Howdy, Neighbor.

When I heard a knock on my apartment door a couple of weeks ago, I did what any normal person would do.

I hid.

I wasn’t expecting anyone, I was exhausted, and my living room had requested no visitors because it wasn’t feeling well. I made myself as small as possible and retreated to the kitchen, where the noise of a running faucet might conveniently mask the sound of any future knocking.

It couldn’t have been anyone I knew. I could hear my downstairs neighbor growling like Satchmo to his houseplants. He’s the only person who ever comes to my door and only then to complain that he can hear Blossom Dearie singing through my open window. It couldn’t have been my neighbor across the hall. We don’t speak to each other after the last 3:30 am incident which involved screaming, the vibrating pulse of mediocre Techno-Pop, much profanity, and the involvement of the police I didn’t have to summon.

And it definitely wouldn’t have been his friends who also lived in the building and liked to bang on his door at 2 am on weeknights while wearing nothing but a six-pack of cheap beer in front of their genitalia because, as I could hear one of them drunk whisper, “Dude, it’ll be hilarious!” Their departure from the building was swift and merciful.

 It was a knock that didn’t sound urgent or angry, I wanted to be alone, and so I forgot all about it.

When I opened my door the next morning, I found a note written in cheerful orange ink. Attached to it were two cookies: one chocolate chip and one of the peanut butter variety.

 It was a delightful surprise. It also made me realize that I had been acting like a cynical shut-in.

Their gesture cheered me because they had taken the neighborly welcome and turned it on its head. It’s the pre-existing neighbors who should be offering foodstuffs and assistance to the newly-moved in, not the other way around. However, in this particular building, that wasn’t going to happen.  I admired their spunk. They sent cookies and notes to all the tenants.

I decided to return the favor and send them cookies in return.

But what kind? Chocolate chip and peanut butter were out of the question. I didn’t want them to be too intricate or esoteric. They should be something homey and easily approachable. And not too beautiful because the last thing I wanted to do was show up these nice people in some sort of cookie-baking showdown. But I did want them to be good.

I knew precisely what I wanted to bake for them. Perhaps “precisely” isn’t the right word.

That same week, another display of cookie-related neighborliness occurred at work. Before the dinner rush began at my restaurant, our chef Erik handed me half of an oatmeal cookie and said, “Try this.” I dutifully placed it in my mouth and began to chew.  My tongue had discovered that dried blueberries replaced raisins, much to my raisin-avoiding delight, and there was the occasional bit of white chocolate in the mix as well. The cinnamon was present, but not pushy. It was the best half of an oatmeal cookie I ever remembered eating. I asked him when they were being put on the menu.

“Oh, they’re not mine,” he said, “The woman on table 5 sent them to me. And don’t even think about asking her for the recipe because I already tried.”

Damn. I did approach the lady and thanked her for the cookies she sent, but I didn’t dare ask her for the recipe. Instead, I set about trying to recreate them myself.

I baked off a batch and carried them down to apartment #7, gave a firm rap on the door and waited. Neither Dawn nor Tim were home, so I left the cookies at their door with a thank you/welcome note. That was more than two weeks ago and I have yet to still meet them, which is a pity.

Perhaps they’ve knocked again when I was away at work, or perhaps not. Two things are certain, however: 1.) People who bake cookies and leave nice notes for an entire apartment building are not by nature anti-social, so our eventual meeting is an inevitability and 2.) The next time I hear someone knock on my door, I’m answering it. There might be more food involved.

Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

These cookies, though not exactly the same as those left by the wonder woman at Table 5, are quite good. And, thank heavens, they are easy to make. I’m not normally a white chocolate sort of fellow, but it has its place. That place happens to be in these cookies.

Makes enough cookies to dole out to a 12-unit apartment building, minus the man across the hall.

Ingredients:

• 3/4 cup of softened butter
• 3/4 cup white sugar
• 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
• 2 large eggs
• 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 1/2 cups rolled oats
• 1 1/4 cups dried blueberries
• 1 cup chopped white chocolate

Preparation:

1. Heat your oven to 350°F.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Combine well.

3. Cream the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar with the paddle attachment in your stand mixer or what-have-you until light and fluffy.

4. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and vanilla together until fairly uniform in texture, but not airy.

5. Alternate adding egg mixture and flour mixture to the creamed, sugary butter until everything is combined. Remove paddle, lick it once or twice, then wash.

6. Add oats, blueberries, and white chocolate into the batter until well-mixed. Refrigerate  said batter for at least an hour, covered.

7. Mete out the chilled, firm(er) dough onto an awaiting cookie sheet (I line mine with a silpat, but I imagine un-greased parchment would do perfectly well) by weight (I like 26 grams) or by eyeballing them, if you’re that sort of person. Roll the dough into tight little balls and place on the cookie sheet a dozen at a time. Bake for 8 minutes in the center of your oven, then turn the sheet 180 degrees. Continue baking for about another 6 minutes or until they are done (ovens, like neighbors, vary).

8. Remove from pan from the oven, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to do what the name implies.

9. Serve to your neighbors, to the owner of the coffee-house across the street who is wearing nothing but a Marilyn Monroe wig and an American flag, and to your friends. Or keep them all to yourself and die alone. It’s really up to you.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Sweets and the Like and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Howdy, Neighbor.

  1. Jay Floyd says:

    I just love this story. It bolsters my hope!

  2. Heather Walker says:

    It’s for all of the reasons that you’ve described above that I choose to live in a single family house that is *just* far enough away from my neighbors that I can pretend I didn’t hear them if we sight each other. I like to avoid eye contact much less explicit conversation with most people.
    As for the cookies, I make a damned good oatmeal with dark chocolate and dried cherries. I’m more than willing to try your version, even though I tend to think that white chocolate only has a place in a lemon cookie.

    • I will remember to avoid eye contact with you should we ever meet in person.

      Ooh, cherries. Dried cherries. I like that idea.

      • Cheryl says:

        I can’t believe my friend Heather has ditched me for you. I’m totally going to make you both cookies, and write you both nice notes, but then I’m going to give you her cookies AND her note.

        Also, Dawn and Tim have friendly handwriting. That proves they’re good folk.

        • Heather Walker says:

          really? this is how it’s going to be, Rule? I can’t play with the boy to whom you introduced me? And for the record, I actually did write a comment on your blog before I read this. Even though you wrote about uses of zucchini and I had to rewrite my post multiple times to make it acceptable for a general audience. Honestly — creative uses for zucchini? Like a gift to me, only one I can’t use. (can I get my cookies and note now?)

        • I have the feeling Dawn was the writer of the note, although the style of it does seem vaguely unisex.

          Also, perhaps we could share custody of Heather. I think that would be the fair thing to do.

  3. Elaine says:

    I was just hiding from our next neighbours last night while taking out the garbage & recycling bins. Had to wait until they went away.

  4. So I am glad I am not the only one who has hidden from the door. However I have yet to have cookies left when I didn’t answer. That would change my mind too. Baking the Oatmeal cookies tonight!

  5. PS, you don’t by any chance have this recipe by weight do you?

    • I really should start putting everything into grams, because that is how I prefer to cook and bake. However, I am still learning, so I do not yet have this recipe available by weight.

      I hope the cookies turn out well!

  6. tea_austen says:

    I recently moved and this time I decided I would know my neighbors–at least their names. I didn’t want us not to meet until there was some power outage our earthquake or emergency that necessitated conversation.

    So of course I made them cookies. The way to all good neighbor relationships :-)

    • Clearly, cookies are indeed the way to go. Also, I’ve been considering making nachos for my neighbors and leaving them on their doorsteps. I think I would find their reactions fascinating.

  7. penandra says:

    Having lived in apartments or row houses for most of my adult life, a few years back I moved into a single family home. I know the names of my neighbors (and some of their pets, but few of their children’s names). I have arrived home to a bag of lemons hanging on the door, a box of Santa Rosa plums begging to be made into jelly, bags of boysenberries, tomatoes, etc., there are also a couple of neighbors with whom I swap holiday treats, etc. I find it absolutely delightful, but I understand that this sort of interaction is not for everyone (the former neighbor across the street loved it, the new ones, not so much ;-).

    I am grateful, however, for Dawn and Tim and their gift to you as well as the diner at Table 5 who brought a gift of food to the restaurant! What a delight.

    I am also not a raisin person — but I generally have a selection of dried fruit from Trader Joe’s in the cupboard. These sound delicious — but not delicious enough to turn on the oven. With the triple digit heat we are presently experiencing “inland” (just Altamont side of the Central Valley), I will not be turning the oven on until we have a break in the weather (I got the jelly made before the temperature turned). However, this recipe has been added to my list.

    I have found that I like toasting the oatmeal (in a skillet stovetop) for oatmeal cookies and usually let them sit in the fridge overnight before baking. Hmmmm, I could mix these up tonight and bake them in the early morning tomorrow. I might get to them sooner than I thought!

    BTW, my favorite line in the recipe:

    “Remove paddle, lick it once or twice, then wash.” Ah! My kind of recipe!

    • Where I grew up, all the neighbors new each other and were on very good terms. This came in handy for us because we were the only house on the block it seemed without some sort of fruit-bearing tree or practical garden. We knew who was playing ding dong ditch with us based upon what type of produce was found on our doorstep. Artichokes, tomatoes, lemons, figs, etc. All the things I didn’t care for as a child but now crave as an adult. Sigh.

      I like the idea of refrigerating the dough overnight. I am going to do that the next time I make these, which won’t be for a while because I’ve made these cookies four times in the last couple of weeks and am now temporarily sick of them.

  8. I recently did the ‘baked goods for a new neighbor’ thing for the woman across the street when she moved in. I now have a friend for life. I’m not sure I get the raisin-hate going around these days but I don’t know who doesn’t appreciate a blueberry so good move there.

    • I don’t hate raisins at all. Rather, I merely do not like them in my cookies. In my Raisin Bran, yes. In my glögg, of course. In my cookies, no. I don’t know why. It’s just part of who I am.

  9. Mai says:

    I hide every time I hear knocking on the door too. I even stop whatever I was doing to listen and wait. And I don’t even know who lives next to me. Would cookies help if I want my neighbors to stop being so loud whenever I try to sleep?

  10. Susan says:

    I’m an eyeballing sort of person. I’m glad that you do not use grams because I probably wouldn’t even read the recipe. I guess I’m not a true lover of baking. But I have to say that your recipe does sound delicious and easy enough even for me and I do have all the ingredients except for the dried blueberries. It is on my to do list.

    I’m curious. Did you eventually meet your neighbors? After a weekend of watching twisted movies, the #1 on your list of “things that you know for certain” may need to be removed. (just joking of course)

  11. As always, a charming story of isolation transformed into something far more friendly, by food. Thank you for your witty story telling and kitchen-ready recipes. Here’s to cookie-toting neighbors!

  12. Ellen says:

    I’m moving into a new neighborhood soon and heard the neighbors are courteous but not friendly. I’m hoping something like this might turn them a bit more in our favor. Thanks for the story and the recipe!

  13. Becki King says:

    What a lovely thought. I’m an introvert with a baking disorder, soon to move into a new home in a new neighborhood in a new state. I think I’ll bake a batch of these, summon up my courage, and go round to meet my new neighbors with treats in hand.

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