Thursday, June 18, 2009

Work on the King continues...

The latest on the evolution of the 62' Aristocrat Land Commander into a usable trailer...

Here's the new header that Gary made in place on the trailer. This piece not only keeps the walls up, but it also supports the ceiling members, so i't pretty key that it be intact. Of course, you remember the original, rotted and peeling piece, right?

Here's a close-up as good as I could get ot the way it attaches to the ceiling pieces. Can't really see how the groove works, though. Just too tight without removing the roof skin, which we'd rather avoid if we can.

Here's the new wall as it's getting framed out. The larger pieces run the length or width of the wall and hold everything up, the smaller ones are minor supports. When the new propane refrigerator was put in, these major framing members were simply cut and no additional support was provided. This is ultimately what caused the wall to sag.

The new supports are held on with biscuits and brads rather than the original metal strapping, hopefully making a more solid connection. We'll add the strapping, too, once the framing is done, and we'll likely add more/better insulation.

Here, G's put the skin back on because he realized that it was almost impossible to get the framing members in the right place without the skin as a reference. Since the skin's been removed a time or two already, it's not really "regular" anymore - so it takes a lot of tweaking to get everything to where it should be.

Here's the inside of that wall. You can see the large hole cut in the trailer for the refrigerator just under the window.

This is the wall that we took out to rebuild, just set against the opposite side of the trailer. All of the panneling for this wall will be replaced (you can see the corner of the replacement wood through the doorway).

The inside of the trailer/workshop. Gary's getting to pull out ALL of his cool tools and toys, not to mention buying a few more. Here's another look at the replacement panneling material purchased from Home Depot.

Here's the section of floor where the probelm refrigerator sat. If you can imagine, the skin was never quite correctly reinstalled, and this flooring edge was left somewhat exposed to the elements. It didn't quite rot away, but it was coming delaminated a bit. Nothing that about 50 staples into the structure below won't fix, right?

So, our analysis has come to 2 conclusions:

1. The Driver's side wall skin was removed at some time, most likely to install the propane refrigerator in the kitchen unit. Structural boards which made the wall a wall were cut without new supports being added. This alone would have compromised any integrity the weak little structure had in the first place. Then, the skin was replaced incorrectly using silicone sealant which leaked. The moisture from the leaky seal caused the header and footer to rot out - leaving what was left of the wall completely dependent upon a thin skin of aluminium for support. If you've ever stood on a soda can, you know what the result of this will be.

2. At some time, the rear driver's side corner sustained some sort of impact. This broke some of the framing, "scooted" other pieces out of alignment and also contributed to the leaking/rotting process. This is when the Bermuda Grass got in. Whether this made the aluminum can effect worse, or happened before it we can't really say. What we can say is that it means more demo, this time of the rear wall of the trailer:

However, what this seems to mean is the discovery of even more damage, since every piece we look in or under means more work!

Just a few fun images of what it's like living with the King in your back yard:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Cause of Couscous and the Wha of Quinoa

Turning back to the original intent of the blog, at least briefly, as much for my own sanity as the endless entertainment of my loyal followers...

So, as I was whipping up a batch of my favorite backcountry breakfast, couscous porridge with cherries and almonds, I found myself in a very interesting discussion of the nature of couscous. Now, for those of you who think that an interesting conversation about couscous would be impossible - you're clearly just not that into food lore (and therefore much in need of this blog). This relative new comer to American cuisine has been a staple in northwestern Africa since before the 1200s. That's long enough to have a
lot of the very interesting cultural connections and associations that get foodies everywhere a twittering. I bet Alton Brown has done a show on it - and Andrew Zimmern probably considers it bland and passe (but he likes pink, so I'm not sure how much I trust his opinion).
First, contrary to popular opinion in the United States, couscous is not a grain. It is a pasta. A very, very small pasta made from semolina flour and water, much like spaghetti or macaroni. Traditionally (which is the new buzz word for "prior to global industrialization"), the pasta was made by rubbing the dough between your hands until the tiny pellets formed. The pellets were then coated in more flour to keep them separated and passed through a sieve which separates all of the bits which are still too small. Those are then re-rolled with more flour and water until the process is complete. It's a very labor intensive process - much like cleaning up after a husband or embroidering a blanket to be placed in a wrinkled pile in the corner - so it was most often left to women (being the most obvious choice for tasks that require extended focus and attention to detail). Women would gather in family groups, rolling couscous, steaming it, then setting it out in the sun to dry (sometimes for days), gossiping about what happened at the town well and complaining about their husband's foot fungi. It was much like making tamales in modern Mexico or the desert southwest - except that tamales don't bake in the sun and Latino men aren't as prone to foot fungus.

Second, also contrary to popular opinion here in the industrialized capitol of the world, couscous is not traditionally a "quick cook" food (as illustrated above). Now, this is how I first came to know the dish - the ease of cooking the couscous available in our grocery markets makes it perfect for lazy cooks or those who want quick carbs in the backcountry. Throw some couscous in a pot of hot water, wait 5 minutes and poof! You're done. Not so in that oh-so-forgotten traditional past. To properly prepare couscous, it was steamed as many as three times to achieve the desired light, fluffy texture - using a pot known as a couscousiere (what, a kitchen gadget I don't have! Oh, no!). In this two piece pot, you could prepare the stew that was generally served on top of the couscous in the bottom and the steam coming off would help to both cook and flavor your couscous. Multi-tasking at its finest. The multiple steaming process also meant you needed to reach in and handle the pasta again, this time while it was steaming hot, in order to separate it and achieve fluffiness. Steaming hot pasta and bare fingers. That's when women were women and men were terrified to talk back.

The couscous we buy here in the states has already been steamed and re-dried - so we are essentially only rehydrating the dish, rather than cooking it. Old hat to us backpackers - but I can see how some people never even see it coming... They think they're eating whole grains, which magically cook in almost no time into a soft, creamy texture that can absorb the flavor of nearly anything it accompanies.

For that, you really need Quinoa.

As this post is getting long (and probably dull), I'll leave most of the the story of quinoa as a teaser. However, to answer a brief debate I had some years ago with a friend - traditional tabbouleh is in fact made with couscous - as it is a dish which originated in the same region. Quinoa - while an excellent grain for this light salad of olive oil, parsley, mint, tomatoes and grain - is actually from South America - and was more likely originally accompanied by coca leaves and llama stew (which I've been told does not taste like chicken).

Couscous is, like most pastas, a carb-fest and probably not very good for you according to the recent high-fiber diet craze. Even "whole wheat" couscous is still relatively low in dietary fiber - though it isn't nearly as tough or chewy as it's whole grain Italian cousins. Also, unlike the Medditerranean varietals, couscous makes awesome breakfast food (particularly in Brazil - can you imagine that geographic tale!). There's even a website that claims (contrary to my info above) that couscous is the "secret to losing weight". People have also said that avocados are the secret to losing weight, but my waist is living proof of THAT little myth (mmmm- guacamole).

More fascinating facts from the world of couscous:
  • "Israeli couscous" is in fact not similar to couscous at all. It does not use semolina, and is baked. It bears a much closer resemblance to orzo, and is boiled and drained rather than steamed. I wonder if it's called Israeli couscous in Israel - or if like French Fries and Spanish Rice, nationals just shake their heads at our curious American naming habits...
  • Among Algerians, couscous is called ta'am, the word which—in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world—means simply "food."
  • A catering college in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria broke an unofficial Tunisian record by preparing the world's largest couscous in June 2004. The "Guinness Book of World Records" was on hand to ratify the record dish, enough to serve 22,000 people. The couscous contained 2,600kg of dry semolina, meat from 100 sheep and 1.5 tons of vegetables. Sounds like a batch that might have been made up for the Tunisian version of Chipotle, eh?

Links to some good recipes using couscous (other than my favorite porridge):