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Archive for May, 2018

I was feeling so loopy after the complimentary sgroppino at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo the previous night that I had no trouble falling asleep. As I had predicted, the heat finally kicked on in the evening, and the room became quite warm. But despite the excessive heat and the rather firm bed, the sheets were softer and the blanket lighter than what I had grown accustomed to in my Trieste apartment, so I slept very soundly during my final night in Friuli.

In the morning, I awoke bright and early, ready to finally be on my way. Once showered and dressed, I headed downstairs to the breakfast room, where the buffet was spread with a substantial array of choices: fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries; several types of cereal; the obligatory packaged toast; fresh fruit; orange and grapefruit juices; and my favorite yogurt, the runny European-style Carnia brand, of which my preferred flavors were frutti di bosco (mixed berry) and albicocca (apricot). This morning I went with an apricot yogurt, a roll with some apricot jam, and a glass of orange juice.

As I sat eating my breakfast, I noticed two young men at a nearby table. They were clearly American, something I seldom saw in Friuli, and I was curious to find out their story. Typically, in the rare instance that I came across someone speaking English, I would find a way to strike up a conversation. But today there was no time to linger. I had a train to catch and still needed to finish packing, so I scarfed down my food and hurried back upstairs to my room.

I didn’t generally buy many souvenirs when I traveled, but this year I had taken to purchasing every Friulian and Triestine cookbook I could find, so I needed to make room for these, along with a few other items such as an Illy espresso cup, a hunk of ricotta affumicata, a box containing a pitina (salami dredged in cornmeal), and two spiny spider crab shells that I had persuaded waiters in Trieste and Muggia to wrap up for me to take home for a photo shoot. In my efforts to stuff everything in my bags, I ended up discarding three pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear that were all developing holes, although this didn’t noticeably lighten my load.

I did finally manage to cram everything in without needing the plastic grocery bag that I had carried my extra food items in yesterday when leaving Trieste. But my backpack was stuffed to the brim, my collapsible nylon tote bag overflowed, and my rolling duffel was unbelievably heavy, weighed down by my stack of cookbooks. As a test before I departed, I attempted a practice overhead press, to see if I’d be able to lift the suitcase onto the luggage rack of the train. I failed miserably! Maybe I would luck out, as I had on certain past trips, and a chivalrous Italian would step in to help me.

I checked out of Hotel Principe around 8:00am and crossed the street to Udine’s train station, where I boarded the train for Vienna. When I found my assigned seat, there were already three American girls in my train compartment. Considering how infrequently I had encountered Americans in this part of Italy, it was a bit strange to see two groups in one day. I soon learned that these girls were in college, on a fall break from an exchange program in London. They had just been sightseeing in Venezia and were now en route to Salzburg.

With no one offering to help me, I somehow managed to stow my duffel bag by lifting it to chest height, stepping onto the seat, and using pure momentum to hoist it onto the rack. I spent the early part of the journey chatting with the American girls. When they got off the train in Villach, Austria, I switched to a window seat, where I could watch the brilliant autumn colors of the passing countryside. I had expected the train to be packed, but it wasn’t, and I had the compartment to myself for the remainder of the trip. For lunch, I polished off the rest of the snacks I had brought from Trieste—some bread and cheese, a yogurt, and a banana—saving just the smallest bit of bread and cheese for my final breakfast.

The train arrived at Wien Südbahnhof by 2:00pm, right on schedule. Since I had never been to any of Vienna’s train stations before and was not very familiar with the city, I studied my map closely before arrival. As I often did when arriving in a foreign city, I pretended that I was on my then-favorite TV show, The Amazing Race, and navigating to my destination! From the station, it was a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway, and then after a few stops, a short walk to Hotel Austria, where I would stay one night before my flight home.

While checking in, I requested a taxi to the airport the next morning, scheduling it for 5:00am since I had a super early flight. I was given the same room as before, small with a private bath down the hall. The shower and toilet were inconveniently located in separate rooms, though it was nice to have them all to myself. Covering the twin bed was a fluffy, yellow down comforter, and there was also a separate daybed/sofa and a mini fridge. When I had stayed there three nights at the beginning of my trip, I had had some difficulty with my key, but thankfully the hotel had since fixed the lock and the key now worked fine.

As soon as I had settled into my room, I headed back out in the hope of procuring an afternoon snack. Since my two days in Vienna five weeks earlier, I had been looking forward to returning to Buffet Trzesniewski, a tiny sandwich shop just off the Graben, where I had enjoyed an assortment of yummy finger sandwiches, prepared with egg salad and toppings such as shrimp, bacon, and smoked herring. But when I arrived again at the address, I was dismayed to find the shop closed for the day.

So I spent the next hour and a half wandering up and down the Graben, around Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), and to the Hofburg Palace. Along the way, I stopped at Café Demel and picked up a slice of sachertorte to go. At the beginning of my trip, I had made the rounds of several of Vienna’s historic cafes, including Demel, where a slice of dobostorte had been part one of my lunch that day. Part two of that indulgent lunch had been a slice of sachertorte at the famous Hotel Sacher. Having read about the feud between the two cafés over which sachertorte may be called the “original,” I wanted to experience both for myself.

With an early morning flight looming, I didn’t feel up for a late dinner. Plus, the greasy musetto in Udine the night before hadn’t settled well, and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of more sausage—or wienerschnitzel or goulash or meat of any kind. Nor did I relish the idea of sitting in another smoke-filled dining room. So I copped out and grabbed a slice of spinach pizza at Pizza Bizi on the way back to my hotel. It was only 4:30pm, but I wanted to try to get to bed early.

Back at Hotel Austria, I stopped at the guests’ computer desk in the lobby to check my email and was excited to find a message from my best friend. Once I had returned to my room for the evening, I set both my watch alarm and the hotel’s alarm clock for 3:30am, testing the latter to make sure that it functioned properly.

A short while later, I tucked into my slice of sachertorte for dessert. Like the one at Hotel Sacher, this cake was dense and a bit dry, perhaps even more so given that Demel’s consisted of only one layer compared to Sacher’s two and therefore contained half the amount of jam. My goal was going to be to create a moister cake following the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso in Trieste. In addition to adding ground hazelnuts to the chocolate batter, their trick was to douse each cake layer in Maraschino liqueur before glazing with the apricot jam and chocolate ganache.

With nothing left to do, I went to bed around 9:00pm and fell asleep within the hour. However, the room was extremely stuffy. I woke up around midnight feeling restless and sweating under the heavy down comforter. I stayed awake for a couple of hours trying to suppress my nervous energy. After finally falling back asleep, I managed to doze on and off until my two alarms sounded.

In the quiet of the early morning, I took a quick shower, dressed, ate that last bit of stale bread and cheese for breakfast, and set to repacking for the final time. I had stored my ricotta affumicata and pitina in the mini fridge overnight and needed to bury them in the bottom of my luggage. I knew that the cheese had been sufficiently aged, though without a label, I didn’t trust that it would pass through customs without being questioned. And I knew for certain that the salami was banned. But given that these items were crucial for my book, I decided to take the risk of smuggling them into the country. I managed to force everything to fit, placing my carefully wrapped spiny spider crab shells at the very top of my nylon tote bag so they wouldn’t get crushed.

Once I was all set to depart, I went downstairs to the lobby to wait for my taxi. I was a little early, but so was the cab, both of us arriving exactly at 4:50am. The ride to the airport felt a bit harrowing, taking a mere 15 minutes compared to the half-hour trip from the airport when I had first arrived.

When I got to the airport just after 5:00am, the ticket counter was still closed. Eventually things began moving, and I allowed myself to settle in for the journey home. I caught my 7:25am flight to London Heathrow, where I almost didn’t make my connection due to a crazy-long line at security. Fortunately, my connecting flight had been delayed by a half hour, so I just made it. Eleven or so hours later, I arrived in San Francisco, my final trip to Friuli at an end. Now it was time for the real work of publishing Flavors of Friuli to begin!

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For my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Frittata di Funghi (Mushroom Frittata), in honor of the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna e dei Funghi di Primavera. Held every May in the Carnian town of Arta Terme, this festival celebrates three local bounties of spring: wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms. Visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com for the recipe.

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