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Fall is…

8 Oct

It seems like for most women fall starts with their first pumpkin spice latte of the season. For many men, it starts with football. For me, it starts with the State Fair of Texas. This year, I made my eighth annual trip.

Of course you’ve got to start the day with a pocketful of coupons…

State Fair of Texas Coupons www.gustoandgraceblog.com

…and trade them in for the newest fried foods. Since we went with most of my family and several friends, we shared bites of countless new foods. Anthony tried the winner for best taste: the Cuban Roll. I tried fried Nutella. If you’re going to the fair,, skip it. You can hardly taste the chocolate-hazelnut spread. The Reese’s Funnel Cake on the other hand…

State Fair of Texas Best Taste 2013 Cuban Roll www.gustoandgraceblog.comThis year I skipped the Texas Star, the tallest Ferris wheel in North America, to ride Alpine Bobs. Alpine Bob’s was better than most rides at Six Flags.

Texass Star Ferris Wheel

No trip to the State Fair of Texas would be complete without a Fletcher’s Corn Dog with mustard…

Fletchers Corn Dogs www.gustoandgraceblog.com

…or stopping by the new Big Tex.

Big Tex 2013 www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Pro tip: for the shortest line, check out the Fletcher’s stand in the Midway, rather than the one by Big Tex.

On the way home from Dallas-Fort Worth, Anthony and I talked about how we need to make some annual traditions in Austin. Another former fall favorite was going to the Greek Food Festival every year. I really making traditions will help make Austin home. Do you have any favorite fall or annual traditions?

Have you been? I think the State Fair of Texas is bucket list worthy.

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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 

Craft Night and Crepe Lasagna

21 Feb

I am deep into the project phase of my DIY heavy wedding planning. Last week, I hosted a wedding craft night.  With the help of my mom, Anthony’s mom, my bridesmaids, and a couple of other close friends, my wedding t0-do list has several new check marks! Having more than a dozen hands made the monotonousness tasks enjoyable and short-lived.

Gusto and Grace: Monogram Stamped Favor Bags

On craft night, cupcakes from the wedding cake baker were a must. So was this crepe lasagna my fiancé told me would be a great recipe to try “with my friends.” As the original recipe is in Italian, I translated it to English, converted it to US measurements and adapted a few things and here’s the recipe I ended up with:

Crepe Lasagna

Serves 8

For the crepes:

1 1/4 cup milk

7/8 cup of flour

2 eggs

1 Tablespoon Parmesan

Salt

Parsley or pesto

For the filling:

10 oz. frozen spinach

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Approx. 15 oz. Ricotta

salt, pepper, nutmeg

For the sauce:

14 oz. tomato sauce

oregano, pepper

+ a handful of extra Parmesan

Mix all of the crepe ingredients together, then let the batter sit in the fridge for at least two hours but up to a day. To make the crepes, pour slightly less than 1/4 cup of batter onto a hot skillet or griddle. When the batter starts to bubble, flip it, like you would an ordinary pancake. You should get 6 or 7  8-9 inch crepes.

Saute the spinach with the garlic over medium heat. Mix in the ricotta. Stir in the egg. Add the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. This will serve as your filling. Mix the tomato sauce with the oregano and pepper (or other Italian spices of your choice).

Pour a few tablespoons of sauce into the bottom of a 9 inch round pan. I used a glass pie pan. Lay down your first crepe, add filling, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Repeat until you have used about half of your crepes. Halfway, add only tomato sauce between two crepes, and then continue with the ricotta an Parmesan layers. Your top layer should be a crepe. Pour the tomato sauce on top and bake at 350F for 20 minutes. This is even better a day old!

Gusto and Grace: Gold Shutters

Between craft night, my stepdad’s work, and the weekend with my fiancé, in the past week mini envelopes have been stuffed, stands welded, shutters painted, favor bags stamped, envelopes embossed, yards and yards of ribbon cut, fabric strips torn, signs glittered and tissue paper ruffled.

Gusto & Grace: Collected Mercury Glass

Groomsmen suits have been chosen. Groom’s cake toppers have been ordered. I finally began to collect mercury glass pieces. Wine has been tasted and voted on. The officiant has been met with.  A timeline has been drafted. Ceremony music has been selected. It’s all coming together…

Sixty-four days and counting!

Making (Wedding) Plans

25 Jan

Gusto & GraceBride ButtonI’ve got my groove back. I fell behind on many wedding to-dos during the holidays, and the turn of the new year made marrying Anthony seem so near. So how did I re-group after failing to meet the deadlines for the check marks I strongly desired?

First, I found a checklist that worked for me. I have looked at many lists that are supposed to remind you of what you should not forget, or the details that might never cross you mind. I bought a planner. One of my bridesmaids gave me a planner. I found checklists on sites like Real Simple and The Knot. I compared. I scribbled. I crumpled. I tossed. They all seemed to leave out different key elements. Until….THIS! Have you made contact sheets for your wedding? Thought about your floor plan? Created a timeline? Compared bridesmaids gowns? Tracked deposits and payments? Russell and Hazel thought of everything.

Second, I set a date for a project night. It is important to me to involve my friends and family in my wedding, so I planned a night to get together with a group of ladies: the moms and the bridesmaids, to help with projects such as embossing envelopes and making signs and centerpieces. Make sure you try the projects out before having everyone get together and realizing that it would work so much better if you had “X”. I am grateful that I have friends and family (and soon-to-be family) that are enriching my engagement and investing in our wedding.

Lastly, I had a “share the vision” session with my mom. Sitting down and showing her my thoughts, plans and wishes put me at ease. After a few hours, I felt like all was right in the wedding world again. It might be your wedding coordinator, your mother, or a friend, but if you are planning a wedding, I highly encourage you to find someone you can hash out all the gritty details with. Find someone else who is there for your musing and rambling. Find someone who delights in the joyous “small things.” Brainstorm. With someone.

The Perfect Wedding Venue

23 Sep

Bell Tower Chapel- Katie Norris Portrait Arts

The venue is the first big piece of any wedding planning puzzle. When I think of the venue Anthony and I selected, I can’t help but think it is perfect. We started talking about where we wanted to get married and we came up with two absolute criteria: the first is that we wanted to get married in Fort Worth, where I, and both of our parents live, the second criterion was that I didn’t want to spend more than a certain amount on our venue. Anthony narrowed down the options even further by saying he didn’t want to stray too far from downtown.

Another deciding factor in our venue hunt was date. We played hopscotch on the calendar, avoiding family birthdays, holidays, and the Texas heat until we came up with our options: April or October. We didn’t want the average 14 month engagement, so we settled on April and started our search. I added one more thought to the list of ideals, but tried to remain flexible: I wanted to have the ceremony and reception in the same place.

I did my research, and lots of it. I began online by looking photos and compared pricing. Then I sent e-mails and made phone calls. Ultimately, I narrowed it down to two venues: YWCA and Bell Tower Chapel. I set up an appointment for Anthony and I at Bell Tower via e-mail, then called YWCA to set up an appointment and found out they were booked each weekend in April. If Bell Tower didn’t work out, the search would continue.

Let me back up a bit. When I first saw Bell Tower Chapel, it stood out to me. It was the only venue that grabbed me. It might have even been love at first sight (if you can fall in love with a venue).  I had never seen it, nor heard of it. I didn’t know anyone who had gotten married there, but the photos, which don’t do the venue justice, spoke to me.

We met with coordinators of Bell Tower, and signed a contract. That’s it. One venue is all we visited. But it gets better.  As silly or insignificant as they may seem the chairs that come with the venue are, well, perfect. My colours are metallics. The chiavari chairs for the reception area are gold. Additionally, what venue called Bell Tower would be complete without a bell? Anthony and I are looking forward to ringing the bell after we walk back down the aisle together. Wedding bells will be ringing, literally.

There are a couple of other details that add to the feeling of delightful perfection. The Chapel was built in 1958 and designed by architect Donald Nelson. That may mean nothing to you, but it holds significance to us. One of Donald Nelson’s most notable works was Fair Park, in Dallas, Texas, where we met! Furthermore, the chapel was donated in 2008 to ACH Child and Family Services. They had no programmatic use for the chapel and gardens so they use it as a wedding venue and all proceeds support the mission of the organization.

Location. Budget. Timing. Significance. Support.

Venue perfection.

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.

 

I Dream of Pastries

22 May

I wish Fort Worth had a bona fide patisserie, complete with cupcakes and French macarons, tarts and cookies. I dream of red velvet cheesecake from New York’s Magnolia Bakery and peanut and caramel chocolate tarts from New Orleans’ Sucre.  I have yet to find a true patisserie here, but I have found an abundance of adorable bakeries with cupcake lined pastry cases. Over the past few months, I’ve made it my unofficial mission to try each of these sweet Cowtown cupcake shops on my lunch breaks.

The Cupcakery is what spawned my interest in the Fort Worth sweet shops, as it opened just a few blocks from my office downtown. I’ve found that most of the bakeries I have visited close late in the afternoon or as soon as they sell out. One perk of The Cupcakery is that they are open late, so you can stop in after work, after dinner, or while enjoying a night out on the town. They also offer miniature cupcakes in case you want just a sweet bite or would rather taste a couple than eat just one. The cupcakes at this bakery are pretty, but sometimes dry. You can tell when they are fresh and when they have been sitting there awhile. My favorite cupcake from The Cupcakery was the Harry Potter inspired, butterscotch flavored, Butterbeer cupcake. Other notables were the carrot cake and the chocolate peanut butter. While pretty in pink, beware of the strawberry – don’t judge a cupcake by its color.

J. Rae’s is a sweet boutique on Foch Street in the West 7th district. The first thing I noticed was that most, if not all, of their cupcakes were decorated with edible glitter. I chose the shimmery German chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth. Moist, flavorful, and glitzy: What more could one want from a cupcake? J. Rae’s also makes iced cookies and cake balls.

La Bella Cupcakes is off of North Main near the Stockyards. They have simple daily offerings; three different cakes: red velvet, chocolate and vanilla, and four icings:  strawberry, cream cheese, vanilla, and chocolate.  The cake is light and airy and each cupcake is topped with a small sugar flower. I tried the chocolate cupcake with strawberry frosting. I’d be interested in trying their tiramisu cupcake or some of the other “Top Shelf Flavor”s that are listed on their website.

Leah’s Sweet Treats is a fairly new bakery on Camp Bowie. I found this place by accident two weeks after they opened. The woman I presumed to be Leah told me she had to stop taking orders more than a month out within the first week of full-time operation! I bit into the cupcake I bought and instantly knew why. They might take the moistest cupcake in town award. They also have unique flavors like chocolate covered cherry and cookies and cream. Because of my wonderful first experience, I went back again to pick up a few cupcakes for a friend’s birthday. The second time around, the moistness and the flavor were still superb, but I was less than impressed with the presentation.

One evening I was having some girlfriends over to share some wine and decided to pick up some cupcakes from the Cupcake Cottage for the small gathering. I opted for a dozen mini cupcakes because there was such a variety to choose from including banana, wedding cake, and chocolate. My girlfriends thought the cupcakes were a great addition to the night. The small house-turned-bakery builds their daily menu around custom orders so their flavor offerings vary from day-to-day.   I’d advise going early in the day as the selection is slim by lunchtime.

Auntie Am’s Sweet Stop is a mobile bakery in Fort Worth’s newest food truck park, Cowtown Chow Down. They offer “create your own cupcakes” where you choose the cake flavor, a filling, and a frosting. Plus, everything is made on site! While the cupcakes are the largest I’ve encountered, the presentation was about what you’d expect from a truck. However, I went on day two of Auntie Am’s new business venture, so I look forward to going back to find out if the buttercream is a bit less melty. After finding out the truck was owned by a former co-worker’s friend, I exchanged the “work” of hand writing their menu on the truck’s window for a delicious creation of my own: a red velvet cupcake with chocolate frosting.

Stir Crazy Baked Goods is set to be open sometime this month off of South Main. Currently you can find their goods at Avoca Coffee Shop on Magnolia. Look for an update once it opens!

What’s your favorite bakery? Know of any patisseries I may have missed in the Fort Worth area? Leave a comment!

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