Archive for April, 2018

Since I had gone to bed so early the night before, it had taken me hours to fall asleep. When I finally drifted off, I experienced a bizarre dream: my fiancé playing with marionette puppets that had floppy pieces of sushi at the end of the strings! I awoke at 4:30am, full of nervous anticipation over my impending departure. With my brain anxiously running through mental checklists to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, I lay there in the dark for two hours, waiting for my alarm to go off.

Once I had showered and dressed, I crossed the street to Pasticceria Penso one final time to find the Stoppar family busy preparing the day’s sweets. Italo and his son Antonello were putting the final touches on a batch of sachertortes. Italo’s other son, Lorenzo, was rolling out puff pastry for apple strudel, and Uncle Giovanni was busy frying another batch of krapfen (doughnuts).

They persuaded me to wait for them to come to a stopping point so we could take some photos together. So I hung out there for an hour, at which point Antonello began scrabbling around the kitchen, pulling out a random selection of oversized tools: a large chef’s knife, an even bigger rolling pin, a giant wooden paddle, an enormous whisk, and a copper pot. He doled out the props, handing me the pot and whisk, and we paraded out of the kitchen into the shop, where we posed for a series of silly pictures (which I sadly never did receive copies of).

As always, Antonello’s mother, Rosanna, offered me a gift to take home—this time a putizza (spiral cake filled with raisins, nuts, and chocolate). I tried to politely decline, explaining how overstuffed my bags already were, but she was very persistent. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I accepted. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, since the family had practically taken me in and made me feel at home in a very short period of time. But I had a train to catch, so I hugged them each one last time and made my exit.

Back at my apartment, I collected my uneaten food items—the last of my bread and cheese, an apple and banana, a small yogurt, and the remaining pastries from Penso (one piece of sachertorte and one domino)—which would serve as my lunch on the train today as well as snacks on my long train ride to Vienna tomorrow. I was so loaded down, even with my extra collapsible tote bag, that I had to put all this excess food in a plastic grocery bag. There was absolutely no room for the putizza, nor the two bags of fave dei morti given to me by Rosanna the day before, so I left these in my room as gifts for the housekeeping staff.

I checked out of Residence Liberty and made my final trek to Trieste’s train station, where I successfully avoided the long line at the counter by buying my ticket at the automatic ticket machine. I had planned on doing some reading during the hour-long ride, but my book was buried in the bottom of my backpack and would have required some serious unpacking to dig out, so I spent most of the journey nibbling on bread, cheese, and apple and staring out the window at the rapidly passing countryside.

I arrived in Udine shortly after noon. Before leaving the station, I purchased my ticket for the train to Vienna, which would be leaving early the next morning. I made sure to get a seat reservation, as I had heard on the news that Trenitalia recommended reserving in advance due to the busy All Saints’ Day holiday weekend.

I checked into Hotel Principe, which had become my usual lodging in Udine, given its super friendly staff and convenient location almost directly across the street from the train station. The weather was rather nippy, and there was nothing much to do in the city, as all the stores and sights were closed for the afternoon and many were closed all day—either for the holiday, or perhaps just because it was Monday. So I opted to stay in and rest. My relentless pace over the past month had caught up to me, and I was feeling overwhelmingly exhausted.

However, the pre-travel jitters left me unable to truly relax. I was ready to skip ahead to tomorrow morning so I could be on my way. I unpacked what I needed, spreading my things out on the second bed. (Yet one more thing I liked about Hotel Principe was that I always had a double room with two beds!) Then I tried to do some writing but embarrassingly ended up playing Solitaire on my laptop instead. I watched a little TV and flipped through some of the cookbooks I had bought in Trieste. I was so bored at one point I resorted to scrolling through ringtones on my cell phone just to kill time.

My room was freezing, equally cold as past wintertime visits. I knew the heat would kick on later, but those midday hours, when guests were most often out and about, were typically the coldest. During many of my winter stays there, I more often than not found myself crawling into bed and taking a nap before dinner. Today I hadn’t worn myself out hiking through hill towns or exploring villages, but I still allowed myself to lie down awhile.

I left for dinner a little early, so that I could wander around a bit while it was still light out. On my way out, I stopped to chat with Michela at the reception desk, as well as Lucinda, who was in charge of the breakfast room. They are both such nice people and always seemed so pleased to see me. They knew about the cookbook I was writing, since I had often made Hotel Principe my home base during my research trips, and were interested in my progress. Chatting with them lifted my mood considerably, and I felt invigorated stepping out into the chilly late afternoon air.

I headed straight to the city center and, on impulse, ducked inside the Duomo, where a small service was in progress. Half the church’s interior was blocked off by scaffolding, renovations clearly in progress. I quietly skirted the nave until I reached a shadowy tunnel of curtains that allowed visitors to view the Tiepolo masterpieces being restored.

From there, I took a short detour through Piazza della Libertà, just to gaze at the Venetian-style square one last time—to impress upon my memory all the details, as I didn’t expect to be back for a long time. (In fact, I never did return to Udine, since subsequent health problems have made travel impossible for me.) The pink and white stripes of the Loggia del Lionello were illuminated by spotlights and stood out vividly against the now darkening sky. Tons of people were out strolling the streets, a disproportionate number wearing witch’s hats—I had nearly forgotten that it was Halloween!

After meandering up and down Via Mercatovecchio, admiring the window displays and browsing briefly in the bookshop Libreria Ubik, I veered westward, heading in the direction of the cobblestone Via Viola and my destination, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. I arrived not long after the restaurant opened to find the elderly nonna of the family having dinner at her usual corner table.

For my final Friulian meal, I was tempted to order my all-time favorite, frico con patate, but instead went with another traditional dish, musetto e brovada. Musetto is a fatty, cartilaginous sausage made from pig snout, skin, and various other bits of pork all mixed together with white wine and spices. Its traditional accompaniment is brovada, turnips fermented for a month in grape marc. I had tried both several times before but not for over a year, since brovada is a seasonal dish and wasn’t available during my most recent spring and summer trips. I wanted to instill the taste memory so that I could effectively recreate a short-cut brovada at home, as well as find a suitable substitute for musetto (I ended up using cotechino, which is more readily available in the U.S.). While neither musetto nor brovada would have qualified as my favorite dish, I didn’t remember either being this unpleasant. Cut into chunky, round slices, the musetto was greasy, sticky, and downright mucilaginous. The brovada was just as sour and vinegary as ever, its flavor definitely an acquired taste—though my own version of 48-hour marinated turnips ended up being pretty spot-on.

As an accompaniment, I ordered a side of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red bell pepper. I also treated myself to a quartino (quarter liter) of the house red wine. When I had finished my meal, the waiter brought me a small wine glass of what I later learned was called sgroppino, as a complimentary treat for Halloween. The drink was like a liquidy lemon sorbetto with a light sprinkling of cocoa on top, but I also detected a flavor that I couldn’t quite place. It wasn’t until I had returned to my hotel room and sat down to enjoy my sachertorte and domino for dessert that it occurred to me that the mysterious flavor was alcohol—likely prosecco and grappa—for I was suddenly feeling rather drunk!

Photos of sachertorte and krapfen courtesy of Pasticceria Penso.

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Strucchi (Dried Fruit- and Nut-Filled Cookies), a treat popular throughout much of Friuli but especially beloved in its place of origin, Cividale del Friuli and the surrounding Valli del Natisone. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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