The Dream House: Sunnylands Historic Residence

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I recently visited Sunnylands, a historic residence located on the desert at Rancho Mirage, CA, with my family. Completed in 1966, this residence belonged to the late philanthropist and billionaire publisher, Walter Anneberg. Apparently he had always dreamed of living in a house surrounded by golf course and he realized his dream when Sunnylands was built. DSC_0525

Sunnylands takes up 200 acres with a 25,000-square-foot house. Without advanced ticket purchase, you will be stuck at the visitor center with the others.

With our tickets in hand, we traveled in a golf cart toward the residence. The view was breathtaking everywhere you turn. Coming up the winding driveway that was once traveled by Queen Elizabeth II, President Reagan, Frank Sinatra, and many others famous icons and royalties, we were greeted by the Birds of Welcome.

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Surrounded by mountain ranges and man made lakes, A Quincy Jones and William Haines designed a spectacular residence. The view from every angle befits a postcard.

As we approach, I was taken away by the modernist architecture and the statement roof. It was a bold approach at modern architecture sporting exposed beams and ceilings that worked seamlessly with the surrounding.

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Photos were prohibited inside the residence for security reasons since the estate still hosts high profile retreats such as the recent one with President Obama and President Xi Jing Ping.

Aside from the Van Goghs and Monets, there were many Asian sculptures and paintings from Ch’ing dynasty and so forth. (Just a note, the paintings have long since been gifted to Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Mets in return gifted replicas of the original paintings back to the Annebergs. However, the Asian sculptures and paintings are all authentic.)

One of my favorite parts of the residence was the guest rooms. In each of the color-themed bedrooms, the Annebergs ordered special pillows displaying quirky phrases like “great people don’t make long visits” and “you are ready to leave on Sunday, right?” Totally enjoying Mr. Anneberg’s humor.

Another favorite is Anneberg’s wall of Christmas cards from Queen Elizabeth II. Mr. Anneberg apparently wrote to Queen Elizabeth II every year near Christmas to let her know how much he enjoyed receiving her Christmas cards so that she would send one that year.DSC_0489

This is just one of the many many views that are superbly gorgeous.

Below is a art-piece, a free-standing work of metal rods that is arranged to provoke dynamic nature, dubbed the Peacock. It is not clear who named it The Peacock, but it’s an absolutely handsome piece connecting the residence from the game room.

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The “hide and reveal” nature of the landscape brought many surprised as we traveled the winding driveway: a Chinese inspired temple, totem pole, lakes, etc…

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I could spend hours just walking on the lawn, but alas, the tour ends after 90 minutes. And we were shipped back to the visitor center. You could watch a short movie introducing the Anneberg historic residence and visit the gift shop, but take my words, plan ahead and purchase a ticket for the tour in advance. You will not regret it.

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Here’s an interesting fixture I found at the gardens – the bench. It’s not just any bench, it’s a replica of the redwood bench presented by President Obama to President Xi Jing Ping during his visit and you can sit on it and pose, if that’s something you are interested in.

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This is definitely a place worth your visit.

How to Purchase Your Ticket:

This link is where you make your purchase. It is $35 per person and released in half-month blocks on the first and fifteenth of every month meaning if you like to visit Sunnylands on January 16, in the Jan 16-31 block, you need to be ready on Jan 1 9am PST at the link to make your purchase. And for visits between Feb 1-15, you need to be ready on Jan 15.

The tickets run out as soon as they go on sale. If you have a party of 2 or more, you need to be the first to grab your time block. The tour are scheduled every 15 minutes from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and 1:30 to 2:30 p.m, so be smart and be fast. You do need to register to purchase the ticket, so I recommend signing up for an account in advance.

The tickets are nonrefundable, so be smart and visit Sunnylands.

If you didn’t have a ticket, you’ll be looking at this view and wishing you did advanced planning.

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The Perfect Californian Wine Experience: Opus One

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The past time I went to Napa with my family, we decided to visit Opus One Winery. The label lived up to its fame with the grandeur of its architecture and layout. It was pointed out during the tour that from the entrance to the building, it is purposely made to look like a wine glass. You can see it from the aerial view.

aerial photograph Opus One Winery Napa County, California

It was difficult to capture the breathtaking view at winery. With influence from French Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the Mondavi and Rothschild partnership has a very heavy French classical influence. I had to use the panoramic picture from Jacob Rosen to attempt to convey its grandeur.

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The iconic image on the wine signifying partnership between Mondavi and Rothschild.

I had made sure to make reservation in advance. For those that had forgotten to make a reservation, they were left to wander around. It’s beautiful outside, but you will miss half the experience from visiting Opus One. Any random picture taken from the mound is absolutely gorgeous.16

Tasting the second label Overture. You can tell the difference as soon as you taste them side by side.

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The wine barrels from this year’s batch are stored in half circle around the tasting room. It’s quite amazing how the barrel placement can be turned into art.Opus-One-Winer-3

While you only get to taste two glasses of wine, touring through the structure will make your time and money worthwhile. Every little detail during the trip is executed with precision and care. Pictures is Opus One 2009.15-9

The deep red color from the Bordeaux blend leaves you lusting for more.36

I recommend visiting in late spring when the winery is in full swing in harvesting and wine making. You will actually get to see their high tech machinery at work during your tour. Call them to make a reservation for a tour. It’s not enough to just taste the wine.

Opus One Winery
7900 St. Helena Hwy
Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 944-9442

After your visit to Opus One, Head on to Domaine Chandon’s bubbly experience and end with their in-house Michelin-starred restaurant, étoile.

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And there you have it, the perfect ensemble.

The Last Supper NYC: Jean-Georges

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If this was the last time you will be dining at NYC for some time, where will you visit?

My choice was Jean-Georges, the famed three Michelin Star Restaurant. Fortunately, we were able to get a reservation for 2:30pm for late lunch. Conveniently located in the Columbus Circle, we shopped around until our reservation time. With lush, off-white leather seating and large windows off of Central Park, it embodies the spirit of Manhattan.
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We ordered the prix-fix course, but with the addition of many “on-the-house” small dishes, we felt like we were having a six course meal.IMAG2024   

The foie gras brulee is not to be missed. The velvety interior melts in your mouth coupled with the crunchy exterior, it’s oh so heavenly. Add some riesling jelly on the side and it makes the dish complete.IMAG2030

The sea urchin appetizer was soso, but I appreciate their attempt at Asian fusion.IMAG2029

The Crispy Confit of Suckling Pig, Rutabaga “Pudding” and Smoked Marmalade was my other favorite. Albeit difficult and messy to eat, the crunchy skin with the moist and tender meat leaves you lusting for more. It was already quite a big portion, but I’m sure I could have consumed another slice.IMAG2031

We paid extra for the caramelized wagyu and it was meh… I preferred the steak from Alexander Steakhouse in Silicon Valley.IMAG2033

The desserts were a different story. With a major sweet tooth, I had problem deciding between the options. I ended up with caramel swayed mostly by my preference for salted caramel ice cream because of my addiction after visiting Bi-Rite Creamery in SF. If you order prix-fix, do not skip the dessert!IMAG2037

I was already content with my selections of food that afternoon, just to be surprised by even more sweets. And yes, the white spongy pillow looking thing are their famous house made marshmellow. I was surprised by the black pepper, but it could’ve been more special. Among the sweets, I preferred the crunchy pieces. And don’t be fooled by the macarons, they look good, but because of their tiny size, they are dried out and unlike the luxurious chewy macaron you can get down the street at La Duree.IMAG2038

It’s quite an experience. Visit it at least once and you won’t be sorry.

I’ll introduce more delicious places in NYC later, but if I had to choose a place as my last meal, Jean-Georges will be on my list.

Jean-Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023
(212) 299-3900

Yummy Find: Doughnut Plant for the Perfect Doughnut

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The Doughnut Plant was on the top of my to visit list before I set foot in New York. With raving reviews and impeccable rating of 4+ star, it is a must visit. There are so many delicious dessert places, but this is not to be missed. Their doughnuts are heaven in every bite. The cozy little space with the unique wall decor of doughnut cushions that actually look like some of the choices they have on the menu. Notice the square doughnuts, they do have them in square shaped, but no, they do not have Yankees doughnut.
 
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 There are limited space in the cafe for sit down dining, but if you do happen to find seats, grab them and enjoy the waft of fresh doughnut and freshly brewed coffee. Notice the chairs, they are in doughnut shape too. So adorable!
 
This is my favorite – Creme Brulee Doughnut. These are quite small and they come in twos, but they are so exquisite. The burnt sugar on the top and succulent cream within tastes as if you are consuming a actual creme brulee. The chewiness of the dough adds on a layer of complexity in texture.
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Matcha Green Tea Doughnut on the other hand is made with a cake dough, so it is more like a dense cake than a chewy doughnut. It’s good, but not nearly as mouth watering as the Creme Brulee.
 
 
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The square doughnuts tend to be on the sweeter side. I would just buy it because it’s a square doughnut. This is the PB&J, but I preferred the coconut creme despite being very sweet. One plus side to these doughnuts is that they do not go stale the following morning. They still taste chewy and delicious the morning after. Try it if you haven’t! Side Note: These little art works are quite pricey, so if you don’t want to have a hole in your wallet or pack on the pounds, consume sparingly.
 
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There are two locations. One in Chelsea and one in Lower East Side. The one I visited was the one in Chelsea and here is the store information. And one last funny tip: visit their restroom. It’s highly reflective.
 
220 W 23rd St
(between 7th Ave & 8th Ave) 
New York, NY 10011
(212) 505-3700

How to Build Your Quality Work Wardrobe

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When I graduated from college and started working, the most exciting part was building my first work wardrobe. Of course it is never-ending and I still add to it from time to time. But if I had known then what I know now, my closet would only be filled with affordable, high quality, long-lasting pieces and I wouldn’t have spent as much money stumbling along the way.

Before I started working on this post, I researched on Google and read every article and blog posts about building your work closet. I picked through the ones that were useful and used them to supplement my list and reasons.
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My Wardrobe Selections – Basics

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#. Suggested Style (Acceptable price range): Brief description.
My pick: What I chose for my wardrobe $original Price $price I paid

The Basics:
Tops:
1. Crisp White Button-Down Shirt ($20-40): This should be the staple of your work wardrobe. Everyone should have at least one. It can be paired with skirt or pants, with or without jacket. They are practical and appropriate for work place and for looking a little more polished. It is preferable to choose good material like cotton and choose non-iron to save you the hassle with ironing.
My pick: Ann Taylor Petite Perfect Long Sleeve Button Down Shirt $69.50 $34.75

2. Blouse ($20-35): Start with just one piece with a color you like. As we advanced to intermediate, we can start adding pattern and what not. Choose a slip-on such as a shell. Stick with material that doesn’t wrinkle easily like silk.
My pick: Ann Taylor Crepe Cowl Neck Shell $58 $26.99

3. Sheath Dress ($50): Instead of the LBD that many people recommended, I would rather go with a sheath dress with solid, neutral hue or simple pattern. It should fit your form without being too snug. Go for one that you can transfer from day wear to night wear. And one that can go from warmer season to pairing with leggings for colder season. It should be versatile.
My pick: Ann Taylor Graphic Sketch Sleeveless Dress $138 $45

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Bottoms:
4. Black Trouser ($30-50): Pick a high-quality straight legged pants that fit comfortably. Look out for pleats because they will accentuate the wrong areas. Select a length for the heel height you most commonly wear. It should hit just at the middle section of your heel. If it doesn’t, have it tailored. The last thing you want is awkwardly length pants that hangs at your ankle or drags on the floor.
My pick: Express Stretch Tab Waist Slim Flare Columnist Pants $69.90 $24.95

5. Black Pencil Skirt ($30-40): Whether it is pencil skirt or A-line, be sure to select a skirt that is knee length and fits your figure. A figure-flattering dark skirt can be paired with so many items in your closet that it can go from season to season.
My pick: Ann Taylor All-Season Stretch Seamed High Waist Pencil Skirt $78 $29.94

Layers:
6. Black Blazer ($50-100): The perfect black blazer is key to making your wardrobe work. With the right piece, you can pair it with virtually everything you have: dresses, skirts, pants, and jeans. Choose a blazer that is versatile and fits comfortably. Make sure the blazer falls right at your shoulder and the length is where it can elongate your height.
My pick: Mango Suit Jacket Bimba1 $69.99 (Apparently it’s now called Double-Breasted Crepe Blazer for $99.95)

7. Cardigan ($20-30): Cardigans are one of my favorite pieces. It can be worn in all seasons for layering over tops, dresses, and skirts. The basic colors are black, grey, and navy. Choose one to start with and add other pops of color later on. It’s just such a convenient item to have in your purse that you can pull it out for a cold air-conditioned place or to cover stains. Purchase a quality cardigan that can last years after the purchase date.
My pick: J Crew Factory Clare Cardigan $49.50 $21

8. Trench Coat ($50-100): Perfect for wearing three seasons a year, a beige trench coat is a coat worth investing. Look for the classic trench that never goes out of style. Instead of going for a Burberry that is known for their trench coat, consider more affordable options such as Zara, The Gap, J. Crew, and Ann Taylor. The coat should fit in the shoulders with a style and length that suits you.
My pick: Ann Taylor Iris Trench $169.99 $50

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Shoes:
9. Black Leather Pumps ($50-100): Black pumps go with everything and do not get stained easily. They can easily go from day to night. The most important thing with picking your staple black pump is how comfortable they are. It is unrealistic to expect to “break in” to your shoes. Preferably invest in one that is leather so it breathes and conforms to your feet. I’ve purchased many many pairs of pumps and none I could last more than a few hours walking except Brooks Brothers. These beauties are so comfortable even after wearing for long hours. Try them if you don’t believe me and you will never return to other brands.
My pick: Brooks Brothers Classic Calfskin Leather Pumps $198 $64.20

1010. Black Leather Flats ($40-50): It’s good to have a pair in your office when your feet gets tired or when you need to walk around a lot. A nice pair of black leather flats will let you relax your feet while not appearing too casual. I would recommend a leather flats for the same reason as the pumps. Ann Taylor has them extra padded and hence super comfy.

My pick: Ann Taylor Laddy Quilted Leather Ballet Flats $88 $52.80

Base:
11. Camisole ($5-10): These can be the ones found in your closet. A white and a black camisoles are musts.

12. Legging ($5-10): I prefer the none see-through ones that are supple and not prone to snags. Purchase slightly better quality ones to avoid awkward moments when your legging snags in office.

Accessories:
13. Skinny Leather Belt ($10-20): A simple belt can make you look even more put together. It will accent your whole look when belted with trousers or it can make you look more sophisticated over a cardigan and skirt.
My pick: White House Black Market Calfskin Leopard Print Bow Belt (Similar 1 & 2$44 $19.99

14. Medium-Sized Leather Handbag ($100-185): It should be a perfect everywhere bag whether going to work, to lunch, to dinner, or go shopping. It should be large enough to hold whatever you need during the day, but not so large that it makes you look out of proportion or if it makes you look awkward running with it. And always go for leather because it lasts years after purchase and color will not become dull after years of use.
My pick: Leather Tote from Loehmann’s $150 $50

15. Statement Scarf ($20-30): I was never a big scarf person, but it accents your basic t-shirt, trench and LBD.
My Pick: Ann Taylor Striped Silk Square Scarf $59.50 $14

Here’s how I put my looks together. Total Spent: $513.57 instead of $1252.38
I will discuss in length in my next post how I was able to score good deals from Ann Taylor, Express, WHBM, Brooks Brothers, and others.

 

Here’s a guide I find useful for wardrobe essential. It analyzes whether to splurge or to save on wardrobe essential.

Fun Find: Bitch 2009 Grenache

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I’ve heard of this wine for awhile but never saw it in person. I immediately took a picture of it when I saw it. It definitely has an easy-to-remember name. Apparently the 2009 used un-oaked Grenache wine from various sub-regions of Aragon and Navarra instead of Australia wine like previous year’s Bitch Grenache.

It has dark cherry and raspberry aromas underpinning with spicy, peppery notes with hint of anise. Apparently according to the wine maker Chris Ringland, the wine develops further personality 3 to 5 years in the cellar, making 2013 and 2014 the perfect year for consumption, so bring one to your girlfriend’s party!

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The best part is the wine label in the back.IMAG0044

With the affordable price tag of $10, what can go wrong?

Odd Find: VooDoo Doughnuts

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One thing I love to do while traveling is to find interesting foods and culture that is unique to the area. Today, I am introducing VooDoo Doughnuts from Portland, Oregon. Portland, Oregon is known for its weirdness and it is proud to be weird. I love that about the city. Everywhere you go, there are interesting finds waiting to be discovered. For example, I saw a food truck named, “Steaks Fifth Avenue.” :)IMAG1932

I’m holding their most famous and most distinguishable of their doughnuts which is their most famous, VooDoo Doll Doughnut. Each doughnut are uniquely decorated. I got the one with a stake in his heart. While you are in line, check out their interior, the stained glass and other odd trinkets and decor.IMAG1930  There are a variety of choices, but the VooDoo Doll Doughnut cannot be missed!IMAG1926

I swung by the Old Town shop and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But speaking of doughnuts, the best doughnuts I’ve ever had are not here, but in Manhattan, NY. I shall introduce it next time.IMAG1928

22 SW 3rd Ave
Portland, OR 97204
Neighborhood: Old Town – Chinatown

(503) 241-4704
voodoodoughnut.com

Let Them Eat Macarons

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Macarons are one of my favorite desserts, but after making them myself, I decided it’s better to share when I have a big batch on my hand (it’s sugar heavy). This was an overnight delivery from my friend in LA who purchased it from Lette in Beverly Hills. Instead of plating the macarons as is, you can make it fancier by plating them on a two-tier plate.

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like so. Make sure your hands are clean and dry and have a steady hand to hold the macarons in place while you add more. The circle is tricky to accomplish and it takes a little bit of skill, but in no time, voila! Doesn’t it just look absolutely gorgeous now?

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Place the tower next to indirect sunlight to enhance its presentation. This was for an afternoon tea event that I never had the chance to post. Here it is :) Maybe this can be your centerpiece when you decide to host a party of your own.IMAG2414

Breakfast of Choice

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Patisserie 46, my new discovery in St. Paul.

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Best way to wake up to a nice day sipping from a cup with beautifully crafted foam art.

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Lucia cake and pistachio macaron up close. Lucia is named after the P46 matriarchal Grandmother. With a traditional chocolate mousse, vanilla crème brulee, chocolate cake, and praline crisp, it is the perfect balance of bitter sweetness paired with a cup of hot cocoa.

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Patisserie 46
4552 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55419
Neighborhood: Southwest

(612) 354-3257
patisserie46.com

My Encounter with Zara: on Special Prices

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FIRST ENCOUNTER

The first time I learned about the brand Zara was in 2007 as a college freshman. I was walking around in Union Square in San Francisco when I stumbled into the store that I would later spend too much money in.

Everyone knows Zara as a quality fast-fashion brand enough to know that if you like something and don’t buy it right now, it might not be there in a week. Which was what I did. I do not regularly splurge on dispensable items and felt guilty swiping for the $99 wool coat, but thinking about it, with a 80% wool shell and heavy fabric, I would not be able to get such a good deal now even in Zara.

23(Taken Christmas of 2012 with my double breasted Zara wool coat @ Opus One Winery)

In the past 6 years, with heavy usage, it held up pretty well for the first 5 years. Nothing is breaking apart, but I do feel the shell is thinning. I would keep it anyways just for sentimental reason – my first splurge.

Since then, I have purchased many items from Zara especially blazers, dresses, and some coats. Most of the time during the two sales season in late December and late June, but some of the it-items, I did buy at regular price. The only comfort comes from knowing the pieces you purchased are taken off the site within a week or no longer there in store the next time you visit because that tells you they will never go on sale (maybe I’m just trying to justify my splurge here).

SPECIAL PRICES in 2013

In recent seasons, there is a new “special prices” category under women. It used to be a phantom category that comes and go, but it looks like it is here to stay starting this season.

If you haven’t noticed this section and you love a good deal, you should check it out. It sounds cheesy to say this, but the prices are truly special. They are reduced by 40-60% from the regular price during regular season and it is updated sporadically. With that said, you got to be fast to snatch the real steals.PhotoGrid_1384971853019

One thing to note though, these special prices items are mostly made in China that allotted more time from production to the sales floor whereas items from Spain, Portugal, and Morocco are for more on-demand fashion and typically with higher quality. Regardless, I am very happy with my purchases.

One other thing to note, these run out fast, if not faster than the sales season. You never know when Zara renews the Special Prices page, but when it does, those items run out within the day if not the morning. I’ve been able to get the jacket and pants in my size purchasing at 7am. The coat I was only able to get it in my sister’s size because I saw it around early afternoon. With that said, check out the special prices section, you never know what you would find.

Even though Zara’s quality has been slowly going downhill while price continued to climb, but you can still manage to get some good steals here or there.

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