Math Nerds Reunited… by Food

Monica and James

Last month my friend James came to visit for a week from New Jersey. I know James from university – we met during the “Mathematics Advanced Study Semester”, aka “MASS 2000”, at Penn State University (sorta like “study abroad” for math geeks, only you don’t really go abroad, you go to deepest, darkest Pennsylvania, where nobody can find you).

That was a tough semester for both of us, for various reasons not worth reliving, but the major upshot is that we became really good friends and still keep in touch 12 years later. That’s cool, I think.

James at Avebury

This visit was the first time I’d seen James in several years, and we’ve both changed massively since then. And yet, certain aspects of our personalities seem to have followed the same trajectory, which may partially explain why we continue to get along so well.

In particular, our feelings on food. When we first met, I don’t recall us having very discriminating tastes – about exotic as we got was a trip to the Indian buffet. And I don’t remember us EVER cooking anything together.

But this visit was like a revealing – the two of us almost bizarrely in foodie sync. We made epic meals every evening except one (because he spent the day in London) and also did a bit of dining out in the countryside as well. In fact, the days pretty much followed my ideal trajectory: easy-going mornings followed by lunch somewhere nice followed by a bit of sight-seeing followed by long leisurely cooking (and drinking) sessions at home in the evening.

Posh mushrooms on toast

I wanted to jot down the menus from our epic feasts, all of which were amazing – of the meals we created, I can’t think of a single “miss”. There is totally a cookery book waiting to happen here.

Veggie BBQ Night

  • On the grill: eggplant, courgette, fennel, leeks red pepper
  • Flatbread with caraway (adapted from my chapatti recipe)
  • Accoutrements: Hummus, olives, rocket
  • Red wine to drink

This was followed by an amazing cheese plate: Cornish Brie (awesome), mystery cheese (can’t remember, how annoying), Olde Yorke Ewes Cheese (mmm, nice creamy and crumbly), Duchy Organic Stilton (my go-to Stilton). On the side: grapes, crackers, chutneys galore. And absurd amounts of port.

Ravioli Night

Homemade ravioli

James brought me a nifty ravioli maker that we put to use in some classic spinach and ricotta ravioli.

  • Fresh ricotta made by Monica using Carl Legge’s technique
  • Homemade ravioli with spinach and aforementioned fresh ricotta, a joint effort between James and Monica (following a hybrid of the pasta recipe on and the recipe on the pasta flour bag)
  • Simple marinara sauce
  • “Roman style” purple sprouting broccoli, James’ invention, so good
  • Accoutrements: Leftover grilled veg, grana padano, rocket, lots of wine

Ravioli nipples

Fish Taco Night

Fish taco night

Declared winners of taco night were the mango and pineapple salsa and the raw kale salad.

  • Grilled haddock
  • Mango and pineapple salsa, made with mango, red pepper, red onion, pineapple, cilantro and lime
  • Raw kale salad
  • Grilled pineapple
  • Accoutrements: corn tortillas, avocado, lime

Indian Night

Indian Night

We made three recipes from Das Shreedharan’s cookbook, The New Tastes of India. Everything was exceptional, but I think the red pepper curry is the dish we’d both come back to time and time again.

  • Okra curry
  • Red pepper curry
  • Cucumber curry
  • Chapatti
  • Yogurt
  • Rose to drink

Cooking from "A New Taste of India"

Middle Eastern Night

Middle Eastern Night

In our final feast, James was a machine, kicking out all of the hits. The mezze of champions:

  • Greek salad (by James) with spinach, tomato, feta, boiled egg, red onion and green pepper
  • Tzatziki (by James) made with cucumber, garlic and mint
  • Baba ganoush (by James) made with aubergine, tahini, and (I think) olive oil and lemon juice
  • Wholemeal pitta bread (by me), an adaptation of my grilled pitta recipe in which I discovered that SIFTED wholemeal flour makes marvellous pittas!
  • Tabbouleh (by Monica) made using Moro’s tabbouleh recipe published in the Guardian in 2007 (I love this recipe)
  • Accoutrements: raw veggies, pistachios, pomegranate
  • Red wine to drink

How we managed to fit in another cheese plate, I don’t know, but we did it with gusto and it was spectacular:

Cheese plate to end all cheese plates

In addition to our epic feasts, we also enjoyed a few delicious meals out, particular at the Village Pub in Bibury and The Bell at Sapperton. We also had a very average meal at The Ship in Pewsey but loved being at a pub that wasn’t full of rich people and didn’t mind our “squeaky” dog (Rocky doesn’t quite have the hang of the pub yet). James had fish & chips on three separate occasions. I reckon The Village Pub’s was most impressive:

James 2nd Fish & Chips

The only way I know to end this post is with a big bear hug of a thank you to James for flying all the way out here and coming to visit me in my far flung little cottage. Thanks also for all the wonderful treats you brought me. Check out this goodie bag:

Goodies from James

The loot: L’Occitane Hand Cream (cuz people who swim and bake lots of bread are totally susceptible to dry hands!); groovy cheese knives (I thing the artichoke edition is my favourite); ravioli maker (it took us both brains and two tries to figure out, but it’s awesome); and a super cute apron that is just begging to be employed during a warm summer barbecue (come on tank top weather!).

And finally, a requisite Stonehenge shot:


More pictures!! Of food, England and Rocky in the Flickr photoset: James in England

9 thoughts on “Math Nerds Reunited… by Food

  1. Dottie Shaw

    What a great post… it’s hard to believe all this was accomplished in less than one short week! Math nerds seem to possess the proper ration of left/right brain to crank out massive amounts of wonderful food! I love the apron he found, it’s perfect. All his gifts were so thoughtful and right. A cookery book is in order… for the chapter on the Mediterranean meal I suggest a title “Geek Meets Greek”…. oops, was that Middle Eastern Night? Well, you get the idea… 🙂

  2. Toddy

    I really really enjoyed reading that! Was wondering how you used up the whey from the ricotta? That’s exactly how I make paneer, but have read various recipes, and find vinegar taste taints the paneer too much, and yoghurt doesn’t yield enough, so we use lemon juice. I love the whey to drink with a little cordial, or it makes amazing bread.
    I do hope you figure out what the mystery cheese was!
    Having read this all, I’m not at ALL surprised you wanted a food rest! Lol!
    Thanks for sharing, and yes, I will buy the book! 🙂

    1. Monica Post author

      Hey Toddy! I love to freeze my whey in ice cube trays and use it in smoothies. I’ve heard it’s great in bread but haven’t tried it yet. Paneer is also something I’ve been meaning to try – I gather you just strain it for longer?

      Meanwhile – I’m on the case for the mystery cheese. It’s a caper that may require yet another trip to the Waitrose cheese counter. I swear, pretty soon they’ll know me by name.

  3. Steve Shaw

    Looks like a food extravaganza. I wonder if James managed to push that Avebury rock. We might be in for a total eclipse then! Love those fish and chips, can’t really get them here like they made in Bradford on Avon!

  4. Jes

    Whoa, blown away by your epic foodie nights! I can’t even imagine the delicious leftovers! And that cheese, *swoon*. Everyone says France is all about the cheese, but I’ll take the British cheese I tried any day. Stilton & cheddar ftw!

    1. Monica Post author

      It was a little over the top – but in the best way possible. And yes, I’m still reaping the benefits of the leftovers (lots of okra curry stashed in the freezer – and still plenty of cheese). I looove English cheeses, especially the ewes cheese. I wonder how Cornish brie would stand up to French brie in a side-by-side taste test…


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