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AJS Team in Quarantine:: Valerie Failla

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Today’s post is from our PR guru, Valerie Failla:

I am a publicist.

I have worked in areas of public relations, in almost every specialty—big brands, small brands, in-house, off-site—you name it. For the last two decades, I have primarily focused on the culinary and hospitality industries. Unfortunately, these two are a few the hardest hit industries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lately, friends and industry cohorts tell me, “Reinvent yourself.”

My response is always “No.”

I want to continue to be who I have always been simply because it is who I truly am. My “job” has never felt like a job in the traditional sense of the word. What I do for clients fuels my creativity, my drive, and my passion. There isn’t anything else that I could–or would–ever aspire to be.

9/11. I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. For weeks, grey smoke hung outside the front windows of my dilapidated, fourth floor, walk-up apartment, although I lived over six miles from the World Trade Center site. I walked seventy-seven blocks and too many avenues to count to work for over two weeks for fear there would be another surprise attack, and I would be crushed underground on the subway. One would think that after surviving the fright of a terrorist attack in your own hometown backyard you could make it through anything. How could life possibly get any worse?

The most difficult difference between that darkest period in America and our current climate is the isolation. My kids can’t go to school. I can’t go to the diner for a cup of coffee and cheese fries. My husband and I cannot now do the work we have so thoroughly enjoyed since my agency, Via Failla PR & Events, launched in 2016. I have read that isolation can play incredibly interesting tricks on the mind, therefore, I will be infinitely grateful for my family who keep me busy, smiling, laughing, and again–very busy.

So what to do? Seek the silver lining.

Planting
As a family we have always planted an assortment of vegetables and herbs on our back deck. While we have been sheltered in place, we have taken the opportunity to create a much larger garden than we have in past years. Part of our newfound excitement is watching the newly potted strawberries and jalapeños bloom for the first time! Gardening is incredibly rewarding!

Play on!
Classic board games including Life, Monopoly, and Operation have been keeping all our minds occupied (as well as laughing!) After playing several nights of each, I have often thought to myself, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, would my kids even know about these iconic games that kept my sister and me so entertained throughout the 80’s?

Cooking
Hands down, our number one favorite activity. Cooking food is therapy. It is an incredibly positive, creative, and simple way to spend time with those we are quarantined with each day and then reap the delicious benefit! My sweet Gen Z children have created time-lapse videos of us cooking and my husband has taken so many photos of our dishes to post socially, that it’s beyond flattering!

Out of extreme circumstances comes learning. We will become tougher, smarter, save more money, and organically be more humble when we finally drive this infectious demon out of society.

Until then, stay home, stay safe, and keep on creating!

Here is one of my husband’s most favorite breakfast foods, egg toast cups. Adults and kids can easily make them and you can add in anything at all from your pantry.

Egg Toast Cups

You will need:
– One, regular size muffin tin
– Olive Oil spray or olive oil
– Bread Slices (Any kind work. However many muffins your tray makes, that’s how many bread slices you need)
– Room temp butter
– Eggs (number is same as how many muffins your tray makes)
– Italian Parsley (minced)
– Minced garlic (or garlic powder if out of fresh garlic)
– Salt and pepper
– Any Italian cured/dried salami “cold cut” that you can easily tear up
– Vegetables or other additions anchovies, roasted peppers, just about anything works!

To prepare:
Either spray the muffin cups or wipe evoo all over each muffin cup to prevent the bread from sticking

Butter both sides of each slice of bread

Push each slice of bread into each muffin cup and form it to stick to the muffin cup to make a bowl

Whisk all eggs and add in S&P, minced garlic (or garlic powder)

Pour egg mixture into each muffin cup and be sure to leave a bit of room at the top b/c egg will rise when cooked

Rip up salami and put a few pieces in each muffin cup (bologna is good too!)

Bake at 400 degrees until the egg is cooked but top is a bit soft (or cooked to your own liking)

Top w/parsley and serve (they easily come out of the muffin cup and they look really pretty!)

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AJS Team in Quarantine:: Laura Giannatempo

Laura Giannatempo Photo

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Hello, Everyone,
My name is Laura Giannatempo, and I’m Annette’s travel concierge. When you take one of her future workshops, you can ask me for advice about where to go, what to do and where to eat if you want to extend your trip in Italy.

Right now, I’m not traveling, of course. I’m based in Brooklyn, and the hardest part of this quarantine for me has been not being able to return to Italy. I usually travel there several times a year to scout the best hotels, eateries, artisans and small, local businesses that are hard to find on your own.

Since I can’t travel, what do I do? I “dream travel.” I go over old photos of trips I’ve loved on my phone or in photo albums—yes, photo albums. I took some of my earliest trips before digital photography and smartphones, so the memories are captured in good, old-fashioned prints. Reliving these past travels not only brings up great memories, but it also gets my juices flowing for planning future trips for when we’re able to travel again.

Also, I cook. A lot. Short of being there, there’s nothing that channels a country or a region better than to cook something special from there. As you might have guessed, I cook a lot of Italian food. But I also like to dabble in other Mediterranean flavors and South-East Asian-inspired dishes.

I’ve been cooking a lot of Ligurian food, lately. I’m originally from Piedmont, but Liguria is my second home. My aunt and uncle live in Genova, and I used to spend entire summers in a small town not far from Cinque Terre when I was young. I always loved the food: the incredibly fresh seafood, fished just the night before; the creative use of vegetables and herbs, even wild ones; and the ability to create amazing flavors with very few, simple but great-quality ingredients.

One of my go-to Ligurian foods is farinata. With only 5 ingredients, if you count water, salt and pepper, fainata is one of the most versatile and satisfying snacks—and a true Italian street food. It’s hard to believe that mixing and baking chickpea flour and extra-virgin olive oil can turn into something so delicious. if you don’t believe me, you can try it yourself! Here’s the recipe. Buon appetito!

Farinata (Chickpea Flatbread)
Serves 4 to 6

You will need:
– 2 cups chickpea flour
– 3 cups water
– 1 Tbs. plus 1/2 tsp. salt
– 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
– Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare:
Place the chickpea flour in a large bowl and slowly add the water, whisking constantly to prevent clumps from forming. You’ll end up with a fairly liquid batter.

Add the salt, stir, and let the batter rest, covered with plastic wrap for at least 4 hours at room temperature.

Preheat the oven at 425F, With a large slotted spoon, remove any foam that might have formed on the surface of the batter and stir well.

Pour the olive oil in a 17×13-inch rimmed baking sheet (preferably nonstick) and pour in the batter. Spread it with the back of a wooden spoon to cover the pan and to incorporate the oil. The batter should form only a thin layer, about 1/4-inch thick.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the farinata turns a nice golden yellow. Let it rest for a few minutes and sprinkle on some pepper. Use a pizza cutter to cut it in slices. Serve warm and enjoy!

Photo (shot on film): credited to Michael Piazza

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NOW AVAILABLE: Italy is My Boyfriend

Copy of Confetti Annette (1) 71eEt76QB3L I am thrilled to announce my memoir, Italy is My Boyfriend, is finally here! I am so excited to share my adventures in Italy with you.

To celebrate, I am hosting a giveaway on my Instagram page. The winner will receive all three of my books, signed. Head over to my Instagram feed to enter!

Frances Mayes, the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, will be joining me on my Instagram Live, Thursday May 28th at noon. We will be discussing her latest book, Always Italy, as well as my book, Italy is My Boyfriend. I cannot wait to chat all things Italy with Frances! Grab your lunch and join us on Thursday.

Additionally, plan to join me and editor in chief of Atlanta Magazine, Betsy Riley for a virtual talk in partnership with the Atlanta History Center on June 18, 2020 at 7 PM. Find more information here. 

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AJS Team in Quarantine:: Philip Meeker

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Hello! I’m Philip Meeker, the chef at La Fortezza. Some of you might know me from the cooking classes Annette and I do on her Instagram or from pictures of all the cool things we explore in Italy.

I hope you all are doing well as possible during this time of social distancing. For me, it’s been a mixed experience. Nothing really bad has happened, and I’m thankful for that, but the world has changed in a way that’s left me feeling more uncertain about how to move through it. Being forced to pause also forced me to pay attention to many things I was ignoring. It added to the discomfort of distancing, but it’s given me more self-awareness and has strengthened some of my relationships.

As part of that awareness, I’ve made sure to try to do a few things each week to keep things playful and my spirits up.

Wake up & Dance.
This may sound goofy, but I love to dance. It also gets me to pay more attention to my body and to be comfortable being aware of my feelings there. I’ve been tuning into DJ DNice’s quarantine mixes and have also had Beyonce’s Homecoming on repeat. She’s the Queen B.

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Date nights.
Sarita, who is my partner, and I love to have a night out. Since that’s off the table, I’ve been surprising her with coursed meals, from pasta to octopus salad to pistachio cakes. Sometimes, I feel like I’m unconsciously or deliberately trying to recreate our experience at La Fortezza. If you have a yard, and it’s still cool where you are, I highly recommend an evening picnic next to the fire pit. As the sun goes down, we will lounge about on our blanket in the grass, looking up into the stars, sharing our hopes and dreams. May sound a little saccharine but it’s relaxing. (I made sure to get her permission to share this.)

Nature.
I’ve mentioned this a little in my date night rec, but the outdoors have been bringing me much needed serenity. Whether it’s a jog through the nature-preserve trails near our house or a walk with Louis Harris, our Bichon, I find I start to breathe a lot deeper when I get some exercise while listening to the birds and feeling the sun on my face.

Yoga.
It’s been my centering practice for the last 8 years, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to get myself on my mat much during this quarantine. But as my yoga teacher advises, I’m not going to focus on what I’m not doing with my practice, and I’m going to accept where I am.

Cooking Classes with Annette.
Planning, prepping, and co-teaching these classes has been a welcomed project these months. Cooking with Annette, though virtually, brings back a lot of memories of cooking, dining, and exploring Italy with her. I’m planning to be back there this September with her.

Thanks, Philip! Find Chef Philip’s bolognese recipe here!

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Focaccia La Fortezza Instagram Live Cooking Lesson

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Ciao Everyone!  We had a big demand to do a La Fortezza Virtual cooking lesson on focaccia, so we are answering your wishes! Join Chef Philip and me on my IG Live Wednesday at 5 pm EST. Below is the recipe we will be preparing.

We will be making the authentic Liguria-style focaccia. We will tell you all about the focaccia that you will find all up and down the Italian Riviera, and we’ll show you how to make it yourself. I hope to see you on the ‘gram!

Focaccia
Serves 4

You will need:
– 4 cups double zero flour (super fine flour) flour for kneading if needed.
– 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
– 1 tablespoon coarse salt + 1 teaspoon for finishing

To prepare:

Place the yeast in a small bowl with 1/3 cups water and let proof in a large bowl allow to bloom for 5 minutes. Place 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.

On an oiled 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 you may need to oil your fingers a bit to do this.

Let rest for 1 hour, then repeat by poking dimples into the risen dough, and let rest for 30 minutes.

Before placing in the oven, drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Remove sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil immediately and cool and eat warm or at room temperature. The key is to let the oil soak in as the focaccia cools.

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