You know you have a great host when you walk into her kitchen and stumble upon the birthing of a custard-based dessert. And by "birthing" I mean your host is putting the dessert together, not...um...nevermind.
Of course, Sara wasn't making a Charlotte Russe for the hell of it, but because she was throwing a birthday party that night (her own, in fact; happy belated birthday!) and needed to make sure there would be plenty of tasty, starvation-preventing food. The Charlotte Russe would be the centerpiece dessert.
I watched her every move with the stealth of a hippo. Line springform pan with ladyfingers cut to the same height, mix raspberries into the snow-white custardy goo, pour goo into mold, spatula the goo's surface so its nice and even, then pop into the fridge to set. Those are my horribly insubstantial steps for making a Charlotte Russe.
After being treated to a breakfast for breads and jams and things, Kåre and Diana went off to explore the center of Milan (which ended up being not so exciting, or a little too reminiscent of NYC) while Morten and I...
...geekily surfed the Internet for too many hours.
"What'd you do in Milan, Robyn?"
"I WENT ON THE INTERWEBS."
Yeah. Eat that. Eat it.
Sara fed us at some point during our web surfing spree, which helped keep up our typing and mouse-clicking stamina. Baked carasau bread topped with chunks of tomato, melted gobs of fresh mozzarella, a scattering of basil leaves and chopped onion (or something onion-esque) made for a light, pizza-esque meal. It's probably easy to make—I assume you add some oil and/or salt to the bread besides everything else—but I haven't see carasau bread over here. Shall keep my open. I'm watching you...bread.
After downing the pizza, we moved onto meat pate, or more specifically terrine lièvre Romarin. Oh, glorious thing, a miniature tower of meat. As much as I love sweets, it might be surprising to hear that I don't especially enjoy sweets in the form of spreadable substances. Jams, nut butters, Nutella-esque things—I'll eat them, but probably in an unexcited manner.
So what is it about meat pate that gives it an eye-widening, droolworthy-status? Is it the 75%+ fat content? Is it that all these tasty ground-up meat bits (what kind of meat bits I don't remember, but there may have been some rabbit) have been left to steep in that fat, resulting in super saturated tasty, salty meatness whose deliciousness is intensified when spread upon the surface of freshly toasted bread? And then your teeth sink through the meat fudge, crunch past the bread's nanometer of toastiness, then descend through the soft wheaty innards and...
It just tastes like awesome. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Unfortunately, you can't make eating meat pate a habit unless you plan on dying prematurely. Methink it's not at the top of "Recommended Foods for Healthy Arteries."
The ridiculously tasty meat smashings were followed up by equally tasty (although in a different way) canned peaches. Canned peaches? Awesome? These weren't the slightly slimy, too sweet, too mushy orange-yellow peaches that I was accustomed to—they were vibrantly yellow, crisp, not too sweet and had no trace of sliminess. It was a whole new peach eating experience. Sadly, the likelihood that I will ever find a supply of "Le Pesche del Lago di Monate" is about the same as me losing 20 pounds (no cutting off of limbs; that's cheating).
Morten and I eventually went into the outside world to join up with Kåre and Diana. The black metro stations in Milan felt very different from the tile-lined stations of NYC. Or the white walled ones in Paris. Or the cramped tunnels of London. Or whatever it was like in Brussels, where my housemate and I ended up being the only two people waiting in the station, which was mightily creepy. I'm semi-fascinated by metro systems around the world and derive some kind of excitement from seeing how this kind of public transportation can have so many different implementations. I also like comparing them to NYC's system so I can come up with more reasons for why NYC's subways suck.
(They're not really that bad as long as you don't end up on a train that reroutes itself and takes you to god knows where. And yes, many lines run 24 hours a day, which is one of the best things about the system as long as you take note of the 500 service changes that occur during the wee hours of the night/morning. But my god, there are some things that would make taking the subway so much easier, like GODDAMN MAPS, those visual aids that let you know where the hell you're going. Could it be that no one involved with the MTA has been to another country and seen all the MAPS most stations put up? In the cars? On the station walls? In the corridor to the platform? I might just be a dumbass, but NYC's subway system is so far the most confusing one I've ever taken. And naming the lines all kinds of seemingly random numbers and letters and colors does not help. Be consistent for god's sake. I half expect shapes and symbols to be used for future lines. Or animals. "OHH, I HAVE TO CATCH THE SQUIRREL TRAIN."
Okay, I'm done sounding insane. For now. Oh wait, it's gonna start again soon, right after this closing parenthesis.)
We went to the mega crowded shopping area by the Duomo so that Morten and Kåre could buy some clothing. Is it funny that the guys did all the shopping (at H&M and Zara) while the girls waited idly by?
When we got back to party central (aka Sara's apartment) Morten and Kåre donned their new purchases, Diana changed into a black dress and I...did nothing. Although I had packed a black dress "just in case," I failed to bring it from Bologna. Crap. I should probably wear things like dresses more often, even if there is no special occasion (they sure are comfier than pants), but I'm not used to it. I didn't even start wearing skirts until I was released from the shackles of high school, at which point I realized, "Man these things are freakin' comfy, WHY DIDN'T I DO THIS EARLIER?"
We hobbled around the apartment and munched on potato chips as a random playlist of party-appropriate songs escaped the stereo speakers until the other guests (known as Sara's Posse of Cool People) started to arrive, at which point we started munching on all the other foods. Sara's fresh-from-the-oven olive oil infused and salt-kissed foccacia nearly made me weep, it was so good. So instead of weeping I just went, "OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO GOOD." I tell it like it is, no subtlety required. Other foodstuffs included various quiches (spinach, something with meat, and something else!), olives, dry sausage, and other things resulting in much more food than we could actually eat.
The main course was Sara's secret recipe lasagna. Or not a secret, but I'm calling it a secret since I don't know what the recipe is. It was a little looser than she had expected it to be, but still resulted in a smiling tummy. You just can't go wrong with sheets of pasta, ground meat bits, tomato sauce and cheese. That's four food groups in one bite!
As we lazily sat on the couch (an activity that I'm quite the fan of) while talking and drinking mostly alcoholic beverages—except for Diana and me who prefer plain old H20—a hand reached down from above in the direction of Diana's arm.
"You have to dance!" Dino, Sara's exuberant, very friendly and very Italian (don't ask me what that means; just go with it) friend, had been bopping around to the music with some of Sara's more energetic friends and couldn't ignore the stagnant humans on the couch. Diana was his first victim.
"Oh, no no no..." started Diana, shaking her head, eyes full of fright. Panic time.
"Ohhh no no no, you must dance!" With a wide smile (his default facial expression, I'll admit), he grabbed hold of her arm. Like hell she was going to escape—skinny Asian girl versus tall, strong Italian man, anyone? A spark of excitement formed in my chest at the sight of Diana being whisked away by this charming Italian fellow. In my nearly 10 years of knowing Diana, neither of us had ever seen the other one dance. Probably for the best. We wouldn't dare ruin our reputations of "people who don't dance in public."
So, joining the small throng of dancers in the middle of the living room, they danced. It was adorable. I looked at them without a care in the world. Until...
"You have to dance too, you know!" announced Kåre as he grabbed my arm.
"WHAT THE FUH I DO WUT NOW?" I didn't say that aloud. Oh, what ineloquences my mind creates. Fueled by lolcat speech, no doubt. Instead, while putting on my best, "MRAHAR, NO LIKEY THE DANCEY!" face, I tried to wring free of his grip, which resulted in failure. Seeing how—against all odds and possibly interfering with the alignment of the planets—Diana was made to dance, I realized that I had to ignore my inhibitions and follow through with Kåre's crazy scheme.
He started doing a dance that someone resembled the robot, except it wasn't.
"That's...DRUNKBOT!" I excitedly exclaimed. He was very good at the drunkbot.
I don't know how to dance at all, but movement did occur and sweat poured forth from my pores. I was dancing! Horribly! But no one cared. Sara's husband Patrice, usually a rather quiet and subdued fellow, was dancing up a storm, a dance that could've been the cousin of the drunkbot, like drunkbot mixed with a pogo stick. Even more so because he was a little tipsy. ;)
At some point the drunkbot turned into something involving twirling, something that probably has a real name. Kåre attempted to teach me this "take a few steps, then twirl!" business, but I twirled a bit too far.
"You're supposed to..um, stop at this point," he said while halting my human tornado-esque torque. But that was the best part! The twirling! I probably over-twirled a few times on purpose.
After Kåre had his fill of dancing thing, I thought I was also free to return to my couch potato lifestyle.
But Dino didn't agree.
How can anyone refuse Dino's request/insistence to dance? It's nearly impossible due to a mixture of Italian charm and kung-fu grip. It's a good thing my dancing was only captured in photos—video would've been disastrous.
I'm glad I was forced to leave the comfort of the couch in exchange for a brief bout of failing arms and legs. Really. I doubt it'll happen again anytime soon.
Sara's Charlotte Russe, the thing I had been looking forward to all night to eat, was ready for devouring. The outer ring of the pan was carefully lifted to reveal a perfect fence of ladyfingers holding in a berry-laden center of creamy panna cotta-like innards. (Is a Charlotte Russe pretty much like a ginormous panna cotta? Or a variation of it? That could explain why I like it so much.) It was easy to cut the cake; one ladyfinger per slice! The filling was noticeably low on sweetness, but not in a bad way. Without excess sugar the natural sweetness of berries and cream came through, with an occasional sweet crunch from the ladyfingers. It was refreshing and almost dangerously easy to eat in large quantities.
But there were more sweets. More. In the form of macarons straight from Paris's Pierre Hermé and Ladurée, HOLY SHITBALLS OF FIRE! Sara, aka Ms. Adventures in Italy, was the macaron fairy of the night as she had just come back from a trip to Paris and didn't want to let the goodies go to waste. Kitchen Pantry Sara and I made no attempt to hide our glee and gave some shout of excitement like, "OMGOMGOMG MACARONS YOU BROUGHT THEM."
Are Sara and Sara adorable when they eat macarons? I should've made it a point to take photos of more of my friends while eating macarons. They express such happiness only exceeded by that portrayed in jumping photos.
By the way, Adventures in Italy Sara is all kinds of awesome. It was great to finally meet the woman behind Tour Del Gelato. ;)
The rest of the night was more laid back as the guests had filled themselves with food and wine. Lots of wine.
We gathered round the living room to watch Sara open her gifts and hear her squeals of delight. The more squeal-worthy gift was the Le Crueset Round French Oven, a beautiful bright orange pot that radiated with the deliciousness of things to come. Seriously, that thing GLOWS. Or maybe that was Sara, glowing with happiness.
She was also excited by her new reflector, as shown through her repeated re-folding and whipping out-ing of the disc.
I grabbed Morten's phone as he was exchanging Norwegian text messages with Giso (whom Diana and I stayed with on our trip to Norway). Since I couldn't understand anything there was obviously no harm in letting me read the messages and portray my complete lack of Norwegian phonetics by mangling the pronunciation of everything, even a word as simple as "Jeg" (Norweigian for "I," which is pronounced like, "Yay"...seriously, wtf).
Morten and Kåre got a huge kick out of my Americanized Norwegian.
After Sara's guests left, there were only six sleepy and partially inebriated people (we gals don't drink much...or maybe I shouldn't speak for Sara!) left in the apartment. The men drank some more while the rest of us continued sitting and talking about the successful party, perhaps in a slightly dazed state.
I shall leave you with this.
I hope Morten and Kåre don't mind. Their adorable-ness cannot be contained.
If anyone out there drinks Fernet Branca, contact Ms Adventures in Italy! She's doing some research on the project and would like to talk to any drinkers. If you don't know what it is (like me), you probably don't drink it. YEAH!