Spreading out

We’re still not in the Airstream but life at home has been just fine.  There’s snow up in the Santa Catalina mountains, which has afforded Emma the chance to use her Hammerhead sled with friends at 7,000 feet elevation, and down here in the valley we’re been having days warm enough to have the windows open every afternoon.  I like the dichotomy of snow up above and palm trees swaying in the breeze down below this time of year.

The Airstream is slowly getting unpacked, as we pull out things that we would have used during our 10-day trip.  Every day we go “shopping” in the Airstream for whatever we need:  clothes, frozen food, a movie, some tools, etc.  Mostly we’ve been taking out food since Eleanor had a program of meals planned for the entire trip.

The Dutch Oven has been fun for both of us, even though our second attempt at cooking was disastrous.  We tried apple crisp, a favorite of mine (traditional up in Vermont, where I grew up), but naively followed the recipe in the “Dutch Oven Cooking 101” booklet.  We should have followed our instincts instead.  The recipe called for way too much nutmeg and not enough brown sugar.  It smelled fantastic as it was cooking out in the back yard, and we were drooling with anticipation, but when we sampled it after dinner the taste was repulsive.  Nobody could even finish their serving.

It was a complete loss, and things got worse the next morning.  Disappointed with the outcome, I left that terrible apple crisp in the Dutch oven overnight rather than transferring it immediately to the compost bin.  When I scooped it out in the morning the bottom of the crisp had an absolutely incredible skunk smell that nearly drove us out of the kitchen.  Some sort of chemical reaction occurred, a final insult in the apple debacle.  Fortunately, after cleaning the oven didn’t retain the smell.

Cooking-wise, the oven has done a good job.  I stacked up some leftover flagstone to make a temporary windscreen, with an aluminum turkey pan for the coals, and it worked so well at retaining the heat from the oven that it may become a semi-permanent feature of our back yard.  (Someday I’d like to build a permanent brick & stone oven that we can also use for pizzas, but that’s way down the home improvement plan.)

Even though the potato recipe we tried earlier did work fairly well, it was a bit on the greasy side and there was more bacon in it than we would have preferred.  So based on that and the apple crisp we’ve learned that the booklet recipes are really just starting points.  From now on, we are going to modify the recipes as we go, using Eleanor’s culinary experience and training as our guide.  Tomorrow the plan is to make “Chisolm Trail Blueberry French Toast Cobbler” from a different recipe book as a special Saturday morning breakfast.

We’re also going to break out one of Eleanor’s Christmas gifts, a deep fryer.  Now, some of you are probably thinking, “You got your wife a deep fryer as a gift?  What’s next, a vacuum cleaner and a scrub mop?”  But don’t worry, Eleanor loves cooking tools.  I once bought her a second refrigerator as a Christmas gift and it was probably the best received thing I’ve ever given her.  She’d rather have a new oven than a diamond ring (and the oven she wants costs about the same as a 1-carat diamond).

All of this cooking is a way of maximizing the value of our staycation.  We would have used the Dutch oven once, maybe twice, and the deep fryer not at all if we were in the Airstream.  The fryer is just too big for our style of travel, especially with the gallons of oil it requires.  Dear old Vince Saltaformaggio would have brought it all—and more—but we don’t have a separate trailer just for the cooking gear, as he did.  So we’re taking full advantage of being at home by spreading out and getting into messy projects.

Until Tuesday, things were nice and quiet.  With the New Year everyone has come out of the woodwork.  Suddenly I’m getting calls about Modernism Week and Alumapalooza again, I’m getting article pitches from PR agencies and freelance writers, advertisers with shiny new budgets are looking to spend money (yahoo!) and people I call are actually answering their phones again.  This has impacted the vacation aspect of this week but I can’t complain because stuff is getting done.

Even Carlos called, wanting to shoot some neon this week.  In the past two years we’ve documented just about every historic sign in Tucson, and certainly all of the “live” ones (those that are still operable).  These days we are just picking up the remaining “dead” signs, like this one.  The upholstery shop is moving and the long-dead neon sign will likely be torn down, so this photo shoot was slightly urgent.  This particular sign doesn’t look like much because the neon is broken and the background was repainted.  In its original form it looked like a ribbon and was undoubtedly considerably more attractive. We’re trying to locate a historic shot that shows the original design, for inclusion in the book.

The brake actuator problem is on its way to resolution.  I have decided to get a Dexter replacement, which is currently on order and should arrive fairly soon.  The replacement unit has a good reputation, takes up about the same space, and requires only four wires.  I’m hoping to install it later this month with Eleanor’s assistance.  As Jim & Debbie pointed out in a comment earlier, installing it ourselves means we’ll know that much more about our Airstream, which is very useful when you are on the road and something goes wrong.

@Alicia Miller:  We hope to be more skilled with our Dutch Oven by Alumapalooza time, but in any case both Eleanor and I hope to attend the DO cooking class this year.  I’m pleased to say that Lodge is going to be a sponsor and so we’ll have a few pieces of their cookware as door prizes too!

An unexpected “staycation”

Alas, it didn’t work out.  We are staying put for now.

It’s hard to explain fully why the option of taking the Caravel to California didn’t work for us.  Mostly it was because our trip was very ambitious.  We were going to meet friends in three locations, sharing some fairly elaborate meals each time, and traverse from desert to ocean climate.  This meant a huge amount of carefully packed food (some prepared in advance, others in the form of ingredients), clothing and gear.  We planned to hike, picnic, grill, cook in the Dutch oven, photograph, swim, courtesy park, write/blog, and entertain.  It just didn’t all fit into the Caravel, and culling down the gear meant culling down the plan, to the point that big chunks of our itinerary didn’t make sense.

Plus, Emma’s cold seemed to be draining the spark out of her, and Eleanor was showing symptoms of having caught it too.  They weren’t going to be ready to do the hikes I had in mind in Borrego Springs.  And then there was the curse of reservations—we were fairly locked into an itinerary by the reservations, and changing it to fit our new circumstances meant a slew of fees and lost deposits.  We couldn’t extend the trip to make up for the lost day because of appointments back at home, so we’d have to rush something, and that wasn’t going to be fun given the number of miles we had planned (1,200 roundtrip).

We finally recognized the situation.  By losing 36 hours and having to downsize, the trip we had planned no longer made sense.  We needed to invent something entirely new rather than try to save an unsalvageable plan.  It was a tough call to give up a vacation I’d been anticipating for weeks, but I think it was the right one.

A key to happiness is to be satisfied with what you’ve got.  So, what did we have?  Well, beautiful weather in Tucson (upper 70s by day, sunny), plenty of time, and lots of good food to be eaten.  I broke out the Dutch oven and made my first-ever dish over charcoal in the back yard: “cowboy” potatoes with onions and bacon.  I also grilled up some of Eleanor’s spiced chicken on the Weber, and some huge portobello mushrooms with olive oil and Kosher salt.

Eleanor started cooking up the perishable food that she was planning to serve during the trip, including a really fantastic Indian chicken with rogan josh and cream (which we will eat tomorrow—it’s always better after sitting a day to let the flavors meld).  We opened up the windows and the sliding glass door and let the unusually balmy air flow through the house, tantalizing the neighbors with the smell of good things cooking.  And we talked about future plans.  I think we will go to Anza-Borrego in April to make up for this lost trip.

The rest of the time we spent unwinding all of the things we’d set in motion.  The Caravel was unpacked and sent back to storage.  “I think it’s disappointed,” Eleanor said. “It was all psyched to go out.”  We left as much packed in the Safari as we could, hoping that we’ll be able to use it in a week or two for a shorter trip, but all of the stuff we’ll need this week has been removed.  In the process we found some things in both trailers that needed attention, like flashlights with dead batteries, compartments carrying stuff we wouldn’t need, expired food, outdated paperwork, etc., so it was good to get all of that stuff addressed.

I cancelled the reservations, losing a total of about $180 in reservation fees and non-refundable charges.  We still have one valid & non-refundable reservation in California for next weekend, but I doubt we’ll use it.  We’ve offered it to a few friends.

The biggest hassle is that I had previously directed some mail to California, where I was going to pick it up during the week.  That mail includes some checks.  Now I’ve got to get it re-directed again, back to my usual address, and I can’t do that until the Post Offices open on Tuesday.

Today our “staycation” continues.  I’m going to bake apple crisp in the Dutch oven, and Eleanor is going to cook up more of the goodies from the Airstream.  I expect to get a quote from a local dealer on a replacement brake actuator, but until I hear what he wants to charge, it’s not decided whether I’ll buy locally or mail-order it.  So it may be a while before I get on the job of replacing it.  I’ll document that process when it happens.