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Las Vegas Mini Guide, or, So Much More Than I Expected

4 May

After landing in Las Vegas, I remarked to the husband that I was surprised at how beautiful it is. While he had been before, our trip in February was my first time in Sin City. I quickly realized that Vegas would surprise me many times over the next five days.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

I kept hearing that three days was the maximum amount of time many visitors would stay, but I could have easily lingered a day or two longer than we did. While many people go for debauchery a la Hangover, I found that Vegas has infinitely more to offer than free casino drinks and wedding chapels.

Floating Street Artist Entertainer Performer The Strip Las Vegas

For us, having family to visit made the trip exceedingly more enjoyable, but I’d recommend a visit to everyone. Fun sites, new experiences, and amazing food: below I’ll list the things I’d hate for you to miss if you found yourself in Vegas.

Bellagio Las Vegass Chihuly Glass Ceiling

Chihuly Glass Bellagio Ceiling Las Vegas

The infamous Strip, lined with enormous casinos, really proved false the maxim, “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Just a couple of casinos could take you days to explore. I soaked up all things over-the-top, elaborate, and exuberant, like a good Vegas traveller would. A favorite of mine was the Bellagio, with the Chihuly glass ceiling, pictured above, and the world’s largest chocolate fountain, pictured below.

World's Largest Chocolate Fountain Bellagio Las Vegas

At the Cosmopolitan I grabbed a fortune from the giant Lucky Cat and a drink in the stunning Chandelier Bar, a three story lounge, draped lavishly in seemingly endless strands of crystals. The Monkey’s Uncle was a sweet concoction of Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, Creme de Banana, Cream, Nutella, House Made Cinnamon-Vanilla Syrup.

Monkeys Uncle Cocktail Chandelier Bar Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

At Caesar’s Palace we enjoyed truffles that freely dispense from the large clock at Payard every fifteen minutes. While we were there, I picked up a Raspberry Pistachio Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich. At Monte Carlo, bundled up in parkas, surrounded by ice sculptures and sitting on benches made of ice and laden with furs and hides, we sipped cocktails out of glasses made of ice at Minus5 Bar. Vegas has plenty of experiences for the books. While, I opted not to take a gondola ride in the Venetian, I loved hearing the gondoliers singing in Italian as we strolled to brunch at Bouchon where we devoured warm beignets. I loved the antique brass card holder, below, so much, that I came home and scoured Etsy for an identical one.

Bouchon Bistro Business Card Holder Las Vegas

While we were there, the casinos were adorned in Chinese New Year decor. The Venetian and Mandalay Bay were most bedecked for the Year of the Goat.

Chinese New Year Year of the Goat Floral Arrangement Firecrackers

Since we rented a car to day trip to the Grand Canyon, we spent a fair amount of time exploring Vegas like a local might. My favorite meals in Vegas were not prepared by the chefs on Las Vegas Boulevard, but instead on Rainbow Boulevard. I had perhaps my favorite foodie experience to date in Vegas. Following a spicy Thai meal at Lotus of Siam of Nam Kao Tod (crispy rice) and duck panang, I indulged in three course dessert at Sweets Raku.

My experience at Sweets Raku was off to a great start with an edible menu, rolled in a cookie ring, and served with dipping sauce. From there, I chose my courses: Pineapple Sorbet with White Wine Jelly, Strawberry Tiramisu, and a chocolate creme puff with raspberries. Anthony skipped the multi-course meal in favor of an indulgent Chocolate Souffle with Banana Pudding.

We loved the area so much, we returned another day to have lunch at the crowded, but wait-worthy Monta Ramen. Having Ramen Tatsu-ya in Austin has really ruined me for ramen, but my Tonkatsu style ramen with black garlic did not disappoint.

For non-gambling fun, we headed north on Las Vegas Boulevard and visited the Neon Museum, a boneyard filled with the neon signs that Vegas is known for, from years past.

Stardust Neon Sign Museum Las Vegas Nevade

Driving from the airport to our hotel, a glimmer of silver glinted in in my eyes and I knew I had seen Gehry. Not far from downtown, we found it: The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. I know nothing about architecture, but love pretty buildings.

Frank Gehry Architecture Las Vegas Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

We also spent a little time on Fremont Street downtown, zip-lining on Slotzilla under the LED video canopy and walking through an old casino or two where you could hear all the coins clambering as people won and lost buckets of money, rather than swiping player cards as is common on The Strip.

Slotzilla Freemont Street Experience Las Vegas

I wanted to purchase a day pass to slide through the shark tank at the Golden Nugget, but it closes early and swimming was not allowed when we had the time. I suppose that means I have to visit Las Vegas again.

Shark Tank Slide Golden Nuggest Las Vegas

Have you been to Vegas? Tell me about your trip.

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Pizza Week

30 May

Love makes you do crazy things. In my case, it was eating pizza for dinner five nights in a row.

I am fairly confident pizza is my husband’s love language, so what better way to spend date night funds than to explore the pizzerias in Austin-town? We made a point to go to places we had never been before so, while delicious, Winflo, Home Slice, and Salvation Pizza didn’t make the cut. We also avoided chains, so Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Papa Johns were out.

Don’t bother consulting with your doctor before attempting to recreate this adventure, you already know what the M.D. would say.

Day 1: We went to aRoma, a brand new place a few miles from home. We devoured their pizza the second day they were open.

aRoma Pizza Austin

We ordered a pie with four cheeses, including gorgonzola, and added truffle oil (because what pizza doesn’t need more greasy fat?).

aRoma Tiramisu Austin

aRoma’s version of tiramisu was a personal favorite. It had the classic ingredients (which I am a stickler about) and a fun presentation. That is Kaluha granita melting on the side.

aRoma Tiramisu

Day 2: We wandered over to the Eastside and tried VIA 313: Detroit style pizza made in an Austin style eatery.

Via 313 Austin

The thick, meaty, square  pizza was comfort food to the core. Carb. Overload.

VIA 313 Austin PIzza

Day 3: Possibly my favorite of the five, Bufalina used fresh ingredients and baked its pizza in a wood-fired oven in the dining area. We arrived promptly at 5:30, Bufalina’s opening time, and there was a wait within minutes, for good reason.

I should have snapped a few images of the oven, the restaurant interior, and the delectable gnocchi we devoured while our pizza was prepared.

Bufalina Pizza Austin

Day 4: We ventured out to Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza in Dripping Springs.

Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza Pints and Pies Sign

Our Mediterranean pizza pie was topped with spinach, sundried tomatoes, olives, and feta.

Stanley's Farmhouse Pizza

I don’t think the pizza was worth the 45+ minute wait, but the outdoor-only dining allowed us to tote Nola around.  The atmosphere is also great for a large group.  In addition to the pizza, my favorite local brewery, Jester King, is located right next door.

Nola at Stanley's

Day 5: We headed to fabulous Rounders before going to a screening at the Ritz Alamo Drafthouse. The sign has been begging me to come in for months. Who can resist New York style pizza with a Vegas vibe?

Rounders Pizza Sign Austin

We had to go classic and ordered a plain ol’ pepperoni. We ordered the casino (small) size, and still brought home almost half of a pizza. Can I add that the garlic knots were the best of their kind?

Rounders Pizza Austin

Rounders is the place you want to have your birthday party as a kid or the place you might play endless arcade games on a first date.

Rounders Pizza Decor

Day 6: We mulled over the places that remained on our list, Eastside Pies, Pinthouse Pizza, Hoboken Pie, Little Deli and Pieous, and decided to save them for another day…

Thanks for reading,

♥ Dominique

Paris Eats

20 May

Here is what I found odd and endearing about eating in Paris:

  1. No butter or oil for your baguette
  2. No bread plates -patrons placed their bread directly on the table
  3. Tips tax included in the menu price -how spoilingly (yep, made up that word) refreshing
  4. Waiters looking at you sideways if you refused espresso and/or dessert after any meal
  5. How long the French linger over each meal
  6. Having to request your check each time you finished your food- it is thought rude for a server to present a bill before it is requested

Anthony and I learned quickly that most Parisian restaurants are closed between lunch and dinner and reopen around 7:30pm. We weren’t quite hungry for lunch after getting situated in our HomeAway, missed our first opportunity for a good meal, and were starving by dinner time. La Fontaine de Mars, a suggestion I had picked up from an article about interior designer Kelly Wearstler, served excellent French fare . There, I ate Morel mushrooms for the first time. I’m a believer.

La Fontaine de Mars | Paris, France

Rue Saint Dominique, an avenue near the Eiffel Tower, was packed with too many wonderful restaurants and patisseries. Some of my other favorites in the neighborhood were Les CocottesGateaux Thoumieux, and Aux Merveilleux de Fred.

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Sprinkles Ice Cream and Cupcake ATM

10 Sep

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Have you been there yet? To Sprinkles Ice Cream. I assume you’re familiar with the now nationwide Beverly Hills based cupcake company, but did you know that they recently started opening up ice cream shoppes?

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

On our last trip to Fort Worth, we squeezed in a trip to the newly opened (Aug. 16) shoppe in Dallas. They had Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream Recipe on the wall. I’ll be adding that to my list of recipes to try. I hear the former president was a foodie.

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

It seemed their most popular offering was their cupcake sundaes, but I had to try a red velvet cone. I wish the red velvet flavor came across more, but the cone was delightfully thin and crisp. I think the fact that they serve “cake and ice cream” really sets them apart from other creameries, and the red velvet cones certainly don’t hurt.

Sprinkles Ice Cream Dallas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Of course I had to use the cupcake ATM, so Anthony and I split a vanilla hazelnut chocolate cupcake.  There’s a 50 cent premium for using the machine versus going in the store, but it functions 24/7.

Sprinkles Cupcake ATUM Dallas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

If you’re lucky enough to live or travel to a city that has Sprinkles Ice Cream, I’d highly suggest going.

You can have your cake, and eat ice cream too.

Related Posts: Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream, Rice Krispie Treat Ice Cream recipe 

Eat Here, Not There: A Dining Guide to Austin, Texas

9 Aug

Austin is a great place for a weekend getaway. The proof is in the pudding, or maybe in the fact that so many people I know have made the short trip south from Dallas-Fort Worth. This summer I have seen so many Facebook statuses asking, “What should we do in Austin?” or “Where should I eat in Austin?” I love answering this question. When people visit I want them to taste and see that Austin is good. I also am appalled at some of the suggestions their so-called-friends make. (It’s a joke, ladies and gentlemen, lighten up)

I certainly am not an Austin know-it-all, but  I may have a slight obsession with trying places I have not been before, which means I have been to a lot of places. And while the Facebook status suggestions are well-intentioned and not innately bad, there are so many places that go beyond average in Austin, often at the very same price.

What I hope to experience when I travel is the best of the local culture and cuisine.  This guide is far from comprehensive, but serves the purpose of directing you away from the mediocre suggestions, giving you enough options for a weekend full of great food.

An Austin Dining Guide *www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Breakfast tacos are abundant in Austin. If you’re coming from Dallas-Fort Worth, I’d suggest you go to Tacodeli over Torchy’s, but only because Dallas-Fort Worth has Torchy’s Tacos. Otherwise I’d suggest Tacodeli or Torchy’s over all other taco stands. My husband’s favorite breakfast taco is Taco Deli’s Otto. He added, “refried black beans with bacon and avocado…drooooooooooool .”

Craving a sandwich for lunch? Noble Sandwich Co. or Royal Blue, not Thundercloud Subs, are two great options. Noble Sandwich Co., previously known as Noble Pig, was featured on Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives. Royal Blue, on the other hand, is an unassuming grocer that sells pressed sandwiches from their front counter. Note: Their Store on 3rd and Lavaca does not sell pressed sandwiches. Thundercloud is like Austin’s personal Subway. They make average subs that a working Austinite might grab for lunch because it is quick, cheap, and local, not because it is anything to write home about.

For ice cream head to Lick, not Amy’s. If you ask people where to go and they don’t tell you Amy’s I’d be shocked. Amy’s is fine and dandy and even “Austin,” but Lick is an experience. Lick is made using all local ingredients, and while they have standard flavors like chocolate, they also offer creations like Goat Cheese, Honey and Thyme Ice Cream, as well as vegan and non-dairy options.

An Austin Dining Guide *www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Texas barbecue is an Austin must. But if someone suggests Salt Lick, head to Kruez Market instead. Both are a short drive outside of Austin, but Kruez Market has been around more than a century and their pits are built into their floors. It is way cool with more meat options than your average bbq joint. If you’re looking for barbecue within city limits, hit up Lamberts or Franklin. Here is the secret to Franklin: People wait in line hours before it opens and it only stays open till they sell out, but if you go around 1pm, you won’t have a long line and while they might be sold out of some options, there is a good chance they will  still have their melt-in-your-mouth brisket.

If you want some good Tex-Mex, I’d send you to Trudy’s, not Gueros. Guero’s is sub-par Tex-Mex in the right location. My favorite on Trudy’s menu is the stuffed avocado. If you want to sip a cocktail while you’re dining, they’re known for their Mexican Martini. Splurge a little and go for the non-house tequila.

If people suggest Hopdoddy for a burger or Homeslice for pizza, they haven’t steered you wrong.

Good food and vacation are like peanut butter and jelly. In the words of  comedian Jim Gaffigan, “Really, that’s all a vacation is… Us eating in a place we’ve never been. ‘Well, why don’t we eat something… then we’ll go and get something to eat. Then we’ll see that thing we’re supposed to see, they’ve probably got a snack bar there, right? After that, we should probably get something to eat, though.

So for that “thing we’re supposed to see,” here’s what I suggest: If you’re into sites and history, visit the Texas State Capitol and the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum. If you like art, visit the Blanton. If you want to cool off, take a dip in Barton Springs. And if you’re up for adventure, try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake. Explore South Congress for unique shops, and Rainey Street if you’re looking for a drink in a unique locale.

If you need more suggestions, I’d be happy to help; just consider this my version of Eat This, Not That.

Enjoy Austin!

Honeymoon Inspired Spaghetti Carbonara

28 Jun

One of the best meals I had on our honeymoon was in Florence, Italy in the Piazza di Santa Croce. I ate a plateful of Spaghetti Carbonara and finished the afternoon meal with tiramisu. Wanting to relive our honeymoon in a small way, I made Spaghetti Carbonara for dinner Sunday.

Here are a few photos from that meal in Florence:

Image

Image

TiramisuSince we got our KitchenAid Pasta-Extruder Attachment, we have probably eaten more fresh, delicious pasta than we should. We use it making 2 cups of flour, 3 eggs, and just a dash of salt, olive oil, and leftover whey from making fresh mozzarella (water or more oil is an adequate substitute). In our attempts, we’ve learned that the key to pasta that will cook firmly and not taste floury is kneading, kneading, and more kneading.  

Spaghetti

After you press your fresh pasta it is crucial that you lay it on towel. This keeps it from sticking together and stretching when you pick it up.

Fresh Pasta

I used the New York Times Spaghetti Carbonara recipe. If you’re using fresh pasta, I would recommend using less pancetta than called for, so you can taste the pasta.

Love vs. Design Recipe Card

Since it was such a hit with the husband, wrote it out on one of these printable recipe cards from Love vs. Design. Unfortunately, my recipe book disappeared in the move to Austin. I’m trying to remember and rewrite as many recipes as I can, but that was years of collecting and creating.

The Spaghetti Carbonara turned out great. It was a lot less yellow than the one I ate in Florence. More egg yolks, maybe?

Spaghetti Carbonara Inspired by Honeymooning

Spaghetti Carbonara Bites

Austin Nominations

10 Jan

Fort Worth offers a lot to miss, but Austin offers a lot to love. Leaving Fort Worth, my home for the last 12 years, when I marry Anthony in April will be bittersweet (but mostly sweet). I have enjoyed exploring the hometown of my future. Consider the following my Austin Nominations.

Ramen Tatsu-ya  is nothing like the 15 cent package of noodles many people associate with the word “ramen.” With marinated eggs and pork belly, this unassuming restaurant gave me a few surprising firsts.  The soup’s pork broth is said to stew for up to 60 hours!  No wonder it is currently only open for dinner.  Before you go, be sure to check out their website.  There are some important “rules” for eating ramen that one should read up on, lest your friends ridicule you for being a ramen rookie!

Parkside Calamari 1

Chef Shawn Cirkiel owns two of my favorite restaurants: Parkside and Olive & June . Go at happy hour for their half off specials. Parkside offers the best calamari I have ever eaten, so lightly breaded and crisply fried, served with a garlic aioli. Olive & June is an otherworldly experience, with a menu designed for up to five courses, Anthony and I skipped the high dollar entrees and sampled several of the “Piccoli Piatti,”  which are two to three bite plates. We also ordered an antipasti offering, and shared a pasta dish and dessert. Everything we tried was amazing: pork meatballs, swordfish spiedini, testaroli, suppli, short rib ravioli, and chocolate hazelnut panna cotta. Did I mention they serve fresh bread with ricotta instead of butter? Go directly to Olive & June, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

If I am craving a sandwich I’ll head to Noble Pig, featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If I am looking for a sandwich downtown, I will head to Royal Blue Grocery for one of their hot sandwiches. My favorite is the Reuben, Anthony’s, the Cuban. If I want a splurge while at Royal Blue, I will savor one of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Macaron Sandwiches.  Open until midnight, this Grocer has the added perk of being a great late night spot.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar is the burger joint of Austin. The ordering system is unique in that you order from a counter but must pick out a place to sit before ordering. With choices ranging from your standard cheeseburger to a lamb burger or a Texas Akaushi Beef burger, inventive, delicious and fresh hamburgers define this spot.  A location has recently opened in the Dallas area, so be sure to check it out if you’re craving a meaty meal.  

Gordough’s Public House is both indulgent and delicious. They serve, wait for it…. doughnut burgers and doughnut sandwiches. They also have a selection of dessert doughnuts. Anthony and I altered the menu a bit and shared their cheesecake stuffed doughnut with salted caramel sauce.

Bangers, a sausage and beer joint,  is located on Rainey street, a corridor of old homes that have been converted into businesses. They offer links such as Duck, Bacon and Fig, Chicken, Tequila and Habanero, or classic English Bangers. If craft beer is your thing, Bangers has the largest selection of beer on tap I have seen, claiming 103 different taps. 

Franklin Barbecue

Texas at its finest, Franklin Barbecue is a place you have to go (at least) once. Since Aaron Franklin solely slices and serves the meat the line is long,but the brisket is the best. The line forms before they open, and they close when they sell out. My advice is to go later in the afternoon around 1 or 1:30, the line will have died down, and they will be sold out of everything except their melt-in-your-mouth brisket.

Doc’s has a Stuffed Avocado I crave. While there is a location on South Congress, Anthony and I frequent the Doc’s further south, with a more laid back atmosphere. This is a good spot for game watching. 

South Congress Cafe, otherwise known as SoCo Cafe, more closely resembles an upscale dining experience than a cafe.  When Anthony and I went for dinner on one occasion, I ordered and enjoyed the delectable coffee braised short ribs.  This South Congress staple is also a hot spot for brunch, though I might consider its Italian neighbor, Vespaio, my go-to for brunch fare.

Home Slice Pizza, also on South Congress, is another Austin favorite.  Grab pizza by the slice to go or get a table inside and order a piping hot pie.  Anthony and I enjoyed the Sausage and Ricotta white pie.  As quirky South Austin goes, we took advantage of a special they were running by impersonating a celebrity, to get 10% off!

Salvation Pizza has the most amazing garlic bread.  It is a loaf of sourdough bread sliced across the top with garlic butter and cheese inserted between the hot slices making it brilliantly melted and delicious.  The variations of pizzas and pizza toppings also make this an excellent place to enjoy a pie.

Justine’s is on the far east side. If French food is what you’re craving, Justine’s is the place. Ignore their weird website and go try their food.

I learned about Holy Cacao, a food truck on South First, from Tory Burch’s blog. Skip the cake balls and go for the Frozen Hot Chocolate, inspired by both Serendipity III and City Bakery in New York City. The Frozen Hot Chocolate is the perfect hot chocolate for winter Texas style.

big top 1

Big Top is an old fashioned candy shop and soda fountain.  This narrow store is filled with traditional and classic candy and chocolate offerings, as well as some rare and odd candies that you will not find in a grocery aisle.

Overpriced but well curated, uncommon OBJECTS is a fun store to browse. Wandering through its aisles is an alternative to standing around while waiting to dine at any of the South Congress restaurants. A few other shops worth mentioning are JM Dry Goods/Spartan and Aviary.

My movie-loving fiance and I have gone on many dates at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cinema with great shorts before the movies, a local menu, and, in true Austin fashion, non-disposable dishes.  But be aware, this is a no-nonsense theatre.  Late comers will not be allowed in the theatre. Nor will children under the age of six, unless the movie is a kids’ movie. Talkers and texters WILL be kicked out! 

If you are seeking a history lesson, I love the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. I am excited to re-visit after the recent renovations.

Sometimes I think that Anthony and I live like tourists, exploring and adventuring through our own cities as if we had never walked them before.

My Favorite New York

21 Dec

New York is the only place I have traveled that has started to become familiar, and that is a wonderful feeling to associate with a far off place. There is a small part of me that is jealous of my sister’s courage to pack up and move to New York City. There is a much larger part of me that is grateful for it. It has enabled me (and given me reason) to travel to the Big Apple annually for the past three years for longer durations than I could otherwise afford.

I have done my fair share of sightseeing, museum going, shopping, wandering, and eating in the city. There are (quite) a few places that have become favorites of mine. Whether it is your first time travelling to the city, or your fiftieth, the places below are ones I have been to that I would recommend frequenting again and again.

My Favorite New York

  • Sweet shops:
    • Lady M – The Gâteau aux Marrons and Checkers cakes were the first and second best cakes I have had in my life
    • Laduree – Their salted caramel French Macarons are beyond delicious
    • Magnolia Bakery – Three words: Red. Velvet. Cheesecake.
    • Shake Shack – A decent fast food burger, but to die for custard
    • Serendipity III – Skip the dinner menu and order a frozen hot chocolate
    • Doughnut Plant – Crème Brulee doughnuts and cake doughnuts that actually taste like cake
    • City Bakery – If you remember Chantico from Starbucks, you’ve tasted City Bakery’s rich, thick hot chocolate
    • Momofuku Milk Bar – Known for their Compost Cookies, you might also try their buttery Crack Pie

The Original Five Napkin

  • Food:
    • Five Napkin Burger – Try the Original Five Napkin then walk it off on your way to view Radio City Music Hall
    • Employees Only – They have a menu that starts at midnight and boasts of truffled grilled cheese and bacon wrapped lamp chops. Yum!
    • S’Mac – a.k.a. Sarita’s Mac and Cheese. Dine in, or heat it at home
    • Katz’s Delicatessen – Where Harry Met Sally. Right around the corner take a look at the architecture of New Museum
    • Maison Kayser – a delicious French restaurant, great for brunch
    • The Standard Grill – They serve waffles with Maple Ice Cream . Walk up to the Highline elevated park while you are near
    • Hill Country Chicken – The best Fried Mashed Potatoes
    • Stout NYC – Texas Exes, a University of Texas Alumni group,  meets here
    • Eataly – An amazing Italian market

Grand Central Terminal

  • Sights:
    • Statue of Liberty – Get Crown tickets if you can score them, book months in advance
    • Chrysler Building – Just stare at the outside
    • Flat Iron Building – right next to Madison Square Park
    • MoMA – Van Gogh, Warhol, Picasso, Lichtenstein
    • Grand Central Terminal
    • Central Park – Carousel, Central Park Zoo, Alice and Wonderland statues, boathouse, so much to do!
    • New York Public Library – Home of the original Winnie the Pooh toys, right next to Bryant Park
    • Top of the Rock(efeller Center)–  An alternative to the top of the Empire State Building

Tiffany Diamond

Adventures in Austin City Limits

16 Oct

This past weekend, Anthony and I attended ACL Festival, or Austin City Limits Festival, a 3-day music festival in Zilker Park, with over 120 bands playing on 7 different stages. We watched somewhere around 22 of them. If I had to play favorites, The Colorfeels, Ben Howard, Gary Clark Jr., and Florence + The Machine would be at the top of my list. Finish reading this post, then go immediately and check them all out.

ACL Fest 2012

ACL rules say you’re not allowed to bring in cameras with a removable lens, so we broke out the old Polaroid camera my uncle gave me and my siblings when we were small and ordered some of the Impossible Project‘s Film.  I also thought it would be an appropriate time to download Instagram. We saw so many people with DSLRs, and overheard people tell the gate guards that the lenses didn’t come off. We decided to stick to the rules and have our fun by documenting our time with our instant camera and Instagram. If my scanner wasn’t boxed up in Austin, I’d upload the Polaroids.

The first day, we found a no-hassle, free parking spot 1.2 miles from Zilker (yes, this can actually be considered a great spot for the fest). We returned there each day. That was where our adventures began. Friday, we walked past different tents handing out sodas and goodies, and scored some more shades; this time, in a fun blue hue.

When gearing up to go we had a dilemma: bring chairs and lug them around all day or a blanket that could squeeze into the backpack? I’m very much the “travel light” type. This question was easily answered as we conducted our own “social experiment”. Friday we brought one inexpensive folding chair that would not be missed if lost or stolen and placed it at a stage near the festival entrance. We proceeded to stage hop and left the chair. In the end, our chair was safely resting where we left it. Anthony said that  leaving the chair was like leaving your dinner plate at a buffet restaurant. That made me giggle. While the blanket was great, it poured on Saturday, so chairs were a much better option for the mud. We picked up a second chair for Sunday.

Sweet Leaf Tea Smiles

With a crowd of about 80,000, ACL is people watching at its prime. Can you say gold lame leotards? If outfits didn’t make you stand out in the crowd, many people made “flags” so they could easily be found by their group. It felt a bit like ESPN’s College Game Day. Anthony and I stuck together the whole time, so we didn’t need a flag, but when meeting up with some friends it was easier to find each other by saying fun things like, “We’re to the left of the giraffe, in front of the tie-dye.”  My favorite flag was an upside-down turtle with a speech bubble that said, “This is awkward.”

When we needed to re-energize ourselves, we found plenty of food options at the festival. Booths lined the edge of the grounds with mostly local selections. Everything from food truck tacos to local organic salads and tamales were available. Fort Worth’s Tim Love even made an appearance with two booths (Love Shack and Woodshed)! I think the selection was a reflection of Austin as it was very “foodie” for a festival. Truffle Pomme Frittes from Second Bar + Kitchen, and Boomerang’s Australian style hand pies were among our choices over the weekend. I wanted to try Watermelon with Goat Cheese and Pop Rocks, but never did get around to it. After the festival Friday and Saturday, Anthony and I decided to grab a late night bite to reflect on the days’ events and discuss our favorite acts.
We sure are glad we chose ACL over the Red River Rivalry game this year…

He Got On One Knee

14 Aug

Anthony picked me up from work on Friday, August 3rd. My stepdad was working on my car, and Anthony was in town because he had the day off. Earlier in the day Anthony had asked me if I wanted to try any new restaurants for dinner (he knows how much I love doing that). I named two places, but we ended up settling on another. I suggested we go straight from work but Anthony said he wanted to go to my house where he had forgotten his new camera.

As soon as I walked into the house I thought, “It smells strangely like flowers in here.” Then I opened my bedroom door and understood why. I was up to my knees in balloons and there were dozens (and dozens) of white flowers everywhere. I turned around and he was on one knee. The moment was such a blissful blur. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I knew he was asking me to marry him. I said yes!

Once I agreed to become is wife, he handed me a little black lock-box: a little something for me to open on our wedding day. I’m sure he did it because he knows it will drive me crazy until April 27th (also because he is sweet and thoughtful, creative and romantic). He proceeded to tell me that he had made previously made reservations for Ellerbe’s, one of the two restaurants I suggested earlier. We dined and celebrated for two hours!  The evening felt so surreal.

I don’t think I could have picked a ring for myself that I love more! He worked with Bario-Neal to customize it. The rose gold, the champagne diamonds, the etching: his doing. My (other) best friend later told me she thought that I had picked the ring. After telling her I hadn’t she said, “He knows you so well.” What a symbol of his love!

Anthony went to such great lengths to make the proposal a surprise. He met me for lunch in the middle of the day after talking to my parents in the morning with plans to prepare the proposal after lunch. I couldn’t have kept such a secret, or such a straight face!

I’m so thrilled to be marrying him. I feel as if, before he proposed, he “married” himself to me. He asked himself the tough questions. He made the commitment. He took the risk. He said yes, all before asking me to. I am loving and enjoying this fiancée phase. What a sweet 9 months we will have of planning and preparation for a lifelong marriage.

 

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