Addicted to Food Swaps
When Amy and I first started The Swapaholics, we set out to share not just all the awesome clothing swaps and swapping sites that were popping up everywhere around us, but all the other types of swapping, too — because once you’re addicted to swapping, it’s really hard to shop new anymore. For anything. And not just because of that blissful feeling of not being wasteful and enjoying each and every single thing you have more than you thought you ever could, but because shopping seems so sterile and solitary and, well, vanilla, when compared to the fun, friendship-driven experience that is a swap.
On Sunday, I got to try out a new kind of swapping with the lovely ladies of the Boston Food Swap: Tara and Lyn. I love free clothes as much as (OK, more so than) the next girl, but after spending more than a decade as a waitress/bartender/restaurant manager and, later, a food writer, I was squealing on the inside at the prospect of finally geeking out with other home gourmets and showing off my kitchen skillz in public. I’d read an amazing piece in the New York Times last winter about the Brooklyn Food Swap group, sent to us by our clothing swap sisters in the borough, and knew I couldn’t make the rookie mistake of just showing up with chocolate chip cookies. Not me. Not an original Swapaholic. Not a girl who came *this close* to being Jeffrey Steingarten’s assistant at Vogue, making it all the way to final round of interviews to replace Gail Simmons back in 2001…le sigh. Everything happens for a reason, right?
So, I dusted off my trusty (many times modified) Rocco DiSpirito recipe for biscotti dough, mixed in some (universally drool-inducing) Taza salted almond chocolate (representin’ the ‘Ville) and some dried sour cherries (representin’ Mount Rainier valley), baked those puppies for about an hour (during which I had to kick both dog & husband to couch repeatedly for stealing “samples”) and portioned the resulting 4+ dozen into 8 cellophane bags, each tied off with braided silk friendship bracelet cord and a #SwapLove charm. By now a total nervous wreck, second-guessing my simplistic choice but under the gun for time, I packed my swap goods in a canvas swap tote and headed to Space With a Soul, the shared non-profit incubator space in South Boston playing host to the food swappers.
As I approached the address and shielded my biscotti from the rain, a cute little blonde was punching numbers from a sign taped to the door into her cell phone and we both shared a laugh, trying to figure out if it was a 9 or a 4. (Pfew! Ice broken. One friend down, security blanket scored.) Within seconds, 4 or 5 other ladies gathered behind us toting insulated grocery totes and travel cupcake trays. Thank gawd, all but one admitted this was her first swap, too. And they were SO. NICE. (We’re all in it together, woo!)
Once upstairs, I saw Lyn and Tara and started to get excited, but was still freaking out about not knowing exactly how the swap was going to work. (Though I was SUPER impressed by how many guys were there to participate — apparently the way to a man’s swap is through his stomach…Guys! Swapping! At a swap!)
After being instructed to grab a spot on one of the open tables, I, along with the other dozen and a half swappers, set about displaying my goods, filling out my swap card — kind of like a dance card, but where people can request to swap their homemade food for yours — adding my name to the top portion, some categories for my biscotti (soy free, dairy free), and tried to make the biscotti sound like the. most. amazing. thing. you’ll. ever. have. I placed some taster samples (crumbles from a few cookies that didn’t quite make it) next to the card and was open for business. Then I turned into an insecure 6th grade girl while I waited for other swappers to “bid” (express interest by marking their name on the card along with what they brought to swap).
Thankfully, that nervousness lasted all of 10 seconds. Once everyone had their swap food displayed and samples ready for the taking, a cocktail party-like vibe started to take shape, only everyone was high on the excitement of hearing about each other’s recipes and cooking stories rather than booze, and we got all euphoric on the “mmmms” of tasting incredible homemade things made with love and shared with pride, up for grabs for others to take home and enjoy again in the privacy of our own kitchens or show off at upcoming dinner parties. (OK, the samples of bourbon slushie, above, may have helped…) By the time Lyn announced that the swap was ON and it was officially a “free for all” (hey! familiar!), we all seemed to relax into each other’s company and happily proffered our things in exchange for those offered to us.
Don’t get me wrong, it was far from an exact science, and nothing felt super transactional or even-Steven trade-y about the swap. There were uneven amounts, because there were no restrictions or rules about what to bring — some swappers brought 3-4 jars of dilly beans, some brought 24 packets of fresh mesquite-smoked beef from their home smoker — so once everyone swapped with the people who had written on their cards, the fun (I would say real) swapping began. Cooks offered up future creations, to be picked up at the September swap (or over drinks, date TBD). Recipes were promised via email. LinkedIn requests were made. Almost everyone in the room seemed to be a food blogger or editor or prolific Instagram-er, and victor-swappers spread out their booty on the gorgeous wood floors to be glamour shotted and, yes, gloated about on Twitter and Facebook. Lyn and Tara got everyone together for a group photo, and while I can say that, sure, I went home with a wildly successful mixed bag of masterful home-crafted groceries (mini red velvet cupcakes, spicy Mexican chocolate bundt cakes, zucchini-apple bread, and on and on and on!), I also went home with a bunch of new friends. You could definitely say I’m officially addicted to food swaps.
Check out this cute video with Lyn and Tara telling me bit more about food swaps:
Photos: taken by The Swapaholics/Melissa Massello & courtesy of Boston Food Swap/Tara Bellucci.