The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

Things I Learned from My First #PDXFoodSwap

Food
The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

The haul from my inaugural PDX Food Swap.

Just a few years ago, I was what I would call a foodie, but I actively avoided cooking. I lived with someone who loved to cook, and I was so deep in the middle of a depression that I wasn’t motivated to “play” in the kitchen. Today? Not only do I really enjoy cooking, I’m now inspired to expand my preserving repertoire.

This latest twist is thanks in large part to two things – an extremely productive garden (including the neighbor’s ignored fruit trees) and attending my first PDX Food Swap.

First, a bit of background on the food swap thing, since I got a lot of “huh?” on Facebook when I mentioned it.

I heard about the PDX Food Swap group from my friend Bethany, one of the co-founders. Participants register in advance and bring their homemade goodies to the swap, ready to trade with other swappers. It’s conducted sort of like a silent auction – you set out your stuff, then make the rounds seeing what everyone else has brought (sampling where people have thoughtfully allowed for this), and write your name (and what you’re offering to trade) on their swap sheets. After a period of time, you review the offers you’ve gotten on your own swap sheets, make any trades you’d like based on the list, and – if you’ve got leftover goods – circulate again to make any other trades you can.

After this summer’s bumper crop of figs, I made a huge batch of fig freezer jam and this extraordinary (and extraordinarily simple) fig coulis that’s a terrific sauce for poultry or pork. I signed up for the September food swap, designed some cutesy labels, and even clipped fig leaves to bring to the swap as part of the presentation.

I thought I would be styling.

The room was super crowded, I’m not even sure I got to see everything on offer during the time allotted, and then when I got back to my station to review my offers I had received only one. That was disappointing, to say the least, and the most disappointing part was that the sole offer was for the fig jam, not the fabulous fig coulis.

In the end, by carrying containers of fig coulis around the room (with some help from L, the 9-year-old) and explaining how wonderful it is, we managed to find enthusiastic new owners for every container of coulis we brought. We still ended up coming home with a lot of our own jam, however.

I want to be clear that I’m not in any way complaining. We traded for a great assortment of stuff, including two kinds of homemade butter and a coconut miso caramel sauce that is – I kid you not – one of the most interesting things I’ve tasted in ages. I also came away inspired and motivated to be ready for the next swap with something that might just mean my station is the crowded one.

With that in mind – and yeah, I admit there’s a little bit of my competitive side coming through – here are some of my takeaways from my first food swap.

4 Things I Learned from My First #PDXFoodSwap

1. Jam isn’t (necessarily) gonna cut it.

Jam is basically entry-level food swapping, as it turns out. Since I didn’t cook much of anything a few years ago, the fact that I made a whopping huge batch of simple fig jam makes me proud – but it’s nothing compared to the homemade brie that had people salivating at the food swap.

Not all jams are created equally, however, so if you’re going to bring jams or jellies, you’d best make sure they are either made of something that’s nigh unto impossible to get around here or they’ve got a flavor twist that’s inventive and interesting. Case in point? We came home with a jar of fig absinthe jam that I’m in love with.

2. The name on the recipe might not be the name to stick with.

So, about that fig coulis. What the hell is coulis, anyway? A nondescript container of murky beige, umm, something with a fig on the label and a vague note that it’s good on chicken – this is not enough, I found out.

When we first started picking the neighbor’s figs last summer, I hunted for every interesting-looking fig recipe I could find on the internet, and the fig coulis was the biggest hit. It’s stupidly simple – figs, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar (salt and pepper added to taste), and it’s now our favorite thing to eat with chicken. Another swapper had made a fruit-based sauce to go with red meat, and the label for that said “Burger & Steak Sauce,” with a helpful image of a hamburger. If I ever bring the fig coulis again, I’m going to need a more descriptive name for it. And, perhaps, samples.

(Because, seriously, it’s so good, you guys.)

3. Marketing is key.

As I said, we were able to trade all the fig coulis at the end, but it wasn’t because of my cute fig leaf presentation or my good penmanship on my swap cards. It was because we walked up to other swappers and, extolling the virtues of the coulis, asked whether they wanted to trade some for one of their goodies.

When we were packing up, two of the organizers came over separately to say they really liked how we were doing active marketing. I hadn’t thought of it as marketing at the time, honestly, I was just eager to go home with fewer of our things and more of everyone else’s, but I suppose marketing is a good term for it.

And it turns out that although marketing might be key (especially if you don’t have the hot item of the night), it’s actually pretty challenging to do when you’re out sampling everyone else’s stuff and not at your own station to tell people what the hell coulis is while they’re standing right in front of you. Which brings me to…

4. Next time, I’mma make my own swap sheets.

Organizers send out a PDF of the swap sheets in case people want to fill them out in advance, which – naturally – I did (hello, firstborn over here). But, as I mentioned, since I wasn’t standing right there to answer questions or “sell” the idea of the coulis, it didn’t generate any interest on its own. I had to do that one-on-one after the initial session was over.

And that’s why, next time, I’m going to make my own swap sheets. Assuming I’ve got the time, that is, I’ll scan the official sheets and incorporate them into a one-pager about my goodies, so that I can still be there (sort of) to “sell” my stuff at the same time that I’m out seeing other stations and leaving my name on other people’s sheets.

Crazy over-preparation? Maybe. But I think it will let me focus on seeing and sampling everything else without constantly feeling like I need to check on my list or hover over anyone looking at my station.

The Plotting Begins

No sooner had we walked out the door of the swap than we were already brainstorming what to bring to the next one in early December.

Maybe the boyfriend will get enough deer or even an elk this fall, and we’ll have game jerky. Maybe I’ll use some of his grandmother’s canned fruits to make my mother’s curried fruit recipe, always a favorite at the holidays. L is even excited about making her own contributions next time, so she can get whatever she wants (i.e. she’ll be the first in line for that big pound cake she was denied this time).

All in all, I’m calling it a success. And I’m really looking forward to the next one.

October’s Glowing Trees

Photography

My habitual morning walks have gotten considerably slower in the last ten days. I’m in better shape and should be faster, but I’m too busy stopping every other block to take photos of all the trees that are on fire around me.

I love autumn. It is my season. Orange is my favorite color, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I’m only just starting to get tired of the LET’S PUT PUMPKIN IN EVERYTHING craze. This is my time of year, and the trees are better than I’ve seen them in ages.

To be fair, September in Portland was bad. Wet and gray, like a shot of November with warmer weather. So I didn’t have high hopes for October. But October, ladies and gentlemen, has given us what September is usually known for – only with even more fall color.

The bad news is that pretty much all these gorgeous leaves will fall off the trees at the first rain. (Which may not be far off. Today’s walk required a hat to keep mist off my glasses.)

At any rate, I give you – with no filters or color enhancements – a selection of photos taken on my iPhone over the last couple of weeks. (Yes, most mornings have been all white skies and bad lighting lately, but the trees? The trees still glow.)

Capture the Colour

Photography

No, I haven’t emigrated to England or South Africa or something. The “U” in the word “color” above is purposeful, as it’s the name of a blogging/photo contest/meme thing. I was nominated to take part by my pal Erin.

The “Capture the Colour” contest asks bloggers to post five photographs – one each for five different colors – and each color has a different blogger judge. Yes, it’s a contest, and yes, there are prizes, but I’m doing this for fun. So much so, in fact, that I’ve imposed more rules on my own photo selections, just to see what I’d end up with. I decided that I’d only use photos I’d posted to Instagram – so, not only were these all taken with my iPhone, they were all edited and posted to Instagram as well. It was kind of a fun rule, I have to say, although it severely limited the destinations I was able to cover – I only got the phone, after all, in January of this year.

At any rate, here are my five photos, with a bit of explanation about each one.

green

Full-time. Portland Timbers 2, Seattle Sounders 1. The Timbers Army had two fewer green smoke bombs to set off post-game, thanks to the goals, but they set off whatever else they’d brought when the final whistle blew. Green smoke, green city flags waving, green jerseys everywhere. It was a good day to be a Timbers fan.

red

Cherries in the Pacific Northwest are one of many reasons to love summers in this part of the world. My favorite farmer’s market stand is responsible for me knowing not just that I love cherries, but that I prefer Brooks cherries to any other variety. This is summertime candy. This was the day I bought double what I normally buy.

blue

I waited 22 years to finally see Mont-Saint-Michel with my own eyes, and when we drove up to the rock the day before my 40th birthday it was almost entirely shrouded in fog. Two days later the fog lifted, but it rolled back in again as we drove away. The place is absolutely unreal, so I thanked the fog for making it appear that way, too.

yellow

We spent a long weekend in New York introducing my niece and nephew to the city. New York remains a place where I’m not yet at ease (this subway admonition is indicative of the in-your-face attitude I think the city exudes), but I’m getting there. On this trip, I rode the subway by myself for the first time in my life. Yes, this is a year of some milestones.

white

The Little Gray Cat will be 19 in August, so although she occasionally has moments of frenzy, running up and down the stairs as if she’s being chased by invisible dogs, she spends most of the day sleeping on her bed of blankets. When the sun is just so, however, and the skylight releases that beam of light into the corner of the doorway, she will saunter over and sit in that pool of light until it moves. She’s ready for her close-up, Mister DeMille.

There’s a whole nominate-five-other-bloggers component to this thing, which I’m not going to do. If you’d like to participate and you haven’t already been tagged, by all means consider yourself invited.

Portland Timbers in Alaska Airlines TV Ads

About Nothing

When two of my passions intersect, I’m a happy girl. In this case, it’s soccer and travel – more specifically, the Portland Timbers and their sponsor, Alaska Airlines. They’ve teamed up in a new series of TV ads they’re calling the “Alaska Airlines/Portland Timbers Employee Exchange Program.”

The first ad features Timbers coach John Spencer doing the pre-flight spiel as only a surly Scotsman can. An extra bonus is the pilot’s reaction at the end of the ad when he realizes what being on the pitch during a match entails.

The second ad features Timbers “mascot” Timber Joey making a passenger’s bag carry-on sized. For those who don’t know, Timber Joey walks around the stadium on game days with his chainsaw, and for each Timber goal scored he cuts off a slab from the “victory log.” You’ll see at the end of the ad that the Alaska Air flight attendant is having a little more trouble fulfilling her end of the employee exchange.

I love my team.

#RCTID

Passports with Purpose: 2010 Wrap-Up

Travel

Now that Passports with Purpose is done for the year, I wanted to announce the winner of the Portland Perks prize package I wrote about on the blog and let you know how much PWP raised this year.

First off, you’ll remember that the goal was to raise $50,000 to build a village in India, yes? Well, the tally at the final buzzer was more than $58,000 – a grand achievement by any measure, and especially since PWP is only in its third year. I’m pleased to have been part of the effort, and I’m already looking forward to next year (even plotting what prizes I can drum up!).

Second, I’m pleased that the winner of the Portland Perks travel package is Fiona J. from Seattle – she knows and loves Portland, but hasn’t visited for quite awhile, so she’s happy to have an excuse to plan a trip down here in 2011. Luckily for me, she’s a foodie – which means I’ll get to wax on (again) about all the places in Portland where I love to eat!

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