A nomadic, Austrian, health coach has invited three strangers to dinner at her home in Williamsburg on Wednesday. Her name is Antonia and she is 25. She is the type of free spirited 20-something that Woody Allen dreams are made of. She wears gold rimmed bifocals. Her tie-dyed T-shirt has been dismembered at the arms and waist. Below, she wears silky trousers that could almost pass for pajamas. Her guests are two Brazilian exchange students, who are siblings visiting New York to improve their English and a Columbia University graduate student. The exchange students had stopped Antonia to ask for directions just moments before being invited to dinner.
Antonia moves through Williamsburg comfortably. Due to the spontaneity of her dinner party, she has to stop at Khim’s market on Bedford Street to get more food. Inside the store, Antonia scouts out the aisles for rice. She scans the offerings, and grabs a bag of long grain brown rice. She’s ready to go.
“I’m going to get organic rice, because I believe in organic farming,” she says on her way to the register. “It’s part of my values. I’m a permaculturist.”
At check-out, Antonia doesn’t get a bag. She believes in saving plastic.
The exchange students, Matheus, 17, and Stephanie, 21, are quiet at first, but quickly warm up. They are staying in Jackson Heights, Queens. Antonia says that her cousins used to live there. Her life, it seems, is an open book. She is unusually candid. She is excited to be living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a while. Antonia has lived in Russia, Austria, Central America and China, among other places. She went to NYU– a fact she sneaks in as an afterthought.
When the group arrives to her apartment, Antonia’s roommates are not home. She’d been living with them for just a few weeks, but says that they have been very tolerant of her idiosyncrasies. She asks her guests to remove their shoes if they need to use the restroom. By the time the group settles into the small but efficient kitchen, everyone has bare feet except for Matheus. He wears his socks.
Antonia is a plant-based eater. She is not 100 percent vegan because she eats honey, raw goat’s milk, and has a really cool leather jacket that she loves. For dinner she puts her guests to work cutting root vegetables for stir-fried sweet potatoes, yams, kale, mushrooms, and ginger. As is it Stephanie’s birthday, Antonia designates her “princess,” and asks Matheus to help her make some stovetop popcorn for an appetizer. He dutifully agrees. When the popcorn is fluffy, Antonia seasons it with fresh lime juice, paprika, and a vigorous shake of sea salt.
As the foursome works on dinner, Antonia encourages her new friends to sample raw pieces of kale and sweet potato. “It’s important to eat foods in all their states, as long as it’s healthy,” she affirms. “When you do, you can do more.”
At dinner time, Antonia invites the students to a long wooden dinner table in the living room. Over the food they all discuss privilege, poverty, Brazilian politics, and the media.
“I like to fashion myself a social cross pollinator,” Antonia says. “I bring from over there and bring them here, things from over there and bring them here.” She motions expressively with her hands as she talks.
“How do you say ‘enjoy’ in Portguese?” she asks Matheus and Stephanie.
Antonia speaks “five languages and change,” and had been asking them to teach her simple phrases all day.
“Aproveite,” the siblings reply.
The four enjoy their meals thoroughly.