with a soft clay coil (figure 6).
Once the whole tray is together, it needs a thorough ribbing. First, use a wooden rib to ensure that the walls, sides, and handles are square and flat. Next, use small rubber ribs to smooth the rounded corners, the feet, and the holders. Finally use a chamois for a final smoothing. In reality, it takes as much time to smooth the tray as is does to construct it, but when you are handling the final tray, its sleek contours will be an unmistakably welcome place to cradle your crunchy delicious tacos (figure 7).
Mark Cole is a ceramic artist, instructor, and avid trout fisherperson. He received his MFA from Ohio University in 2010 and is currently teaching Ceramics and 3D Design as Assistant Professor of Practice for the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For more information, visit www.markcolepottery.com.