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September is Sagra Season

What the heck is a "sagra"? A sagra is a local festival, mostly held in villages, all over the Italian countryside. Join me as I share my sagra experiences!

What the heck is a “sagra“? A sagra is a local festival, mostly held in villages, all over the Italian countryside. It’s something that I really had no experience with since we lived in a seaside town for so many years. I vaguely knew what it was from visiting friends in the countryside, but I had never attended one. This year, as you know, we moved to the countryside, and there are sagre (sagre, plural) everywhere. Usually tied in someway to food, apples, polenta, truffles, boars…you get the picture. The village gathers in the main square (in most cases) or even a field or the streets. Since it’s hosted by the village for the surrounding area, everyone turns out. Sometimes there are food trucks or food vendors, and usually there’s an open fire somewhere where a local specialty is being cooked by your neighbors, or yummy things are being fried or grilled. There are lots of families and of course family activities like jumpy houses.

What the heck is a "sagra"? A sagra is a local festival, mostly held in villages, all over the Italian countryside. Join me as I share my sagra experiences!

It’s a great way to raise money for the community. Communities here are a very tight knit group. Plus everyone can come together and celebrate the season. Needless to say, it’s a great place to people watch, catch-up with folks in the neighborhood, eat great food, and drink local wine. Most likely these festivals originated from old country fairs or harvest celebrations. It’s easy to attend a sagra because everyone is welcome. Look for signs along the road near villages, the theme (most often food related) will be on the poster along with the dates. They are usually held on the weekends, and keep in mind these are nighttime events usually starting at about 8:00 pm.

Most sagre are set up the same: you buy a food and drink ticket, and then they bring your order to your table. The way it works most often is they either give you a number for your table, or they come pick up your ticket, retrieve the order, and bring it to you. Knowing the ropes is super helpful. Next time you’re in Italy and nearing a village, look for the posters. You can’t go wrong or more authentic.

We are attending several this fall; I am seriously thinking this might just be my next cookbook.

Sagre of Italy…xx

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Cooking Local, the Paper Plane and More: It’s the top 4

4 for August

It’s the top 4 for August, and what a busy month it has been. I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my favorite Italian secrets with you this month. I recapped our final summer workshop with Sif, we discussed the best kept antiques fair secret in Italy, and I may or may not have spilled the beans on one of my guilty pleasures.

I cannot believe it’s almost September and that in just a few short weeks, I’ll be boarding a plane back to the U.S. In the meantime, I’m going to soak up every moment I have left of my first summer at the Fortress. Stay tuned in September for some exciting content. You won’t want to miss it.

Here’s my top 4 August:

Cooking Healthy and Local Workshop

The Testament of Testaroli

The Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe

Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes

xx Annette

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Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes Sarzana, Italy

As you know from my last post, I am in love with the little right down the road from us town, Sarzana, Italy, and Melissa's Tearoom and Cakes is a gem. FullSizeRender 3

Ciao! As you know from my last post, I am in love with the little town right down the road from us town, Sarzana, Italy.  My sweet friend from Berlin, Heike, told me that I needed to check out this cute tearoom, Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes, while I was there, and mostly I needed to follow her on Instagram, as she was a German sweets sensation. As I have said before, Sarzana is a treasure trove of hip and yummy places.

Melissa’s Tearoom and Cakes is on the main drag, and you cannot miss it. It’s the store front with the charming, super cozy hunter green facade, sparkly crystal lighting, and pistachio colored cafe tables and chairs in front. Inside the deep rich hunter green walls set off the glittery silver teapots on the back wall and draw you right in. Cake stands hold several freshly baked cakes, and cupcakes are displayed like delicious jewels in a vintage glass case. In Italy, there has been a invasion of cupcakes which to me is a revelation since Italians tend to like drier, less sweet pastries and proudly defend their territory as far as pasticcerias are concerned. But I like the fact that Italians are widening their horizons. Check out Melissa’s facebook page, and definitely follow her on Instagram as her feed is pretty yummy.

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of fantastic pasticcerias in Sarzana to choose from, but I love Melissa’s balls to the walls concept of tea and cakes in a espresso and biscotti driven market.

If you’re in the hood, stop by for a visual treat. Of course, it’s a treat for your mouth, too. Like I’ve said before, go off the beaten path and explore outside your comfort zone. You never know what you’ll find…maybe even a cupcake! xx

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Sarzana Antique Fair

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Every year in August I wait for it…in Sarzana there’s the most wonderful event, the Sarzana Antiques Fair. Sarzana is about a 40 minute drive from our house in the Lunigiana. Sarazana is a quaint medieval town 20 minutes inland from the sea, right before you get to Cararra where the marble is from. Complete with a citadel and duomo, it’s our region’s fun little secret hipster haven. It’s also virtually unknown by tourists. In fact I cringe a little bit letting you all in on my secret happy place. It’s chocked-full of artisan clothing boutiques and antique stores, yummy hip restaurants, and the most charming little bakery/tearoom, Melissa’s (Ill be writing about it in the next blog post, so you will want to come back, and read about it this Thursday). There’s even a hipster barber shop.

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This year I went twice. Once to scout it out. I found a charming hand painted terracotta urn that I have proudly displayed in our front entry. I headed back to find some pieces for the guest quarters and kitchen, and a trunk for the master bedroom.

The stalls under the brightly lit passageways always make me smile. Striped umbrellas and trillions of trinkets catch your eye. It always makes me a little dizzy with anticipation. Oh, and it’s held at night which is a stroke of genius since the August heat can bring upwards of 100 degrees in the shade. It’s the perfect time to have an aperitivo and people watching at the fair is an added plus.

All summer long there are wonderful antiques markets all around the region, but this once-a-year fair is the one I wait for. Now that I have let you in on my little secret, you should think about visiting our region inland from the Riviera. Thirty minutes from the very popular and incredibly over-crowed over-marketed Cinqueterra, there is a treasure trove of quaint towns and beautiful views, amazing hikes and unexpected local cuisine. Adventure awaits you off the beaten path. Start with Sarzana; you won’t be disappointed. You’re welcome. xx

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The Testament of Testaroli

During our 3rd workshop here in Italy at La Fortezza, the emphasis of the workshop was on cooking local. I was thrilled to be able to introduce our attendees and our instructor Sif to one of the most original and authentic dishes in our region. Lunigiana is a mystery to most tourists visiting the region, but the truth is that most Italians are not familiar with the region either. Folks here are extremely proud of the area, and that includes the local products and cuisine. We have loads of products with chestnuts, bread honey, faro, China Amaro, and apple cider.

My dear new friend Giovanna Zurlo of Azienda Agricola di là dall’ Acqua  invited us to an event she was hosting demonstrating the method of how testarolo is prepared.

What’s Testaroli? Wikipedia describes Testaroli as, sometimes referred to as testarolo, it is a type of pasta or bread in Italian cuisine that is prepared using water, flour and salt, which is sliced into triangular shapes. A common dish in the Lunigiana region and historical territory of Italy, it is an ancient pasta originating from the Etruscan civilization of Italy. Testaroli has been described as “the earliest recorded pasta.” It is also a native dish of the southern Liguria and northern Tuscany regions of Italy.

Testaroli is prepared from a batter that is cooked on a hot flat surface, after which it may be consumed. It is traditionally cooked on a testo, a flat terra cotta or cast iron cooking surface from which the food’s name is derived. It is sometimes cooked further in boiling water and then served. Testaroli is sometimes referred to as a bread, similar to focaccia in composition, and is sometimes referred to as a crêpe. It may be dressed with pesto sauce or other ingredients such as olive oil, Pecorino cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and garlic. Falsi testaroli al ragu is a similar dish prepared using sliced pasta dough and a ragù sauce.

All I know is that the demonstration was amazing. Over an open fire, the pan is heated and then the crepe-like batter is ladled into the white hot pan. It cooks in minutes and then is served with charcuterie. The alternate version of preparation is that the crepe is cut into bite size squares or triangles and boiled briefly about 30 seconds and served with pesto or ragu, like pasta.

We all enjoyed a dinner together under the stars of local goat cheese and focaccia then the testaroli with pesto and local wine. Sharing this local cuisine and talking about the local products with our workshop instructor and attendees was truly magical and exactly what we wanted to accomplish. Eating local is the way of life here, and it’s my goal to share this region with all our attendees one dish at a time.

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