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August 29, 2011

clean hands for a thirsty planet

off grid vanity

many sleepless nights have been spent thinking about a sink vanity for the off-grid wimberley project.  our recent camping trip had us talking about the teardrop trailer I had once built from the axle up, and that reminded me of the camping hand pump fixture and potable water tanks used for those.  I made some measurments and built the vanity at home using a few RV supply parts and scrap metal. 

home granite cutting diy

the granite counter top was salvaged (free via craigslist) from a home remodel over by mount bonnell.  I cut it to size by turning my tile saw upside down and dragging it across the stone while using a water hose to keep the blade wet.

off grid water! wimberley austin

clean water for washing hands, brushing teeth etc.  we still have to haul our own water in.  the cabinet has a telescoping filler on the front that fills a 10 gallon tank inside the cabinet.  I'll soon make a trip down to tile the bathroom and make it all pretty, but the mechanicals part of the project are getting knocked off the punch list.  I'll also need to make an access panel for the battery and 12v fuse box to get that whole mess cleaned up as well. 

wimberley off grid bathroom

it was only about 110 degree hot outside, we enjoyed a quick solar shower and made our way to meet some friends at thirsty planet brewing company.

thirsty planet brewing keg stack austin

thirsty planet brewing tasting room

had a few samples before the brewery tour. 

brewery tour austin thirsty planet

I used to work at a microbrewery many years back, so I was already familiar with the equipment/process.  what got me excited was to find a malaga bmw 2002tii tucked in their facility (left side of pic above), similar to one we owned a few years back.

thirsty goat amber austin microbrewery

back to the tasting room where we advanced to pint sized glasses and people started opening their wallets to buy shirts and pint glasses (by law they can't sell the beer, they have to give it away in the tasting room)

tasting the beer at thirsty planet

a few culinary high points from the past week:

ribs after three hours of smoking

I make ribs once a year.  they get dry rubbed the day before.  the sugar/salt/spice rub slightly cures the meat and it turns into a sort of pork candy.  I smoke it for three hours, then braise for two hours it with a wine and herb chicken broth that makes the meat fall off the bone/fork tender. 

carillon ut campus happy hour bell drink

we had a great meal at carillon.  enjoyed happy hour at their bar before our reservation time.  this drink is called "the bell"  freshly sqeezed grapefruit juice, violet liquor, grapefruit pearls and dripping springs vodka for $2.56 cents!  we also enjoyed the crispy pork belly and tenderloin tartare with truffle oil.

August 22, 2011


 the daughter has asked for blue hair streaks last year, kat was unsure about that.  but her final grades were good, real good.  she is in advanced classes and she's is now skipped a whole grade in math, if she wanted blue hair we couldn't think of any real reason to deny her such a wish. 

bleaching was the first step.

splat hair color bleach

the splat blue hair dye kit was on the counter for a week before we actually used it.  #2 son decided he wanted blue hair as well.  he talked about it every day "I want blue hair, can I have blue hair?, oooh I want blue hair"  sure, blue hair.

he was so good and sat perfectly still while we applied the bleach and color, he REALLY wanted the blue hair.


little boy blue splat hair color

tequila azul hair color

hers turned out a slightly turquoise shade of blue, she really like that better than the color on the box.  it is slightly mermaid-ish.  same color as the azul tequila happy hour margarita (which was much too sweet)

eanes elementary

the boys were happy to be back at school.

excited about books eanes

he went straight to the books found in his new classroom. 

first day of school 2011 fall eanes blue hair

first day was a success. 

yelp elite party at finn and porter:

 sushi at finn and porter austin

we found a really nice sushi and steak restaurant in the hilton, finn and porter.  we went for a yelp elite party and we enjoyed some really good food, cocktails and company.

pork belly at finn and porter austin

I didn't take many pictures of the food, I was too busy eating it.  the pork belly (above left) was really good.  also the beef carpaccio with truffle was really good and the tenderloin and the ...  it was a lot of food and all good.

austin yelp elite party paul schuster finn and porter

August 19, 2011

closing out summer of 2011

our annual end of summer trip to Garner State Park, the drought year of 2011.

french 76's at the airstream garner state park

we set up camp and kicked things off with an international BANG!  FRENCH 76 gets the party started every time! 

hike to crystal cave:

mountain hike to crystal cave garner

the little dude did hike most of it himself. 

texas hill country utopia

some real elevation gains on the trails of garner.  our hikes start down by the river.

it's me!  paul schuster

pic above taken near the mouth of crystal cave.

wild mountain goats ram at garner state park texas

we spotted wild goats/rams as we left the cave.  you can see four or five in the pic above, one with big curled ram horns laying in the shade near center of pic.

trash pick up at garner state park by volunteer

Garner state park is the busiest, most popular state park in texas.  they have MANY camp sites and some hikers can't manage to keep a good grip on their water bottles.  kat can't stand it.  every year she fills several bags with litter/debris.  no matter how far off the trail and down the ravine she has to go, she will get the bottles.  she also suffered a few scrapes from cedar trees in the process. 

rio frio drought conditions 2011 garner

spent the afternoon in the rio frio near our camp site.  the drought has not been kind to this section of river. 

yelp koozie in the rio frio with crasher squirrel

I had my yelp koozie to keep my cans cool. 

true love in the rio frio

true love. 


garner dance pavillion

garner hosts a dance in the evenings.  we've been too occupied with our own dance/party the previous years.  we decided to check it out this trip.

garner state park dance pavillion

mostly country music.  we left before it got too crowded.  the one big surprise was when the DJ played Whip it!, by DEVO.  a group of people ran out to the dance floor and they had a country line dance routine for the song.... really!  it was awesome/hilarious.  they had synchronized imaginary lariat rope moves, side claps and ...  you will just have to see it to believe it.  and by see it, I mean I will have to go back next year to try and video it.  we mostly stood there with our jaws on dropped in amazement.

the hike to white rock cave, painted rock and bridges trail:

kids climb mountains at garner

this hike requires a lot more work and effort.  #2 son stayed back at the airstream with the others.

hike to painted rock and white rock cave garner texas hill country

happy couples hike to the tops of mountains

almost to painted rock!  garner state park

we made it to the top!

top of the hill garner

kat is standing on painted rock.  we take bridges trail down, it's a nice shaded climb down that way.

rio frio waters 2011 garner

I know of a slightly more secluded area of the rio frio.  the water was clean and had just enough depth and movement to create some happiness among us water lovers.

rio frio natural pools garner 2011

a series of natural "tubs" make for comfortable soak.

texas hill country river water soak

garner rio frio texas uvalde county

for a larger version click here

discussing game strategy, time travel, pima indians and the future

dripping springs vodka watermelon shaker

pre-mixed watermelon shakers and a huge food spread make the evenings.

roasted marshmallow garner

perfect caramelization!  roasted marshmallows over the grill, squished them between grahm crakers and chocolate coated banana chips. 

1964 airstream overlander under the full moon

one last walk down to the rio frio:

rio frio cleanup 2011

picking up more trash...

stuck in the mud rio frio drought conditions

nearly lost his flip-flop in the mud.  we really need some rain.

VW jetta TDI pulls teardrop trailer

mom's TDI easily pulls her teardrop trailer

beautiful bandera county texas hill country

enjoyed the drive back through bandera where we stopped for a long lunch complete with CFS and peach cobbler, then back to austin modhouse.  home in time for another swim. 

August 11, 2011

heat, don't fail me now.

wimberley, off-grid... lots of small stuff to do and no a/c.

made it down by 10 AM. 

solar gain be gone

the cabins should stay cooler inside with less solar gain.  I hung curtains that we picked up at ikea. 

it's curtains for you cabin!

the big glass view is nice to have, but something about drawing the curtains closed when it's so hot outside that makes it a bit more tolerable.... almost tolerable.  fall will be here soon.

wimberley off-grid outhouse composting toilet

used some leftover plywood to finish up some walls in the bathroom. 

window trim

put some trim around the windows.  also hauled, mixed and poured four 60lb bags of concrete.  my hoe broke in the process.... need a new hoe. 

it was 3 pm when I packed up.  107 degrees (one hundred and seven degrees farenheit) and I'd been working all day outdoors, no a/c etc.  I thought about taking a quick dip in the blanco, it still has water in it.  I don't know where that water comes from.... but it's clear and cold.  some parts are deep enough for swimming.  

blanco river

I know of a very secluded private river park...


by private, I mean they have it gated and locked to keep trespassers like me out.  I poured some water bottle over my head and drove home.

August 08, 2011

custodian of another ford truck

we used to have a Chinese teacher.  she was great, came once a week and didn't cost too much.  the kids really picked up on the whole second language thing.  then, she informed me she was returning to taiwan for six weeks.  that turned into months and now more than a year.  the kids have since forgotten any chinese she taught them. 

just the other day I got an email from her, asking for my help.  she'd attached an email from an attorney, noting that she had 24 hours to remove her truck or it would be towed.  I knew that if the truck got towed, the towing and impound fees would soon eclipse the value of her truck.  I was asked to fetch the truck and bring it here.... to Austin ModHouse.  yet, she failed to provide necessary details like, location of the truck and where the key for the truck could be obtained or even what color the truck was.  the time difference made email exchange a slow process.  I was sure the truck would be gone before we could help.  by sunday morning we had enough details to find the truck and liberate it from impending impound.

ford truck

apparently I will drive a beat up truck with no insurance, expired inspection and registration for just about anybody.  she had pledged to have somebody come get it from our house.  but now that it's here, I've now been asked to keep it "a while".  even by my standards, this thing is pretty beat up and I was surprised it got me home as it doesn't run so well. 

home maintenance: sorta sucks and is not cheap.

the deep freeze we had this winter had us replacing the outdoor shower fixture, $600.  the expansion valve on the downstairs geothermal hvac quit working, our electric bill went up; hvac ran all the time and didn't cool.  the new company that serves our hvac charges $210 an hour...  I could've bought 7 window units for the cost of that repair.  but it works again.

koi pond negative edge austin

our koi pool has a negative edge that drains into a snail pool.  we've been adding water far more frequently than usual.  the kids and I shoveled out the muck from the lower pool and strained it to save hundreds of live snails down there.  kids were not happy helping with that task, but they also didn't want to see the snail genocide that would have resulted by just chucking the muck.

snail pool austin

new coat of rubber paint applied to the lower pond, where we had figured the leak was.  but the water level still dips.  I think the extreme drought is what we are experiencing.  normally, the upstairs hvac condensate keeps the water level up.  but with no humidity in the air, almost no condensate this year.  that, and the dry air increases evaporation.  we also suspect deer may be having nocturnal water binges as the big level drop usually happens under the black of night.

east austin succulents in south austin

made a trip to east austin succulents, located in south austin.  replaced some plants we had lost during that historic annual hard freeze.

hamd me down MCM chairs

when I brought this one palm inside a friend warned me they don't do well indoors.  but this one is doing MUCH better than the two we installed outside.  despite me hauling buckets of sink water (graywater) each morning as I do the dishes, they don't look so happy.  also featured above are two hand-me-down MCM chairs, thanks. 

drought of 2011 austin texas

and, the equisetum in the front planter box is mostly dead and brittle.  thedownstairs hvac condensate is plumbed to this box.  normally tall, lush and green.... not any more.  banana plants are also burning up in the drought and heat. 

middle school orchestra camp eanes 2011

the school offers a free summer orchestra camp.  this was from their final performance.  you can see the instructor (back left) is in deep focus mode.  one girl demonstrated a new use for an old water bottle (below)

water bottle hair fashion


shitake mushroom, arugula and asiago pizza

I'm getting back into the habbit of making my pizza dough from scratch.  shitake mushroom, arugula, garlic, greek oregano and asiago above.  Tomato hand stretched mozzarella and basil below.  the toms and shitake were sourced at the farmer's market.  arugula, basil and greek oregano came from our garden.


cheese course at judge's hill mansion austin

we had a groupon for Judge's Hill.  we each got a pre-fixe meal with four courses for a total of $35.  my favorite was the first/cheese course.  dried and fresh fruit, nuts, different crakers and bread, spiced honey and dijon mustard and a delicious brazos valley cheese

judge's hill austin

I love a good pre-fixe but I wish the desert course had a savory option.  I don't like sweets after dark.  we couldn't finish it all.

midcentury modern west lake hills austin, tx

as I'm always looking at my options, we went and checked out a mid-century modern home very near us.  great location but some things about the house just weren't right for us.  I'd love a project house, not so much a maintenance house, but the price of changing this one made it cost prohibitive for us.  not going any place for now.  maybe if they drop the price 100k....

August 01, 2011

insert tab A (beer can) into slot B (chicken hole)

I used to smoke more often, chicken was a regular protein found in our smoker.  I'm a white meat/breast man.  the "beer-can chicken" or "bung-hole chicken" always delivered moist and delicious white meat.

the first step is a good brine.  I used a heavy duty trash bag to hold a brine with tons of flavors thrown in, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, cayene pepper etc.  the brine should taste almost as salty as sea water with just a hint of sweetness (I used sea salt and brown sugar).  I force all the air out of the bag and seal it tight so I know the bird is getting a good soak.  the chicken bathed in this brine over night in the meat drawer of the fridge.

beer can chicken

the next trick to this process is beer.... MMMM beeeer!  take a couple hits of the beer so it's not too full.  I insert a whole clove of garlic and maybe a slice of lemon into the beer.  then I insert that beer can into the chicken cavity.  as the bird cooks, the beer steams the bird from inside, moistening the otherwise dry bits.

bung-hole chicken in the smoker

carefully stand the chickens in the smoker or in your grill but avoid direct heat.  I accomplish this with the big pot of water that now has the brine and some lemon slices.  I use real hardwood lump charcoal, some hickory chips and a big piece of oak I harvested from the yard.  I soaked the oak first so it wouldn't burn up real quick, it gave us plenty of smoke.  I used four chunks of oak in all, once an hour. 

smoked chicken time!

I let the smoker get up to about 350 then I slow it down to around 200-250 for another 3-4 hours.  the process can be shortened to 2 hours but you may want to cook it faster (hotter) and that would yield less smoke flavor.  you can see the front bird has a special beer-can-chicken stand.  the back bird had nothing but the can of modelo to stand it up.

smoked bird on the table

we also enjoyed another round of home grown tomatoes.  trucked in corporate grown tomatoes don't compare to the real thing.

slippery moist breast meat

I have never had breast meat so moist that it's dripping juices.  the brining process also flavors it just enough that no additional seasoning is necessary. eat the chunks soon as they are liberated.

menudo at al pastor on riverside austin

sunday lunch with menudo and a michelada.  went to Rosita's Al Pastor on riverside.  their michelada was good, but different from most places, they use no ice.  still good and spicy!

tacos al pastor on riverside dr austin tx

the name of the place is Al Pastor, of course we had to go try their tacos al pastor.  they were good, but not as good as la gloria's in san antonio.  I loved the crunchy bits, they got that right.  but the marinade was not as good and I sort of missed the bits of fresh pineapple.  we didn't let these minor details get in the way of tacos al pastor enjoyment.

a high of 105: how to beat the heat

austin red bud island ladybird swim float

with no heat relief scheduled in the near future, and we can't even remember what rain is like, we made another trip down the street to red bud island.  the water was so cool and refreshing.

red bud island bridge trolls

we found a private shaded spot to just soak and enjoy the setting.  unfortunately we also found that some people were being towed as they have changed the parking rules, AGAIN.  I spoke to some people who found their car towed.  they pouted by the curb where their car had been left.  our car was just a few spaces from theirs.  "why didn't YOUR car get towed?"  they asked.  "just rucky I guess" I offered.  for a minute there I thought they were gonna choke me, the conversation soft of stopped right there.  I gave a friend a ride home as his car had also been relocated.


wimberley off grid house

went down to the wimberley off-grid cabins to finish up some trim work and haul/mix/pour five bags of concrete for a path to the bathroom cabin.

framing solongo

we went to ikea to buy frames, hoping to save a bit from my usual frame supply internet store.  we found and purchased frames.  yes, they are in odd sizes but I cut my own mats so that was not a big deal.  the frustration started when I found the frame backs refused to accept the extra thickness of just one piece of mat board.  took some real wrestling to get this one done and I have several other pieces yet to frame. 

our new art (on the left above) is by Solongo Monkhooroi.  Whenever possible, I like to buy art directly from the artist.  I used to take art home from my travels as a souvenier, back when I could travel.  Extra points if I can find an artist selling his craft on a street corner.  now, I travel via information highway, I first found solongo from theselvedgeyard; one of those internet locations where you can easily lose a full day admiring wonderful pics and reading anecdotes about the past. 

Solongo's store is linked here  I love the recurring theme of the sexy heroine expressing dominance over beasts.  I selected the crocodiledess godess but it was not an easy choice.   

no more pictures, OK! 

#2 son likes to sing "back in black, I hit the sack" as #1 son practices the song on guitar.  he posed for a few shots then told me "no more pictures! OK!"

kay-so, the austin mod house cat

kay-so has  turned out to be a good fit for our family.  we adopted her in a moment of spontaniety.  her humans had a cardboard box of kittens at the front of the costco in santa cruz.  it was cold and rainy when my family asked me if we could take one home.  I usually say no, but I agreed although we knew we were about to move half way across the country.  I selected a kitten from the litter and the daughter of the family trying to unload them started to cry, this was her favorite.  her tears were proof I picked the best one.  not every cat could live side by side with a boston terrier and a boxer.  The three of them get along so well.  if dogs and cats can do it, why can't people?