The UPside of Lock DOWN

IMG_3873

Last time this year…one of our first zoom aperitivi

IMG_3871

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

Screen Shot 2021-04-07 at 1.12.43 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2021-04-07 at 1.22.32 PM

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

All behind the scenes Cocktails Instagram italy Notes from Italy Personal The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Garden Update

IMG_7153

loading these baby olive trees to be added to our grove

IMG_7154 IMG_7146

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.

f0e2de7b-435d-4097-8c3f-77776e2cde59

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.

Screen Shot 2021-01-15 at 7.09.47 AM

Our incredible view

IMG_7142

Gianluca with our new addition

IMG_7143

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

All before and after behind the scenes Fivizzano gardening Instagram italy Meet the Team my picks Notes from Italy Personal renovation in italy The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Meet my new neighbor, Julie Montagu, the Viscountess Hinchingbrooke

IMG_6208

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.

IMG_6817

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)

IMG_5975

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!

43B65AA1-16BE-4391-A5E7-574C187DA559

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.

All Crushing On Entertaining Five Questions For Your Style I'd Walk a Mile italy Notes from Italy Personal The Fortress Tuscany Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , ,

Dip into spring with whipped ricotta

whipped ricotta dip

Hey everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web manager and friend. Glad to be here again!

Warmer temperatures have become the norm in Atlanta. While I’m not totally convinced they’re here to stay (we always have a late winter freeze), I have been enjoying a few glasses of rose and lots of outdoor dining.

On the weekends, I try to spruce-up our at-home dinners, especially while dining out is a little more limited. One of my favorite things to nibble on is a hearty dip with veggies. I found this recipe for whipped ricotta dip from the archives.

Annette first learned about it after attending a workshop in Medoc, France a few years ago. When Annette returned stateside, she came up with this rendition, an Americanized, healthy version. I think it sounds absolutely perfect for spring! I also think it sounds fabulous for Easter. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

Whipped Ricotta Dip

You will need:
– 1 cup whole milk ricotta
– 1/4 cup whipping cream
– 2 garlic cloves minced
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
*(1 cup finely chopped walnuts optional)

In a medium bowl, using a whisk whip all the ingredients until well-blended and whipped. Store in the fridge for at least 2 hours and serve with crudite.

It’s the perfect appetizer!

Enjoy xx

All behind the scenes dinner party Entertaining kitchen Personal quick appetizers Recipes the art of a party vegatarian food : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oysters with Lemon Mignonette

1215_bellafesta013_jmcdonald_oneuseonly

Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web manager and friend, and I’m reviving a recipe from the archives for you today.

This past weekend, my husband and I took a quick road trip to Apalachicola, Florida. Once upon a time, Apalachicola Bay produced 90% of the state’s oysters and 10% of the oysters served across the country. Oyster farming in the area is currently on pause, but we were able to have an abundance of oysters from nearby waters several times throughout the weekend. They were fantastic.

I’ve never tried to shuck oysters on my own, but after this weekend and after digging up this recipe, I think I might have to give it a try. This recipe is from the archives of Atlanta Magazine’s Home.

 

It calls for fresh oysters from your local fish market and includes a fantastic recipe for a lemon mignonette, the tangy, vinegar alternative to cocktail sauce.

Oysters with Prosecco & Preserved Lemon Mignonette
24 oysters, 8 guests (3 per guest)

You will need:

– 2 cups coarse sea salt
– oysters, 2-3 per person*
– 1 tablespoon preserved lemon, finely minced
– 1 tablespoon shallots, finely minced
– 1 tablespoon champagne wine vinegar
– pinch of sugar
– Chervil leaves for garnish, optional
– salt

*Oysters available at your best local fish market; these are from Atlanta’s Star Provisions.

To prepare:

To make the mignonette, remove the pulp from the preserved lemons and rinse well to remove any excess salt. Mince the lemon finely, but leave enough texture for color. Mince the shallot and add to a bowl with the lemon. Add the vinegar, prosecco, sugar, and salt. Whisk until blended and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving, so flavors can integrate.

To serve:

Mound 1/4 cup of sea salt on each salad plate. Carefully open the oysters, checking for any pieces of shell fragments. Arrange the oysters with the bottom shell intact on top of the salt. Top each oyster with the mignonette. Garnish with a small leaf of chervil.

Note* You can easily make your own preserved lemons, but they take time to mature before using. Bella Cucina makes preserved lemons which are available at select southeast Whole Foods stores. You can also substitute preserved lemons with chopped lemon zest if preserved lemons are not available in your area.

xx, Annette

Recipe: Alisa Barry

Photo credit: John McDonald

All behind the scenes cooking dinner party Entertaining Events Food styling my picks Parties Personal photography photostyling photostyling like a pro producing Recipes : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,