Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Recap of the September Swap

Sunday marked the return of the Chicago Food Swap after a two-month break. The September swap was the first event in the Chicago Food Swap’s new, permanent home, the Fearless Food Kitchen in the Broadway Armory field house. This roomy, light-filled teaching kitchen, operated by the community gardening nonprofit Peterson Garden Project, makes a perfect location for a food swap: its pristine stainless steel counters and rustic farm table provide more than enough space for swappers to set up their wares. I could not be more grateful to have found a home for the food swap at this moment in our history and what a beautiful home it is.

One of the highlights of the September swap was the presence of our sponsor, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. A local company, Nielsen-Massey makes the finest vanilla extract that I have ever used. Ask a professional pastry chef or candy-maker what vanilla he or she uses and I guarantee that the answer will be Nielsen-Massey. Of course, Nielsen-Massey also makes many other flavorings, including those pictured above. At the swap, representatives from Nielsen-Massey brought three different vanillas for the swappers to smell, which was fascinating. (Oh that Tahitian vanilla!) And everyone got to take home a 2 oz. sample of Nielsen-Massey’s signature Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract.  What a great addition to the swap!

Chicago food swap
It was heart-warming to see so many familiar faces at Sunday’s swap, especially after a two-month hiatus, and there were many new faces as well. Plainly folks were ready for decorative gourd season because I saw a lot of pumpkin goodies, from my own pumpkin cupcakes with spiced buttercream and Gena’s pumpkin chocolate mini Bundt cakes to Hope’s gluten-free pumpkin poppers. And if a baked good wasn’t pumpkin-flavored, it was apple flavored, like Emmie’s apple scones and Morgan’s apple cider caramels.
chicago food swap
September being the end of summer canning season, many people had brought food in jars, from jams and jellies to pickles. I brought apricot butter and pickled beets myself. I also saw pickled okra, pickled grape tomatoes, and pickled cherries and a wide variety of really unusual and creative jams. Swapper Christina opted to use some of her homemade jams in these beautiful jam tarts.
chicago food swap
I always say that there is not enough savory stuff at the swap, and Sunday was no exception. But, I noticed at least four swappers offering soup and they were all mobbed with offers, including some from me. I came home with red lentil soup from Laura, vegetarian chili from vegan swapper Betsy and cream of potato and celery soup from veteran swapper Chris. To go with that soup, naturally I had to swap for some sourdough naan! I beat out another swapper for the last of Sandy’s vegetable pasta salad and it made a terrific lunch today.
soup at the chicago food swap
But, of course, the sweets were as popular as always. Jennifer, AKA The Marshmallow Fairy, was back with her amazing flavored confections, made with Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste naturally, and some honey from her own bees. That honey was probably the hottest item at the swap. I was also very impressed with chocolate raspberry macarons brought by a new swapper and could not resist bringing some home, even though Zuzu can’t eat them due to her nut allergy and my husband won’t eat them because of an irrational prejudice against raspberry.
chicago food swap
Among the other offerings were drink syrups, several kinds of hummus, tomatillo sauce, hot sauce, preserved lemons, fresh pasta, compound butter and so much more. The creativity and skill demonstrated by the Chicago Food Swap community never fails to impress. So why not join us for the next swap? It’s happening on October 19 at 2 pm back at the Fearless Food Kitchen. Registration is open. Hope to see many of you there!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Announcing the September Swap

Registration has opened for the September 28 food swap! You can purchase your ticket for $5 on EventBrite. The proceeds from the ticket sales will help to defray the costs of running the swap, including printing and supplies. Any additional proceeds will be donated to Peterson Garden Project as a thank-you for hosting the swap and in recognition of the amazing work they do in our community.

As explained earlier, the site for the September swap, and indeed all of our fall swaps, will be the Fearless Food Kitchen, which is located on the second floor of the Broadway Armory Fieldhouse. This brand-spanking-new space is roomy, filled with light and has plenty of table and counter space to display swap items. We are fortunate indeed to have this new, permanent home for our events. So, I hope that you will join us for our inaugural swap at the Fearless Food Kitchen.

Here is another reason to join us on September 28: a great sponsor! We are delighted to announce that local company, and maker of the finest extracts and vanillas, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, will be a Table Sponsor at the September swap. A representative from the company will be on hand to answer questions, provide recipes and, yes, give away samples! So that should give you an extra incentive to register.

Registration for the September 28 swap is already 1/3 full so do not delay! Buy your ticket and join us at the end of the month for what will surely be one of the best swaps yet.

July Swap Recap

The Chicago Food Swap returned to Wicker Park, and the funky confines of co-working loft Free Range Office, for its July swap. It was a small but lively gathering peopled mostly by returning swappers with a few new faces scattered here and there.
Located on the second floor of a converted glove factory, Free Range Office is filled with light and many original features. Freelancers, entrepreneurs, creative types, and anyone who is self-employed can rent office space at Free Range Office and access the company’s many amenities. The space is open, features a full kitchen and has plenty of private nooks and crannies for meetings. Free Range Office is also available for events, such as showers and oarties. With plenty of tables and counter space, it is an ideal spot for a food swap, which is why we returned.  Huge thanks to Liane, the owner of Free Range Office for hosting us a second time.
The offerings at the July swap reflected the fact that summer is in full swing in Chicago. Many swappers brought herbs, vegetables and fruit from their backyards and community garden plots. Still other used their homegrown produce to create delicious swap items, such as Christina’s goat cheese polenta tarts with roasted cherry tomatoes. (Reader, I ate one for dinner and it was heaven.)
The season’s abundance was also on display in the many jams, jellies and pickles available for swapping. I saw two kinds of pickled cherries — something we dubbed the “Food in Jars effect” — cucumber pickles, pickled okra, pickled red onions, peach jam, and raspberry jam. I myself brought black raspberry jam, apricot butter and sour cherry syrup — all products of several week’s worth of recipe testing for my food swap cookbook.
Some of the baked goods up for swap also had a seasonal component such as the peach-ginger hand pies (got ‘em), the chocolate zucchini cake, Karen’s adorable cherry pies in a jar and Patty’s yogurt cake with red currants (got one). Others were more timeless but equally delicious, such as new mom Laura’s chamomile cupcakes with honey glaze (got ‘em), Kat’s scones from her grandmother’s recipe, handmade chocolates from new swapper Tala, and shortbread.
While there were a lot of sweets, and I managed to take home many of them, several swappers had creative savory offerings. A new swapper, Lou, brought handmade pasta, which is always exciting to see. Another new swapper brought vegan pot pies made with seitan. Our veteran vegan swappers, Ian and Alison, were rather excited. Another veteran swapper, Pamela, who over time has brought some of the most interesting items I’ve seen, did not disappoint with her spicy squid salad and onion omelet rolls.
Breakfast was covered in the form of granola,  homemade English muffins and Asiago bagels (got ‘em). And for your dipping pleasure: chimichurri, beet tahini dip, carrot ginger dressing, and a North African pepper and eggplant dip that tastes exactly like something I used to eat in France with my Pied-Noir host family.
Summer is a busy time for everyone so the July swap had less than thirty attendees, but a small, intimate swap is always fun. People have more time to chat and the actual swapping is less chaotic. I know I appreciated the low-key vibe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Announcing the Dates and Location for Fall Swaps

Welcome to our new home! This beautiful new kitchen facility is the Fearless Food Kitchen, a new effort by our friends at the Peterson Garden Project. Located in the Broadway Armory in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, the Fearless Food Kitchen will be a teaching kitchen and event space for the local community and beyond. Peterson Garden Project has also offered the use of the Fearless Food Kitchen once a month for Chicago Food Swap events. And we could not be more excited.

Starting in September, the Chicago Food Swap will be meeting monthly at the Fearless Food Kitchen. As you can see, the kitchen will accommodate a large number of swappers with plenty of table and counter space to display all those toothsome swap items. With abundant light from the overhead skylights, a brick fireplace in the corner and the El tracks right outside the window, the Fearless Food Kitchen is loaded with charm and character. Having a permanent home will bring a new measure of stability to the Chicago Food Swap and for that, Emily is extremely grateful.

Also starting in September, there will be a $5 registration fee to participate in the Chicago Food Swap. The proceeds from this fee will be used first to cover any costs of running the swap, such as printing and supplies. Emily will donate remaining proceeds to Peterson Garden Project in recognition of its support and for letting us use this wonderful space. If you have any concerns or questions about this change, please feel free to ask Emily.

Without further ado, here are the dates for the fall swaps. All swaps start at 2 pm.

  • September 28
  • October 19
  • November 16
It is not clear at this time whether there will be a swap in December. Stay tuned for more information on that.

Meanwhile, there are still spots in the July 20 swap at Free Range Office. Register today

June Swap Recap

For a foodie event, there is hardly a more prestigious location than Sur La Table, the beloved kitchenwares emporium. So when Ali Banks, the resident chef at Chicago’s swanky Sur La Table store on Michigan Avenue, reached out to me about hosting a food swap in her kitchen, I was falling over myself to say yes.
While Michigan Avenue is inevitably choked with tourists at this time of year and parking in that neighborhood costs a million dollars a minute, how could I resist holding a swap in Sur La Table’s stunning demonstration kitchen surrounded by all the ingredients, gadgets and tools that a food-lover could want?
chicago food swap
So it was that a group of dedicated cooks and food-swappers fought the traffic on a summer Sunday — parking God only knows where — and lugged bags full of homemade and homegrown goodies past designer boutiques up to the third floor of 900 North Michigan where the Sur La Table is located.
Some of the swappers were seasoned veterans, happy to reconnect with old friends. Others were newcomers, having only recently heard about the Chicago Food Swap from a piece on Chicago’s NPR station by food writer Monica Eng.  All, however, were excited about being in the stunning teaching kitchen and taking advantage of the generous discount that Ali had offered the swappers to shop Sur La Table‘s summer sale.
chicago food swap
With summer in full swing, there was plenty of garden produce, like kale, collard greens, and fragrant fresh herbs, on offer. Plus there were many items perfect for summer cooking and eating like cold soups, spice rubs, mint syrup for cocktails and peach hibiscus sangria.
As always, sweets and baked goods were very popular, including such indulgences as Dulce de Leche macarons, chocolate pistachio bark, Nutella banana bread, chocolate peanut butter truffles and Linsey’s amazing chocolate cake.
chicago food swap
Some swappers, however, heeded my possibly self-interested advice about bringing something savory and I was able to come home with plenty of delicious items to simplify my meals for this week, including skirt steak knishes (one of the best things I have ever gotten from a swap), mini-quiches, granola, and parmesan-pepper bread. For anyone looking for heat, there was spicy cheese straws and Sriracha-Lime popcorn on offer.
chicago food swap
Jams, salsas and pickles were prevalent as always. Having run through all the pickles I put up last year, and not having had time to make more myself, I was happy to trade for Alice’s bread-and-butter pickles and Patty’s spicy tomatillo salsa. I am a sucker for anything with tomatillos.  Peter,AKA The Cooking Cop, brought this bacon jam — not for me, alas — and swapper Linsey brought mustard and lemon curd in adorable European-style glass jars.
chicago food swap
After the swap was over, all the swappers headed over to the store to  put their discount to good use. It was just too hard to resist!
chicago food swap
Huge thanks to Chef Ali Banks for inviting us to her kitchen. Sur La Table was a terrific place for a swap and everyone who came enjoyed it tremendously. For its next event, the Chicago Food Swap will be returning to Free Range Office, the co-working loft in the heart of Wicker Park.Registration is open for the July swap, which will take place on July 20. There will not be a swap in August so July 20 will be your last chance to swap before the fall. Sign up today!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014 Swap at Sur La Table

The June Chicago Food Swap will take place in June 29 at 3 pm. I am very excited to announce that our host for the June swap is the Sur La Table store at 900 N. Michigan Ave. I'm certain that everyone is familiar with Sur La Table, one of the premier kitchenware stores in the country.

In addition to having an enormous selection of cookware, kitchen tools, small appliances, cutlery and tableware, Sur La Table stores also offer many different cooking classes. Ali Banks, who is the resident chef at the spacious 900 N. Michigan store reached out to me about hosting a swap at the store and I was thrilled at the idea of collaborating with such a prestigious partner. Sur La Table will be offering a small discount to all the swappers on the day of the swap so leave plenty of time for shopping!

For those of you not familiar with 900 N. Michigan, it is a large shopping mall at the north end of Michigan Avenue. The mall and the Sur La Table store will be open at the time of the swap, so expect crowds. Parking in that part of Chicago can be challenging or expensive if you park in a garage. Consider taking the El or carpooling with other swappers.

For the June swap, we will have the use of the in-store kitchen as well as the open space in front of the store. This should allow us to accommodate up to seventy swappers. Because of the nature of this space, however, no alcoholic beverages will be permitted, so please leave the home brews at home. Fortunately, with summer upon us, there are some many wonderful seasonal ingredients with which is make your swap items.

Registration for the June swap is now open on Eventbrite. Because of the large size of this swap, it is free to register. I suspect that we will sell out so be sure to snag your ticket early. See everyone there!

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Swap at Green Home Experts Recap

The Chicago Food Swap had its May event this past Sunday, May 18, at Green Home Experts, a “green” lifestyle boutique in Oak Park. This was the third time that owner Maria Moran opened her store’s doors to the Chicago Food Swap and, just as before, it was a perfect location for a swap.
On a sunny spring afternoon, Maria’s garden center was a huge draw and all the swappers took advantage of the generous swapper discount to stock up on Ball jars, sustainable cooking utensils and gardening supplies. The swap was small and intimate, which suited the somewhat tight quarters at Green Home Experts, but everyone agreed that the smaller size allowed the group to talk more and get to know one another better.
One of the other fun things about May’s swap was the number of amazing raffle prizes and giveaways for the swappers. Each of the first fifteen swappers who arrived received a strawberry huller courtesy of OXO.  With most of the Chicago-area farmers markets opening next weekend and strawberries being in season, I suspect that those hullers will be getting a workout. Ulysses Press also sent us a set of vegan cookbooks as a raffle prize. Teen swapper and baker extraordinaire Emmie won those.
jams at the chicago food swap
For the first time in its two-plus year history, the Chicago Food Swap had a theme for the swap and that theme was, in fact, vegan. I was inspired by some of our passionate vegan swappers who proved to the rest of us that vegan foods of all kinds, even baked goods, could taste delicious. A few months ago, veteran swapper, and vegan, Ian had expressed to me his concern that there are not always a lot of vegan items for him to choose from when he comes to the swap and asked if I would mind if he started a vegan swap. I replied that I would not mind at all, but that one of the things that I liked best about the Chicago Food Swap is that it breaks down some of those silos we tend to put ourselves into. I was reluctant to  lose that community-building aspect of the Swap, so I proposed to Ian that we try a vegan-themed swap and see how it went. For the May swap, then, we encouraged, but not required, swappers to bring vegan items.
From the diverse array of offerings at our first vegan-themed swap, I would say it was a success. There were definitely some non-vegan items, like Tara’s duck eggs, which were as popular as always. But because many of the swappers in attendance are not actually vegans, those items found enthusiastic homes. And many swappers — both vegan and non-vegans — brought vegan items, which made for an interesting and out-of-the-ordinary mix. I definitely saw fewer sweets and baked goods than usual, which perhaps is a good thing. Many swappers, myself included, often find themselves coming home with way more desserts than intended. So it was good that the vegan swap forced us to make and trade for healthier items.
food swap items
So, not all the vegan items were healthy!
Some swappers really embraced the vegan theme and made their own vegan staples, like tofu and seitan. Mom-and-daughter team Laura and Emmie also made a smoky, vegan bacon substitute out of mushrooms. I thought it tasted great and was excited to get some. I brought hummus and white bean dip, both made with ramps, as good vegan sources of protein. Diana who writes for Chicago Foodie Girl brought vegan chili and I also saw some quinoa salad.
There were also a lot of jams and pickles, foods that are naturally vegan. Swapper Jill brought a cool array of dehydrated fruits and vegetables. First-time swapper Dantee brought two kinds of chia pudding – those chia seeds are everywhere these days! There were also all kinds of great pantry items like saffron salt from Ian and Alison and several kinds of mustard. New swappers Cathy and her husband Kevin brought cucumber and rhubarb sangria which, no surprise there, proved to be very popular.
chicago food swap
But did I mention the baked goods? There were plenty of sweet treats of both the vegan and non-vegan variety. I indulged in some of Sandy’s carrot cake and it was worth every calorie. The blueberry crumb cake from Leah was also popular. I was impressed with first-time swapper Lydia’s vegan snickerdoodles and other folks had brought different kinds of vegan cookies, quick breads and even vegan fudge. So creative! Swappers Gary and Keli brought some different kinds of focaccia that were very popular as well.
chicago food swap
And then, as the swap was winding down, reporter Monica Eng from WBEZ, the Chicago NPR station, arrived to interview some of the swappers. I met Monica, who is the co-host of a greatfood podcast called Chewing the Fat, at the IACP conference back in March — and by “met,” I mean “accosted in a hallway.” When I told her that I was the founder of the Chicago Food Swap, she said that the Swap was on her story list, so I encouraged her to come to an upcoming swap. It was a huge thrill for me that Monica came and got to hear from the swappers about why they love the swap so much. Monica also enjoyed browsing at Green Home Experts and even picked up a few things for her garden!
chicago food swap
The next Chicago Food Swap is tentatively scheduled for June 29. More details to once everything is finalized. In July, the Chicago Food Swap will return to Free Range Office, a funky co-working space in the heart of Wicker Park and site of the successful March swap. I am taking August OFF, so if you want to swap, save the dates for June and July.

Have you come to the Chicago Food Swap yet? If not, why not?