27 February 2015

Is it Spring Yet?

So the final week of February brought us freezing rain (close all the schools!) and general hibernation.  Can we move on yet?
February was about as stressful as predicted - the first portion of it, anyway.  Now that the bus is running and my plants are growing, I'm feeling a little more relaxed.
  • We had two sets of visitors this month!  It's always so great to see people again, and we seem to get lots of visitors!  The perks of living in the southern climes...
  • Two batches of wine needed to be bottled.  Done!  Plus Kyle started an IPA and I started some chardonnay
  • Put the bus back together.  Get it running.  Bleh.  We put it back together, then it took a little extra time to get it running.
  • Go camping in the bus.  Fail.  The bus wasn't running so we didn't make it.  Well, we stopped by for a few minutes on Sunday (via car).
  • Dirt needed to be acquired and plants needed to be planted. Plants planted!  Raised beds bedded!  Dirt...tbd.
  • Start picking up more of the housework.  Hum.  I'm a terrible wife.
  • Just to add something fun - Charleston Food Truck Festival! We went, we ate, we enjoyed!  It was a good time.
That being said, this was a weird month.  We cycled back and forth between warm and cold weather, and the cold brought on a malaise I struggled to defeat.  A day out in the cold was followed by two days feeling incredibly snuggly and lazy.  I'm ready for March to start bringing more typical SC temps.
  • We attended the French Quarter Art Walk twice last year and it's become one of my favorite local events!  That's on my list for the first week of March.  The best part...
  • ...My parents will be visiting for the March Art Walk!  
  • I'm really hoping that by the end of the month we can start eating greens from our garden and stop buying them from the grocery store.
  • The chardonnay will need to be bottled, and I can get another one started.  Either a merlot or a montepulciano this time.
  • With so much bus work, the online classes I'm taking got left behind, so I need to catch up!
  • Prep the bus for the interior build - strip the housepaint, fix the rust, insulate, and scrub it clean.
Obviously February was dominated by this.
However, we still managed to get some other work done, like bottling 11 gallons (!) of wine.
Kyle started bartending this month, and we've been using his tip money for our "frivolous" spending, such as going out for Valentine's Day.
We've been lucky enough to have some good weather on the weekends - perfect working weather!
The bus engine is back in, and it stays running for more than 30 seconds.  I could finally wash it (how does it get so dirty just sitting in the garage?) and then we took it out for a day!
First destination: Folly Gras!  We made it in time to watch the parade, but we were took late to be in the parade.  Then on to foodie paradise:  the Food Truck Festival!
We tried out two delicious food trucks and also sampled from the bier garden.  Life looks a lot brighter on this side of February.  Cada dia es mejor!

20 February 2015

The Seventh Circle of Vacuum Leak Hell

We re-diagnosed our problem, instead of blaming the AFM we decided it was a gross vacuum leak.
Kyle spent a little time checking things over but we spent most of the day away.  Sometimes you just need a weekend.

Kyle confirmed his suspicions that an injector seal hadn't been attached.  He also seal-all-ed a rubber elbow that I had noted as being fairly cracked and worn.  Aha!  Easy peasy, but...
Same symptoms persisted.  Kyle went over each vacuum line connection and still couldn't find anything.  It was cold out and when I finally warmed up, I became extremely lethargic - does anyone else feel like this after spending a lot of time in the cold?  At a total loss, Kyle finally consulted the Samba, then pulled out all the stops on trying to nail down this vacuum leak.

At lunch, Kyle picked up a fuel pressure gage and tested the fuel pressure that afternoon - everything was fine.  Kyle started methodically going through the manual for the fuel injection system.  It was ridiculously cold and miserable outside.  Not quite Michigan-bad (sounds like y'all had a rough weekend!) but no fun to be working on a bus.  We also pulled off a bigger hose with some cracks in it and treated it with our now-patented superglue / seal-all fix.  Symptoms persisted.
Kyle built a smoke device to send smoke through the vacuum lines and then look for smoke leaking out of any connections.
This resulted in a good deal of smoke pouring out of the oil breather.  Sighing in relief that we had finally found our problem (and kicking ourselves for not realizing the oil breather needed a seal on it!), we whipped up a cork seal and installed it.  The previous seal was disintegrated beyond recognition - oil gunk was keeping it sealed before we took the engine apart.  We started the bus up.  Same thing - ran fine until it was warmed up, then the rpms kept dropping until finally it died.  Curses.
At noon we hooked up the smoke device again.  It's actually a pretty ingenious little invention - Kyle bought a quart-sized paint can, attached a valve and a hose line, then ran a bike pump to the valve and a hose from the paint can to the vacuum system.  Make some fire in the paint can, put it out, then contain the smoke in the paint can.  The clamps in the photo are to keep the lid from popping off when the pump is being exercised.
This resulted in smoke puffing out of one of the the air plenum / injection manifold joints.  At one point back in our reassembly, we realized we had forgotten to install a tin, which led to a quick redo of one side of the engine.  In our haste, this intake sleeve curled under, and since it was on the bottom side of the intake manifold we didn't see it.
Kyle tells me it idled pretty well after that was fixed.  Eureka.

After I got out of work, we planned a test drive.  We made it as far as the end of the driveway - a small win, considering we hadn't tested the shifting system yet.  We'd had to jump it pretty frequently during our troubleshooting, but we chalked that up to constantly starting it, but not running it long enough to charge.  It was a little more serious than that.  Someone, in his infinite wisdom (shall remain nameless) didn't hook up the alternator.  So yeah.  Our battery was DEAD.
Hook up the alternator, give it one last jump with the Fit...now we're rollin'.

We planned a bar night - either to lick our wounds or celebrate our victories.  I can't even tell you how happy I am that it was the latter.  Kyle even drove the bus to Homegrown (I met him there later in my car). 

I'm spending my lunch hour trying to get this posted.  So far we've driven the bus to O'Reilly's, my work, and Homegrown Brewhouse.  I think it's finally time to call this a success...six weeks after pulling the engine out  in the first place.

13 February 2015

Engine Out / Engine In

This is going to be a long post, and I'm mostly putting it here for posterity - so a few years down the road, we can remember what we did.  But the long and short of it is that we took the engine and transmission out, cleaned them both up, replaced some parts, and then put them back together.
It's a pretty impressive before and after, no?

06 February 2015

Tomato Salsa with Lime and Cilantro

I'm not sure how it happened, but in five years of blogging, I've never shared a go-to salsa recipe.  I've got the rainbow salsa, a tart cherry salsa, and of course salsa verde, but a regular tomato salsa?  Lacking.
This salsa falls under the category of "restaurant style," but amped up with two of my favorite ingredients:  lime and cilantro.  Incidentally, those are also the key ingredients to my guacamole.  Um, that's also not on here yet.  I think in general, if I make a recipe all the time, I never take photos of it and therefore you won't find it here.

But I digress.

Let's get down to it.  I start out with lime - zest and juice!  The zest adds an abundant lime flavor that I just love.
Add in some red onion.  I'm throwing everything into a manual food processor, feel free to use what you've got - blender, food processor, just just chop things up finely and call it good.
Next is the cilantro.  I add a lot.  Scale it back if it's not your thing.
Top with tomatoes.  Canned, for some reason, is better here.  And much easier.  Diced-style is what I use because it ends up a little watery if whole / plum are used.
And lastly, if you can take the heat, some canned diced chilis top it off.  Or, in my case, home-canned jalapenos.
Blend it up!  Then add in the spices: salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and a dash of chili powder.
Awesome.  I know you want to dive in - do it.  Try some homemade tortilla chips if you're feeling fancy.
Salsa with Lime and Cilantro
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 c. red onion
  • 1/2 c. fresh cilantro
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can diced green chilies (or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • dash of chili powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
1.  Put all ingredients in food processor.  Blend to desired consistency.
Simple as that.

30 January 2015

Month End

January. Was. Exhausting.
But the party's not over yet.
  • Finish making more raised beds.  I've got three built, now it's time to place them, fill them and plant them.  They all cost a pittance, too, because we got the lumber from the nearly dead cart.
  • Make a bunch of tshirts. Hum.  I started.  They didn't go so well.  I'll do more.
  • Drop the engine in the bus.  Check out the photos below.  It's still in pieces, but we're in the "putting it back together" stage so that's progress.
  • Roll my old 401k over into an IRA.  Wow, this has been a giant pain in the butt.  I tried to open an account...and I'm still waiting on that to be approved.  Apparently it's a really busy time of year.
  • Begin two more Coursera classes.  Done and done.
  • Find some new workout to kick my butt.  Uh, yeah.  It's this great new workout where I squat for half an hour while scraping forty year old dirt off a transmission, then twist my body sideways to paint the inside of a shelf, then cry for days because my back hurts.
February goals are pretty easy to name...not so easy to do.  If I can survive the first two weeks, I'm probably going to spend the next two lounging on a bed of pillows while someone feeds me grapes (or...fermented grapes).
  • We have visitors coming.  On February 1.
  • Two batches of wine need to be bottled.  On February 3.
  • Put the bus back together.  Get it running.  Like, yesterday.
  • Go camping in the bus.  On February 6. 
  • Dirt needs to be acquired and plants need to be planted.  ASAP.
  • Start picking up more of the housework, as Kyle is taking a large classload this spring and has already been working sun-up to sun-down between his full time job and advanced engineering courses.
  • Just to add something fun - camping is fun, but it feels stressful right now because our camper is immobile - Charleston Food Truck Festival!  There's a food truck I keep meaning to try out and I can never seem to coincide with its location.  Time to do the thing.
If you can't tell, I might be feeling a little bit overwhelmed.  Does anyone want to come cook for me for a few weeks?  Okay, let's whip through my month in photos.  This month began with an awesome visit from friends.  First we hiked the Ravenel Bridge (better known as the Cooper River bridge).
We saw dolphins from the top of the bridge - that was neato because even when they were underwater we could still see them, as long as they stayed close to the surface.
Pineapple fountain: classic.
We even took a boat out to Fort Sumter, where the opening shots of the American Civil War were fired.
And when I got bored with the historical stuff, at least I had my camera to play with.
When our visitors left, it was all business.  First up, raised beds.  I built two of those!  I know they're super simple, but I built them and you can't take that away from me.
Second, a new shelf for the kitchen.  Kyle built, I painted.  And sanded.  And painted.  And sanded.  And painted.  If you're wondering what that cord in the kitchen is, it's an extension cord powering our fridge, because we killed the kitchen electrical circuit.  I tripped over the cord at least eight times (and the electrician did twice) but things got sorted out and I no longer have to unplug the fridge so I can use the microwave.  Score one for being renters, this fix was as easy as a phone call.
While waiting for paint to dry, we had plenty of engine work to do.  Here's freshly removed...
...and here's how much we disassembled.  Everything was extremely dirty and mostly we've just been cleaning and cleaning and cleaning.
A brief reprieve from bus stuff to celebrate my birthday,
but then we continued cleaning up 10+ years of oil leak and dirt build-up.
Finally (I know - it was a big month) we celebrated Kyle's birthday with...burgers!  It's funny because we don't really make burgers at home so he (okay, both of us) gets really excited about going out for burgers. 

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.