The UPside of Lock DOWN

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Last time this year…one of our first zoom aperitivi

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Always with a cocktail , Barbara at her mountain house in Northern Italy, Oma in Iowa and me in Georgia

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Barbara with a cap on , she was henna-ing her hair, I told her she looked like a tellatubbie…

Ciao everyone! By now you all know that I am here in Italy. Spring has sprung, and I await summer with bated breath. As I reflect on 1 year ago when we were locked in the house, frightened and had no idea what was about to come, I can’t help but think about all the good things that came from this apocalyptic event. I always look at the bright side, even if there appears to be zero. But spending loads of time with my husband and pets, the ability to test new recipes for my new book, La Fortezza Cookbook, write recipes and do research, made the lock down bearable.

And the one thing that was a lifesaver and a constant (it kept me sane) was the Zoom Aperitivo every Saturday at 8:30 pm CET, in Italy and 2:30 ET  in the US. with dear girlfriends Barbara and Oma. I can’t even remember how it actually started, most likely a split-second idea that blossomed into a weekly event, an event I truly looked forward to, and one that kept me going through the endless lockdown weeks on the calendar.

At first, we invited many friends and girlfriends to join, but our weekly Aperitivo eventually came down to just us, the core 3, the original gang, the best friends. One in Italy, Barbara, one in the US, Oma, and me either in the US or Italy. We have been religiously meeting every Saturday with few exceptions for 1 year. One year of sharing, complaining, laughing, worrying, giving advice. One year of loads of cocktails and glasses of wine.

We watched the seasons change together, and Presidents come and go. We talked about the world, the pandemic, politics, our children, our husbands, our work or lack of work. Occasionally one of the family members would stop by say to hi, or just walk through and wave as we zoomed our troubles away. It was less lonely, and gave us all a reason to show up for each other.

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Sometimes things were just stressful, Oma with one of her signature expressions…

I love these ladies, more than I did before the Zoom Aperitivi, and believe me, I loved them a lot before the pandemic. But showing up for each other at a time of uncertainty and making each other laugh really took the edge off an uncertain time. It is a reason to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. We made it. I am sure as the summer approaches and things get better, this ritual will have had its run, but I sure hope not. Maybe we can switch to once a month, but right now it’s still going strong. I still look forward to the conversations, words of wisdom, and emotional support these Aperitivi provide…

The UPside to the lock DOWN was this Zoom Aperitivo, and I will never ever forget what a gift it was and is…

Happy Anniversary, Tanti Auguri on our 1 year milestone. I love you ladies and I always will.

Cin CIn. x

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Classic Italian Recipe: Torta Pasqualina

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A few years ago, when DesignSponge was *the* blog, I contributed a unique classic Italian recipe: the torta pasqualina. This recipe comes from the Liguria region. It will remind you of a decadent quiche. Let me know if you give it a try for Easter.

Torta Pasqualina
Serves 6–8

For the Crust:

You will need:
– 4 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 cup olive oil
– 1 tablespoon salt
– 3/4 cups ice water

To prepare:
Make crust in a food processor. Put flour in the bowl and add oil and salt. Pulse until pebble-sized crumbs appear, and as you pulse, add water through the chute until dough comes together.

*Note: You may need to add a little more water to the dough — it should form a soft ball of dough. Set the dough aside and make the filling.

For the Filling:

You will need:
– 1/2 medium red onion sliced thinly
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 6 cups chopped fresh spinach
– 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
– 3 cups fresh ricotta cheese
– 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
– 1 egg
– salt and pepper to taste
– 4 eggs + 1 for egg wash

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

In a large sauté pan, add olive oil. Slice the red onion into thin slices, sauté with the oil. Once the onions have become transparent, add the spinach. Add salt and pepper.

Sauté mixture until spinach is wilted, about 10 minutes. Cook off as much liquid in the pan as possible. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cheeses, marjoram and 1 egg.

When the spinach mixture has cooled for about 10 minutes, squeeze excess liquid from the mixture and add to the cheese mixture. Combine well and set aside.

Assemble the pie:

Divide crust into two parts, put flour on a board and roll dough out to 1/4 inch disk. Place this disk into a 12” pie form or a ceramic pie dish. Make sure the edges of the dough overlap the side of the dish. Fill with the spinach mixture, smooth the top and make four indentations into the spinach mixture with a spoon. These indentations will hold the eggs. Crack an egg carefully into each indentation.

Roll out the remaining crust and place on top. Pinch all around the edges and finish with egg wash on top.

Bake in a 375ºF oven for 1 hour.

xx Annette

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Meet our new Guest Liaison- Jenna Galowich

IMG_3314 I would like to introduce our newest Annette Joseph Style team member. Jenna Galowich.

Full disclosure: I have been looking to fill this position for a few years. But I took my time to find someone that was the perfect fit. Imagine my delight when Jenna reached out. She told me her family was from Fivizzano. “What luck!” I thought. Then we met over zoom for several interviews, I knew she was just right. She’s enthusiastic and well-traveled, her background includes the hospitality business, as well as marketing. Please join me in welcoming her. I really look forward to working with her and seeing what her talents bring to enrich our guest experience here at La Fortezza. For those of you signed up for fall workshops and experiences, you are in for a treat,

Benvenuta Jenna!

A little about Jenna in her own words, take it away Jenna:

Buongiorno a tutti! It’s Jenna here – the newest member of the Annette Joseph Style Workshops & Retreats dream team. I am so thrilled to be working with our guests as the guest liaison, ensuring that everyone has the best experience possible during workshops, as well as working behind the scenes as we prepare every year for new workshop experiences and offerings.

A little bit about me: although I am a Chicagoan by birth, I am incredibly fortunate to also call Los Angeles and Paris home as well. An interesting fact about me the location of La Fortezza, in Fivizzano, Italy is in my blood – it is my ancestral hometown, as my Italian side of the family has their roots there and called it home for centuries! I recently earned my bachelor’s degree in marketing from The American University of Paris, which was one of the greatest and most transformative experiences of my life. Prior to Paris, I briefly lived in Rome, where I fell even more in love with Italy, Italian culture, Italian food, and the Italian people more than I already was.

When I’m not working at La Fortezza, I love traveling and hanging out at the dog park in front of the Louvre with Charlie my rescue pup, learning new languages, meeting new people from all walks of life, going to the authentic family-owned restaurants and spending time in the mountains hiking. There is nothing that I enjoy more than working with people, and I am so excited to meet and work with our guests at La Fortezza this fall.

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Garden Update

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loading these baby olive trees to be added to our grove

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Ciao Everyone! If you’re following me on instagram, you most likely saw me at the local garden center yesterday. My groundskeeper/gardener Gianluca accompanied me. We had a great time. I thought I’d share an overall garden update, along with a few more updates about the grounds.

One of the things I will be working on this season is adding 50 olive trees to the grove. We currently have about 150 trees on the grounds. We had to plant an olive grove on the property. Oddly our property had a few olive trees, but the terraces had no more than 10, so Frank decided we needed a proper olive grove. We had a fully functioning vineyard, but not an olive grove which in these parts is pretty rare since we are surrounded by abundant groves. I asked Gianluca what he thought had happened to our olive groves, and the only thing he could come up with is the maybe the property was planted with grain-like wheat. I guess we will never know, but right now our olive grove is expanding.

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The pool project is a big one this year. I met with the company working on the pool hardscape. Tiles will go on the deck in April once the chances of freezing are reduced. Our timeline is to finish by the end of May. I bought two large olive trees, one large pomegranate tree, a huge agave, and some fucshia azaleas. We will plant lavender and rosemary, succulents and cactus as well around the pool plus loads of soft green grassy areas. We will also have a fire pit on the lower portion of the pool deck.

Right now the pergola is going up at the end of the pool. It will provide loads of shade for relaxing, dining and reading. It’s pretty exciting around here. I love designing the garden. There will be loads of additions this year to the landscape, but the most beautiful part of our garden is the view. I never get tired of it.

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Our incredible view

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Gianluca with our new addition

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I am excited for our workshop attendees to come and enjoy the pool addition this year. I can’t believe I am saying this, but we are almost full. Folks are signing up every week. I guess everyone is excited and optimistic. I am too. Working outside always gives me a boost and puts me in my happy place.

For more updates from La Fortezza…definitely follow me on instagram if you aren’t already.

xx Annette

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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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