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This piece was originally published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Dream of Italy. Photos of the Carnevale parade and megafrittata courtesy of the Associazione delle Compagnie del Carnevale Muggesano. (These photos show costumes from the 2003 Carnevale Muggesano.)

Elegantly dressed courtesans waltzing to Vivaldi at a masked ball, mysterious caped figures drifting past the shadows of the Grand Canal—for many travelers these are the images that an Italian Carnevale evokes. But for those with a penchant for the quirky and bizarre, a trip to the town of Muggia affords an alternative Carnevale experience with a week chock-full of wackiness.

Across the bay from Trieste, the capital of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, Muggia is the last stop before reaching Slovenia—and the only town on the Istrian peninsula to remain within the Italian border. Surrounded by Slavic territory, the town exudes an old-world charm that blends the essence of Italy with a hint of foreign exoticism.

While Muggia is an easy half-hour bus ride from Trieste, the ferry service from Trieste’s port makes for a considerably more scenic approach. Pastel-colored houses line the mandracchio (harbor), while the medieval castello looms overhead. Originally a prehistoric castelliere (fortified settlement), the castle was transformed numerous times over the centuries—by the Romans, the Patriarch of Aquileia, and later the Venetians—but eventually it was abandoned and left to ruin. The tower, built in medieval times, is the main surviving feature. In the 1990s, the castle was bought and restored by a local sculptor and is open to the public for cultural and musical events throughout the year.

Continuing on further up the hill, more medieval ruins may be found in Muggia Vecchia (old Muggia). With a panoramic view of the Gulf of Trieste, Muggia Vecchia is home to the Romanesque church Santa Maria Assunta, as well as the Parco Archeologico, where the remains of medieval dwellings lie scattered on either side of the main road. Inhabited from the 8th to the 15th century, the hamlet was gradually abandoned in favor of a new settlement by the sea called Borgo Lauro—what is now Muggia’s centro storico. It is here that the narrow, winding alleys and Venetian Gothic architecture reveal the town’s ties with “La Serenissima.”

In 1420, Muggia—along with much of northeastern Italy—fell under the reign of the Venetian Republic, and so the distinguishing marks of Venice steadily wove their way into the fabric of the town. Tucked away in a back alley, not so unlike one of Venice’s enigmatic calle, is the Casa Veneta, home to Muggia’s Museo Archeologico. This 15th-century palazzo features the white-trimmed, tri-lobed windows that are characteristic of the Venetian Gothic style.

Just steps away from Casa Veneta is Piazza Marconi, a small square bordered by more pastel-colored palazzi. At one end is the Duomo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, which features a striking tri-lobed façade and Gothic rose window. Across the piazza sits the Palazzo dei Rettori, home to Muggia’s government offices. This orange and yellow building dates back to the 13th century but was renovated following the Venetian occupation, adding to the façade a stone relief of the winged lion of Saint Mark, symbol of Venice. Many have since speculated that the lion’s disgruntled expression perhaps reflected the town’s displeasure with its new—and unwelcome—Venetian government.

As Muggia’s central gathering spot, Piazza Marconi makes an appropriate site for the commencement of Carnevale Muggesano, known in local dialect as “Carneval de Muja.” The festivities begin with the presentation of the Re Carnevale (Carnival King), followed by the Ballo della Verdura (Dance of the Vegetables). This ritual dates back to ancient times when it was choreographed to represent the mythological victory dance after Theseus killed the Minotaur. Today the dance marks the official opening of Carnevale on giovedì grasso (Fat Thursday). Representatives from the various groups perform their routine while waving boughs of greenery and giving the public a sneak preview of their elaborate—and typically quite imaginative—costumes.

While the Carnevale celebration thrived under Venetian rule, and even into the late 1800s, the event was interrupted during the turbulent era of World Wars I and II. After the final battles had ended, Muggia was reintroduced to the idea of a Carnevale masquerade by a group of friends who frequently convened in a trattoria to contemplate the joys of Carnevale season. They named themselves Brivido—meaning “shiver”—following a harrowing boating incident on a wet and windy day. One year they decided to dress up as gauchos and march through the streets playing music. As they repeated this annual affair, dressed next as gypsies and later as Apache Indians, the procession grew with more and more people joining in the merriment. Soon a few rival groups had formed, each costumed in its own fantastical theme. By 1954, the parade had blossomed into an official event.

Today, there are eight companies that participate in Carnevale Muggesano: Brivido, Ongia (dialect for “fingernail,” because the original members, who worked at the Trieste shipyard, often found themselves suffering from bashed fingernails), Lampo (“lightning,” the nickname of one of the founders), Bellezze Naturale (“natural beauty,” since the group’s initial mission was to bring awareness to Muggia’s unique charm), Bulli e Pupe (originally Muli e Pupe, dialect for “boys and girls”; the word muli eventually morphed into the word bulli, meaning “ruffians”), Trottola (“spinning top,” to convey a sense of fun and verve), Mandrioi (“beetle,” named after the Volkswagen model driven by one of the founders), and La Bora (the cold, northeast wind that blows through the province of Trieste each winter).

Every year, these groups choose a theme and design a tractor-pulled float with matching costumes. During the Sunday parade, performers dance, play music, and pantomime scenes. Themes have ranged from the contemporary (The Simpsons cartoon, Disneyland) to literary (The Wizard of Oz, Dante’s Divine Comedy), from geographical (Mexico, Africa, India) to culinary (coffee, chocolate, pasta).

A prize is awarded to the most lavish or comical—not surprisingly, the original group Brivido has won first place most often. In 2011, their winning theme was Water—firstly fresh water, featuring a giant sun float, followed by rainbows with a colorful array of balloons, rainclouds carrying umbrellas, and snowflakes joined by frolicking snowmen; next salt water, starring penguins and walruses, dancing ocean waves, and a colossal animatronic Triton riding a fish; and finally water “da Brivido,” with townspeople of all ages dressed as old folk partaking in the eternal water of youth.

Trottola was a close runner-up, with the broad theme of “El Se Trasforma!” (in essence, things that transform). Highlights included the Transformers, with cleverly designed costumes that transformed cars into walking robots; fairytale frogs hoping to be kissed by a princess; gigantic hatching eggs; and a huge popcorn popper complete with ears of corn. Other notable themes of 2011 were Bellezze Naturali exploring life underground (from the garden to the sewers), Mandrioi representing coffee in all its incarnations, and Lampo taking a voyage to the Caribbean.

Among the whimsical costumes, however, you will seldom see a masked face. In fact, the town has abolished the donning of masks except in rare cases when they are absolutely necessary for a specific costume. Contrary to the practice of traditional Carnevale celebrations where anonymity is sacred, the people of Muggia have chosen to expose their individual character. This comes, perhaps, as a natural response in a town that has struggled to assert its identity in the face of domination by so many foreign cultures.

The culinary ritual dubbed “A ovi” takes place on the Monday following the parade. This tradition, which dates back to the 1800s, begins with townspeople traipsing door to door begging for eggs. The eggs are then used to make the megafrittata—thousands of eggs and several hundred pounds of pancetta cooked in a giant thirteen-foot-wide frying pan. On Ash Wednesday, to mark the final day of the event, the groups perform a tragicomedy routine. Following a solemn funeral procession, townspeople then throw a lifelike “corpse” of Re Carnevale into the sea.

So if you think dancing espresso cups, slithering sewer rats, and human popcorn sound intriguing, cast aside your Venetian masks and head to Muggia for an unforgettable Carnevale celebration.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy.

My fondest memory of Trieste will always be the day I first stepped into Pasticceria Penso. My timing seems predestined—I arrived on a blustery February morning just as a few dozen chocolate cakes were being pulled from the oven. I was immediately invited back into the cozy kitchen to watch their transformation into torta Sacher. The patriarch of the family-run bakery, Italo Stoppar, doused each layer of cake with Maraschino liqueur, then spread on a thick coat of apricot preserves. His son Antonello drizzled the top with dark chocolate ganache, which was soon followed by a garnish of chocolate sprinkles around the sides. This was just the first of many such mornings; the next year, I arranged for an apartment across the street, so that I could spend countless hours observing their techniques—and sampling every cream-stuffed, chocolate-glazed, fruit-filled morsel I could possibly devour.

The bakery was founded in 1920 by Trieste native Narciso Penso. When he died in 1971, the store was bought by one of his young employees, Italo Stoppar, who had begun working at Penso in the 1960s after a stint as a pastry chef on the cruise ship Lloyd Triestino.

Today, as Stoppar passes on the trade to his two sons, Lorenzo and Antonello, Pasticceria Penso is truly a family business. Brother-in-law Giovanni also helps out in the kitchen, while Italo’s wife, Rosanna, and Giovanni’s wife, Silvana, tend to customers. The mood is light, the kitchen functioning like a well-choreographed ballet, each person silently knowing everyone else’s next move. Italo’s role is both slicer and icer. He can usually be seen preparing the layered cakes and jelly rolls—slicing the cakes into layers, spreading them with buttercream frosting, whipped cream, ganache, or caramel, and finally slicing the sheet cakes into the proper rectangular serving size. His steady hand also garnishes birthday cakes with whipped cream flowers and flourishes, piping special messages in chocolate icing. Lorenzo is in charge of dough, filling tartlet pans with crostata crust and rolling puff pastry for strudel. Antonello handles a little of everything, from applying fruit garnishes to measuring and mixing cake batter, from sorting and grinding almonds for marzipan to melting chocolate for ganache.

True to Trieste’s multiethnic roots, Pasticceria Penso specializes in the pastries from Austria and Hungary, such as the ever-popular Sacher and Dobos cakes, as well as the ubiquitous local desserts presnitz, putizza, and pinza. In all, they make around thirty-five different types of pastries, cakes, and cookies, which are purchased by locals for both special anniversary celebrations and as a Sunday post-church ritual. The sturdier pastries are also shipped to clients throughout Europe, the United States, and Australia.

In a city that clings to heritage and tradition, Pasticceria Penso is surprisingly one of just a few surviving bakeries from its era. The quality of their product is surely what has kept Penso in business for so many years. They use only butter—unlike many modern bakeries that rely on margarine to prolong shelf life—and always top-quality ingredients, from the richest, darkest baking chocolate to the Bulgarian rose oil that flavors the pink fave dei morti cookies. Their key to success is perhaps identical to the inherent nature of Trieste itself—classic Viennese precision combined with pure Italian passion.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy. Since my last visit, La Subida has been awarded one Michelin star.

Situated in the heart of the Collio wine zone is one of Friuli’s most esteemed restaurants, Trattoria Al Cacciatore de La Subida (known to locals simply as La Subida). On the outskirts of Cormòns, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vineyards, La Subida serves impeccable dishes inspired by the nearby border where Friulian and Slovenian cultures merge.

Opened at Christmastime in 1960 by Slovenian Joško Sirk and his wife, Loredana, La Subida was originally a small osteria and inn, which soon became a popular gathering spot for hunters. A recreational cacciatore (hunter) himself, Sirk takes great pride in the land and has built a small complex of apartments adjacent to his restaurant, complete with tennis courts, children’s playground, horse stables, and swimming pool. For Sirk, building these rustic farmhouses has been an obsessive hobby and the realization of a longtime dream.

To the Sirk family, Trattoria Al Cacciatore is not just a restaurant—it is their home, filled with special belongings, mementos, and memories. Daughters Tanja and Erika have grown up here and now help out in the dining room. Joško and Loredana are always there as well, interacting with their guests, even joining them at the table. After a while, dining at La Subida is like dining with family.

The Sirks look at their cuisine as a slice of life, a part of their culture and heritage. The menu leans toward the Triestine—jota (bean and sauerkraut soup) and gnocchi di susine (plum-filled dumplings), for example—but also offers a variety of Friulian dishes, including frico, frittata, and orzotto (barley cooked risotto-style). They specialize in the Slovenian pastas mlinci and zlikrofi, as well as wild game, which is roasted or grilled to perfection. The stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), carved tableside, simply melts in one’s mouth. While their food remains authentic, each dish is refined to an exquisite level through added touches such as fried sage leaves, elderberry flower syrup, and herb-infused sorbets.

The best way to experience this slice of culture is with La Subida’s multi-course tasting menu. After an aperitif and some light snacks under the lime tree or inside by the fogolâr (fireplace), diners will feast on an appetizer, two or three first courses, two meat dishes, a palate-cleansing sorbet, and a dessert that inevitably includes a plate of homemade biscotti. This must all be accompanied, of course, by local Collio wine from Joško’s cellar.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy. Since then, following the passing of its owners, Bepi and Fides Salon, Ristorante Salon has closed its doors.

In the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta, on a serene lane lined with shady trees and wisteria blossoms, Hotel Ristorante Salon has long been recognized for its innovative local cuisine. When Arta Terme’s thermal baths first opened in the late 19th century, the sudden influx of visitors spawned a proliferation of new restaurants and hotels in the valley. Salon was one of the originals, opened by Osvaldo Salon in 1910—first as an osteria and then expanding a few years later into a small pensione.

It was when Osvaldo passed the business down to his son Bepi, a budding mycologist, that the restaurant saw a significant transformation. In a tourist market where hotel menus typically featured “national” dishes such as spaghetti al ragù, lasagne, and tortellini in brodo, Bepi Salon pioneered the use of local ingredients and regional specialties. With his wife, Fides, commanding the kitchen, the pair introduced guests to such Carnian peasant fare as polenta, frittata, and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew).

Through the decades, nearly every ingredient has been raised, cultivated, or hand-picked by the Salon family, or at least procured from a local source. From the garden are fresh greens and vegetables, which are displayed on a rolling cart so that waiter Matteo can individually prepare each guest’s salad tableside. Chickens, ducks, and guinea hens are raised in backyard pens, while wild game is obtained from local hunters. Trout, fresh from the valley’s river and streams, are purchased weekly and kept live in tanks until ready to cook.

It is Carnia’s abundance of wild edibles, though, that has contributed most to the restaurant’s fame. With the sprightly nature of a sbilf (mythical elves that are said to inhabit Carnia’s woodlands), Bepi Salon would rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through Carnia’s forests and meadows, returning just hours later bearing baskets of freshly picked mushrooms, herbs, and berries. Signora Fides, drawing inspiration from her mother’s family recipes, would then prepare such creations as mushroom soufflé, risotto with seasonal greens, and crêpes with mushrooms and truffles. Daughter Antonella, who has recently joined Fides in the kitchen, specializes in pastries and has a particular flair for incorporating wild berries into her desserts. In his old age, Bepi has had to relinquish his daily hike, but Ristorante Salon continues to feature those indigenous ingredients.

Among the regular menu listings at Salon, there is one standout that deserves mention—the cjarsòns. Many experts have judged these to be the best in existence, and after sampling numerous recipes throughout Friuli, I wholeheartedly concur. Filled with a complex blend of eighteen ingredients, Salon’s cjarsòns offer the perfect flavor combination of herbs and fruit, sweet and savory, salty and smoky. The pasta is delicate, never doughy, and the cinnamon-laced butter is enhanced by just the right amount of smoked ricotta cheese. So even if you are not drawn to Arta Terme for the thermal baths or one of the town’s gastronomic festivals, the cjarsòns at Ristorante Salon alone merit a special trip.

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This review was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy.

During my very first visit to Friuli, my friend Steno treated me to dinner at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo. At that time, I had no familiarity with Friulian cuisine, but Steno wanted me to experience authentic regional cooking at its best. Ever since that first meal of cjarsòns (cinnamon-laced ravioli) and frico con patate (cheese and potato pancake), this unassuming, hole-in-the-wall restaurant has held a truly special place in my heart.

One of the oldest in Udine, this osteria is housed in a 17th-century building that once served as a stable and rest stop where horses and their drivers could stop for a meal and a respite. In the early 1900s, the stall was closed and converted into a section of the dining room. Today, Al Vecchio Stallo is run by the three Mancini brothers—Enzo, Maurizio, and Mario. Their objective is to preserve the traditional cuisine of Friuli, while giving it the elegance and style that modern tastes have come to expect. Their osteria exudes the warmth and hospitality so characteristic of Friulians, making guests feel just like family.

The dining room retains the atmosphere of an old-world tavern—wood-beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, red-checked tablecloths, and walls cluttered with colorful paintings, newspaper clippings, period photographs of Udine, and memorabilia of all sorts. In warm weather, diners can sit outside in the courtyard under a canopy of grapevines.

During my frequent solo travels, I usually found myself dining alone, and this is one restaurant where I always felt at home. The atmosphere is comfortable, the clientele an assortment of crusty, old men drinking at the bar, families with rambunctious toddlers, young couples sporting the latest fashion trends, and inevitably a particular signora at the same corner table every night.

The food is simple—what some might describe as peasant fare—but still tasty and completely satisfying. The prices are inexpensive, a huge bargain for such generous portions. Their stinco di maiale (braised pork shank) is gigantic, as are the sardines in sarde in saor. Chef Mario Mancini rotates his menu daily, some dishes being served only on certain days, such as savory, herb-filled cjarsòns on Sundays or creamy, salty baccalà (salt cod stew) on Fridays. For dessert, order the gubana (dried fruit and nut spiral cake), which comes soaked in grappa.

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While doing research for Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I practically ate my way through the region. Over the coming month, I will share with you three unforgettable dining spots: Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, where I enjoyed my first Friulian dinner; Ristorante Salon, which produced the best cjarsòns I ever tasted; and my all-time favorite restaurant in Friuli, La Subida. Plus, we’ll visit Pasticceria Penso, one of Trieste’s oldest bakeries.

These reviews were originally published in the September 2010 issue of Dream of Italy. Since then, following the passing of its owners, Ristorante Salon has closed its doors.

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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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