New Knives? Or Old Folks’ Stuff?

The honored Chicago chef’s knife…

{Chortle!} I remain bewitched with the idea of buying a gigantic set of fancy new German kitchen and steak knives (with white handles! oooooohhhh!) at Costco. The ridiculousness of dropping $200 on any such thing is manifest.

Still…if I don’t spend any more on anything else (and there’s no reason I should), by the end of this month (which it already IS, almost!) I’ll have $200 left in the budget. Why should I not spend it on myself?

Or, one might reasonably ask, why should I spend it on myself?

Thing is, a perfectly fine collection of fancy Wüsthof and Henckels knives is sitting right there in the drawer. I don’t need any fancy new knives.

But…but…the other thing is, every one of them is all scratched up, from the time I took it into my hot little head to use my father’s whetstone to sharpen the knives, which had gone mightily dull. This was an exceptionally bad idea. In my clumsiness, I ruined every knife in the house!

Except they’re not ruined. They look terrible, but they take a perfectly fine edge and there’s nothing wrong with the way they work. So what if they look terrible? Who sees them?

So, here’s another Thing:

Whenever you go to one of those uncountable estate sales out in Sun City, these scratched-up knives are the sort of thing you run into. Those, and the blue-and-pink furniture and the much-scrubbed Revereware pans and on and on. You find the leavings of the make-it-do, use-it-up generation: people who pay a middling-high price to get the best Stuff they can afford and who are then stuck with it, because it never wears out. By the time you’ve owned it half your lifetime and you’re tired of it, it really isn’t worn out.

These houses are full of tired, out-of-style Stuff that’s still perfectly serviceable. Serviceable outmoded furniture. Serviceable old-fashioned pots and pans. Serviceable mixers. Serviceable food processors. Serviceable blenders. Serviceable fans. Serviceable old analog scales and clocks. Serviceable towels. Serviceable sheets. Serviceable throw pillows. Serviceable half-bottles of Arpège and Windsong. Auuughhhh! So depressing it comes out on the other side of depressing.

So the question becomes one of WTF are you saving that two hundred bucks for, anyway?

I dunno. I’m so cheap I don’t want to part with it. Plus I like my knives. I’ve collected them over a lifetime. Handing them over to Goodwill feels like a betrayal. How can I even think of taking my knives to the pound? Auuughhhh!

One thing we can be assured of: despite all those expensive German brand names, the best knife in that drawer was made by Chicago Knives. It takes an edge like a razor blade and holds the edge forever with just light honing. A-n-n-d you cannot buy a decent Chicago knife anymore. That’s another fine American product that has gone down the tubes — though reviews at Amazon average in the four-star range, still some 11 percent of reviewers hate it. Here’s my knife: one guy says Chicago “must be the name of a town in China.” 😀 This one is particularly juicy: “After some very light use and cleaning, the wood on the handle SHRANK exposing the sharp edge of the full tang in the handle. The edge of the tang is sharp enough to cut my fingers.Hee HEEEEE!

Okay. Yeah. Why, again, do I want to replace a lifetime collection of high-quality German and (real!) American cutlery for…what? Something made in China, like everything else? So my knives are old folks’ stuff. BFD: I am an old folk.

What’s a few scratches, after all…

Estate-saling in a tropical storm

La Maya and a cousin of La Bethulia’s dropped by early this morning to pick me up on the way to an estate sale in the fancy part of a far-flung arm of the galaxy. The house was located in the elegant suburbs of far, far, far north Scottsdale.

Actually, it dwelt in a small patch of tract houses surrounded by large, expensive late-model houses on acre-plus lots. The tract itself consisted of modestly sized structures—maybe 1,600 to 2,000 square feet—on typical tiny tract lots, what we dinosaurs would call “patio homes” but today’s mammals think of as full-sized family houses. Its saving grace was that its tiny backyard looked out over a vast swath of undisturbed open space, giving it a view across only lightly raped Sonoran desert all the way to the mountains that ring the Valley. Very pretty. Maybe even pretty enough to justify the $600,000 asking price for three tiny bedrooms, a single living area dominated by a wall of ungainly niches built to house a hulking television and an array of large speakers, and not a single wall anywhere broad enough to hold a decent bookcase.

At any rate, the owner had a flair for decorating. We got there a little late to grab the nicest things, but we did see a nice array of lovely Asian pottery and ceramics, many beautiful clothes (once incredibly expensive but all, alas, in the smaller petite sizes), and some very nice artwork. But Gini, the sale proprietor, kept slipping new things onto the countertops as buyers cleared the merchandise, and so, stepping into the kitchen at just the right moment, I scored this nice old carving set:

The blades are carbon steel, a feature much coveted in the Aptosaurus family. M’hijito loves the carbon-steel knives I passed to him after SDXB nabbed them in a yard sale and gave them to me. Tho’ they’re softer than stainless and can’t be left to corrode in a puddle of water on the drainboard, they sharpen easily and take a beautiful edge.

See those little decorative collars at the top end of the handles? Those are marked “sterling.” There’s no maker’s mark on the blade or fork, but the sterling silver deco touch suggests they’re good pieces, like everything else the woman owned. I think the handles may be bone or possibly horn, not plastic. And the blade has been sharpened many times.* The pieces have a little corrosion, as if they were put away and forgotten at some point. I’ll bet the owner inherited it, or else acquired it early in her marriage and kept it all her adult life.

Meanwhile… The tail end of Hurricane Jimena has been drifting north across the Chihuahan and Sonoran deserts, and now it has ambled into the Valley. On the way home we passed through a sharp storm cell, the lightning copious and the rain ferocious. About the time we hit the freeway it really started to fire-hose. People were pulling off onto the shoulder, but La Maya managed to make it to an offramp several miles north of our neighborhood. This put us in the middle of an electrical storm. At one point a lightning bolt struck just a few yards from us. Its C-R-R-A-C-K and BOOM shook La Maya’s sturdy RAV-4 and all three of us yelped at once!

But we outran it a little south of Thunderbird, where the North Mountains blocked the blustery clouds’ passage long enough for us to run ahead of the rain and lightning until we reached our part of town. We were mighty glad to see the rain, and just as glad to get off the road and inside a building!

It caught up with us as I was running from the car to the front door. Just had time to power down and unplug the Mac (which I had stupidly left sleeping despite the encroaching storm) and heat some breakfast before the lightning threatened to fry the local power lines. Now the noise and heavy downpour have come and gone, and we have a lovely steady rain, temperatures in the balmiest of mid-seventies. Lovely!

Next week will be very busy. I’ve fallen behind in my plan to stockpile posts, and so today’s post is today’s post. But have many things to share and so will carve out as much time as I can find this weekend to write and schedule the next few days’ entries. If I miss a day or two, it’s not because I’ve forgotten you but because this fall’s expected flood of work is starting to rise.

* BTW, here’s an interesting article on sharpening fine blades, the most thorough explanation I’ve ever see this side of my Daddy’s workbench.

Storm image: FIR002, flagstaffotos.com.au Lightning strike, January 2007
Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License
Please note that this image is not in the public domain and must be used and acknowledged accordingly.