Sally Schneider

Outside my apartment door recently, I found a glass plate covered by an inverted pyrex bowl; inside was a slice of a four layer torte, with a little fork. The card read “It’s probably better thawed out. (me too…).”

It was from my neighbor Matthew Sporzynski, a paper artist whom we’ve blogged; he likes to leave surprises for his friends, and has left quite a few for me: huge bouquets of flowers (a moment-past-their-prime, rescued from a florist friend), a little plastic box of hilarious labels (below), the amazing “hope you feel better” gift of a couple of months ago, and the torte, made by his mom: layers of complex flavors: nuts, coffee, apricot jam, cocoa, with an underlacing of a liqueur.

I’ve left Matthew things too, in a shopping bag right outside his door to reciprocate the gesture: some excellent extra-virgin olive oil, a book of type faces I thought he’d like, a little jar of Apricots in Cardamom Syrup held back from a batch I made for a dinner party. Another neighbor, who lived in the top floor penthouse where he kept a rose garden, occasionally left me a vase with fragrant heirloom roses.

The premise of a little gift left secretly outside of the door or on a porch of a friend is a great one.

Sally Schneider

It can be any little thing: a portion of cookies you might have just made or bought, or a book you’ve come across that is right up your neighbor’s alley, some perfect of-the-season farmer’s market treasure like tomatoes, a bunch of lemon verbena (for tea), shell peas…ideas that flow easily out of the moment, improvised. It says “I’m thinking of you, or I’d thought you’d like this…” in a surprising way, evoking connection to a bigger world: a community of neighbors.

Sally Schneider


Check out Matthew’s work here.

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12 replies on “leaving secret (or surprise) presents

  1. I’ve been the very fortunate recipient — TWICE — in the last six months of beautiful bouquets of flowers left on my doorstep. The trouble was that they were anonymous and from a “secret admirer” which drove me more crazy than made me feel happy. I’m not sure why the anonymous gift is so frustrating to me — except, perhaps, money. I’d welcome a giant check in the mail from anonymous!

    Great post, by the way! And I love those stickers.

  2. Oh, that’s a gorgeous slice, & such a sweet sentiment. Do you think you could get the recipe?

  3. I love this! I’m starting an art project which involves creating small things and leaving them in random places for people to find. I love the idea of happy surprises!

  4. What a great project. How are you going to document it?

  5. The art project will be documented at

    Everyone participating will post a photo of their item on the blog before sending it out into the world, and the item will have a tag on it with the web address and an ID number, so if someone finds it they can come to the blog and look it up and leave a comment or send us an email.

  6. i love this.
    and yes, how about that recipe?
    that cake makes my mouth water… i’d love to try to make it too.

  7. It WAS mouthwatering and totally delicious. I wrote Matthew’s mom to see if we might get the recipe. She explained that she’s not secretive about her recipes, and would be happy to pass it on to me for private use BUT the recipe was given to her years ago by some friends of my former husband’s family, and she wouldn’t feel right about the possibility of having them see it in print somewhere…

    We understand. Permissions are essential. Maybe one of these days we’ll figure out that cake without the recipe…chase after its flavors and memory to make our own recipe to share…

  8. Just ‘discovered’ your site from mention on Splendid Table’s THOUGHTS FROM LYNNE email. I love this!!! Sensory ‘plings’ going off all over the place!!! Tastes, memories, smells… connection and experiences with people. Please plant your roots deep on this website — fertile pollination happening.

  9. Just wanted to come back here and say that the art project I mentioned a while ago is finally happening! I left two lovely paper bowls out in the world this morning. It felt strangely transgressive, like something you’re not supposed to do (just give away art that you could sell for money?!) but in a really good way. I hope they bring a smile to someone’s day.

  10. Thanks so much for letting us know. We’ll check it out!

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