Buttonwood Flowering Blossoms

Buttonwood Cherry Blossoms

Flowering trees, such as the beautiful almond tree above, are one of the best examples of feng shui plant life.  Not only do most of these trees sprout delicious nuts or fruit, but their blossoms give off an alluring scent that carries on the air.   Flowering branches also have auspicious symbolism.  Because they usually bloom in winter or early spring, these floral tendrils represent longevity and  overcoming great burdens.  There are not many blossomy trees in my neighborhood, so I usually resort to the Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion from Bath and Body Works (the smell is to die for).  However, on a recent trip to Solvang, a generous collection of these beneficial plants reside at Buttonwood Farm.

Buttonwood Back View

Originally an equestrian ranch established by philanthropist Betty Williams, the property now boasts a vast vineyard, tasting room, and organic farm.  Pictured above is is the back entrance to the tasting room, which leads out to their intricate and beautiful gardens.

Buttonwood 02

The tasting room is stylish and very serviceable.  Two tasting bars reside on either side of the space, allowing for easy flow of patrons.   I love the living chandelier of leaves – a highly conducive and artistic example of the wood element.

Buttonwood Duck

Buttonwood also has many farm-fresh products for sale, including olive oils, preserves, salsas – and my personal favorite – the Raspberry Grenache-Syrah Chocolate sauce.  Decadent and loaded with antioxidants, this sauce is ideal for desserts or a chocolate martini.

Buttonwood 01

Wine barrels are used as support for an elegant table in the middle of the room.  I love barrel furniture, and it’s a green and economical way of reusing these vessels.  Powerful and striking images painted by Seyburn Zorthian grace the walls.  Much of Seyburn’s art is highly influenced by her study of Shoudo, the passionate brush stroke technique of Japanese and Chinese writing.  She also creates the artwork featured on Buttonwood’s wine labels.  For more information about her art, please visit her website here:  http://www.seyburnzorthian.com/artist.html

Buttonwood Fountain

I was captivated by this gorgeous fountain nestled in a private garden outside the tasting room.  Working fountains with clear, clean water add beneficial and peaceful chi (energy) to an environment.

Buttonwood Grounds 01

Daffodils were in full bloom when we visited.  Also known as narcissus or jonquils, these flowers have a myriad of symbolic meaning.  In feng shui folklore, the white ones represent the flowering of one’s talents and skills, and can be used in furthering one’s career. I also think they are great examples of spring; they remind me of hunting for Easter eggs as a kid.

Buttonwood Grounds 03

There were many different wines  l sampled.  My favorites were:

  • 2010 Devin – An irresistible  sauvignon blanc.  Influences of honey, lemon and apricot come through in a charismatic fashion.  Crisp and complex.
  • 2009 Marsanne – A decadent white.  Hints of honeycomb and marzipan contrast nicely with a crisp taste and rich body.  Flavorful and refreshing.  (Sold Out)
  • 2010 Cabernet Franc – Sage and raspberry take center stage with this enticing red.   Very easy to drink.  Silky and sophisticated.
  • 2009 Trevin – An intoxicating red blend composed mostly of Cab Franc.  Vanilla, rhubarb and dark berries were the notes highlighted on my palate.  Tasteful with a lingering finish.
  • 2010 POSH – One of the best ports I’ve had.  Dark cocoa and espresso make their presence known, with a holiday influence of cinnamon, orange and cherry.  (A bottle came home with me.)

Rhea and Victoria

I also got to meet fellow feng shui consultant, writer and interior designer Rhea Peake (pictured left here with my friend Victoria).  She has many years experience in creating sacred spaces and improving environments, as well as a plethora of other skills and talents.  In addition to her strong ties with Buttonwood, she is based in Santa Barbara, Hawaii  and Vancouver.  For more information, please visit her website here:  http://www.rheapeake.com

Buttonwood Grounds 02

Comfortable seating is placed purposefully around the gardens, encouraging guests to linger with some wine and a picnic lunch.  In addition to their tastings, Buttonwood also hosts many different events throughout the year, including a crawfish boil.  I also suggest checking their website for some  stellar recipes (I will be trying the olive oil cake recipe first) as well as their informative blog Buttonwords.  I am going to try to come up at least one more time before the seasons dramatically change, so I can sit under a flowering tree with a glass of Cab Franc and just immerse myself in the auspicious environment that is Buttonwood Farm.

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, CA 93463

805-688-3032

Hours:  Open Daily 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com

Buttonwood Front Entrance

The Ducks at the Old Mill

Mill Bridge 01

In feng shui folklore, one of the most beautiful icons of romance is the Mandarin Duck.  Known as the “Love Birds” in China and Japan, a pair of these feathered creatures together is a historic symbol of love and devotion  because they mate for life.  In certain schools of feng shui, these are commonly used to attract a desirable mate and promote marriage.   I think ducks are cute.  Unless a client has a general fondness of ducks or birds, it wouldn’t be my first suggestion to use Mandarin Ducks in an environment as decor.  However, do I want some for my home?  Yes!!  I’ve been keeping on eye on this beautiful fabric on Etsy.com with Mandarin ducks on a red background.

Mandarin Duck Fabric

Provided by the Etsy store Simply Fabric Oakland, this colorful print would be ideal for a set of throw pillows.   More information can be found by contacting the seller here:   https://www.etsy.com/listing/112921502/97-width-chinese-double-happiness?ref=shop_home_active_1

Mill Ducks 02

In August, I was in Boston for the wedding of my friends Diane and Josh.  Thanks to my friend Amy, a bridesmaid, I was able to attend the rehearsal dinner as her date.  Due to their romantic symbolism,  I found it brilliantly coincidental that the happy couple would pick a location highly influenced by ducks – and I don’t mean on the menu.  The Old Mill, located in Westminster, Massachusetts, is housed inside a historic mill with water all around.

Mill Duck Solo

The ducks here are very happy creatures.  The restaurant provides bread that guests may feed to them.  (The duck pictured above practically ate out of my hand.)  Now, while these aren’t specifically Mandarin ducks, the romantic symbolism can still be applied.

Mill Modern Section

Originally a sawmill in the late eighteenth century, the mill was a thriving part of the community for five generations, before falling into neglect about a hundred years later.   In 1921, it was revived into a summer tea house, operating until 1942 when war rationing of staples forced it to shut down.  In 1946, the Foster family took it over, making it a year-round restaurant and bakery.  They have continued to run it ever since.

One of things I love about the architecture of the site is the blending of old and new.  Throughout the environment, homage is paid to the historical aspects of the structure, yet making it very livable and modern.  In the photo to the left, one can see the new addition to the wing, and how it melds into the vintage timber of the building.

Mill Waterfall and Pond

Flowing water, thriving trees, sunshine, smooth rocks, all of these are prime examples of how the elements can come together in completely harmony.

Mill Pond 02

Another scenic view of the pond from the restaurant’s terrace.

Mill Seating

The inside environment was nostalgic and quaint.  Tables seating four to six were neatly arranged in the dining areas.   Earth was the main element present in each room; brown being the dominant color and altered wood the primary material.  Because the wood used here is dead (no longer a living plant), it’s now an earth element.

Please Watch Your Hat

This amusing sign made me laugh because I was wearing a hat at the time.  All sorts of vintage memorabilia adorn the walls, conjuring feelings of warmth and comfort.

Mill Buffet

Due to the special nature of the event, our dinner was served buffet style.  Some of my favorite items were:

  • Corn Fritters with a Maple Syrup Glaze – Scrumptious.  I think I had seven…
  • Baked Haddock Casserole with Seafood Stuffing –  Rich and filling.  A seafood lovers dream.
  • Roast Prime Rib – Tender pieces of beef.  Tantalizing and tasty.
  • Caesar Salad – A classic done right.  It accompanied the prime rib perfectly.

Mill Chocolate Martini

Our Server, whose name I sadly cannot recall, was incredible.   In addition to making sure everyone’s needs were met, she was also our bartender.  She made me, without a doubt in my mind, the best chocolate martini I’ve ever had.  Just the right amount of sweetness, and the glass lined with chocolate syrup.  Flawless and sublime.  I was a happy man.

Mill Strawberry Shortcake

Each guest was given their own strawberry shortcake parfait, completely with whip cream on top.  Refreshing and ideal for the summer weather.

Mill Fireplace

A majestic brick fireplace demanded attention in the center of the room.  The candles atop were arranged by the groom’s mother and grandmother.  The candles add beneficial fire energy to the celebration.

Mill Ducks 01

After the rich and decadent meal, many of the guests made their way outside to feed the ducks.

Mill Bridge 02

In addition to the main restaurant, The Old Mill also offers The Cracker Barrel Lounge, complete with a full bar and its own menu (although the restaurant menu can be ordered here as well).  The beneficial energy of the Old Mill, due to the very happy ducks, the natural surroundings, and the historical beauty of the structure, provide an auspicious area for dining, be it for the whole family or a romantic occasion.  I will definitely be returning here on my next visit to Massachusetts, for the food, the drinks, and to feed the adorable ducks.

The 1761 Old Mill

69 State Road East, Westminster, MA 04173

978-874-0914

Hours:  Tuesday– Thursday 11:30 am – 9:15 pm,  Friday – Saturday 11:30 am – 9:45 pm,  Sunday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm,  Lounge Hours:  Tuesday – Thursday 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Friday 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Saturday 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Note:  Closed Mondays

http://www.1761oldmill.com/index.html

Mill Pond 01

Top of the Mark Holiday Drinks

Hopkins Hotel Lobby

After attending the unveiling of the Gingerbread House at The Fairmont, I visited the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.  My best friend Wendy and I were advised by friends to stop by their penthouse restaurant aptly named Top of the Mark.

Candy Mansion 01

Located directly across the street from the Fairmont in Nob Hill, The Mark Hopkins hotel is named for one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad.  In 1875, Mr. Hopkins built his wife Mary her dream house: a lofty Victorian mansion complete with turrets, gingerbread trim, and a built-in pipe organ.  Created by visual merchandising students from The Academy of Art San Francisco, is a quarter-scale model of the famed mansion completely made out of candy.

Candy Mansion 02

Sadly, Mark Hopkins would never see the elaborate abode.   He passed away shortly before the home was completed in 1878.  His widow, Mary, moved into the  forty room mansion residing there for three years, then relocating to Massachusetts.  She developed a close relationship with her mansion’s interior decorator, Edward Searles.   The two were married in 1887.  This created a scandal of the era as Edward was much younger than Mary – twenty years younger.  After Mary’s passing in 1891, Edward donated the Hopkins Mansion to the San Francisco Art Association.

Candy Mansion 04

The Hopkins Mansion had a grand, but brief life.  In 1893, it became the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, its vast rooms now being used as galleries, classrooms and studios.  It stayed a creative conservatory until 1906, when it’s demise came about in a fire resulting from the infamous earthquake of that same year.  Less than a year later, a temporary structure was erected in its place by the Art Association.  It was also discovered that an enormous water reservoir was directly underneath the house.

Candy Mansion 03

In 1910, hotel investor and engineer George D. Smith purchased the land.  He tore down the temporary structure and begin creating a luxury hotel, The Mark Hopkins, which was completed in 1926.  In 1939, Mr. Smith decided to convert the eleven-room penthouse in a skyline lounge called Top of the Mark.   Situated on the 19th floor, the restaurant boasts spectacular views of the city and amazing martinis.

Mark View 02

The view above is right outside the elevators on the 19th floor.

Mark View 03

This was the view right next to our table.   Just exactly how is The Mark Hopkins an example of good feng shui?  First off, we have the spectacular views from every window.  Peaceful landscapes are some of the best examples of feng shui art, and here we have aristocratic cityscapes as far as the eye can see, with hills in the distance.  Simply breathtaking.  Next there is the flow of architecture.  In cities with good macro feng shui, most of the buildings rise and diminish in size gradually, thus supporting a natural, calm flow of energy over and around the structures.  San Francisco does this for the most part.  While the Mark Hopkins does stand out from the crowd (pun intended), there are enough tall buildings situated close enough that the energy flow is beneficial and auspicious, not jarring and uncomfortable as in other highrises.

Top of the Mark Cocktails

Our table was near the half-moon bar on the far side of the lounge.  Of the extremely vast list of martinis offered, we chose to be festive and stick with their holiday options:  The Twelve Days of Christmas.   Wendy went with the Ten Lords a-Leaping, a mixture of cranberry juice, vanilla vodka, Chambord and fresh raspberries.  Sensational and sophisticated.  I opted for the Four Calling Birds.  Comprised of Beefeater Gin, creme de banana, and Galliano, this drink was heavy on another ingredient – grapefruit juice.  I’m not a fan of grapefruit, but I thought it worked in this libation.  Refreshing and tropical.  On a separate visit, my friend Amy tried their Nine Ladies Dancing, which she said was amazing.   These drinks are available through January 1st.

Mark View 01

For more information on Top of the Mark, and a complete list of hours and holiday events, please visit their virtual advent calendar here:  http://www.intercontinentalsanfrancisco.com.customers.tigertech.net/ICHotelsSF/TOTM/2013-HOLIDAYS/events.html

And to all of my readers out there, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful and highly auspicious New Year.  2014 holds some great things in store for all of us!

Kittens on Snowy Wall

Gingerbread at the Fairmont

Fairmont Entrance

Never before have I stepped inside a house comprised mostly of gingerbread – yes,  gingerbread.  Every year, the legendary Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco transforms its lobby into a holiday paradise.  This includes the annual construction of a grand Victorian manor of gingerbread, icing, and other materials (some edible, some not).  I had the fortune to visit the Fairmont for the Official Opening of the Gingerbread House on November 30th.

Gingerbread House

Standing twenty-two feet high and twenty-three feet long, the Mansard style home almost touches the lobby ceiling.  Feeling very much like Hansel from the famed Grimm’s tale, I walked through the doorway of the impressively festive abode.

Gingerbread House Tree

Through the front windows of the house, one can see a room in Santa’s Workshop, everything the right size for elves.  A small lighted tree illuminates the front, with a four-car train traveling the surrounding track.

Gingerbread House Second Story

The second floor of the home boasts a larger tree, elaborate lights, and a roof with a widow’s walk.  Is that Santa I see upon the chimney?

Gingerbread House Detail

I love the attention to detail the home was given.  Thick icing in shades of green, red and white frame the windows.  Unlike most gingerbread houses, there was a surplus of edible building materials for the guests at the event.  One could eat the cake, and have it too, so-to-speak.   I was able to sample some and it was sheer holiday perfection.  It went amazing well with the hot chocolate that was also being passed out.  Notice another view of the elfin workshop through the window.

Gingerbread House Back Entrance

The back entrance to the house opens onto the Fairmont’s Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar.  They are hosting a Gingerbread Tea Service on the weekends through December 15th, and then every day between December 16th through December 29th.  For more information regarding the Gingerbread Tea, please visit the Fairmont website:  http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Gingerbread House Nutcracker

A life-size tall Nutcracker has his own room in the tower of the home.  I estimate him to be about five feet tall.

Ice Nutcracker

A Nutcracker carved of ice was on display for the opening.   Beautiful and exquisite.

Nutcracker Collection

On loan from the San Francisco Ballet is the Molinari Family Nutcracker Collection, on display throughout the holidays.  Which nutcracker is your favorite?

In fact, there is even a friendly competition between The Fairmont and the Westin St. Francis, as to who has the better gingerbread creation.  I haven’t seen the other house, but it is much smaller in size and more castle-like.  As for feng shui purposes, The Fairmont’s Gingerbread House creates a full-fledged environment.  How, exactly, is this specific gingerbread house good feng shui?  Well, unlike most gingerbread constructions, one can actually walk through this one (they are typically much smaller).  The house is also structurally sound.  Following building codes, a wood frame acts as skeletal support, with the gingerbread and other materials then applied.  And then there is the smell.  The aroma of gingerbread fills the lobby’s environment.  This fosters a sense of festive holiday cheer.  And the closer one is to the house, the stronger the fragrance.

Fairmont Tree and Santa

The new addition this year to the house was the Gingerbread Doghouse.  Located over in the kid’s section of the event, I was unable to get a good photo of it due to the crowd.  This area was ideal for kids to make their own fanciful buildings and drop off letters to Santa Claus in his designated mailbox.  However, he was there in person if one’s Christmas List needed immediate attention.   A beautiful tree takes center stage in front of the main entrance.  Decorated in golds, silvers and cobalt, it harmonized perfectly with the gilded resplendence of the lobby.

Fairmont Mirror Bird

I loved the carvings on the mirrors and walls of the entry hall.  Above is a close-up of the birds attached to the golden mirrors that hang throughout.  Simply stunning.

Fairmont Reindeer

Topiary sculptures covered in lights adorn the roof the lobby’s front desk.  The Gingerbread House will be on display through January 1st.

The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco

950 Mason Street (Nob Hill), San Francisco, California 94108  

415 772 5000

http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/promotions/gingerbread-house/

Fairmont Carollers

The Fertile Color of Orange

Bouquet of Flowers in Paper Cone 02At the end of summer, I ventured to a beautiful place I hadn’t been to in a very long time – Massachusetts.  My friend Diane, whom I’ve known since college, was getting married.  A group of us made the voyage across the states for the event.  After a smooth flight, my fellow travelers and I were ravenous, so our lovely hosts and friends, Jen and Keith, took us to an impressive restaurant in Cambridge called Abigail’s.

Abigails Street View

Situated on the first floor of a stylish apartment building in Kendall Square, Abigail’s stands out due to the dynamic orange umbrellas that adorn the dining patio.

Abigails Signage

The restaurant boasts a full bar with a choice beer and wine selection, gourmet food offerings including many BBQ specialties, and a raw bar.  Their brunch menu also looks tantalizing.

Abigails Outside View

As the night was beautiful and tranquil, we chose to sit outside.  This was the view across the street from where I was sitting.  Notice the healthy, thriving trees – a prime example of the wood element.

Diane in Magenta 02

The vision in fuchsia above is the lovely Diane, whose wedding I attended later on in the week.

Dark and Stormy

Dark and Stormy – This is one of my favorite beverages.  Dark rum and ginger beer served over ice, with a lime wedge as garnish.    A simple classic, but Abigail’s does it very well; I ordered two.  The Moscow Mule is similar, except that it uses vodka instead of dark rum.  Sweet and refreshing.

Abigails Seaweed Salad

Seaweed Salad – A selection off of their Raw Bar menu, I had to try it.  Unlike most seaweed salads, this rendition had pieces of edamame mixed throughout.  Light and invigorating.

Abigails Burger and Fries

Fresh Ground Burger and Gouda Fries – American cheese melted onto a ground beef burger, with grilled onions, pickles, and iceberg lettuce on a delicious potato bun.  Their special sauce  is served alongside, similar to a savory aoili.  Satisfying and filling.  For $3.00 more, one can swap standard fries for Gouda Fries.  Small pieces of bacon swim throughout a river of chicken gravy that cover thick-cut fries.   Decadent and addictive.

Abigails Bar

Another item on the menu that caught my eye was a side dish called Summer Chi.  In feng shui, we refer to positive energy as chi.  Summer chi = summer energy.  It turns out the chi dish is a medley of seasonal summer vegetables, which I found intriguing.  (No one at the table ordered it, hence there is no photograph of said chi.)  Industrial Light Fixture

Inside, a long bar extends nearly the whole length of the establishment.  Cool bucket lights hang over the bar, while very industrial sconces take residence in front of the windows.  I really like the metal energy the window fixtures encompass.  Somewhat like a cage housing a rare light source.  I’ve love to have two or three of these lining the balcony of my home in Los Angeles.

Abigails Art

I was fascinated by this enigmatic art piece, which hangs near the main entrance.  I love how the grays, blacks and yellows all mix together in a beneficial way.  Earth, metal, and water elements harmonize here in thought-provoking fashion – an ideal example of good feng shui art in a highly modern style.

Abigail Interior Seating

Shades of yellow and gray, with a little black here and there, are the main colors used throughout.

Frilly Victorian Parasol Orange

In feng shui, the color orange is a dynamic, cheerful shade symbolic of the west.  There is debate as to whether it is representative of the fire element or the earth element.  I would actually say it works for both.  The hue is representative of creativity, fertility, organization, and social interactions.  The color orange can be used in a variety of positive ways:

  • Add some orange pillows or an orange throw to a living room sofa.  This will foster a more social, creative energy in the space.
  • Use as a paint color for kitchens, dining rooms, and children’s play areas.   The color used in these rooms creates a warm, social atmosphere with good conversation.
  • If one is trying to have a baby, add more orange to the bedroom.  The walls can be a painted orange, but it should be an earthy or muted orange, or change some of the curtains or bedding to an orange shade.
  • When used in small doses, orange is excellent for offices as it increases productivity and helps to establish an organized environment.
  • To stimulate creativity, wear the color orange in any shade you desire.  It should be an item you like that is comfortable and stylish.  (I have a rust color cardigan that suits me perfectly.)
  • Eat oranges!  They stimulate one’s immune system with vitamin C and other healthy nutrients.

Personally, I consume a lot of oranges in the form of orange juice.  (I can’t seem to get enough of it.)  My next trip to the Boston area will  hopefully be sometime next spring or summer.  But one thing is definitely certain – I will be visiting Abigail’s again where I plan on eating some oysters underneath one of those vibrant orange umbrellas.

Abigails Umbrellas

Abigail’s Restaurant

291 3rd Street, Cambridge, MA 02140

617-945-9086

Hours:  Monday – Friday 11:30 am – 1:00 am,  Saturday 5:00 pm – 1:00 am,  Sunday 11:00 am – 1:00 am

Note:  Closed for lunch on Saturdays.

http://abigailsrestaurant.net/