Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Tree Adorned with Lighted Candles

Since I was a child, one of my favorite holiday activities has been to decorate the Christmas Tree.  The days leading up to Christmas, I would take my sleeping bag and curl up in front of its protective branches, completely mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny ornaments until I drifted off to sleep.  As an adult, I don’t really do this so much, but the aesthetic beauty of Christmas Trees continues to enchant me.   For centuries, people have decorated their homes with healthy branches that remained green throughout winter.  To celebrate the Winter Solstice, the pagans in early Europe would decorate  their homes with boughs of fir, spruce and pine.  Druid priests in Celtic England would decorate their houses and temples with evergreen as a symbol of eternal life.  (Only branches were used, though, and never the whole tree, as that would have been too destructive for their tastes.)  The citizens of ancient Egypt would fill their homes with palm fronds to commemorate resurrection and rebirth.  But it was the Greeks and Romans who thought to decorate these branches, adorning them with bits of metal and religious icons.

Victorian Christmas Tree and NativityThe Germans were the ones responsible for bringing the whole tree inside the house, using fruit and candles as the main decorations.  There were many objections to the use of the Christmas Tree as part of the holiday celebration.  Many religious leaders and pious followers felt the symbol of the tree was far too pagan and unholy to use in Christian-based religions.  Despite these objections, Queen Victoria and her husband, German born Prince Albert, loved Christmas Trees.  They began to gain popularity, and by the late Victorian Era, they could be seen everywhere.  The Europeans preferred their trees to be three to four feet tall, whereas Americas liked theirs to reach floor to ceiling.

From a feng shui standpoint, there are many reasons why people are attracted to the beauty of The Christmas Tree.  For one, all five of the elements are represented.  Wood is represented by the tree itself.  Fire is symbolized by the glowing lights.  Metal and earth comprise most of the ornaments.  As for water, if one’s tree is living, then there is usually a water source at the base.  However, if the three is faux, then shades of blue can be symbolic of the water element.  Indeed, the use of color can work for all the elements here.   Another alluring aspect of the tree is the shape.  In feng shui, triangles are representative of fire, which humans are drawn to.  Most Christmas trees are triangle in shape.  The lights are also another fire aspect of the tree that beguile the beholder.  Not to mention the various kind of ornaments that adorn the branches – of which there is there is an endless variety.

Peacock Tree 08

Above are some photos of my Christmas Tree this year.  I went with a Victorian Peacock theme (I like peacocks).  One thing I use in decorating my Christmas Tree every year is fruit.   I have a collection of faux red apple ornaments (not pictured), as well as faux pears (which can be seen on the tree).  Faux fruit works far better than the real thing, as they tend to be heavy on the branches, and can become rotten, causing all kinds of issues.  Other examples of faux fruit I’ve seen have been glass strawberries, wax fruit and berries of all kinds, and red beads (these look like cranberries from a distance)  But if you want something edible on the tree, the fastest and easiest thing to add would be candy canes.  I do advise keeping them in their wrapping, however, to keep them fresh.  And then, there are some trees that are completely edible in of themselves.

Christmas Tree Crudite

Chef, author and spokesperson Jeanne Benedict created this amazing Christmas Tree Crudite  for LIVE with Regis and Kelly in 2009.  In addition to all of the colorful, edible vegetables, the base is made out of two cabbages.  The complete directions on how to make this stunning tree are located here:  http://www.jeannebenedict.com/recipes/christmas-tree-crudite/

Christmas Tree Rolls

Taste of Home has a tantalizing tree made from cinnamon buns.  I would play with colored frosting and tinted sugars to enhance the display.   Direction available here:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Christmas-Tree-Rolls

Christmas Tree Cake BC

Betty Crocker, than name we know and love, has several Christmas Tree inspired treats.  My favorite is the Christmas Tree Cake.  Although I would tint the batter green.  The complete recipe and cutting instructions are located here:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/christmas-tree-cake/6a22dadd-3b92-40b5-a5a9-df209ff3ef68

Lemon Basil Tree

Ms. Crocker also has a delicious looking Lemon Basil Tree I want to experiment with.  Although I’d add a couple of black olives and diced tomatoes for color.   Here’s the recipe:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/lemon-basil-tree/5fe297f9-df00-432e-8079-e7a8f1fc8a31

Cookie Jigsaw

Delish.com and Good Housekeeping have revived a mid-century favorite:  The Cookie Jigsaw.   Originally published in the December 1965 edition of Good Housekeeping, this nouveau take on the classic sugar cookie has each cookie as a puzzle piece for the celebratory Christmas Tree and a starry night sky.   I’d like to try this recipe for Easter as well, perhaps with the image of a giant Easter Egg.  The complete recipe is here:  http://www.delish.com/recipefinder/cookie-jigsaw-1658

As for the location of the Christmas Tree in the home, there are many options.  Each ideal location for the tree is different with each environment.  The main tree should be put in the living room or parlor, or a large room where the home’s loved ones and guests can congregate easily.   Unless you’re on a higher floor, avoid putting the tree directly in front of a window, as this can sometimes lure thieves to break into the home.  The best areas for the tree are the East, Southeast and South.  East is the area of each room that symbolizes family.  The associated element here is wood, and its associated color green, making it perfect for any plant, especially the Christmas Tree.  Southeast, being the area of prosperity and abundance, and south, being the area of fame, are also good options.  However, the southwest could also work, being the area symbolic of love, if your tree happens to be predominantly red, pink, or white.  As for choosing real or faux trees, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Real trees offer a stronger wood element to the environment, and give off a purely festive aroma of nature.  The water element is also present here to sustain the tree.  Faux options, however, last much longer than real trees, and some have bendable branches, creating a perfect display for ornaments.  I inherited my family’s old Christmas Tree years ago, which was originally bought back in 1992, and it still looks just as good as when it was first purchased.   I also advise that one keeps a close eye on their pets (and the occasional willful child).  Sometimes the branches and ornaments prove too much of a temptation to play with.

I realize that these recipes and tips are far too late in the season to be currently applied, but every morsel of information can be put towards next years Christmas celebration.  It was my goal to get this article finished weeks ago (and not on Christmas Day), but I got distracted by many a holiday party.  I would like to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Festive and Joyous New Year!

New Year's Cherub in Lily Pond

My Ninja, My Love…

Red Lego Ninja

My friend Kristin, a successful actress and model,  moved to France.  As models are sometimes apt to do, she moved to Paris for work, leaving me the sole custody of her Ninja.  No, it’s not a cat, dog, or turtle – but a blender.   I’ve had torn relationships with blenders in the past.  They always make promises to accomplish goals, then barely put in any effort to get them done.   Sometimes they refuse to do anything at all, and just sit there glaring at me as they repose on the formica.  The current blender I have has been exiled to the pantry – after it protested to blend ice for margaritas.   But then Kristin introduced me to the Ninja.  And other friends of mine had mentioned the Ninja as well; how it creates these dream-like smoothies and fantastic sauces.  Was this indeed an appliance I could count on?  So Kristin left the country and I got the blender.

The model I have is the Ninja Pulse.  Pictured above, it comes with everything displayed, as well as a cookbook and instruction manual.  I felt immediately at ease with this appliance.  And then the experiments began.  Pasta sauces, smoothies, and soups are the main things I use it for; although it can also be used as a coffee bean grinder and mixer.  I also use it to dice onions and other vegetables into smaller morsels.  The key here is not to blend it too much, or it becomes more liquified than desired.  However, because of a very happy accident, I created an amazing sandwich spread:  pureed onion.  I was attempting to dice two white onions, and I blended it a little too heavily.   I decided to make the most of my mistake, added a little water, and processed it some more.  A smooth, low-calorie spread was born!  Not only is it good on sandwiches, it can also be used at a thickener for soups and sauces, and as a topping for potatoes.  One could add spices or Parmesan cheese to it as well, but I kept mine pure and basic.  Take a look at the finished product below.

Another recipe I invented was Creamy Curry Soup.  I took two broccoli stalks (sans the florets) and half a white onion.  I pureed both together until it was a nice thick paste.  Then, I heated up a can of cream of chicken soup.  Added to this was my broccoli paste, fresh spinach leaves, two sliced avocados, a myriad of spices, and yellow curry powder.  I like it spicy, so I added a lot of yellow curry, as well as cumin, chili powder, and dried cilantro.  Phenomenal was the word that sprang to mind as I savored the first taste of this creation.  This could also be made vegetarian easily, just substitute cream of mushroom or cream of celery for the soup.  Or one could go the other direction and add chicken breast to the brew.  I had mine with some fresh bread, but it would be equally good served over rice.

One smoothie recipe I love involves a banana, about a cup of frozen strawberries, six or so ice cubes, and cranberry juice.  Pulsed until liquid form, this can either be consumed right away as a beverage, or put in the freezer as a chilled dessert.  I haven’t done so yet, but it would be amazing with vodka or tequila added to it as well.  The finished product is pictured above.

How, exactly, this is blender feng shui?  Well, it falls into many categories.  For one, is a multifaceted kitchen machine, so it can perform a variety of tasks.  It also takes up very little space in the kitchen, thus avoiding clutter.  Also, the more healthy and taste-filled food and beverages are, the more abundant and auspicious they become.  It also makes eating healthy a lot easier.  If I’m not in the mood to eat more nutritious  items, I just chop and puree them down, and then add them to things.  My vegetable intake has tripled since the Ninja came to live with me.  Also, it adds a beneficial metal element to the kitchen, in both color and material.  However, most kitchens are usually brimming with metal energy due to the  other main fixtures in the room, such as the stove, refrigerator, and sink.

Because it is such an incredible product, the Ninja Pulse can be a little pricey.  I have searched the web, and here are the best places to capture this ninja online:

I have many activities planned for The Ninja and myself.   I foresee a long and blissful array of cookie dough combinations, home-made mashed potatoes, shredded zucchini browns, and dark chocolate raspberry pudding.   My Ninja, you are truly a one-in-a-million appliance.

Black and the Number One

Colors and numbers play an intrinsic role in feng shui.  The number one, for instance, symbolizes water, the colors black and blue, and the north direction.  This number is also the name of a great place I like to grab a drink called Bar One.  Located in North Hollywood, this 1970s-esque establishment disburses a fine selection of beer and wine.   In the type of feng shui that I practice, the direction and manner in which a building faces is very important to how prosperous a structure can be.  The unassuming facade of Bar One happens to face north.  The direction of north and the number one are directly connected.  Also, notice the stonework and single potted tree near the entrance.  The rock siding adds a beneficial earth and metal element to the walls, while the solitary tree (another example of the number one) brings a lively wood element to the front.

Inside the bar, the vintage swankiness continues.  Black and red brocaded walls permeate the environment, while large mirrors help to create the feeling of vastness in the moderate-sized space.   Sumptuous lighting throughout cast a fiery glow over the patrons before the warmth of alcohol seeps into their veins.

The hallway above leads to the restrooms (on the left) and the rear entrance to the small parking lot in back.  There is also plenty of street parking on Whitsett and Burbank boulevards.  And they now serve food!!  The new bar menu at Bar One is created and prepared at a nearby offsite kitchen (soon to be  Steampunk Restaurant opening later this year).  The vittles are then delivered in classic styrofoam take-out containers (another 70’s  motif).   I had some amazing morsels the other night:

Belgian Fries – I have a deep fondness for potatoes in any form, and these exceeded my expectations.  I’m not sure exactly what makes them Belgian, but I do know they are the perfect food for alcohol absorption.  The portion size is ideal, and great for sharing (or not).  They also come with two of their three delicious dipping sauces.  The three to choose from are the HMO Aoili (my favorite), the Currywurst Sauce, or the Chipotle Ketchup.

Currywurst –  A Currywurst is a German street food, which consists of sausages cut into pieces and then cloaked thoroughly in a savory curry sauce.  I love that they use red curry, rather than the more common yellow and green varieties.  It adds a robust fire element to the spicy meal.  Of the three offered, I went with the asiago chicken and fennel sausage.  The blend of mild and more piquant flavors  were the perfect balance of taste.  Given the way it was prepared, and the zesty sauce, I would have to say this is a very yang food item.  A whole currywurst is available on their menu, but for Happy Hour they also offer a highly impressive option – a half order of the currywurst of your choice with fries for $4.00.  While this may be subject to change in the future, I think this is an excellent thing to keep around.

Sweet Potato Flatbread – Pureed sweet potato spreads itself all over as the sauce for this gratifying pizza creation.  Gouda, cheddar, pecans  and smoked bacon comprise the rest of the dish.   According to yin/yang theory, the sweet and savory ingredients here create a well-balanced meal, both in taste and ingredients used.  This was devoured quite quickly.

The other items I tried that are not pictured are:

  • Grenache – I cannot recall the name, but it was a very middle earth red, that was neither too heavy,  nor too spicy.  I absolutely loved it!
  • Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet – A bold cab that makes a statement.  Robust and sophisticated.
  • Sliders – Of the three options, I tried the beef ones.  Onions, pepperjack cheese, and mushrooms are the supporting cast to the cooked-to-perfection burgers.  Two medium-sized sliders come to an order.  Rich and refined.
  • Sangria – A very strong red sangria, served in a pint glass over ice.   Only $4.00 on Happy Hour, this bold libation is the epitome of a summer drink.

As for the best times to visit, I suggest going between 6:00 – 8:00pm.  After 10:00, it can get a little loud and crowded – and one can take advantage of Happy Hour!   For those of you who drink beer (I do not), they have a weekly event every Monday called Mystery Beer Night.  For $3.00, you can have a beer of the bar’s choice all night long.   According to friends of mine, it’s always something good quality, but you’ll just have to be surprised as to what it is.  For a casually auspicious good time, I suggest dropping into Bar One, the premier place to grab a currywurst.

Bar One Beer and Wine Parlour

12518 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91607

818 509-1938

Hours:  Happy Hour:  Daily from 6:00 – 9:00,  Bar:  Monday – Saturday 6:00 – 2:00,  Sunday 6:00 – 1:00.

Update:  Sad News!  The food menu is no longer being served at Bar One.  If one is hungry, they can walk down a couple of doors to Steampunk and order food, but only before 8:00 pm, as that is Steampunk’s closing time.

 

The Power of Pumpkin

I made the most amazing dish in my kitchen the other night – Pumpkin Pasta. I love anything pumpkin, and eat it not just in autumn months, but all year long. In feng shui folklore, the pumpkin has a very unique and rich history. A symbol of prosperity and wealth, the pumpkin was favored by the housewives of ancient China. They believed that this golden fruit would bring luck and abundance to all those that lived in the home, especially when placed in the Southeast area of a room or dwelling.

In modern times, the pumpkin is a universal symbol for Thanksgiving and All Hallows Eve. But the pumpkin also has amazing health benefits as well. Loaded with fiber, vitamins A and C, magnesium, and potassium, this golden wonder fruit is also very low in calories. The seeds have all of these benefits as well, and possess essential fatty acids good for brain activity and healthy skin. The flesh of the pumpkin also contains L-tryptophan, a natural chemical that stimulates feelings of happiness and contentment – helping to rid one of depressive and negative feelings

Some feng shui practitioners will suggest using pumpkin boxes filled with certain items to attract wealth. Personally, I feel pumpkin shaped boxes are just pretty to look at, and useful for storage. They would make great additions to a kitchen or dining area to conceal spices, toothpicks, or other small items.

Gold Pumpkin Box

To make the Pumpkin Pasta Sauce, take equal parts pumpkin puree and tomato-based pasta sauce. The puree and sauce can both be made from scratch, if desired, but I usually get the canned pureed pumpkin from the supermarket (along with a store-bought pasta sauce).  But the final ingredient that I feel makes this a well-balanced dish is red wine. Depending on how much I’m making, I usually add half a cup of wine to the mix, or more if making a substantial amount of sauce. The yin of the pumpkin and tomato co-habitat well with the yang energy of the red wine.  Spice it up the way you like.  Some things I’ve added in the past are diced tomatoes, peas, minced garlic, garlic powder, sea salt, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pieces of chicken breast.  Experiment and have fun.Pumpkin Card Seed Packet

Drago Centro

In traditional feng shui folklore, the dragon is a powerful symbol of strength, success and immortality.  This creature is considered very yang in its energies, and is also a prime example of fertility.  Chinese dragons were not ferocious and cruel as portrayed by other cultures; these large flying beasts were considered benevolent and kind.  Many emperors would use the dragon as their own personal emblem.

When I think of dragons, I think of the large, modern sculpture outside of Drago Centro.  Bright orange in color, this stair-like construct adds a wonderful fire and metal element to its surroundings.  Granted, it doesn’t look literally like a dragon, but it has that feeling.

Drago Centro is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles.   Housed in the base of a highrise, Drago offers a bustling oasis amidst the rampant energies of downtown.  Upon entering, one can see some of their fine wine collection in a massive glass vault.  The restaurant is decorated in modern taste, with earth tones throughout.  They also use real slate and marble whenever possible in the decor.  The use of various earth element suggests to the diner that they are in for a very wholesome and grounding meal.

Rather than dine in their chic and stylish restaurant, I prefer the social interaction of the Lounge area.  The Lounge is dominated by a bar hued in greens and yellows (pictured above).  A marble-topped table extends the length of the space, with further seating outside.   There’s also has a special Lounge menu that changes periodically.  The food and beverages offered are choice and sophisticated.  Here’s what I had on my most recent visit:

Le Ostriche – Four mouthwatering oysters are presented on a white plate, served on a bed of salt.  I get these every time, and they are absolutely excellent.   The shell left over from the oyster is also another example of an earth element.  Seashells are not a water element, as you would think.  I could explain why, but it might ruin one’s appetite for the oysters, and everyone should try them.

La Pizza Margherita – A Classic!  Tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese create the perfect balance atop a flatbread.  Fresh basil, a must for any margherita, embellishes the creation, adding a savory wood element to the meal.   Basil can be considered a wood element for two primary reasons.  One, its green in color, and green is associated with wood.  Two, basil is a plant, as are trees.  Hence, the wood element is present.

El Diablo – This drink takes yin and yang theory to a new level.  One of the basics in many Chinese philosophies,  yin and yang theory deals with how opposites are dependent upon one another, and both must exist together to achieve perfect balance and harmony.   And within each side of these contrary forces dwells a part of its exact opposite.   For example, night is dark, but there is bright moon present for light.  Hence, darkness (yin) with a little piece of light (yang) within it at all times.

The yin of the lime juice and cassis liqueur, with the yang of the ginger beer and tequila in the El Diablo, create a good balance of ingredients.  Also, two ingredients are alcoholic and two are not , illustrating another example of symmetry.   It also has two ingredients that are no stranger to one another (limes and tequila) paired with two items that are usually not comrades (cassis and ginger beer).

The fire element is also present in the beverage, both in its name and color.  As for its taste – its sheer perfection.

Calamari –  Tendrils of luxurious calamari breaded and served upon a napkin.  Notice in the picture above how it looks as if the calamari is within a flower, with how the napkin is folded.  This little touch suggest to the diner that they are eating something natural, beautiful and fresh.  A delicious aioli filled with enticing herbs  is served alongside.

Il Tramezzino – A luscious pressed panini served with provolone and prosciutto.  But what really make this sandwich auspicious is the black truffle butter used.  Wrapped in brown paper, the smell of truffles add a powerful aromatic chi (good energy) to the air.

Some other things I’ve tried there recently were:

  • Planeta Chardonnay – Sadly no longer offered on their Lounge menu, this was a very nice white wine, with hints of crisp pear.  It may still be available, just not on the Lounge menu.
  • Castelvero Barbera – A divine red that warms the soul.
  • The Derby – Vermouth, bourbon, and orange curcao trio together well in this vintage inspired beverage.

Another touch I really like here, oddly enough, are the place mats.  They’re of a woven mesh, pseudo-square in design, witch lends a subconscious stability and appeal to anything served upon it.   Drago does provide free parking, or one can take the red line to the nearby 7th Street Metro stop, and then proceed two or so blocks.  The Lounge menu is served throughout the day and evening, seven days a week, with most of the items averaging in the $6.00 – $7.00 range.  In fact, I have a feeling I’ll be there again next week…

Drago Centro

525 South Flower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90071

213  228-8998

Hours:    Lounge open Monday – Saturday  5:00pm – 10:00pm,  Sunday 5:00pm – 9:00pm

http://www.dragocentro.com/