Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday Supper Series #10, or how to satisfy two country boys with Japanese comfort food

Last night we had a dinner guest, another son of the south. I decided to make Japanese diner fare, and in honor of the two of them I even broke out the deep fryer. It used to belong to T’s Mom, but we somehow ended up with it. Dinner was excellent, albeit a little chaotic towards the end. But I didn’t hear any complaints.

Menu: Homemade pork gyoza (dumplings), katsu curry (tonkatsu with beef curry), spinach gomae, rice.

There was a record number of Polyface meats on the table. Ground pork in the gyoza, beef in the curry and pork tenderloin for the katsu. Our dinner guest spends most weekends on his family farm in KY and we discussed the merits of small-scale farm grown meat. He shared a story about the challenge he faced recently when he was looking to buy some piglets. It seems the diversity has gone out of the nation’s hog supply. What used to be available in terms of different breeds, and here he went on with a list of quaint pig breed names of which the only thing I can remember is their color, black, black spotted, brown, etc…are no longer available. What is available now is a standard, genetically modified breed of pig that builds muscle in exactly the right (in economic terms) places, doesn’t build much fat and builds up very fast. This is the reason why most pork on the market is the shade of the bottom half of your fingernails rather than the deeper pink more akin to veal, and why most pork is tough, dry and tasteless and needs to be "enhanced" with chemical seasonings and tenderizers. The fact, sad but true, is that the flavor and tenderness of pork has been deliberately bred out of it by the desire of pork growers to have consumers latch onto it as the other lean, white meat.

Katsu curry is a standard of any reputable Japanese restaurant. There are some Japanese restaurants completely devoted to curry, and if you find one, go in and grab a table immediately, even if you have just eaten. In actuality, it is more akin to what we would think of as a stew, with a definite curry aroma and flavor. You can buy the curry seasoning “blocks” in tidy boxes, or you can make your own with “oriental curry powder” tins available at most Asian markets. I went the curry powder way as I think it tastes just as good and is probably healthier. I used Polyface chuck roast, which is such a flavorful and tender cut when cooked slow and long. I did the curry in my slow cooker, leaving it in the basement first and then out in the porch later in the day to avoid having the house reek of stale cumin odors for a week or longer. The first six hours was just the browned meat, curry powder, onions, garlic, ginger, some tomato paste, sugar, shoyu (soy sauce) and beef broth. Then I added chopped potatoes, pearl onions and carrots for two additional hours. Eight hours in the slow cooker was just about perfect. I made a lot, to last us through the better part of the week.

I went online for a new gyoza (dumpling) recipe to try. And although I have never made dumplings before using this method, this time I cooked the filling before forming the dumplings. This is both good and bad. Good because it allows you to adjust the seasoning perfectly before it is too late (usually what I do is take a bit of the filling and microwave it to determine flavor balance, but even this is not ideal). Bad because it is cooked and therefore okay to nibble on as you are standing there filling the wrappers. From the comments I got from the men, I think this recipe was a definite success. 

For some reason, I have never made gyoza, or jiaozi or shao mai (Chinese dumplings), that have not been delicious and appreciated. It is as if the work and time that goes into forming them one by one casts a magical aura of culinary goodness and satisfaction around each one. And on the other hand, although I come home with a different brand of frozen dumplings every time I go to the huge Korean and Chinese markets in our area, I have yet to find one that satisfies me as much as mine do. Shamefully biased, I know.

The cooked filling, made of Polyface ground pork, Napa (won bok) cabbage, carrots, green onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mirin, seasame oil and egg. 

Wrapping in action. 

Déjà vu from last week’s gnocchi isn’t it? Again, one tray went into the freezer and the other  is now a thing of the past. 

And all cooked up on the dining room table next to my now stain-free springtime table runner.

The gomae is most often seen on the menu of Japanese restaurants as "spinach sesame salad." It is super easy to make. Blanch fresh spinach, then rinse and chill it. Grind about 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds in mortar and pestle, add it to a bowl with a few tablespoons of shoyu, a few tablespoons of dashi (Japanese fish broth, I use instant stuff) and a scant teaspoon of sugar. Balance your flavors, wring out any liquid from the cooled spinach and coarsely chop it. Add it to the sauce and mix well. Balance the flavors again and chill. 

I figured that since T is not a fan of greens, our guest would likely not be either and I would end up eating it all week. Stupid and shallow thinking on my part. After we had left the table, our guest was still sitting there, eating the spinach straight from the bowl with his hashi (chopsticks) like a good old fashioned Japanese man until it was almost gone. It was very gratifying. 

Once the basketball game was over, the men migrated upstairs with what gyoza was left (not a whole lot) and stood around the deep fryer. As good country boys of the south it probably brought comfort to them at some deep, subconscious level. 

The Polyface tenderloin was cut up into thick slices and salted, then dredged in flour, dipped in egg and then pressed into panko, Japanese bread crumbs. Into the fryer it went and as soon as it came out we sat down, because we all know that deep-fried food is best the moment it hits the plate. 

We were in such a rush to eat it while it was hot that I didn’t even properly set the table. It was a haphazard free for all, as you can see. Although I did remember to take my precious $2 table runner off before curry sauce got flung all over it. See what I mean by a lot of curry to eat this week?

Here is my plate. Definite comfort food at its best.

Our guest brought dessert. Pumpkin pie and a lime cheesecake made from an old-timer recipe. I love lime desserts ant this one did not disappoint. Not that sweet, but it sure was filling. It put me right to sleep with a smile on my face.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday Supper Series #9: Gnocchi and pork chops

This weekend was a stay home, do nothing kind of weekend and so I decided to compensate by choosing to make something for dinner that was a little more time consuming.

Menu: Homemade gnocchi with oven cooked pork chops and pan gravy, salad, bread.

I have made gnocchi twice before. The first time was when I lived in Beijing. It was an absolute disaster. I made a pot of off-white paste. It was like cement in my hands and only with difficulty was I able to scrape it into the waste bin. With wisdom and hindsight, I believe that I used the wrong kind of potato. Or maybe it was the right kind of potato, but grown under different conditions or something that made the consistency all wrong.

The second time was a few years ago. I made wonderfully tender yet substantial ricotta and spinach gnocchi from the Il Fornaio Pasta Book. If you like restaurant pasta sauces and can never get it just right at home, this is the book for you. The recipes are dead on. Based on this track record, I used their recipe for the gnocchi. It didn't fail me. What did fail me was my ability to rationalize portion size for the two of us.

A quick Google search told me that it was possible to freeze unboiled gnocchi, so one entire tray went into the freezer for another time. For this week's meal I made them with a very simple browned butter, garlic, parsley and thyme sauce.

 And with it I made baked pork chops. First I brined and browned the pork chops.

Then I piled them into a baking dish and covered them with fresh thyme and put them into the oven.

Here is where I made a mistake. I went on a late day run with MP and left them in the oven. T was told to make sure he didn't smell anything burning. Well they didn't burn, but they did cook a bit too long and subsequently fell apart. In the end it was more like pork chop bits. It took a while to coax the browned bits up off the bottom of the dish for gravy, but coax I did and ultimately I came up with a lovely, rich pan gravy in an amount large enough that T can have rice and gravy, one of his favorites, all week if he wishes.

We had it with salad and fresh bread and it was very simple and comforting.

I wanted simple because there was dessert. I used my "new" pie dish and made an apple pie. As usual, my crust was not flaky perfection personified, but it was a good pie and I will say that I have never had crust separate from the pie dish with such ease and minimal effort. This old pie plate is definitely a winner. Interestingly enough, as I was pulling it out of its original box, I found a note written on the inside stating that it had been a wedding gift, given in 1948. It looked like it had maybe been used once or twice, suggesting that either the bride was a meticulous cook and cleaner, or that she and her groom didn't much like pie.

Who doesn't love pie???

Expect more pies in the weeks to come. I've decided that my latest cooking challenge is to perfect my pie crust technique.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Military History Books: Abbreviated Reviews

H and I both have strong interests in history, including military history, although I would have to say that my interest in things military outweigh H's by far.  I am not complaining though.  H is always excited to spend her vacations on battlefields and listen intently to my ramblings about unit such-and-such or general so-and-so, ask smart questions, and read the books I recommend.  Obviously, I am a lucky guy. 

And speaking of military history books, I am often asked about my opinions on books to read, from folks who have little to no background in military issues to those with deep understandings.  Here are a few of the books I like to recommend.  They are not too "heavy," and I include several novels I think provide good and accurate depictions of warfare through the ages. I would not want to run the risk of boring any readers of the blog to tears (the more technical/academic studies certainly bore me!), so most of these are not difficult reads and can even be placed in the "popular" history category.  You'll also notice a significant slant towards American history, which reflects my academic background.

The Killer Angels. (Michael Shaara).  Pulitzer Prize-winning classic novel about the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, thought by many to be the turning point of the American Civil War.  I disagree that any single battle was THE turning point, but that's neither here nor there.  It is a fantastic read, with dramatic writing that brings the battle and many historical characters to life.  Shaara puts the reader inside the head of some of the major players of these three bloody days (casualties exceeded 50,000), including Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, George Pickett, and John Buford, as well as Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, who in my view (and this is coming from a Southerner), may have been the most fascinating individual of the entire war.  The book is required reading for US Army officers (I was one once) and was the basis for the 1993 movie Gettysburg.  I do not recommend the follow-on novels written by Mr. Shaara's son, despite their popularity.

The Face of Battle.  John Keegan.  Classic study by a renowned British historian on the "ground truth" of three famous battles:  Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815), and the Somme (1916).  What was it like to be a French knight facing a shower of English arrows during the Hundred Year's War (1337-1453)?  How about an English infantryman standing firm against a massed charge by Napoleon's cavalry at Waterloo?  Prefer your warfare to be more modern and industrial?  Then join the British army as it goes "over the top" to be slaughtered by German machine guns at the Somme, where the British suffered nearly 60,000 casualties in one day.  Keegan, who is one of my favorite authors (although his most recent string of books have been a bit disappointing), also has done a similar and highly recommended work on naval warfare (Battle at Sea), which focuses on three key naval battles, Trafalgar (1805), Jutland (1916), and Midway (1942). 

All Quiet on the Western Front.  Erich Maria Remarque.  The classic 1928 novel told from the perspective of a young, idealistic German infantryman serving in the First World War.  Not much else I can say about this book that has not already been said many times before.  It is one of the finest war novels ever written.  Powerful, bitter, brilliant, warm, stark, dark, horrifying, and banned by Nazi Germany.  Says Remarque at the beginning of his story:  "This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."  Try listening to it and not feel the power of his words.

We Were Soldiers Once...and Young.  Harold (Hal) Moore and Joseph (Joe) Galloway.  Experience infantry combat in Vietnam and learn about "airmobile" (helicopter-borne) operations and tactical (small unit) leadership.   The US 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) meets the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) in the Ia Drang Valley, 1965.  It was the first major action between the US Army and the NVA, as well as the first large-scale airmobile operation in warfare.  Hal Moore was a 7th Cavalry battalion commander during the battle and his unit successfully defended Landing Zone ("LZ") X-Ray against heavy odds. Joe Galloway was there as a combat correspondent.  Their account is a riveting blow-by-blow, "you are there" depiction of the battle.  Mel Gibson's well-done (but not entirely accurate) 2002 movie of the same name focused on Hal Moore's fight, but does not mention that a sister battalion of the 7th Cavalry was nearly wiped out in a huge ambush at LZ Albany just a few kilometers away.  There has been an explosion of books in recent years on recent small but pivotal battles, written in a similar fast-paced style.  So, if you like Moore's book,  consider Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down (US Rangers and Special Forces in Mogadishu in 1993), S.L.A. Marshall's Pork Chop Hill (depiction of one of the hill battles in Korea, 1953), and David Zuchinno's Thunder Run:  The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad (excellent account of modern tank and mechanized combat in an urban environment).

Gates of Fire (Steven Pressfield).  Historical novel about the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) told through the eyes of a Spartan Helot (slave).  Some 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians under Spartan King Leonidas hold the pass at Thermopylae (also called the "Hot Gates") against the Persian hordes under Xerxes , whom historians over the ages have credited with anywhere from 100,000 to 2 million soldiers.  Thermopylae is probably the most famous "last stand" battle in history.  The Spartans died to a man defending the pass in a delaying action while the Greeks (largely the Athenians and Spartans) prepared their defenses.  Pressfield's account is a novel, yes, but highly detailed and reasonably accurate depiction of the battle with particularly well-done descriptions of combat.  If you can get through the first 100 pages, you will not regret reading it.

Short History of World War One; Short History of World War Two; Short History of the Korean War; Short History of Air Power; Short History of the  Civil War.  James Stokesbury.  I was introduced to Professor Stokesbury's books many years ago in college and was immediately impressed.  No, not because my attention span then was that of a 19-year-old, but because he made military history informative, interesting, fun to read, and best of all (for most students), brief.  Each of these books can be finished in a couple of days, and I promise they will not put you to sleep.

Battle Cry of Freedom.  James M. McPherson.  Probably the single best volume on the American Civil War out there.  I was first introduced to it in graduate school.  Exhaustively researched and smoothly written, McPherson integrates political and military events with important social and economic developments.  At nearly 900 pages, it is not a weekend read, but perhaps a worthy summer project if you're looking for one book on our, "War Between the States" as Southerners like to call it.

Embrace an Angry Wind.  Wiley Sword.  The most recent edition of this book is called "The Confederacy's Last Hurrah."  Whatever.  I have a lot of Civil War books, and if, after reading McPherson's account, you find yourself interested in looking at just one campaign in some detail, I think this one is probably the best.  It covers the last, ill-fated campaign of the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee from both the Confederate and Union perspectives. Sword's book reads almost like a novel, covering the details of the campaign without getting too tactical or jargon-filled.  He also depicts many colorful characters in flowing prose, including a physically crippled and drug-influenced army commander, an opposing politically-motivated army leader, a love-struck and ultimately doomed division commander, an insubordinate brigade commander who saves an army, and a man who may have been the best commander in the war on either side (and no, his name is not Grant, Lee, or Sherman).  You'll also read in horror as the Confederate army dashes itself to pieces at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, suffering over 7,000 casualties in three hours fighting.  Later, at Nashville, it will be destroyed.  Highly recommended.

Son of the Morning Star:  Custer and the Little Big Horn.  Evan S. Connell.  One cannot read about American history and ignore our westward expansion and the resulting clash with the indigenous population, particularly the Plains Wars.  While Custer is probably one of the most famous--and controversial-- American military leaders, I am not a fan of him or his generalship, nor was I ever fascinated with his life.  However, the war with the Northern Plains Indians in the 1860s-1870s was a seminal event in America's westward expansion and say what you will about Custer, he figured prominently during the period.  There are many books covering him and the conflicts, but this is one of the best of the lot.  It blends military history, Plains Indians culture, and character study in its tale of Custer's fateful day along the Little Big Horn River in June of 1876, when he and over 250 of his men were killed by thousands of Lakota Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors.  Connell has an interesting and sometimes difficult to follow writing style; he meanders, dives feet first into tangents and sidebars, and generally ignores chronological order. Still, it is an effective, superbly researched, and well-balanced story that draws you in and never lets go.  It inspired me many years ago to drive far out of my way to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield located somewhere in nowhere, Montana.  The book was also a best-seller and turned into a made-for-TV movie.

An Army at Dawn and The Day of Battle.  Rick Atkinson.  Don't let the size of these books deter you.   They are critically acclaimed, well-written, and superbly researched histories of the US Army in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy and the first two volumes of a trilogy on the history of the US Army in the World War II European Theater of Operations (ETO).  Atkinson focuses on the human drama of the US Army at war, effortlessly moving from the senior most levels of the military to the men with the guns and tanks on the "pointy end of the spear" as my military friends like to say.   He brings characters and battles to life, and does not flinch from exposing both the good and the bad of our military's performance.  You will read of both stupid and brilliant decision-making, bureaucratic bloat, arrogant commanders, incredibly brave individual actions, bloody battles, and the troubles of fighting a coalition war.  You may even come away with a lesser opinion of some famous American commanders, such as George Patton and Mark Clark.

With the Old Breed:  At Peleliu and Okinawa.  E.B. (Eugene) Sledge.  Probably one of the most powerful personal American memoirs of combat ever written. Sledge was a marine fighting with the 1st Marine Division during the Pacific campaign of World War II.  He participated in two of the bloodiest island battles in Marine history.  At Peleliu, his first action, the 1st Marine Division suffered over 50 percent casualties;  Sledge's 235-man company was chewed down to 85 by the time his unit left the island. The island was supposed to be taken in three or four days, but fighting went on for months.  The fighting itself was brutal and took place in unbearable conditions, including extreme heat and against a foe that had to be rooted out from every hole and cave.  His experience on Okinawa was almost as bad.  He tells his story in simple, yet searing and powerful prose.  It is compassionate, honest, and does not mince words.  In the process, he covers the details of life on the line, the loss of friends, the filth of the battlefield, the men he fought with, and the experience of combat.  His description of an assault across the airfield at Peleliu is unforgettable ("the shells screeched and whistled, exploding all around us....we were exposed, running on our own power through a veritable shower of deadly metal and the constant crash of explosions...the ground seemed to sway back and forth under the concussions.")  His depiction of being under shell fire on Okinawa is similarly written:  "Each shell fluttered and swished down and went off with a flash and an ear-splitting crash.  Shrapnel growled through the air, and several men were wounded badly.  Each shell threw stinking mud around when it exploded.  The wounded were moved down behind the ridge with great difficulty because of the slippery, muddy slopes.  A corpsman gave them aid, and they were carried to the rear--shocked, torn, and bleeding."  Sledge's account is not be missed.   We would also recommend the HBO depiction of Sledge's experiences on Peleilu and Okinawa in The Pacific miniseries.   

There are more books I want to do a short review of, but I think this is perhaps enough for one entry.  Stay tuned for additional reviews.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A weekend trip to Lancaster County, PA

This past weekend T's parents drove up from North Carolina and we all made our way three hours north to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for a weekend of antique shopping and relaxing (really one and the same thing, right?).

We got to the heart of the Amish community in Bird-in-Hand, PA on Friday evening and had dinner at a place called Good and Plenty, which specialized in Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. I will agree with the latter, and won't comment on the former. It is a table service all you can eat place, with three different main courses per night. The night we were there it was fried chicken, roast beef and butter braised (literally) fish. They also said they offered four vegetable dishes per night, but unless the mashed potatoes and buttered noodles qualified as vegetables, I think we got short changed. Anyway, if you wanted to carb load before a long run, this is the place to go.

It was a communal dining room. 10 to a table and each table seated at the same time. So you end up asking total strangers to pass the butter, which wasn't so terribly bad as the people we were seated with were friendly locals. It was a big place.

We stayed at a lovely dog-friendly cottage in Adamstown, PA. The cottage dated back to the 1700s with some of the original brick exterior still visible. Saturday morning dawned sunny and bright and amidst definite signs of spring, we had a leisurely start to our day of trekking through the numerous antique shops.

Adamstown is the self-proclaimed "Antique Capital of the USA" and I am not sure I disagree. Route 272 runs north from Lancaster, PA and crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Denver. From there it is about three miles to Adamstown and that three miles is lined with huge antique malls, basically large venues with 100+ antique dealer spaces under one roof. Added to that are two antique markets that only operate on Sundays and have a total of around 1000 different vendors participating. Heaven on earth for an antique lover. Basically, if you like old junk, you can find whatever it is that suits your fancy in the environs of Adamstown.

I said in an earlier post that one reason I like antique shopping is that I enjoy seeing the character of the region reflected in the trinkets and detritus of the past. As we have gone from state to state across the country, I have been able to trace in some small way the development of our country and its regional differences. I have seen primitive wood carvings and railroad equipment out west, dairy bottles and oil lamps in the Midwest, Civil war artifacts and patchwork quilts in the Shenandoah and in Lancaster County, the simple and sophisticated, yet highly functional ornaments and furnishings of the Pennsylvania Dutch community.

I don't know very much about the Pennsylvania Dutch, only that they are Germanic in origin and that they settled in the Lancaster County area during the first half of the 1700s and that they make really pretty things. Fracturs, the motifs and decorations that are most readily identified with them are brightly colored, often depicting animals and other natural phenomena. In my quest to fill my kitchen with old, hand-crafted and long-lasting cooking utensils, I found a wonderful pie plate still in its original box. Here it is pictured with a reproduction of a fractur, so you can see the way the images have been transmitted through time.

I guess I'll be making an apple pie this weekend to test it out.

Here is another old kitchen item I found that to me is particularly reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch designs, open, light and simply done on a white background.

One part of the original Pennsylvania Dutch community that has remained relatively isolated and unchanged throughout time are the Amish. They live separately, yet amongst everyone else and at night their homes are identifiable by their lack of electric lights. During the day their farms appear well-kept and prosperous.

They still share the road in their black horse-drawn buggies. It is always surprising to turn a corner and be caught behind one.

Here, tradition meets modernity.

But back to the antiques. One of the things T likes is light. All kinds work for him, from delicate finger oil lamps, to grimy old railroad lanterns to Colman lanterns, he likes them all. We found some of everything this weekend, along with a primitive handmade footstool that is perfect for me to prop my short legs on as I stitch.

And here is another one that we hung in our screened-in porch. This will be a wonderful light source once the weather warms up and it becomes our primary dining room again.

What I look for in antique stores are things associated with my hobby - sewing and needlework accoutrements. There was an awful lot to be had there this weekend and I literally drowned in linens and handmade lace. To say that I enjoyed myself is an understatement. Here is a typical stall in the Sunday antique market that was more or less dedicated to textiles and the needle arts.

I'll start with the best. Over the weekend, I saw close to 20 antique samplers at the various stalls and shops. I have learned to walk into a place and immediately scan the walls. T too has become an expert sampler stalker on my behalf. I loved every sampler I saw for one reason or another, but it was this one that really held me, and therefore it was this unsigned and undated white work sampler that ultimately came home with us.

Some details. According to the very knowledgeable woman who we bought it from, this sampler is from Lancaster County and was most probably stitched in the 1890s. It is worked on homespun linen with homespun cotton and linen threads. The threads are naturally browned and all told there are about five shades of off-white, ecru and tan on the piece. It is in extremely good shape and the stitching is so incredibly fine it gave me the goose-bumps when I first examined it.

I learned last night that photographing white work samplers is no easy thing, and I hope these close-ups give you a better indication of the level of effort that went into this piece.

I put this up tonight in a central place where I can admire the fine work every day. I am glad that this stitcher's work is in a place where it will be appreciated day in and day out.

Another thing I stumbled upon was a spool cabinet for my multitudes of silk threads. I saw a great many of these this weekend as well, but this one was by far the cheapest, mainly because some of the knobs have been replaced and it needs some restoration work. Still, I think it has character and I am willing to do the work required to bring it back to its original glory. It will be put to good use once I get it cleaned and oiled.

There is more old lace and trim available in Lancaster County than I could ever know what to do with. However, since I used up all the old lace I purchased the last time I was up there in 2009, I went ahead and got some more. While I was at it, I found an old box of cotton perle. The balls used to be white, but have since turned a lovely shade of creamy tan, reminiscent of aged white trim. This entire box cost a scandalous $5, in other words less than a single ball of new white perle.

The shops are also full of old linens. Some are high-quality, fine linen covered with ornate stitching, while others are plain and homespun. I tend to like the density and feel of the homespun linen more. Here is an old tea towel of homespun linen that someone initialed in red.

Another piece I found in the sturdy linen was a 96-inch long table runner. I immediately zeroed in on it because it is stitched in red and brown, my favorite combination, and because it was so reasonably priced. Once we got it back to the cottage my mother-in-law pointed out that I was very lucky to find a piece with my own initials on it. I asked her what she was talking about and she looked at me like I was daft. And sure enough, on one end of the runner is a humongous "H" and on the other, a large "K" (my middle initial). I was stunned. How on earth did I manage to miss that? It was meant to be I guess.

The colors on this runner are so incredibly lovely, although if you look closely you will see that the stitches cross in both directions, which you are always taught not to do. I find it charming here.

T always jokes with me that all the things I stitch and sew will one day end up being dumped at a thrift store or antique shop when I go. I am of two minds about this. On one hand, I would hate for my pieces to be "dumped" anywhere. On the other hand, if they go to shops such as the ones we visited this past weekend, at least I know that at some point someone will pick them up, admire them, be shocked and horrified at the $2 price tag and take them home and treasure them as if they cost $100. That is how I feel about this next piece. It needs some significant stain removal work, but that should be easily accomplished with a good round in oxy bleach. I mean, how can you not love this small runner that simply shouts spring?

This piece is larger, but similar. This is on fine, mercerized linen. The amount of work that went into planning and stitching this is incredible and it is in mint condition, with no holes or stains. For it to be stuck at the bottom of a bin full of linens and sold for $15 is almost criminal. This is a summer piece, all wheat and cornflowers.

And another $2 tea towel, this one made after my own tea-drinking heart.

And I couldn't resist this apron, which I actually wore in the kitchen last night.

Finally, here is something that I will always treasure. It is a schoolgirl's stitching primer. As she learned a new stitch, she attached the fragment of stitching into the book and wrote a description of what she did, complete with spelling and grammar errors. There are about 20 lessons and stitched samples in the book. She signed the opening mini sampler in 1921 and her name was, as you can tell, Kathryn J---k. If someone can figure out her last name, please post a comment. I'd love to do an internet search to see if I can find out more about her.

 So there you have it, a wonderful weekend full of old delights. We saw so many lovely things that made us look back with respect and admiration. It is amazing that in a world completely devoid of computers, cell phones, tweets and GPS devices, people filled their lives with such incredibly functional and beautiful pieces of art and furniture that we can still use and admire today.

And I can't get my electric toothbrush to last two years before it needs to be replaced.