Edna Kravitz, the Ropers, Ross and Chandler, Eddie Haskell, George and Weesie, and my personal favorite, Kramer. Who are these people? Neighbors. We’ve all had them. Defined in the crudest terms by their proximity to your dwelling, neighbors as a whole can range from people you nod to in the elevator, to those you trust to keep watch on your home and pets, to someone you report to your landlord (or the authorities). In essence, your own personal version of the ‘Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. I’ve had all types, and from what I’ve heard, so have most of you. Let’s face it, if the essence of real estate is “location, location, LOCATION”, then neighbors are just part of the picture. And if you live like I do, stacked row by row, column by column in an apartment building, they surround you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Let’s say you had Kramer as a neighbor. You’d have someone around who knew how to make an entertaining entrance and was creative with a business idea (the “Man-zier/Bro” was genius). Plus there’s always great value to having someone nearby with a supply of Junior Mints (they’re curiously refreshing.)
My neighbors over the years have spanned quite an interesting slice of humanity. Most I don’t remember, but one or two stand out still though the apartments are long gone. Take the “entrepreneur”. It was my first apartment, and I had the unique pleasure of living on the ground floor with a big window right next to the building’s front door. This meant learning the circadian rhythms of my neighbor’s comings and going. The entrepreneur lived two flights above and opened shop at dusk, selling his wares of the ‘pharmaceutical’ variety to the masses. Before you start thinking I lived in a crack den, let me set you straight. My building was quite a respectable place bordering a very affluent WASP village (because WASP-adjacent is cheap, WASP centric is not.) Beginning at around 6PM and continuing for several hours, a long line of izod and docksider clad prep school boys would buzz the front door then scamper up and down the stairs, securing the evening’s entertainment and fuel. I believe a few free samples were provided to new customers too, because the scamper often accelerated on the way out (good thing those docksiders have non-slip soles.) I never saw or met the shopkeeper, but did on one occasion meet the proprietress. Well, meet is perhaps not the right word. Witnessed would be better…as she was sailing past my window having already exited hers… into the shrubbery below. Seems she too had partaken of the free samples. Never fear though. She walked away unscathed (and in handcuffs). Unfortunately, the shrubbery didn’t fare as well.
When you live in a big city, connecting with your neighbors is a bit more challenging. The sheer number of homes in one building makes it damn near impossible. A sea of smells and sounds behind closed doors, the people attached are often a mystery. A nod or smile in the elevators, maybe some inane weather-related small talk by the mailboxes is pretty much the extent of it. Rarely do you get to know a name, let alone a person. That is, unless they happen to be attached to a furry tail-wagging ambassador of neighborliness. Dogs are the best icebreakers when it comes to getting to know the person attached. There’s no silly small talk. They either like you or they don’t. If they do, you’re in. Their tails start wagging, a head or rump moves in closer for a scratch, and I just know in their little doggy brains they are humming “would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?” And luckily for me, the people on the other end of the leash are awfully nice too.
I recently did a small favor for neighbors of mine (and their pup Valentine), and was surprised with a copy of Jim Lahey’s book My Bread at my door as a lovely thank you. If you aren’t familiar with him, Lahey is the founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery and his breads and pizzas are sublime. This recipe for his basic pizza dough utilizes his “no-knead” method. It’s easy for even a non-baker, and a wonderful palate for countless tasty toppings. The recipe makes enough dough for two 13×18 inch pies (the size of a half sheet pan or sided cookie sheet), so you can make one pizza tonight and stow the rest of the dough in the freezer for the next time.
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Basic Pizza Dough
From My Bread by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste
Makes enough dough for 2 13×18 inch pies
- 3 ¾ cups flour (Lahey’s recipe calls for bread flour, but all-purpose works fine too)
- 1 package (2 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp sugar
- 1 ½ cups room temperature water (about 72 degrees)
- Olive oil for the pans
- One to two 13 x 18 inch sided cookie sheets
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. Cover with bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled (about 2 hours).
Using a rubber spatula or dough scraper, remove the dough onto a floured work surface and gently form into a rough ball. Divide the dough into two halves and cover with a damp towel, spacing about 4 inches apart. Let dough rest 20 minutes. (If you only want to make one pie, after the 20 minutes are up, tightly wrap the second dough in plastic and freeze. When you are ready to use, defrost overnight and bring to room temp before shaping the pie.)
When you are ready to make your pie, oil the cookie sheets. Pick up the dough and invert and stretch to the length of the baking sheet. The floured side should now be facing up and the moist side down on the pan. Using your palms, gently pull, press, and stretch the dough to fill the entire bottom of the pan. Be patient, it will get there. I find it’s easier to press out if I oil my hands with a little olive oil rather than flour them, but both work. You don’t need to make a crust up the sides of the pan, just fill it.
The dough is now ready to top as you like. I’ve picked out a few of my favorites from Lahey’s book below (each of these all make one pie), but feel free to experiment and be as creative as you like!
Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in center
Pizza Funghi – Mushroom Pizza: 1 ¼ lbs cremini mushrooms (baby bellos)-sliced thin, 1 1/3 cups diced onions, 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, 1 tsp salt, 2 ½ tsp extra virgin olive oil. In a bowl toss together the sliced mushrooms, diced onion and thyme. Scatter mixture fairly evenly over dough, putting a little more around the edges (the outside edges tend to brown faster.) Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Bake 25-30 minutes or until mushrooms are starting to turn golden brown and crust is pulling away from pan. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Pizza Cipolla – Onion Pizza: 2 medium onions, 1/3-cup heavy cream, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves. Slice the onions thin (about 1/8 inch) with a mandolin or food processor–you should get about 6 cups. In a medium bowl, toss the onions with the cream, salt and thyme. Spread mixture evenly across the dough, putting a little more on the edges since they tend to cook more quickly. Bake for 30-35 minutes until topping starts to brown and crust pulls away from pan. Don’t worry if some of the onions get dark – it adds to the flavor.