DEAR HARRIETTE: I live in a college town, right next door to about 10 college students. They are all girls, which I like because they are not loud or rowdy. However, my gaggle of neighbors seems to take the phrase "borrow it from your neighbor" literally. I have given them a cup of flour, sugar and occasionally baking soda because they have run out or are short for a recipe.
I learned to make sure I have all of my ingredients before starting a recipe. I don't want to be confrontational with the neighbors, especially since they outnumber me, but I don't want to keep giving out freebies! What can I do to draw the line with these girls? -- Cup of Sugar, Syracuse, New York
DEAR CUP OF SUGAR: Just because your neighbors ask you for recipe ingredients on a regular basis doesn't mean you always have to share. I am all for being a good neighbor; I always encourage people to reach out to their neighbors to form strong bonds. But that doesn't mean you have to end up being their ersatz grocery store. You can tell your neighbor students that you don't have whatever ingredient they want. You can even jokingly tell the truth, that you need to hold on to your ingredients so that you can cook your own food. Since you know what items they typically need, you may also want to offer to pick up some ingredients for them the next time you go shopping. If they agree, ask them to give you the money upfront. Then you can give them the ingredient, receipt and change when you return. Be sure to let them know where you bought it, too, so that next time you can remind them of where to shop.
You can find compassion in the knowledge that you are probably teaching them what's appropriate. College students are not just learning about their educational studies; they are also discovering how to live their lives independent of their parents. The simplest of things could be brand-new for them. Consider yourself their teacher.