A Visit to the Enchanted Valley through the Palette of Steve McKenzie

Today I have a special treat for you. One of our guest instructors and one of my dear friends, Steve McKenzie, is sharing a bit about his experience in May at La Fortezza. Steve is a brilliant interior designer, artist, and textile designer in Atlanta. His workshop here in Italy with us is in September, and I cannot wait to welcome him and his students. Enjoy today’s post from Steve, and be sure to sign-up for one of the very few remaining spots for his workshop. Take it away Steve:

My wife, Jill, and I recently had the chance to visit Annette at her magical Fortress in a verdant valley in Northern Tuscany. I wanted to see everything as I prepare for the abstract painting class I will be leading there in September. Inspiration is everywhere, and I cannot wait to return.

The magic begins as you approach her home, and up on the mountain sits her Fortress. They have created beautifully appointed living and working spaces as well as incredibly comfortable guest quarters for the students that are unparalleled. It feels a little like a visit to a monastery where the furnishings and the views take you to a place of contemplation and inspiration.

These cozy places, coupled with a superb cocktail, encourage congregation and conversation.

We were greeted in typical Annette fashion with a delicious, as well as beautiful, Aperitivo of Negroni and nibbles, taken straight out of her new book, Cocktail Italiano. A delicious dinner of pasta and salad followed, reminding me of what a talented cook Annette is.  I am excited that a cooking lesson in the commercial kitchen will be part of our fall workshop.

Day two we had a chance to visit the charming local village, Fivizzano, on market day. It is charming and again, inspiration is around every corner. Following our visit to the market, we visited some of Annette’s favorite vintage and antique dealers. These are a must during the workshop on our free day.

I also strolled over to the La Fortezza vineyards with Annette and Jill. The beauty of this location really spoke to me and inspired me to paint en plein air.  During the workshop, we will take a picnic lunch out here and paint, eat and drink. The colors and vistas are one of the most inspirational places I have visited.

On the journey back to the house, I filled a market basket with wild flowers from the property as well as colorful roses from her rose garden. The most beautiful arrangement quickly came together in a beautiful pitcher from Annette’s copper collection. We will incorporate a quick floral arranging lesson during my workshop as well.

I can’t wait to return and share all the fabulous experiences with my students during the workshop September 19-24, 2018.

There are only a few spaces left, so register now

Thank you for guest posting today, Steve! As always, if you have questions about our workshop, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below.

xx Annette

All behind the scenes dream home Entertaining gardening italian cooking italy Meet the Team Notes from Italy Personal photography photostyling photostyling like a pro renovation in italy Styling The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized videos Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recipe:: Easy Pesto Pasta for a Crowd

This recipe for Ligurian pesto pasta with green beans and red potatoes is a fantastic dinner that’s perfectly suited for feeding a crowd. If you have leftovers, it also makes a great lunch the next day. Pesto is one of those easy sauces that people often forget about, but not this Italian girl! Basil grows freely in my garden, so you can be sure I’ll be whipping-up this easy pesto pasta this summer.
Easy Pesto Pasta for a Crowd
You will need: 
– 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
– 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
– 2 cups green beans cut into 2″ pieces
– 6 small red potatoes cut into quarters, skin on
– 1 box of dry mini penne pasta (or pen shaped pasta)
To prepare:
Cook pasta until al dente, about 15 minutes.
Add the beans and potatoes after pasta has cooked and cook for 5 minutes until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.
Reserve 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water to lighten the pesto sauce consistency. Drain and pour into a large bowl.
Toss pasta, beans, and potatoes in 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add reserved water to the pesto in a separate bowl.
(Note: pesto should be fluid, but not runny). Add pesto to the pasta and toss until incorporated. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese.
All cooking dinner party Entertaining gardening italian cooking italy Recipes Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , ,

All About Olives Workshop Recap

IMG_1226 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What can I say? Our All About Olives Workshop went off without a hitch. Perfect group, perfect weather, and perfect instructors, Emily Followill and Alisa Barry.

FullSizeRender

This is Emily’s second time teaching with us in Italy, and it will not be the last time. She’s an amazing teacher and mentor, and most of all, she’s a just a wonderful person to be around. She had many lessons for our attendees and was most importantly loads of fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We enjoyed hiking through the olive grove and seeing the olive harvest in full swing. Our picnic in the olive grove after a long morning trekking was picture perfect. It included the ever popular brown butter chocolate chip cookies, Teri’s super secret recipe. Let’s just say they are the best cookie I have every tasted, and our attendees agreed. A beautiful vegetable torta baked by Alisa was a special treat while we enjoyed the sunshine on our faces. We also stuffed ourselves with homemade focaccia sandwiches, so thanks to Teri, we could barely get up to go to our cooking lesson that afternoon with Alisa. I think we would have all loved a nice nap under the olive trees.

IMG_1224 IMG_1225

Saturday we all went to see the olives pressed. We had tastes of the fresh press and of course, stocked up on fresh olive oil to take home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a tiny village, we enjoyed a tour of a small family winery and then an amazing lunch in the family owned restaurant where 2 sisters run the show. We had crepes filled with nettles and pasta with sausage and greens, housemade wine, and delicate desserts with strong espresso to wash it down. It was the most incredible little lunch stop for our group.

IMG_1234

The workshop was a smashing success. I made new friends and reconnected with old friends as we had several attendees who had returned. It really makes me happy that people want to join us again and again. I love welcoming everyone, and I love leisurely suppers where everyone shares stories and dreams and goals. My goal next season is to have everyone join us and experience our tiny piece of heaven here in the Italian countryside. Until then, ci vediamo spero a presto xx

IMG_1227

All behind the scenes cooking dream home Entertaining Events Fall Food fall menus Food styling gardening how to be a stylist italian cooking italy Meet the Team Notes from Italy Personal photography photostyling photostyling like a pro secrets on how to become a stylist style lessons Styling stylist tips The Fortress tips from a stylist Travel Tuscany Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 things I learned about truffle hunting in Italy

IMG_1022

First of all, I thought I have the best job in the world…I thought that until a few weeks ago that is…

I had an opportunity to go truffle hunting with a certified guide and his wonder truffle dog, Tito. In the name of research, I had to go for my workshop attendees. Let’s get it straight: my job doesn’t suck, however here’s why I think in another life, I will be a truffle hunter. Full disclosure: truffles are one of my favorite things on the planet, and it’s no wonder that hunting for them proved to me why they are so incredible as an ingredient.

I met Simone and Tito at a designated location, and then we headed off into the mountains for my first ever truffle hunting experience. You may remember I went to a truffle festival in Alba, in the Piedmont a couple years ago. But this, my friends, was truly a bucket list moment for me.

Okay back to Simone and Tito. Tito is a truffle dog, so of course I had a million questions for Simone about how one trains a truffle dog. The breed has been bred specifically for this purpose: to sniff out the yummy goodness of the truffle buried beneath the forest floor. It’s called the Lagotto Romagnolo; that’s a mouth full. Tito was in the back of the car crated and quiet. We drove up the mountain with my never ending questions about training Tito. Simone was very patient in explaining that one must spend many many many hours training these dogs. First you feed the puppies truffles, so they get a sniff and a taste for them (see even the dogs think they are yummy). Then hand signals, treats and even getting on your hands and knees to show them how to gently dig, so as not to break the truffle. Foraging the woods is a team effort. These 2 make the perfect team as I found out after 3 hours of foraging in the beautiful countryside. It was exciting and zen all at the same time. Hence my epiphany that I should have been a truffle hunter. Walking in nature endlessly looking for these hidden treasures was something that was heavenly to me. I learned a lot about truffles and hunting in these 3 hours spent with the ultimate hunting team.

What I learned about truffles:

  1. There are 7 types of truffles that one can legally hunt in Italy.
  2. Hunting for truffles is a year round activity (I thought it was only fall but no, Simone and Tito hunt all year).
  3. Moisture has much to do with the harvest, and rain is a very important factor in the quantity of truffles annually. The more rain, the more truffles.
  4. Hunting with dogs is far superior to pigs as dogs are more delicate and hunt with their paws, and pigs dig up truffles with their snouts often breaking the truffles.
  5. Truffles can be found all over the forest floors, not just the roots of trees.
  6. White truffles are harder to find and much more delicate to extract from the earth than black truffles
  7. There’s actually a school where guides can go to learn to guide truffle hunts

Needless to say, we had to eat truffles for lunch and the perfect place was right up the road. My tortellone with ricotta and egg sprinkled with black truffles was divine. The perfect end to a cool day hunting what I love with a great guide and a spectacular dog, Tito, who won my heart.

IMG_1026

If you’re interested in hunting truffles, you will have an opportunity at our upcoming workshop in 2018 as this will become a staple of the offerings for our free day.

All hail Tito, too! Now I want a truffle dog. xx

IMG_1021

All behind the scenes cooking Events Fall Food gardening italian cooking italy Notes from Italy Personal The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Life in Photos, July

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. We drank wine from our vineyard. We learned invaluable cooking tips from Sif.

Needless to say, it’s been busy!

Here’s a look at everything that has been going on. Be sure to follow me on Instagram for more shots of Italy and on the style+photo feed on Instagram for more shots of our workshops and The Fortress.

xx Annette

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Happy Friday! When your vintner drops off your bottles with your label now I feel like a vineyard owner!

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Outdoor movies on the terrace Fridays are the best.

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Sunday morning coffee gram; this view never gets old!

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Prop shopping!

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

We’ve been experiencing an incredible workshop strictly styling workshop with Sarah Dorio as our photographer.

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Okay, so this is the best day ever!!!!

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Vineyard view last night we drank wine in our vineyard.

What can I say? July has been a whirlwind. We hosted not one, but two style+photo workshops at The Fortress. Here's a look at everything!

Lunch with Sif Orellana; she’s extraordinary. It’s been pure magic!

All behind the scenes dream home Entertaining Events Food styling gardening how to be a stylist Instagram italy Notes from Italy Personal photography photostyling photostyling like a pro renovation in italy The Fortress tips from a stylist Travel Tuscany Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,