I write stories derived from my family’s history. Researching them fills in the foggy areas of my memory and the blank spaces of my family tree. Writing them is painstaking documentary and intimate connection with people four generations away. I discover patterns of emotions, attitudes, and behavior that help me understand myself. I explore grief, loss and anger, sibling rivalries, love and estrangement, and the various forms of love – of children, parents, spouse and friends. When I write, I try to put myself behind their eyes, to see and feel the world as they saw and felt theirs. By telling their stories, I hope my readers and listeners will better understand their own.

Beautiful Ruins and The March

Posted by Mark on April 8th, 2014

 I’ve been sick for the past three weeks and, after the worst few days, when I could barely manage bare necessities, I was able to read.  Four books went through my hands:  “Beautiful Ruins,” by Jess Walter; “The March,” by E.L. Doctorow; “Unbroken,” by Lauren Hillenbrand; and “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson. Absolute must read:  “Beautiful Ruins.”

Runner up:  “The March.”

What do you suggest I read next?

I couldn’t finish “Unbroken” and “The Warmth of Other Suns.” Great writing, fascinating topics and periods, but ultimately exhausting.  Maybe if I’d been healthier, I’d have stuck with them, but even now, almost back to 80%, my hand just doesn’t want to go to them.

“Beautiful Ruins,” I loved.  Jess Walter is funny.  He brings to life a cast of diverse characters (including a hilarious and extended cameo by Richard Burton, the actor) and narrative threads that come together with both humor and heart.  Most impressive to me was how he came up with distinctive creative voices.  He did the first with a chapter of a novel written by one of the characters.  The second was a handful of songs, monologue and later a play written by another character.  Truly masterful.  Walter can also move backward and forward in time without losing momentum and narrative tension, an example hugely helpful to me as I work out a structure for my work-in-process novel.  Buy it.

In “The March,” E.L. Doctorow fictionalizes Sherman’s Civil War march through Georgia and the Carolinas.  It’s great Civil War history told through the experiences of a dozen or so characters that include freed slaves, more and less ethical Confederate and Union soldiers, a doctor, a photographer, fleeing civilians and Sherman himself.  Doctorow moves easily from story thread to story thread.  While none of the individual characters have a start-to-finish narrative arc, Doctorow manages to bring life to the march itself, meaning the 60,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of freed slaves that follow them.  Together they make a living entity, each human being like a cell in a vast, complex organism, the whole moving across the landscape at 15 to 20 miles per day, raising a cloud of dust, emanating a cacophonous roar and, like a tornado might, leaving a clear path of absolute devastation as it passes.  Buy this one too.

What have you read recently?  What should I read next?

Five First Pages

Posted by Mark on March 8th, 2014

 Below are five different “first pages” for my novel “Amedeo.”  Please let me know how these openings feel to you, what you glean about the overall story and the people involved.  Which do you like best?  Comment below or email mark at marknassutti.com.  Thank you!  Grazie!

 

The Cast  

Amedeo clenched his brother’s sweat-stained leather belt in his teeth when, just as his sister wanted, the answer to her question – “Pelopidas and Marcellus” – took his attention away from what she had to do.  Anna yanked sharply on his left hand, producing a thought-stopping jolt of pain.  He moaned.  Her expert fingers palpated the swollen flesh around his third metatarsal.  With a slight smile, she declared, “Fatto.  Done.  Right back into place.”

Amedeo spat out the belt, the salty residue of Umberto’s alpine adventures sharp on his tongue.  Porca miseria, how am I supposed to work my brake wheel with this hand?”

Umberto released Amedeo’s upper arm and arched his back to stretch.  “That’s the problem with you revolutionaries,” he said in his urbane banker’s provocative pose.  “You always complain about the pain of change, as if it’s the capitalists’ fault.”

“It was your capitalist policeman who knocked me down,” Amedeo said.  “I was just watching a peaceful demonstration against your stupid emperor’s war.”

“The emperor is stupid,” Umberto said, “but let me remind you I prefer an allegiance to Italy’s king.  Now, you have a bigger problem: you abandoned your post at the helm of your trolley.  A captain never leaves his ship.  You’ll be lucky if they let you keep that uniform.”  Then he became Amedeo’s older brother again, long-felt rage barely suppressed.  “You got yourself sacked from the most prestigious insurance company in Trieste, because you felt obliged to protest a co-worker’s treatment.  You finally found work as a…” He paused, adding disgust to his voice, “a trolley driver, and you get your hand stepped on for dereliction of duty.”  He brought his face up close to Amedeo’s.  “Who do you think you are, protesting anything?  How dare you jeopardize our family again?”

Zitti, ragazzi,” Anna said.  “Table it.”  She lifted a curved piece of tin from the clutter of plaster and felt wraps and pads.  “This will reinforce the cast so you can turn that wheel,” she said, then added, nodding to Umberto, “if they take you back.”  She laid the forearm of Amedeo’s injured hand across the book that prompted her question — Plutarch’s Parallel Lives – then instructed Umberto on how to hold the brace against Amedeo’s palm and fingers.

Amedeo’s ears burned from both Umberto’s rebuke and Anna’s tender touch.  Then, as Anna skillfully wrapped and Umberto obediently helped, Amedeo’s mind drifted far from the dining room table, far from calming Plutarch, back to the piazza of the protest and the searching eyes of the woman in black.


Via San Francesco

A metallic bang shattered the warm summer sleep of three children at number 29 Via San Francesco, and a first waking sensation of cool sea breeze vanished amid the tinkling of broken glass and their mother’s cry.

Thirteen-year-old Umberto, an ache behind his eyes, rolled his legs over the side of his bed.  His eight-year-old brother Amedeo sat up across from him, barely catching the book he’d fallen asleep reading as it hurtled toward the floor.  Their father Giovanni’s voice reached them, too loud, too slurred, too angry, too familiar.  “If you hate me so much, why don’t you just hike back up the hill to your mother?”

“If you hadn’t laid your hands on me,” Maria said through exhausted impatience, “I just might be able to do that.  But here I am, with three children!  And a husband too stupid to stay away from a card table!”

Giovanni’s fist smashed a table.  “I made this little fortune!  It’s mine to lose it if I want to, and I can get it back!”

Umberto stepped into the hallway, arms hanging from his tall, narrow frame, shaking his hands as if trying to shake water off after washing. 

“Hah!  Do you even know where your tools are?”

Amedeo followed, his breathing growing shallower with each step.

“Shut up!”  Porcelain exploded against the floor.  Maria yelped a sob.  Giovanni’s voice rose, uncertain, frightened.  “It wasn’t my fault, I tell you!”

Anna, 10, opened her door.  Umberto put a finger to his lips.

“Why,” Maria asked through her tears, “why have you done this to us?  I warned you.  What will we do?”

“It’s not so bad.  We’ll have to move, that’s all.”  Giovanni’s voice softened, almost pleading.  “Until I get things going again.  I’ll buy some new buildings, get us back in a home like this, soon.”  Then angry again.  “Quit your crying, woman!”

Giovanni sensed the children and turned.  “What are you looking at?  Get back to bed!”

Basta, Giovanni,” Maria said, her voice stronger. “They are innocent.”

“Don’t look at me that way,” Giovanni shouted at Umberto.  The boy dropped his head slightly, moved his arms away from his slender body, a young wolf confronting the old alpha male.

“We have to move?” Umberto asked, his voice icy.  “Why?”

“Why?  How dare you ask why!  Because I said so!”

“What did you lose now?  Did you bet the house this time?”

“How….” Giovanni turned to Maria, his anger now mixed with pleading.

“Yes, Umberto,” Maria said.

In the Mouth of the Wolf

Their twenty-year silence ended moments after a thin young Partisan locked a holding cell door behind Umberto and he heard his brother say, “Welcome to Tito’s Communist Party.  Can I get you a drink?”

Umberto flinched at the voice and revulsion filled his chest.  His battered cheek ached with swell, a scrape on his head oozed blood, and his heart raced at the outrage of a very impolite interrogation.  The small room stank of rust and urine.  Adjusting to the low light, he made out his brother: broad shoulders, a sagging wool sport coat, canvas pants and boots, sitting against the opposite wall, barely out of arm’s reach.  Umberto pulled his handkerchief out of his rough canvas gardening pants and dabbed at his head.

A voice shouted out in the courtyard.  A fusillade of rifle shots.  The sound of bodies falling to the cobbles.  Then, a single pistol shot.

“We’re very lucky, you know,” Amedeo said.  “The fact that that’s not us is very, very good news.”

Umberto felt his outrage turn to rage and vibrate inside him.  He went to one of the two small windows that shed the light of a burning trash barrel in the courtyard.  With a corner of handkerchief, he cleaned his glasses.  Two soldiers in Yugoslav uniforms carried a body through a gate.

“You know the Gestapo used this place until last week, right?” Amedeo said.  “Tito’s fuckers liberate us from the Nazis and just take over right where those murderers left off.”

An open-topped car pulled in around the barrel and stopped, idling.  Two soldiers jumped out and yanked a well-dressed couple in handcuffs out of the back seat.

“Why do you have to be so rough with her?” the man asked in Italian, his voice shaky.

One soldier slapped him, then shoved the couple through the villa’s door with an exchange of Serbo-Croatian shouts.  The soldiers came back and drove off.

“They go in.  They come out.  They get shot.  Maybe 15 minutes,” Amedeo said.  “You watch.”

Two hours earlier, Umberto had slammed his front door in Amedeo’s without letting him speak.  Amedeo looked at his brother now – still tall and straight at 58 – and felt both surprised and not surprised, more disappointed than anything.  And a little bit stupid.  I risk my life and scare my wife for this stronzo, he thought.  Well, I’ve done everything I could.  Probably too much.  Walking out the lower gate of Umberto’s villa, he had whispered, “In boca al’ lupo,” the closest thing he could muster to a good luck prayer.  If you’re in the mouth of the wolf, hope the wolf chokes on you and dies.

Via dall’Istria

Amedeo and Miran leaned over the balcony and heard the wave of whispers washing up Via dall’Istria.  The harsh, low-angled sun of morning made the sky a cold pale blue.

“Word is the Germans left three garrisons behind,” Miran said.  “The port, San Giusto hill, and the Palace of Justice.  Poor bastards.”

“Nazis aren’t known for their sentimentality, are they?” Amedeo asked.

On both sides of the road that cut through San Giacomo, the neighborhood that led to the heart of Trieste from the south, people looked out their windows and doorways, waiting, trading information and speculating in quiet tones.  From the café at the corner below, Amedeo heard Radio Londra, something impossibly dangerous just days before, and cause for arrest in Mussolini’s day. Anglo-Americans in Monfalcone, 18 miles north. Tito’s Partisans coming from the opposite direction, Capodistria, 14 miles south. 

In Monfalcone, the war was over.

Amedeo drew his conclusion and stepped back inside. His wife Netti met his eyes.  “No,” he said.  “It won’t be the Anglo-Americani.”  He turned to his friend.  “To the victor, the spoils, Miran. Your Yugoslavs win.”

Porca miseria, they’re not!…”  He paused, then said in a low growl, “Those sons-of-bitches have made a mockery of Marx.  If they get here first, it’s going to get ugly, and by this time tomorrow I suspect even you atheists will be praying ”

Puzza,” Amedeo said.  “It all stinks.”  He waved at the street.  “And look at this.”  Several days of garbage, mule piss and horse manure filled the gutters.  “This never would have happened under the Austrians.”

“Well, that won’t get any worse, for a few days at least,” Miran said.  “With three armies on the march, all the farmers will stay home.  To keep their mules and horses from becoming steaks.” 

A mechanical buzz drew their attention.  Up where Via dall’Istria crossed Largo Pestalozzi, two dozen men on motorcycles crested the hill.  With their rifles slung across their shoulders, they made a jagged line of X’s across the skyline.

“Scouts,” Amedeo said.

They rolled by, squinting against the light and dust. They wore cloth caps with red stars and left behind a thin blue haze of oily exhaust. At every window, at every door, faces stared out.  No one cheered.  No one even smiled.  And then they waited some more.

An hour later, the sound of a crowd moving in the street interrupted Amedeo as he read Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, a favorite and a book that he had learned could provide serenity as well as wisdom.  At first annoyed, he jumped to his feet at the balcony.  Uneven footsteps mingled with the rustling of clothing, the dings of metal containers and low voices. Men with rifles, a few in front at the ready, the rest casually slung over shoulders.  Some men smoked.  Few wore uniforms.  Most wore farmer’s rough pants and smocks, workman’s overalls, even business suits with topcoats hanging open.  They received only stares.

The Demonstration

The shouts reached Amedeo through the din of motors, neighing horses and the anxious and complaining drivers around his gridlocked electric trolley.  A sidewalk café’s diners stood and walked toward the piazza, leaving red tablecloths littered with hastily abandoned plates of bean and sauerkraut stew and crusty bread, flatware askew and glasses of beer half gone.  One ancient patron with two canes and a gray-haired waiter wringing his hands looked toward the piazza.

Resting his sore back against the partition separating his driver’s station and the passenger compartment, Amedeo squinted through the late afternoon sun hanging over Trieste and its bay beyond, then looked at his watch.  He would definitely not reach his turnaround at the train station on time.  It didn’t look like he’d be moving at all anytime soon.

Lucio, his conductor, slid open the window in the partition and leaned out.  “These complainers want to know if they’d be better off walking,” he said.  Lucio intended the implicit question to draw Amedeo out, to get him to reveal a bit more of himself.  His job was to help Amedeo succeed.  With a war on, the trolley company was short of manpower.  So far, Lucio liked this young man.  No other driver jumped down at the train station to help passengers with their luggage.

“I’m worried about the people going to the train,” Amedeo said.

Lucio nodded, pleased, and he too looked ahead, into Piazza della Caserma, named for the enormous Austrian-yellow army barracks compound dominating the piazza.  “Another regiment moving out,” he said, doubtful.

“Still, I’ve never seen it this bad,” Amedeo said.

A teamster on a long, flatbed wagon stacked with crates set his wheel brake and jumped down to walk among his four brown horses, checking their tack and stroking their soft muzzles as they twitched their ears.  A truck driver turned off his engine and lit a cigarette.  His assistant jumped out and began walking toward the piazza.  Other men from other vehicles did the same.  In the opposite lanes of broad Via Carducci, traffic flowed but far thinner than usual.

“We’re boxed in,” Amedeo said.  “Should I shut down?”

“Go ahead.”  Lucio turned back to the compartment.  Mi dispiace, signori e signore, it looks like we’re stuck for a while.”

Amedeo hopped off.  An elegant middle-aged woman in a fine black brocade dress with matching hat accepted his help and came down, favoring one leg.  She thanked him.  “I’d hoped to get a bit closer,” she said, “but I think I can make it from here.  I twisted my ankle, but I wouldn’t miss this.”

Surprised, Amedeo asked, “You know what’s going on?”

Lega delle Donne.  The League of Women.  Protesting the war.”

“The last time I saw a protest, a bunch of people got shot.”

“They won’t shoot women,” she said with the confidence of a combat-hardened general.  She turned and set off with a slight limp, joining a steady stream of men, women and children moving toward the piazza.  Their speculative chatter buzzed by in Triestino, German, Slovenian, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, English and French, plus two or three other languages Amedeo didn’t recognize.

“Brave woman,” he said to Lucio.  Then, a burning curiosity arose inside Amedeo.  Fully aware that a trolley driver never leaves his ship, he said, “I’ve got to see this,” his tone respectful and not quite asking permission.  “Cover for me?”

Lucio pushed his cap back on his head and leaned against the trolley, studying Amedeo.  “A long trip to the bathroom,” Lucio said.  “That’s all I can do.  And you’ll owe me a couple of beers after work.”

Back to Work

Posted by Mark on December 12th, 2013

Since finishing my manuscript of “Amedeo” back in the summer, I’ve received feedback from several sources that have led me to shelve book 2, “Lidija,” and begin another revision of “Amedeo.”  The feedback was very consistent:  beautiful, polished writing; terrific dialogue; great core story; too much exposition, slowing down the pace of the story; several instances of tension building and then not being resolved; sometimes not enough tension; some preaching.  In general, evidence of sticking too close to actual history, especially the family’s history, to the detriment of a good story.

Among the steps I’m taking is the creation of a detailed outline that includes what I call “tension analysis.”  I’m looking at each chapter and asking “What’s this chapter’s objective?”  I’m looking at each scene and asking “What’s the conflict, and the resulting question from the reader’s point of view?  What’s the action around that conflict?  How is the conflict resolved?  How does this scene contribute to the plot and/or the evolution of these characters?”

I’ve got a lot to learn.  Meanwhile, roll up the sleeves, sharpen the pencils, think everything through, and remember poetic license.

Ann Patchett and Independent Book Stores

Posted by Mark on November 22nd, 2013

Saw Ann Patchett at Seattle’s Town Hall last night, interviewed by Nancy Pearl. I’ve loved her books “Bel Canto” and “Run,” and now I am hugely impressed by her. Smart, funny, doesn’t take herself too seriously, attributes much of her commercial success to luck. Core advice: Write constantly; have a message that comes from a fundamentally good place within yourself; go deep; only write & sell one book at a time; and frequent your local book store. If you’re in Seattle, go to Elliott Bay Books. Ann happens to walk the talk, as part owner of an independent bookstore in Nashville, Parnassus Books.

Why do we teach Catcher in the Rye in high school?

Posted by Mark on November 11th, 2013

As an exercise in craft development, I re-read J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” last week and came away with this assessment:

Beware of History

Posted by Mark on October 16th, 2013

For big chunks of the past three days, I’ve been working on a critique of a book-length manuscript for Will Rose, a member of my writing group.  It’s been fascinating and instructive to dive way deeper into a book than a typical reading for entertainment.  “Why?” is the best question.  Why did the author choose this name?  Why did the author have this character do that?  Why now?  Why here?

As a writer of historical fiction, I’ve been cautioned about tying my story too closely to historical fact.  It has to work as a story.  I have to remind myself that every scene must have a purpose.  You can’t put events into the narrative just because they happened, or just because you think they are interesting.  Each must contribute to driving the plot forward or driving character development.  If you have to bend history a little to make a better story, do it.

My problem is that I love the history.  Analyzing this manuscript, in which Will has created almost everything from his imagination, has helped me think more about story than history.  A reader of fiction opens a book to find a good story.  What they might learn about history is secondary.  I owe them a good story.  Thank you, Will, for trusting me with your manuscript, teaching me so much, and helping me remember what I must do first.

Finished!

Posted by Mark on September 21st, 2013

 

Celebrating the completion of the manuscript for “Amedeo.”  Many thanks again to all the fellow writers, friends and family who have supported me and given me helpful feedback throughout this process.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  Next week, I’ll go back to researching novel number two, “Lidija,” and start the search for an agent and/or publisher.

It’s Lidija, not Lidja

Posted by Mark on September 13th, 2013

 

(Veda l’italiano qui)

I note with humility the observations of my Triestino friend Nereo Castelli on the challenges I’m taking on with my second Trieste-based novel.  He has already given me invaluable feedback and corrections of historical fact as well as, in the most recent case, spelling.  My working title for the second book was “Lidja,” a classic Slovenian woman’s name and the name of my protagonist.  Last week, he graciously pointed out that the name is spelled “Lidija.”

There’s irony here.  Just two days ago, I discovered that the Vashon Beachcomber misspelled my name in a letter to the editor.  I reacted with a tirade about misspelling a name being a cardinal sin of journalism, pontificating about my first journalism professor who had threatened to give anyone an automatic F for a misspelled name. (He was not kidding, he checked every single name in every single story submitted to him and gave out several F’s, though none to me). 

Correction noted, and all references to Lidija have been corrected.

That said, I ask for patience and forgiveness from all my Triestine friends.  My process of creating a novel may seem haphazard, but I hope that Nereo and others see my desire to know and understand the historical foundation of my stories, both in terms of fact and in terms of subjective elements.  Especially in the early stages of creating a novel, I get ideas and run with them, and it’s often the case that episodes and scenes appear in my brain like movie clips.  I just write down what I see and hear.  What’s critical is capturing the interactions and emotions between people.  As I go along, I do more and more research about the historical background, and adapt the manuscript based on new discoveries and interpretations.

With “Amedeo,” I was writing a story based on real events in my family’s history, and I had the help of my father to understand what was going on.  I also speak and read Italian, and have spent more than six months over the past five years in Trieste.

In the case of “Lidija,” I’m delving into a culture foreign to me.  I don’t speak Slovenian, and though I have some friends with Slovenian roots, I have not yet had the opportunity to immerse myself in Slovenian culture.  I aim to learn, but I have no desire to be seen as the voice of the Slovenian community to the outside world.  The same goes for “Amedeo,” and for the part of Trieste’s population that one could describe as Italian.

Perhaps what I tell you next will seem obvious, but it represents what I am trying to create, and bears repeating.  I approach my research from the perspective of a journalist or neutral investigator, with a desire to know and understand, and then communicate what I observe.  I also believe in immersing myself, as much as possible, in the subject culture.  As a former journalist, I’m well aware that despite this desire for impartiality, what I see and feel gets filtered through my beliefs and convictions, and my experiences, both professional and personal.  But I will always try, and will always be open to corrections and opinions.

I hope it will be clear to (and forgiven by) the entire Trieste community that, as a writer of fiction, not a historian, I reserve the privilege of underlining various elements in order to communicate a particular point of view.

The important thing, as Nereo mentioned when offering to fact check for me, is this:  If I take a controversial position, or if I change a historical fact to suit the fictional narrative, better to do it on purpose than accidentally.

Ken Follett Kept Me Awake Way Too Late Last Night

Posted by Mark on September 10th, 2013

I have to revise my revision plan because Ken Follett kept me up way too late last night.

I’m reading his monster historical novel, “Fall of Giants,” because my friend Nereo Castelli of Trieste told me it’s a great story and includes some very well-written and detailed scenes of combat on the Russian front in World War I.  The husband of my protagonist in novel number two (“Lidija”) goes to that front with an Austro-Hungarian regiment recruited from Trieste.

I’m always interested in stories about the Russian front because I’ve found over the years that most historians and novelists in Western Europe and the US give short shrift to what happened there in both World Wars, probably a legacy of the Cold War and a desire to minimize the Russians’ devastation of first the German/Austro-Hungarian alliance’s and then Hitler’s military capabilities.  Russian General Aleksei Brusilov led a three-month offensive in 1916 that nearly destroyed Austria-Hungary’s army and ranks near the top of the list of history’s most lethal battles (1.6 million killed), worse than the infamous Battle of the Somme (1.2 million dead).  Stalin’s troops inflicted roughly 80% of the Axis Powers’ casualties, with the battles of Stalingrad (about 1.5 million killed) and Kursk (about 300,000 dead) making D-Day, with fewer than 20,000 killed, look like a diversionary tactic.

But after just a few pages of Follet’s massive work (and well before the story moves to World War I) I felt completely engrossed in his narrative.  It’s huge in scope, tracing the interwoven dramas of several couples and families ranging from a pair of orphaned Russian brothers of peasant stock to a Welsh earl and his Russian princess wife to a young American diplomat, with the settings ranging from Buffalo, New York, to a dismal Welsh mining town to European capitals and the swamps of the Ukraine.

It’s also huge in heft; my paperback version has nearly 1,000 pages.

My favorite character is Maud, the feisty and politically savvy British heiress hopelessly in love with and secretly married to Walter, a German diplomat and military officer.  Next would be Grigori, the Russian peasant and military conscript orphaned by the future wife of Maud’s brother the Earl.  Then there’s Ethel, a coal miner’s daughter who becomes housekeeper for the Earl and his Russian princess wife, has an affair with him and bears him a son, then becomes an indispensible partner in Maud’s campaign for women’s suffrage.

I even care about what happens to the rogues and bad guys like Grigori’s scofflaw and disloyal brother Lev, and to secondary characters like Gus Dewar, a young and definitely non-aristocratic American diplomat circulating among the European nobility on behalf of President Woodrow Wilson.

My sleep patterns have also been disturbed by other books I’ve read recently including Ann Patchett’s novels “Run” and “Bel Canto;” Follett’s first novel, “Eye of the Needle;” Alistair Maclean’s first novel, “HMS Ulysses”, even on third reading; Geraldine Brook’s “March”; “The Help,” the debut novel by Kathryn Stockett; and Mary Doria Russell’s “A Thread of Grace.”

I want “Amedeo” and any novels that come after it to have that kind of effect on my readers.  Therefore I am changing my revision plan for “Amedeo.”  Yesterday I reorganized all the chapters and created two alternative endings.  My plan was to start reading the manuscript aloud today.  Instead, I’m going to go through the above novels again with a critical eye looking at craft.  I’m a novice.  I have much to learn.

Slovenian Cooking

Posted by Mark on August 25th, 2013

 

Research isn’t just about reading or going on location.  It’s also about eating and, even better, cooking.  My second book revolves around a Slovenian woman, so last night I made a five-course Slovenian dinner for a handful of friends.  Because of its location at the confluence of Latin, Germanic and Slavic cultures, Slovenia has borrowed and adapted foods and preparation methods from all of those traditions.

 

 

For my dinner, I tried to cover the range from rustic to refined and, geographically, from Friuli and the Isonzo Valley in the West to the Hungarian Plains in the East, and from the Alpi Giulie (Julian Alps) in the North to the sun-warmed Adriatic Coast of Istria.  And since meal planning has an element of opportunism, I threw in a few local items as well.  Na zdravje and dober tek!   Cheers and bon appetit! 

The menu:

Aperitiv (Aperitif):  Nashi Orchards Apple Cider (Vashon Island).  A sparkling blend of apple juices including my own Roxbury Russets and Crabapples.

Prigrizek (Appetizer):  Terrano Prosciutto (Friulian Plain).  Salt-rubbed prosciutto sauteed in earthy red wine, served on soft goat cheese and toasted rustic bread.

 

Jota

Juha (Soup):  Jota (Classic Carso Cuisine).  A hearty and flavorful blend of sauerkraut, white beans, potatoes and a host of root vegetables, garnished with paprika, sour cream and Italian parsley.

Glaven Jed (Entrée):  Scampi alla Buzara (Adriatic Coast).  Jumbo shrimp sautéed in a zesty blend of shallots, garlic and tomatoes, sprinkled with chopped home-grown basil.

Scampi alla Buzara

 

Solata (Salad):  Wild & Fancy Salad Mix from Vashon’s Island Meadow Farm, dressed in a light lemon and olive-oil dressing, sprinkled with chopped snow peas and fresh nasturtium blossoms from our garden.

Sladica (Dessert):  Palacinche (From Trieste to Budapest).  Thin Hungarian crepes filled with rum-soaked golden raisins, walnuts and honey, topped with fresh whipped cream.

My friend Chris Zimmerman of Vias Imports provided the evening’s wines:

From Tenuta Luisa (Isonzo del Friuli), a 2011 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, a 2012 Friulano and a 2011 Ribolla Gialla.  From Vie di Romans, also Isonzo del Friuli, a 2010 Flors di Uis.

From Valter Sirk of Goriska Brda, a 2010 Malvazija and a 2010 Rebula.

 The coup de grace was a really wonderful grappa from Udine, Cividina Grappa Artigiana.

We are still recovering.

But if you’d like any of the recipes, let me know.