What’s that? You ask. A food exchange group, or co-op, is – in a nutshell – a practice in collaborative consumption. Or economies of scale. Or weekly excuse to get together with people you like, who like food, wine, craft beer and have the most titillating personalities in town. (see, thinly disguised). I also wanted the excuse to use the word “titillating” — but it really can’t be more appropriate given that my broadened vocabulary post-dinner party consisted of cornography, “pack a lunch”, “don’t drop the soap”, underdose, and “sorry, my douchebag leaked on you.” Wait til they all appear in Oxford.
But seriously, these are good folk of the overeducated, slow-food loving, home brewing kind. These people make their own ketchup and mustard. And they look like ordinary people. They live among you. They smell their kind a mile away. And I am forever grateful to Regina for sniffing me out and deeming me worthy to be crew. These people can COOK.
For example, one arbitrage can consist of homemade power bars, spicy cabbage slaw, fresh-from-the-garden marinara, turkey meatballs with tzatziki (for the non-vegs, natch) pickled carrots, gingery black beans and handmade pasta. Its like a CSA on speed.
Here are the very simple mechanics:
1. Get a group together (must love to cook)
2. Appoint a doyenne or don (someone must coordinate)
3. Set a day of the week you meet (we meet on Sundays from 5:00-5:30)
4. Set a meeting place (or rotate a few)
5. Set some mutually acceptable but not prohibitive guidelines (ours are no artificial ingredients, organic when possible, lay low on the processed food and sugar)
6. People do not have to commit weekly. There is a sign up sheet and you need to opt in or opt out by a certain day (this is where the doyenne/don becomes critical — people forget)
7. Cook for a crowd
8. Divide among the people exchanging (our rule of thumb is: should be able to feed 2 people 2 times as part of a meal)
During the exchanges we briefly talk about the food we brought, which is always interesting. I learn something new all the time. And for me, one the biggest benefits is that I get to inject variety in our weekly meals. We all get into a rut and this is one way for me to get out of my comfort zone. I love coming home with my stash.
So, last weekend we had a potluck. We celebrated the group’s one year anniversary but we also said goodbye to (abovementioned) Regina who is moving south. While it was a bittersweet evening — because we are all just slightly obsessed with food — I believe everyone secretly welcomed the excuse to have a potluck — which was, of course, nothing short of stellar. Blueberry mojitos, home brewed beer, pizza from scratch, Asian chickpea hummus rolls, vegetable canapes, colorful slaw, bocadillos, beet salad with crispy garlic and onion oil, a basil sorbet intermezzo, turkey burgers, grilled corn Latino-style and a chocolate fudge pizelle sandwich with compote to cap it all off. AMEN!
The horn of plenty came early this season. Stuffed only begins to describe it. All hopes of macrobiotic “eat til 80% full” went out the window. No one was spared. Luckily, there was only one attempt to plank.
Circling back, I’d like to feature one of the evening’s offerings and salute the end of summer with a grilled recipe — Latino-style grilled corn. I’ll say Latino because you can vary the style slightly and it will be “Oaxacan” or “Cuban.” I would like to note that our inaugural male co-op member, John, brought this over (along with the beets with fried garlic — boo yah!) I remember the first time I ever had this at the Red Hook Ball Fields in Brooklyn. Where you can have pupusas, tamales, baleadas, huaraches, and horchata along with your futbol every weekend — before the city closed them down right when the Fairway/Ikea gentrification started. Sad, to say the least. The best Latino street food in town. Hands down. I think half the treat came from the fact that the FIXINS — from hot sauces, slaws, pickles, peppers — were just as interesting to me as the main act. And this corn — its all about the grillin’ and fixin’.
So this Labor Day weekend, get your grill on and maybe kick-off your own food co-op. Sharing is contagious and remember, friends don’t let friends eat bad food.
Grilled Corn, Latino-Style
8 ears of fresh corn, husks tied back and silk removed
3 T melted butter OR Earth Balance Soy-free OR olive oil
1-2 t Chopped habanero (optional)
1 t Chopped garlic (optional)
3 T vegan mayonnaise (I like Follow Your Heart Soy Free)
3 T freshly grated queso anejo, cotija cheese, queso fresco, Parmesan or Romano cheese OR a vegan substitute
(I typically just mix together cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and a little garlic powder – put it in a grinder)
3 T chili powder
1 T paprika
2 limes – cut into wedges
Preheat grill to medium.
Peel back the husks of the corn without removing them. Remove the silks and recover the corn with the husk. Soak in large bowl of cold water for 30 minutes.
Make the butter – mix together the softened butter, garlic and habanero until well combined.
Remove corn from water and shake off excess. Place the corn on the grill, close the cover and grill for 15 to 20 minutes. Unwrap corn and brush with the garlic/habanero butter and/or mayonnaise. Sprinkle with the cheese, paprika and chili powder and squeeze with lime. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, to garnish.
Season with salt and pepper.
Here are some photos of the evening (and scroll down for a TED talk on why sharing is cool).
The HP Co-Op Crew:
Leah Helou, Founder, Doyenne, Speech Pathologist and all around badass.
Megan Mally Pearlman, Urban gardener, cool stove owner, Mom to George Michael and wife to home brewer.
Kate Stoltzfus, Renaissance woman. (Really.) Wife to planker.
Amanda Gillespie, Speech pathologist (yep, another one), Tilly’s mom, always looks fresh.
Regina Anderson, hybrid in many ways, Pittsburgh’s own “six degrees of” connector (seriously, try it).
Alaina Newell, Marathoner, CSAer, Ketchup maker.
John Ingle, “Doctor John Ingle to you”, Texas transplant, Huffpost Blogger, always packs a lunch.
Bridget Peterson, middle school teacher, avid runner, and lover of all things baking-related.
At TEDxSydney, Rachel Botsman says we’re “wired to share” — and shows how websites like Zipcar and Swaptree are changing the rules of human behavior.