I recently attended a special housewarming for Belinda, the lady across the street.
The first time I ever saw Belinda she was wearing her bathrobe and dragging a heavy trash bag down the street to a neighbor’s construction dumpster. In her high heels. Brad’s infamous party had come and gone without many injuries or any severe property damage and our street actually seemed close to regaining its regular serenity.
Then Belinda moved in — right across the street to be exact.
When Belinda finally ventured across the street to introduce herself to us she became practically unhinged at learning we were a happily married gay couple.
“Oh my GOD! Faaaabulous! How could I get so lucky?!”
She winked at me when she said it. It was as if uttering “fabulous” the way she did she was offering me some code word for “I’m cool with the gays.” (Actually, it is. Shhh.) I marveled at her skill in making something as personal as our marriage into something about her all in under 5 minutes.
“I can’t wait until we are best friends! We will be right? I can’t wait until you I have my housewarming party and I can get to know you! Oh, I know we will be dear friends! I will be Grace and you [turning to look at me] … can be my Will.”
Ugh. She seemed to be favoring me so it meant it would be my job this time around to fend off the unwanted Grace in our midst. Its not that I didn’t like Belinda. It was just that, um, I didn’t like her. At least not in that Grace way .
In the coming days Belinda would be pushy in the face of my ardent disinterest and quite unwilling to give any notice to all the the verbal and non-verbal cues I was throwing in her direction.
She would just assume that I would know which of her many shoes would go best with her vintage Emilio Pucci knee-length halter dress (the tall white boots and please take off that neck jewelry!) Or, would I mind giving her an honest opinion of the red semi-permanent hair rinse she had just put through her hair. (It looked a bit trashy, girl.) I even turned down her weekly invitations to play $25,000 pyramid with her work friends because that just sounded too much like that other Will and Grace for my comfort. (I would have won though.)
I was dreading her housewarming party.
What Belinda needed I just didn’t have the time to give her. I already have a Grace. In fact, I am lucky enough to have more than one and let me tell you, they take time. Graces are great. I love my Graces. (Or is it “Greece”?) I have several Greece and I’m not looking for any more at this particular time.
There is only so much time in my day.and so fended her off. My bad.
Her housewarming invitation never came. Then I heard from Brad that Belinda was dealing with an impending divorce and it had now finally come through. Brad told us it was very messy and involved physically violent situations with her husband. The purchase of the condo just across the street was her escape.
Nobody had heard from her in a few days; I felt horrible for enjoying the neighborhood quiet so much. Once I heard about the divorce my newfound serenity transformed into anxiety. More than a bit of shame too.
Was Belinda ok? Did she need a shoulder to cry on? Did she need a…[wince]… “Will” to coax her out of her depression?
I realized that Belinda would probably need some kindness about now. Maybe she’d need a party? A housewarming party! I should have known better than to not find some time for someone who was just asking for a friend. Rather than stand on ceremony I decided I would go across the street and see what I could do to lift her spirits. I’d throw Belinda a housewarming party. Just the two of us.
While thumbing through my copy of Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito I spied this recipe for Double Chocolate Loaf with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Spread. Chocolate and Peanut Butter seemed just the type of kindness a woman distraught over her divorce might appreciate. Anywhere there is peanut butter its a party, right?
Besides, I suggest to you that when you aren’t quite sure what to say to someone in need, baked goods will find the right words for you. Baked’s authors suggest that this particular loaf is the “ultimate gift” and so they suggest doubling the recipe. I did.
The Universe was certainly sending me a message. Make chocolate loaf and go on a neighborly visit.
I wrapped up a still-warm loaf in parchment, put some peanut butter cream cheese in a jar and sheepishly walked across the street, somewhat ashamed that I hadn’t been more available earlier. Maybe if I had she would not be hiding away in the house, distraught and unable to face the neighbors.
But as I approached the door I could hear loud music. When the door opened I saw a woman not cowering in despair but rather in the midst of a loud and happy celebration. A party all by herself! Even though I had interrupted her good time she invited me in.
Her housewarming for one was now a party of two. And yes, it stung a bit when I realized that Belinda had time for me to come in but I had not recently shown her the same considerations.
You know what? I had a blast at our housewarming for two!
I presented her with my double-chocolate offering and we toasted her newfound freedom with a bottle of very expensive bubbly. And then another. And another.
We played poker, we danced, we looked at pictures and funny videos. We laughed until it hurt and boy did we drink. We gossiped, we told the stories of our lives. and we drank some more. It was a housewarming for two but we drank for dozens. When a lady in 6 inch heels switches from 2 bottles of champagne to tequila shots and can still demonstrate for you a perfect runway walk (with pivot and turn) you pretty much get the idea that she knows her way around a liquor bottle and a good time
Belinda wasn’t needy at all. She was fabulous. She was starting her life over and very excited about it. She is rebuilding and knew just how she wanted it to be and the type of people she wanted in it.
I left feeling nothing but admiration for her.
So the moral of the story here is you should not assume too much about the new people who come into your world. Take the time to listen and get their stories. You could really be missing out on someone great.
Belinda came in and tried out for the role of my “Grace” and instead won the part of “Karen”. Cheers Belinda. Happy housewarming!
Double Chocolate Bread With Peanut Butter Spread
adapted from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
This is what you will need:
- 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped
- 5 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
This is how you make it:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position the rack in the center.
- Butter a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan, dust it with flour, and knock out the excess flour.
- Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Press out any lumps with the back of a large spoon.
- Add the cocoa, flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until blended, then add the buttermilk,oil, and vanilla; whisk until combined.
- Turn the mixer to low and slowly stream the wet ingredients into the dry ones, mixing just until combined.
- Stir in the dark chocolate chunks by hand.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth.
- Add the sugar and beat until incorporated. (If you are not using the spread immediately, place it in a ramekin, tightly cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.)
- Serve the loaf plain or toasted, topped with the peanut butter spread.