Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Vintage cowboy boots, resoled

While it's probably pretty obvious that I love furniture, my love of boots might be a little less obvious. It all started about 15 years ago when I worked at a winery in California. Though I was in the tasting room, the setting was rural and at least a couple times a day, I wound up tromping out to the vineyard in search of someone or other and I got really sick of cleaning mud off my good shoes. So I bought a pair of brown ropers and those were my work shoes. They've long-since been destroyed as I abused the heck out of them and they weren't that well made to begin with.

Now I have several pairs of cowboy boots, a couple pairs of riding boots and a pair of rain boots, but my very favorite boots are these vintage boots I found at the DC Big Flea about six years ago. 

I think they're actually men's boots, but they fit me perfectly. There's a stamp on the inside that says 1977, making them older than I am (if only barely). I'm pretty sure the soles were original, though I'm sure the heels had been replaced. 

They are wonderfully well-made. I feel like it's obvious to say that a sewn-on sole (as opposed to a glued-on one) is one indicator of a quality boot, but maybe it's not as obvious as I think? I never buy a pair of boots if I can't see the stitches. 

I wear them at least once a week. I only spent $15 on them to start with so when the sole and the heel were looking a little worn out recently, I took them to Sal's Shoe Repair. Sal's has been in the same spot on Little River Turnpike in Annandale since 1954 and it's still family-owned and operated. 

Sal's replaced the heel, replaced the sole and did a beautiful job shining them up. I should take lessons from them on how to shine shoes.

The project cost me $95. That might seem a bit steep, but not if it gives me another forty years of wear. It's such a cliche, but they just don't make boots like these any more. Or, they do, but they cost at minimum $300.

I'm not sure other people would really get this, but when something like this pair of boots makes its way into my possession, I feel an obligation to be a good steward of them. Someone else lovingly owned them before me and if I take care of them, someone could love them after me.

Probably crazy, but I don't care.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014 Thrifting Guide to Northern Virginia

Last year when I first started thrifting in earnest (as opposed to just stopping by a store occasionally when I was in the neighborhood) it came to my attention that there really wasn't a great resource online for local Northern Virginia thrifters so I thought I'd write one. My readers have really seemed to get behind this little guide so I thought I'd go ahead and update it for 2014 with some more recent observations. Keep in mind that I'm generally looking for vintage furniture and housewares so I'm biased toward stores where I keep finding things I love. I don't spend a lot of time looking at clothing so if that's what you're into, your mileage may vary. Happy thrifting!

INOVA Fair Oaks Hospital Thrift Shop
9683 Fairfax Boulevard
Fairfax, VA 22031

The INOVA Fair Oaks Hospital Thrift Shop is located right at Fairfax Circle on Route 50 across the street from Home Depot in a strip mall. Recently this store hasn't been the treasure trove of months past, but every store seems to have its hot and cold streaks. My best finds here were a gold bar cart last spring, a half dozen studio ceramic pieces over the summer and the occasional cache of great barware. Just be patient and wait for spring cleaning to start. This store has been so great in the past, I find it hard to believe that it won't be again.

9960 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22031

The Goodwill store in Fairfax is the thrift store closest to my house and now that Chester's groomer is based out of the new Petsmart on Pickett Road, I'm here even more often. Lats year this store expanded into the space next door and filled it to the brim with furniture. You can always get some great buys on vintage teak dining tables and retro 1960s sofas. The quality isn't as consistently good as the Salvation Army in Annandale, but the bargains are better. There are always specials listed on the chalkboard at the front of the store. DC area Goodwills also have a Foursquare special so check-in when you arrive and see what it is. Right now it's 25% off donated furniture.

Annandale Treasure Trove
7010 Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA 22003

The second of the three INOVA shops I visit on a regular basis, the Annandale location does a lot of consignment business so the prices are often a little higher than your typical thrift store, but the quality is also generally better. There are always tons of mid century ceramics here and like-new furniture from every age. If you don't want to do a lot of refinishing and reupholstering yourself, this is the store for you. The tags here are colored by how long the stuff has been in the store so make sure you check the signs or ask about which color is on sale that day.

Salvation Army Annandale
6528 Little River Turnpike
Alexandria, VA 22312

This is a huge store and they have a large selection of furniture and housewares. Don't miss the back room where they keep all the housewares and books, away from the main floor with the furniture and clothing. This is consistently my favorite store for vintage furniture and housewares. I've bought Broyhill Brasilia pieces here, Adrian Pearsall and plenty of lesser-known but high style mid-century furniture. Just today they had a solid mahogany dresser from circa 1850 with hand-cut dovetails. It was beautiful and I'm still pining over it. Art and designer mid century dishes are some of my best and more frequent finds. Plus the staff is just super, always willing to check the back for missing pieces to a set or help you out to your car with your purchase. Wednesdays are 25% off days, but get there early. The place gets picked clean very quickly.

Goodwill Annandale Plaza
7031 Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA 22003

This store's address is on Columbia Pike, but the driveway is actually off John Marr Drive, which connects Little River Turnpike and Columbia Pike in Annandale. This store is brand new last year and the first few months before the rest of the world figured out it was there made for some amazing pickings. I found two original oil paintings there last year for under $20 that turned out to be worth $900. It's hasn't been quite that great in recent months, but it's rare that I won't find anything at all. They've recently turned over more space to furniture and they always seem to have great dining chairs and end tables. Check the specials on the chalkboard at the front of the store and don't forget to check in on Foursquare for another discount.

McLean Treasure Trove
1317B Chain Bridge Road
McLean, VA 22101

This is another INOVA shop that seems to do a lot of consignment business and McLean seems to be the spot for designer clothing consignments. This means very high quality items: name brands like J. Crew and Lilly Pulitzer, but also serious designers like Balenciaga, Chloe and Oscar de la Renta. And they know what these designer items should cost, even used. I include this store only because the consistently high quality options mean that you can get a deal on a really amazing piece (the context here though is versus buying new). I buy something pretty much every time I visit, but it's usually for myself because the prices are too high for much resale wiggle room. And don't go at lunchtime because there's very little parking in the strip mall where it's located. Best bet is early afternoon.

The Bargain Loft
336 Victory Drive
Herndon, VA 20170

Here's a general thrift store tip: the best stores are ones located in relatively more affluent areas. The Bargain Loft falls into this category and it shows. It is lovingly staffed by volunteers from Reston-Herndon FISH, a social services organization in Northern Fairfax County. They take great care to inspect, research, tag and display the nice items that come into the store, which is admittedly pretty small. The prices here are a little higher than they would be at your typical Goodwill store, but while there might be items that don't suit your needs or tastes, there is virtually no junk. It's just a really well-curated store and the staff is not snooty like at some other higher end thrift stores. This is the place for mid century name brand housewares, beautiful table linens and high quality lamps.

The Closet of Herndon
845 Station Street
Herndon, VA 20170

The Closet is just a hoot. The hours are terrible, the place is always completely jam packed with people, it's impossible to park your car and there is stuff literally everywhere from the floor to the ceiling. That said, if I lived closer, I'd go every day they were open. This is far and away the best place to find things to repurpose: tons of lamps, lampshades, dishes, clothing, a huge craft section with yarn, fabric, patterns, stamps and such. This store is not for people with a low tolerance for chaos, but if serendipity suits you fine, you'll love it. Oh, and bring cash because they don't take credit cards.

Goodwill Herndon
2421A Centreville Road
Herndon, VA 20171

Another store to avoid at lunchtime, the Goodwill in Herndon is located in the Clocktower strip mall amidst several restaurants that get very busy midday. However, it's always worth the trip because I can almost always find a decent quality antique that just needs a little love. My 1920s movie theater seats came from here and last spring I found a cache of a lifetime of mid century ceramics. It was like someone cleaned out an antique booth and donated it all to Goodwill. Parts of Herndon are both old and affluent so it's unsurprising that this store would get some good stuff. Like the other area Goodwills, this store has a chalkboard in front that shows the daily discounts and the Foursquare specials work here too.

Treasure Hound
14508-D Lee Road
Chantilly, VA 20151

Is it wrong to like a thrift store just because I can bring Chester? Friendly animals on leashes are welcome at Treasure Hound because it benefits Friends of Homeless Animals. It's also a great store. They have a tendency to check eBay prices on high end porcelain so those prices aren't any kind of bargain, but on barware, less precious mid century dishes and the odd small piece of furniture, I've found them more than fair. Just recently I picked up an early 20th century ashtray on a stand for just $25. This stores generally has daily specials. If they're not posted on the door, just ask. Plus, they have a frequent buyer program so make sure you get your punchcard.

For the record, here are the stores I don't bother with, mostly because I've never found anything worthwhile within my narrow band of interests. That doesn't mean they're not good stores for others. I just haven't ever found anything great at these shops and I've pretty much stopped visiting them, but include some notes here for your reference.

Second Chance Thrift in Fairfax City - small, but conveniently located on Route 123
Unique Thrift in Merrifield - huge, tons of clothes
Pender ReGift in Chantilly - oddly located in a warehouse type environment, but tons of furniture
Western Fairfax Christian Ministries in Chantilly - extra low prices

That pretty much covers the ones I make it to regularly, which covers a lot of Fairfax County. I need to update my Route 1/Alexandria corridor list of stores and I've had a couple requests for an Arlington/Falls Church route so I'll try to get to that in the next few months. I did Prince William County last summer, but soon that will also want updating too. I'll update this post as I hit these other areas like I did last year.

Did I miss any Northern Virginia thrift stores? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: Check out my list of Arlington and Falls Church thrift stores here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Serendipitous For Sure: More Mystery Art

I'm a thrift store lover. When it comes to vintage and antique goodies, estate sales, auctions and antique stores are fine, but most of the time, the wares are pretty clearly labeled and they know what they have. But thrift stores are an adventure. You never know what you're going to find.

My local Salvation Army is a great example. Any piece of furniture that looks "old" (i.e. from before about 1950), gets priced at $299. Sideboards, vanities, dressers, whatever. I once saw a mahogany dresser with handcut dovetails on the floor on sale day (Wednesdays are 25% off) for that same $299. Someone had just snapped it up or I would have found a way to get it home even though it's not really my period and I need another dresser like I need a hole in my head. 

Take this original oil painting. I saw it from all the way across the store. For one thing, it's bright and it's over 3 feet high, which makes it hard to miss. But there's also something urban and violent about it that's just so compelling. 

As David Lackey said about my Herman Kahler vases at Antiques Roadshow, this is not a first attempt.

It's signed Wade, though I haven't been able to identify an artist. Unfortunately, so much online art research is dependent upon auction records. An amateur or regional artist might not turn up all that often, if ever. My personal favorite sources are AskArt, Invaluable (formerly Artfact) and liveauctioneers. Even if you don't have a subscription, you can still get a lot of information and as I mentioned in this post, many museum and university libraries allow public access to these sorts of databases.

What's amazing is that it works perfectly in our office. I think it's even better than the Bjorn Wiinblad print I designed the room around. Oh, and just $80.

Serendipitous, for sure.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Big Beautiful Cherry Almond Muffins

Right before trash day, I generally take a quick look through the refrigerator and see if anything needs tossing. Not only does it get rid of expired condiments, last little bits of leftovers and bunches of herbs that have lost their luster, it also reminds me of things I bought for specific recipes and haven't used up yet.

For Christmas dinner, I roasted a duck and served it with citrus cherry port sauce. Sorry for not providing a link here, but I used Julia Child's recipe for the duck. It's in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is still a very useful cookbook to have in your collection despite it having been published in the 1960s. Just avoid the chapter on aspics.

But that meant that I had almost a whole bag of leftover frozen cherries to use and smoothies in the middle of February just aren't really my thing.

Muffins on the other hand...perfect. Frozen cherries are rather more chunky and tart than frozen blueberries so I threw in some almond extract and topped the muffins with sliced almonds to clue people into the almond flavor. If you're allergic or not into almonds, you could skip the topping and use a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead (you need a little more than the almond, which can be overpowering if you use too much). And no pretty muffin papers with this one mmm-kay? They stick.

Big Beautiful Cherry Almond Muffins
Adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Makes 12

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups plain lowfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 cups frozen cherries, thawed, rinsed and chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously coat a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray.

2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the yogurt, eggs and almond extract together in a medium bowl. Gently fold the yogurt-egg mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the melted butter. Fold in the chopped cherries.

3. Use a large spoon to divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly atop the unbaked muffins. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More Shenandoah Valley Fun: Grandma's Pantry in Harrisonburg

Back in December, Doug and I took a trip to Staunton, Virginia, a town of 25,000 people in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It was probably our sixth or seventh visit there in the past three years. We really love it. At the prodding of a friend, I decided to go ahead and write a post about it. As of today, the post has over 5,000 views, making it my most popular post ever and bunches of comments with cool historical details and recommendations for places we've missed. So thanks Stauntonians, past and present. You made last week a fun week for me.

Staunton is not the only gem in the Shenandoah Valley though. There are plenty of cool places to go within about 45 minutes of Staunton and that isn't even counting the wonder that is Charlottesville. We especially enjoy Lexington, which deserves a post of its own sometime in the future, and Harrisonburg, where we often stop on our way to or from Staunton.

For anyone who has anxiety attacks whenever they have fewer than two pounds of unsalted butter or five pounds of all-purpose flour on hand, any trip to Staunton necessitates a stop at Grandma's Pantry in Harrisonburg. I mean, I buy baking basics like flour and sugar at Wegmans like a normal person. But when it comes to more exotic ingredients like unusual extracts, black cocoa powder and vast quantities of expensive spices like saffron, this place is DA BOMB. There are things here that I can't find anywhere in Fairfax County and the prices are often better than when I've found these ingredients online.

First, the selection is terrific. They have just about every kind of flour you can imagine. In fact, they do have every type of flour I have ever imagined and I can imagine a lot! Brown rice flour, almond flour, oat flour in both gluten free and normal versions, whole wheat pastry flour, cake flour, etc. My particular favorites in this section are the Japanese Panko breadcrumbs and the almond flour. The breadcrumbs here are $1.99 per pound as opposed to the Wegmans store brand, which is $1.99 for 10 ounces. Almond flour is also quite an expensive thing, which make experimenting with things like macarons and frangipane kinda scary. Here it costs about 25% less than at the grocery store.

They also have country ham, which I can only find around DC sporadically, and even then usually in one of the Southern chains like Harris Teeter or Food Lion. New York-based Wegmans and California-based Safeway don't carry it. It's good for months so I stock up.

And a couple of months ago, a friend of mine was looking for black cocoa powder, which is known to be the best chocolate for producing homemade Oreos that taste most like the real thing. Even reaching out to some pretty serious professional and home bakers around town, I couldn't find anywhere that carried it. And it's one of those things that's stupid expensive to ship unless you're making a really big order. Now we know: Grandma's Pantry.

The other thing I love to get here is powdered buttermilk. Buttermilk is one of those annoying ingredients. It's used in a lot of baking and cooking and there's a sort of adequate substitute (milk + lemon juice or vinegar) but that weirds me out. Chunks. Yuck. And you generally have to buy a quart even though I'm not sure I've ever seen a recipe that uses more than a cup. Which leads to rotting buttermilk in my fridge. With the powdered stuff, you add 4 tablespoons of powder to one cup of milk and let stand for five minutes. No grody chunks. No waste. So powdered buttermilk? Super sweet idea. I usually buy about 4 pounds of it, stick it in the freezer and it lasts me for a year. Running out of dry buttermilk is actually what prompted our last Staunton trip so it's pretty important to me.

Then there are the prices. A 2 ounce jar of McCormick dried chipotle pepper is $6.69 at Wegmans. At Grandma's Pantry, you get 6 ounces for just a little bit less. For that saffron, .06 ounces of McCormick's will cost $16.89 at Wegmans. Here saffron is $2.99. I'm always hesitant to try new recipes with an expensive ingredient like saffron. Even if it's not the world's best saffron (and I'm not saying it's not--I actually can't tell), that's a price that encourages experimentation.

Finally, Grandma's Pantry carries a lot of local Shenandoah Valley products. The maple syrup above is from Highland County, which has an annual Maple Festival. We went last year. It was super fun. We ate a lot of pancakes and maple sugar candy and maple donuts. My car smelled like maple syrup for a week. The festival is in early March. You should go.

For some reason I didn't get a picture of all the varietal honey, but the bulk honey is pretty fun too. There's not a lot of cost savings here because the honey seems to come from mostly small producers, but if you're looking for subtle flavor variations, they have an amazing selection. Like, a whole wall of different kinds of honey.

Since we only make it down there about once every six months, we really stock up. There's about 20 pounds of groceries here in this basket, mainly winter staples like beans, country ham and hot cocoa mix and baking staples like dutch process cocoa powder (at half the cost of the grocery store) and dry buttermilk.

Grandma's Pantry is located in larger warehouse-like building which also has some handmade furniture, antiques, a store that carries jams, jellies and other county-style canned goods, among others. If you're lucky, you'll catch a weekend when a group of locals is hanging out playing bluegrass music. It's a little off the beaten track, but just plug the address into your GPS and you'll be fine.

In other news, I've added a Travel header to the main navigation on the blog so if you're interested in our little Virginia adventures, there are a couple more entries to look at. And stay tuned the week after Valentine's Day for yet another day trip, this time to Purcellville!

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