brownies

In ALL, LIFE OBSERVATIONS by Stephanie Klein36 Comments

When a new neighbor moved into our neighborhood, my mother insisted we introduce ourselves, welcoming the strangers into the area with baked goods.  We made brownies when the O’Myra family moved in, six houses from ours.  It was the one time I remember wanting to help out in the house, when there was a bowl to lick and uneven edges to sample.  Once they’d cooled from the oven and were cut into squares the tasting began.  An ingredient had been forgotten.  Maybe there wasn’t enough sugar.  "We can’t give them these," my mother said.
"Yeah, they’re gross," Lea added, her mouth full of brownie, her hand reaching for another.  I think we brought them anyway, and years later I babysat the O’Myra children.  Daniel dipped his pretzels in his apple juice.  I wasn’t allowed to turn on a television, not even for a Disney movie.  I didn’t last long as their babysitter.  They wanted me to play airplane or horsey with them.  No one wanted to play barbies.  They were too active for my taste. 

The Jaeger family occupied that house before the O’Myra’s settled in.  Janene and Ellyse, adopted sisters, were my friends.  Ellyse had red hair like mine, but since she was a year older, I was more friendly with Janene.  I don’t know why this was.  I think I might have given Janene a haircut once and cut off all her bangs.  This was back in a time when we were friends with our neighbors, where we baked them things with walnuts and lard without concern of allergies.  That’s how friends were made,or babysitters.  Connections were made.

I don’t know any of my neighbors here, and I’ve never been given anything baked from a stranger.  When I moved in, I baked a loaf of banana bread, though I used whole wheat flour, complete with walnuts and chocolate chips.  I wrapped thick slices of it up and gave it to the women who run the rental office of our development.  I try to do my neighborly part.

Mostly, I’ve made friends through the blog.  Austinites have reached out, offering themselves as guides.  It only really takes making one new friend because they usually have their group of friends, and eventually you all meet.  Baked goods were only once involved, when Katie (the co-worker of a blog reader) invited me to her house for a housewarming party, I baked up carb-free spanikopita (without the phyllo dough… back when I was trying the South Beach Diet), and my friend Wendy brought a box of warm cookies from Tiff’s Treats. I fell in friend-love with Wendy right then and there. 

Recently I’ve made a new friend by getting naked.  She saw me in a thong and still wanted to eat with me, giving friendship the ol’ Girl Scout try.  More on this to come in the next post…

Comments

  1. I miss the time when it was ok to take baked goods from neighbors…I remember this as a little girl. You never thought twice about it, or biting into a homemade caramel apple at Halloween from someone on your block. You brought back a great memory. I miss having maybe a cool or even a nice neighbor such as yourself. Wonderful thoughts towards your babies! It sounds like they are coming right along, don't forget to enjoy these quiet moments now.

  2. I don't know any of my neighbors. Never do, no matter where I live. The postman was holding my mail hostage and the lady at the post office was condescending to me when I kept telling her that NO I did not have anyone else that the postman could leave my package with in the building. "You mean you don't know ANYONE?" she kept asking. "No, just the super!" I loathe my local post office employees. Who are they to pass judgement on me?
    I'm guessing your new friend is from your doctor's visits? I'm anxiously awaiting the next post!

  3. I think neighbors should be good neighbors, but not necessarily friends. I want neighbors who will let me know if anything fishy is going on while we're out and who I can trust to have a set of keys and feed out pets if we're away. I have neighbors like that. They're lovely people, but we're not friends. We also have neighbors who are weekenders. I once summoned the volunteer FD in the middle of the night because their place was vacant, and I smelled smoke. We've jumped each others' cars and on one memorable ocassion lent sugar. Or maybe flour. But we're not friends. And not one of them has seen me naked.

  4. My neighborhood is like those of the past. It is in an older section of Richmond, Virginia, and the tradition of taking baked goods to new neighbors still lives on. When I moved in 9 years ago, the lady who lives in the house behind me brought us a divine pound cake, the best I have ever tasted. Whenever anyone is sick or has a loss in the family, the food begins to arrive. One of my fondest memories was of the day after hurricane Isabel hit several years ago. Everyone in the neighborhood had to empty their freezers, and meal for the next 8 days brought wonderful concoctions cooked on our barbecue grills!

    Although I could use a larger, more handicapped-accessible house, I refuse to move because my children are growing up knowing what 'neighborhood' really means!

  5. Hey Steph!

    Just wanted to let you know, I bought your book—so excited to read it. Whenever you're in NY again, I would love it if you would sign it for me.

    Also, ……..the thong deal. I would LOVE to see a photo of that. Just a request from your fellow perverted lesbian! ;)

    {{hugs}}

  6. I remember those days! We were so friendly with our neighbors our shared fence had a gate door from our backyard to theirs. Now, I'm living in Philly, renting. The neighbors on my block are snobs! The ones on the street that "own" rather then rent don't make us feel welcome at all. I guess they think since we'll be leaving, why make friends? It's disappointing at times..

    I am new to your blog and I absolutely love it. Congratulations on your babies!!

  7. I remember when my husband and I bought our first little house as a married couple. I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter and it was late October. Our neighbor across the street came over the day we moved in with a plate full of homemade Halloween cookies. It was an incredibly touching gesture, and I've never forgotten how welcome it made me feel. Never underestimate the power of baked goods!

    Of course, that neighbor turned out to be one of those know-it-all in your business kind of neighbors, but that's another story……

  8. Hi Stephanie,

    I just wanted to say how much I LOVE your blog! I just discovered it on Monday after reading about it in People magazine and I'm obsessed! I've seen the link to all my friends and describe it as like a "Bonus 7th season of SATC"…. And I'm trying to be really disciplined and read back from the archives FIRST, but it's tough! I saw the Sonogram yesterday and I was so excited for you. I don't know you (although after reading just a few of your posts, I feel like i do and that you're my long lost sister), but I'm soooooo incredibly happy for you! Best wishes with everything.

    And I am getting the book this weekend!

    Cristina :-)

  9. Its kind of sad that everyone are trying to live "their lives" separetely from others and making it almost a big no-no to welcome someone to the neighborhood with freshly baked cookies. When did it start?
    Last time I tried to welcome someone to the neighborhood I felt like I was crazy person running around in the city with poisoned cake. This was only based on their faces. Lord, knows what went on in their heads.
    Just sad!

  10. People often comment on how unfriendly the NorthEast is – especially near NYC. I have moved around a number of times and lived in Virginia, Wash. DC, California, Colorado and am now firmly ensconced in Connecticut, in a commuting town to NYC. This is also the only place where I was greeted by my neighbors with plates of cookies, brownies, and other goodies. I know everyone in my neighborhood, and more importantly, my daughter knows and is known by all our neighbors. It is such a wonderful cocoon I live in. I hope it never ends.

  11. The secret to selling a house or apartment is the lingering smell of baked goods. Not burned!

  12. I take my neighbors baked goods quite often. We also have a neighborhood picnic/cookout and ice cream social once a year too. I live in Northwest Indiana though and the people here are just friendly that way.

  13. When I moved to MN from Montreal, my neighbours all brought over wine: red, white and even the sparkling stuff… How could they have known? I still love them all.

  14. I have lived in places where I didn't know my neighbors. No one to call if there was an emergency. I didn't like that feeling … like we were all skeptical of one another.
    Now we live in a place where everyone knows each other, we all watch out for one another and jump into help whenever needed. We have neighborhood block parties and it is so great. My whole family loves it. But our neighborhood is rare; we all know this …
    And yes, we bring baked goods to the newbie’s …

  15. I am so lucky – where I am the neighbours in my street are basically like family.

    We always spend Christmas with them first before going off to our 'real' family lunch etc.

    Just recently, I made a yummy batch of the creamiest cauliflower soup and took it over – this goes on all the time.

    As people have moved and changed so has the dynamic in the street, but I love it and don't know what I'd do without it there. Wierd!

  16. You didn't have to tease with the thong mystery; you know we'll all be back! I bet you met a mom-to-be at the OBs.

    I make brownies, cookies, anything for new neighbors all the time because when I moved from Chicago to Philly, no one brought us anything and I was sad.

    So I vowed to bring a welcome snack to any new neighbors. It's nice, cuz now I know everyone in the 'hood! And niceness begets niceness — neigbhors bring me shit all the time–flowers, pumpkin cookies, my one dang neighbor brings me something of whatever she's baking ALL the time and I yell at her each time!

    It's fun and nice and kind to share!

  17. I haven't had neighbors like that ever. I hope to eventually have them later in life…hell, I haven't even had a real home in a few years…but when I do, I will make all sorts of yummy baked goods for my neighbors.

  18. Tho I still feel like a kid in my neighborhood (I've been here 27 years), I always walk down the street w/a plate of baked something when someone new moves in. When my next door neighbor moved in 20 years ago, they almost fell over when I brought lemonade too! Always easier to say hi to strangers w/ food in hand!!

  19. Nice idea (to share baked goods), but the thought unfortunately makes me shudder. My son has a severe allergy to peanuts/tree nuts, and something as innocent as a friend's birthday party can be life threatening. My worst fears are the little old ladies who offer him candy (and only ask my permission after he has his dirty little three-year old hands on it.)

    Please think twice before handing out food, even if your intentions are the best…

  20. it's never as easy as it was in college. you had an entire floor of friends who brought over brownies, boys, beer…whatever. those were the days. i lived in california where everyone was your "friend" on a superficial level. it's harder to meet people on the east coast, but they're friends 'till the end. great book, by the way. you're a fantastic writer.

  21. Stephanie, will you being doing a book signing in Austin?

    I'M SCHEDULED TO HAVE A READING/SIGNING AT BOOKPEOPLE ON OCTOBER 4TH. I'D LOVE IT TO BE LIKE A BIG PARTY. LET'S THINK OF SOMETHING FUN FOLLOWING AS WELL. MORE TO COME.

  22. Why aren't people neighborly like this anymore? What happened to "do unto thy neighbor" and what not?! Yum, brownies….that gives me a good idea. I'm craving something and not sure what, now I do!! Be right back…

  23. Stephanie, first off, you're a better neighbor than I am, or ever will be! I've never made anything for any neighbor (or anyone!), mainly because my only cooking skill consist of pouring milk into a bowl of cereal.

    But what I really wanted to tell you is that I've spent the last two evenings up ALL night in bed with your book — a lot of action, I know! But I seriously can't put it down. I've been an avid reader of your blog for quite some time now, and I just love your style, frankness and smart snarkiness. As an aspiring writer myself, I truly look up to you.

    Anyway, your book's FANTASTIC. I've recommended it to everyone I know. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to tonight's date with Straight Up and Dirty. :) Congrats on all your successes and cheers to a healthy, happy pregnancy and beyond.

  24. I wonder if times are different now? Back in the walnut and lard days, I remember neighbors outside talking, sharing, etc. Nowadays, we worry about safety, privacy, security, amber laws, etc. It's a different world now than it was back in those "Wonder Years." But I also think food is the universal language. Barrier breakers. Anything from Klein's kitchen has gotta be a sure-fire way to make neighborly friends.

  25. I have a desire to meet people like that sometimes, but I'm such a nervous nelly that I don't think I could ever be bold enough.

  26. Our neighbors who lived next door when we first moved into our house 8 years ago (and have since moved in the last few years down to OBX because of a job transfer) started a great tradition which I still love and wish my new neighbors would be willing to participate in. I love to cook and always have. She does, too. She brought something over (don't even remember what now, so many things have changed hands between us!) and I returned her dish. So I made something for her and she returned my dish with something on it.

    And so the tradition began. Anytime a dish came into either of our houses, we could never return it empty. It had to returned with something else on it! We got to a point where we tried sneaking and sending things over on paper plates so that the other couldn't reciprocate, but it didn't work. She would get a new paper plate and send something else back. This went off and on for several years before they moved and I miss them dearly. Those are the best kinds of neighbors, and what fun we had with our creative tradition.

  27. I am finding it harder to meet that "group" of friends.
    It seems i meet one person, get together with them and even their family but our relationship is completely seperate from their "group".

    I miss having a group – i haven't had a "group" since high school.
    Can it still happen???

  28. Hi Stephanie….Yes, long gone are the times when neighbors were friendly towards each other….I find myself watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show just to recapture those wonderful days…. I just finished reading your book and I feel like we're old friends who just don't live in the same city…thank you for such an inspiring book, other than our names and ages…we're living parallel lives….
    PS…just met someone on nerve.com =)

  29. You've inspired me to bake something for my new neighbor. Read about your blog in the NYT a long time ago and visited periodically. But now that you live in Austin, I feel like I have much more of a connection. I'm so excited to hear about the babies!! Twins seem like a perfect symetry with the two babies you lost before. Can't wait to hear more about your pregnancy.

  30. If only finding friends in NYC through proximity was as easy as moving into a new house/apt. or baking brownies!

  31. This past week, I locked myself out on my 2nd story balcony. I saw the woman who lives downstairs walking her dog, and asked her to check if my front door was locked, to see if she could let me in, all she did was check, and yell back it was. Then she disappeared! Luckily two of the condo board members happened to walk by, and managed to break into the front door to let me in…they are not only not friends, they're not good neighbors! Welcome to the neighborhood!

  32. Just wanted to let you know that I bought your book for a friend of mine who has never read your blog before. She LOVED it, as I knew that she would. She's now hooked on your blog!

  33. Can you send me the recipe for this banana bread, reading today's entry… it made my mouth water, the hot, mushy banana, the walnuts! Plus the Romantic in me loves this all-American way of welcoming your neighbours. We dont have such a thing in Holland, we simply invite them over for coffee, but how much better wouldn't it be to add a slice of banana bread…

    Thanks from Dutch fan Marjolijn

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