The Florentine holiday lights in 2020

IMG_9214 I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Alexandra Lawrence, when we visit with guests in Florence she is my go to tour guide. She’s one to put into your contacts and make sure to book her early.

I know we all miss travel to Italy, so today I am taking you all to Florence to tour the Holiday Lights in Florence. I’ve invited Florentine Alexandra to join me on the blog as a guest contributor to tell you all about the lights this year. The Holidays lights of Florence are always an exciting subject. In fact she will take us on a virtual tour on Wed. Dec. 9th at Noon ET on my IG LIVE so mark your calendar and be whisked away to Florence to see this year’s holiday lights in Florence.

Take a moment to read as Alexandra explains the meaning behind 2020’s holiday lights.

Take it away Alexandra:

It’s no secret that Italians love to commemorate things. Ceremonies, exhibitions, and conferences are constantly being dedicated to an artist’s 500th birthday or to the 1000th anniversary of a church consecration. Some of the commemorations come and go without much notice (there are a rather lot of them), but others are rightfully treated as a ‘big deal’.

The upcoming celebrations surrounding 700 years of Dante Alighieri are of the latter variety.

Born in 1265 in Florence, the great poet was exiled from the city in a particularly explosive moment of political drama at age 27. Already quite famous for his verses—mostly love poetry—Dante spent the rest of his life wandering the Italian peninsula serving various noble courts. He brought them prestige, and they let him use their libraries.

It was there, in those libraries, where he wrote his epic poem—a journey he claims he actually took down through the underworld, up the mountain of purgatory, and straight-up through the heavens. He called the poem the Comedy. (Another Florentine author one generation removed, Giovanni Boccaccio, would add the superlative ‘Divine’ to the title.)

The Comedy was an immediate smash—copied and recopied, read and re-read out loud for all to hear and to enjoy. As the first epic poem since antiquity to be written in the vernacular, Dante’s journey was meant to be understood by everyone, not just scholars and nobles.

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graphic by Betty Soldi

Dante fills his tale with well-known names from history, from The Bible, from Greek and Roman mythology, but also with contemporary figures—ones that would raise eyebrows and elicit both hidden smiles and out-loud-gasps from readers. It is just one way he ensures that we are there with him, adventuring along with the poet-pilgrim on this terrifying and exhilarating ride.

It is a salvation story and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. It is, Dante tells us, also our story—if we want it to be. Offering a sort of existential road map to a happy ending, the Comedy is proof, to paraphrase Robert Frost, that the best way out is through.

All of us who have lived through this incredibly trying pandemic year know a little something about that kind of resiliency now. It is a truly glorious thing that we can read Dante’s Divine Comedy 700 years after it was written and find that universal truth inside. And that alone is worth celebrating.

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We hope you will join us on Wednesday, December 9th at 12 PM EST, 6 PM CET for on my IG Live for walk through of the Florentine holiday lights, which are dedicated to Dante Alighieri for the very first time.

Alexandra Lawrence is an expert in the language and art of Italy. She has lived in Florence for over 20 years, where she is a lecturer of art history and contemporary Italian cultural studies. While completing her graduate work in Italian Language and Literature, Alexandra concentrated primarily on writers and poets and their relationship to the visual arts—a subject that continues to inform her work.

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Alexandra is an accredited guide for Italian museums and archeological sites, and has worked with several high-profile clients including England’s royal family. Her walks are featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the ‘Best 16 Things to Do in Florence’.

In 2020, she founded Forma Sideris, a space to have guided conversations about Italy and its art, literature, culture, and history. She is currently offering a virtual 6-week course on the Divine Comedy which will begin in January 2021. For more on ‘Divine Dante’, please see the course page here.

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Introducing:: The La Fortezza Collection by Kate Blohm

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Today, I am thrilled to be among the first to announce Kate Blohm’s latest project her La Fortezza Collection, a series of postcards featuring our home in Italy. Below, Kate tells all about the inspiration for the series, how it came to be, and when it will be available for purchase. Take it away, Kate! 

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Annette Joseph has really created something special with her Italian fortress, La Fortezza. My favorite moments are in the details and Annette has a fine-tuned eye. She pays close attention to every element, which makes it a lot of fun for me to capture.

The first time I visited La Fortezza in 2018, I was a student. I was awarded the Les Dames d’Escoffier Continuing Education Grant. I chose to attend the Slow Food Styling Workshop with Angie Mosier and Chef Rebecca Wilcomb. Throughout the week we visited a local cheese shop, a specialty baker, a truffle hunter, an olive oil producer, and a digestiv factory. Authentic food and immersive experiences are the focus of this story.

Shooting in Europe was something I knew I wanted to do, especially involving food and small food producers. The story for La Fortezza continued after Annette hired me back in Atlanta for a magazine article. Throughout my first visit to La Fortezza, I wanted to capture everything in stills and in motion. Utilizing this footage I put together a small film for Annette, to share my perspective of the amazing experience that I had. She invited me back on the spot, followed up the next day, and sent me to dates to come the next year as the On-Staff Photographer.

La Fortezza is my favorite subject to photograph and I’ve had the pleasure of photographing it twice. Every moment is a photographic moment. Fresh bouquets being clipped and arranged, freshly picked tomatoes being prepped for sauce and the sun setting with every shade of lavender. I’m excited to see these in print and in spaces. Where escapism meets function. This collection will feature postcards and high-quality prints of various sizes.

Available November 10th!

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Autumn Chapter Shoot for La Fortezza Cookbook

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Ciao Guys! If you follow me on Instagram, you know the legendary food photographer David Loftus was back during the first week of October to photograph the autumn chapter of La Fortezza Cookbook.

Autumn is my favorite time of year; I love the color palette. We smoked pumpkins, used the outdoor oven, “the “forno,” and implemented lots of fire and Medieval cooking techniques. We went to local purveyors and had great field trips. The olive harvest is starting, so we were able to witness the first press too. Green gold; it’s so delicious.

Of course, we had our trusty prop mistress and brilliant producer Barbara Pederzini. I flew chef Philip in from the US to work on this chapter. It was a huge effort and stressful to get him into Italy with the travel ban. He quarantined for 2 weeks prior to the shoot and then worked the week of the shoot with the team. We made beautiful images, and I am so excited to share this book with you. Thanks always for the support and lovely DMs on my Instagram. It’s always so wonderful to hear from you.

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Autumn + Apples:: Apple Cheddar Souffle

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Autumn is officially here, and it is full-fledged apple season. Apple picking is a common fall activity that lends itself especially well to socially-distant fall activities. I can imagine many of you are going apple picking and are finding yourself with an abundance of fruit, so today I’m sharing the first of many recipes that will help you put it to delicious use. Up first is my apple cheddar souffle.

I like to call this recipe fool-proof because it truly is. It’s from my first book, Picture Perfect Parties. (Can you believe I’m onto book four now?!). Let me know if you give it a try! It’s perfect for fall.

Apple Cheddar Soufflés
Makes 24
You will need:
– 1/4 cup butter
– 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 1/4 cups milk
– 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 tsp. pepper
– 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
– 1 peeled and grated honey crisp apple
– 6 large eggs, separated
– 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 375. Generously butter 24 oven-safe espresso cups. Arrange them 2-inches apart on baking pans. In a 2 to 3 quart pan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Add flour and stir until mixture is smooth and bubbling. Stir in milk and next rosemary, salt and pepper and continue stirring until sauce boils and thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted. Add apples and egg yolks and stir until the mixture is blended and smooth. In a bowl with a mixer on high speed, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until medium peaks form. With a flexible spatula, fold a third of the cheese sauce into whites until well blended. Add remaining sauce and gently fold in until just blended. Divide batter into the prepared cups filling about ¾ full.

*Cups can be frozen up to 3 days ahead at this point. If frozen do not thaw, bake immediately in preheated oven as directed.

Bake for 12 minutes or until puffed and top is golden brown. Serve.

xx Annette

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Summer Chapter Shoot for La Fortezza Cookbook

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As you all know, I am back in Italy. Mainly for 2 reasons:

1. Check on our house, La Fortezza.
2. Shoot the summer and autumn chapters of my next cookbook La Fortezza Cookbook, Rizzoli NY, Spring 2022.

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This project, for me, is a passion project. The book will be an epic and a beautiful depiction of the region we live in, in northern Tuscany. The book will be filled with local recipes and delicacies, gorgeous travel shots, typical local flavor, and purveyor portraits.

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These photographs will all be captured by the incredibly talented British Photographer David Loftus. I have been an admirer of David’s work for many years, as he has shot for some of the most famous chefs in the world; Jamie Oliver just to name one. His work is insanely beautiful. His discerning eye and recognizable style sets him apart as one of the world’s most respected food photographers. I was thrilled when he agreed to photograph my book.

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My sweet friend and producer, stylist Barbara Pederzini, agreed to help me with the prop styling. She brought all sorts of amazing serving pieces and plates to play with. I used a local chef to help prepare the dishes. It really was a magical team.

Without giving too much away, I believe that this book will take you on a journey and leave you with the lasting memory of a trip to our little piece of heaven. We will be shooting the autumn chapter starting October 5th, so be sure to follow the journey on my insta-stories. I can only tell you this is one of the best projects I have ever worked on. The love I have for this place, La Fortezza will shine through on every page and you will taste the love in every bite.

Until October, stay well x

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