Gather the Neighbors and Let’s Party!

We moved into a new home in December, during a very cold and snowy winter…. Let’s just say the neighbors were not likely to be out and about and the lots are much bigger, creating a physical distance as well. In our previous home, just across town, we could spend hours just talking over the fence with our neighbors. We hosted Oktoberfest parties, Bunko games and Christmas parties during the three years we lived there and the neighbors always showed up. Let’s be honest, we missed our fabulous neighbors a lot! It’s not that we didn’t try to meet anyone in our new house. I took trays of Christmas cookies around and introduced myself to those who lived nearest. We hosted a house warming party in January and three couples from the ‘hood’ joined the fun. But by summertime, I was feeling a bit lonely because we barely knew the names of four couples, and we hadn’t developed any sort of relationships. To top it off, we had just taken a river cruise in Provence where a group of 14 NEIGHBORS from Texas were on the ship. Yep, they are such good friends, and neighbors, they were willing to travel halfway across the globe together. The green monster showed up in my mind and heart, and I so desperately wanted to not just know my neighbors but be friends with them!

The decision? I will host a summertime block party and by golly, it will be fun! (Yes, I really can be that determined). Scheduling a date was challenging with the HOA President as our summer schedules seemed to be in perpetual conflict, but finally, August 24 was the day. We began advertising the event about a month out and after two weeks I was convinced there might be 4-6 of us total. A bust. A reminder was emailed one week in advance and we had 25 guests in all – a successful backyard party after all. And the weather was perfect. The food was awesome, a bit on the sweet side (probably 75% of the guests brought a dessert) but no one went home hungry, and everyone left with a smile.

We provided the burgers, dogs, beer, sodas & wine, baked beans and couple desserts, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few recipes with you. (Let’s just say the hubby’s office enjoyed a lot of leftover treats come Monday).

Rhubarb Apple A La Crunch

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups diced rhubarb
1 large apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon until crumbly.

In a 9-inch square pan, pour one half of the crumb mixture, pat lightly with a fork. Spoon the diced rhubarb on top of the crumbs. Add the apple slices.

Combine sugar, water, cornstarch and vanilla. Cook over low heat until clear. Pour this over the rhubarb and apples. Top with remaining crumbles.

Bake in 350° oven for 1 hour. Serve warm. Top with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
*Recipe adapted from Best of Friends, Etc. Cookbook

Huckleberry Muffins

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 egg whites
1 cup Greek plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup huckleberries

In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter; add egg whites, yogurt and vanilla. Mix well. Add dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until moistened. Carefully fold in the huckleberries.

Spoon batter into a greased muffin tin or muffin liners. Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins
*Recipe adapted from Best of Friends, Too! Cookbook

Wild Huckleberry Breakfast Cake

9-10 inch springform baking pan
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 Tbls freshly grated lemon peel
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbls poppy seeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream

2 cups fresh huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbls freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°. In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the lemon peel and egg, beating an additional 2 minutes at medium speed. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, poppy seeds and baking soda; add to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream. Spoon and spread batter over bottom, and 1 inch up the sides of a greased and floured springform pan.

In another bowl, mix together the berries, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tsp flour and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over the batter.

Bake 45-50 minutes at 350°, crust will be golden brown. Remove from oven, cool to warm, remove the sides of pan and glaze with the powdered sugar and lemon juice.
*Recipe taken from Best of Friends, Too! Cookbook

Sassy Baked Beans

2 cans white or pinto beans, drained
2 cans red kidney beans, drained
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp fresh basil, diced
1/2- 3/4 cup honey BBQ sauce
1/4 cup water
1 Tbls fried bacon, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbls Worcestershire
1/4 cup hot mustard
Sliced (or chopped) bacon

Mix all ingredients except bacon slices in a large crockpot and marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. Top casserole with bacon slices and cook on HIGH for 4 hours. Alternatively, mix in a large oven proof dish and bake uncovered at 375° for 45 minutes.

I moved my crockpot insert into the oven for about 30 at 400° to get a more browned top before serving, but depending on your appliance, that may not be necessary.
*Recipe adapted from Best of the Best from Virginia Cookbook II

So, how does the story end?
The gray cloud has lifted, neighbors are waving at one another, and chatting on the street or trail. Sometimes all it takes to create community is to be willing to open your home and welcome them in. I’m so glad we did…