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July 29, 2008

The Neighbors Project

Bodega Box
Hodges and her new neighbor
friends party with the bodega box.

by Mollie Chen

When I moved from a high-rise doorman building to a cute prewar West Village walk-up, my ever-optimistic father anticipated that I would soon have five floors' worth of acquaintances who I could call upon for a cup of sugar or the name of a good locksmith. It's been over a year now and my interactions with my neighbors are limited to hearing the woman across the hall feeding her cats ten times a day and feeling walls vibrate from the musician practicing upstairs. "Met anyone in your building yet?," my dad asks periodically. Nope.

Kit Hodges wasn't necessarily thinking about my empty sugar canister when she founded the Neighbors Project in 2006, but she was reacting to the disturbing disconnect she saw between people and their communities. From Miami to Dubai, architects and New Urbanism disciples are looking for ways to combat suburban sprawl and faceless gentrification. Even in Beijing, a city that notoriously razed its hutongs to make way for new buildings, there is a demand for some form of a neighborhood. (Only there, it takes the form of architect Steven Holl's soaring "Linked Hybrid" complex, eight skyscrapers linked by floating pedestrian walkways.)

For Hodges and the Neighbors Project, the solution is simple: small changes delivered with humor and irreverence. Run by unpaid volunteers in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as a nationwide board, the organization offers small, fun ways to get to know the people across the hall, street, or alleyway--and to work together to improve your collective living space. To wit, there are checklists of neighborly things that everyone from renters to condo boards can do, ranging from creating local gardens and throwing sidewalk sales to organizing a building-wide listserv.

In addition to short 'n' sweet tutorials on getting involved --"How to get a tree on your block in San Francisco" and "How to say hi to a stranger on the street"--the site seems to have pinpointed corner stores as a nexus of social change. Taking a novel approach to locavore living, the Neighbors Project recognizes that, more often than not, grocery shopping means foraging at the corner mini-mart for edibles. To that end, there are tips on getting your corner store to stock more fresh produce (luckily my bodega--that's corner store to non-New Yorkers--is somewhat progressive, with more herbs and fresh fruit than the nearby Gourmet Garage) and a step-by-step guide to throwing a corner-store cooking class. And this August, they'll be introducing the Summer Powell-designed Bodega Party in a Box, an all-in-one kit to merry-making using only items from your neighborhood store. There is a cookbook with recipes (check out the special preview below) from Brooklyn chef Daisy Martinez and food bloggers nationwide, a shopping tote for schlepping your purchases home, plus party invites and festive flag decorations.

Banana Bread Pudding
by Jessica Arnold of 3DayWeekend
Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

In order to make this banana bread pudding, you'll first need to bake banana bread. You'll only need one loaf for the bread pudding, but it's nice to have another loaf. If you're anything like us, you'll find a way to enjoy the remaining loaf (like hot out of the oven, with some butter).

Serves 8 to 10
Drink with coffee or tea

Ingredients:
2 loaves banana bread
Custard
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk 
5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Garnish: 1 banana (optional)
Bourbon Sauce (optional, recipe below): 
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons bourbon, or more to taste

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, beat eggs.
3. Cut banana bread into one-inch cubes (it's okay if it crumbles).
4. Add milk, cream, sugar and vanilla.
5. Add bread cubes and allow them to soak for half an hour, gently pressing the cubes into the custard occasionally.
6. Pour mixture into a baking pan or casserole dish.
7. Optional: Slice a banana into coins, and layer coins on the top of the bread pudding. If garnishing with bananas, bake the bread pudding covered with a sheet of tin foil until the final ten minutes.
8. Bake until set and golden on top, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Bourbon Sauce Directions:
1. Melt butter in small sauce pan.
2. Whisk together sugar and egg and add to sauce pan.
3. Whisk constantly over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes).
4. Allow to cool and add bourbon.

Serve Banana Bread Pudding warm with sauce drizzled on top

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