Each of us knows this scenario very well. You in the middle of baking, in the middle of a messy kitchen, dough on your fingernails and egg white in your hair and then suddenly you realize you’ve run out of sugar. Oh sugar! But then comes the thought of just getting some from the next doors as the chances of two households running out of the same staple ingredient are pretty low.
Neighbour in need
The list of the things that we “borrow” – now that’s a bit of a commonly agreed understatement – is actually pretty impressive. Starting from the kitchen staples such as: sugar, salt, flour, milk, coffee and -eh- parsley, through a selection of practical equipment such as: car seats, mops, mixers, brushes, ladders, hammers, drills and not to forget the extra chairs.
Then of course come all the favours you ask or get asked. Will you mind the dog? Will you mind the cat? Will you mind the kids? Will you water the flowers? We would also check on the alarm, take the deliveries, take the bins out, bring the bins in – to think of it. On a more random note we did the washing when the washing machine was broken, used extra space in the fridge and freezer before the party, fought flooding, chased a cat, rushed the dog to the vet and in general dealt with any other emergencies as they happened.
The important thing is that once you have neighbours that are there for you you do not only feel at home within your own four walls and behind your fence but the entire neighbourhood becomes your safe and happy zone.
I never truly realized the importance of having good neighbours until I happened to have a really terrible ones. They were the typical nightmare neighbours. Always at home. Full of ailments and health conditions yet with an extraordinarily developed and never failing sense of hearing. Always complaining. Always condescending. Always watching your steps. They would moan at any occasion and for any reason. Even for – and this is a real deal – Flashing. The. Toilet. At. Night. The other of my black list neighbours (which in fairness is surprisingly short as mostly people just live and let live) was trying to teach the dog some manners and persuade him not to bark by banging their floor and our ceiling with a brush. Well, they managed to break in – the ceiling not the dog, in the end and we came back to a pile of rubble and to the neighbours who, for once, had to take our complaints onboard. Ever since we always try to meet the neighbours before we move in.
The amazing thing about living close is the chance to share food and in particular be shared the food with. It starts with the usual “I made far more than we can eat” or “I tried this new recipe” or “Just tell me what you think” and what follows is the plate loaded with goodness. Marzipan mini balls baked by Jadzia. Lamb, spinach and blue cheese lasagne invented by Kasia. Asian Christmas glazed ham cooked by Lindsey. All great food with great taste and made with love.
I will always remember the scrambled eggs with wild mushrooms that we were served by Wiesia. We had just moved in together and were both excited and apprehensive about living in a small town when everybody knew everybody and where we didn’t know anybody. Yet we hit a jackpot in our flat on the third floor as we happened to have the greatest neighbour you could possibly dream of – Wiesia. She made us feel so welcome in such a natural and unpretentious way. She popped in one evening to say”hello” and have a cigarette. We had one. After the second one we became friends and after the third one we were sharing stories and chatting our lives away. I loved when she dropped by and I could take a little break from whatever I was doing. So one Sunday afternoon she knocked on the door to invite us for some amazing scramble eggs that she made with the freshly picked wild mushrooms. Simple and delicious. We shared and we laughed and we had some best neighbour time in our life.
One of my favourite cake recipe comes from my grandma’s neighbour – Czesia and reminds me of all my early childhood summers that I spent at my neighbours – running around their orchard, playing hide and seek in the basement, dressing up and playing monopoly aka Eurobusiness. I would go in the morning, often stayed for lunch and many a time for tea. Especially, when this beautiful cake was served.
For some reason my grandma never baked that one but years later my mum found the scribbled recipe in granny’s old cookbook and the perfect summer cake was revived.
My favourite summer fruit meringue cake
300 g flour
200 g unsalted butter
100 g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
5 egg whites
10 tbs caster sugar
300 g red currents, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or a mix of those
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
In a big bowl mix together the flour with the butter. Once combined add the sugar and then the egg yolks. Work with your hands into a smooth dough and spread on the greased spring form making sure to leave the edges slightly higher. Pierce with a fork here and there and put into the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Once the cake is ready and nicely golden take out of the oven and sprinkle with a sugar. That will make the crust on the top and the cake will not get soggy after you add the fruit.
Leave the cake to cool and then arrange the summer fruit on the top. My absolute favourite are the red currents as I love their slightly sour flavour but raspberries and blueberries work fabulously well too. In the autumn I use apples that I chop into fine chunks and heat with a few spoons of sugar until softened.
To finish the cake with the meringue top whisk the egg whites gradually adding the sugar spoon by spoon until fluffy and the firm peaks appear. If you dare – you can test your beating by turning the bowl upside down. Arrange the meringue on the top of the fruit and put into the oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until it’s lovely golden. Take out of the oven and leave to cool a bit. Then cut generous slices.
Enjoy and make sure to share with the neighbours.