My secret mega obsession in Italy

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Hi I’m Annette Joseph, and I am a professional shopper…and I have a problem. Well not a problem exactly. More like a secret obsession. As you all know, I live in Italy about 1/2 the year, with Donald Trump in office, it will probably be more like 12 months out of the year…(not kidding).

I live here, therefore I live a normal life, and I need normal stuff like wrapping paper, light bulbs, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, glass jars, paper plates, and a mop and pail. When I first summered in Italy about 25 years ago, one had to shop at many specialty stores for those items. There were not giant conglomerate hardware stores like Home Depot, or SUPER markets like Whole Foods or even stores that cover it all like Target. We would go from place to place picking up mops here and laundry detergent there, meat at the butcher (which I still do) and wrapping paper…well there was no wrapping paper…none. I used to have to be super creative with birthday wrapping, or I would bring it with me from the states.

My point is like with all things, things change. It’s still hard to find everything in one place like Target, but the world is becoming more homogenized as the internet has made the world smaller and smaller. Something terribly clever is going on here in Italy. The inception of the catch all store. Mostly owned and operated by Chinese families, these mega stores have everything, and I mean everything. I am totally obsessed with them. Need cute cocktail straws or cute ribbon? Doggie poo bags or votive candles? Pots and pans, hardware or sunscreen? Here’s your place. They even have clothing, hats, cosmetics and perfume. The skus go on and on. Need a grill? Charcoal? A chocolate bar? Gum? Motor oil? You get the picture.

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I AM OBSESSED. It is something that has made living here nearly perfect. I know you’re saying what is she talking about? But these stores are literally life changing. It used to take hours to find wrapping paper, gift bags and even cocktail straws, and now with the Happy Megastore, I can get everything in one spot. The thing I like most is that the store is so unpolished, so utilitarian and almost kitsch. No sparkling photography of pretty people trying perfume or walking their perfect pooch. Just down and dirty racks with all sorts of useful items stocked up in obscene quantities.

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The biggest secret is when I am in a bad mood (yes one can be in a bad mood in Italy :-)), I go there for an instant pick me up. I buy a few items, a scented candle or a bag of charcoal for our grill, and I feel 100% better. Let’s face it: it’s cheaper than therapy, and one can pick up some useful hard-to-find items to boot. Next time you’re in Italy in a town, find the Happy Megastore or something like it. (Hint: they look like a Chinese container threw up on the sidewalk) Go in; you will be amazed. If you forgot to bring something from home, I swear they will have what you need. I know this is not the most Italian-ish romantic post I’ve ever done, but it’s a very important post because it documents the changes that have taken place as the world becomes a smaller place. It’s relevant and important and mainly, it’s my happy mega place.

xx Annette

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Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes Sarzana, Italy

As you know from my last post, I am in love with the little right down the road from us town, Sarzana, Italy, and Melissa's Tearoom and Cakes is a gem. FullSizeRender 3

Ciao! As you know from my last post, I am in love with the little town right down the road from us town, Sarzana, Italy.  My sweet friend from Berlin, Heike, told me that I needed to check out this cute tearoom, Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes, while I was there, and mostly I needed to follow her on Instagram, as she was a German sweets sensation. As I have said before, Sarzana is a treasure trove of hip and yummy places.

Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes is on the main drag, and you cannot miss it. It’s the store front with the charming, super cozy hunter green facade, sparkly crystal lighting, and pistachio colored cafe tables and chairs in front. Inside the deep rich hunter green walls set off the glittery silver teapots on the back wall and draw you right in. Cake stands hold several freshly baked cakes, and cupcakes are displayed like delicious jewels in a vintage glass case. In Italy, there has been a invasion of cupcakes which to me is a revelation since Italians tend to like drier, less sweet pastries and proudly defend their territory as far as pasticcerias are concerned. But I like the fact that Italians are widening their horizons. Check out Melissa’s facebook page, and definitely follow her on Instagram as her feed is pretty yummy.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of fantastic pasticcerias in Sarzana to choose from, but I love Melissa’s balls to the walls concept of tea and cakes in a espresso and biscotti driven market.

If you’re in the hood, stop by for a visual treat. Of course, it’s a treat for your mouth, too. Like I’ve said before, go off the beaten path and explore outside your comfort zone. You never know what you’ll find…maybe even a cupcake! xx

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Sarzana Antique Fair

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Every year in August I wait for it…in Sarzana there’s the most wonderful event, the Sarzana Antiques Fair. Sarzana is about a 40 minute drive from our house in the Lunigiana. Sarazana is a quaint medieval town 20 minutes inland from the sea, right before you get to Cararra where the marble is from. Complete with a citadel and duomo, it’s our region’s fun little secret hipster haven. It’s also virtually unknown by tourists. In fact I cringe a little bit letting you all in on my secret happy place. It’s chocked-full of artisan clothing boutiques and antique stores, yummy hip restaurants, and the most charming little bakery/tearoom, Melissa’s (Ill be writing about it in the next blog post, so you will want to come back, and read about it this Thursday). There’s even a hipster barber shop.

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This year I went twice. Once to scout it out. I found a charming hand painted terracotta urn that I have proudly displayed in our front entry. I headed back to find some pieces for the guest quarters and kitchen, and a trunk for the master bedroom.

The stalls under the brightly lit passageways always make me smile. Striped umbrellas and trillions of trinkets catch your eye. It always makes me a little dizzy with anticipation. Oh, and it’s held at night which is a stroke of genius since the August heat can bring upwards of 100 degrees in the shade. It’s the perfect time to have an aperitivo and people watching at the fair is an added plus.

All summer long there are wonderful antiques markets all around the region, but this once-a-year fair is the one I wait for. Now that I have let you in on my little secret, you should think about visiting our region inland from the Riviera. Thirty minutes from the very popular and incredibly over-crowed over-marketed Cinqueterra, there is a treasure trove of quaint towns and beautiful views, amazing hikes and unexpected local cuisine. Adventure awaits you off the beaten path. Start with Sarzana; you won’t be disappointed. You’re welcome. xx

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The Italian Style + Photo Workshops Summer Signature Cocktail- The Paper Plane

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For those of you that have been following along, we often… well almost always, have a cocktail at the start of each workshop for our welcome Aperitvo. This season has been the season of the Paper Plane since I am coming out with a cocktail book, well it is actually an Aperitivo book, called Cocktail Italiano next spring (April 2018) Skyhorse Publications. A signature cocktail is a must, and we start every meal here at La Fortezza with an aperitivi hour…while the sun sets on the terrace.

I wanted to share the recipe with you today. It includes my favorite: Aperol! This is another use for it besides the Aperol Spritz (which is what we drink at our Farewell Aperitivi)…it’s a swell cocktail, and you must try it.

Let me know how you like it in the comments below.

The Paper Plane
Makes 2

You will need:
– 1 1/2 ounces Amaro, I like Nonino
– 1 1/2 ounces Aperol
– 1 1/2 ounces Bourbon
– 1 1/2 ounces lemon juice, strained

To prepare:
Combine amaro, Aperol, bourbon, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, and shake until the outside of the shaker is chilled about 30 seconds. Strain into coupe glasses and garnish with a mint leaf.

Cin Cin x

 

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The Testament of Testaroli

During our 3rd workshop here in Italy at La Fortezza, the emphasis of the workshop was on cooking local. I was thrilled to be able to introduce our attendees and our instructor Sif to one of the most original and authentic dishes in our region. Lunigiana is a mystery to most tourists visiting the region, but the truth is that most Italians are not familiar with the region either. Folks here are extremely proud of the area, and that includes the local products and cuisine. We have loads of products with chestnuts, bread honey, faro, China Amaro, and apple cider.

My dear new friend Giovanna Zurlo of Azienda Agricola di là dall’ Acqua  invited us to an event she was hosting demonstrating the method of how testarolo is prepared.

What’s Testaroli? Wikipedia describes Testaroli as, sometimes referred to as testarolo, it is a type of pasta or bread in Italian cuisine that is prepared using water, flour and salt, which is sliced into triangular shapes. A common dish in the Lunigiana region and historical territory of Italy, it is an ancient pasta originating from the Etruscan civilization of Italy. Testaroli has been described as “the earliest recorded pasta.” It is also a native dish of the southern Liguria and northern Tuscany regions of Italy.

Testaroli is prepared from a batter that is cooked on a hot flat surface, after which it may be consumed. It is traditionally cooked on a testo, a flat terra cotta or cast iron cooking surface from which the food’s name is derived. It is sometimes cooked further in boiling water and then served. Testaroli is sometimes referred to as a bread, similar to focaccia in composition, and is sometimes referred to as a crêpe. It may be dressed with pesto sauce or other ingredients such as olive oil, Pecorino cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and garlic. Falsi testaroli al ragu is a similar dish prepared using sliced pasta dough and a ragù sauce.

All I know is that the demonstration was amazing. Over an open fire, the pan is heated and then the crepe-like batter is ladled into the white hot pan. It cooks in minutes and then is served with charcuterie. The alternate version of preparation is that the crepe is cut into bite size squares or triangles and boiled briefly about 30 seconds and served with pesto or ragu, like pasta.

We all enjoyed a dinner together under the stars of local goat cheese and focaccia then the testaroli with pesto and local wine. Sharing this local cuisine and talking about the local products with our workshop instructor and attendees was truly magical and exactly what we wanted to accomplish. Eating local is the way of life here, and it’s my goal to share this region with all our attendees one dish at a time.

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