Sunday, March 7, 2010

Perfect Weekends

When I was younger, my parents would pack me into the car and we'd go exploring around town. Sometimes there was a specific goal in mind, but more often than not, it was just a matter of driving until something looked interesting. And most of the time, interesting happened downtown at the antique stores. I love antique, vintage, and retro items for one reason: the history. Even if I don't what an item's story is, I know that the story exists and that I become the guardian of that story when I bring it home with me. Those weekends are the ones I remember most fondly and those stories are the ones I cherish most.

This weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to experience such an idyllic weekend again, this time as an adult. A friend of mine from Charleston came to town to see me. While pulling up directions to my house, he found that there are quite a few pawn shops in the area. He's an amateur historian specializing in WWII firearms, and pawn shops present some good opportunities to find hidden treasures. And because the weather was absolutely perfect (my favorite thing about spring in the south), I decided that we should have an adventure of our own.

He arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and we set out to gather supplies for our adventure and also stuff for dinner. Mum requested that I make my great aunt's pot roast recipe, which is easily the simplest, yet most comforting meal I know how to make. All you need is a nice marbled cut of beef, preferably sirloin or brisket, but any piece of roast will do, and some root vegetables. I like to use carrots, celery, and potatoes. Cut the veggies into big chunks, sear the beef, add everything to a roasting pan with a little oil, diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper to taste. Pop everything into a 400 degree oven and let it cook until the meat is just starting to fall apart. As good as that is the first day, it's even better the next.  And nothing says "welcome" better in my opinion.

The next morning, bright and early(ish) our adventure began. First a breakfast of tea and orange-chocolate chip scones (the basic recipe for which is posted in my archives), then out into the sunny, bright day. Most of the pawn shops ended up being a disappointment, but the fun wasn't in finding interesting guns for his collection so much as riding around, getting a little lost, and laughing until our sides hurt at trying to get unlost. During one such instance, we passed a cake supply shop sitting attached to an antique market. If I were a puppy, my ears would have perked up and my tail would have wagged furiously. As it was, I squealed with unrestrained delight at the find and we promptly stopped to explore. The cake shop was fairly nondescript, although the owner is running cake lessons for a reasonable rate.The antique shop, though, was utterly lovely. I made several happy discoveries, including two complete sake sets, one complete tea set, and my favorite find of the day- an enamel tea kettle for a mere $10. It was filthy, but I love enamel kettles, especially ones that don't whistle, so I scooped it up and brought it home. After a good, hard scrub, it looks just like new again and I can't wait to use it. And I'm going back soon to pick up one of the sake sets and possibly the tea set as well.

After the antique shop, we headed across town for lunch. I discovered the existence of a Vietnamese Pho restaurant right here in Florence. It turned out to be pretty much what I expected inside. No real atmosphere, but pleasant enough food at a reasonable price, so I'm certainly going back as much as possible. The barbeque pork over rice noodles was delicious.

When lunch was over, we stopped back at the house to throw a few pieces of fruit and some chai cookies into a bag and headed back out to check out a few trails I knew of in town. The trails run throughout town for about nine miles or so, and consist of a lot of new growth and man made swamps. They're charming enough, but I want to see them ten years from now when the wilderness takes over a bit. The sun was bright, but the weather was a gorgeous low to mid 50 degrees and there was a light breeze to tug at our clothes as we walked. Nibbling on a cookie and walking hand in hand with my friend as we chatted, I thought to myself of the weekends like this that I spent as a child and how wonderful it felt to have one again, just when I needed it most.

Chai Tea Cookies (adapted from

1 cup butter, room temp
3/4 cup instant chai mix 
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temp
3 1/2 cup flour (I used Pamela's of course)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar for rolling (optional)

Cream together butter, sugar, and chai mix until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, then add the flour slowly ( I did it in thirds). Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drop tsp sized balls onto a greased cookie sheet (and roll in sugar if you're doing that step. I didn't) and bake for 10 minutes. Cool in pan for another 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Cookies will come out soft, and a little chewy, with just a hint of chai flavor. The original recipe calls for a full cup of instant chai, so if you want more flavor use that, but I only had 3/4 of a cup and I think they came out fine. 

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