Samovar

Samovar and Tree

In addition to being a feng shui consultant, food and wine connoisseur, and writer, I also hold a BFA in Theater Performance.  A few years back, I was in a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya when I first heard of an intriguing item called a samovar.  For those unacquainted with the term, a samovar is a large metal or brass urn  with a spigot, used to boil water or tea.   Of Russian origin, they first hit households around the 1820’s, gaining quickly in popularity,  Nearly every Victorian home in Russia possessed one.  Although the originals used coal to heat the water, modern-day versions are electric.  In Uncle Vanya, it is mentioned directly by the playwright in Act I, and in most productions used as a set piece during the scenes that take place in colder months.  (The production I was in sadly did not have one.)  Having only seen pictures online of this vintage kitchen appliance, I was surprised to find a tea house in San Francisco named for this very illusive item.

Samovar Signage

Samovar has three different tea lounges located throughout San Francisco.  I frequent the one bordering the Castro (pictured above).  My best friend Wendy and I came here for an incredible brunch.   One can order items individually, or one can do a tea service,  We both went with the British Tea Service, which was the most “brunchy” of the options.

English Tea Service

We each received a small tray with a steaming pot of their Breakfast Blend Black Tea, a stimulating and robust brew that was incredibly delicious.  This also included honey, cream, and coconut nectar.  The evaporated coconut palm nectar is the brown granules that look like brown or unrefined sugar, but it’s actually healthier for you.  Imported from farmers in Bali, Indonesia, coconut palm nectar is the sap of the coconut plant dehydrated into crystals.  The result is coconut palm sugar which is low on the glycemic index, and full of potassium and micro-nutrients.  It can be substituted for table sugar and in baking.  I found it to be just as sweet as sugar, and went perfectly with the Breakfast Blend.

Tea Service Caddy

The food for the tea service was presented on a three-tiered tray.  (I think I need to invest in one of these for my own home use.)

Quiche and Salad

A savory and mouthwatering vegetable quiche was presented alongside a salad with mixed greens.  Their quiche selection changes somewhat depending on the season.  I loved every bite.  The salad had a pleasing vinaigrette with complimented the quiche perfectly.

Oat Scone and Cream

Cherry Oat Scone – A decadent scone with oats throughout, served with preserves and clotted cream.   I could consume one of these every day.  It was fluffy and not overly dry as scones can sometimes be.  Samovar uses only the evaporated coconut nectar for their baking (there is no refined sugar in any of their baked items).   The amount of cream-to-scone was the ideal ratio, and really made the whole meal truly British.

Fresh British Fruit

An offering of fresh fruit concluded the feast, and accompanied the aristocratic scone ideally.

Asian Statue in Niche

The environment of Samovar is one of peace and contentment.  Choice pieces of art, like the elegant statue above, grace  the room, providing a sense of beauty and culture.  The statue is also a brilliant example of the earth element, due to its earthen material.

Samovar Curtains

Billowy curtains shield patrons from the sun’s rays, and help to foster a more intimate atmosphere between seating arrangements.  I also love the lantern in the window, and the high ceilings that allow chi to move freely throughout the space.

Restroom and Curtains

I really like how Samovar has concealed the bathroom with bamboo.  One knows it’s a bathroom, but it doesn’t feel like one is sitting near a bathroom.  I also like the further use of curtains to conceal unsightly storage.

Red Brick Wall and small Samovar

The elements of fire, earth, and metal are in perfect harmony here.  The red of the walls, the brick and the smaller, metal samovar coexist in a beneficial manner because each of these elements feed into one another.

There are many health benefits to drinking black tea.  Of the three main caffeinated tea categories, black tea Samovar Menu Flowerhas far less caffeine that its green or white counterparts.  The low amounts of caffeine found in tea can help stimulate blood flow to the brain without overcompensating the heart, which helps to increase energy levels.  And, unlike coffee, tea releases it’s caffeine slowly over time rather than all at once.  Black tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps one to focus and relax.  Polyphenols in black tea, which contain antioxidants, help oral and heart health, and may aid in the prevention of certain cancers when consumed on a regular basis.

Samovar also has a highly impressive website and blog.  In addition to having vast amounts of tea information, they also have a terrific online store where one may purchase any of their teas, as well as tea accessories (the teapot, tray, teacup and coconut nectar crystals pictured in the tea service can all be purchased).  They also have “tea gurus” who offer private tea classes.  The lounge has limited seating; I suggest making reservations beforehand (but walk-ins are also welcome).  On my next visit to San Francisco, I plan on trying some of their medjool dates stuffed with chevre cheese (Wendy swears by them), and one of their tantalizing rice bowls.  Until then, I will drink tea here in Los Angeles, read some Chekhov, and long for that delicious oat scone.

Samovar Storefront

Samovar Tea Lounge:  Mission/Castro

498 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114

415 626-4700

Hours:  Daily 10:00 am – 10:00 pm

http://www.samovarlife.com/

Descanso Gardens and the Camellia Lounge

Outside the hustle and bustle of the City of Angels lies a heavenly oasis known as Descanso Gardens.  This fine estate was once the home of E. Manchester Boddy, the newspaper publisher of the popular Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News.  After purchasing a one-hundred and sixty acre tract in La Canada, he hired James E. Dolena, the then architect-of-the-stars, to design an impressive twenty-two room home for him, his wife, and his two sons.   The beautiful house, constructed in 1937, encompassed many luxurious amenities of the era, including a built-in sound system, and a separate foyer for Boddy’s private office where he conducted business.  The three bedrooms of the home each had their own bathroom and sitting room as well.

From a feng shui perspective, the house is beautiful designed.  James E. Dolena used geothermal principles when planning the layout of the home.  Not only does this aid in creating a temperate climate within, it also helps air flow (and chi) move around freely.   In addition to the high ceilings, built-in bookcases, and enormous kitchen, the home offers a glimpse into a vintage way of life.  Although the furniture showcased is not original to the home,  each piece is of the era, and remarkably preserved. This includes a gorgeous grand piano which my friend Andrea was dying to play – but the velvet ropes guarding the display dissuaded us from touching.   Further information on the house, gardens, and the Boddy family is displayed throughout, including many historical photographs.  Only the downstairs level is open to the public, but I do hope they make some of the upstairs available soon.  I would love to see the whole house in all of its preserved glory.  Friendly docents are available, should one have questions while walking about the house.  Boddy and his family resided here until 1953 when he sold the estate to Los Angeles County.  Shortly thereafter, Descanso Gardens became open to the public.

Across the driveway from the main house is the original garage, which has been converted into the Sturt Haaga Gallery.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the gallery was closed for installation of a new exhibit.  But we did explore the outside of the structure.  I was most taken with the grand vertical garden along one wall of the gallery.  I would estimate it to be about fifteen feet tall, with a variety of rich, thriving plants.  I would love to have a smaller version of this in my own home environment.  I was a little disturbed by the statue on the right, until I realized those orbs on the sculpture were pomegranates.   The pomegranate, in feng shui folklore, is an auspicious symbol of fertility because it’s full of ripe seeds.  It’s also symbolic of familial happiness, and luck for one’s descendents.  This fruit is also rich in antioxidants.  A good way to get more pomegranate energy into one’s life is to eat the seeds raw, or toss them into a salad or smoothie.   Pomegranates also grow on the property.

This cooling waterfall was hidden down a garden path we found.  Metal, earth, water, and wood are all alive here, with the fiery energy of the sun radiating down.

Throughout the grounds there were all sorts of beautiful, open spaces like the lawn above.  I could sit underneath the shade of those trees all day, reading a Stephen King novel.

For the young (and young-at-heart), there is a hedge maze of miniature proportion.  Known as The Children’s Secret Garden, this lavish area was funded by a secret admirer of Descanso.  The walls of the hedges are about three feet high.  In the center of the maze is an opening complete with miniature wooden benches and chairs; child-sized models of similar ones found throughout the park.  As charming as those were, I was taken with the stone statues of friendly animals, two of which are pictured above.

Descanso is also home to the largest collection of Irises in Southern California.  Being that we visited the gardens in August, many of these were out of season.  But these vibrant purple ones continue to thrive.

We also visited Cafe Descanso, a casual eatery located by the front entrance.  Operated by the Patina Restaurant Group, the cafe offers sandwiches and salads.  The seating is all outside, either on comfy cafe chairs, or brick benches.   On this rather hot day, I opted for the following:

  • Bottled water.
  • Chardonnay – I had one glass of their house white, which is Crane Lake Chardonnay.  Although more of a low-brow selection, this delicious chard is crisp and refreshing.  In stores, bottles of this usually run $3:00 – $6.00.  An excellent wine for the price.  A generous glass here is about $7.00.
  • Mushroom Panini – Served on a role with Portobello mushrooms, light pesto, and white cheese (I think it was fontina).  The sandwich was good and quite filling.

Later in the day, we paused for some cocktails at The Camellia Lounge.  Hidden in a tea house next to the Japanese Garden, this quaint hideaway offers a select Japanese menu, as well as beer, wine, and refreshing summer libations.  It has very limited hours, being only open three days a week, but definitely worth a visit.  Although we did not sample any of the food here, the aromas drifting on the air were mouth-watering.  Here’s what we had:

  • Camellia Collins – A take on the classic Tom Collins.  But here, they add chamomile tea to the composition, which was exquisite combined with the gin.  The beverage was cool, refreshing, and generous in size.  I could drink these all day.
  • Green Hornet – Andrea ordered this, and it was not to our liking, chiefly because sweet-and-sour mix was used in lieu of lime juice.  Not only is this a major faux pas from a taste perspective, it’s also bad feng shui.  When the option to use a natural ingredient over a not-so-natural alternative, it is always preferable to select the natural choice.  When we consume items into our body, we absorb the energy of that item.  Therefore, natural or organic ingredients are preferable to chemical or sugary alternatives.  Had the required lime juice been used, I’m sure the drink would have been wonderful.

Descanso also has a great gift shop, and offers a variety of events for the whole family, including live jazz concerts, tai chi classes, and story-time for kids.  I will most assuredly be coming back here, probably in March, when their lilac garden is in full bloom.   The grounds are also used as film locations for many television series and movies.  A large paved lot is provided for ample, free parking.  If you are looking to escape into a Secret Garden, and add some more creative and rejuvenating wood energy into your life, visit Descanso.

Descanso Gardens

1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge 91011

818 949-4200

Admission:  General $8.00   Senior/Students $6.00   Children (5 to 12 years) $3.00    Garden members and children under 5 are free.

Hours:  Open Daily from 9:00 to 5:00.  Closed Christmas.   (Hours extended during the summer and for special events – call ahead)

Boddy House and Sturt Haaga Gallery:  Open Tuesdays –  Sundays 10:00 to 4:00.   House tours given Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00.

Cafe Descanso:  Open Daily from 9:00 to 4:30.

Camellia Lounge:  Open Tuesdays – Thursdays 3:00 – 8:00, during the summer months.  (Call ahead to verify hours of operation.)

http://www.descansogardens.org/