We were out-niced again. That’s what comes with living in Austin: Southern Hospitality. And it extends beyond a well-appointed powder room fit with Neiman Marcus hand soaps. It’s beyond handwritten notes on social stationery. Miniature black bottom cheesecakes wrapped in hundred dollar bills are, quite simply, amateur hour. We’re still being out-niced by our neighbors.
Still warm, just out of the oven, a chocolate mocha tart with a brandy-laced walnut pastry crust. "Quick, run it over there," I ask Phil before our friends arrive for board game night. I was sure to double the recipe, a tart for our dinner game night, and one baked special for our neighbor.
Phil returns with our friends, who’ve just arrived with their sweet toddler. They’re carrying all the things that come with sweet toddlers: wipes, diapers, bowling pins. Phil’s holding a festive holiday bag. I assume he’s helping them out; perhaps there’s a bottle of wine tucked in there. Shitballs. I’m reminded that the last time we went to their house, I’d completely forgotten a hostess gift. I suck. So suck. Why can’t I be one of those women who has a closet stocked with beautifully wrapped gifts, right for any occasion? A travel jewelry roll. A fine candle, a set of pewter salad tongs, a gift box of hand soaps.
Then my friend hands me a cold bottle of Prossecco. Wait. What’s in the holiday tote?
"They did it," Phil says. "Hot damn, they did it again." I already know. He doesn’t have to say it. Those goddamn heehaw bastards. "Out-niced us."
I open the gift bag. It’s loaded with cellophane wrapped baked goods, color-coordinated, all marked and labeled: A half-loaf of homemade Banana Bread, a dozen palm-sized Orange Cranberry Scones, a large bag of White Chocolate Mini Pretzels, a box of homemade Cocoa Brownies, a large container of Breakfast Treats*, Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds—all of it courtesy of their family kitchen, aside from the large box of designer truffles (which didn’t fit in the oversized gift bag). Plus a sweet personalized holiday note wishing us joy.
"It really is devastating," Phil says, mid-bite of a brownie.
"They did all this, and here we sent over a tart, no plastic wrap, no dessert tray, no note… I better get started on Valentine’s Day later tonight."
Later tonight came. We were having so much fun with our friends that it was soon 2am. And I thought, this is what we can give our neighbors, dammit. We can have them over for dinner. Except, I must have been thinking aloud because Phil turned to me and said, "Oh, yeah, while I was next door, they invited us over for dinner." I wish I didn’t love our neighbors as much as I do. I’d be a lot thinner.
Experience gifts might be the best ones, and yes, it’s the thought that counts, sure. But dammit to hell, my Valentine’s Day gift pack will make cupid yodel, rub his pot belly, and ask for thirds. Let the Baker’s Joy begin. It’s on.
*These breakfast treats were dressed up, healthed out, Krispies Treats, without the Krispies. Kashi GoLean cereal, slivers of almond, dried cranberries, and melted marshmallows.