One of my favourite aspects of the first two years I spent at Oxford was the sense of being part of a neighbourly community. The Manor was, at least to the outsider, simply a college dorm occupied by 20-somethings, with the same dirty shared kitchens and wine bottles overflowing from the recycling bin. But it was exceptionally convivial--and, I'd like to think, somewhat more sophisticated than its undergraduate counterpart--when it came to preparing and sharing food. Within my extended circle there was a regular tradition of expansive Sunday evening dinners and Tuesday night "tea and cakes," as civilized as the former were often raucous. But whether in search of another mouth to feed, a uncracked wine glass or some washing-up liquid, it was rare that an evening was entirely self-contained or self-sufficient.The nostalgia wanes somewhat when I remember the constant piles of unwashed dishes, or the frequent migration of food and utensils from kitchen to kitchen. But I do miss the casual interactions around food which were commonplace then and all too rare now. I hope that when I again live full-time in a country where my neighbours and I speak the same language, that there will be more knocks on the door in search of flour and, perhaps ultimately, friendship.
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For the time being, though, I take extreme pleasure in the fact that one of the veterans of "tea and cake"--and an extremely dear friend--has moved just a 25 minute walk from my part-time London home. It's not quite close enough to be officially neighbours, but given that he and his wife were last living some 5,000+ miles away in Delhi, I'm willing to overlook the technicality. When we were invited to see their new place, I also had the opportunity to make a home-made housewarming gift, something I'd been looking foward to doing for years.
The molasses spice cookies I chose to bake, as if aware of the auspiciousness of the occasion, expanded exponentially in the oven. But full of spice and molasses (I used heaping measures of the former and a very flavourful version of the latter), they were very tasty, if comically large. If I'm lucky enough to impose more baked goods on nearby friends such as these, I'll be very lucky indeed.
Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets halfway through baking, until outer edges begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.