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Talk Story – How You?

WRITTEN BY SARAH BURCHARD
BORROWING A CUP OF SUGAR

We were not “yell-over-the-fence” neighbors. Another apartment and a trash chute divided us. But a brightly lit hallway illuminated a path that connected us morning, noon and night for a decade in San Francisco as we exchanged the modern-day version of a cup of sugar: food.

“WHEN ARE YOU MAKING 

SOURDOUGH BREAD AGAIN?” 

“NEXT WEEK. I’LL SAVE YOU HALF!” 

“I PICKED UP SOME GORGEOUS STRAWBERRIES AT THE FARMERS MARKET TODAY. 

WANT SOME? STOP BY!”

Our neighbor’s apartment was always unlocked with a cold beer waiting for us in the fridge. Venturing next door to borrow this or that led to an invitation to stay. Our friends slipped a beverage into our hands as they ushered us to their dining room table. The Giants baseball game or evening news murmured in the background as we recapped our day. A bottle of tequila sat in the middle of the table inside a ring of shot glasses for anyone interested in a celebratory toast just for the hell of it.

Fresh bread appeared followed by a block of feta, a dish of locally cured olives, and a bottle of good olive oil as our neighbors made us honorary members of their Greek family. Eventually, a casserole such as moussaka, or whatever they were eating for dinner that night, arrived before us as a napkin materialized over our laps. 

Our friendship was comfortable. I never thought twice about stopping by to ask for a cup of this or a pinch of that. It was not about that anyway; it was about staying connected. This daily dialogue taught me that an ongoing exchange of food between kitchens can deepen a friendship. 

Since I moved to Honolulu, the practice of “borrowing” ingredients and sharing food has multiplied tenfold, not just with my neighbors, but also with pals from all over the island, and strangers, too. Celebrating this connection is a way of life here. 

Friends show up to lunch with bags of homegrown mangos in the summer and pass around sandwich baggies of pipikaula at pau hana. During our first holiday season on island, I was amazed at the number of edible treats that we received: bags of cookies, candies, wine and pie. Even a plastic container of homemade spaghetti with meat sauce wrapped in a red and green bow. 

We started meeting friends for dinner weekly at the same restaurant – a place where regulars line the bar and everyone knows everyone. Every week, someone brings something: barbecue pork ribs from Chinatown, creamy smoked salmon dip, dried fish seasoned with crunchy sea salt, chewy balls of mochi, Chex Mix – you name it. 

This routine exchange of food invites us to elevate ordinary interactions to celebrations. We do not wait for special occasions to acknowledge our connection. We use food to constantly celebrate our time together, our collective abundance, and our essential interdependence as an island community.

It is less about what kind of food we exchange and more about the creation of an ohana through the act of sharing. By bringing food to gatherings, we celebrate the simple act of spending time together. “Borrowing a cup of sugar” from a neighbor becomes an excuse to check in so that we can build and strengthen our connection. 

Through our generosity with food, we also celebrate the abundance mentality that community can generate. Living in an environment where everyone continually gives to one another is largely what evokes the warm, fuzzy feeling that I have developed toward Hawai‘i. Abundance circulates: What you give comes back. The more you give, the more you receive. 

This interdependence feels more important to celebrate now than it did in San Francisco. Maybe it is because we are secluded on a group of islands, made jointly vulnerable by our separation from the rest of the world; that idea alone makes me appreciate my neighbors more. Knowing that my neighbor has an ingredient that I might need in a jam may seem trivial, but it makes me feel supported and safe. It invites me to regularly celebrate the idea that, “We are all in this together.” The more I contribute to and celebrate these powerful facets of our connection, the more I receive from it. 

So, do not be shy. The next time that you are short on an ingredient, instead of running to the store, ask a neighbor. The worst outcome is that they do not have it and you head to the store. The best outcome is that you spark a lifelong friendship. 

Do not wait for an excuse to celebrate. Connection constantly offers one of the worthiest excuses available. [eHI]

Sarah Burchard is a natural foods chef, freelance writer, event coordinator, marketer and certified health coach. She is an advocate for family farms and embodies the phrase: support local. In addition to supporting small wellness-based businesses, writing for local publications and hosting farm-to-table events she leads farmers market tours in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.