Moving in Day :: Italy

I never thought this day would come....moving in day in Italy! I am grateful to be able to fulfill our dream and share it with students, family and friends.

Well I never thought this day would come….

Moving in day in Italy. From my 3 1/2 year search to phase one of our renovation of the main house, it’s truly been a sweet journey. I could not have done any of this, not one lick of it, without my best friend, and designer/project manager, Forrest Spears. He is truly an angel, and will continue to be as we move into phase two, the guest quarters, commercial kitchen and student lounge. I am hugely overwhelmed with the feelings that the Fortress is finally ours. We are restoring it to its full potential and will welcome our first workshop attendees in June.

I am grateful to be able to fulfill our dream and to share it with our students, family and friends over the next years to come.

Send me good vibes as all of you know moving day is a challenge.

I will be dealing with boxes eaten by what our workers called “field mice”… I think they were trying to be nice. I think the “mice”  are more like rats. We stored all of our belongings in our cantina (which is like a wine cellar), but obviously it’s been home to several rat families and creatures of the field over the past years. I think I will be adopting a few cats this summer. 🙂

So the glamorous life of living in the Italian countryside begins this weekend for me. Rubber gloves and endless buckets of soapy water and giant garbage bags will be there too, as they ate anything made of straw, wicker or paper. I won’t go into detail but a lot of stuff is pretty disgusting.

However, once I move it, the main house will be glorious. All I have to think of is my shiny new Lacanche, and it puts a smile on my face.

lacanche Our new Lacanche range fresh out of the box.

Thank you to all of you that have followed along to this point, cheered me on and were nothing but supportive and excited for us. We love that you continue to send good wishes and thoughts. I hope you all come visit us and share a glass of our wine from the vineyard. Continue to follow as we start phase 2 in the next couple weeks. It’s going to be an action packed summer. In the meantime love to you all, and grazie mille xx

The vineyard view from the guest room.


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A word about flour :: dispatch from Italy

Italian Flour

An essential like flour is something we might take for granted in everyday life.

Even in the age of gluten-free, our daily bread is something most folks partake in.

It occurred to me while shopping for staples when I arrived in Italy last week, that the flour in the everyday grocery here is abundant in choices. I will say that in the US, I really don’t eat that much gluten. But when I am here in Italy for some magical reason, I have no reaction to baked goods: no inflammation, no sluggishness, no reaction whatsoever, so baking here is something I do regularly.

I did stop in my tracks when I saw this amazing flour display and decided to share it on my blog today. In Italy, we bake with many types of flour, and if you’re gluten free, then chestnut flour is the answer for you. In our region, Lunigiana, there’s a basic bread recipe that has been baked for many centuries.


Today I’m sharing my Focaccia recipe from my upcoming book Cocktail Italiano. This book will not only be filled with wonderful cocktails, but the nibbles that accompany the cocktails served all over Italy.


Serves 4

You will need:
– 3 cups double zero flour or bread flour (super fine flour)
– 1 package dry yeast
– 1/3 cup warm water
– 1 cup water
– ½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 1 teaspoon for the cookie sheet + 3 tablespoons for finishing before baking, 1 tablespoon to finish after baking
– 2 tablespoons coarse salt + 1 teaspoon for finishing

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/3 cups water and let proof in a large bowl, once proofed add flour and oil and salt and water, combine until it forms a sticky dough, it should be very sticky. Flour your surface and turn the dough onto floured surface. knead gently for a minute until dough forms a soft dough.
2. On an oiled 10”x14” cookie sheet with a lip, spread the dough out to fit the cookie sheet. With your index fingers poke dimples into the top of the dough .* note you can use parchment paper to line the cookie sheet but I like to oil the paper.
3. Let rest for 30 minutes, then repeat by poking dimples into the risen dough, and let rest for 30 minutes.
4. Before placing in the oven, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.
5. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil cool and eat warm or at room temperature. The key is to let the oil soak in as the focaccia cools. Can be stored sealed for up to 3 days.

Serving suggestions: I love to use focaccia as an appetizer with olive spread, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, and a summer crisp rose wine. This makes the perfect start to a perfect evening.

Since I am raving about Italian flour, I wanted to give you a great resource for flour in the US.

Carolina Ground Flour

Recently my friend sent me a sampling of this incredible artisan flour Carolina Ground. It’s the closest I have found to the flour I use here in Italy.

Happy baking xx


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June Workshops registration is about to close

I am very excited about welcoming our June 2017 Style + Photo Workshop students, after all they will be the first to experience our new Tuscan location. We will have an action packed 4 days touring, learning, eating, and styling and photographing. Even better, we have 2 amazing photography instructors joining us in June.

April 30th is the deadline for signing-up for June workshops. Don't miss your chance to be among the first to experience La Fortezza in person! Christina Wedge  is teaching our very first workshop this summer, Christina is a wealth of information. She’s funny, smart, and is originally from Berlin, so she feels right at home in the EU. Her workshop filled-up quickly, too. I think everyone wanted to be the first to say they were at La Fortezza for the first workshop; the first ones to experience our dream come true. Christina and I have taught Style + Photo workshops together for years.

Helen Norman, who is an amazing photographer and instructor, has worked in the business for many years. She is one of America’s well-respected photographers. She’s full of great tips and tricks. She and I conducted a workshop in Maryland last September at Helen’s gorgeous farm Starbright Farm. I can hardly wait to work with her again. Her workshop still has spaces left. If you quickly grab them before we shut down registration, you will not be disappointed. April 30th is the deadline for signing-up for JUNE workshops. Don’t miss your chance to be among the first to experience La Fortezza in person!


QMUN75rc We still have spaces available in  Sarah Dorio’s July 5th workshop and Sif Orellana’s workshop July 19th. Head to the workshop page and sign up. My strictly styling workshop July 12th is full. I will be scheduling that one again next spring in 2018 for those of you who missed out this year.

The DEADLINE TO SIGN UP for remaining workshops in JULY is May 30th, so head over and grab your space. Italy is waiting for you.

We could not be more excited about opening our new creative retreat location. The renovation is spectacular, and our vineyard will be in full swing. I am living for our first picnic in the vineyard.

Needless to say, this is our dream come true, and we are so incredibly excited to share it all with of our attendees.  xx

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Shopping for upcycled tile in Italy

Shopping for upcycled tile in Italy.

Ciao everyone! As you might know, I am busy outfitting our new home and big renovation project in Tuscany. Last week we were busy flea-marketing, antiquing, and browsing junk stores for goodies for the Fortress. Frank and I were gobsmacked at the progress that has been made on the house thus far.

Phase one should be completed on schedule. Phase one includes: our residence, the photo studio, and wrap-around terrace, and all walkways, a hand cobbled driveway, and parking lot. This will also include refinishing all the stone facing and replacing all the mortar, 3 new roofs, new windows, HVAC, and plumbing for the entire compound.

Phase two will start May 1st and will include all guest rooms including the outbuilding. The rooms will be newly appointed and the commercial kitchen and lounge area will also be built out. We will be enlarging the vineyard, and fingers crossed, putting up our first vintage of Rose this fall. So as you can see, it’s a very all encompassing project.

Tile shopping was such fun. We looked for upcycled tiles. In other words, tiles that have come from vintage Italian homes, mostly in southern Italy.

Tile shopping was such fun. We looked for upcycled tiles. In other words, tiles that have come from vintage Italian homes, mostly in southern Italy. I particularly am in love with cement tiles. We are going to try to use and reuse as much material as we can. It’s the Italian way and honestly, it makes the most sense. All the furniture, with the exception of our bed and the sofa in our living room, are all vintage, antiques, and upcycled. I feel it’s an important mission and something that we believe in strongly.

Tile shopping was such fun. We looked for upcycled tiles. In other words, tiles that have come from vintage Italian homes, mostly in southern Italy.

I selected a red and white cement tile to surround our new Lacanche French blue range.

Up-Cycled Tiles

These super cool tailored stripes will surround the upcycled trough in the studio.

Tile shopping was such fun. We looked for upcycled tiles. In other words, tiles that have come from vintage Italian homes, mostly in southern Italy.

So many beautiful tile combinations! I can hardly wait to use these as photo backdrops for our workshops this summer. It’s going to be a beautiful location to create and enjoy. If you’re interested in seeing the Fortress, in person make sure to sign up to join us. Sign up here.

Keep watching our progress on instagram.

xx, Annette


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The Fortress: Renovation Update

As you all know, if you follow me on social media, I am currently hip deep in our home renovation project, the house named, La Prugna in Tuscany. The truth be told, I live for this sort of chaos, so what can I say? I am like a pig in sh-t right now. My designer and BFF is as well. We are born one day apart, and if he were not a 6 foot 4 big bear of a Colorado man, you would definitely think we were separated at birth. Forrest and I have always had a special bond and have always both been swept up in the idea of any construction project. But I think we would both agree that for the first time in our lives, this project just feels, well…right.

Italy Reno This is the facade of the house. All the old mortar has been blasted away and replaced with new mortar. Italy Reno They pick out the mortar, Forrest says it looks like rotten teeth… Italy Reno Then they fill it in with the new mortar. If they did not do this tedious process, the wind and weather would infiltrate the building. This is the back of the house; it’s the original fortress. You can see that from the architecture. The same mortar treatment is done here. It’s a thankless job, but I am so thankful that we have such great artisans working on the Fortress.

If you remember, Forrest was my constant companion house hunting, not my husband Frank (who is, as they say, a really good sport), but Forrest is my rock, and our creative director. He and I both fell in love with the Fortress, but since it was so huge we were both a little slow to pull the trigger at first. Three and half years and 45 houses later, we did. You’d never know we were hesitant from the way we have launched into the renovation of La Prugna – full speed ahead. With Forrest at the helm and me as the first mate, this ship is sailing along all sails bellowing with wind. Since I left Italy mid-November, we have managed to gut most of the living quarters, expand our kitchen times four, and started gutting the master bedroom and bathroom upstairs.

Italy Reno We blew away all the walls to make the kitchen much bigger.

We’ve blown-out every window in the house, and are quickly replacing them with beautiful new ones painted a deep graphite.

Italy Reno

In the studio, we put on a much needed roof, and added a WC and a sink. We are in the process of laying a heated floor.

Italy Reno

All the plumbing is being laid, and the electrical is also being added.
The out building has been given new life by demolishing the car park, which was a ram shackled portico, and we are building a parking area and a new driveway to that parking area.

Italy Reno Italy Reno Italy Reno They pulled everything down including the pergola, and then cut down some trees. The really cool thing about construction in Italy is there is no waste. The downed trees and rubble are the start of the retaining wall that will support the new driveway.

Phase one the studio and our living quarters is on track even though the wicked winter keeps rearing its ugly head. When it’s too cold outside, the crew heads inside to work. Our crew is amazing, and I feel blessed to have them working with me. Of course Forrest is a saint and a gentleman, and our savior on the project. Our Geometra Marco is a rock star!

The guest quarters will start construction in May, and our students arrive in June and will be able to see the crew in action, as well as enjoy styling and photography workshops with all of our amazing instructors and my incredible team.

So for now, full steam ahead. Look for lots of updates on my Instagram account and follow along as we make this vision come to life. Ciao tutti. xx

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