As she got older, she would often come over to ask us for a favor: help her back out of the garage, help her lift something heavy, help her to reach something by climbing up a ladder. Most times, when we'd do something for her, we could expect a cake to appear within the next few days. We would joke about that, too, ask each other when the cake was coming if we thought we'd done something important. But really, it was a generous gesture, and the most genuine way, for her, to properly express gratitude.
When we moved into our current house, I had pretty low expectations of my neighbors. Besides Mrs. B., I'd had few experiences of close relationships with the people who lived next to us. So I was pleasantly surprised when our neighbors began to become friends.
On one side of us lives a couple who is now in their nineties, an old farmer and vet whose wife reminds me a great deal of Mrs. B., armed year-round with her broom and her sharp tongue. They brought food when our children were born and remember them every birthday and holiday, they lend us things like eggs and garden tools, they look after our house. We shovel them out in the winter, help them with small maintenance tasks, and take an interest in their lives. My husband often sits out on their porch in the evenings with Mr. H., drinking a beer with him and listening to him talk about his years in the war.
On the other side of us lived a woman who was the director of our county's domestic violence agency. She had two older children, but adopted us soon after we moved in: she brought me chicken soup when I was sick, came over with tea to tend to me during the worst of my miscarriages, took in our trash cans, worried over us during visits from our parents, wrote love notes and gave gifts to our children. We baked her birthday cupcakes, shoveled her out in the winter, lent her eggs, listened to her when she needed a convenient ear, and finally, hearts heavy, helped her to sort out her belongings to get rid of some before her move to the West Coast.
Our new neighbor, who moved in when she left, is different: still neighborly, as my husband described him, but not a friend. He waves and makes polite conversation with us when we see him. He bought lemonade when our son was selling it from our driveway. He is still someone who we'd be willing to let borrow our hose and ladder, but not, perhaps, someone who would remember our birthdays, or pick up my son in a bear hug, or take care of us when we're sick, or come over for a lazy beer and talk after the kids go to bed. He often makes a point of telling me how hard he's working (on his house and elsewhere), as if suggesting that I'm somehow not. The other day when I was outside, he asked me where I. was, and, learning he was at camp, asked if there weren't other kids in the neighborhood he could play with if he'd been home. I felt like he was criticizing me, but I didn't feel like telling him it was none of his business, nor did I feel like explaining to him about my job limbo, about what it's like to have two kids who are far apart in age and stage of development spend every waking moment together. He's just not the kind of person I feel I can confide in. After having such fabulous neighbors for seven years, I have to keep reminding myself that just because my neighbor isn't my best friend doesn't mean he's not a good neighbor.
There's been a lot of discussion around my little corner of the blogosphere lately about what makes a good member of the blogging "community." For me, it's a lot like remembering that there are different kinds of neighbors. Though we all live on the same block, our relationships can be very different. Some of them we hold at arms' length, borrowing eggs and garden tools, waving when we see them outside. Some of them come over for tea, take care of us when we are sick, remember our birthdays, become our friends. Some of them argue with us about the fences between our properties. And some of them watch over our houses from behind the venetian blinds, keeping us safe, and occasionally bringing us cake.
What kind of neighbors do you have?
adapted from Fatfree Vegan Kitchen
One of the cakes my neighbor Mrs. B. was known for was her pineapple upside down cake. I had a peach version the other night that reminded me of her. The one I'm posting here today is probably healthier for you than hers was, but it's still baked with love.
1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. sugar
1/8 t. salt
1 c. vanilla soy milk mixed with 1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. lemon zest
4 c. peeled and sliced peaches (about 4 peaches)
1/2 c. brown sugar, divided (2 T. and 6 T.)
6 T. cup natural, raw or brown sugar
2 T. water
Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine the liquid ingredients separately. Set aside without mixing them together.
Combine the peaches with the 2 T. of sugar. Wipe or spray a 10-inch, well-seasoned cast iron skillet with oil. Begin heating it and add 6 T. sugar and the water. Heat and stir until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture is bubbly and slightly reduced (but be careful not to burn it). Place the peaches on top of the sugar and remove from heat.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, stirring briefly, just to moisten. Pour the batter over the peaches, covering them entirely. Bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the edges of the pan and a toothpick comes out clean (about 30-40 minutes).
Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 15-30 minutes, and then run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a large plate or serving platter over the top and invert the skillet. Remove the skillet carefully from the cake, and sprinkle, if desired, with a little bit of extra cinnamon.