Category Archives: Stuff We Like

Friendship and shoes: is there a better combination?

This year Santa came a little bit earlier for me. A few weeks ago, I received a cute, gift-wrapped box with inside a gorgeous pair of shoes from Suede, one of my favorite stores in Milan.

I love these shoes! They are sleek, timeless, very versatile because you can wear them with literally anything and they are reasonably priced. And the colors? Beautiful and perfect for the season! So what’s not to love? If you happen to be in Milan, I suggest you don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the Suede stores. You can find all the necessary info and take a look at their shoes collection at www.suede.it.

I want to dedicate this post to the gift sender: my dearest friend Paola. Not only because she is beautiful, smart, successful at her job and super funny. But, and above all, because she belongs to that teeny tiny magical circle of people who bring a breath of fresh air in every room they enter. It’s a good gift to have, and very few people have it. You just have to be smart enough to recognize it when you see it. I still remember the first time I met her. I was in one of those awkward (to me at least) mothers-toddlers gatherings, one of those that I could not avoid simply because I had miserably failed to come up with a plausible excuse. I was standing in a corner of a room, trying to camouflage myself with the wall and pondering about my momentarily miserable life, when a very sophisticated woman approached me asking if I was Her Majesty’s mom. Now, you know when you are standing on the shore with your legs a bit apart, your body facing the ocean and a huge wave hits and completely submerges you, enveloping you in water? That’s exactly how I felt when she started talking to me. It was impossible for me to resist her charm, positive energy and great sense of humor. It was simply overwhelming! We have been great friends ever since.

On a similar note, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. On second thought, let me wish you all a great Friendsgiving. For me, family is not only made of blood-related people. Family is also made of those people that we meet during our journey and become part of our lives because we love them and they love us back, making our lives better one day at a time.

And that’s certainly something to be very thankful for!

Enjoy this coming holiday weekend!

When celebrations are in order: an epochal ruling and a tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

The saying goes that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I do not completely agree. I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion as long as it is respectful and mindful of the fact that other people’s opinion may be different and – still – totally worthy to be expressed and listened to. Of course, the following opinion is on a subject that has been controversial for more that half century and it is mine (and Stefano’s) only. Feel free to agree or disagree and express your opinion in the comment section, but please do it respectfully.

This post is dedicated to those five revolutionary and extraordinary judges sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court that last week didn’t simply made same-sex marriage legal, they upheld its constitutionality. Their ruling which is now the law of the land is an epic point of no return and, at the same time, a dream-come-true for millions of people.

From now on no State will be able not to recognize to two people of the same sex their right to get married. It may seem natural and maybe even obvious to heterosexuals, but the Supreme Court’s ruling constitutes the dawn of a new era where homosexuals and heterosexuals have exactly the same right to marriage.

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

But that ruling is also the final coronation of a dream that has moved the heart of millions of people for several decades. People who have suffered and fought only to be granted the right to be considered equal to others.

For different reasons, today is considered the birthday of the United States. We think it is so special that the Supreme Court’s decision came out only a week before Independence Day.

A day of celebration of freedom in a country that has shown to be capable of listening to the voice of gay couples that have fought so long and so hard for their basic rights. A day of celebration of freedom in a country whose President has greeted this judicial decision by declaring that “love is love” and “this ruling is a victory for America”. A day of celebration of freedom in a country that has built its traditions and grandiosity on the basic yet fundamental concept that “all men are created equal” with certain unalienable rights such as “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness”.

I know that the Catholic raising of those who write this post should prevent us from feeling joyful for this epochal change, but we believe that respect for any human being and their basic civil rights is more important than any religious belief. We live supporting the simple concept that we are all created equal, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and that’s the main teaching according to which we are raising Her Majesty.

Today we applaud those five courageous judges and this great country that we are proud to have been calling our home for the last ten years, hoping that other countries (including – shamefully – the one we were born and raised in) will follow suit.

Now, since today is a day of celebration and there cannot be a proper celebration without good food, let’s talk about it.

I served this delicious risotto for the first time three weeks ago to a couple that Stefano and I barely knew, despite their being the parents of Her Majesty’s best friend. I was a little bit nervous because the “She” of this couple is vegetarian and tries to avoid to eat gluten as much as she can, although on that special occasion she was willing to make a “gluten exception” because she thought that my cooking was worth it! 😏

Since I didn’t want her exception to be too big, I decided to make a risotto. 😝
I was lucky enough to put my greedy hands on some super juicy and super good-smelling tomatoes and I knew that I had to make a gorgeous sauce out of them.
The sauce pairs beautifully with the rice and the melted provolone, while parmigiano makes the risotto creamy and even more flavorful.

Tomato and provolone risotto

Tomato and provolone risotto

Ingredients for the tomato sauce:
20 oz, fresh tomatoes
1/2 Cup, chopped red onion
5/6 leaves, fresh basil
2/3 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
Salt

Ingredients for the risotto:
1/4 cup, chopped white onions
1 Tbsp, butter
7 oz, Arborio rice
1/3 Cup, dry white wine
4 Cups, vegetable stock
2 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 Cup, shredded Provolone cheese
1 Tsp, dry oregano (optional)
salt

Directions for the tomato sauce:
Wash the tomatoes under running water. Remove the stem ends, cut them in halves and cut each half in 4 quarters.

In a medium non-stick pot, put the tomatoes, the onions, the basil leaves and some salt (to taste) and cook on a low heat for a couple of hours, stirring often, or until you obtain a sort of tomato mixture (the water from the tomatoes must almost completely evaporate).

Run the tomato mixture into a foodmill, place the tomato sauce back on the low heat and simmer for about 10/15 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the olive oil on the sauce.

Directions for the risotto:
In a medium-size non-stick pot, put the butter and the chopped onion and cook until the onion softens.

Add the rice and toss to coat for 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the wine in and keep stirring until the wine evaporates completely.

Add two ladles of stock and cook, constantly stirring, until the stock is absorbed. When the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of stock and keep cooking until absorbed, and then repeat the process adding more stock.

About 10 minutes after the first addition of stock, add the tomato sauce.

Keep cooking, constantly stirring, and add the rest of the stock little by little until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente. This will take about 18/20 minutes from the time the first ladle of stock is added. Taste the rice to check if it is necessary to add some salt.

Remove the pot from the heat, add three quarters of the Provolone cheese and the Parmigiano cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted and you obtain a creamy risotto.

Put the risotto into the serving plates and dust the top of each plate with the rest of the Provolone cheese and, if you like so, some oregano.

We wish you all a glorious 4th of July weekend! 🙂

Francesca Xx

P.S. “She” didn’t say a word about the risotto during the dinner but I must have done something right that night because a few days later – to celebrate an exciting event that is happening right now in my life – she left a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the bench in front of our house. 🙂

Unexpected acts of kindness do not happen to me very often and I think they should be treasured, rewarded and immortalized somehow. That’s why I asked Stefano to make those flowers last forever. Curious enough – or maybe not – the colors of the flowers are those of the Star Spangled Banner – the American flag! 😍

Red, Blue and White flowers

Red, Blue and White flowers

 

Portrait of a lady: Marella Agnelli – The Last Swan

Marella Agnelli - The Last Swan

Lately Stefano has been traveling a lot for work and, as a result, I have been cooking much less. No complaint there because I have had more time to dedicate to one of my passions: books. Right now, I’m devouring the four books of “The Brilliant Friend” series written by the extraordinary Italian author Elena Ferrante (this is a pen name – we don’t even know whether the writer is a woman or a man). The series is about the lives and the beautiful and yet very complicated 60-year long friendship of two women who were born and raised in a poor neighborhood in the Neapolitan suburbs. These books are one of the best things I have laid my hands and eyes on in the last couple of years and I loved every hour spent reading them. However, lately I have also been spending a lot of time in the company of another very special Italian woman: Marella Agnelli.

The Agnellis are for Italians by and large what the Kennedys are for Americans. One of the richest and most powerful Italian families living a life that not even celebrities will ever experience because – let’s be honest here – there is a huge difference between making money and be born and raised in a family that made and still makes history. Unfortunately, as was the case for the Kennedys, the Agnelli’s fairy tale has been spoiled and its members have been scarred by gossip, scandals and tragic and painful events. Doesn’t that invariably happen?

Gianni Agnelli was the head of the family. Known as the “Avvocato” (which means “the Lawyer”, although the nickname was largely inaccurate as he had graduated out of law school but had never taken the bar exam), he was a tycoon and the largest shareholder of the worldwide known car maker FIAT. Marella was his wife and now his widow (he died of cancer in 2003).

Born Princess Marella Caracciolo di Castagneto, she was the daughter of the Neapolitan Prince and diplomat Filippo Caracciolo and the American cosmopolitan Margaret Clarke. Before becoming an Agnelli, she was an art student in Paris, a model in New York working with the famous photographer Erwin Blumenfeld, a photographer herself and a CondĂ© Nast contributor. She has been immortalized by the most celebrated photographers of the last decades – Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Robert Doisneau, who was sent by Vogue to take the photos of her wedding. – She was an icon of style and elegance and all the designers wanted her to wear their creations: her wedding dress was a Balenciaga, just to name one.

Marella Agnelli - The Last SwanThe book “Marella Agnelli: Ho coltivato il mio giardino” is the latest accomplishment of Marella and her niece Marella Caracciolo Chia. The English title of the book “Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan” makes reference to Marella’s neck as captured in her iconic portrait by Richard Avedon. Funny enough, also Truman Capote, once one of her best friends, used to include her in his famous circles of “swans”, stylish and wealthy women he loved so much to hang out with.

The book is so much more than a beautiful collection of photographs of Marella’s residences and gardens in Italy (Turin, Milan and Rome), France, Switzerland, New York and Morocco. It is so much more than a glimpse at a lifestyle which is simply unattainable by mere mortals. Marella, with her simple and yet elegant prose, takes the reader by the hand and brings her into her own life, rooms and memories, from her childhood in Florence to the marriage with Gianni, from her friendships with legendary characters (John and Jacqueline Kennedy and Truman Capote, just to name a few) to her interactions with some of the most famous architects, interior decorators and landscapers of the century (Stephane Boudin, Russel Page, Gae Aulenti, Renzo Mongiardino, Peter Marino and Madison Cox, just to name a few) who helped her realize her vision.

That’s right! Her vision! Marella and Gianni were avid and eclectic art collectors of the greatest masters and every room of their residences has been furnished and decorated having a masterpiece and its distinctive colors in mind as a starting and focal point of the whole room, thus achieving the result of making that particular work of art stand out even more, if at all possible. She even designed some unbelievably beautiful fabrics and wallpapers to surround and enhance their amazing artwork. And she is the only one in my book who has decorated all her residences with some wicker furniture and succeeded in making it look effortless and elegant at the same time.

Her gardens are enchanted to say the least, but not in any artificial way. She has always respected the natural beauty of the places and worked with those plants and flowers that would be more congenial to the local landscapes. Some of her green creations are “manicured” in an extraordinary way so as to look totally natural. She even managed to build a swimming pool whose colors are those of the surrounding trees: a dream come true!

Marella Agnelli - The Last Swan

Although the book starts from her childhood and ends with the photographs of her beloved Marrakesh home, where she has been spending most of her time now that she is in her eighties and where her beloved granddaughter Ginevra got married, the book is not a biography – at least not in the strict meaning of the term. Sure, her life is the subtle common thread to all the chapters (which are divided by decades), but she does not reveal anything about her most intimate self. Her disappointments and sufferings are just briefly touched upon, without going into any detail. Her gardens and homes along with the interactions with those who collaborated with her to create those beauties are the central theme of the book and every room, garden, vision and project is described simply and concisely without any triviality or show off to impress the reader. She doesn’t want that. She doesn’t need that. She is a princess – a real one, and she knows that. Everybody with taste knows that.

This book is a little treasure and I enjoyed it immensely. If you have a special person in your life, someone who is chic and sophisticated, who is in love with beauty, art, elegance and understatement and who has the sensibility to appreciate a book like this one, The Last Swan is the perfect gift and a great way to say “I think you are special” to that person!

I wish you all a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

Francesca Xx

PS: Of course, The Last Swan was a gift from the most elegant woman I have ever met… my mother! 😋

When celebrity chefs feel the need to reinvent the wheel: Carlo Cracco and his infamous garlicky Amatriciana

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Last month, the Italian culinary world has been shocked by the Amatriciana recipe suggested by one of our superstar chefs: Carlo Cracco.

While attending an Italian TV show, the famous chef listed a garlic clover as one of the ingredients of the worldwide known pasta dish!  Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (authentic) Italian cuisine knows that garlic does not belong in the Amatriciana (for reference, check out our recipe for an authentic Amatriciana)!

As if the first slap in the face of Italian culinary tradition wasn’t enough, during an episode of the Italian edition of Masterchef, first Joe Bastianich and then Cracco himself suggested that one of the contestants use some onion when making “pasta alla Gricia”, the famous ancestor of the Amatriciana which doesn’t call for tomatoes and… most certainly does not call for onions either!!!

Enough was enough, so much so that specialized media, social networks, restaurant owners and even the Mayor of Amatrice “took the field” ready to crucify Cracco and his garlicky dish in defense of the one and only recipe. The Amatrice Culinary School went as far as to publicly invite Cracco to visit them so he can finally taste the real thing! Ouch!

I think one of the commentators hit the nail on the head: nobody can dispute that you can get creative in the kitchen and experiment as much as you like, but when you decide to add garlic to the Amatriciana, don’t call it that – because it’s not! As good as it may be with the addition of the extra ingredient, it’s simply another dish!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

My reaction to all this fuss? One of kind of sadness and disappointment. Both Italian and non-Italian gourmands who happen not to be experts in my country’s cuisine often look up at celebrity chefs like Cracco to learn the Italian food gospel. I think that people who enjoy all that notoriety have the moral responsibility to… spread the word, and spread it right. How can I go on happily complaining about the oh so many restaurants in my adopted country that serve me Amatriciana with garlic and/or onion when one of our star chefs is teaching exactly that? 😉

Anyone who knows me a bit is well aware of my aversion toward social networks. However, in this case, I truly hope their popularity will help to set the record straight!

Curious about a third slap in the already bruised face of Italian culinary tradition? Another Italian hugely popular chef, Davide Oldani, recently declared that butter can be used in making pesto!!! I mean, butter. Seriously? I believe people from Genoa (including Stefano!) and the Liguria region in general must be incessantly calling the food police! Such an affront.

I’m telling you: if another Italian celebrity chef comes along suggesting that heavy cream can be used in making Carbonara, I’ll consider giving up my Italian citizenship!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little foodgate!

F. Xx

Lately… Inside Chanel

Assortment of Chanel items

When I really like something, I tend to get obsessed with it. One of my latest obsessions? The latest CHANEL N°5 commercial – The One That I Want.

It’s a short film once again directed by the super-talented Baz Luhrmaan, starring Gisele Bundchen and Michiel Huisman. Needless to say, Gisele is insanely gorgeous and looks like a goddess even without any make-up on. However, the one who really struck me was Michiel Huisman. Beside being too handsome to be true (have you seen him in season 4 of Game of Thrones? No? You don’t know what you have missed – check out this YouTube clip!), he is very expressive and can really act! Kind of important for an actor, don’t you think? 😜

Coco Chanel perfume bottle

I adore everything about this film: the cast, the clothing (including his light blue suit – of course only someone that beautiful can wear a light blue suit and look divine. Any other man would look ridiculous! Sorry guys!), the soundtrack (the extraordinary adaptation of the Grease song, You’re The One That I Want, so brilliantly interpreted by Lo-Fang), the locations (Fiji, Montauk and New York) and the story of the powerful and independent Chanel N°5 woman that in the end chooses love, including the utterly unrealistic detail that she opens the letter that the love of her life left for her before walking out on her only after the photo shoot. There is no woman on earth that would have waited that long!

Anyway, I read every article and watched every video that I could find about the making of this precious film and, following my little obsession, I stumbled upon Inside Chanel, 12 online chapters that tell the story of Mademoiselle Chanel and her iconic creations in a way that simply blew me away.

Chanel tag

The charming and unbelievably chic voice of Madame HélÚne Famin brings you on a wonderful fairy tale journey through the House of Chanel, from the creation of her magical perfume and its hidden symbolism to her revolutionary and one-of-a-kind 1932 Bijoux de Diamantscollection, from the creation of her timeless and iconic jacket inspired by mensware to the meaning behind the recurrent presence of the king of the animal kingdom (it was her zodiac sign and constellation) and the use of five emblematic colors.

The Chanel log

Chapters 5, 6 and 7 focus on Mademoiselle Chanel’s life, from her humble origins and childhood to the encouter of Boy Capel, the love of her life, who inspired her but tragically died in a car accident, from the way she revolutionized the fashion world and became one of the most famous couturiĂšre of her times to her stay in Venice and the meeting of friends and lovers whose different styles and cultures influenced her sense of fashion. The chapters go on to tell about her temporary retirement to Switzerland during WWII and her return to fashion when she was in her early seventies, to be first humiliated and then praised as a genius by the whole world for creating the legendary Chanel suit. The series then comes to an end focusing on her latest creations until her death that happened at the Ritz in Paris on a Sunday of 1971, the only day of the week when Mademoiselle Chanel never worked.

I enjoyed these short films immensely. There is no other way to describe it. I truly hope you will love them as much as I did because after all… “Once upon a time, there was Chanel”.

F. Xx

Assortment of Chanel items

Embrace your beauty

Before my pregnancy, I thought I had the perfect body. I was very proud of it and I insensitively had little compassion for girls and women who struggled with theirs.
Today that body is gone, I struggle with the current version of it every day, especially when I go through a whole closet of clothes that don’t fit me anymore (and will never fit me again), and I avoid the scale like a plague. Today I’m one of those women.
My Italian blogger friend Chiara knows women’s bodies very well. She is a stylist and works with them every day. However, her latest post is not about the last collection of a super trendy designer or the latest, coolest accessory that you must have in your closet (her blog is fabulous by the way, but it is not the point of this post!)
Her post is about something more universally important, that is self-respect for the female body: one subject that I believe should matter to every woman on the planet.
Please go to Chiara’s blog, take a look at the video and consider spreading the word. Take notice though that the video contains brief partial nudity, so viewer discretion is advised.
Have a wonderful week!
F. Xx

Breaking News: The demise of tiramisu'?

Francesca's TiramisuA few days ago, I read an article on an Italian newspaper that saddened me a bit. Le Beccherie, an Italian restaurant located in Treviso (a town in the northeastern region of Veneto) that is credited for creating one of the most famous spoon desserts the world over, tiramisu’, will close its doors for good on March 30 reportedly due to the long-lasting recession that Italy has been going through during the last years.

The restaurant has been in the Treviso culinary scene for a very long time. It opened on September 1, 1939. Ring any bell? Yes, exactly the same day that World War II started.

In the Sixties, Ada (the wife of the restaurant owner, Aldo Campeol) and pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto, came up with the recipe of tiramisu’ in the kitchen of Le Beccherie by finding inspiration in and elaborating on existing dessert recipes, including that of the restorative, “energizing” desserts that at that time used to be offered to the clients of the… local brothels! See now the reasons for both the name tiramisu’ (that translates into “pick-me-up”) and all those eggs that go into it?… 😉

I was born and raised in Italy, but I have never been to Treviso. And now I will never have the chance to taste the original Tiramisu’ prepared at Le Beccherie. What a shame! 🙁

So, if any of you or someone you know happens to be in Italy in the Treviso area before the end of the month, I suggest you or your friends stop by the restaurant for a taste of the “real tiramisu'”, a delicious milestone in the Italian culinary history.

Wish you all a great week – and of course Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Xx

When knowledge turns into style: Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

With Thanksgiving come and gone and the countdown to Christmas already started, it’s time to finalize our wish and gift lists. Well, let me help you with your gift list by suggesting an idea that, hopefully, will make one or more of the people receiving your presents very, very happy.

There are some people whose sense of style and sophistication are so classy and unique that buying a gift for them can turn into being quite a challenge. If one of these people happen to be in your life as a parent, sibling, significant other or friend, the “Encyclopedia of the Exquisite” is the book for them.

Stuff We Like!Written by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins (she was the European editor of W in Paris and she has written for Vogue), the “Encyclopedia of the Exquisite” is an eclectic compendium of historical facts and curiosities about a variety of objects, concepts and expressions that are part of our daily language and use. The book is designed to satisfy the thirst for knowledge of any person of any age and taste, no matter what their interests and hobbies are.

If cooking and drinking are their life passions, the readers will learn about ingredients and dishes such as saffron, truffles, the bon chrĂ©tien pear (generally known as the Williams or the Bartlett pear), the omelette (including Julia Child’s suggestions as to how to make the perfect omelet) as well as the history of two of the most beloved drinks: champagne and tea (including tea-making tips). The readers will even find a few lovely recipes to try out and amuse themselves with.

If fashion and beauty are the readers’ kind of poison, they will fall in love with the sections about the sequin, the frilly lingerie, the gloves, the heels, the faux jewels, the kimono, the color black, the bob haircut and the pouf hairstyle, the perfume and the red lipstick.

Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

But that’s not all! Once upon the time there was a little girl whose favorite animal was the unicorn? Well, look under the letter “U”! That section has been written for that dreaming grown-up girl. And forget Stefano when he says that he would be curious to hear what our friend and brilliant psychologist, symbologist and writer Klausbernd V. (please check his wonderful blog out, if you do not follow him already) would have to say about that! 😉

How about the expression “Shabby Chic”? I would challenge most of the people I know who like to use that expression to explain its origin to me!!! 😉 Well, a quick look under the letter “S” will unravel the mystery…

There is so much more in this book! The illustrations are simply exquisite and every page exudes elegance. Going through the Encyclopedia, readers will surely appreciate the effort that the author put into researching the topics and writing in such a way that keeps them always interested and amused.

What do they say about style? You either got it or you don’t.

Well, I think that’s true! Style cannot be taught. But, in my opinion, just “having it” is not enough. In order to blossom, the sense of style must be constantly educated and reading is one of the best ways to achieve the result.

Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

I was a lucky girl in many respects. One of these was to have a very classy mother. Anyone who knows her can vouch for that. I wish I had half the style she has! Anyway, since I was a little girl, she has been teaching me good manners, what to wear for every single occasion, which utensils to use for every dish, how to pick flowers and set a table, what should be expected of a gracious hostess and how to thank for hospitality. Still, the Encyclopedia of the Exquisite has unveiled to me countless facts and secrets about things and lifestyles that I thought I knew everything about… but didn’t! 

I’ll finish this post with a quote by the author: “beauty can be found in the most unlikely places […] and […] luxury doesn’t mean spending lots of money.” Very true, if you ask me.

If you give this book as a present to that special someone, that’s exactly what you are giving her or him for Christmas: beauty and luxury at just the price of a book.

P.S.: Needless to say, my mother bought me the Encyclopedia of the Exquisite! 🙂