I have a neighbor who is still deeply invested in her pandemic baking hobby and, because she lives alone, she loves sharing her creations with people on our block. The things she makes are … fine. By every indication, she’s had an awfully lonely year-and-a-half and also depends on making these deliveries for some human contact, but it’s hard to know what to say when she asks for feedback. How should I respond when she asks if I enjoyed the cookies (I didn’t, really)?
All you have to do is say thank you. “I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” “you’ve been trying so many new recipes,” or “you’re a very generous neighbor,” are also options. Stating that you received the baked goods and that you see and appreciate her, not only for her baking, but as a person, will go so much further for her well-being (and yours) than an elaborate lie about the finer points of sourdough.
If you liked one thing more than another, you can absolutely tell her that. “The blondies were my favorite.” You can also try comments that are a bit more specific, like, “It was nice of you to share that batch of brownies, but walnuts aren’t my favorite.” If she asks for direct feedback in a way that feels hard to evade, you could say something along the lines of, “I am so struck by your generosity that it doesn’t feel fair to offer my critiques.”
If you’re not allergic or grossed out or dietarily restricted from something she gives you, consider taking a bite just so you can have a clear conscience to answer her, even if your answers are themselves vague. Your neighbor presumably gets joy not only from giving away her creations but also from baking them. If, in some small way, you are enabling her to have an experience that’s positive for her, that’s valuable, even if you don’t actually eat it all.
Separate from your interactions around food, it’s worth thinking about whether there are other ways you could engage with your neighbor. Could you talk to each other out on the stoop in the evening after work, or find common interests around TV or books or even get a drink outdoors in the neighborhood?
You don’t have to be best friends, but since you know she’s lonely and she’s clearly put in a lot of effort trying to engage with you, if you put a little effort back toward her, she may even ease up on the baking as she finds other social outlets. If nothing else, just continue being polite and wait until she closes the door to put the cookies in the trash.