Meet my new neighbor, Julie Montagu, the Viscountess Hinchingbrooke

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Ciao All! I wanted you to meet my new neighbor in Fivizzano. Much to my surprise, I received a direct message from a woman that follows both of us on Instagram. The message read, “You must meet Julie Montagu; she just bought a house in Fivizzano”.

How obscure, I thought. Our region is so unknown and yet this Julie person bought a house here during a pandemic? I did not think much more about it until I got a message from said “Julie”.

I looked at her name, and it sounded vaguely familiar. So I did what anyone would do, I looked at her instagram account. With a little more investigation, I realized I knew Julie from the very short-lived Bravo TV show, “Ladies of London”. I mainly remembered her because she was so unlike the other “ladies”. First off she is an American, and she is a renowned yoga and healthy lifestyle guru! Obviously, I wrote her back that we would need to meet up in Fivizzano.

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We texted back and forth until the moment we met. She really was like seeing an old friend; we shared a driver from the airport, and honestly, it was an instant connection. Julie is a delight, she adores Italy and even though she’s a Viscountess, she’s just a lovely lady from the Midwest. Being from the Midwest myself, I felt an instant connection.

Julie is a busy lady. She’s a mom to 4 children, and she has an incredible You Tube Channel and teaches yoga non-stop, all while helping to run her family estate, Mapperton House. She also hosts a show on Smithsonian Channel. If you’re interested in English estates, you might want to watch it. She’s charming on it. (It streams on Amazon btw)

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I am looking forward to showing her around and introducing her to our beautiful region of the Lunigiana. She, like me, is obsessed with interior design, so it will be fun to show her all my wonderful local vendors and flea markets. You know I love a project. We are even thinking about holding some Yoga Retreats and La Fortezza in 2022. Let me know if you’d be into it? I cannot wait to collaborate with Julie and share her amazing talents and energy!

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Julie’s sweet new home in the heart of Fivizzano. How cute is this place?

I asked Julie a few questions she was kind enough to answer them even though she’s incredibly busy these days. Julie, I look forward to lots of adventures with you. x

Q: Explain your relationship with Italy.

A: Honestly, I wish I could say that even 1/100th of me had some Italian in me, but try as I might, I couldn’t find any.  So my relationship with Italy is one of obsession really. What American isn’t, right?  The food, the culture, the history, the arts, the coffee, the wine and I had better stop here because this could take all day. But equally, I’m obsessed with the language so I started taking online lessons at the start of the pandemic March 2020. I think I have around 120 hours of lessons under my belt but I’m still rubbish!  However, that certainly doesn’t stop me from trying to fit in…. one day!

Q: How did you decide on Fivizzano?

A: My thirst for Italy wasn’t being quenched enough by Italian lessons plus not many people speak Italian in England! Therefore, I made a commitment to myself and possibly not to my husband…shhhh… that I would buy a property in 2020 somewhere in Italy.  That somewhere zoomed in to Tuscany.  I’m an outdoors gal, yoga, cycling, walking, skiing, boating so I knew that having some or all of that was where I wanted to go.  I was told to ‘seek and ye shall find’ in Northwest Tuscany. I like to think that Fivizzano found me! Thank goodness too! I compare my experience of finding a house in Italy and finding this house in Fivizzano to that of my shopping skills: I don’t have the time or the energy to spend hours, days, months shopping. I know what I like as soon as I see it.

Q: Tell us about your house and your plans for the renovation.

A: My new favourite name for my house is: La mia casetta carina – My cute little house. In my eyes, that’s exactly what it is. It’s 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 1 shower room, a sitting room and of course, a good sized kitchen!  But the other feature that sold it to me was the roof terrace.  I distinctively remember walking out onto the terrace in sync with the ringing of the church bells and the view of the spire straight ahead.  All around me were the sights, sounds and smells of Italy – exactly what I had spent years imagining.

I’m in the midst of the very beginning stages of renovation.  The pandemic has of course slowed things down a bit but I’m American and am full steam ahead in my heart.  I’d like to expose more the original, interior stone walls and incorporate beautiful Italian floor tiles throughout but keep the decoration simple and clean.  However, living in England for the past 20 years has converted me into a bath girl!  Long gone are the days of my preference to shower. So the bathroom must have an enormous bath that is big enough for me to lie completely horizontal. And of course, I’m really excited about heading off to the brilliant flea markets too as there lies treasures of one-of-a-kind finds.

Q: How much time do you plan to spend in Italy?

A: How much time am I allowed?! I still have a young(ish) family, so I won’t be an empty nester for 6 more years BUT as soon as the last of 4 chicks have flown the coop, you can count on this mother hen spending as much time in Italy as she possibly can.

Q: How is your Italian?

A: Probably considered rubbish by the Italians and decent by American standards. I’m still beavering away at my 3x a week virtual Italian lessons and will continue to do so until god knows when but the reality of truly becoming more fluent only happens when you’re actually in the country and speaking with ‘in real life’ Italians.

Q: Do you plan to host yoga retreats in Italy?

A: Not at my cute little house which only sleeps 4, but perhaps at yours? Let’s talk!

Q: Will you be my best friend?

A: Yes! As long as you teach me how to cook! 😉 I’m not sure who was looking down on oblivious Julie – but clearly, someone was and for that, I am eternally grateful. Who would have thought that in ALL of Italy, the paths of 2 midwestern girls would not only cross but become the best of friends, in a little town called Fivizzano.

Grazie Mille Julie! Here’s to many hours spent scouring the flea markets and cooking, but mostly drinking and laughing on the terrace and of course hiking up and down the mountainside.. Ci vediamo a presto cara. Ti voglio bene x

P.S. Big Si Si to Yoga retreats in 2022, you teach the yoga, and I’ll teach the cooking.

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5 Reasons to Watch “Stanly Tucci: Searching for Italy”

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Hi everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web manager and friend, and I am here to share something shocking:

I hated traveling to Italy.

It’s blasphemy around here, I know. And before you worry about my job security, Annette is fully aware of my feelings, too. In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons she keeps me around: so she can one day try to change my mind. And to be honest, after nearly seven years of working together, she’s finally wearing me down. Well, Annette along with Stanly Tucci.

The first and only time I found myself on the streets of Italy was June of 2009. My best friend and I were teachers at the time, and we made the very responsible decision to use our first tax refund check of our adult lives to purchase a Greek cruise bookended by a few days in Milan, Florence and Venice. School ended, we hopped on a plane for what was going to be the trip of our twenty-something lifetime, and we landed in Milan.

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From the top of the Duomo in Milan, taken by me in 2009!

The streets were bursting with people, the duomo casting a shadow over everyone below. Cars, bicycles and Vespas zoomed left and right. The sun pressed down on us. I was sweaty. I was tired. I was not impressed. This was basically New York City…but in Italy. I cried to my now-husband that I was already ready to come home. It had been 3 hours.

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Me, left, and my BFF Lindsay, right in Florence.

Florence captured my attention only slightly better, thanks to various art museums and markets. Venice…well, I found it to be about as pleasant as Annette does. Other than the Italian food, of which we have plenty in America, I decided Italy was not AT ALL for me.

I confessed this during my interview with Annette in 2014. She vowed to change my mind, and I have to say, it’s working. Before the pandemic, I had, rather hesitantly, started doing my research to visit Annette at La Fortezza. But to be honest, I wasn’t too disappointed when it paused my travel plans.

Last weekend, after watching more than my share of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and even Disney+, I decided to give a new CNN show a try: Stanly Tucci’s Searching for Italy, released one episode at a time, old school style. Within one episode, I was happily hooked, and already singing Italy’s praises to Annette, ready to book a ticket. Truly. That’s how good it is. Besides completely converting me, an Italian naysayer to an Italian wanderluster, here are 5 other reasons to watch the show:

Stanly’s voice is soothing. I watch The Barefoot Contessa nearly every weekend right when I get up because I find Ina Garten’s voice such a pleasant sound to wake up to. Stanly Tucci’s voice is no different. It ebbs and flows in such a way that you barely notice that he curses every time he takes a bite of pasta. It must be good.

The Italian pride is palpable. After reading, Italy is My Boyfriend, I think I came to understand the great pride within Italians. But seeing it on screen takes it to an entirely new level. There are restauranteurs who have carried on their family recipes for hundreds of years. There are butchers protecting the name and preparation of prosciutto, so phonies cannot trick the public. There are families who still gather around a table every single Sunday for supper, serving the main course as their ancestors did, no matter how antiquated it might seem.

There is a depth to every region. I think this is what has struck me as the most interesting aspect of the show. We might be familiar with the bright colors and stunning seas of the Amalfi Coast, but what we don’t realize is how poverty-stricken it is. Or how Napoli’s infamous pizza was born out of a pandemic. There’s more to Italy than Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome and Pisa. This show takes us there.

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He’s the Rick Steves of 2021. I have to say the most enjoyable moments of my 2009 trip were when my BFF and I busted out our trusty Rick Steves’ book when exploring. We found the most amazing pizza down the scariest alleyway in Venice, and rested our heads only in Steves’ recommended lodgings. Even though Stanly isn’t a food writer on a budget, he is bringing viewers to some obscure places, and for that, I love the show even more.

We meet Stanly’s wife. Did you know Stanly Tucci is married to Emily Blount’s sister? It’s true! Emily and Stanly met while filming The Devil Wears Prada. He was later invited to Emily’s wedding. There, Emily introduced Stanly to her sister, Felicity. Stanly and Felicity were married two years later. Felicity is the woman behind the camera for all of Stanly’s cocktail posts on Instagram. Now, we see her in front of the camera on the show.

Will you watch? I hope so! Let me know what you think.

xo, Nicole

 

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The Twisted Soul Cookbook

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Dare I say that Chef Deborah VanTrece is my Rizzoli soul sister?!  Well heck, I am going to say it. I am so excited for the latest Rizzoli NY cookbook from a local Atlanta chef. This cookbook is not only a visual treat, but it is also an amazing collection of recipes that infuse Deborah’s vast travel culinary experiences and her Southern soul. Her restaurant, The Twisted House Cookhouse and Pours is a landmark in the community. I was excited to meet her in person at her cookbook photo-shoot in Atlanta last January. We share the same Rizzoli NY cookbook editor, which makes us sisters for sure, right? I was invited to meet her and appear in her cookbook while enjoying a meal. Needless to say, trying a multitude of her recipes all in one sitting was a treat.

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My 5 questions for Deborah:

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Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?

There’s no particular recipe I favor more than another in this book. Each recipe has a personal meaning to me.

Tell me a bit about the inspiration for the book, and the recipe.

This book is inspired by the great soul food cooks of the past and present. It expounds on old traditions by exploring new combinations of ingredients by interchanging cultures and techniques. It is intended to uplift the idea of “comfort food” across all cultures and showcase the impact of the humblest cuisines in our souls and our hearts. 

When did cooking become a passion and then a profession? Was this your path, or was it different? 

As far back as I can remember, I have always been intrigued by food and the fellowship around it.  Being an only child, sometimes I felt so alone.  It was always celebrations, that included food and drink, that erased my feelings of loneliness and created an atmosphere of joy that I wanted to last forever.  Because of this, I developed a passion for cooking, often sharing my creations with friends and family.  I became an international flight attendant, and the exposure to other cultures only increased my hunger for learning how to create new dishes. I finally enrolled in culinary school and my professional journey in the food world began.

How have you been able to pivot your restaurant during Covid?

My pivots with Covid are an entire book within itself. I have adjusted my business model several times to keep in line with safety protocols, as well as government mandates. It hasn’t been easy, but we are still standing, and for that, I am grateful.

Who most influenced you in your cooking?

My family has been most influential in my cooking. From my mother and father to my aunts, uncles and cousins, they have all helped in constructing my culinary foundation. Good food is a part of my history and recipes handed down through generations are so important to my story. These recipes showcase the existence of my ancestors and motivate me to continue the story by adding recipes of my own.

 

Thanks so much, Deborah! xx

 

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The pink drink:: the best Valentine’s Day cocktail

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Here’s the perfect pink drink recipe for Valentine’s Day. It’s such a gorgeous color! The balance of grapefruit to pomegranate juice makes for a lovely pairing. Enjoy this week celebrating Valentine’s Day. May today and the rest of the week be filled with love and pink drinks! xx

The Pink Drink
serves 8 (make a pitcher and enjoy it throughout the week!)

You will need:
– Ice
– 6 cups ruby red grapefruit juice
– 1 cup pomegranate juice
– 1 cup ice-cold vodka
– Fresh mint sprigs

To prepare:

Fill large pitcher halfway with ice. Add grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice, vodka, and some fresh mint leaves. Stir to mix. Serve in chilled glasses. Garnish with mint sprig. Makes 8 servings.

Note: For a nonalcoholic version, omit grapefruit juice and vodka. Replace with 7 cups raspberry lemonade. Combine as directed.

From: Traditional Home

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Truffle Pasta

After Monday’s post all about truffles, I’ve been dreaming about this truffle pasta from the archives. It’s delicious and a great way to enjoy the flavors of truffles. You can sub zucchini for any other seasonal squash, or another veggie of your choice. Get creative with it, and let the truffles take center stage!

Truffle Pasta
serves 4

You will need:
– – Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound whole-wheat dried spaghettini
– 3/4 pound zucchini sliced into coins
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 2 tablespoons minced garlic (NOTE: I always use a micro planer to grate the fresh garlic into the oil)
– 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
– 3 tablespoons truffle oil

To prepare:
Cut the zucchini into thin coins then put oil and grate fresh garlic into a skillet. Heat oil and garlic and add zucchini, saute on high heat until the zucchini is evenly browned. In the meantime, boil the pasta on high, until al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the zucchini, and toss with cheese.
Pull off heat and put pasta into a bowl, finish with the truffle oil, salt and pepper. I also like adding truffle salt if you have it. Serve hot with a nice salad.

Serve and enjoy!

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