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. 

12 December 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans

I know the title is a mouthful, but there are so many flavors going on in this dish, I still couldn't name them all.  Roasted mushrooms, pecans and cranberries complement this caramelized butternut squash, and the whole thing is topped off with soft goat cheese.  Or at least, it should be.  Due to unforeseen events, I am unable to provide photos with the goat cheese version...sigh. 
Oh, and did I mention that the squash is tossed with a killer combo of extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup, and hot chili sauce?  You don't want to miss this.
Start with a squash.  Cut it in half, scoop out the soft, stringy part.  Save some seeds if you want!  You can grow your own next year.
Peel and cube the squash.  I used a vegetable peeler, it worked okay.
This bowl was perfect for coating the squash in extra virgin olive oil, maple syrup (from Michigan!), hot chili sauce, salt and pepper.
Scatter the squash cubes on a baking sheet and bake for half an hour at 400 degrees F.
Remove the squash from the oven, add the (optional) mushrooms and pecans and roast for an additional 20-25 minutes.
Finally, add the cranberries and when mixed, top with goat cheese.  Or don't.
Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Pecans (loosely inspired by this)
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs maple syrup (can sub 2 tbs brown sugar)
  • 2 tbs hot chili sauce (Sriracha or chili garlic sauce work)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 c. mushrooms, roughly chopped (half an 8 oz package) - optional
  • 1/3 c pecan pieces
  • 1/3 c cranberries
  • 3 to 4 oz goat cheese.
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Halve the squash.  Remove the seeds and stringy bits.  Peel and cube the squash.
3.  In a large bowl, coat the squash with the olive oil, maple syrup, chili sauce, salt and pepper.  Spread the squash out on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes.
4.  Take the squash out of the oven and gently stir.  Add in the mushrooms and pecans.  Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes until the squash is tender.
5.  Put the squash into a serving bowl.  Stir in the cranberries.  Top with goat cheese.  Serve!
I don't really like squash.  I mean, I'll eat it.  But it's one of those things I can really only eat once in a great while.  I had so much spaghetti squash back when I was doing Paleo that it will likely be several years before I'm willing to give that one a try again.  That being said, this dish was delicious.  My favorite part was the pecans, Kyle's favorite was the mushrooms.  They just really push this dish over the top, it's just bursting with flavors.  The little bit of heat from the chili sauce is perfect.

So maybe squash and I will make peace after all.

28 November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Black Friday is upon us!  I hope your Thanksgiving was a wonderful day of family, friends and food.  Take it slow and easy today.
Let's do a quick recap of the goals, then check out camping photos!
  • Camping.  We went camping with the Full Moon Bus Club.  There was some last minute scrambling to get the bus ready, but camping in a bus feels extremely luxurious after years of tent camping.
  • Start a batch of Drifter clone beer. Fail.  However, I got some Chilean Malbec wine (kit) going this month that should be ready just in time for my birthday.  I can't wait.
  • Get dirt for my raised bed garden. Also fail.  But we bought supplies to make two more raised beds and I think dirt will be on hold until this spring.
  • Meet some new people.  So many new people!  We were accepted as family into the Full Moon Bus Club, and also met a few other new people this month!
  • Complete a class I started taking on Coursera.  I started two classes, for the first one I'm on track to watch my final lecture tomorrow, and the exam is more like an "exam" but we'll see how that goes.  My other class still has a couple more weeks left.
I also had a few "admin" tasks that I needed to get done, and I'm sorry to say I got those done...yesterday.  Still, done.  But only because I knew I had to report about it here.  Let's move on to December.
  • Christmas will undoubtedly involve travel!  It's always nice to have a trip to look forward to.
  • We've got visitors coming for NYE.  I can't wait to see them!  Who knows what the weather will be like, so I need to prepare some options for things to do.
  • Bottle the IPA that's been chilling in the kitchen for a while.
  • Bus stuff.  I think that I'm pretty well decided on the layout and color scheme, but I'd love to sketchup the whole thing so I have an idea of what it will look like first.  Also the front seats have no padding and the 40-year-old seat covers are starting to shred, so they definitely need to be redone.  I think I can do it myself?
  • Eat better.  I mentioned last month that I don't feel like cooking, and as a result I've been eating crappier food.  Oops.  Should have seen that coming.  Buy-two-get-three-free ice cream didn't help.  Nor did FOUR Thanksgiving potlucks.
  • Start thinking about our next big trip.  It's been a year since we went to Mexico, so it'd be fun to take an international trip sometime next year.
Heeding my mother's advice, I watched a documentary called "What Plants Talk About."  The film posits that plants behave like animals, when corrected for time (ie sped up, viewing a time-lapsed glimpse into plants behavior).  It's really fascinating stuff - first they have the wild tobacco plant, which completely changes its bloom's timing, scent and sugar content in order to attract different pollinators, then there are the spotted knapweed plants, whose roots give off harmful chemicals in order to kill off surrounding competition, followed by the sand rockets who recognize 'kin' plants and grow smaller roots to allow their kin to survive (or, conversely, grow much bigger roots when competing for space with non-kin sand rockets), and finally, the Douglas fir, who grows massive networks in the forest and transfers nourishing carbons to baby plants in order to help them survive.  If that isn't enough to pique your curiosity, you're also privy to the film's witticisms: "but the wild tobacco plant has more than one trick up its leaves..." and "the knapweed is the plant equivalent of the Terminator."  If the social behavior of plants sounds interesting to you, check this movie out - you can watch the whole thing for free on this site.
Other than that, I really didn't take any photos this month that weren't bus related.
The morning we left to go camping, Kyle built a frame for the back of the bus so that we could fit our spare bed's mattress in there and still have lots of storage space.  He did a great job.
This summer, we picked up both a campstove and a coffeemaker for a steal.  However, we never tested either.  Thankfully, they both worked great - the first night dropped to just about freezing, so hot coffee in the morning was sooooo good.
Of course, nothing tops a nice campfire when you really need to warm up.
I don't think we've met a single person who hasn't commented on the paint job on the bus.  I think Sixer was the best-looking bus there, although there were two Vanagons with really fantastic artwork.
It was a very interesting crowd, both bus-wise and people-wise.  It's a great community that I'm happy to be a part of.
On to December!  It's hard to believe we're here already, but...cada dia is mejor.  Bring it on.

21 November 2014

Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie

Thanksgiving is always feast!  The turkey, the potatoes, the rolls, the veggies, the gravy - the GRAVY!  Personally, I could eat Thanksgiving leftovers for a week and not get tired of the mashed potatoes and gravy, but if you need some creative ideas, read on.
I think Kyle's favorite was the open-faced turkey and gravy sandwich.  I'm a big fan of soup, which is a great use for the leftover turkey (especially if it got dry) and possibly even some steamed/roasted veggies.  But if you want a dish that really combines everything, Shepherd's Pie is the way to go.

This version is a poor excuse for the traditional shepherd's pie (traditional ingredients include beef/lamb, carrots, peas and onions, Worcestershire sauce, thyme and rosemary), but a great excuse for using Thanksgiving leftovers.  
It starts with the veggies.  Some leftover French green beans supplemented with a bag of frozen mixed veggies will do the trick - also note that I have doubled the recipe listed below (making a 9x13 pan rather than a 9x9 pan).
Top with leftover shredded turkey.  Add in the spices.  I made a citrus-sage turkey so I used fresh sage, but also the traditional thyme and rosemary.
Add in the gravy and a little more salt and pepper.
Mix everything together then try to smooth down the top of it in preparation for the mashed potatoes.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the dish, sealing all the delicious flavors in.
Bake until the tops of the mashed potatoes start browning.  I took mine out a little early because the gravy was bubbling up over the top.  I couldn't wait to get a helping of this shepherd's pie!
Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie
  • 2 c. veggies: green bean casserole, steamed mixed veggies, roasted fall veggies, etc.  I'm not sure how squash would work out, but don't be afraid to give it a try.
  • 2 c. shredded leftover turkey
  • 1 c. gravy
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 c. mashed potatoes (can use mashed sweet potatoes but NOT candied sweet potatoes)
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2.  Put the everything but the mashed potatoes in a 9x9 pan.  Stir everything together.  Use a spatula to push everything down and smooth the top to prep for mashed potatoes.
3.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the top of the turkey/veggie mixture.
4.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops of the potatoes start browning.

*There are lots of substitutions you can make here.  If you don't have enough veggies left over, supplement with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.  If you didn't roast a turkey, use whatever meat you have around.  No leftover gravy?  No problem.  Add a little chicken broth instead (1/4 to 1/2 cup) or maybe a can of cream of mushroom soup.  If you have LOTS of leftovers, double the recipe and put it in a 9x13 pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I roasted a citrus-sage turkey so I added a little fresh sage to my Shepherd's Pie.
Have a great Thanksgiving!  It will be a quiet holiday for me this year, but we might make some last-minute plans just to get out of the house.  Thanksgiving dinner is probably going to be bar food - or better yet, tacos.  We'll see!  I still got my turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, so I don't mind a bit.