Recap of the September Chicago Food Swap

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By Emily Paster

The rain couldn't keep the swappers down! Despite a steady downpour, which left most swappers packed inside like sardines and a few swappers huddling under leaky tents outside, the September swap at Peterson Garden Project was a rousing success. A chaotic, damp and loud success, but a success nonetheless.

Two of the reasons for the success of the September swap were our outstanding sponsors Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy. Our sponsors generously provided us with samples of Jarlsberg, Woolwich Dairy goat cheddar and, my personal favorite, Woolwich Dairy goat mozzarella. Everyone hit the sample table more than once and many swappers asked to take some of the cheese home with them to cook with.

Two swappers, Michelle and Serena, had had the opportunity to create original swap items using products from our sponsors. Michelle used Woolwich Dairy Chevrai to make these amazing Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Rolls. I was lucky enough to swap one of my fruit butters for two of these rolls so I can say with authority that they are delicious. The goat cheese adds a tanginess that is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the onion. Serena incorporated Jarlsberg into her pâté à choux for cheesy rolls with a little kick from some jalapenos. Yum! I was so impressed with both swappers' creativity and what fabulous results!

The weather was unquestionably a bummer. For the first time in the almost two-year history of the Chicago Food Swap, I counted on having some of our swappers set up outside. Back in December of 2012, Peterson Garden Project had hosted the Chicago Food Swap and the day of the swap turned out to be the kind of freakishly warm day that convinces people that climate change is truly happening while they guiltily enjoy a stolen day outside. Although we had not been planning to have swappers set up in the backyard — it was December after all — we ended up doing so and it worked out well. This time around, I specifically asked Peterson Garden Project founder LaManda Joy if we could come to her space earlier in the year to take advantage of the backyard, which would enable me to accommodate more swappers. LaManda agreed and I rashly opened up the swap to 60 people.

As the Sunday of the swap approached, one of our veteran swappers, Jo, asked me via our Facebook page what my back-up plan was for bad weather. Like an ostrich hiding my head in the sand, I replied that I had none so we just had to hope for good weather! (This is where I reveal that I got married outside on Memorial Day weekend of 2002 and we really didn't have a back-up plan for that either. And you know what? The weather was beautiful the day of my wedding, so I think I thought bad weather doesn't really happen to my events.)

Well, we had exactly the weather that was predicted: steady, steady rain. Only a small fraction of the backyard could be used and even that was not ideal. Sixty people and lots of food were still coming, so there was nothing to do but make it work. And make it work we did. Space was extremely tight. It was hard to move around to see everything and the noise level was impressive. But I was so grateful to the swap community for bearing with me. Everyone was patient, gracious and understanding. Our host LaManda from Peterson Garden Project was unflappable. And you know what? At the end of the day, everyone still went home with armfuls of amazing homemade goodies.

I must confess that I was so busy trouble-shooting that I barely had time to see all the offerings. I know that I was lucky enough to swap my fruit butters, vanilla extract, pumpkin seed pesto and compound butter for s'mores bars, Pamela's Filipino sweet buns made with purple yam — so cool! — Michelle's amazing rolls, Lissa' gorgeous tortilla espanol, a quiche from veteran swapper Dora, some ginger mint syrup to dress up my seltzer, tomatoes and arugula from swapper Judy, Sara's homemade yogurt, and two delicious oatmeal whoopie pies filled with buttercream frosting. To read a great list of all of the offerings, check out this post on Gaper's Block from swapper Judy. Also in attendance on Sunday was a reporter from DNAinfo Chicago who wrote this terrific article.

The October swap will be held on October 6 at 4 pm at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. This is such a great neighborhood for food lovers with tons of awesome restaurants and markets. I'm really excited because local chef Jill Houk and food photographer Angie Garbot will be at the Savory Spice Shop at 3 pm, right before the swap, to sign copies of their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. The October swap is small due to space constraints and we are already full. But if you would like to come, please put your name on the wait list because spots always open up. And if you don't get in, please don't fret! The November 10 swap at The Chopping Block will have room for everyone, I hope.

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