being out-niced by your neighbors, yet again

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.

toile wafer paper1

"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.



  1. As much as I like the idea of being close and friendly with neighbors, this all just sounds…. exhausting.

  2. I admit, it used to be me. Now I turn off all the lights upstairs, go down to the nest by the fireplace with the darlings and ignore the world. Makes the holidays much, much nicer.

  3. We moved here from CA a few years ago and were also shocked by the Southern hospitality. Hailing from NY originally, with sarcasm and skepticism to spare, I’ve grown to love it.

    My neighbors are nice, but I’d rather be hanging out with your Jones’. God love ’em!!

    Happy New Year to all a y’all (I think that’s the second time I’ve written “y’all”. My hand just went numb and fell off.)


  4. Everyones over Game Night!!!! Playing the Wii then board games, take it in people! lol

  5. There’s an episode of Family Guy where the Griffin family temporarily relocates from Rhode Island to Texas. One of the ongoing lines is how the family has trouble adjusting to the change in personalities and how people in Texas can appear to be overly “nice” to someone who grew up elsewhere.

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much. You’re from “New Yahk”. They apply a handicap to you when it comes to comparisons (grin).

    Just keep striving to out-nice them.

  6. In my opinion, these people sound like they have waaaay too much time on their hands. Don’t they know that overdoing it on gifts for people you don’t know that well, tends to make those people feel inadequate and guilty for not reciprocating? If I received a huge box of treats like that, I’d feel required to go out immediately and buy them (or spend hours making) something suitably extravagant, out of plain old social obligation. I think making a tart is nice, particularly since you were making one anyway, but their bag of goodies sounds over the top.

    I’m obviously not Southern, but I was raised to believe you should never give a gift (to friendly acquaintances) unless it’s small enough that they won’t feel obligated to start apologizing for their lack of one for you. Small but thoughtful, and no hard feelings, guilt, or neighborly competition.

    (Stepping off the soapbox now.)

  7. What Nicole said.
    “Don’t they know that overdoing it on gifts for people you don’t know that well tends to make those people feel inadequate and guilty for not reciprocating?”

    Overdoing it like that makes it seem like they have something to prove.

    (I am Midwestern-er)

  8. Yes, why do you need to out-do them? A gift should be given without the expectation of something in return, without comparisons. You are a wonderful hostess, and bringing a bottle of wine or a loaf of fresh bread (or a chocolate mocha tart) to your neighbors when they host is more than enough to show your appreciation.

    Chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds? That sounds delightful, but how would one even go about coating those tiny seeds in chocolate? Or are they coated in groupings?

  9. I’m thinking Dwight vs. Andy on The Office. Anyone remember their out-nicing contest?

    Happy New Year! Let the niceties treat you well in 2010!

  10. My friend has a closet full of perfect hostess gifts. She stocks it with the kids of items you mention, plus things like pretty napkins, fancy cheese spreaders, etc. Unfortunately, she also throws things in there that she receives as hostess gifts. Which means that last time she came over, she gifted me some gorgeous wine accessories. The exact wine accessories I gifted her last time I was over there. (At least they match my taste since I bought them in the first place.) I would really rather do away with the hostess gifts altogether and just bring wine.

  11. We were out-done by our neighbors this year too. I’m originally from Austin and moved to Southern California a couple of years ago….the niceness is a breath of fresh air from almost all the other Californians I have come into contact with.

    We received baked goods from 5 neighbors and were invited to a neighborly gathering at one of their houses with fresh homemade tamales, guacamole, mango margaritas, mexican punch (wonderful spiced cider) and desserts all around. (we’ve only lived here for 3 months). I didn’t know what to expect so we only made baked goods for 4 of them. -yikes! To the fair, I only made ones of the ones who I’ve personally interacted with before and who gave to us before Christmas.

    I agree that hostess gifts should be something that can be consumed by all that evening. – a great bottle of wine or dessert of some kind.

    1. Me too! I usually bring wine and ask if I can contribute to the meal with a side dish or dessert..

  12. When gifting becomes a competition it ceases to be pleasurable. There was nothing wrong with your chocolate tart; in fact it sounds wonderful, but when a neighbor/friend goes overboard that’s an entirely different matter. Southern hospitality it’s not. The term “pissing contest” comes to mind.

  13. Never mind if she went overboard or not. What I want to know is what you’ll be baking for v-day! Please share. I LOVE when you write about food. Also, I ordered some of your food prints for my mom as a gift, and she LOVES them. So happy. Now, get back to that baking!

  14. It’s a southern, Christmas thing. Baskets filled with homemade goodies.
    I wouldn’t read into it too much :)

    1. Author

      Okay, so today, Jan 1, we heard a knock on our door. It was the sweet girls from next door, returning my tart pan… FILLED WITH MORE BAKED GOODS! They baked 8 small sweet potato pies in disposable tins, and placed them on top of my tart pan, covered in foil. AND they brought over a big serving of Black Eyed Peas (so good, with chunks of soft, slow-cooked ham hock), wishing us a happy & prosperous new year. Holy hell. I need to take Martha Stewart lessons.

      1. I think this is the NY cynic in me talking, but this is just starting to get passive aggressive now :p

  15. Okay, now I can kind of understand what you were saying.

    It does kind of become a food war. And kind of amusing when you think about it – what if you sent back food every time she sent food over? How funny would that be.

    Maybe that’s what you should do except fix something like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches next time as a way of saying “You win, beyotch!” Or better yet just slather some pb on saltines and send them over. Heheh. She’ll think you’re out of your mind.

    I think the neighbor probably gets a kick out of reading about her food on your blog ;)

    I’d just enjoy the nibbles she sends, be sure her plates are clean before returning, and say thank you with a big shit-eating grin.

  16. My neighbor out-nice’s me all the time. I eat it up and don’t even try to return the serve. When you live in SoFla, you take what you can get and just don’t give a shit.

  17. Y’all….this isn’t a difficult concept. They aren’t trying to “one-up” or be passive-aggressive.

    Rule One: Never return a dish empty.

    Rule Two: Everyone in your social circle gets baked goods any time you’re making them. For Southern women, “when you’re making them” is basically once a week, and “your social circle” includes the neighbors, your Bible study group, your book club group, and the parents of any child your kid hangs with regularly.

    Rule Three: If someone takes time to make you something extra-nice (I’m looking at you, Ms. Steph), you must do the same in return.

    Want to know how to opt out? Send slightly stale Snickerdoodles in return, every single time. They’ll get the hint.

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