Preserving Italy Workshop:: the slow food experience

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We just wrapped up the Slow Food Experience workshop, and I must say it was a wonderful experience not only for our attendees but for me too. We visited food artisans in the area and sampled local food like panigacci and chestnut fritters, and with the help of my foodie friends, I think we represented the region of the Lunigiana proudly.

There are so many interesting and different local foods here. It’s so different, in fcct, that I am writing my next cookbook about it (keep your eyes peeled for the La Fortezza Cookbook, due out in 2021). It is a region rich in history and food history with many kitchens born out of need and lack of funds; the “poor kitchen,” or as they call it, “cucina povere” was creative and inspired.

We made pasta with Chef Philip using jarred tomato sauce, (passata) from our kitchen garden tomatoes. We made grape jam with my friend and slow food ambassador, Giovanna, and sampled bread from the local bread maker Fabio


We enjoyed chestnut fritters with chestnut honey and dined on all the products from around the area breakfast lunch and dinner, and of course many aperitivos…

This workshop will be available next year. All workshops for 2020 will post in November. We would love for you to join us and sample all the local food products and meet all the lovely people that work so hard to preserve the traditions of this beautiful region.

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Thanks to all the attended and we really loved meeting your eating with all of you. See you next year.x

Some imagery is from our team photographer Kate Blohm

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My vacation in Puglia


As some of you might know, I take August off and plan a vacation to explore a new region in Italy. Last year was Sicily. This year I decided to head to Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop in Puglia I view these trips as my personal photo safari and with camera in hand, I love to have the luxury of just photographing everything.


Tonio and his wife Jennifer

I made my way out to the Puglian countryside, to the Messors Shepherds and Food Culture Workshop location to meet Messors Workshop hosts, Tonio and Jennifer Creanza. All the attendees and most of the staff are hosted at a friend’s large home near Matera. What once was a hunting lodge, now serves as a working masseria (farm).

Tonio Creanza leads the workshop along with his wife Jennifer. Jennifer has tireless energy; she is no doubt the driving force and support system for the 6-day workshop with a wide range of activities. All meals served at the house and all over the countryside are produced by her and a staff of close family and volunteers from all over the world. Truth is, I was surprised to meet her since there is no mention of her in the collateral about the workshop. But she’s truly the star of the show and the glue that holds their workshops together. Jennifer is originally from Vancouver (where the family resides in the winter months). She met Tonio at one of his restoration workshops. As she tells it, he courted her by serenading to her with his guitar under the stars.

They also include their charming 10-year-old son, August. I had the pleasure of sitting with him during dinner, and I must say he’s one of the most interesting 10-year-olds I have ever met. Normally I am not a fan of having kids at workshops. I like kids, don’t get me wrong, I just like it better when I am on vacation to have adults around. But August proved that I was wrong, and he was one of the most delightful parts of the workshop.


August with his Nonno (Grandfather)

Tonio is a restoration expert and currently has several projects resorting cave paintings in the Matera area. As part of the restoration project, Tonio and Jennifer have purchased a property, a primitive shepherd’s house, which has several caves on the property with amazing paintings. The caves include crypts and churches and dwellings. Tonio, along with a rotating team of restorers, plans to restore them to their former glory. The shepherd house is where the cheese demonstration took place, followed by lunch and then Tonio’s afternoon lecture in the caves on the property.

Shepherd's House

Shepherd’s House


lecture in the caves

lecture in the caves

Tonio is deeply committed to restoring these beautiful cave paintings. He speaks passionately about his commitment to these projects. He views himself as an educator and throughout the workshop, there are many lectures about cave dwellings and paintings. He speaks about his connection to the land to the shepherds and the farmers and makers and to the caves. His core message is a good one. History should be respected, preserved and cherished, and ancient food traditions and preparations should be passed down through the generations and not forgotten, and I could not agree more. It’s a noble cause he’s chosen to share.

Breakfast was served outdoors, where sometimes Tonio drags his beloved chalk board to do a lecture about his feelings about food and food conservation in Italy. He has strong opinions which he shares by punctuating his points while drawing a map of Italy and writing all over his beloved chalkboard.

The night we all arrived, he even tried to teach a bit of Italian to the attendees. Which I found quite funny since many glasses of wine had been consumed. He even wrote Italian words on his chalkboard in the the darkness. He played the guitar, sang and whistled to us all. It was quite sweet.

Although Tonio did the brunt of the touring and talking, I was most impressed with the enormous effort that Jennifer put into dragging tables and chairs, dishes and flatware, wine and water and food all over the countryside. Since I do workshops, I am keenly aware of the monumental task she managed to pull off every day all with a lovely smile on her face. It is a mammoth effort on her part and the part of her hardworking team. So a big thank you to all of them.

Although there were some interesting attendees, the most interesting person was a volunteer helper, Allen, one of my favorites, an older gentleman from Canada, an ex soccer ref who has found the practice of meditation and yoga in his golden years. He was our driver, although he never knew where we were going, he was always funny and resourceful.

I loved talking to Melissa, a restoration student from Canada, trying to figure out her next moves. She was lovely and helpful and always so cheerful. I loved my conversations with them all.

Joe, employed by the homeowner, was a delightful young man from Ghana. He has immigrated to Italy and is trying to make a go of it. His story was poignant, and we had a few quiet conversations mainly about how he felt isolated and lonely. I took some photos of him to send home to his Mom. He was so grateful and happy.



Melissa- restoration intern

Melissa- restoration intern



cheese maker

cheese maker


We visited one of the oldest bakeries in Altamura, known for its soft semolina bread. I think some of my best images are from here, as it was shaded, and we got an earlier start.

Altamura Breadmaker

Altamura Breadmaker

We did visit the Shepherd in the field, although full disclosure, I was disappointed that we got there too late to see the sheep close up and in good light. By the time we were trekking out into the vast fields it was 11:00 am, over 100 degrees and way too bright to get any good imagery. But with 15 people in tow, it’s hard to get everyone out the door by 7:30 am when the light is the best.



I think the biggest takeaway for me on this vacation was that group trips for a personal photo safari is probably not the best idea. The best bet is to travel alone or go to a photography-focused workshop.  In fact, one of the attendees at lunch asked me, “Why are you taking so many pictures?” which made me giggle. I explained that I loved photography, that this is my passion, and that I loved to photograph. It was my vacation. Further proof that photography workshops are probably the best bet if you want great photos and want to be with like-minded people.

My impressions: Since I am in the business, I feel it’s important that I am honest with you.

It was an interesting trip, and I think Messors is a good choice if you want to have a no fuss, no muss experience. One Note* All the rooms are shared rooms, but I lucked out at getting my own private room, for which I was most grateful. Since it’s a working farm, be aware that it is not a luxury experience. Something that I was not fully prepared for. So always read about the location amenities if air conditioning and your own bathroom is important to you, this is probably not the location for you. If this sounds like it is for you…one word of advice is that if you’re sharing a room, and you snore let them know….but just in case your roommate snores or noise keeps you awake, make sure you bring noise canceling headphones for a better night’s sleep. I brought mine and it saved me, I slept like a log.

Now that I have experienced Puglia, and will definitely go back with Frank and get those photos I missed. x

Check out this documentary from 2015 about Tonio’s cave project.



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What to Expect on a Truffle Hunt in Italy


We’re gearing-up for our fall workshops around here which start soon. Workshop guests are starting to nail down their plans for their free day. One of the options that I always recommend they take advantage of is truffle hunting.

Truffle hunting in Italy is an experience unlike any other. It’s a truly immersive expedition…plus you get to hang out with a cute dog all day! What’s not to love about that?

I wanted to share what you can expect during a truffle hunt in Italy. That way, if you’re headed here for a fall workshop, or if it’s on your mind for the future, you know what fun you’re getting yourself into!

What to expect:

  1. Hunting for truffles is a year-round activity which means the hunt happens during all temperatures and weather.
  2. Moisture has much to do with the harvest, and rain is a very important factor in the number of truffles annually. The more rain, the more truffles. In other words, bring comfy walking shoes that you can get dirty!
  3. Hunting with dogs will be with you on your trip. Dogs are more delicate and hunt with their paws. They’re cute, but keep in mind they are working.
  4. Truffles can be found all over the forest floors, not just the roots of trees, so keep your eyes (and nose) peeled.
  5. Once the hunt is done, you’ll be craving all things truffles, so come ready to enjoy them!

Who’s ready to join us for a fall truffle hunting expedition?!

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Lucca, a less traveled destination


When we rented houses in Levanto over the summer with our family many years ago, we discovered Lucca. Lucca is a beautiful walled city with lovely churches and a wonderful antiques market held the 3rd weekend of every month in the summer period.

Our family would go there about once a month since it was the nearest “big” city. Home of Puccini, it holds a special place in our hearts as well as many great family memories. It is about 1 hour and fifteen minutes from La Fortezza, so it’s not unusual for us to go there for concerts even now. They have an amazing summer pop concert series. In fact, this year is was part of Elton John’s farewell tour! There are some fun activities that have popped up over the years. For example, food tours on bikes are popular.

Frank and I recently met a photographer, an American who has moved to Lucca with his wife. Tom England, was a photojournalist for Time Magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times, and National Geographic, to name a few.

Along with his on the road assignments, on his off time, Tom taught photography. Since Tom has tons of energy and a natural curiosity, he found exploring Lucca through the lens to be quite exciting. Last year Tom decided to start a photo touring business in Lucca. Since he has scoped out some amazing secret spots and knows all the best angles, not to mention his expertise, his tours have become quite popular. Frank and I decided that it would be fun to reserve one of his photo tours. It was amazing. Not only did he take us to some beautiful and photogenic spots off the beaten path, but he guided us to some really beautiful imagery. His teaching style was both informative, casual, and interesting.

We spent 3 hours walking all over Lucca, down alleyways and passages, all while listening to his stories about his amazing career as a photo journalist for iconic American publications. At times it seemed that he was the real-life Sean Penn, photographer in The Secret Life of Walter Middy. A great storyteller and teacher, it was a great idea to trek Lucca with Tom.

Tom and Frank framing the shot


All the locals know Tom

Lucca is a small but scenic town on the far western side of Tuscany, near Pisa; it is an oasis for ex-pats because it’s so close to the Pisa airport and easy to manage as far as size goes. We had a great time, and I highly recommend Tom England’s photo tour if you’re looking the photograph Lucca in a more artistic and different way.





Put Lucca on your list and head to the activities page on the Workshop and Retreat Website to get more suggestions about Lucca.

xx Annette

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Summer Supper:: Sausage, Peppers and Polenta, Oh My!

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We are officially in the thick of what’s known as the dog days of summer. This time of year, for better or for worse, are the peak of those hot, humid days that leave us wondering if fall will ever take pity on us and arrive early. Rarely do we have such luck.

As a result, quick simple suppers are the way to go. Think one pot/one pan meals, or those that require the shortest amount of prep and cooking time. After all, the sooner you get out of the kitchen, the cooler you will be.

A few weeks ago, I made a twist on my sausage and peppers dish from my book, Picture Perfect Parties. I chopped them up placed them over a quick polenta. If you’ve never baked polenta, you should. It’s fantastic for a crowd because it saves time at the stove, and makes cooking for a crowd a breeze. The result was delicious and of course, easy! Give it a try.

Sausage, Peppers and Polenta
Serves 8
You will need:

– 6 Italian sausages
– 2 red peppers sliced
– 2 hot banana peppers sliced
– 1 jalapeno pepper minced
– 2 green peppers sliced
– 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
– 4 cloves of garlic minced
– ¼ cup olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the peppers and the sausage into bite size pieces. In a large bowl toss all the ingredients and mix well. Place mixture into a ceramic baking dish. Bake for 1 ½ hours and serve warm. Garnish with assorted herbs like rosemary, parsley, oregano, or chives.

Baked Polenta

You will need:
– 1 ½ cups polenta
– 4 + ( 2 cups in reserve to add as needed) cups chicken stock
– 2 cloves garlic fine dice or shaved on a micro planner
– ¼ cup olive oil
– salt to taste

To prepare:
In a large clay-roasting pan, place polenta. Add stock and garlic. Salt and drizzle the ¼ cup olive on top. Place into oven for 45 minutes @350.

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