At home in Austin

We spent the last weeks of fall in Austin, a city that always seems to feel like home. My former postdoctoral mentor, Adron Harris, graciously arranged my visiting faculty status at UT-Austin, and it was a joy to reinhabit his inspiring team for a while. Reconnecting with Harris Lab colleagues Cecilia Borghese, Igor Ponomarev, and Olga Ponomareva was particularly valuable, and Rick Aldrich’s journal club kept me on my toes. We even worked in a seminar visit from my Swedish summer host Erik Lindahl and his student Stephanie—a great collegial convergence!

As usual, everything was bigger in Texas, from our porch pets to the enthusiastic kayak polo match we encountered crossing MoPac Bridge. At a time of year many of our recent homes (Sweden, New York) were covered in snow, we enjoyed a cozy outdoor training on Scott Walker’s upgraded barrel smoker.

We made our short-term home on Austin’s East Side, a neighborhood that’s experienced explosive development since we left in 2012. With plenty of Lady Bird Lake shoreline, and a stone’s throw from Austin’s encroaching downtown, the area’s appeal recently leveled up with the shutdown of noisy Holly Street Power Plant. Tex-Mex classic Juan in a Million has been a neighborhood landmark for 35 years; newfound treasures included butcher Salt and Time, fish market Mongers, ranch-to-table Jacoby’s and Dai Due, and artisinal coffeeshop Cuvée. We enjoyed evening walks to Launderette, a high-end diner operating out of a former laundromat, and Craftsman, a music venue with a house-party feel; ATX Boudain Hut satisfied my Cajun craving under a nest of wild parakeets, and Mezcalería Tobalá served a dozen variations on tequila in clay copitas. We also liked Mettle [edit: while it lasted; on the dark side of rapid change, it closed in January].

The East Side hipster surge represents a controversial gentrifying force; thrilled as we were by our beautiful treehouse, we were conflicted about our contribution to the family-oriented neighborhood’s short-term rental industry. The area’s rapid growth made it to the New York Times Travel section in 2014, and has become a subject for scholarly study in sustainability and urbanism, with disturbing predictions for ongoing segregation. Austin - 4A catalyst was the demolition last February of a local piñata store, evidently to the surprise of the shop’s tenants, and with their stock still inside; its replacement by a Austin’s first cat cafe sparked further accusations of abusive gentrification. The ensuing legal conflict took ten months to resolve, and ignited protests by social justice groups including PODER. In October, Austin architect David Goujon commemorated the lost business with three colorful piñata sculptures—each ten feet tall—on nearby Festival Beach. We hope this compelling community continues to find a creative and conscientious path through urban change.

In the  meantime—since my last two posts closed with cocktails—I’ll sign off with a distinctly Austin recipe. Pro tip: try with jalapeño olives, or beet juice.

Mexican Martini

  • 3 oz añejo tequila
  • 1 ½ oz Cointreau
  • 1 ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz olive brine
  • Splash fresh orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled salt-rimmed glass.
Garnish with olives and lime.

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