Tag Archives: lifestyle

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!

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 Condé 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! 😋

A little furry addition to Flora’s Table Home

Hello Everyone!

I decided to barge into your houses on this lazy Sunday late afternoon to share some… news (I don’t even know which adjective I should be using here! I guess for lots of you, it would be “great”).

As you may know, I’m not a people person. I love to spend time with myself, I like to keep to myself and I’m very, seriously – very bad at small talk. To make you like me even more 😉 let me add that I’m not an animal person either. I have never wanted a pet when I was a child and I have never dreamed of taking care of any living being who is unable to go to the restroom and flush the toilet.

Needless to say, the idea of having a dog never even crossed my mind until… did you notice that kids almost invariably so to speak reshuffle the cards in their parents’ lives? 😉

When I got pregnant with her majesty, Stefano came up with the “brilliant idea” to get a puppy so her majesty and the puppy could grow up together. Only a man could come up with such a cute and, at the same time, dumb idea!!! So of course I ruled that out right away…

Since then, I have been dodging the “puppy bullet” for seven years! Seven wonderful pet-free years! I could always come up with a different reason not to have a dog: her majesty was too little, we didn’t have a yard, we were about to change home and city and it wasn’t the right moment. I was pretty sure that sooner or later they would get tired of asking and forget all about this idea and I would be saved forever. I couldn’t be more wrong! Those two just kept conspiring, regrouping and changing their battle strategy.

Stefano is well aware that sleeping is – by far – my favorite activity. My bed is my reign and my heaven and, for me, there is no other place like that. One late morning this past fall, I was still sleeping (of course!) when my daughter, pushed by my sneaky husband, asked me for the countless time if she could have a dog.

In that specific moment, I made an unforgivable mistake. I said “maybe”! The battle was over and lost for good because they hung on that maybe which eventually turned into a “yes” in the next couple of weeks. Next thing I know I was in the car with the two conspirators to go check a few breeders out across New York State and Connecticut.

To make a long story short, our “English type” chocolate labrador puppy, that her majesty decided to name Sofia, set her paws in our house on December 16, turning our house and our lives into complete chaos.

To sum it up, Stefano and her majesty are over the moon, my dad (who is a dog lover) is very happy, my mother is complaining and driving everybody crazy every time Sofia has a “bathroom” accident in the house and… as for me? I have never been big in the feelings department and it takes me a very long time and quite some effort to express them so, for now, I only feel like conceding that she is one of the cutest thing I have ever seen, isn’t she?

Well, please wish me luck and stay tuned! 😉

Francesca Xx

PS: Thank you very much for all those who checked in to make sure we were alright as a result of winter storm Hercules: we definitely are and honestly it has not been that bad where we live – we got about one foot of snow (much to Sofia’s delight!) and the temperatures dropped to 1 F (or -18 C!) but we have been coping just fine! 🙂

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 chrétien 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! 🙂

Mother’s Day and a double gift: Coco and B!

Justine Picardie's "Coco Chanel - The Legend and the Life"I know what your are thinking. Where is the food? Sorry to disappoint you, but no special dish for this occasion! Mother’s Day is a holiday that I take very seriously, which means that my family knows that I will not even put the kettle on the stove. Plus, my mom is in Rome so there will be nobody in my home who should be celebrated but me. It will be all about me! 😉

I thought this would be an ideal occasion to share a book with you that can be a perfect gift for any mom who is into fashion and wants to know more about the most iconic female figure in fashion of all times. Of course, I’m talking about Coco Chanel and the book is “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life” by Justine Picardie.

I simply loved this book along with the pictures and the illustrations, but my review stops here. Why? Because I cannot take any credit for “discovering” it. I bought the book after reading a post by B over at Just Add Attitude (and here it is my second gift for you all 😉 ). If you want to know more about the book, just pay a visit to B’s blog and enjoy her lovely review as well as all her other posts about the fashion guru.

Stuff We Like!Back to B and her blog: I don’t know much about B… not even her full name 🙂 but you do not have to know someone’s life, death and miracles (as the Italian saying goes) to appreciate her or him.

B is one of the most gracious bloggers out there. When you read her posts and her comments, you have the impression that she is right there with you. By following her blog, you will be taken by hand to an amazing journey through her beloved Dublin and Ireland in general. She will unveil for your all the secrets of her country, from monuments, to exhibitions, museums, workshops, restaurants, cafes, stores and farmhouses. I wish I had known B years ago when I managed to spend a month in Dublin! It would have been great to be showed around by her.

But that’s not all. Through her blog and her impeccable taste, B will also share her thoughts with you about food, style, shopping, life in general as well as picks from her two favorite cities (Paris and London – by the way, not too shabby a choice, B, if you ask me!).

So make yourself a favor: as soon as you have a moment, check Just Add Attitude out. You can thank me later. 😉

I wish you all a very happy Mother’s Day. As to me, someone in my family who is not too old and not very good at keeping secrets already told me that breakfast in bed seems to be in my cards for that day: yay! 😉

Ladurée: a world of beauty beyond macarons

Stuff We Like!

This is my first post of our new column so I decided to start in style.

Ladurée… the echo of this brand is called luxury. Of course, I’m talking about the worldwide known French pâtisserie maison founded by the miller, Louis Ernest Ladurée, in Paris at the end of the 19th century. I’m sure all of you are more than familiar with les macarons, Ladurée’s most famous creation: those small, round mini cakes, crisp on the outside, with a smooth filling in the middle, that can satisfy even the more sophisticated palate. When you buy a box of those sweet masterpieces, you are buying much more than dessert. You are buying an icon. Let me tell you a story to prove my point.

As Sophia from the Golden Girls (the famous American sitcom of the ’80s) would say, picture it: London, a few years ago. I was with one of my clients. He was the perfect incarnation of the type of clients I was dealing with back then: highly educated, rich (which didn’t necessarily mean sophisticated), exclusively capable of talking about money and dreaming about more money and totally used to getting whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to. He had been invited to a dinner party by the wife of a gentleman he was anxious to make a deal with and he was determined to impress the hostess. Sure, he could have brought an expensive bottle of wine or champagne but, let’s be honest, this is a gift that would be more appropriate for a host rather than a hostess and he was a huge believer in the saying that “behind every successful man there is always a woman”. Can you prove him wrong? 😉

Anyway, he dragged me into one of the Ladurée stores in London where we waited for quite a while (it was Friday late afternoon and the store was very busy) before reaching the most beautiful and chic pastry counter I have ever seen. Obviously, my client knew exactly what he wanted (those kind of men always know what they want!) He picked a huge green box, gorgeously decorated, and selected the macarons that would determine his destiny, flavor by flavor. As we were leaving the store, I noticed that the people with the unmistakable Ladurée green bag were as thrilled as those people who carry the equally unmistakable Tiffany’s blue bag. Their face was saying “I bought something very, very special and I feel great about it”. Needless to say, a few days later my client called me to tell me that he had made the deal and it was time to get to work.

Display of Ladurée books

What I didn’t know back then is that Ladurée is much more than macarons. Beside the legendary sweets (cakes, pastries and chocolates), they have the cutest shopping bags, one of the most elegant beauty collections, a candle collection to die for, a home fragrance collection I can’t wait to try and… books. Well, Ladurée books are really the subject matter of this post. I know it took me quite a while to get to the point, but here we are.

Ladurée books are not regular books. When you see the marvelous powder pastel boxes these books come in, you know that you are in for something special. You stand there in astonishment and just the boxes can send shivers down your spine. 🙂 Then you open the boxes and, through the tissue paper that wraps all Ladurée books, you sense the luxury and the richness of the covers. When you finally pull yourself together, get the books in your hands and start flipping through them, you are instantly in heaven.

The two must-have Ladurée recipe books are Sucré (Dolce in the Italian version) and Salé (Savory in the English version).

Ladurée's Sucré and Salé

Sucré unveils the pastry secrets of Ladurée Chef Pâtissier, Philippe Andrieu, from the financiers to the rose cream bigné, the crème brûlée, the éclairs and… les macaronsbien sûr, in all their flavors: incredible recipes presented with an impeccable food styling and exquisite photography. The book also contains the indispensable basic pastry recipes, i.e., those recipes that any baker or pastry chef should perfectly master before daring call themselves as such.

Salé is the cooking gem of Ladurée Chef de Cuisine Michel Lerouet and the natural evolution of Sucré because most of the recipes represent the perfect marriage of sweet and savory in the French gastronomy. The book is divided by occasion: brunch, picnic, lunch, formal and informal dinner. Every occasion is an apotheosis of colors and flavors, from sandwiches to salads, soups, eggs, as well as meat, fish and seafood appetizers and main courses, all immortalized by lovely photographs. Not to mention that lots of the recipes are accompanied by tips of Monsieur le Chef, which is something that makes those recipes even more precious.

If Sucré and Salé are books that I think every cook on the planet should own ;-), l’Art de recevoir is a book that anyone, I repeat, anyone should have unless, of course, they live on a deserted island! Once again the book is divided by occasion: ten moments of the day (from breakfasts to family lunches, picnics, afternoon teas, buffet dinners and formal dinners) for which la Maison offers menu ideas and stylish recipes (with the essential chef’s tips), advice and suggestions on how to create elegant table settings and decorations as well as flower arrangements and, last but certainly not least, mini-lessons of savoir-faire. Every page of this book exudes French elegance and style. The china, the glassware, the silverware, the tablecloths, every decorative object used in the settings are stunning and captured by gorgeous photographs. As the book says, “Très chic, Très Ladurée“.

Ladurée's L'Art de recevoir

I suggest you put l’Art de recevoir on your wish list keeping also in mind that this book is the perfect gift for anyone, including those not so crazy about cooking, because everyone aspires to be the perfect host or the perfect hostess and I think no one can resist Ladurée’s allure.

Unfortunately for my American friends, the one and only Ladurée store in the United States is in New York – where else could it be? 😉 However, if you do not live in the city that never sleeps or close by, do not despair: you can still buy these wonders online on amazon. On the other hand, if you live in the City or you happen to be there, make sure to make time to stop by their store on Madison Avenue (again, where else could Ladurée’s store be but the most chic of Manhattan’s Avenues?) because when you push the door it’s like teleportation: in an instant you’ll find yourself in Paris! Is there anything better than that?

À bientôt, mes amis!

PS: do you like my new flower glasses icon for this column? Isn’t that gorgeous? This new icon as well as all the illustrations on Flora’s Table are the artwork of our super talented friend, Alexandra Dichne. Alexandra is in the process of finalizing her soon-to-be launched blog. Of course, I will write a post about it as soon as her blog goes live, so stay tuned!

Flora's Table New Column: Stuff We Like

FrancescaMy birthday is coming up and, for the first time in my life, I do not feel like that day should have been declared a public holiday. I guess it’s the inevitable aging process… it’s taking a toll, not really on my mind (that still feels VERY young) but on my face and my body for sure. I scrutinize them every day and… haven’t you noticed that mirrors are the honestiest friends we can ever have? They never lie to you, although sometimes you may not like what they are telling you 😉

Anyway, as the famous saying goes “age is a state of mind” and, therefore, I have decided to give myself a birthday present to spice that state of mind up a little. Yup, a brand new Flora’s Table column – too pretentious? Maybe! 😉

So, what’s this all about? Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

I would like to share with you, dear readers, more than recipes and cooking tips. I would like to talk to you about a few other things I really feel passionate about, such as table settings, candles, china and glassware, flowers, books, fashion accessories and everything else I categorize under the label “beautiful” (according to my taste, of course!)

I’m not done yet. Please bear with me a little longer, will you?  During the past four months of blogging, I happened to meet some extraordinary people. I’m not just talking about artists here (although, to me, anyone with artistic talent is extraordinary) but also about “mere mortals” 🙂 with a je ne sais quoi (a great sense of humor, deep sensibility, enchanting writing skills, thorough knowledge of history, you name it) whose posts make me laugh, think from a different perspective, enrich my knowledge or simply touch my heart (yes, I do have one too, deep inside… according to my doctor at least!)

All the above to say that on future posts I’ll be also talking about those blogs or posts that I enjoy the most.

Now, I realize that some of you may be like: “Has she lost her mind completely? When we clicked the famous ‘follow’ or RSS button, we did it because we wanted to follow a food and wine blog and now what? What does she think she is doing?”

BUT, do not despair! Flora’s Table came to be as a food and wine blog, and will stay the course. There will not be any radical change, let’s just say that once in a while I will take a little detour from my cooking-land and indulge myself in something that is not going to end up on my hips 😉

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion so if you feel like this new column does not belong here, feel free to let me know through the comment section, but I really hope you are going to be on my side and grant me some latitude here 😉

Ah, I almost forgot. Sometimes I *might* let Stefano contribute to this column too, but we are still negotiating the terms and so far it doesn’t look too good for him 😉

Have a wonderful week!