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Italy renovation:: where are we now?

As you know, Frank and I have been renovating La Fortezza our, 12th century fortress in the countryside for over a year. With the studio and main house complete, we have turned our attention to the guest quarters and commercial kitchen and lounge. The guest quarters are almost complete, and when they are finished, we will have 3 bedrooms in the guest quarters, all with their own bathrooms, a small kitchenette, and a lounge area for guests to enjoy snacks, coffee and wine.

The most exciting area is the commercial kitchen where we will teach cooking classes, and hold our Preserving Italy Workshop with Domenica Marchetti in the fall. We will also be hosting Canadian foodstylist, Marisa Curatolo in our kitchen. The decor will be practical and dynamic. The lighting is gorgeous as it has the exact same orientation as the studio upstairs. The giant Lacanche stove will settle into its new home, and we will prepare all of our workshop meals from the kitchen. To say I am super excited would be an understatement. Where are we now?

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The guest quarters are almost complete; windows are in, floors are set, and paint is done. We now will be placing the lighting, and the last steps will be the state of the art resin showers (as we have to wait for temperatures to rise for a proper set).

When I return in May, I will hit the ground running to finish furnishing the guest quarters with all the decor I have been collecting of the past year. Beds, lighting, cool rugs, and custom chairs from Marrakech. I can’t wait to see it all come together. Yes, I swear, it will all come together in May…

You can follow along on the progress report on my instagram. Once these projects are finished, then we will move on to the last project: the out building which will have 3 more bedrooms and bathrooms. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and believe me, it’s been a long time coming.

xx Annette

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Dispatch from the Parma Antique Fair

I have always wanted to attend the Parma Antique Fair because I have bought many things from the fair thanks to my pickers in Italy. Since we have been working on La Fortezza, I have woken up on Saturdays to tons of pics and choices sent to me by my designer Forrest and his partner Roberto from the Parma Fair. They both have an amazing eye. I am blessed to have them in my world, and the objects they have found for me over the past 2 years are astounding. This year I wanted to go along and see what all the fuss was about.

Well…I can tell you that the fair was dizzying. I have been to lots of fairs and antiques shows, like Round Top in Texas and Isle sur la Sorgue, but nothing compares to the beauty and the perfection in selection at Parma; it is like nothing I have every seen. There is row after row of Italian treasures. I was gob-smacked. No words could describe the sheer quantity and quality on sale. Mind you, we attended at the end of the show, but there were still gobs of beautiful objects everywhere. We waited until the end of show on purpose, too. Since I was shopping for basics, I felt that I could miss the crowds and leisurely take advantage of end of show pricing.

With Forrest by my side, we flew up and down the aisles with laser beam focus. I picked up a large dining room table and classic Italian wood chairs for the commercial kitchen as we plan to eat some meals in the commercial kitchen, mostly in the fall and winter if it’s too cold outside. The table will also serve as a beautiful surface for cooking, foodstyling lessons, and photography. The student lounge, located next to the commercial kitchen, now has some wonderful leather club chairs – all worn in, soft and comfy. The club chairs were in the most elegant booth manned by a most elegant vendor. She gave us a great deal, and we bought the last matching set. The guest quarters has a really cool rustic table for the entry, plus I found some wonderful wire chairs and a table for folks to hang out on while enjoying an espresso of a glass of wine with a few nibbles in the guest kitchenette.

We loaded all our finds into the old Range Rover. It’s incredibly roomy, but even I was surprised how much fit into the back, and we headed back home just in time for Aperitivo. It was a super successful trip – efficient and inspiring, just the way I like it. If you’re thinking about attending the Parma Antiques Fair, I highly recommend it. I would definitely schedule at least 2 to 3 days since there is so much to see. Plus Parma is such a wonderful place to visit.

Make sure you check in with the blog over the next months as we will be outfitting the rooms with all of our finds starting in May. I can’t wait to share the end results with you as we get ready for our summer of workshops and retreats.

xx Annette


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The Marrakech Express

Last weekend my friend Oma and I decided to take a quick trip to Marrakech. Since it is a quick flight from Italy, it is a rather easy weekend excursion.

We stayed at a charming Riad, and once we figured out how to get back to the place, we were golden. It is quite hard to find your way around the center of town, even if you’ve been there a bunch of times like I have. One incredible discovery was a map app that literally saved us a couple times called maps.me.

The maps.me app, once downloaded works offline. If you’ve every been terribly lost in another country, this is a MUST.

The food in Marrakech is delicious and fresh. Some of my favorite places include Le Jardin, Nomad, and Terrasse des esepices  , but make sure you make reservations, this is very easy to do online. Note: Don’t miss Norya ayroN at the top of the stairs at Le Jardin for one of a kind Moraccan style kaftans and tunics.


We had a great time shopping for rugs and furnishings for our guest quarters. One of my big finds this trip was the most glorious rug vendor Bazar Du Sud, introduced to me by our guide Monica. I highly recommend that you hire a shopping guide. If you are interested in hiring my guide, just contact me through my site and I will connect you to Monica. I had a few places in mind for my shopping excursion, however our guide Monica had some new places on the schedule as well. I love shopping at Mastupha Blaoui, and if you have not been, GO! I found all sorts of great pieces for the guest quarters.

Warning: Leave plenty of time in your schedule as this place is enormous and chocked to the brim with amazing rugs, furnishings and home accessories. One amazing place we went, although it was not Moroccan and is owned by a Belgian woman, is called Magasin General. It is in an industrial part of town and is styled perfectly with treasures from all over Europe with a focus on Belgium. The owner is charming and full of helpful information; not to be missed. It is swoon worthy for sure.

All in all, our Morccan adventure was successful, and I managed to snag a few treasures for La Fortezza. I hope you will come visit sometime and stay with us in our newly appointed rooms.

Check out my instagram feed for more photos of our weekend trip to Marrakesh…Ciao for now

xx Annette

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Sunday Supper Recipe:: Buckwheat Crepes


A few years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of working with Sinskey wines and belonging to their wine club. Each month I received wine along with a recipe for a unique meal. One of my favorites was Golden Wild Rice Buckwheat Crepes with Mushrooms and Taleggio Cheese. It’s the perfect Sunday supper recipe, especially this time of year.

Golden Wild Rice Buckwheat Crepes with Mushrooms & Taleggio Cheese
Serves: 10 to 12

You will need:
1 recipe crepes
– 1 recipe mushrooms
– 1 recipe bechamel
– 12 ounces Italian Taleggio or Fontina, pulled apart or cut into small pieces
– 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
– 1 cup finely chopped cooked Swiss chard or Spinach
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Toss the pieces of Teleggio with ½ cup of Parmesan in a large bowl. Add the mushrooms and greens and toss well to combine. Add 1 cup of béchamel and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil a 15” x 10” baking dish with olive oil. Spread 1 cup of béchamel evenly in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of Parmesan.

Lay the crepes flat and place about ⅓ cup of the filling in bottom third of the crepe and roll the crepe up. Place the crepes side by side in the prepared baking dish then repeat until all of the crepes are filled.

Pour the remaining béchamel evenly over the top of the filled crepes. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup of Parmesan over the top.

Place the crepes in the preheated oven and bake until bubbly and golden, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.


Buckwheat Wild Rice Crepe Batter
Yield: 16 crepes

You will need:
– 1½ cups all-purpose flour
– ¼ cup buckwheat flour
– 2 teaspoons kosher salt
– 3 cups water, divided
– 6 large eggs
– Extra virgin olive oil
– 2 cups wild rice

To prepare:

Mix flour, buckwheat and salt. Mix eggs, 2½ cups water and ¼ cup olive oil and slowly beat into flour mixture. Beat until smooth.

Add the wild rice. Let rest for 20 minutes covered at room temperature. Batter to should be thin enough to easily coat the bottom of a pan when swirled. Add more water to thin if necessary.

Heat a 10” nonstick pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot brush lightly with olive oil.

Use a scant 4 ounce ladle or ½ cup measure to pour batter into pan and roll around to thinly cover bottom. Stir the batter well before scooping to make sure you get wild rice in the scoop.

Cook on one side over medium heat until batter is set and edges start to brown. Flip over and cook for a few seconds on the other side.

Use a spatula to remove the crepe to a plate or simply flip the pan over and let the crepe land on the plate. Smooth the crepe so it flat for stacking. If you will be freezing the crepes separate each crepe with squares of parchment paper. Let cool.

Note: Crepes can be stored at room temperature overnight, tightly wrapped after cooling or frozen up to 2 months tightly sealed.

Sauteed Mushrooms
Yields: 4 cups

These delicious and fragrant mushrooms can be used to stuff omelets, top pizzas, or accompany a nice grilled steak.

You will need:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 2 pounds thinly sliced crimini mushrooms
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 2 teaspoons thyme
– 1 teaspoon minced garlic
– 3 tablespoons minced shallots

To prepare:

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. When the pan is hot add the olive oil and then the mushrooms.

Cook for 10 to 12 minutes stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are golden and the pan juices are almost dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium, fold in the thyme, garlic and shallots and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Turn out onto a sheet pan to cool before using.


Béchamel Sauce
Yield: 4 cups

You will need:

– 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 5 cups whole milk
– 1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
– 1 small bay leaf, dried or fresh
– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare:

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until the butter and the flour are thoroughly combined. Continue to cook the mixture over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the milk 1 cup at a time. Whisk until the paste is smooth than add another cup of milk and repeat the process until the milk is finished. The milk and flour should be smooth and slightly thickened.

Place the pan back over medium heat and add the onion and the bay leaf. Bring the sauce to a boil while whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes stirring every 5 minutes with a wooden spoon. The sauce will form a crust on the bottom so try not to disturb it with the wooden spoon or you will have brown flecks in your sauce. To avoid this, you can transfer the sauce to a double boiler and continue to cook it for 20 minutes without having to stir.

Strain the sauce into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cool for later use and store well-wrapped in the refrigerator.

Recipe via Maria Sinskey

Photos by Robert Sinskey

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Workshops: Summer 2018 Updates

I cannot believe that we’re just a few months away from embarking on our second summer of workshops at La Fortezza. If you follow along on Instagram, you’ve probably noticed that we’re in the thick of renovating our guest quarters. They will hopefully be done soon, just in time for our guests.

If you’re considering coming to Italy this summer, we’d love to have you. There isn’t anything like summer in Italy. While I might be partial, I can assure you that you’ll agree with me. Our location is just a short drive from just about anything you could possibly want: beaches, historic towns, mountains, quaint spots – it’s all at your fingertips.

We have just a few spots left in several of our workshops. While some of our events have already sold out, we do have a few spaces left (and a few surprises, too!) in the following workshops:

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My June 6 – 11, 2018 Strictly Styling Workshop will be the traditional styling workshop we’ve offered over the years and will feature two AWESOME guest instructors and stylists that you are going to love: Joanna Hawley & Eliza Honey.

Joanna Hawley is a Seattle-based blogger, stylist, and digital influencer. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Industrial Design, she worked as a product designer and trend scout for Nordstrom and Anthropologie before turning her keen eye to the online space. Her talent for curation has earned her a Pinterest following that totals 3.8 million, and her frank, funny, and fashion-forward approach to content creation has made her site jojotastic.com a go-to resource for modern yet casual lifestyle inspiration. When she’s not documenting her renovation misadventures, she’s mostly likely sailing the Puget Sound with her wiener dog companions.

An ex-editor at goop (yes, that goop!) and at Elle Decoration UK, Eliza Honey has made the fulfilling switch to floristry at the legendary Harper & Tom’s in London.  Her focus is on arrangements and installations with a wild, naturalistic and joyful feel.

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We also have a few spots left in our Figurative Photography workshop with renowned photographer, Harriet Leibowitz. We will provide the experience, the models, the location, the instruction and the motivation to make memorable and magnificent images.  With our experienced male and female figurative models, you will have the opportunity to create beautiful and unique work involving the human body.

We’ve been working to create the most amazing experiences imaginable. Our location at La Fortezza in Tuscany offers breathtaking vistas and intimate interiors. Every detail has been created with photo shoots in mind. There will be technical instruction to maximize our creative vision. We will dine on chef created organic food from the garden, drink wine from the vineyards and indulge in all that Italy offers.

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Finally, join me along with premiere Southern wedding and event professionals, Master Florist/Event Designer, Kim Cheney, and Luxury Fine Art Wedding Photographer, Donna Von Bruening at our Tuscan Wedding Workshop. Our exclusive instructors to share their knowledge and insight on storytelling, creating and documenting the perfect celebration or wedding.

This intimate workshop is for creative minds seeking inspiration, world travelers looking for a new experience abroad and wedding and event professionals looking to broaden their palette and build their portfolio. You will enjoy hands-on experience mixed with lively lectures and one-on-one instruction throughout the week. Expand your visual language and hone your artistic voice to tell stories that arouse emotion whether you are setting a table for your own special guests or seeking to enhance your professional portfolio.  For inspiration and fun, you will scour super-secret Italian flea markets for special props, enjoy Italian dinners al fresco while mingling with creative and industry professionals. It’s truly a creative retreat – a picturesque place to recharge and refresh.

We truly have a workshop for everyone this summer. Come along and experience Italy in a creative, life-changing way. We’d love to have you!

xx Annette

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