24 October 2014

Bus Brakes Round Two

So a while ago we replaced the brake lines on the front brakes.  After we got those done the only major work we had left to do was fix the exhaust leak.  When Kyle's car died, we started rearranging our priorities and having a functional bus became a little more important.  So while we were in Michigan we hired the professionals to fix the exhaust leak.  On the way home from the shop, Kyle hit the brakes pretty hard when someone slowed down unexpectedly in front of him, and my vantage point in the chase car allowed me to observe the cloud of smoke that emanated from the rear driver's wheel.  Okay.  More brake work.
Actually the shop had let us know we had a problem with brake fluid leaking in the rear wheels so it was already on our list.  So right after we moved, instead of unpacking boxes we spent our days out in the garage.  The shop had torqued down the lugnuts with power tools so it took Kyle at least an hour to loosen all the lugnuts.  After that, he promptly bent the jack trying to get the rear tires off the ground.  That was a frustrating day.
We bought a new jack and went in for round 2.  Progress at last - the bus on jack stands and the rear wheels off.  Since everything had just been disassembled by the shop it was pretty easy to get it all apart.  Everything got sprayed down with brake cleaner and scrubbed down.
The good news is that there seemed to be plenty of material on the drums and shoes - they weren't too worn down.
The bad news is that the replacement shoes that Kyle ordered came with four of the shoes on the left and zero of the shoes on the right in the photo below.  They look pretty similar but the shoe on the right has an arm for attaching the parking brake, which is a pretty crucial detail.  As I write this Kyle tells me that they actually did ship us the correct shoes, but this is a new style.  So we'll have to drill out the rivet so that we can install that parking brake arm on the new shoes.  Gah.
Kyle replaced the wheel cylinders - they were the cause of the brake fluid getting into the drums (that's bad!).  We ended up just cleaning up the old shoes and reinstalling them.
We also replaced the rear brake lines.
Mechanics eye view of the old vs. new lines.  Then we had to bleed and adjust the rear brakes (so that each shoe was engaging the drum at the same time). 
And lastly, we replaced the parking brake cables, which run from the rear brakes to the front of the bus.  This was a pain because I had to evenly tighten the square nuts that you can barely see in the photo.  One of them I could get a quarter turn on, the other an eighth of a turn.  I was down there for a while.  Kyle was running around the back of the bus so that he could tell me when the brake was fully engaged (per the manual, we were to pull the parking brake out six clicks then tighten the cables until the rear wheels could not be turned).  The vice grips are to prevent the cables from twisting.
Some of this stuff was new to me, so for the sake of others I'm including some pictorial clarification.  Click the photo to make the text readable.
This project was drawn out over several days, so it was nice to have it back together even if we did have to use the old shoes.
We took it for a test drive around the neighborhood and everything seemed to be working fine.  Then we took an extended trip at higher speeds and heavier traffic and the braking didn't seem to be consistent.  Then it felt like something shifted and it was breaking evenly again, although it is apparent that the drums are out of round (ie it feels a little bumpy when braking).  So yay, more bus parts to buy.  Even so, every project means we get to know the bus a little better, get to trust our skills as mechanics a little more, and get more excited about the adventures we can start taking!

17 October 2014


We had some visitors last weekend.  Luckily their visit coincided with some really great weather.
They were really interested in checking out the Charleston Tea Plantation, so we headed there on Saturday.  This is a tea flower!
The grounds are gorgeous, and while we were there a wedding reception was being set up. 
While we were out in that direction, we also stopped by Firefly Distillery to try some moonshine!
Another tourist attraction nearby is the Angel Oak.  We had never seen it before, because it's...just a tree.  But I will admit it was kind of cool.  We got there four minutes before closing, however, which was a bummer.
Of course, we had to go downtown.  It happened to be Second Sunday on King, which is an event I'd like to explore more - we arrived later in the day.  It would be a great event to sit down with a beer and people watch.
With temps in the mid-80s, it was hard to remember that it's mid-October.  I kept seeing pumpkins as decorations and wondering "what the heck?" before I'd remember.
It would have been a gorgeous weekend to spend on the water. 
All in all, a great visit.

10 October 2014

Cuban Black Beans (pressure cooker)

Well, I busted out the pressure cooker for the first time in a few years.  Wait, no.  I use this pot all the time, just not under pressure.  So I guess it was only the weight that I hadn't used in a few years.  Anyway, I had forsaken dry beans for canned when I had a great source of very cheap canned beans, but that source is still in Michigan so I'm trying to remember how to pressure cook dry beans again!  And after making this authentic Cuban black bean recipe, I made this very traditional Cuban black bean poutine.  For reasons.
You, obviously, can just enjoy these beans as a side dish or over rice.  The poutine is a result of my less-than-inspired cooking lately.  Don't judge.
Into the pressure cooker with beans and water, along with half the onion, pepper, and garlic.  Some spices and olive oil to round it out.
Bring it all to a boil, then cook under pressure according to your pressure cooker's directions.  Hold at pressure for 25 minutes.
After the beans are cooked, add the rest of the onion, pepper and garlic.  Maybe a little more cumin because it's my favorite.
Voila, easy as that.  These are really great served over rice with a little cilantro and avocado.
Cuban Black Beans (based on this recipe)
  • 1 lb dry black beans
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp cumin*
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1.  Rinse the beans and pick out any that look funny - including any pebbles.  Put the beans in the pressure cooker with water (the general rule is thrice as much water as beans - ie 2 cups of beans, 6 cups of water).
2.  Chop the onion, pepper and garlic.  Add half to the pot.  Add the salt and pepper, olive oil and 2 tsp cumin to the pot.
3.  Bring the pot to a boil.  Pressure cook according to your pressure cooker's directions for 25 minutes.  Let the beans come down from pressure.
4.  When the beans are cooking, saute the rest of the onion, pepper and garlic until fragrant.  When the beans are depressurized, add the sauteed veggies, along with the remaining teaspoon of cumin and apple cider vinegar.
5.  The beans should be tender and thick.  If not, simmer for an additional 10 to 20 minutes on the stove.

*Normal cumin is fine, but to kick it up a notch, roasted cumin is better.  Fact.
These would also be really great served as a snack with tortilla chips.  Really, any idea is great except for maybe black bean poutine.  You can do better.  Do it!

03 October 2014

Finally October

The last two months have been awful, and have not let up...until this week.  I attribute it to the sun finally coming out again.  I hate to say it, but the huge effect on my mood cannot be denied - I need sunshine.  That's why I'm now in the Palmetto State instead of the More Overcast Days Than Seattle State.
I didn't pick any goals for this September because it was all I could do to keep on hanging on.  So let's jump into some goals for October.
  • Bus work - we finally got the mechanical systems working (I'm sure there's always more to be done) so now it's time to start working on the interior.  It needs some work.  Let's do it.
  • We have some visitors coming this month and I'm really excited.  I can't wait to show them around the area!
  • I have been so anti-cooking lately, I don't know what's going on.  So maybe find a couple inspiring recipes.
  • Gut the garage.  We have this really lovely garage, but the insulation is shredded and I'm pretty sure there are things living in it.  It's got to go, and after it's gone we can start organizing stuff.
  • Start some wine.  Now that I'm settling in to a place I'm ready to start brewing again.
That seems like a pretty okay list for now.  I've definitely been through a rough patch lately so I want to take it easy and let things slowly improve back to normal.  This week started with winning a contest and then on Tuesday the sun came out and hasn't left since, so I'd say things are already looking up.  Okay, so time for the photos.  I hauled back a bunch of tomatoes from Michigan last month, and as they ripened I turned them into pizza sauce.
We tried to move, but the house we were supposed to move into was infested with fleas.  After spending a weekend of thankless, unpaid labor, we needed a break so Kyle packed up a picnic and we headed to one of our favorite spots on the water.
We rewarded ourselves with some great beer.  If anyone wants to send me more huma, yes please I will take more huma please.
After an exterminator poisoned my new living space, we finally could wait no more and had to start moving things in.  We loaded up the car with the first load, then promptly unloaded the entire thing looking for the car keys.  I finally found them packed in with a disassembled lamp.
I had bought us a housewarming gift of new kitchen towels, but then the universe really delivered the perfect gift - a new (used) grill.  Someone left it by the trash compactor with a sign that said "free! works great. we moved."  It was EXACTLY the thing our new house needed, and the price was unbeatable.  The gas can was a free dumpster find too, and it is also a thing we really needed.  Yay trash compactor!
There will be a later post about this, I'm sure, but we took advantage of the new garage situation tearing into the rear brake system on the bus.  Here's the mechanics-eye-view of our newest brake line!
Our bus efforts were aided by visits of the neighborhood...dog?  I named him BunBun.  He roams freely and has a dog cage on the porch a couple doors down.
And lastly, I planted some herbs!  If there's anything in this world that never fails to make me happy, it's a garden.  I planted them last Sunday and by Wednesday night, the basils had already sprouted!
So yeah.  It was a month.  I'm really glad September is over and I'm happily moving on to October.

19 September 2014

Pizza Calzones (freezer meal)

There are very few meals that I make more than once.  On this blog I can only find a handful - carnitas, for sure, protein bars have become a morning staple, and a variation of poutine nearly every Sunday night.  I've got some jalapeno poppers in the fridge right now, and roast chicken is still a regular visitor to my kitchen.  This recipe has been in my arsenal on and off since sometime in college.  It's a great heat-and-eat meal - like the pizza pockets of yore, except they don't taste like cardboard.  They are my favorite in-need meal (ie instead of bringing casserole - bleh - I'll freeze some of these and bring them to a friend in need so that they can be reheated whenever).
The fact that they're appearing in my kitchen has almost become a sign that something is wrong.  Despite that, they are DELICIOUS and this time, they only mean that I'm about to be very short on time and need a reliable, semi-nutritious meal that I can pull from the freezer when I'm too exhausted to even chop up some veggies for a stir-fry.
I go super basic here.  Mushrooms, peppers, onions, and some red chilis.  Add to that some (turkey) burger and, for a treat, bacon.
This is a time-tested and approved move:  shred and add the cheese.  I go back and forth this move: add sauce to the filling?  Or leave out and serve on the side?
Pick your dough, let it rise.
Dust your work surface with flour, divide the dough.
Flatten and prep for stuffing.
Put a small amount of pizza stuffing in the middle of the dough.
Seal the dough up and place on a greased pan.
Bake until brown and perfect (and spewing filling...I haven't solved this one yet).
But! the important part is how delicious they are.  And the fact that they can be frozen and reheated to make a perfect busy-night meal.

Pizza Calzones
(makes 12 servings, recipe can easily be halved)
  • 1 lb ground burger or turkey, cooked
  • 3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped (roughly 2 cups)
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Enough dough for two large-ish pizzas (I used 3 of these because they're dirt cheap and my give-a-crap was broken)
1. Grease a cookie sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix together all ingredients except pizza dough - this is the filling.
3. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts.  Flour the work surface, then take one portion of dough and flatten it out.
4. Scoop roughly 1/2 to 3/4 c. filling onto the dough.  Seal up the pocket of dough (if it isn't sealing well, use a twisting motion to combine both edges of the dough).  Repeat with remaining dough portions until pan is full - leave a few inches of space between each calzone.
5.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until the dough turns golden brown.  The time will change based on the size of your calzones, so be sure to keep an eye on the first batch.
6. (Optional) Let the calzones cool on a wire rack.  When cool, put in freezer bag and seal.  Throw in the freezer for up to two months. 

*I've made my decision:  the sauce is better on the side.  Plus, who doesn't love dipping their food in delicious red sauce?  Also, feel free to substitute filling ingredients - chicken, cheddar and broccoli sounds good.  Or how about chicken and spinach with a little mozza and asiago?  There's a whole world of fillings to be explored here.
These are so tasty, I should probably make them more often.  These are great for making in big batches - eat some right away, freeze the rest for those nights when you just don't have time to get a big meal on the table.  And I don't think I need to say, but these are definitely kid-friendly.  I've also made them using a gluten-free pizza dough mix and had great results that way too.