Three Gigs and a New Heater Core

P1060133What a busy past few days. Thursday was spent finishing the job I had started almost a month ago (tough to find time on the weekends, weekday evenings are too buggy) of replacing the heater core in the Blazer (thanks to my good friend and band-mate TB for helping me find screws and bolts I overlooked). It was a royal P.I.T.A. Chevy did not make the dash removal process very user friendly – no wonder it costs an arm, leg, and your firstborn child to have the stealership or a mechanic do the work. Unfortunately, I did not take pictures from the get go, but I did include a few that I snapped throughout the process. The Haynes manual was pretty good on this one. I decided not to put EVERYTHING back together… it was way too hot outside (don’t have a garage), the bugs were getting bad, and I really don’t care that much about the plastic crap covering up the underside of the dash. I use the Blazer for hauling band equipment to gigs, garbage/recyclables to the dump, transporting large items such as sofas or tables, storing things in it because we have zero closets, and occasionally towing a trailer. Do I really need that plastic crap covering up the underside of the dash for these purposes? The above pic is what the inside of the Blazer normally looks like (it is our storage unit… bass amp, chicken feed, and a jogging stroller can be seen in this image). Here is a quick step-by-step process:

1. Remove the dash (including the underside plastic crap, and lower the steering column). I disconnected the battery and also disconnected the connection to the airbag. Don’t want a surprise deployment… There are about 943,051 bolts and screws that need to be removed, and when you think you’ve removed them all you probably haven’t. I think we used Torx, 7mm, 5.5mm, 5/16″, 1/2″, and 17/32″ bits for this process.

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2. Drain the radiator. Getting to the drain plug is a bit of a chore, so I just disconnected the lowest hose and let it drain from there.

3. Disconnect these 2 hoses going to the heater core (I got the first one, and L got the second much more quickly since she has a Ph.D. in hose connecting/removal).
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4. Remove the plastic cover inhibiting access to the heater core (I think it was only 6 bolts).
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5. Remove the metal bars holding the heater core in place, and put the new one in. Put everything back together (or as much as you want to put back together), re-connect all the electrical connections in the dash, put the steering column back in place, fill the radiator, and you’re good to go. Easy, huh?

It was good to spend some time with TB fixing the car, gave us some good old fashioned male bonding time. And L made us delicious sandwiches with tomatoes and cukes from the garden. Thursday evening was a nice night of playing music on the Crab Deck and watching the fireworks across the river from Yorktown (mere feet from the location of the British surrender, essentially guaranteeing American independence – are we really free though?). I love doing outdoor acoustic gigs – L and WV can come and not be blasted away by the walls of speakers, it’s a lot less physical energy expended on my part, and I don’t come home at 3am smelling like an ash tray (although this is rare since Virginia banned smoking in most bars/restaurants in 2009). Don’t get me wrong, I love cranking my amp to 11 and watching drunk people dance the night away at bars, but I’m not as young as I once was and I have responsibilities that I didn’t have 6 or 7 years ago.

GloucesterYorktown_But just because we were playing a low key acoustic gig at a fancy yacht club restaurant, don’t think it was all Sperry shoes, khaki shorts, and white/pastel Polo shirts. We had a little bit of everything there: Drunk dude showing up around 7:00 (by boat…), trying to keep himself somewhat perpendicular to the floor, loving every minute of us playing, tipping us quite well), and then getting into his boat to weave his way around $1,000,000 yachts docked and the families coming back from watching the fireworks on the river. Thankfully, management handled it well and didn’t let him drive his boat home. Salty old owner telling us we were too loud (turns out we’re not special, he acts the same towards everyone). Standing room only crowd in the parking lot to watch the fireworks (the Gloucester crowd doesn’t like to deal with the traffic and tourists in Yorktown on July 4… I don’t blame us/them). I wanted to get a couple pictures, but L accidentally left the camera at home charging. Oh well.

Friday, I got my hours in, then met up with the rest of the band for a 3 hour drive down to Lake Gaston for another gig. Outdoor rock and roll with Key’d Up. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere. My droid couldn’t find it. TB’s iPhone couldn’t find it. But for some reason our drummer’s “dumb” phone was able to find it. We rocked for about 4 hours, and the cops only came out twice!

P1060203Saturday we finished our little mini tour right where we started. Another acoustic evening on the Crab Deck, watching the sun go down while enjoying a cold beer or two (or three). No crazy shenanigans this time, although the salty old owner was having a discussion with the manager (manager is totally cool, btw) about how he thought he had kicked us out last time… Anyway, we weren’t kicked out, and we rocked the place again (albeit at a slightly lower decibel level than on July 4). Here’s a pic of WV enjoying a lime and another one of L and WV enjoying the music:

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Homemade Bread and Grateful Dead

Back when I used to have to commute an hour to and from my office, I would pass the time by listening to the radio. Mainly just switching back and forth between the news and the local classic rock station. When I would get tired of hearing about people blowing each other up because they can’t just be decent and agree to disagree I’d switch over to music. When I would get tired of hearing the same Rush and Skynyrd songs (don’t get me wrong – great bands, but WAY overplayed… need more Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead) I’d switch back to the news. Here’s some Dead for your head while you’re reading about bread – make sure you have the bass on your system turned up (shameless plug for my band, Key’d Up):

One particular day, I heard an interview on All Things Considered with a woman who had written a book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. The author, Jennifer Reese, had taken the time to try a bunch of different recipes (hot dog buns, pickles, bacon, vanilla extract, keeping bees, etc) and write about her experiences. She lets the readers know which items are worth making from scratch, including both time and money involved, and which ones you should just buy from the store. She and I don’t agree on everything (homemade sushi is less expensive AND worth the work, we use the hot dug bun recipe for hamburger buns and they’re just fine), but it does have a lot of good info.

So I was listening to this interview, and thought to myself, “This sounds like something right up our alley – when I get home I’ll order it and hopefully it will arrive in time for Christmas.” I got home, quickly got to my computer, and stealthily placed the order. L and I were eating dinner later that evening, talking about our days, and she mentioned this really neat interview she heard on the radio and how she thought the book sounded like a great idea and was thinking about buying it. Ugh… I had to spoil the surprise and let her know that I already ordered it for her.

The main reason I bought the book was to save money. I figured over the years I would be saving way more than the $15 plus shipping I would be spending on the book. But it also turns out that I’m saving myself and my family from ingesting whatever crazy stuff the food industry puts in their breads. One example is L-Cysteine. Sourced mainly from human hair (although I read that they have changed to mostly duck feathers in Europe), it violates certain religious dietary restrictions, and the thought of ingesting either human hair or duck feathers is kinda gross. I haven’t done all the research to know which breads contain it and which don’t, but since we’re no longer buying bread we don’t have to worry about it.

Now, you might say “I can’t make my own bread, that’s too time consuming, and I really don’t know how to cook.” Wrong, wrong, and it doesn’t matter. You CAN make your own bread, it really doesn’t take much time at all, and my baking experience before I met L was preheating the oven to 400 degrees and throwing a frozen pizza in there for 18-20 minutes.

Here’s how little time it takes: On Saturday mornings, when L is feeding WV or making something delicious for breakfast, I mix up the bread batter. Then I stick it in loaf pans. Then I go about my day doing whatever needs to be done (oil change, garden work, Fortran code translation, procrastinating, etc.). After the bread has risen for a few hours, I stick the loaf pans in the oven. Then after 28 minutes I remove the breads from the pans and stick them back in the oven. Then after 5 minutes I turn them. Then after 5 more minutes I take them out. It’s that easy, and really not time consuming.

Recipe below with prices, permanent recipe link here. Total cost per loaf*: 94 cents, 88 cents without the flax seeds.

Ingredients:
5 1/2 cups bread (or all purpose) flour
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups water
4 tsp kosher salt
Flax seeds/Sesame Seeds (optional)

Procedure:
Activate the yeast with warm water, then mix in the flours, salt, and water.
Oil the inside of two 9×5 loaf pans, put half the dough in each, then sprinkle flax seeds on the top. Or mix the flax seeds in with the dough. Your choice.
Cover the loaves with a clean, damp dish towel/cloth diaper and let rise until the dough is as high as or just above the tops of the pans.
Bake at 450 degrees in the pans for about 28 minutes, then remove from pans, put the breads back in the oven on their sides for 5 minutes, then flip them to their other sides for 5 minutes. You might want to put a shallow pan or some aluminum foil underneath so the flax seeds don’t fall the the bottom of the oven and burn (if they’re on top of the loaves).
Breads are done when they sound hollow when tapped (or when you ask your wife if that’s what hollow sounds like and she says yes).
Remove the loaves from the oven, see if you can wait until they cool to slice and eat.

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*Numbers rounded to nearest cent, tax not included. I remember a joke that my quantum physics professor once told us in class: “A mathematician will say that a series is convergent if its limit exists. A physicist will say that a series is convergent if the first term is finite.” Today, I’ll pretend to be a physicist and will be ignoring values that I don’t care about.

-King Arthur flour (each variety) is $4.19 for a 5 lb bag at our local Food Lion. Flour is (on average) 4.4 oz/cup, so a 5 lb bag will yield about 18 cups. ($4.19/18)x(5 1/2) = $1.28. 1 3/4 cups is $0.41. Other flours might be cheaper.
-My 1 lb bag of yeast was $6.99. There are about 160 tsp in 1 lb of yeast. $6.99/160 = $0.04.
-Our water comes from a well. I guess we do pay for the electricity to pump it. I ignored this.
-I bought the salt for $0.99. There are 131.5 tsp in the container. ($0.99/131.5)x4 = $0.03.
-A 15 oz bag of flax seeds at Trader Joe’s is $2.99. There are 56 tbsp in the bag. I use about 2 tbsp when I sprinkle them on the loaves. ($2.99/56)x2 = $0.11.
-I sprayed the inside of the loaf pans with cooking spray that was given to us by friends who moved. I ignored this price too.
-I don’t know how much it costs to run the oven either. So I ignored this as well.

I’m game for other bread recipes too, so if you have a favorite send it on over!