Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Getaway: Part 4

On the third and final day of the Rose and Peach’s weekend excursion to the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa ( in Rancho Mirage, Calif., between Palm Desert and Palm Springs, the early-rising Peach once again awoke before the Rose and waited for her trip mate to stir from her deep sleep (courtesy of eye mask and ear plugs).

By mid-morning, the Brit finally had arisen and taken her usual five minutes to prepare for the day and we were ready for our final event of the resort’s first-ever Eat. Drink. Savor. Epicurean Weekend — a 10 a.m. Bloody Mary Brunch at the bluEmber restaurant that included a sampling of 10 unique Bloody Mary concoctions.

Knowing that the non-drinking Peach already had experienced a little too much of the weekend’s imbibing activities, the Rose suggested that we head instead to the property’s Palms Café for some coffee and bagels. So, we walked across the way to the café, ordered our breakfast fare to go and headed to our pond-side patio for our last resort meal of the weekend (with the Rose even managing to feed a portion of her bagel to the Peach’s feathered friends, who had stopped running away from her by this time).

When all of the food was consumed by human and bird alike, we loaded up our bags and went on our way.

Finding ourselves with a good five hours to fill before having to return home, there was only one place to go! We had vowed to head back to conquer the previously unvisited sections of the Desert Hills Premium Outlets (, as well as the smaller Cabazon Outlets ( next door.

On a sunny and much less windy day, the Rose and Peach perused the outdoor mall, starting off at the Oakley Vault store and ending with a trip to Starbucks and a rest on a bench with a view looking out over the magnificent snow-capped mountains.

The highlight of the day for the Rose was, believe it or not, unrelated to shopping. The Peach once again gave the Rose a couple of new experiences — the Icee and a soft pretzel.

“Such a wonderful food substance … fresh, sweet, warm, soft and with a slightly salty taste,” said the Rose of the prezel (unfortunately not as enamored with her cola-flavored Icee).

What a wonderful way to finish a perfect weekend away with a true friend,” she added ... with, of course, more purchases being made!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Great Getaway: Part 3

On day two of the Rose and the Peach's visit to the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa ( Rancho Mirage, Calif., between Palm Desert and Palm Springs, the Peach arose nice and early, got ready for the day and patiently waited for the Rose to awake. When she did finally come to life, the Rose found the Peach holding court with the area's entire bird population — domestic or wild! Only the enticement of a promised trip to Panera Bread (for breakfast and to stock up on some late-night scones) and yet more shopping could part bird and animal whisperer.

After breakfast, the Peach felt that another educational shopping experience was necessary for the Rose. So, DSW- Designer Shoe Warehouse ( was their next port of call. For the Rose (who loves shoes and has never set foot in a DSW), it was an “OMG moment” as she spied 12 rows of shoes and even a shoe chandelier! It took all of five seconds for the Rose to get over her mesmerized state, and then the shopping frenzy began.

What seemed like two hours later, the shoppers rushed to the car with purchases in hand and sped off to the resort’s next organized epicurean event — a noontime “Chardonnays of the World” wine-tasting and light lunch at bluEmber restaurant.

Choosing from a showcase of five chardonnays, the Rose declared the 2010 Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Kim Crawford Wines the clear winner because it was a very light and dry vintage with a pleasant after-taste. A refreshing 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Robert Mondavi Wines that “was completely different, yet gorgeous,” managed to pique her interest as well.

After the tasting, which included remarks from Scott Young, a luxury wine specialist with The Hogue Cellars (, everyone headed to a self-serve buffet to nosh on beet salad; tarts (my favorite was the barbecued duck — with apologies to my new friends — that chef Sean O’Connell told us he uses to make tacos for the bluEmber restaurant’s regular menu); and desserts including blueberry cheesecake and coconut cake.

With about an hour or so to spare before our 3:30 p.m. facials, the Peach managed to pull the Rose away once again and we headed across the street to check out The River at Rancho Mirage (, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex that boasts a park-like waterfront with cascading waterfalls and whimsical sculptures (the huge pig was our favorite). We then perused the nearby E&J’s Designer Shoe Outlet (, which the Rose said she liked better than DSW.

Alas, the award-winning Spa Las Palmas beckoned, with the Peach set for a European Deep Cleansing Facial and the Rose the Sensitive Skin Calming Facial. The Rose especially loved all of the pampering and felt that her skin was ridden of all toxins. The neck and shoulder massage wasn’t bad, either, said the Brit, who left feeling that life could not get much better … But, oh, was she wrong! For Ruth (the Peach’s 101-year-old Palm Desert girlfriend) was ready to take them to dinner.

“Ruth turned out to be the most wonderful lady,” said the Peach, who especially loved hearing how Ruth had lived in Palm Desert for a number of years and knew most people of her generation, including silent screen stars and even an astronaut!

Ruth, left, and the Peach

After a casual meal at California Pizza Kitchen, the Rose and Peach dropped off Ruth and then drove around looking to see just what kind of trouble we could get ourselves into. We ended up at Barnes & Noble, where the Rose told me we were to spread out and each find a book that we wouldn’t normally pick for ourselves. I chose a book of poetry — “Immortal Poems of the English Language” — which reminded me of my college English class days, and the Rose settled on “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” which is among the earliest surviving works of literature. The Peach bought her book, vowing to read at least one poem a day and to decipher its meaning.

What a wonderful night out and such a perfect end to a fantastic day, the Rose and the Peach both agreed.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Great Getaway: Part 2

At last, the Rose and Peach were able to tear themselves away from shopping! That’s no easy feat for the pair, who finally arrived in the desert on Friday afternoon and headed straight to the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa at 41000 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage (

Located in the Coachella Valley, between Palm Desert and Palm Springs, this California mission-style resort recently underwent a $35 million makeover and features a 27-hole, Ted Robinson-designed golf course running through the property; a 20,000-square-foot European spa; the new Splashtopia water feature, complete with lazy river, slides and a sandy beach; 25 tennis courts; 240 acres of lakes, gardens and fountains; and several restaurants, such as the bluEmber — the centerpiece of the resort’s first-ever Eat. Drink. Savor. Epicurean Weekend March 2-4.

After checking in, we confirmed our spa appointments for Saturday afternoon facials (can you believe the Rose found a fellow Brit from Birmingham at the spa counter?); browsed (or “mooched” around, another British phrase courtesy of the Rose) in the spa boutique and hotel gift shop; and then headed to our room.

We unloaded our suitcases and immediately checked out the view from our ground-floor patio, which overlooked a pond with large boulders (perfect for sitting and pondering), a rushing waterfall, and numerous moorhens and ducks.

The feathered friends would turn out to be an integral part of the weekend, as the Peach evidently is an animal whisperer, the Rose said (obviously green with jealousy over her friend’s ability to cause any animal within a 300-mile radius to seek her out and make friends with her). The Peach, in return, feels beholden to feed all of these creatures, which requires runs to the store to supply the demand (with banana nut muffins being the preferred meal of choice and chicken quesadillas coming in a close second).

This entire scenario was a tad upsetting to the Rose, especially since all of the birds decided to depart as soon as she appeared at any given time during the Peach’s various gatherings. However, the Rose did manage to recover nicely by relaxing in the sun and partaking in a drink (namely, a vanilla latte from the on-site Starbucks shop) to help soothe her hurt feelings!

Having fed the entire resort population, the Rose and the Peach noticed they too were in need of some feeding as well. Seeing as the entire focus of the weekend was food and drink, we made our way to the first event: a five-course wine dinner at the property’s bluEmber restaurant under the helm of executive chef Sean O’Connell (pictured below). After working across the globe at locales from Hong Kong to The Bellagio Las Vegas, just to name a few, O’Connell came on board Rancho Las Palmas about a year ago and has since introduced new programs and culinary offerings ranging from wine dinners to a Chocolate Indulgence Bar offered every Sunday from 5-9 p.m.

At a “gastro reception” before the dinner, we met up with Scott Young, a luxury wine specialist with The Hogue Cellars (, who told us we (well, the Rose) would be sampling five Washington State wines from the Columbia Valley where the winery is based. We were then seated at a table with five other people (including two fellow journalists) to enjoy a variety of wine and cuisine prepared by chef O’Connell, along with local guest chefs Charles Andres of Roy’s Restaurant and Mark Sickenberger from Mission Hills Country Club.

The meal consisted of the starter course — a smoked salmon tartar with poached quail’s egg and wasabi dressing, paired with a Genesis by Hogue Unoaked Chardonnay — and dishes such as a melt-in-your-mouth chipotle barbecue Californian lamb rack served with delightful sides of artichoke-potato fondant, cauliflower fondue and minted Madeira (our agreed-upon favorite course of the entire weekend).

Apart from the lamb, we also particularly enjoyed the canvas of beets and watercress salad, which was prepared by chef Andres and included a surprising beet gelatin vinaigrette with a lemon taste (paired with a rather “limpy” Syrah, per the Rose). And yet another surprise came at the end of the meal with dessert, where a candied crabapple placed in the cappuccino chocolate cake was completely unrecognizable by each diner at our table.

The Rose’s top wine pick of the evening? The cabernet sauvignon served with the third course (chef Sickenberger’s pan seared bass), which she called “a dream,” adding that “it just calmed the nerves and had an ability to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime and anyplace.”

All in all, the wine samples really helped the Rose to relax and enjoy the company, which included an interesting mix of folks from the Los Angeles and Palm Desert areas. One of the Peach’s favorite parts of the evening was chatting with her seat mate, Gail from Ventura, Calif., who told me she once had a job teaching animals to do tricks for movies, the most famous of which was the pooch Axel, from “102 Dalmations,” who she taught to sneeze on cue.

Eventually, the Peach managed to wrangle the Rose away from the dinner (boy, can that one talk!), as she needed to get her secret fix — wild blueberry scones from Panera Bread. So, a midnight dash (it was really 9 o’clock, according to the Peach) was made to purchase these goods. Alas, Panera was closed, much to the Peach's dismay, so she settled for the next best thing: banana nut muffins from Vons. The pair returned to the room, only after the Rose promised to make the trip to Panera with the Peach first thing in the morning.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Great Getaway: Part 1

When the Peach was invited to experience the first-ever epicurean weekend at Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa ( in Rancho Mirage, Calif., with a guest of her choice a couple of weeks ago, her first thought was to take along her partner in crime, the Rose. She took me up on the invite, thrilled to be able to go anywhere but her hometown of Laguna Niguel for the weekend, she declared, and especially excited about joining me to partake in all of the advertised culinary offerings, including a Hogue Cellars five-course wine dinner hosted by the resort’s chef, Sean O’Connell, a wine tasting and Bloody Mary brunch, not to mention relaxing facials and a few other special surprises along the way.

After sorting out several emergencies before embarking upon our 36-hour getaway (first and foremost, a typically strong and in-control man who was slightly freaking out with the thought of being left alone to chaperone a 13-year-old boy for the entire weekend), the slightly jaded Rose was ready to leave with the Peach for their much-needed escape.

The busman’s holiday (the British term for what we were setting out on, according to the Rose) started off with a quick stop at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets ( Situated about 30 minutes west of Palm Desert in Cabazon, Calif., against a stunning mountain backdrop, this huge retail center features 130 name-brand and designer stores offering savings of 25 percent to 65 percent off retail prices every day.

Since we never have been allowed to stop at the outlets by fellow car passengers on previous trips to the desert, it was decided that this was an essential break in the journey!

Having never stepped foot in an American outlet mall in her life, the Rose was immediately blown away by the vast array of clothing styles and quantity of shops offered at the outlets.

It didn’t take long for the Rose to realize that there really are bargains to be had, if you know how to shop. Unfortunately, she says she does not know how to shop, so it took her some time to get used to the size and costs of all of the goods. Yet, never fear, the Rose was with a professional Peach who does know how to shop and she enjoyed every minute, noting “it is always a good idea to be led by enthusiasm, plus a little savvy, as it can lead to a stellar purchase.”

The gale force winds did not deter the two women from their intended mission, which for the Peach included the Gap, of course, where she picked out some early birthday presents for herself.

For the Rose, a trip to Van Heusen yielded a black “rain mac” (another British term) jacket that retailed at $250 but was on sale for 50 percent off. Deeming the jacket a medical necessity — as we both were freezing with the day’s unusually high winds and chilly temperatures — the Rose at first was disappointed that the store did not have her size. Upon further inspection, however, a jacket just her size was found. In addition, upon hearing our chatty banter and laughter, a lovely woman in line next to us offered the Rose a 10 percent discount from her book of savings, making the jacket just $57, including tax, and restoring our faith in humankind after a week of dealing with overly fractious individuals.

“Oh, how I love this mac!,” the Rose exclaimed with glee, as she clipped the tag and proceeded to wear her new purchase out of the store.

Other stops along the way included the Ugg store (where the Peach had hoped to find a pair of particularly fun flip flops she had seen in a magazine, to no avail) and Last Call by Neiman Marcus (where the Peach admits she couldn’t even afford anything at a discount!).

All shopped out (if that is even possible for at least one of us), we decided to move on to our intended destination and our weekend of eating, drinking and savoring. And, having only visited a portion of the stores that make up the Desert Hills Premium Outlets, we vowed to return and conquer the remaining stores, as well as the neighboring Cabazon Outlets (, on our way home!