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.