Last tasks in Vermont

We’re getting serious about gearing up for travel now. The Airstream has been stored all summer in the most unfavorable conditions: exposed to sun, rain, falling tree branches and leaves, in a humid environment, and used essentially as a giant storage locker.  It is our joint mission to turn it back into a habitable travel trailer in the next 48 hours.

It’s always best to work from the top down, so I started with the roof disaster.  The debris was so thick that the first step was to get on the roof with a broom and sweep away most of the accumulated branches and leaves.  It was pretty nasty up there with older leaves that have composted and filled every possible corner and crevice — worse than I remember from the previous year.  I think an extra layer of tree bits landed in the past week thanks to Irene.

Then I got into the detail work, using only water and a soft brush.  I never use soap on the roof because there’s too much chance of slipping off.  Working outward from the centerline is most efficient, as things tend to wash down to the sides.

It took quite a while to clean up the detail spots, like beneath the TV antenna, under the solar panels, the upper gutter of the awning, and around the refrigerator vent.  The work would go faster if I wasn’t working on a wet sloped roof with numerous delicate obstacles (like plastic roof vents) and hardly any open space to stand.  I recommend extreme caution if you ever do this.

The rear solar panel was so obscured by tannin from decaying leaves (far more gunk than you can see in the top picture) that I had to spend several minutes scrubbing it.  A small amount of brown stain on the glass can have a large impact on electrical generation capacity.

Once the roof was done, I gave the rest of the trailer a conventional wash.  I got the bulk of it with a telescoping brush and Eleanor followed up with a plastic scrubber, cleaning up the details. Even after our efforts, the trailer will win no prizes in a Concours d’Elegance but at least it is no longer embarrassing. If I have time today, I’ll also wax the front dome, as that seems to make it easier to clean off squashed bugs later.

Getting ready to go is obviously important.  (I spotted a tree turning color yesterday — a warning sign from Mother Nature that the cold weather is coming.)  But we’ve got other important things we must do before we leave, including eating birthday cake.

We missed the normal time to celebrate my birthday (in mid-August), because I was in Tucson.  Being of a certain age, I am not really all that hung up on birthdays, but for some reason my birthday is a well-attended event every year.  I am pretty sure that the entire family takes an interest in my birthday primarily because Eleanor always makes a special cake with butter-cream frosting, and each year the cake is different.  Usually a few weeks or months prior, I dream up a rough idea and then Eleanor figures out the details.

The cake this year stems from the fact that I am an admitted and unrepentant maple fiend.  There is no ten-step program for people like me and if there were, I wouldn’t follow it.  The Addison County Fair (held in August) is my annual maple pig-out, but again, I was in Tucson and missed it this year.  You have no idea what a serious loss that was to me.  The Fair has an entire building dedicated to all things maple.  Maple frosted donuts, maple milk, maple creemees (“soft serve” to the rest of you), maple milkshakes, maple bread, maple candies, and this year they added some sort of baked confection that had walnuts on top.  Having been entirely deprived of all these goodies in maple-free Tucson, I requested a maple-walnut cake for my late birthday celebration.

So Eleanor did some research and has developed her own recipe, which starts from scratch.  Some of it is roughly based on an Italian cream cake recipe that we got from (believe it or not) our insurance company USAA some years ago, but at this point Eleanor has modified it so much that it is truly her own.  The cake contains about $30 of ingredients, as real maple sugar and such things are rather expensive, but as I often point out to anyone who will listen, I’m worth it.

The cake, which you can see here during construction, is not only maple-flavored batter with fine-chopped walnuts, but between layers contains a whipped chocolate ganache with maple flavor.  (If you’ve never tried maple and chocolate together, you need to.  I can recommend the maple crunch chocolates from Lake Champlain Chocolates as a source for aspiring addicts.)

The final layer is a maple butter-cream frosting that literally melts in your mouth, leaving a buttery coating and a strong desire for more.   So we’re looking at triple maple cake with walnuts and chocolate ganache.  Talk about decadence … there will be no leftovers.

There are a few other rituals that we must complete before departing.  Last night, for example, the humidity and temperature rose and so I was finally motivated to go jump in the lake.  Lake Champlain is running a bit cooler than normal, due to all the rain and storminess (which stirs up cold bottom water).  It’s a “refreshing” lake at the best of times, usually peaking around 68 degrees, and I think yesterday it was a few degrees cooler than that.  But this is what I grew up on, and I’m used to it.  On a sticky afternoon it’s just right — a thrillingly icy splash as you dunk under for the first time, and then in just a few minutes your body core is cooled down and it feels like no amount of heat and humidity will ever bother you again.  Emma and I got in and played a few splashing games.

With that, another summer tradition has been accomplished.  Only a few things left to do.  It looks like we’ll be ready to hit the road by Tuesday.

Birthday menu:

lobster ravioli with an orange saffron cream sauce
mushroom ravioli with browned butter & sage sauce
grilled asparagus with lemon & parmesan shavings
endive, mushroom, & artichoke salad with mustard & white wine vinaigrette
maple walnut cream cake

Orange Saffron Cream Sauce for Seafood Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 thinly sliced strips of unsmoked bacon, most fat removed, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • zest and juice of 1 orange (preferably Minneola Tangelo or Blood Orange)
  • saffron threads (about 6, crumbled)
  • 12 ounces light cream
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
Preparation:
add saffron to cream & set aside.
heat oil in saute pan.
add bacon, cook until crisp & brown. remove bacon from pan.
add minced shallot to same pan. stir until coated with grease from pan.
add butter & stir until foaming subsides.
add about two thirds of the orange zest & cook until shallot is soft & translucent.
deglaze pan with orange juice; reduce to a thin layer.
whisk in saffron cream in two separate additions, allowing all ingredients in pan to be completely incorporated after each.
simmer – do not boil – and reduce until lightly thickened, whisking constantly.
add pepper, whisk & taste. add salt if needed.
*pour over cooked, hot, lobster ravioli. sprinkle cooked bacon and remaining zest over top and serve.

Readying the ship

OK, let me get this out of the way before I say anything else:  WE ARE FINE.

I continue to get daily emails from folks who are concerned that we might have been affected by the recent storm.  The media frenzy about the “devastation” in parts of Vermont has painted a really distorted image of the situation here, especially up in northern Vermont where it’s hard to find visible impacts from the storm.  At our current base of operations, the worst thing that happened is that my brother had to pull up the dock and boat lift due to Lake Champlain rising a few feet.

My previous blog entry was intended to make it obvious that we were relatively unaffected, but it seems to have backfired.  One friend even wrote, “OK, I read the blog.  You are safe, parent’s house is fine, the trailer is fine,  All sounds good. Now, what’s the rest of the story?”  Sorry, that’s all there was.  Any further drama will have to be self-created, and believe me, we’re good at that.

On Wednesday I took a roadtrip up to Plattsburgh NY, fifty miles away by car and ferry, to make a client visit to Colin Hyde Trailer Restorations.  About two years ago Colin opened up his own trailer restoration shop and has been doing quite well with it.  I spent a few hours checking out every Airstream in the shop and catching up on everything.  In the afternoon Colin donned his bunny suit and demonstrated how he can paint an entire chassis (in this case the restored/improved frame of a 1953 Flying Cloud) in less than an hour with just one quart of POR-15, using a sprayer and his “rotisserie” set-up.  The rotisserie allows the frame to be rotated in the air for ultimate convenience.  This is a much more efficient method of painting a frame than the old “bend over and brush” technique that many people still use.

It’s interesting to me to note how the vintage trailer restoration business has matured over the past several years.  When I started the magazine in 2004, there were only a handful of restorers out there and most of them didn’t know what they were doing.  They’d come out of the hotrod business, or evolved from trailer repairs, and frankly there was a lot of overpriced hack work going on.  Only a few really understood how these trailers were intended to work (from a design perspective) and so I saw a lot of horribly botched trailers coming out of “professional” shops.

Actually, that still happens quite a lot.  It’s pretty easy for anyone to hang out a shingle and say they are in the trailer restoration business, with no licensing, no real knowledge, and little accountability (since the customers themselves generally only see the surface of the work).  There are still a lot of hacks out there.  But a few have studied the history, engineering, design intent, period materials, and even philosophy of Airstream and other vintage trailer manufacturers.  Those people are doing the good work these days.

I’m very happy to say that most of them are advertisers in Airstream Life.  As one non-advertiser put it, “Being in Airstream Life sort of says you’ve ‘made it’.”  We don’t vet the advertisers for quality but I do find that when they are willing to make the investment in advertising their business, it indicates a seriousness and professionalism that usually carries over to their work.

Being at Colin’s shop (and MEL Trailer, C&G, etc., a couple of weeks ago) has reminded me of the work I want to do on the Safari.  After 100,000 miles of towing and six years, it has accumulated a bit of wear around the edges.  I want to replace all of the flooring with Marmoleum, refurb the Hensley (again), add another Vista View, wire in an inverter, convert to LED lights, re-upholster the dinette, rebuild our microwave/laundry storage, replace the curtains, repaint all of the steel (A-frame, bumper compartment, entry step), re-caulk all the roof openings, upgrade the stereo with MP3 input & better speakers, etc.  This will not be a quick or cheap refurb, but in the process I expect to renew the trailer so that it is ready for our next 100,000 miles. As I’ve written previously, I see no reason why a new Airstream can’t last a lifetime with proper owner maintenance (including annual leak tests).  Like an airplane, a periodic refurb is to be expected.

This week, however, I just need to get ready for our upcoming trip. The Safari has been stored all summer, and now it is covered in spider webs and debris from the cedar trees overhead.  I’ll need to get on the roof and wash it down, lube & inspect the hitch, check the tires & reinflate as needed, re-organize tools that have gotten spread out over the summer, and re-stock.   That process has already started, and we’ll finish this weekend so we can depart on Tuesday.

The trip plan is already growing.  I had planned to zip back across the USA in a relatively straight line to economize on fuel (diesel is running $4+ per gallon up here) but there are too many things to do.  I like to treat every trip as if it might be our last, just so there are no regrets.  Or to put it another way, I’d rather regret spending a lot of money on fuel than regret passing up once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities.  So our route currently brings us west through NY state, briefly into Canada, then down to western PA, near Washington DC, a stop in NC for service, a quick stop in central AL, and then Florida.  From there, we may spend a few weeks in Florida or we may head west toward home, depending on circumstances.