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

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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/

Bacon and Bubbly

Curtained Window

I love visual art.  Growing up, I would attend museums whenever possible, and pour through coffee table books of famous paintings.  Good visual art – whether one likes it or not – makes one think and feel.  A couple of years ago, while conducting some online research, I stumbled upon a recreation of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night – completely made out of bacon.   This version of Van Gogh’s masterpiece combined two things I love – fine visual art and pork.

Starry Night ComboAs one can see from the photo above, the likeness between the bacon matches the original pretty well.   A step-by-step process on how to fashion the Bacon Starry Night can be found here:  http://www.instructables.com/id/Van-Gogh-for-Breakfast/  Another amazing bacon pairing I recently attended was Bacon and Bubbly, a monthly event held at WineExpo, a boutique wine and spirits store in Santa Monica.  This event pairs five gourmet bacons with five scrumptious champagnes.

Expo Interior 01

Completely concealed from the street, a large tasting room is located in the store.  A rotating collection of elegant art adorns the walls.

Rooster Plate

Once seated, my party and I were treated to a little rose to cleanse the palette, and then we started off with our first champagne.  Unique and eclectic tableware is used throughout.  I  really want to get a set of those rooster plates.

Bacon Platter

And then the bacon arrived.  Five different selections, with bread, crackers, peanuts and olives completed the offering.  I really like that they serve all the bacon to you at once, because it let’s one taste each kind of bacon with each champagne at their own pace.  Now, I do believe these change per month, but here are the ones we sampled:

  • For the Love of Hog!  Apple Cinnamon Bacon – Subtle hints of apple .  Sublime.
  • Bourbon Street Vanilla Bourbon Bacon – My favorite of the group.  This was the perfect yin and yang combination of savory and sweet.  Highly delectable – I could eat this every day.
  • Rocco’s Private Reserve Sun Dried Tomato Bacon – My second favorite.  I would add this to spaghetti or carbonara pasta.  The tomato influences highly dominate.  Rich and sun-kissed.
  • Big Daddy’s Cracked Pepper Garlic Bacon – Ideal for breakfast, this is a bacon classic.  This would be great on BLT’s.  Robust and tasty.
  • Coastal Calliente Chipotle Bacon – This was served to us as a country-cut, which is a much thicker piece of bacon.  Spicy and sultry.  I loved it.

Curtained Table

And then there were the five champagnes, all of which were delicious.  My two favorites were:

  • Arunda Metodo Classico Extra Brut Riserva, Alto Adige Italy – This beguiling bubbly beverage uses grapes harvested in the Alps.  Sweet, lush, and addictive.
  • Gardet Selected Reserve a Chigny-les-Roses – One of two rose sparkling champagnes we tried this had the perfect amount of sweetness.  I love that pinot noir and chardonnay are the two main components,, creating a flavorful luxuriousness to the drink.

Expo Crostini

Crostini – As assortment of various crostini can be ordered on their select menu, in addition to selection offerings from Pizzas of Venice.

Bacon Brownie 02

Bacon Brownie – This tantalizing morsel was our dessert for the tasting,  Available from Bacon Freak, it’s a divine treasure and currently, they’re on sale for $1.00 each right here:  http://www.baconfreak.com/bacon-brownies.html

Expo Interior 02

It wasn’t just the champagne and bacon that allured me to WineExpo, but also the art on the walls.  In feng shui, art is vital in creating a peaceful and rejuvenating environment.  There is good, beneficial art for the home, and there are paintings and art that are not good for the home.  All the art here is displayed in a museum-like setting, and the current display is highly auspicious.  One good example is pictured above.  A peaceful landscape is brilliant for nearly any room in a home.  Here are some other tips when looking for ideal feng shui art:

  • You Need to Love It – Art is subjective, and if there is a piece of art displayed in your home that you despise and loathe, I suggest removing it, or relocating it to a place where it will not be seen often.   Art for the home has different meanings, depending on the room and environment.  But regardless, if one doesn’t like the art hanging, it will only attractive sha (negative energy) to the area.
  • Landscapes –  As I said before, beautiful landscapes are brilliant for attracting chi (good energy) to a home.  Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, and John Singer Sargent are a few of many brilliant landscape artists.
  • No War or Shipwrecks –  Images portraying war, hunting, or sinking ships are generally not auspicious for most rooms in a house.
  • Severed Limbs are Bad – The same goes with paintings of dead bodies or severed limbs.   This is especially true for kitchens and dining rooms where food is prepared.  This type of art can literally ruin a person’s appetite, and dissuade people from using the space.  Even if it’s a Salvador Dali, if there are arms and legs just hanging about in the scene, the art doesn’t belong in a room where people eat or prepare food.
  • Romancing the Stone – For the bedroom, find art that is sensual in nature to you.  This will help to attract more romantic chi.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh – For children’s rooms, find art that is pastel in colors, and images that are calming and peaceful.  Winnie and his group are great examples.

Expo Art

What do you see?  In this painting from the tasting room, I see a woman in a ball gown about to shoot an arrow.  But there can be several different interpretations.

Expo Store 03

WineExpo has an enormous selection of choice wine, beer, and liquor.  I was fortunate to also attend their 20th Anniversary Celebration, where I sampled even more of their scintillating libations.  My favorite hands-down was the Tirle ’04 Rosso Tuscano, a heavenly Italian red.  A bottle of it came home with me.   (Notice that there is a small vineyard landscape on the label.)

Tirle 2004

The staff here is absolutely excellent, Alicia, Nick, and Roberto were all friendly, humorous and highly educated about wine and spirits.  Speaking of education, they also offer wine classes among the many great events at WineExpo.  Others include their 20 Wines for $20 Nights, where one may sample twenty wines for the unbelievable price of $20.00.  These occur on Mondays and Thursdays.  The other five days of the week they have their Happy Hour, from 5:00 – 7:00, which glasses of wine are 50% off.  And on Tuesdays, for beer lovers, they have their 15 Beers for $15 Night.  Bacon and Bubbly has become an incredible hit, and is now a monthly happening!  Live music performances, gourmet food trucks, and other exciting ventures color their social scene.  More information about future events can be found here:  http://wineexpo.com/events/  Their website is updated often, and contains a wealth of wine knowledge.  A small lot provides ample parking.

My next visit will be during the month of October, when I will be attending the next Bacon and Bubbly.  I wonder if such a thing as pumpkin bacon exists?  Hmmmm….

Expo Shelves

WineExpo

2933 Santa Monica Blvd Santa Monica, Ca 90404

310-828-4428

Wine Store Hours:  Monday – Wednesday 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, Thursday – Saturday 10:00 am – Midnight, Sunday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Tasting Room Hours:  Sunday – Wednesday 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Thursday – Saturday 5:00 pm – Midnight

http://wineexpo.com/