My Life in Photos, April

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Can you believe that April is almost over? It’s been a busy month, but I’ve loved every second of it. April has been full of wrapping-up phase one of our Italian renovation, whipping-up spring recipes using veggies from my garden, and putting the finishing touches on book two.

I’m both exhausted and excited thinking about it all.

As most of you know, I adore Instagram. It’s truly a place where I can share all of my goings on with you. However, I know some of you like to visit the blog instead, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite photos from April with you here. There’s so much color, beauty, and of course, memories in these photos. Enjoy!

xx Annette

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Our master bath door waiting to be installed at our renovation.

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Many people ask me how long it takes to put a book together. When I hand in the final manuscript plus all the photos, it will be 3 years.

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How cute was Vivi as a puppy? We brought her home 5 years ago.

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This torta pasqualina was featured on City Sage a few weeks ago.

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Props, props, and more props for Cocktail Italiano.

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That’s a wrap on photographing book 2! Love this mash-up of the wrap party for Picture Perfect Parties 5 years ago.


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Best New Italian Cookbooks for Gift Giving on Cyber Monday

It’s that time of year! Gift giving time, people and it’s Cyber Monday. I must say my favorite gifts are usually cookbooks. Italian cookbooks are even better. Check out my faves and today is the best time to buy them all online at Amazon since it’s Cyber Monday!

As most of you know, I am a bit of an Italiophile (understatement). There are quite a few folks, who like me, adore Italy as their adopted country and write about their favorite Italian recipes. These talented ladies are fanatical Italiofoodiephiles… Here’s a list of some of the best new Italian cookbooks that have come on the scene this year. All of these ladies are obsessed with sharing their favorite Italian recipes, and let’s face it, Italian food is best enjoyed at home. Pick-up a copy for a friend or family member, and of course, don’t forget to gift yourself one or all of these beauties, too.

Happy gift giving. xx

I should add I enjoy following these ladies on Instagram; they have amazing feeds and adventures. I suggest you head over and follow them as well.


  1. Emiko Davies runs a super cool blog; she’s a food writer, but she’s now authored a couple books, and this is her latest (and her first), and she has one on the way in March 2017. Can’t wait. She’s a transplant from Australia living her life with her family in Italy. She runs cooking classes, writes form Italian newspapers, and has a vast knowledge of all things Italian. Her book Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence is tremendous and well written. I highly suggest it. Emiko’s Blog : Emiko Davies

Preserving Italy

2. Domenica Marchetti has written the quintessential Italian preserving book, Preserving Italy. Domenica grew up in an American Italian family. She is a writer and with a passion for all things Italian especially food, she has turned her passion into writing about and cooking Italian cuisine. Domenica will be joining me in Italy for a workshop at the Fortress in 2018. Wait for details. In the meantime, pick-up this book; it’s really the perfect gift. Domenica’s Blog: Domenica Cooks

tasting Rome

3. Katie Parla and Kristina Gill are both American transplants in Rome their book Tasting Rome is one of my favorites as the recipes are easy straight forward and delicious. Katie is a food writer, and Kristina is a food writer and photographer (she photographed most of their book). Pick-up a copy and be transported to Rome. Katie’s blog: Katie Parla , Kristina Gill Photography

Five Quarters

4.Rachel Roddy is the author of 2 cookbooks about Rome; either one or both make an excellent gift. Five Quarters is her latest endeavor. I love this book because it highlights Roman neighborhoods. Cooking from each quarter! Would that make a great dinner party theme! Just sayin’… Rachel is a contributor to The Guardian.

Italian Street Food

5.Paola Bacchia is one of Australia’s most popular Italian food bloggers. Her book Italian Street Food is one of my newer acquisitions. I am going to cook from it this holiday season. I think it’s such a clever premise. I will let you know how I like it, but I am pretty sure I am going to love it. Definitely on the radar as a great holiday gift. Paola’s blog:  Italy on My Mind

Let me know which ones you buy, and if you make recipes from these books. I would love to hear about them. Happy Holidays, it’s truly the most delectable time of year. xx

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I am giving away 3 copies of:: Tasting Rome

Butcher Shop

I am so excited to share this new Italian cookbook with you. My sweet friend Kristina Gill has written a lovely cookbook with co-author Katie Parla titled Tasting Rome. When I first heard about the project, I mistakenly thought that Kristina (who I regard as a photographer) was the photographer on the project, but she is in fact the co-author of the cookbook.

I was captivated by the story of making this book happen as she shared it’s conception recently at a book signing in Atlanta. Kristina, who lives in Rome, started working on this book many years ago. As a way to communicate with the cab drivers, she would chat about their favorite Roman recipes. Kristina wrote down all the recipes, tried them at home, and eventually had collected 100! More than enough for a book. I enjoyed hearing her interviewed in Atlanta recently, and this story resonated with me. How clever to talk to cab drivers about their food experiences. Living in Italy, I know that everyone in Italy has an opinion when it comes to food. Everyone in Italy’s Mama is the best cook, or makes the best this or that. Italians love of food is a serious passion; a pastime that is not only relished but revered.

The book is a little gem, filled with Roman food history, and beautiful recipes. These recipes are typical of the region since in Italy eating regionally is the way it is. The recipes are simple and ingredient-based.

One word of advice before delving into these recipes: if you live anywhere other than Italy, make sure the ingredients you use are the best of the best. For example, I made the chicken meatballs. I must say they were delicious, however I really wish I would have had the butcher grind the dark and light meat for me, rather than buying the pre-ground white meat. The taste would have been richer. I cannot stress enough that Italian food is mainly based on the gorgeous ingredients.

The recipe that I wanted to share today is one of my favorite salads in all of Italy. When I saw it in Tasting Rome, it was like seeing an old friend. The first time I tasted it was in Genova many years ago; my best friend’s boyfriend made it as a lunch course. It’s called insalata di carciofi crudi. I had never tasted raw artichokes, and they were so good. Eating young artichokes raw in Italy is quite common in most regions, and I was blown away. The delicate crunch and mild green flavor is sensational. Give it a try.

Shaved Artichoke Salad


Note: ROMANS TYPICALLY cook the tender inner leaves, hearts, and stems of artichokes, but wine bars, many of which lack a full kitchen, have taken to serving raw artichoke salads as a fresh, crisp, and flame-free alternative. The texture is best when the artichokes are sliced as thinly as possible, ideally on a mandoline. Their slightly sweet, bitter, and nutty flavors pair well with the tangy lemon juice and a hard cow’s-milk cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

You will need:
– 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon), plus more to taste
– 4 tender young artichokes cleaned (see below)
– ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
– Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
– Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, for shaving

To prepare:

Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl and set aside.

Remove each artichoke individually from the lemon water and halve them. Using a teaspoon or melon baller, scoop out and discard the fuzzy inner choke and trim off any rough, pointy bits.

Slice each artichoke half into the thinnest possible wedges, then add them to the bowl with lemon juice and mix well. Slice the trimmed stems into the thinnest possible rounds and add to the bowl. Add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Garnish with the mint leaves. Use a vegetable peeler to shave slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the salad. Serve immediately.

Note: Rome’s local artichoke, called carciofo romanesco, is a staple that floods market stalls from December until May and appears on tables as a starter or a side dish. If you can’t find them, substitute young, tender artichokes, ideally fresh and in season. You may need to adjust seasonings to accommodate. In Rome, they are available already cleaned and pruned, but you’ll likely need to do this yourself.

Begin by filling a large bowl with cold water. Add the juice of 1 lemon and drop in the squeezed lemon halves. Snap off the tough outer leaves of each artichoke just above the base, one at a time. Continue to remove the layers until you reach the light-colored inner leaves. Cut off the stem, leaving about 1 inch attached to the base. Using a small knife with a short, thin blade, or a vegetable peeler, peel off the fibrous outer skin from the removed stem until you reach the pale green inner flesh. Drop it in the bowl with lemon water.

Carefully peel away the tough, dark green skin from the base of the artichoke and its trimmed stem. Remove and discard the upper cone of leaves. Hold in the lemon water to prevent oxidizing until ready to use.


Now for the fun stuff! I am giving away 3 copies of Tasting Rome. I know right?! 3 copies!!!

Enter the giveaway below, and I hope you win! As we say in Italy…Boca di Lupo. GOOD LUCK!

Winners will be announced May 3rd, just in time for Mother’s Day! xx

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Photo credit: Kristina Gill

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Sage Living:: the design book with soul

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Last weekend I curled up with my friend Anne Sage‘s new design book, Sage Living, Decorate for the Life You Want. I wasn’t surprised that it was beautiful or unique because that pretty much sums up Anne in a nutshell.

However, what did surprise me was that this book is really a helpful guide on how to be happy at home. It’s a simple premise, but it’s never been done. Anne is not only brilliant in her approach to design and how it ties to our sense of well being, but this book will have you looking at your spaces and how you live in a fresh new way.

Lucky for me she agreed to come along and share her expertise with my June Style + Photo Workshop students in Italy this summer. Of course she wowed the crowd, and she will be back next June to do it again!

Lucky for you she has written one of the most soulful design books out there. While most design books cover beautiful spaces page after page, chapter after chapter, in a rather formulaic fashion, Anne goes the extra mile and illustrates the relationship between our home and our happiness.


Anne reminds us that “Your best life starts at home.”

In Sage Living, Anne Sage opens the door to 28 covetable dwellings designed to boost the dreams of their occupants, from the sunny kitchen of a holistic nutritionist to the eclectic living room of a world traveler. With page after page of stunning interiors and design tips for every room, Sage Living goes beneath the stylized surface to help you decorate for the life you want.

our dining room

When Anne asked me if she could photograph the entertaining spaces in our home for this book, I was not only honored, but excited to share why our home is the place that makes me and my entire family feel happy, centered, and at ease. We have created a place to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed.

You may know Anne as the City Sage, but I know her as a smart cookie. This book will change the way you look at your space and yes, even your life. I urge you to pick up a copy. It’s not only a design book; it goes deep and will have you thinking about the way you live in the most important space in your life: your home.

Thank you Anne for including our home. Our happiest place.

Photos : via Emily Johnston

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A Q&A with Forrest Spears :: Owner of Your Italian Concierge

interview with Your Italian Concierge I met Forrest Spears many many years ago. We were both starting our careers, he in fashion and I in visual merchandising, and we became fast friends. About 2 years into our friendship, he told me he was moving to Italy. I said, “Do you speak Italian?” and he replied, “No.” Then I asked, “Do you have a job there?” To which he again replied “No.” “Oh,” I said, “That’s crazy.”

Fast forward 30 years later, and Forrest has been living in Italy and thriving. He managed to learn perfect Italian, and land some amazing jobs in fashion along the way. CRAZY, indeed. Our friendship has had its ebb and flows, but mainly we still have tons in common, most of all, our love of all things Italian.

Forrest helped me with the design and renovation of our wonderful flat here on the Riviera. He’s a genius with interiors, and I am proud and blessed to call him my friend. Recently, he opened a Custom Travel Service in Italy. He’s truly the best person to travel with; I can attest to this, as I have had the great privilege of experiencing Italy through his eyes.

I wanted to introduce you to him. So many of you email me with questions about where to travel in Italy, hotels, day trips etc. I have referred Forrest to many of you, but I wanted you to hear about him in his own words. It’s my pleasure to share a little Q&A with my favorite Italian Concierge.

I sat down with Forrest and asked him some burning questions about his life in Italy and his new baby, Your Italian Concierge.

Q: How long have you lived in Italy?

A: I have lived in Italy for 30 years.

Q: Where have you lived in Italy?

A: I first came to Florence to learn Italian, switching to a language school in Verona for the following 4 months. After a 4 year stint of living & working in Switzerland, I returned to Florence for 2 marvelous years before moving to Genoa where I now live with my boyfriend, Roberto… a Genoese through and through… and our 2 Weimaraners, Moses & Nina.

Q: Tell us about some of the interesting jobs you’ve held in Italy?

A: Fashion is an obviously exciting business, especially so in Italy. Though fashion is mainly located in Milan, many top fashion companies are located elsewhere, for example in Florence where  the fashion house of Salvatore Ferragamo is based. I was the assistant to the fashion co-ordinator for this family owned company for 3 years. An amazing experience… a privilege too… to work so closely with the members of the Ferragamo family, each responsible for some aspect of the company’s business, and with the talented designers & technicians for footwear, accessories and pret-a-porter, plus the professional staff in PR, advertising & stores. I learned so much which I then carried forward as the Head Design Co-ordinator  in Mens for Bally of Switzerland: a dream of a job. 70% of my time was dedicated to the footwear collections. I spent 4 years catching trains & planes to go to Italy to visit mom & pop shoe factories in Le Marche or to larger ones in Tuscany and the Veneto to follow the creation & production of the Bally Mens Footwear Collections. Once the Italians get to know and trust you, there is very little they will not do for you. Their energy, creativity and adaptability made me a success. I am forever indebted.

Q: Why did you decide to start a Travel Business?

A: When an American cousin called me to help help with her travel plans for a complicated trip to Italy 2 years ago. While putting together her trip, I thought to myself: this could be business; I’ve been all over Italy from work and touring with my boyfriend; I am passionate about all that Italy has to offer, from its art & architecture, its cities & countryside to its food & wine ad infinitum; I speak Italian very well… the Italians love my American accent and my vocabulary too, which is a trick my father taught me = he said to occasionally use big words and people will be impressed; I know how Italy and Italian works, and this from those 30 years of living here; and finally, I have superb contacts. It opens doors which others could only dream of entering through! I know so many secrets that the average traveler to Italy would never find, never ever. So it seemed like the perfect business at the perfect time.

Q: You have an amazing country house. Tell us about your house, and why you decided to rent the property?

A: I have always hankered for a house in the Italian country-side. I like the life-style, the quiet and the people too. I was not familiar with the Lunigiana, the area of Northwestern Tuscany, where we bought an abandoned 800 year old farm-house in the village of Codiponte 7 years ago. The house is its own village, surrounded by a once-upon-a-time vineyard and now a terraced garden, and Il Poggiolo (my house) is large enough to actually be 3 separate houses… La Casetta built in the Medici-style in the late 1600s, La Casa Padronale, the heart of the farm-house and L’Appartamento Azzurro, the apartment where the tenants of the farm lived. I know many who were born in its bedroom! The idea of renting for vacations came automatically.

interview with Your Italian Concierge IMG_1570 interview with Your Italian Concierge interview with Your Italian Concierge

Q: Why should someone rent from you? ( Full disclosure I have stayed in Forrest’s rentals many times and cannot get enough. A little piece of heaven!)

A: Let’s start with the  adventure of discovering a new area of Italy the Lunigiana, convenient to the sea, Le Cinque Terre or Forte dei Marmi, to Genoa’s enormous centro storico of alleys and palazzi, to Lucca’s pedestrian streets and its country villas outside, and to the peaks and trails of the Apuane mountains; everyone knows me and I am around to explain how best to get around and that includes trying the wonderful local “cucina della Lunigiana” of panigacci, testaroli, lasagna bianca; and the 3 houses of Il Poggiolo are so charming to stay in, filled with period antiques, flea-market treasures and contemporary art, lovely views and the quiet of the garden under the shade of a persimmon tree!

interview with Your Italian Concierge

Q: Name 3 of your favorite places to visit in Italy, and why you love them.

A: 1.Anywhere and everywhere in & around Rome. The city is like an onion: peel a layer and there is another even more interesting one underneath and where else can you see vestiges of 2,000+ years of history, art & culture?

2. Apulia… Puglia... the long heel of the peninsula and it is the perfect Italian combination of mixing sight-seeing and the sea: a morning touring the magnificent Baroque of Lecce, and then, with a short drive sunbathing at the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean Sea lapping at your feet.

3. Not always a pick on everyone’s list but, I love Milan it is a city in its prime with the EXPO 2015. Milan is a big, bustling city full of fantastic shopping, interesting nooks & crannies, super places to eat & drink AND tons of museums of all sorts. I’m there at least 5 or 6 times a year. Most fly into Milan Malpensa so, why not take in the city before heading out to see the rest of the country? (and I know all the secret spots)

Q: Tell us about your Travel business including some of the custom elements of your services.

A: Your Italian Concierge is a custom travel & event planning service. 80% of our business is travel but, we can organize reunions, business conferences, lectures series, etc. For travel, there are 2 routes to go: we can devise a custom tour as per your wishes or dreams of Italy, no matter if it is a first time trip to Rome or a desire to explore some special aspect of the country… Sicily, or wines & food of the Veneto, a tour of gardens or castles… or, for a more cost effective set fee we can advice and recommend whatever a client wants or needs to know and they do the booking. We love to show the Italy we know best!

Q: What is the best season to visit Italy?

A: The best seasons for Italy are Spring and Fall, April/May and September/October being the best months. And other moments in the year to come are at special holidays on the calendar, Easter and Christmas. One of our best Christmases was in spent in Florence with snow!  

Q: How far in advance should people be planning a trip to Italy and contacting you?

A: The more time you allow the better: 6 to 8 months is good from the word Go! Planning a custom trip requires lots of conversations, the back ’n forth of emails and telephone calls. And, often the best places to stay or special visits, such as to visit the Lamborghini factory or a 12th Century castle in the Val d’Orcia closed to the public requires advanced arrangements. The early bird catches the worm.  

Grazie Mille Forrest; you’re the best. I am so happy I got to share my “secret weapon” with everyone here on my blog. Every girl living in Italy or traveling here needs a “Forrest,” and I am willing to share him. It’s your lucky day. xx

Make sure to contact Forrest at Your Italian Concierge for the best travel assistance in Italy.

Photo Credit : Me and Forrest


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