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Archive for March, 2018

After a rather restless night of sleep, I was awakened by the sun streaming in through the curtains, the first glimpse of sunshine I had seen in days. My mood, which had been a bit gloomy all week, partly due to the weather and partly due to my impending departure, suddenly lifted. It was also a refreshing change to see the sun rise earlier, after having set the clocks back an hour the night before. But when I emerged from the shower, a mass of gray clouds had crept in again. My spirits plummeted. I no longer felt like going outside, but seeing as it was my final day in Trieste, I forced myself to get dressed and crossed the street to Pasticceria Penso.

I arrived at the bakery to find a batch of krapfen fresh out of the fryer. Uncle Giovanni was in the process of filling the puffy doughnuts with apricot jam. He offered me one, along with a taste of the checkerboard marzapane Antonello had made the day before. Antonello’s mother, Rosanna, gave me a wrapped slice of each of their five varieties of marzapane—checkerboard, orange, cherry, walnut, and chocolate-hazelnut—along with two bags of fave dei morti, those tiny pink, white, and brown almond cookies that are so popular on All Saints’ Day.

As usual, the family was busy preparing a variety of cakes, tarts, and pastries. Antonello was artistically topping large crostate with a kaleidoscope of fresh fruit. Lorenzo was making what they called napolitana, presumably their version of the Neopolitan sfogliatelle, puff pastry filled with vanilla pastry cream. Their father, Italo, was decorating a special order birthday cake, a rectangular sponge cake filled with chocolate pastry cream and topped with a border of whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and a cartoon image of Minnie Mouse.

I hung around until about 11:00am, when the family was kind enough to pause for a few photos. I was still having trouble with my point-and-shoot camera, my only one with a flash for indoor shots. By now I had figured out the trick to keeping the power on while snapping a picture: I needed to physically hold the sliding lens cover open the entire time I was using it. But the latest problem was that the viewfinder had gone black. I could still take a photo and view the image in playback mode, but I was forced to set up my shots blindly. It was impossible to tell if my subject was in the frame or if the camera was properly focused. I took a bunch of pictures of the family posing in the kitchen, hoping that one of them might be usable.

Since I was departing Trieste on a Monday, when Penso was typically closed, I had planned on saying goodbye to the family today. I had even brought them a bag of my unused kitchen supplies, including some olive oil, salt, pepper, dish soap, and sponges. However, it turned out that the bakery would be open for the entire All Saints’ Day weekend, including Monday, and they asked me to stop by again in the morning to say our farewells. Antonello gave me a presnitz to bring home, and as always, offered me a choice of pastries. Already loaded down with so many generous gifts, I asked for just a single domino (sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream, glazed with chocolate ganache, and decorated with white icing), but he wrapped up two along with two slices of sachertorte, which he knew was my favorite.

I hadn’t planned on taking any more trips out of town, but I suddenly felt the urge to do something special on my last day. The sun had reappeared, and I was at once overwhelmed with a desire to see the ocean—from somewhere other than Trieste, that is. So I walked to Piazza Oberdan and caught the next #44 bus to Duino, where I could have lunch with a seafront view at Ristorante Alla Dama Bianca. Mike and I had enjoyed a lovely meal there in the spring of the previous year, the same day we had visited Castello di Duino and hiked along the Sentiero Rilke from Duino to Sistiana.

When I arrived in Duino an hour later, I made the short trek down the hill to the harbor, where I found Alla Dama Bianca packed with guests. There were no seats available in the dining room, but I found a free table outside overlooking the water. Despite the chilly weather, I was surrounded by tourists, including two English-speaking couples and several groups speaking German.

I ordered an antipasto of mussels and clams in tomato broth and then the seppioline alla griglia (grilled cuttlefish) for my second course. However, my order must have gotten miscommunicated to the kitchen, because the waiter brought me a calamari salad to start, followed by a bowl of mussels and clams. Both dishes were clearly from the antipasto menu. I tried to explain the mistake, but the African waiter did not seem to understand my Italian. I gave up, figuring there was no harm as long as I was billed the correct amount. The seafood was quite delicious, although the mussels and clams were not served al pomodoro as the menu had indicated.

I got back to my apartment around 3:30pm and spent the rest of the day organizing and packing. With the extra items I had acquired, such as the Illy espresso cup and the two spiny spider crab shells, not to mention all the goodies lavished on me by the Stoppar family, my backpack and rolling duffel were overflowing. I would need to pull out the handy collapsible nylon tote bag I had bought in Venezia on a previous trip. And with any luck, it would be cold again tomorrow, so that I could wear an extra sweater and lighten my load a little more.

It got dark early, around 5:00pm, and with nothing left to do, I ate an early dinner: the second slice of melanzane alla parmigiana from yesterday, along with a slice of crusty bread. There was nothing interesting on TV, but I kept it on in the background anyway, hoping the language would somehow seep into my brain even though I wasn’t paying much attention.

After indulging in two of Penso’s chocolate pastries for dessert, I went to bed early. I read a little but didn’t want to finish my book before my long journey home. So I lay in bed for several hours, feeling ambivalent about having to leave Trieste. I was looking forward to all the comforts of home, like sleeping in my own bed and cooking in a proper kitchen and not having to put up with cigarette smoke wafting into my bathroom from the apartment next door. Most of all I looked forward to seeing Mike! But I would really miss Trieste and my dear friends at Pasticceria Penso. To this day, my time in Trieste is one of my most cherished memories.

Photos of krapfen, crostata, and dominoes courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Jota (Bean and Sauerkraut Soup), a Triestine dish that makes a hearty meal during these chilly winter months. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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