Our neighbors are moving. Often, that is a statement that would be made with some sadness and additional detail: Our neighbors are moving and we’ll miss them – they were so friendly. Our neighbors are moving, and I hope the new neighbors keep the place up as well as they did. Our neighbors are moving; such a shame about the divorce.
Here’s mine: Our neighbors are moving, and I hope they take their landscaping with them.
Now, I’m all for things that are unique – quirky, even. If I had neighbors that painted their house, say, orange, I’d be the one smiling and saying, hooray for houses that aren’t beige! But their quirky is not my kind of quirky, and judging by how long it took them to sell their house, it’s not most people’s kind of quirky, nor the kind of quirky most people could overlook easily.
Their kind of quirky is the kind of quirky that says, We’re antisocial – go away.
You can’t really see the house, hidden as it is behind what their real estate agent diplomatically described as “mature landscaping.” The trees and shrubs are indeed mature – they were planted probably 15 years ago when the house was built, filling the entire area where most people would have a lawn, and then left to grow unchecked. And grow they did. Good thing, too, because they have a large van they park on the one shrub-free area on their front lawn. You can’t tell it’s parked there, so completely is it hidden. For a while, they had a boat there, and they parked the van on the other side of the garage.
That’s right – a van on one side of the garage, a boat on the other, all concealed by overgrown landscaping.
Why not just put your vehicles in your garage – your three-car garage? I have often wondered about this.
It turns out that they can’t park in the garage, because that’s where the spa is – the immense jetted hot tub, surrounded by jungle-themed wallpaper, from which you can enjoy movies on the plasma screen tv and stereo surround sound.
I don’t know this because I’ve been invited over, and in fact, I’ve never seen anyone parked outside as though someone was visiting – though possibly there is another secret parking space behind all the shrubbery. I know this because I saw the pictures on the real-estate listing, the first time the house was put up for sale. That’s also how I know about the pool table in the formal living room. I looked at the listing and thought, wow, if I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a frat house for sale.
But it isn’t. It’s the house of the people who don’t say hello, and pretend they weren’t actually going to get their mail when there’s a chance they might have to say hello to you at the mailbox. The people who turn off their lights on Halloween. The people who slammed their door in my face when I stopped by to ask if the mailman delivered a missing package to them.
The first time the house was put up for sale, it remained listed for two years, during which time another house on the street – by the same builder, with an identical floor plan, but also a nice grassy yard and a garage one could use for the traditional cars and boxes of stuff. The owners of the quirky house took their house off the market, but then over the last few months, the market heated up, and apparently they decided to try their luck again. I got nervous when a friend put her own house up for sale and it sold in a day, because the quirky house was still sitting there after two months: Apparently, that’s how it goes these days – it sells in a day, or not at all. I panicked a bit. So did all the other neighbors.
We waited and watched, and then one day, a realtor friend emailed me: You are getting new neighbors!
I will greet them, I said. I will bring them a plate of baked goods and my landscaper’s phone number.
I will probably bring them a tray of these Crispy Rice treats, which I found in Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook (Flour being the name of her Boston bakery). I know what you’re thinking: I already have this recipe, off the back of the cereal box.
No, you don’t. Not this recipe.
Chang takes the usual melted-butter-and-marshmallow and amps it up a notch, browning the butter to get a richer, nuttier taste from it, but more importantly, adding vanilla bean to it as it cooks. It sounds like a little thing, because not much else has changed, but in fact, it changes everything: The treats are suddenly more richly flavored, mellower, and yet still familiar. Something’s better, but you don’t quite know what – partly because everything else is the same, and they surely don’t look any different. They are a wonderful surprise.
The Child thought they were fantastic, and devoured half the treats before I realized what was happening and stopped her. They are sooooo good! she declared.
It’s funny how just a couple of little, simple changes can make a huge difference. Here’s hoping that my new neighbors, on seeing that quirky house, also saw that a few changes could improve things – because as excited as I was to see that SOLD sign go up, I also know they might have bought the place because of the quirks, rather than in spite of them.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 2 10-oz bags marshmallows
- ½ tsp salt
- 9 cups crisp rice cereal
- Butter a 9x13 pan and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. As the butter melts, use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the butter. Reserve the remaining pod for another use.
- Once the butter melts, it will start to bubble and crackle. Listen and watch closely, and when the crackling sound subsides and the butter begins to turn brown, after about five minutes, add the marshmallows and salt. Stir constantly until the marshmallows are completely melted.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the cereal, stirring well to coat evenly. Turn the mixture into the buttered pan, and pat into an even layer. Let cool for an hour; cut into 12 pieces.