One Small Change
We call it The Food Exchange, but really it should be called: “What your great-great grandmother did on a daily basis while herding ten dirt-smudged children but you can do one day a week and feel like a culinary goddess.” But that’s too wordy, so for now we’ll stick with The Food Exchange.
My friend Audrey cooked up this idea. It’s like one of five-trillion shining ideas she’s brought to our community, including the carrot mob and the local babysitting co-op, (which means that as I write this my kids are partying it up at a friend’s house while no money is exchanged).
Audrey figured there were enough Mamas regularly making bread, yogurt, cheese etc…why don’t we each pick one item, make an extra large batch and exchange each week? Truthfully, I wasn’t currently making any of these items. Rather, I was spending a king’s ransom on wheat-free loaves of bread, which after three quick days amounted to nothing more than a sorry, lone heel in the bottom of a plastic bag. Also, I was sheepishly stacking plastic yogurt containers into a rising tower of petroleum-products, creating my own monument to landfills.
Coincidentally, I had just received a letter from the natural parenting magazine that had retained, for TWO years, a piece I wrote on breastfeeding a preemie, stating that my essay no longer suited their needs. Needless to say, my ego was slinking around, kicking imaginary dogs.
Somehow, making this hummus with my daughter—who was thrilled to be my assistant while her brother napped—lifted my mood.
Maybe it was this face.
Maybe it was just the simple act of spinning raw ingredients into such deliciousness.
For our first actual exchange, the three participating families met at Sheryl’s. The assorted kids pieced together train tracks, completely oblivious to the inaugural moment at hand, while we Mamas unveiled our goods and chatted, covering ten topics in five minutes, as women can.
“It’s like having three wives,” Sheryl’s husband commented.
It was later established that Sheryl’s husband wouldn’t really want three wives, and why would he when he gets the homebaked goodies for free (I’m referring to the bread, obviously). It should be noted that the husbands are wildly supportive of the program, though haven’t volunteered to participate in the food prep, per se.
Here’s Dan supporting the endeavor (that night for dinner we ate exactly what we received – bread, hummus and cheese. I thought about steaming some broccoli, but got distracted by the sheer joy of homemade cheese).
This past month there’s been yogurt.
And cultured veggies, which turns out is an acquired taste and it also turns out that one should never add onions to ones cultured veggies. But when you ferment your own vegetables, you start feeling a bit like a mad professor, scouring the fridge for additions to your latest chemistry experiment. But really, this fermenting of vegetables is an ancient art, perpetuated to make vegetables last throughout winter, while packing a probiotic/enzymatic punch. You may love growing a little patch of lactobacilli on your kitchen counter. You may even start to feel like you could heal the world with the probiotics you grew, or even channel your ancestors, or at least reverse some of the damage of your own pastry-habit.
Of course we’re all very humble with each other. Audrey insisted that her bread was over-cooked, while Sheryl branded hers under-cooked. Given that both loaves were mere crumbs after two days, I don’t think our family noticed.
I tried my hand at a loaf of spelt-flour bread last night and not exercising any humility, I told my family that if they gushed repeatedly over how delicious it was, I would make a loaf every week. I used this recipe (don’t be thrown by the Disney site, you can’t not fall in love with Catherine Newman’s writing and recipes), which is a no-knead recipe, only slightly more complicated than cooking up a box of mac ‘n’ cheese.
The possibilities of the Food Exchange are limitless. I’m thinking granola, salad dressing, mustard, tortillas, lip balm (which Rose would argue is a food).
I love that this simple idea builds community, reduces waste, saves money and encourages exploration of the lost kitchen arts.