Tag Archives: Texas

Day Trip From Austin: The Antlers Hotel

22 Jul

I am very much a city girl. That being said, sometimes a weekend with very little phone reception, no laptop, and quiet surroundings is exactly what I need for a weekend.

For our second wedding anniversary, we opted to do the exact opposite of what we did last year. No big trip, no fancy meals, just a quiet weekend away from everything doing absolutely nothing. It was perfect.

We drove about an hour outside of Austin and stayed overnight in a train car at the Antlers Hotel in Kingsland, Texas. I devoured The Boxcar Children books growing up, though I think they were a bit more resourceful than us. Our green caboose had indoor plumbing and air conditioning.

Green Train Car Cabin Antlers Hotel Texas

It seems Anthony and I have a thing for strange sleeping accomodations. Now we have stayed in both a caboose and a tepee.

Yellow Train Car Antlers Hotel Kingsland Texas

Red Train Car Antlers Hotel Kingsland Texas

While we opted to eat at the Grand Central Cafe on property, which is the house used on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (romantic, right?), there are grills outside the train cars, kitchenettes inside, and a grocery store just down the road (all of which I would recommend over the restaurant). Marble Falls isn’t far if you want a few more restaurant options.

Antlers Train Car Hotel Dock

Antlers Hotel Train Car Hotel Kingsland Texas Rowboat

The hotel had two private docks as well as a rowboat and a canoe for guests to use. We went for a leisurely morning row.

antlers hotel signantlers hotel patio

antlers hotel marker

We also spent some time at Sweet Berry Farms picking strawberries. And stopped at Apiary for brunch on the way back into town.

Before we left for the weekend, a for sale sign was put up on the property. I hope the property remains a hotel. It is a perfect weekend getaway from city livin’.

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How to Celebrate Christmas Like an Austinite

20 Dec

Austin Christmas GrafittiTraditions make a city feel more like home. When I first moved to Austin, I started thinking about why Fort Worth felt so much like home. After the obvious family and friend connections, and the sheer amount of time I lived there, I think it felt like home because of the traditions I had.

Each September or October I would go to the State Fair, I’d eat a mustard-covered Fletcher’s Corn Dog, and ride the Texas Star Ferris Wheel. Every November I would eat a gyro and chocolate baklava at the Greek Food Festival. Each December I would look forward to my friends’ Christmas In Black and White decade-themed costume Christmas party.

In an effort to make my new home feel more like home, I insisted on finding a few Austin events or activities I could look forward to year after year. If you’re looking to celebrate Christmas as an Austinite, here is what I suggest:

Trail of Lights 2013

1. Walk through the Festival of Lights in Zilker Park

Take a stroll through the light tunnels. Grab a cuppa hot chocolate. Get dizzy spinning under the tree. This year, there was a flip-book video booth and Anthony and I got an awesome memento our evening.

Zilker Park Tree

2. Buy your gifts from a local artist or store. 

Austin is filled with small businesses and local artists, buying gifts from these places is just the Austin way.

3. Go to a quote-along at the Alamo Drafthouse

I’m a believer. The Alamo Drafthouse is the best movie theater in the nation world. They have fun events year round, but during the holidays they host Elf Quote-Alongs and Home Alone All-you-can-eat-cheese-pizza parties. My husband and I learned of them too late to get tickets this year, so I scoured six stores before finding Home Alone on DVD, ordered plain cheese pizza, and had a party at home this year.

4. Decorate a tree on 360, or at least go and look at them

Before I moved here, Anthony told me how people would decorate trees on 360. I didn’t understand until we drove down highway and saw miles of trees decked out in tinsel and garland. My favorite tree was decorated like a reindeer. Next year, you’ll find me on the top of one of the hills, trimming a tree for all to see.

Hawaiin Tree Austin Texas

5. Go ice skating on the Plaza at Whole Foods downtown

The skating rink at the Austin-based grocery chain might be the closest thing to a white Christmas you will see in the capital city.

If you’ve moved to a new town and are missing home, I encourage to get out and try a few new things you can repeat at least annually.

Marfa, Texas

26 Nov

Marfa is a peculiar place. If I were just passing through, I doubt I would be inclined to stop. Marfa doesn’t stand out among the numerous other small west Texas towns, yet has a quiet and artistic culture all its own.

El Cosmico Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

I have been wanting to take a trip to Marfa, Texas for a short while now. When I heard there was talk of tearing down Prada Marfa, I set planning in motion. Taking the six-hour roadtrip from Austin didn’t seem too long, considering the airport nearest to Marfa is three hours down the road.

El Cosmico Teepee Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Anthony was on board with the trip as soon as he found out we could stay in a teepee at El Cosmico and bring Nola, our dog. We might have made a different decision had the weatherman predicted that it would be a blistering twenty-five degrees while we were there… Thankfully, the queen-sized bed in the teepee was outfitted with mattress warmers, so we stayed toasty, as long as we stayed in bed.

El Cosmico Teepee Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Our first stop in town was Pizza Foundation, and it was the best food we ate all weekend.  Businesses in Marfa have weird and limited hours. Pizza Foundation, for example, is only open Thursday through Sunday. Other places are open only for lunch, or are open for dinner, but close at 7pm. And then, there is the Latenight Grilled Cheese Parlour in the Museum of Electric Wonders where you can get a gourmet grilled cheese only from 9:30pm until 12:30 or 1:30am. In many other cases, it was indistinguishable whether a business was closed for the day, or closed for good.

Pizza Foundation Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

After driving the wrong way and then course-correcting, we found out the the infamous Prada Marfa is not in Marfa at all. Rather, it is in Valentine, Texas, about 30 miles down highway 90. Prada Marfa is as odd and charming as it looks in all the pictures.  On the way back to Marfa, expect to get stopped by U.S. Border Patrol.

Prada, Marfa www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Anthony and I grabbed a drink at Jett’s Grill in El Paisano Hotel, where James Dean, Rock Hudson, Carol Baker, and Elizabeth Taylor stayed while filming Giant. The hotel opened  in 1930 in anticipation of an oil boom that never happened. In its glory days, El Paisano was called one of the grandest hotels between El Paso and San Antonio.

El Paisano Hotel Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Artist Donald Judd, whose work can be seen in modern art museums across the nation, including the MoMA, the Fort Worth Modern, and the Blanton in Austin, moved to Marfa from New York City in the 1970s. His work remains a large part of Marfa’s history and culture. Anthony and I visited Judd’s Chinati Foundation, built on the old military Fort D.A. Russell.

Donald Judd Chinati Foundation Marfa Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

We tried to visit the The Wrong Store, and even called the number on the hand-scribbled note they placed on their door saying, “We are here, call xxx-xxx-xxxx.” No answer, but gawking at the hand-carved door and peeking through the windows still put me in a state of wonder.

The Wrong Store Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Before leaving Marfa, we stopped at Boyz 2 Men for some mediocre $4 breakfast tacos, which would never fly in Austin, and at Frama, for hot chocolate. I loved Frama’s Scrabble letters menu.

Frama Coffee Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Unfortunately, we did not even attempt to see the Marfa Lights. Visibility was terrible with the bone-chilling weather.

Frozen Cacti Marfa, Texas www.gustoandgraceblog.com

Marfa was a a pleasant change of pace from not only my normal city life, but also from the pace of a typical getaway.

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 

A Scoop of My Favorite Ice Creameries and a Chocolate Hazelnut Recipe

13 Jun

I would eat ice cream in the snow. That is how much I love the milky, melty dessert.  I don’t discriminate between gelato, custard, or frozen yogurt either.

Walking through Anthropologie last week, I found these ceramic ice cream cones. I had to pick up a couple since I have been drooling over the Virginia Sin version, which cost three times as much, since I saw them. Then of course, I had to break out my ice cream maker and create something that would give my new dishes a purpose.

Gusto and Grace: Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream

Since I have not made much ice cream, I searched for recipes from the best ice cream makers I know: Jeni’s and lick. My favorite local place for lunch, Royal Blue, introduced me to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in the form of a macaron ice cream sandwich. I was bewitched.  Anthony and I went to lick by accident when exploring Austin. If you find yourself in the Capital of Texas, GO! They had me swooning at salted caramel and melting over their Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey variety.

I could not find anywhere lick had given away their secrets, but I did find a recipe for Jeni’s Ice Cream Base. I used that, and flavored it chocolate hazelnut.

Gusto and Grace Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream
(makes about 1 quart)

2 cups milk
4 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (I used pralinutta since my crazy husband doesn’t like nutella)

In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup milk and the cornstarch; set aside. In a saucepan (3-qts was plenty big), whisk together the remaining milk, 1 1/4 cups cream, sugar, corn syrup, and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 4 minutes; stir in milk-cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Place cream cheese in a bowl and pour in 1/4 cup hot milk mixture; whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the remaining milk mixture. In a small bowl (in the microwave) or in a small saucepan (on the stove), melt the chocolate hazelnut spread and mix with the remaining cream. Mix the milk base and the chocolate sauce together. Pour the mixture into a large plastic bag; seal, and submerge in a bowl of ice water until chilled. (You can also refrigerate it in the container of your choice, however using a bag in and ice bath is the fastest cooling method). Once cool, pour into an ice cream maker and mix per the manufacturer’s instructions. I had it in my KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment for about 20 minutes. Transfer the soft ice cream to a storage container and freeze until set. I let mine firm up overnight. Scoop. Lick. Repeat.

Maybe once I perfect Jeni’s base, I’ll swap the cream cheese for some goat cheese. And maybe Anthony and I can take a short roadtrip to Blue Bell. #icecreamdreams

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.

DIY Dip-Dyed Ombre Mittens

16 Nov

Tomorrow, the fiance and I are taking our first plane ride together: a direct flight to New York City. We will be visiting my sister and her husband for Thanksgiving. Since Texas winters are mild, I feel like Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, and I will relate. She said “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” and I will probably be thinking “Oh boy, we’re not in Texas anymore.”

For the wintry weather, I wanted cute mittens, not gloves. This seemed like a tall order on short notice. After unsuccessful searching for something cute, I decided to “make” my own. No, I did not knit a ball of yarn into mittens, and no, I did not cut up an old sweater and sew. I store-bought some plain, chunky mittens and dip-dyed them. It was so easy I felt as if I had cheated Etsy or something.

DIY Dip-Dyed Mittens

To make your own you need:

  • Light colored cotton mittens
  • A bottle/box of Rit dye in the color of your choice
  • Clothespins
  • A dowel
  • A large pot (or sink)
  • Hot water

First, use clothespins (or binder clips, or string, or rubber bands) to attach the open end of your mittens to a dowel (or stick or broom). This is to ensure that only a few inches of your mittens are in submerged in the dye. It also keeps you from having to hold your mittens in the dye bath for an hour.

The instructions on Rit dye are pretty fool-proof, so follow those if you’d like. It is as simple as mixing the dye in hot water (by heating some in a large pot on the stove top, or filling your sink with hot tap water). Next, set the mitten laden dowel across the pot (or sink). Re-position the mittens if necessary so that two to three inches of your mittens are in the colored water.

Walk away. Come back an hour or so later. The dye will have wicked up another inch or two of the mittens, giving them an ombre effect.

Remove the mittens from the dye. Keeping them on the dowel, let the mittens hang dry. Expect this to take a day. The first few times you wash your mittens, wash them alone so any excess dye that runs will not ruin other clothing. With less than a week until take off, I did not have time to hunt for cotton mittens. Mine are 100% acrylic, which Rit claims will not absorb the dye. My mittens seemed to take the dye just fine, but we’ll see after the trip (and the first wash) if I end up with purple hands and cream-colored mittens.

I would love to see some yellow mittens with green dip-dyed tips.

I can hardly wait to wrap my mitten warmed hands around a cup of hot chocolate from City Bakery and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

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.

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