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January 29, 2018

Do you remember your first real vacuum cleaner?

boy gets his own vacuum cleaner eureka

The boys had asked for allowance. Living in this area, many of their friends at school get good bits of money each week, just for breathing oxygen. This is a give something, get something (or work hard, play hard) sort of household. So we created chores that can be done weekly in exchange for money. #2 son vacuums the stairs every Friday. Of the three kids, he is the one that has stuck to his chore, and is receiving regular bank deposits ($5 weekly).

I love these Eureka handheld vacuum cleaners. They aren't very durable. This is the third one we've bought in five years. You can't do the job without the right tools. I told him this one was his vacuum cleaner, and I used a sharpie to put his name on it.

It should also be noted that he also lost his new jacket again. I emailed teachers, visited the transportation department where I dug through a cabinet of smelly lost clothing, and had the driver search his bus. I went to school and explored the Lost and Found cabinets, and boxes.  

On Friday, he came home with TWO jackets he'd lost, and a lunch bag that was missing. I asked "where were they?". He said "It was early in the day when I found the black one, so I don't remember".  That was classic.

John Kleckman Quartet at Hops and Grains 

The people over at Hops & Grains Brewing are working on this hazy lupulin powder ipa beer craze. We stopped in to see how they were doing. We liked their Pellets & Powder IPA best. I'm not sure we tried them all. A further exploration of their offerings may be in order. They also had a jazz band on the patio. It was a perfect January evening in Austin, 68 degrees, fresh IPA, and good music.


Construction blog? or Deconstruction...

This used to be a construction blog, started over a decade ago. The house is still a lot of work, most of it falls under the repair and maintain category. That doesn't make for an interesting blog. Unless you like frustrating appliance repair stories... I've got so much material in that area. I'm currently waiting on a $140 transformer for the vent hood. The last five weeks focused on range repair. The appliance repair guy charged me $439 for an hour of work (not including the part) "due to the complicated nature of this equipment". I asked him to come back twice to correct things that weren't right. I guess it is complicated...

Then there is that swim spa.... we quit using it a few years back. The kids rarely swam and we started spending more time in Vermont. But that hole... something needs to be done. The image below shows how it looked in 2007. The masons had just completed the stone wall, and Marvin was still alive.  


I've removed the stone wall, and the exposed section of swim-spa wall. 

swim spa deconstruction 

The garden/planter boxes have been removed, and plants relocated or eaten.  

deconstruction blog 

It's not going to be easy removing those last three sections of steel wall that are closed in by concrete decking on the back side. That's the fun I will be enjoying this week.

The koi pond will also need some maintenance this year. That won't be too difficult as most of the older/larger koi all died in the koitastrophy of 2017. 

koitastrophy of 2017 survivors 

Most of the remaining fish are variety of goldfish, with a few smaller koi that survived. The upside to this is that the water filtration is much more efficient now that it doesn't have to process all the giant koi craps.  

January 22, 2018

Field Trip Chaperone... I'm still here.

I did volunteer to chaperone yet another field trip. I realize these opportunities (that's what I have to remind myself, these are opportunities) are numbered. The kids are growing up, and this record will be all there is left. The Alamo will still be there, but I doubt I'll ever return with a group of fourth graders on a cold, wet day.

alamo field trip 

Kids at this age are gaining confidence, and feeling smart. They were also really excited to be out and about.

alamo musket demonstration  

The musket demo did get their attention.

institute of texas cultures 

We also visited the Institute of Texan Cultures.  

They had several exhibits to demonstrate life in Pioneer times. Several little older ladies were on hand to talk about life in the early days of Texas. The lady in the one room school house got their attention when she talked about discipline in the "olden days".

institute of texan culture 

The little elderly lady in the log cabin was showing the kids the kitchen. She asked "what do you have in your kitchen at home, that you DON'T see here?". The kids were quick to blurt out "refrigerator, microwave, wifi (although you can't SEE wif they could feel it was absent)". One kid raised his hand, when she called on him he answered "anarchy". Little older lady was confused, he repeated his answer and she said "I'm afraid I don't understand". The fourth grader was a bit embarrassed at this point, but managed to try once gain, "mayhem". And that was the end of the log cabin kitchen.

#2 son rode home with me, instead of the big coach bus with his classmates. It was a nice ride back to Austin. He looked so comfortable as he napped, quiet and content.  


Three nights of Salt Cod

Every few years, I get the urge to buy a box of Salt Cod. It's only about $8.

salt cod box from HEB 

Brandade de Morue is our preferred method of salt cod consumption. It's mostly about soaking the cod to get rid of the salt, then whipping it with potatoes, olive oil and cream. It's not difficult, or costly.

brandade de morue salt cod and whipped potatoes 

I was so successful at removing the salinity, I added a few capers. They also add to the visual appeal. 

It made for a great meal, spreading it over hot crusty bread. (this is what inspired #1 son to make bread).

But we had at least half of it left over...

So, the next night I mixed in some lump crab meat and an egg. Coated with panko and formed balls. Fried them in peanut oil.  

salt cod and crab fritters 

Salt Cod and Crab Fritters! But we still had leftover cod/crab and potato mix...

So, the following night I stirred in Dijon Mustard, egg, and coated with bread crumbs, formed patties and pan fried them in butter. 

Salt Cod and Crab Croquettes!

salt cod and crab croquette 

My my salt cod curiosity should be good for a few years after three consecutive meals. Let the record reflect that Kat loved it at each meal, her favorite was the Brandade. #1 son was less enthused when the cod appeared on his dinner plate on the third night.   



Bread Baking, teach the youth! also Banana Blackout Bread from Bon Appetit

The guys did the baking this weekend.

14 tear old guy makes bread at home. and it's awesome

Few things in life are as satisfying as a fresh out of the oven, crusty, loaf of bread and butter. In our case it was no-knead bread with truffle butter and Life Improvement Sauce ™.

no-knead dutch oven vs lekue 

We've been sampling several different No-Knead recipes, I think this one from NY Times is a good mix of easy and not too much time. Some recipes require three or more days prep time. The ingredients are almost no cost as we buy bread flour and yeast in bulk. Bread baking is mostly a small time investment and a bit of planning ahead (24 hours in this instance).

#1 son wanted to learn to make it. It was an opportunity to make a double batch and compare the Dutch Oven method to baking in a Lekue Bread maker.  

high school dude makes amazing bread at home 

The dutch oven baked loaf was definitely larger, had more open cell structure, and a bit more crustiness. The one baked in the Lekue was a bit smaller, denser and featured a more loaf like shape. They tasted the same. #1 son preferred the Lekue loaf as it was MUCH easier to slice.  

home made no-knead bread works

Look at that steam escaping the crusty loaf.

I made Blackout Chocolate Banana Bread, twice. 

blackout chocolate banana bread from bon appetit 

The article mentions that it makes a 9x5 loaf, yet the recipe instructions state "Lightly coat an 8½x4½" loaf pan ". I carefully followed the instructions on my first attempt, and about half of the top spilled out of the loaf pan and made a real mess of our oven. I was NOT happy.

I hit the amazon prime and purchased a commercial 9x5 loaf pan and tried again. This time it turned out just like the image featured at Bon Appetit. I suspect the test kitchen there at Bon Appetite actually used a 9x5 pan but adjust the recipe for the home chef. It was a frustrating experience.  

The New Austin Library and the Death Door

We made a trip to visit the New Austin Library. It's been years in the making of this new location.

Austin Library Technology Petting Zoo 

Kat was very excited about the Technology Petting Zoo and 3D printer.  

austin library teen area computer check out station 

The teen area has computers for teens to checkout and numerous areas for lounging (13-18 year old only). 

austin library rooftop reading porch 

The rooftop reading porch is wonderful. 


construction cranes of downtown austin 

Cranes, and more cranes for building up, and up.  

There has been quite a buzz regarding the "Death Door" at the new Library. 

austin library stairs and death doors

See that door to nowhere about four floors up? 

austin library death door 

There, see it now?  

death door austin library 

You don't want to step through that door. It'd be a one way trip with no return.  


January 16, 2018

Iced in, Austin 1-16-208

The whole city is pretty much shut down at the moment. It was 25F when we woke up and it started to sleet, Schools are closed and people are urged to stay off the roads.

icicles austin 2018 78746

We have actual icicles on our house here in Westlake.

ice and sleet austin texas westlake 78746 2018  

sleet and ice austin west lake hills tx 

Did I ever show you the finished green deck space? Well, it's too cold and frozen to use today. Remind me to show you at a later date if you can't stop by for a glass of wine when the weather warms up. You can see the layer of sleet and ice on the decking. Ferns up there are dead from the freeze we had earlier this year while we were in VT.

Hooter doesn't seem to care. He just sits there peering out of his Owl Box, watching the yard like it was any other day.  

Hooter in his Owlbox not caring about the sleet

XR Sauce, Roasted Chiltepin Pepper Sauce

I have just learned that our wild pepper plants are not Pequin, but are Chiltepin Peppers that are often mistaken for Pequin, those being more elongated and slightly larger.

We have multiple bushes that grow and spread wild. More peppers than we can harvest. It's a time consuming process. Kat has devoted chunks of time to gathering them from the bushes.

chiltepin not pequin peppers austin 78746 tx 

After the harvest, they get rinsed and cleaned from any debris. Then they typically set out to dry of excess moisture before I process and prep for aging. We had all contributed and there was a rather large amount of peppers. We spread them out on a sheet pan to dry, and placed that sheet pan into the oven to free up counter space. Of course, I forgot it was in there the next day, and went to preheat the oven. #1 son was the first to notice, "whatever you're cooking sure is spicy!" Soon we were all coughing and noticing the discomfort of the chili smoke now billowing from the oven. My face and nostrils burned all night after that exposure.

We managed to save most of them. Some were burnt beyond salvage but most were not completely burnt. From this accident, XR sauce was born. R denotes ROASTED.

chiltepin pepper sauce pequin austin texas 

We noticed this batch features a beautiful garnet color when settled. Slightly darker than the usual X Sauce we make.  

xr sauce austin modhouse  

roasted pepper sauce xr 

It's pretty good. We might even roast some on purpose, or maybe even roast them in the smoker, XRS sauce? 

xr sauce austin texas west lake hills tx spicy 

That lovely ruby color did return after the sauce settled.  

January 10, 2018

Vermont Winter, shoveling and sledding

hardwick rochester house vermont 

The flight from BWI to Manchester NH is less than an hour. We drove from NH to VT. We went to check our Vermont home in the winter. It was -21F the morning after we arrived (twenty one degrees below zero!). The kids stayed in and played Nintendo Switch. The house was very warm and cozy. We were thankful to be so comfortable. 

When it warmed up to positive temps... 

fisher covered bridge wolcott vt jan 2018 snow

Fisher Covered Bridge

fisher covered bridge Wolcott Vermont winter snow 

We went to Marshall Hill in Stowe for sledding. 

marshall hill stowe vermont sled run 


stowe vermont winter jan 2018

The building at the bottom of the hill is an Elementary school. The children were out playing in the snow for recess when we arrived. You wouldn't see that in Austin. School would've been canceled and they have indoor recess if it were cold out. It was like 5 degrees out and they still have recess in VT.  

sledding marshall hill stowe vt


The boys were so inspired, they created a sled run in the back yard of our home in Hardwick. 

sled run making machines hardwick vt 


back yard sled run hardwick vt 

It was so great to see them cooperating, and laughing together. Their usual language of "YOU SUCK!, Your FACE!, You smell, STOP IT!!" seemed so distant. This moment here made the whole winter trip worth while.  

sled dude hardwick vt 

asian snow bunny of hardwick vermont

Kat spent over two hours shoveling the driveway.. She claims to not like cold weather. Yet she has an undeniable smile all the while.

vermont 15 in winter jan 2018 at night 

The road conditions were not the best. Especially at night. We mostly stayed in Hardwick after the sun went down.  

hardwick rochester house vermont 

downtown hardwick suspended bridge in the snow jan 2018 winter 

We did find time to stop at a few breweries and meet up with a friend for a beer.

burlington beer co vermont brewery


hill farmstead vermong jan 2018 mosaic citra ipa 

Hill Farmstead is just up the road from us. Their Citra IPA is on the left, and Mosaic on the right.  

prohibition pig double bantam ipa twins 

Prohibition Pig 

prohibition pig double ipa bantam  

Red Barn Brewing Danville Vermont VT jan 2018 

Red Barn Brewing is near our place in Danville 

red barn brewing danville vt near joe's pond keiser pond 

vermont technology at red barn brewing  

January 09, 2018

Fell's Point, Hampden and Frederick, a brief Maryland visit.

fell's point christmas tree snow winter 2017/18

We made a day trip up to Baltimore to visit a few landmarks. Fell's Point was a winter wonderland, The boys had so much fun clobbering each other with snowballs.  

fell's point snowball fight pier fells pt 

snow ball fell's point baltimore maryland harbor 

fell's oint winter snowball fight baltimore md 21231  

paul schuster metal sculpural handrail 3341 falls road baltimore md hampden

The sculptural handrail at the home we renovated in Hampden still stands. It's out of service since they replaced the stairs with some that were at a more reasonable angle. I'm always glad that nobody has removed the metal rods that I twisted to serve as a handrail the short time we lived there. Mostly, they are for looking at, no longer "functional art". Well, I did use them one more time to get up those crazy steep stairs for this pic.

paul schuster artist baltimore hampden handrail metal falls road 

3341 falls road baltimore md hampden handrail 

The pic above is from 2000, when it was new. Our 1974 Volvo 164E can be seen at the street level.  


Butcher's Hill 1999, and 2017, she's still my baby.  


and we made time to meet up with friends in Baltimore and Frederick.

baltimore mobtown bowman 

January 08, 2018

Quick trip to DC, to water the plants

Po Po (Chinese Grandma) asked if we would have a chance to water her plants over the winter break. We obliged and the five of us went to DC area to water her plants. We were also tasked with starting the car (I also bought a battery tender to keep it charged) and we started her gas range. Mission accomplished, we did some sightseeing while we were there.

dc metro gallery place

We took the Metro.  

gallery place dc metro stop 

Enjoyed lunch at Rasika, at the chef's table.  

chef's table rasika dc indian   

smihsonian american portraig gallery dc 

Spent the day at the Smithsonian American Art/Portrait Gallery. 

smithsonian dc art american 

Notice #2 son doesn't have a jacket. He did lose his brand new jacket in the art museum. We were lucky to find it. It's a constant struggle replacing his water bottles, lunch boxes, back packs, jackets, hats and gloves.

smithsonian art dc 

smithsonian american art dc 

Kat is happy that we found the jacket. It's a big building and it wasn't until we were leaving that she noticed it was missing.  

churchkey dc craft beer  

Kat and I also made time to meet up with friends at Churchkey. If you are a craft beer fan that has been bitten by the hazy and juicy NEIPA craze, those offerings from The Veil and Aslin are nothing short of amazing. Both are available at Churckey.

aslin and the veil dc area nova craft beer neipa 

If you're not familiar with this style of beer, you may find yourself asking "is that orange juice?'. It's beer, but it has a low bitterness yet featuring new varieties of hops and yeast strains that give off a floral and citrus qualities. Hazy juice bomb beer for sure. These beers have to be consumed fresh. Those hazy hop proteins start to clump after a few weeks and the flavor falls off. Get it while you can!