I think God blesses us with subtle little miracles when He can.  These quiet little blessings giving us a soft spot to land when life stakes a sucker-punch at us.  I think that’s what I got when my husband and I moved into our little two-street neighborhood.

Jeff and I both wanted to buy a home in the country but had neither the money nor time to find what we wanted. Instead, we settled for a house in a small neighborhood near work and my folks. We were somewhat resistant to suburban living, but chose to settle there all the same.

If you’ve never experienced it, it may be hard to understand, but I submit to you that our little neighborhood has been my salvation and means to sanity time and time again.  Many evenings we all seem to meander out and about and have come to know and love one another. Sometimes it reminds me of living in a dorm… leaving our doors open, wandering in and out of each other’s spaces and never hard pressed to find an ear or a hand.

Terri tending to Jack, my baby boy, while I take a breather one winter afternoon.

We women are the ones that seem to draw from each other the most.  We are single, widowed, married and divorced; have many kids, no kids, grown kids and our first kids; we work part-time, full-time, freelance and are retired.

I got an email from one of the ladies the other night and sensed that she needed some time out of the house.  In no time I’d activated the Facebook tree and within a few minutes saw my friends making their way to my front yard – some with urgency.  Katy said it was all she could do not to run over when she got the message (she has a toddler and a husband with a broken leg).  I think Terri claimed she had to make a run to the Pig and I just simply slipped out the side door (let them wonder!)

In tow were bottles of wine, mismatched glasses, random bottles of beer, a candle and a hand-held radio.  We plopped down on the grass and in the two Adirondack chairs I keep in my front yard for such occasions and began the ritual that has eased me so many times over the years.  We lay upon each other the questions our husbands don’t ask, admit the fatigued frustrations we’ve shown our children, bitch about our jobs, swap recipes and sometimes just nod when that’s all you can do with the blows life deals.

Several months ago I read a passage in a devotional-type book I have that just lit me up from the inside out.  I taped it to my computer monitor so I can read it every day.  It reads,

“Such light, such joy flows from your house. It affects all who come here. Do not feel you have to help them, just love them, shower little courtesies and signs of love on them and they must be helped by you.”

Loving to cook and entertain like I do, everyone often ends up at our house for neighborhood functions, when I need someone to taste-test the latest batch of whatever or when the pool is the only place to escape the heat.  I would really like to believe that the little note I have stuck to the top of my monitor might be true and that my friends might be touched by just an ounce of what they’ve given me over the years.

Here’s to Terri H., Terri A., Katy, Ms. Betty, Debra, Ninja Barb and Rebecca and the ice cream I tried out on several of them this weekend!

Chunky Brownie Chocolate Cheesecake Ice Cream

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 8-oz block cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 pint half and half
  • ¾ cup Dutch cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ pan of brownies, cut into small chunks*

Combine sugar, cream cheese, egg yolks, salt, milk and half and half in a large saucepan over low heat.  Slowly simmer until mixture coats the back of a spoon, 13-15 minutes.  Add cocoa and mix well with a whisk.  Continue to simmer for 2-3 more minutes.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Allow mixture to cool in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.

Pour mixture into the freezer can of an ice cream maker; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Combine brownie chunks with ice cream and spoon into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze for 4 hours.


*no need to go all out on the brownies.  Cook them in a 13×9 pan so that the pieces are thin enough.  When cool, cut into ¾ inch chunks.

Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a contributing writer for the Food & Drink section and is currently working on her first cookbook. Mandy is an award winning recipe writer and judges regional cook-offs and other culinary contests.

“I'm just a gal that likes food. Of course I like to eat, but what I've discovered about myself over the years is that there are more ways for me to enjoy food than just eating it. I like to shop for it, read about it, cook it, entertain with it and write about it. And when it's really good, sometimes I'm tempted to throw it on the floor and roll in it."