Personalized Holidays

How are you all doing with all the Holiday activities? This Christmas person is in the thick of it all. You know that I am (1) a creature of habit, and (2) all about gratitude so card giving is really up my alley. My Dad started me on this at an early age fortunately. I remember he would buy me boxes of cards so I can give to each of my friends, he always said that we can spread holiday cheer by letting people know that they were remembered. That idea stuck with me up to this day. So naturally, one thing that's constant on my list each year is ordering personalized stationaries for Christmas. I usually start to design our photo Christmas cards towards Thanksgiving and order within the fist week of December. I go for the travel pics (gives me plenty of material to work with, Lol)  we had for the year as a separate photo shoot would be too much for the hubby and the munchkin (I need to pick my battles, he, he, he). I then design and order our personalized gift cards at the same time.

For several years now, I have been using Vistaprint as I find their program easy to work with and I can add more elements on their available templates to make it truly personalized. For a personalization junkie like me, it's quite fantastic. I would say 98% of our family stationeries, including invites are from Vistaprint (seriously I have a card rack in my home office that is well stocked with Vistaprint orders). The paper stock they have (I just use the standard glossy) is sturdy and feels just like any other greeting cards from the store. They have a wide array of ready to go templates you can choose from. You can sign up for emails so they can send you discount coupons. I timed mine around Cyber Monday so significant savings are always a plus.

One more thing off my checklist, cards will be sent out this week to family and friends. On a side note, nice of the USPS to have Holiday themed artwork on their stamps for the automated kiosks.

Westin St. Francis

Westin St. Francis is one of the iconic hotels in San Francisco, downtown to be particular. We like to visit them to check out their holiday displays because they truly make it a feast for the eyes. It's also convenient as it is in the heart of Union Square. Check out what they had last year here.

This year Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré and his team presents  the original Sugar Castle (back by popular demand) and the St. Francis Enchanted Castle in the Landmark Lobby.  What a Holiday treat! 

Nespresso Boutique and Café (San Francisco)

The hubby and I have always said that we would find the time to visit the Nespresso café, but have not been able to it until now. It’s been quite convenient for me to either get it from their station at Bloomie’s or their boutique in Walnut Creek. It was all good timing as I wanted to check out what their holiday variations are and the munchkin wanted to have some snack after all his downtown scooting. The staff were able to find us a spot  (or should I say a living room as  we had 2 chairs and sofa for ourselves, lol)  promptly. The interiors are what you would usually expect from their boutiques, sleek and sophisticated. The coffee shakes were satisfying. My mocha coconut shake was our server’s recommendation and I was so glad that I heeded his advise. The hubby had a caramel macchiato shake of sorts. The munchkin thoroughly enjoyed his strawberry bagatelle cake. We also tried their macarons and the hubby only liked the rose lychee. As you know, Laduree and the hubby are my gold standards for macarons. The opera cake was structurally sound but was underwhelming. We did not savories anymore as we were headed out for dinner in a few hours. I’d go back for their coffee any day though. I recommend the café for meeting up with friends and family for coffee.

The boutique in the basement was nice per usual. They had 3  limited edition holiday flavors for the original line:

  • Snowball- Coconut and Vanilla (I opted for this)
  • Orangette- Orange and Chocolate
  • Liquorice- Liquorice and Spicy

For those who has the Vertuoline , they also had 3 for the holidays:

  • Banana
  • Peppermint
  • Cherry

Christmas Season in Downtown San Francisco

We always set aside a day or two to immerse in the city’s hustle and bustle for the holidays. We started with the munchkin’s meet-up with Santa at the Westfield Center. The munchkin was excited to tell Santa stories and of course, what he would like to have for Christmas. We got in right before it got very busy. You can also buy a fast pass online if you do not want to take the chance with long lines.

We then proceeded to check out the recently lit inverted tree under the dome. It was beautiful and quirky in its own way.

We checked out the store displays around Union Square. The street has been blocked off again to make room for holiday festivities. Neiman Marcus has their ginormous tree up again that almost touches the dome of their rotunda. LV’s displays with Jeff Koons for the Masters Collection are just impeccable. It’s one of my fave displays from them to date.  Macy’s Union Square Holiday Windows has adorable and adoptable animals for their annual partnership with SPCA. Macy’s is also wreath game strong for their multi-floor decorations. The ice skating rink in Union Square is already open next to the tall Christmas tree.

We then marveled the enchanted castles and holiday sugar cakes at Westin St. Francis. Our last stop to relax and chill was the Nespresso Café before heading out in the St. Patrick’s Church area. The WSF and Nespresso Cafe will have separate posts.

Universal Studios Holiday Season

We ventured for a night visit Universal Studios using our season pass so we can see if Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are on Holidays mode. They were starting to. It’s always a hoot to be walking around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We also went back to the Minions ride for the munchkin.

Eataly (Century City)

We are huge fans of Eataly, we visited them in NYC and Rome. It’s really epicurean heaven. Their newest in Century City is the first in California.  They just recently opened so it felt like that everyone and their bloodline were in the Italian gastronomic emporium, lol. It was quite challenging to get into the sit-down lunch areas so we decided to do take out. Fortunately, we were able to secure a table on the first level (they have 3) near the coffee and desserts.

Our impromptu picnic lunch:

Steak sandwich with potato chips- Yum! For Dada and I

Ceasar salad with white anchovies – Fresh, well balanced with lemon and the salt from the white anchovies, just the way I prefer it to be.

Rotisserie chicken with polenta and veggie fritata- the munchkin went savage on this combo, he, he, he.

 

Our must list when in Eataly:

Anything pistachio from Venchi chocolates and Lavazza creamy coffee shake

I can only imagine that they will get busier during the holiday season.

Arts and Artsy.net

I am remarkably excited to be presented with an opportunity to share more art to readers and subscribers. As  you know, art is almost always integrated in our trio’s travel itinerary through museum visits or taking in public installations and architecture. This is because I believe that Art is an important component in child development (which is why I love the book “What to do with an idea” by Kobi Yamada) as a creative outlet for their ever so active mind. I think the art piece that has made the most impression from the munchkin to date was Yayoi Kusama in Tate Modern. I still remember my awe with the scientific technique of Pointillism with A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884, 1884/86 (Oil on canvas) by Georges Seurat in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s one of the first major works of art  that I’ve seen in person from my Humanities textbooks so it was memorable. The most grandiose art I’ve been fortunate to lay my eyes on to date is the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican by Michelangelo. 

Notably though, I didn’t really get to travel and enjoy art in person until after I graduated college but in between that I would devour volumes of humanities books to look at the masterpieces. I found them inspiring and informational as artworks can depict a certain society and culture. They also tend to make me introspective. Now with the internet, art has become more accessible than ever so I was profoundly elated when Artsy.net serendipitously reached out to me through this blog. Artsy’s mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. They are a resource for art collecting and education. You will now start to see links from posts that will direct you to for artists profiles (I have started with Bernini here and Kusama here), and opportunity to acquire art as well.  In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not a sponsored post, the educational aspect of their website is parallel to my information sharing stance in this blog.  Look around their site, enjoy their vast library and nurture that creative part of your grey matter. Their online magazine has amusing articles too.

I have not yet had the privilege to own a major piece of art but If I was ever to own though should I win the lottery multiple times, my top three are: (1) Anything from fashion designer, Alexander McQueen ; (2) Anything from Yayoi Kusama; and particularly (3) The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David (this massive masterpiece is housed in Louvre). What’s your wish list?

189 by Dominique Ansel

Part of our quick SoCal get-away was the opening of Dominique Ansel Bakery, and his restaurant, 189 by Dominique Ansel. The hubby did an online reservation about a week before. This is the Chef’s first full-service restaurant. The Dominique Ansel Kitchen in New York City, although it also served savory items along with the sweets, was not full-service. 189 is right above his bakery in the Grove. The name came to be as it was the address number for his Spring Street bakery and in the Grove.  

We came earlier than our reservation time but the staff were able to accommodate us and got us in early. The interior décor is minimalist with elegant clean lines and strategic use of copper/rose gold. We opted for patio seating as we wanted to marvel on everything that was happening in the Grove (the Christmas décor was up and they were building the Dancing with the Stars finale stage at that time). They had heaters so it was fine plus it’s Los Angeles, it’s almost always alfresco appropriate weather.

Our server told us that each item on the menu has a story and special significance to Chef Dominique. They let you in on the 411 when they serve your food. I’ve been stalking them on Instagram so I had some ideas on what I wanted us to try. They were only going in their 2nd week of opening and the staff mentioned that they were still working out some things. They were out of the Pull-Apart Sweet Corn “Elotes” Milk Bread, and “Clam Chowder” (with Little Neck Clam Tortellini, Bacon, Lovage, and Ajo Blanco) that I really wanted to try.

Our order:

48-Hour Homemade Sourdough & Butter

PEI Mussels, Spicy Chorizo, Rice Vermicelli, a Ton of Garlic

Dirty Potatoes, Smashed and Crispy, Paprika Pommery Mustard, Whole-roasted Garlic Head

7 Hour Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder, Apple Cider, Calabrian Chili, Roasted Persimmons

Rotisserie Baby Chicken, Black Garlic Rice Stuffing, Chilled Spicy Scallion Salad, a shot of Chicken Jus

Our favorite was the mussels with the rice vermicelli. The hubby was tempted to order a 2nd one. The lamb was very tender and for a non-lamb eater like me, I enjoyed it and that’s saying something. The munchkin and I loved the dirty potatoes and the sourdough. The baby chicken entrée was good and clearly had Asian influences. I did have mixed feelings about the black garlic rice stuffing as there was a flavor profile that I could not place that I found overpowering. The chilled scallion salad was very Korean and gives a  kick to the dish.

For desserts:

“Traditions”

Almond Sponge, Three Milks (Milk, Evaporated Milk, Banana Milk),

Spice Bouquet, Orange, Crème Fraîche

“Knife Skills”

Apples Five Ways: ribbons in lemon thyme, brunoise in Calvados, apple

young ginger sorbet wedge, caramelized slices, julienne meringues

 

Their desserts presentation is an homage to a Chef’s kitchen skills.

They also invited us to their granola bar where they help you customize a granola pack for your breakfast. It’s their own way of thanking diners for stopping by. Whoever thought about that idea should be promoted! It goes to show that the Dominique Ansel group are all about hospitality. They had a good selection of toppings with twists and I was ok with a sampler (except for one that had lavender). Can I just say that when I had a chance to put in on plain oatmeal, it was effing glorious! I’d eat more oatmeal or yogurt if I had regular access to their granola bar, LOL. I just might plagiarize this idea for guests to have after get-togethers at our home (holiday parties!).  

 

Overall, a delectable and interesting dining experience. We highly recommend 189. Hopefully we can try their brunch next time we’re in SoCal.

Location:

189 The Grove Drive, 2/F

 Los Angeles, CA 90036

Dominique Ansel Bakery Los Angeles

Our trio had a quick get-away to Southern California right before Thanksgiving. It was short but nevertheless eventful. Since seeing the announcement and scaffolding of the Dominique Ansel Bakery, and Restaurant at the Grove earlier this year, we’ve been literally checking the progress on social media. We are huge fans of Dominique as see here, here, and here. Each of our visit to his establishments came with a wish that we would be able to meet the master pastry chef. He is the bastion of modern patisserie for us as his scientific approach is a game changer not only to the pastry world but the whole culinary scene as well. After not being able to meet him in NYC and London, it’s actually quite ironic that we finally met him in person in California. DAB Los Angeles opened last week so we thought he already flew back to NYC. The hubby and I were lined up outside the bakery early in the morning when I saw a tall figure behind the glass and I got all psyched. He apparently was being filmed with Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) for tietheknotorg’s special bow tie collaboration with Dominique Ansel (the Bakery staff wears them too!). This is a huge moment for the hubby because of his deep affection to baking so I told him to prepare himself as I promise to make a conversation happen between Dominique and us.

Dominique was  delightful and accommodating. We told him of our attempts to meet him in his other stores and that we were seriously considering Tokyo because he has a store there too. He sets an outstanding example for his staff on customer service and over-all good experience.

Laduree BH

It’s just not possible for us to be in Los Angeles and not stop by Laduree. We come back over and over for the rose croissant, religeuse, and of course, their oh-so-delightful  macarons. They didn’t have their Christmas boxes yet as we went right before Thanksgiving so I was bummed. I was still able to pick a new box though so I was happy.

Our trio was pressed for time so we couldn’t really do brunch like last time so we just picked out items.

They truly have one of the best staff, very friendly and helpful. We hope to come back soon.

7th Birthday Love Letter to the Munchkin

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Making good on my promise to flood y'all with sappy posts for Thanksgiving, here was my love letter to the Munchkin on his 7th birthday in the middle of this year. This is a small tradition between the munchkin and I, in my hopes that he will have compilation by the time he grows up. It's a delayed post but apt for my thanksgiving sentimental vibe: 

Dearest T,

7 years ago at around 8 a.m., your Dada and I heard the most beautiful cry, it meant that you were out and most importantly, you are safe. After laboring for 24 hours (yes, these 4 words will always be in the first paragraph at any time I will talk about your birth but I promise not to use it, except, when you’re an adult and it’s after 9:30 pm on a Mother’s day and for some reason you have not called me yet), it became medically necessary for the doctors to make an emergency exit for you. That early on though, you were already part of our team as I remember telling you (pointing to my tummy) after praying with Dada before I went under the knife that “it’s show time, team. We’ll have to work together and I promise to see you and Dada at the finish line”, and that my dearest darlings boys we did.  When they brought you next to me, I introduced myself to you as your Mommy, and the voice you’ve had no choice but to hear for the past 9 months. Our connection was as instant as bluetooth and just gets stronger through the years.

Fast forward to today and this year, you are now seven. My love, my hunny bunny, my munchkin, my zombie zucchini (whenever your hard earned iPad sesh goes over 2 hours on Fridays and Saturdays only after Kumon, sports activities and mini chores), my little engine that could, my, my, my, you have grown. I will, at no time, tire of saying that you are the best tangible blessing to your Dada and I, and we will continue to operate with a deep sense of gratitude to our good Lord. 

As you very well know, The basic tenets of “Please and Thank you” was one of your first lessons from me and so today my birthday message for you will be along the same theme: 

1.       Please continue to expand your “library”- Apart from all the modes of transportation information you’ve significantly acquired, I encourage you to persist with your pursuit of knowledge of this big wide world. An informed mind is a sturdy foundation to build on. 

2.       Please continue to shine your light- Spiderman says and I quote “with great powers, come great responsibilities”. You have this light, a positive energy,  that emanates from within that’s thankfully not solely shining on us, your doting parents. I pray you get to sustain your fluorescence (or maybe it should LED, or perhaps solar) to create more pockets of sunshine in this, at times, challenging world. It needs it.

3.       Please remain grateful to our good Lord- May your prayers be more of thankfulness than of supplication. Your Grandpa Ben used to tell me and I impart this to you now, equally find gratitude in things big and small as God’s presence can be found in the details if we just look. 

4.       Please always choose to be kind- Whether in words or actions as no one is free of flaws or struggles, including present company. If you have the means or opportunity to show compassion, please choose to do so, there will be positive ripples to make this world a little bit better than we've found it. Kindness matters every time and all the time.

5.       Thank you for your exceptional love- that is unmistakable every day. Seeing your eyes brighten up, whether we are picking you up from school or coming home from work, there’s really nothing like it in this world.  The immediate affectionate hugs and kisses that follows will evermore be Christmas morning feels for your Dada and I.

6.       Thank you for your resilience- It’s becoming more evident to you as time passes that there are challenges in life, some we are able to control and some that we simply cannot. The passing of your Grandpa/Lolo Joe was quite devastating for you because it was your 3rd consecutive loss.  It tore my heart to see you broken and defeated about mortality when you asked “Mommy, Why love if you’re going get hurt this much?”. Oh Hunny, I wish I had the most sufficient answer for this that it would take away your pain in instant. I could only tell you that it hurts because it mattered, because the love given was great, that there was a purpose, and that it becomes a wonderful part of who we are. In your case, the affections were mutual between you and Lolo so all the more to be grateful of the memories. In as much as I want to say it gets easy with time, it doesn’t (again, Mommy is Exhibit A), but know that your Dada and I are here to comfort you by talking about it or through extended hugs. Thank you for finding the strength to keep going and keep that little heart of yours open for loving. 

7.       Thank you for inspiring us- We promise to persevere to be all that you deserve as parents and examples of integrity in both our personal and professional lives. I will end with lyrics of Dear Theodosia from Hamilton: 

You will come of age with our young nation

We’ll bleed and fight for you, we’ll make it right for you

If we lay a strong enough foundation

We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you

And you’ll blow us all away

Someday, someday

Yeah, you’ll blow us all away

Someday, someday

Again, Happy Birthday Munchkin. 

All my Love, all the time, 

Mommy

 

The Gratitude Initiative

With the abundance of anything pumpkin spice related, it can only mean that Thanksgiving is literally right around the corner. I would say that Thanksgiving is probably our family’s third favorite event of the year after Christmas and Halloween. Thanksgiving tends to make me introspective and admittedly, a tad bit emotional and sentimental when taking an inventory of the people and moments I’m grateful for in the past 12 months. I apologize in advance if you will be inundated with similar sappy posts.

Each passing year, my conversations with the munchkin about gratitude becomes deeper as he matures a little bit more. He can attest that I’m a huge proponent on “Thank you” (and “Please”—someday I will write a children's book on this). I started this on him as soon  as he was able to talk. A lot of it has to do with my belief that a simple and free (as in no charge) act of goodwill should not be taken for granted. My late father imbued on me early on that life and people do not owe me anything so when you are shown kindness, generosity and courtesy, I should return that positive energy by saying “thank you” (hence I have Thank you postings on this blog albeit backlogged).

Last year,  I tried a new approach with the munchkin that I now call as the Gratitude Initiative.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You and each member of your family look back on what has happened so far for this year.
  2. Write on the left column 2-3 of your favorite things so far  (could be anything, event, people, objects, etc.) separately and 2-3 things that were you particularly didn’t like (again could be anything, event, people, objects, etc.).
  3. After writing, then you say why you are grateful for each item both on the left and right columns. The left would be easy but the right would be a bit of a challenge but hopefully the right would allow you to open your eyes and heart to lessons such as acceptance, patience, hope, etc.  You might surprise yourself and others if you do it as a family. You can also try do it with your work teams.

Here's what we came up with for 2016:

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As you can see,  our trio is quite in sync, LOL. I hope that the takeaway for the munchkin is that there are ups and downs in life but we don’t really lose when we learn lessons from it. I can’t wait for what our 2017 list would look like. It’s my ongoing intent to try to customize activities for the munchkin and have him engage in a play like structure but also be sneaky in imparting important lessons he can apply to his everyday life.

Maybe you can try it too and let me know how it goes. I’d be excited to know what you and your family comes up with. 

Holidays by Peggy Porschen

Here I am again posting Christmas related stuff here before Thanksgiving. I’m just like the retail store displays right now jumping ahead the Holidays. I really just wanted to share the incredible work, yet again, this year from our one of our trio’s fave Peggy Porschen in Belgravia, UK. Our trio was there earlier this year and it was splendid. I’ve been a huge fan for the past couple of years. I always tell family and friends who  goes to London to pay them a visit and gave their store's gift certificates for special occasions. Unfortunately, they do not have an outlet stateside but look at these darling creations they’ve been cooking up for this year. Looking at it just makes me happy and feel all cheery for the Most Wonderful time of the year. They have the most elegant gingerbread houses, and festive cookies that would make perfectly sweet presents to family, friends and even yourself. The pics were grabbed from their insta account.

This was last year...

Now for this year...

Amazon Books at Broadway Plaza

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I can’t tell you how much our trio enjoy going to bookstores. If we lived in London, you can bet that we’ll be in Hatchard’s every week. We still like Barnes & Noble but they have a limited number of stores now so it was good that Amazon Books recently opened a brick and mortar store in Broadway Plaza. According to its website, it utilizes customer ratings, pre-orders, sales and other metrics to choose the books it will carry. It also designed to push sales of the company’s Kindle e-reader and other electronic devices. The aesthetical presentation is quite different, it’s as if you were transported from the digital library to their actual library with pop-up cards that either has a review and any other interesting info (e.g. awards the book received, etc.). It was an interesting experience with the munchkin and then he finally decided on The Ultimate Book of Airplanes and Airports, so apropos for our little traveler. Bonus too that there are additional discounts to avail of if you are an Amazon Prime member like us. Perfect for gift giving for the Holidays.

Their location: 1265 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

Starbucks Christmas Ornaments

The new Christmas ornaments from Starbucks are sooooo cute! The mini coffee cups are adorbs and so is the mini French press. These are definitely on my Christmas wishlist :). 

Autumn and Gratitude at La Maison L

Fall is definitely upon us. The changing of the leaves to fiery red and orange signals the Autumn season. I've changed up some of the decor from Halloween to be more Thanksgiving appropriate. There have been so much changes but also abundant blessings to be grateful for this year. Our trio will soon  get ready to go full throttle for the Holidays. 

 

 

CP&P for the Week

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Collage Pics & Picks Clockwise from Right:

1. Black Truffle Butter from Trader Joe’s- Perfect for steaks, potatoes, pastas, etc. It’s basically a welcome addition to any savory dish.  

2. Coco Chanel (Little People, Big Dreams) book by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Ana Albero- Found this cute book at the newly Amazon Books in our area.

3. Adidas Originals Tubular Invader Strap Women's (Linen Khaki/Linen Khaki/Linen)- is my new fave go-to casual wear shoes with fall colors too. I first saw this at Barneys New York but I eventually got them for a good deal at the outlet for more than 50% off.

4. Turkey Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips from Trader Joe’s- Snack to tide you over whilst waiting for the Thanksgiving feast.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street

Christopher Kimball have gained notoriety in the culinary world as a Chef, publisher, and radio/TV personality through his body of work with America’s Test Kitchen through Public Broadcasting System (PBS). He was the fascinating aspect for me in watching ATK with his dry sense of humor, ubiquitous bow tie, and his vast culinary knowledge.  Although he was a co-founder of ATK, ties were severed a couple of years ago. Not to worry, he landed on his feet and went on to launch Milk Street. It is named after a prominent street in Boston, Massachusetts where the show is filmed and his cooking school is located. It’s basically a lifestyle brand with print, TV and radio presence.

The TV show has a new crew rich with experience (and well-coiffed too) with him. The show aims to expand your cooking horizons via introduction of international dishes and its accessible adaptation to your kitchen. As frequent travelers, we were definitely in. The film that they use is of excellent quality which makes the food all the more enticing. It’s like watching a premium epicurean magazine with the clean, crisp and bright aesthetics. The bow tie, his signature humor,  and of course, the teacher in him is intact. This one of the few shows that the hubby, the munchkin (yes! Even our 7 year old)and I pay attention too and actually enjoy watching together. I always get the hankering to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, whip up something from what we just watched and order some sleek European kitchen tools on Amazon Prime, LOL.

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I recently did my version of the Kale salad from the “Simply Spanish” episode (we now keep Paprika on stock too) paired with my own sous-vide steak strips then sauteed with garlic, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil. I’m currently building the menu for Thanksgiving dinner this year so I will be sure to source some of the dishes from their show and website.