Tag Archives: Behind the Scenes

Scary Quick Halloween Decor

Having a little Halloween around the house is always super fun, and it doesn’t have to be just for the kids. Adults can get in on the Halloween action, too. The best part is that making a big Halloween impact doesn’t have to come with a big decorating budget.

Here’s a quick, easy, and budget-friendly idea: create a creepy cloche. Your local craft store is probably filled with all sorts of items just waiting to be used. I found these awesome neutral skulls hanging out with the Halloween decor at my favorite place – Michaels. My love affair with all things natural made me think these could be perfectly stacked up in a cloche. After all, it’s always good to think outside the box…or in this case, inside the cloche.

This little project is a pinch scary and a lot Halloween-y without being overkill. Simply gather all of your skulls in a cloche; it’s that easy!

How are you decorating this Halloween?

xx Annette

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La Fortezza Tomato Sauce

I know you have all been watching me deal with our incredible tomato harvest in our La Fortezza garden this year. Let’s just say we will have tomato sauce for every pizza party until October. Today I am sharing one of the recipes from my upcoming new cookbook, based on the region I live in La Lunigiana, located in the northwest corner of Tuscany. My cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook, will feature the local cuisine, as well as the house specialties we serve during our workshops and retreats on the property. It will be released in fall 2022, by Rizzoli NY, and I cannot wait to share it with all of you. This is a recipe you can jar or simply bag up and put in the freezer to enjoy a little taste of summer in the winter months. Let me know how it goes. xx

Our tomato plants are very prolific; we make about 3 batches of this simple tomato sauce recipe every season. We jar it and enjoy it through the fall, winter, and spring. It is a very simple recipe that highlights the sweetness of the tomatoes. It is used in so many dishes, you will be amazed at how easy and versatile it is. The only piece of equipment needed is a food mill, which is something that is a fixture in Italian kitchens mainly used for “the sauce”.

La Fortezza Tomato Sauce
Makes about 4 quarts 8-16 oz jars

*equipment food mill


You will need:

– ½  cup extra-virgin olive oil

– 1 ½ cups finely chopped yellow onion

– 4 pounds tomatoes, chopped

– 3 clove garlic, lightly crushed

– 1 tablespoon  salt1 tablespoon dried oregano

To prepare:

Place the onion and olive oil in a large saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often until the oil starts to sizzle. Cook for 5 minutes, to soften the onion. Add the tomato and the minced garlic to the onions, add the salt and oregano. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to low. Allow to simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for 40 to 50 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Run it through the food mill and store in the freezer or jar according to the directions below.

For jarring your sauce these are the directions:

Step 1: Glass jars can also be put through a hot cycle in your dishwasher.

Step 2: Sterilize metal seals in boiling water for 5 minutes and then leave in water.

Step 3: Once you fill the jars, top with lids, put the filled jars into the boiling water for 10 minutes, remove with rubber tipped tongs place on the counter to cool. The lids are sealed when the middle of the lid has an indentation. Note if all the jars do not have a proper intentdation, store in the refrigerator.

  • Note if you don’t want to jar your sauce it is good in the freezer for 6 months.
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Pool Furniture in Italy

FINALLY!!! The pool was ready for furniture.

While the workers constructed the pool deck and the pergola, I shopped for outdoor furniture.

The first thing I wanted to establish was the vibe. Since I have a rather bohemian approach to design, I wanted the pool design to reflect the rest of our space. We love Mykonos, so I thought drawing inspiration from the hotel pools there would be a good jumping-off point. Plus it would look great with the gorgeous view surrounding the pool area. I wanted something serene and cool but nothing fussy or colorful. Although I do love a little quirkiness in my designs, I found that all white was the way to go, and I could add a little whimsy as well.

photo: David Loftus

Most of the furniture is very natural and organic. I found the most amazing pink Bulgarian fish stand at one of my favorite props houses outside Bologna. My friend and partner in crime and producer, prop mistress Barbara took me to this place over the winter. When I entered this warehouse, I nearly fainted from overload…yes beauty overload. I saw this amazing ‘bar.” Actually, they had some extraordinary bars, but this pink one had my name on it, and it was the perfect addition to my pool vibe. We love to make cocktails and serve them, so why not have a really cool pink bar to serve them from?! The bar really made the look of the pool perfection in my eyes.

We bought it, and set a delivery date. Of course the delivery date was on a day we were shooting my new cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook, and let me tell you, thank God it was because the company sent 1 driver to deliver 1 heavy heavy bar, and we needed all the crew to help unload it. Barbara was a super hero as she not only made a plan of how to unload this 500 pound bar, but she jumped up on the truck and single handedly unloaded it with help from our chef Leo and our stylist’s husband Charlie. It was quite the group effort. Along with the driver, a very nice woman, they managed to unload and place the pink bar without injury to them or the bar.

The pergola serves as a respite from the sunshine, and a breezy place to read or take a nap. I have also been working at the table. In fact I am writing from here right now. I found this really cool table at one of my favorite little stores. It’s actually a chain store much like World Market in the US. I saw the table, but unlike my usual shopping decisions, I did not buy it right away. When I went back the next day, it was gone. They had sold the last one. I asked if possibly there was another at another store location? They looked at me like I had said something so odd they could not wrap their brains around it. In the states that would be the natural question, but in Italy not so much. So I googled the store locations while the girls just looked at each other and scratched their heads. “Here,” I said. “Livorno, could you call and ask if they have the table?” “Livorno?” one of the girls replied, “I guess we could, Si.”

They called the store, and they had 2 tables. “Please have them hold one, and I will come get it,” I said. Now in the US, they would have taken my credit card, and then had it shipped to the house. But not in Italy, no such thing. I waved goodbye, and I jumped in the car and headed to a strip mall in Livorno, about 30 minutes away. When I arrived at the store, I made my purchase and met the salesgirl at the back door to load my table. It would not fit. She said you could strap it to the top of the car. Um, no that sounds dangerous and illegal I thought. I asked for the manager. She walked to the car and looked at the table and the Land Rover, and said this will not fit. “So can I have it delivered?” “No”, she said. Pretty blunt, I thought, but there was no way that this table could not be delivered. She worked at a furniture store how could that be?

Then I looked at my phone and realized it was lunch time, and everything stops in Italy at lunchtime. I surmised she just did not want to deal with me. “We can give you a refund,” she said, mildly annoyed. I was going to have it delivered I thought; nothing would stop me. I asked her to call a delivery company and find out how much to deliver. About 15 minutes later she walked towards me phone in hand and said, “It is very expensive”, …”How much?” I said. “100 euros”, she replied. “Sounds good, I said let’s have it delivered.” She continued to talk on the phone for another 10 minutes and then turned to me and said, they can’t deliver it.” Then she hung up.

Mildly pissed off, I called Barbara the solver of all things. It took her about 5 minutes to call a delivery company and arrange to have the table delivered, the same day. I handed to phone to the store manager, and she and Barbara got it all worked out. I profusely thanked Barbara. Jumped into the car an drove off. In Italy this entire scenario is what we all to refer to as “Normale”(normal). Everything is more complicated, but in the end I got my table, and I LOVE it.

The pool is really great. We love the entire set up, and although it was a project and a half, it was worth all the effort, all the pain, and the endless work involved to make it happen. Remember I am a pit bull when it comes to projects, and NO is not an option. When in Italy renovating, this is the best way to be. Ciao all and hope to see you poolside, here at La Fortezza someday. xx

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Building our Pool in Italy.

It’s been a long haul building the pool at La Fortezza. It seemed like an easy task, but then Covid struck and everything was put on a BIG hold. I arrived here in February, greeted by the pool covered and surrounded by loads of dirt and debris.

One thing about projects in Italy is they can be on hold endlessly. The idea of starting, let alone totally completing a project is in normal times pretty daunting, so with this monkey wrench thrown into the works, it is truly a miracle that it is finished.

Well almost. The truth is that building projects in Italy are a never-ending story. The idea of everything being perfect and completed is not a concept here. Nothing is perfect, and for my ever-present OCD, this fact is the medicine that I need in order to chill out. When I say chill out, I mean I can sleep at night knowing that there are 10 tiny steps to completing the project, and those may never come to fruition, and I can live with it.

The nighttime lighting has just been completed at the pool. The stairs leading to the pool deck have been a challenge as I bought lighting and the electrician kept dragging his feet to place the final 3 spots light on the bottom step. HE thought I did not need it, but I thought that I or our guests might break an ankle if we missed the last step because of the darkness. We literally fought about these lights for 2 months and FINALLY, he gave in. Now we won’t miss that last step. The last 3 spots on the final step will save lives. He was semi unhappy that I did not take his suggestion of a big stadium light mounted on the house to flood the entire pool area. He actually thought it was a great solution. See what I am dealing with here?

I compare building the pool and the pool area to being pregnant for 2 years and delivering a 400 lb baby…yes painful. The pool company was alright, but we ended up firing them because their service was subpar at best. Which means they barely came to clean the pool and complained if we called them. Yep. But finally, finally on June 12th, 2021 we had a pool. Only 1 1/2 years late. You ask why it was so daunting? Well, let’s just say micromanaging was a must, as the work schedule was all over the place. Then, of course, the weather it rains here a lot in March, April, and May.

The time came to start furnishing the pool deck which was the fun part. I looked online and then discovered a local outdoor furniture and accessories place that was fantastic. It literally is 3 football fields chocked full of the most amazing outdoor furnishings. I will post about my choices in the next blog post so stay tuned!

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Finished… Finito…All Done, the last photoshoot for La Fortezza Cookbook

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The Dapper David Loftus, photographer and fashion plate sipping the Rosé named for him.

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Chef Leo, garnishing the local dish, in an authentic Lunigiana cast iron cooking vessel, called a testa.

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Me at my new bar, that was a delivery saga let’s just say I was happy it arrived and was in one piece.

Ciao everyone!  I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am done with La Fortezza Cookbook. The manuscript? Check,. The recipe testing? Check. Edits? Check. Photo-shoots per season? Check.

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La Fortezza, capture by David, his POV is perfection.   92DA59CE-8F04-440C-BA52-740073A6C28D_1_201_a

As you can imagine, shooting a seasonal cookbook in Italy has been a challenge. We had to cancel the very first shoot for the winter Chapter in February 2020. We were finally able to shoot the summer chapter August 2020, and with lots of restrictions and hurdles, we managed to shoot summer with me and my local chef Leo, then in October. I brought our workshop chef from the US which was no small feat. He, unfortunately, was going through some personal issues which did affect the quality of his work and the food which was another challenge on top of the other challenges was a lot for me to process. We soldiered on in March, hiring a new food stylist from England, the incredible Rosie Scott. All the while David Loftus, my photographer, was truly brilliant and consistent and created the most beautiful images. Rosie, our stylist from London, joined the team in March, along with our local chef Leo. We tackled the re-shoots from October’s shoot, as well as the new images for winter (yes, winter at the end of March. We lucked out with some unseasonably cold weather). Rosie and Leo knocked it out of the park. We had the crew back from London last week to shoot the final chapter, spring. With London lockdowns, endless covid 19 tests, daily temperature checks, travel restrictions, and tons of paperwork, we made it happen. My friend and superstar producer Barbara Pederzini was one of the reasons the shoot went so smoothly. She was my rock, to say the least.

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Daily temperature checks, Rosie and Charlie doing their temperature checks.

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With endless playlists, espressos, market runs, sunshine, heat, rain, and cold days, we had a great time. There were many many challenges, but I am beyond pleased with the recipes, and the images are outrageously gorgeous. This book, as we referred to it, will be “the most beautiful book in the world”. I am delighted that all of our local slow food purveyors’ stories are included, and the rich history of this little-known region of Italy, The Lunigiana, will be the star. I am proud and so excited to share it with all of you. Endless thank yous to David, Rosie, Leo, Barbara and of course, Charlie, Rosie’s lovely and helpful husband, who saved my ass driving to see the Shepherdess in Zeri…that’s another story for another time… dream team does not begin to describe this crew. Fin…xx

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