23 January 2015

Black Forest Cheesecake

So I wanted a cheesecake for my birthday.  And I made one.  The photos turned out terrible (the ones that aren't blurry just look...gory).  And the cheesecake, while tasting delicious, didn't quite turn out either.
At least I have cheesecake to console me.  
Yeah, that definitely looks like blood.  So, no recipe this week.  Sorry.  It's my birthday.
If you really want to make a cheesecake, try this one

16 January 2015

Buttery Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

I made some mashed potatoes over the holidays.  I forgot how much I love mashed potatoes.  I love potatoes in any form, but what makes these mashed potatoes stand out is the delicious Parmesan cheese.  And butter.
Mashed potatoes pretty much all start out the same:  boil potatoes.  With salt and garlic cloves.
Then mash!  I leave the skins on because they're healthy, and I like the texture.  The garlic cloves mash up right along with the potatoes.
Now add the good stuff...butter, milk, parmesan!
Stir until the butter is melted and the potatoes get smoooooth and creamy.  Salt and pepper to taste!
Buttery Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • salt
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. milk*
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
  • pepper
1. Wash and dice the potatoes and put in a large pot (peel them first if desired).  Cover the potatoes with water, then add a little salt to the pot.  Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of a knife and remove the papery skin.  Throw them in the pot.  Bring the potatoes to a boil on the stove.  Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Drain the potatoes and then put them in a mixing bowl for mashing.  The garlic cloves should mash right along with the potatoes.  Stir in the butter, milk, Parmesan and pepper.  Taste test.  Add more salt and pepper as desired.

*I've also used some concentrated chicken broth instead of milk - works great.
This is the recipe I used when I made the Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie, but when I was a kid, my favorite use for leftover mashed potatoes was mashed potato pancakes!  Another fun thing to try with mashed potatoes would be papas rellenas - I had one while down in Key West for Christmas.  I'd love to try making my own if I could find a baked version.

09 January 2015

Thoughts for a New Year

Well, I've had over a week to think about what I want to accomplish in 2015. 
And I still don't have a good idea of what I want my year to be.  So I'll ease into it.  What does January hold?
  • Finish making more raised beds.  This is an easy one because it's 80% done (but the 80% was still done in January, so count it!).
  • Make a bunch of tshirts.  I've had a lot of interest in the shirts I made for Kyle and me for Christmas, so I guess I can make a few to sell.
  • Drop the engine in the bus.  Kyle has a list of things to get done and I want to be there every step of the way.
  • Roll my old 401k over into an IRA.  I tried to start this process already, it's more of a pain in the ass than I anticipated. 
  • Begin two more Coursera classes.
  • Find some new workout to kick my butt.  I'm tired of all the things I've been doing, I need something new.  I just ran into this so I'm going to start here - it looks like there's something for everyone in this list.
That seems reasonable.  January is looking like a pretty quiet month.  I will have to find a couple fun things to do to break it up.  I think I'm hibernating right now - all I want to do is curl up on the couch with a blanket.  I'm not feeling very motivated.
That makes 2015 goals that much harder.  But here goes:
  • Put a camping set up in the bus.  That's a lot of work.  We probably won't get too much done in the summer when it's ridiculously hot out.  Can we get it done in a year?  I think yes.  It would be reeeeeeally fantastic if we could drive it up to Michigan this summer, but that might put a lot of pressure on our few vacation days.
  • Recover the seats in the bus.  That's a big job that scares me.  It probably won't be as bad as I think.  Just need to DO!
  • Track my net worth on a monthly basis.  I actually started this last year, but I wasn't checking retirement accounts because it involved logging into several more sites, so I wasn't getting the full picture. 
  • Continue taking free classes!  Here's a great post with a list of resources for free education.  Here's a site with a list of free online photography courses, which I hope to work on after I get through my next round of Coursera classes.  Specifically, I would like to be taking two classes at any given time (although a couple weeks of break in between classes is okay).
 Alright.  Happy 2015 - can't wait to see where it takes us.

02 January 2015

December Wrap-Up

Happy New Year!  Before we get too far into 2015, I want to take a minute to look back at my year. 
That gif is really frustrating because Edna can't quite get on the chair.  Jump, Edna!  Anyway.  Let's start with December goals.
  • Christmas travel.  We went down to the Keys for Christmas, and we had the best weather.  So great.
  • NYE visitors.  Yay!
  • Bottle the IPA.  Bottled, carbonated, drank.  Gotta love homebrew.  I also started some grapefruit wine on a whim - we found some cheap fruit.
  • Bus stuff - interior sketchup and/or upholstery.  Whoops.  Got busy doing other things. 
  • Eat better. Yes!  Mostly.  Spending a week on a road trip doesn't help, but other than that I stuck with the healthy and fresh.
  • Start thinking about our next big trip.  My passport expired at the end of October, and my new one arrived early this month!  And fortuitously, my family started to talk about a trip in early 2016 so that might be our Big Trip.
That wraps up December, but 2014 as a whole needs some recognition too.
  • Get more art in my life.  Charleston's French Quarter Art Walk is my new favorite event.  I'm tapping into my creative side a little more.  I could have done better, but I did achieve this goal.
  • I want to learn the language of finance this year.  I knocked this one out of the park.  It probably deserves it's own post.  I've got goals, I know where my money is going, and Kyle is already talking about my future career as a financial advisor.  I'm excited.  Numbers have never been drab to me. 
  • Get involved in a local charity and donate some time to helping people.  I didn't do this.  I can offer excuses (we bought a 40 year old vehicle, we moved twice, we did a lot of entertaining) but the truth is that if I was committed, I would have found the time.  I'm not going to beat myself up about it, but I am going to do better.
Alright.  Life goes on.  But before it does, here are my favorites from 2014.  We started the year off by forming Team Lake Effect and braving the cold.
Our efforts were rewarded - we won first place with our snow sculpture.
Soon after that, we took a trip down to Chicago to see the river turn green.
We ate this amazing pizza while we discussed our latest purchase - a vw bus.
Soon after that I took a job in South Carolina.
We went through a pretty rough patch this summer, but things always look better when you're at the beach.
We managed to scrape together a trip up to Michigan to see my grandma one last time.  It was really good to be able to see everyone again.  This was from...uh...a fun night with friends.
We had tons of visitors after we moved!  We celebrated an engagement with these two lovely people.
We moved again, this time from an apartment to a house.  With a garage.  And a yard.  And enough space for hobbies.
We also made some new friends with Full Moon Bus Club.  We went camping and joined them at a Christmas parade.
Finally, we ended the year on a high note with a trip south.
Kyle got to see a tug he outfitted in Maine when it was just being commissioned.
And at the moment, we've got more awesome visitors from Michigan.
Okay, bring on 2015!  Cada dia es mejor!

25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

I thought about sending cards this year but decided not to.  So I'm posting my holiday wishes from the blog this year.  Friends and family, I miss you so much!  So happy Christmas, everyone, and I promise I'll be back to see you someday.  In the meantime, our guest bedroom is always ready :)

And a happy New Year!

19 December 2014

VW Bus Valve Adjustment

This post is about the time I learned to adjust the valves on our bus.  So it is going to be a technical post that is technically for idiots.  Written by an idiot (who is trying to learn more!).  I'm a novice, take my advice at your own risk.  These instructions are applicable to a 2000 cc Type IV engine with solid lifters (fuel injected).  Kyle said that sentence, I just wrote it.  I have no idea what "solid lifters" means.
For accurate adjustment, the engine must be completely cold.  Correct adjustment is essential for maximum efficiency and minimum wear.
--Official Service Manual
1.  Remove the distributor cap - the orange guy in the photo below.  It is held on by two clips.  You can see one in the photo, the second one is on the far side.  (Access: engine compartment)
2.  Remove the cylinder head covers.  They are held on by that bar (real name: bail) in the photo below.  Push that buddy down in order to get the covers off.  Once that bar is out of the way the cover should pop off fairly easily.  (Access: under the side of the bus, behind the rear tires)
3.  Turn the engine until the distributor points to the notch.  You turn the engine by using a wrench on the alternator pulley bolt, almost shown below by the green arrow.
Here's the part of the distributor that should be doing the pointing (green arrow), and the notch it should be pointing at (blue arrow - click the photo to see it better).  I would turn it, then switch to the top engine access so that I could see the distributor from above to better observe the alignment.  Aligning these puts the #1 cylinder at "top dead center" of its compression stroke, spark plug ready to fire.
4.  Okay!  Ready to adjust cylinder #1 - the forward cylinder on the passenger side.  I needed a .006" (0.15mm) feeler gauge for the valves.  Place the feeler gauge in between the adjusting screw and the top of the valve - as shown.  There should be a moderate drag on the feeler gauge when pulling it through the gap.  Other engines use a .008" (0.20mm) gauge, so engine type matters here.
5.  If the gap is too tight or too loose, it needs to be adjusted.  Let's zoom in to see the details of how to do this.  The nut (green circle) takes a 14mm wrench and the bolt (blue circle) requires a screwdriver.
Use the wrench to loosen the nut.  Hold the nut with the wrench and use the screwdriver to either tighten the valve (clockwise) or loosen the valve (counter-clockwise) until a moderate amount of drag is felt with the feeler gauge.  Tighten the nut back up.  Check with the feeler gauge to make sure the valve is still properly adjusted.
Now that #1 is adjusted, turn the engine until the distributor has rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise, then adjust #2 (#2 is rear passenger side, #3 is forward drivers side, #4 is rear drivers side - they should be labeled on the engine, but not consistently).  Then turn the distributor 90 degrees counterclockwise, and adjust #3.  Repeat with #4.

6.  Clean up the cylinder head covers.  Who knows when the valves were last adjusted on Sixer, Kyle had to pry the old gasket out and then I cleaned up the sealing surface with the wire wheel brush buddy.
7.  Kyle, avid Samba reader, read that it is advantageous to put grease on the valve cover before putting the new gasket on to help the gasket adhere and help hold it in place.
Then install the gaskets.  Kyle purchased cork gaskets, having read that they are the superior material for this task.
8.  Reinstall the cylinder head covers.  The VW symbol should be upside down.  It's not really easy to read but click on the photo below for a better view.
When putting the bail back in place, it is helpful to add a bit of grease so that next time, it is easier to move.
9.  Reinstall the distributor cap.
10.  Start up the engine.  Listen for a clicking noise at idle.  A clicking noise means one of the valves is maladjusted.  Check for oil leaks.

We had a fairly significant oil leak after this task, which Kyle has attributed to excessive grease on the cylinder head covers. However, it is said that if your bus isn't leaking oil, you're probably out of oil.  Always travel with a spare quart or two.