Dining with Strangers.

Jill: One of the goals of the Vermont trip was for Maya and I to cook together. This goal, it turns out, was the simplest to fulfill, thanks to two complete strangers in a town I, for one, had never heard of before. In our decade (!) of being friends, it’s become clear that Maya and I have two completely different ways of creating a menu. Our disparate styles were on display as we wandered the aisles of the Brattleboro Food Coop, just an hour before we were to cook dinner for our host and hostess for the evening. My menus are inspired by ingredients (which makes sense, as I spend more than 40 hours a week inside a grocery store) while Maya’s are recipe-driven. While I was searching the iPhone for a dessert involving peaches (local ones that were already in my basket), Maya was in the cookbook section, gasping over the differences between a classic Moosewood recipe and its new-edition cousin.


Maya: In my defense, we thought they were vegetarians, and neither of us could think, off the top of our heads, of an appropriate main course that wasn’t pasta-oriented. They were giving us the run of their kitchen—we wanted to show the appropriate amount of gratitude. A stir-fry wasn’t in the cards, so, clearly, we needed some reference material.

Jill: Meet Michael and Jen. Because they allowed us to take over their kitchen within seven minutes of our arrival to their home in the mountains just outside Brattleboro, they are cursed to be lifelong friends with us. That’s how we roll. Michael used to manage a now-defunct grocery in Columbus, and is now a central figure at the Brattleboro Food Coop. Jen, also a short-time Columbus resident, has a dreamy job involving getting local foods into Vermont schools. Needless to say, we had no shortage of conversation topics.


Maya: I’ll admit that as we pulled up to their house, I was a bit nervous. “This is weird, right?” I babbled to Jill, as she just as nervously attempted to guide our large Mustang into their narrow driveway. They put as at ease immediately, though, and made us feel welcome. Which makes sense, I guess. When you’re letting two brand-new acquaintances rummage around in your cabinets, there’s no standing on ceremony.


Jill: I was in charge of the salad and dessert. Because we’d prematurely purchased pricey potatoes at the Burlington Farmers Market, they became a central feature of a salad of roasted beets, greens and goat cheese.

Maya: $12 potatoes! $12!!


Jill: Without discussion, we fell to work in the kitchen. Maya worked on the main course while I automatically started working on secondary chores, such as salad preparation and cutting vegetables. We work well together.

Maya: In the store, we finally decided on Moosewood’s ricotta gnocchi, accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and a basil sauce, then found out that neither of our hosts were vegetarians (anymore, at least). We had no choice but to proceed, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—this recipe might convert the most dyed-in-the-wool meat-eater.


Jill: I must admit that the gnocchi were a little more labor-intensive than my salad and dessert, leaving me time to try some wine and take five dozen photographs of Maya’s progress.


Maya: My hands were too covered with a blend of delicious, locally made mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan-style cheeses to allow for much wine-drinking, but I managed a few sips anyway.


Jill: Our guests were very patient with us, as dinner took much longer than either of us had anticipated.

Maya: Which will not come as a shock to anyone who’s ever been to one of my picnics or parties. It wasn’t my fault this time, though, I swear. Those beets were stubborn customers.


Jill: It was almost 11 p.m. (on a school night) by the time we served up the peach crisp.

Maya: Jill’s Googling skills served us well—warm, über-fresh peaches mingled with grated ginger, and a buttery, crunchy topping sealed the deal. A beautiful note on which to end.


Jill: Once it was determined that neither Maya and I nor Michael and Jen were serial killers, we had a good time, made new friends (like Molly here) and, I’m pleased to say – one of the reasons I love traveling with her – Maya did not overdose on grocery store talk.

Maya: Who doesn’t love grocery store talk? And that dog… so lucky she’s still in Vermont and not in my undersized apartment. Love.


Jill: If Michael and Jen ever make it to Columbus or Brooklyn, we’ll gladly welcome them into our homes. Though maybe, if they’re feeling like normal people, we’ll all just go out to dinner.

Maya: At least that way, they’d be guaranteed a timely meal.

Brattleboro Food Coop
2 Main St
Brattleboro, VT

Ricotta Gnocchi
From The New Moosewood Cookbook

The original Moosewood Cookbook has an entirely different recipe for this dish—less healthy and more time-consuming, but well worth it on both counts. This one is a passable substitute, though.

½ lb. mozzarella cheese
1 large handful parsley
2 large cloves garlic
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup parmesan
1¼ cups flour
Black pepper, to taste
A little butter or olive oil, for brushing
Extra parmesan for the top

1. Fill a large kettle with water and put it up to boil.

2. Meanwhile, grate the mozzarella (the grating attachment of a food processor does this fast) and transfer to medium-sized bowl.

3. Mince the parsley and the garlic – either by hand or in the food processor – and stir this into the grated cheese.

4. Beat together the ricotta and eggs. (You can use the food processor.) Add this to the first mixture, with the salt, parmesan, flour and black pepper. Mix well.

5. When the water boils, reduce heat to a simmer, and drop in small blobs of batter (1 Tbsp. each). Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. The gnocchi will be soft. Refrigerate until 15 minutes before serving.

6. Shortly before serving, heat the broiler. Brush a baking dish with soft butter or olive oil, and arrange the gnocchi in the dish. [I brushed both sides with melted butter as well.] Sprinkle with parmesan and broil until golden. Serve hot.

Peach Crumble
From Baking Bites

5 large, ripe peaches (white or yellow)
½ cup flour
½ cup oats
6 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
3½ tbsp (50g) butter, cold

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.

2. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer on the stovetop. Set a bow of cool water next to it. Cut a shallow X in the bottom of each peach and submerge in simmering water for about 30 seconds. Dunk in cold water, then peel off skin. Repeat with all peaches. Slice peeled peaches into about 10-12 pieces each.

3. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Cut butter into 6 or 8 pieces and rub in to flour mixture to create coarse crumbs.

4. Place peach slices in a pie dish and distribute crumble topping over the top. Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes, until the crumble browns at the edges and the peaches are tender. Let cool for at least 20-30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream or plain.

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4 thoughts on “Dining with Strangers.

  1. Jaydubs says:

    All the food talk is great (and I mean it–I love it!), but I think that dog has captured my heart. What a great photo/lovely dog!

  2. Jill says:

    She almost came home with one of us.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Dinner was delicious! Michael and I were thrilled to have guests at our home, especially guests who cook dinner. :) The potato, beet, arugala salad was the perfect leftover dinner after my oh, so long first day of school on Monday … very yummy. Where can I find the recipe?

  4. Jill says:

    As you can tell, Jennifer, we had a wonderful time. I’ll be posting a recipe soon for the salad. The only differences between this recipe and the one that I’m posting are the potatoes (I simply boiled them and sliced into coins) the dressing (I haphazardly created a dressing out of white wine, olive oil and a little vinegar at your place) and the presentation (yours was all tossed together). This should make sense when you see the new post. Thank you so much (once again) for everything.

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