The October meeting of the Baltimore Homemade Trade Club

Today was a beautiful day for trading!

I explained the Baltimore Homemade Trade Club the other month, if you’d like the long story. The short one: we make (usually food-)stuff, we meet up at somebody’s house, and then we trade our stuff for everyone else’s stuff. Everybody gets to share something they’re proud of and go home with a varied assortment of edibles.

One of my favorite parts of trading is having an excuse to make adorable labels for my goods. (I may have been teased that the reason I started the Homemade Trade was as “a soft launch for [my] pickle company,” which is totally not true! Except for maybe in my dreams.)

I decided to trade eight jars of Pilar’s Pickled Mushroom Medley #1. I renamed it since I knew the Atwood reference would be lost on most of the people there… but that didn’t stop me from excitedly explaining to everyone that it was a recipe inspired by The Year of the Flood.

Martine's Marinated Mushroom MedleyThis month’s event was hosted by Ann Marie, who you may know from her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. She and her partner Anthony had us over to their beautiful rooftop deck for a sunny late-afternoon trade. She played perfect hostess with eats and drinks, and even had a raffle!

homemade trade club raffleAs everybody trickled in, the tables filled up with jars and bags of mouthwatering goodies.

homemade trade club spreadThe trading was fierce. I uttered the word “dangit!” more than once. Somehow I missed out on both the pumpkin butter and the apple butter, which makes my autumn-loving heart hurt.

That said, I can’t complain a lick about what I did bring home.

homemade trade club haulChai tea mix, grapefruit simple syrup, two jars of purple sauerkraut, harissa, P.H.A.T. (Pretty Healthy and Tasty) Pancake Mix, butterscotch sauce, and Pumpkin Pie Black IPA.

Yurrssssss.

Our next meeting is in December, and I. Can’t. Wait.

The August meeting of the Baltimore Homemade Trade Club

My friends and I have a Homemade Trade Club.

It started in May when I read about the From Scratch Club in Troy, NY. For about thirty seconds I thought, damn, I wish there was something like that around here. Then I realized: oh wait, there could be.

I have a lot of friends who are into making stuff. Cooking, baking, canning, dehydrating, brewing. We run the gamut of how we like to make and preserve food, and damn are we good at it. So I made a Facebook group, and invited people, and told them to invite people. The next thing I knew on a Sunday evening in June, a small group of people, some I knew, some I didn’t, were all trading goodies in my dining room.

Of course I didn’t take any photos because I am incapable of hosting and photographing things at the same time. But I traded away six jars of my hot pickled asparagus, and ended up with a pizza dough mix, kumquat liqueur, blood orange IPA, lemon coriander Hefeweizen, coconut granola, and cherry almond chocolate bark. Yum.

Last weekend we had our second meeting, hosted at the cozy little home of my friends Annie and Ian. As their dining room table filled up with jars, bottles, and bags, people (okay, mainly me) stalked around, scoping out the choices while munching on chips and hummus.

homemade trade club spreadThere were jams galore, an assortment of baked goods, vegan jerky, oh god so many delicious foodstuffs. Maybe an adorable chalkboard list would help you realize the incredible variety?

homemade trade club listMy mister and I went regional with our stuff. I made my briny bay pickled beans with a wee Maryland blue crab on the label. Being from Ohio, he made Cincinnati chili mix. I may have insisted on making him a label with a little chili pepper residing on Cincinnati.

briny bay beans and Cincinnati chili mixRather than having everyone conduct individual trades, our trade incorporates an element of chance. We choose a random order by drawing cards or numbers. Then we go around the room and each person selects one item at a time, round and round until everyone has as many items as they contributed to the pot.

We decided on this structure for the added bit of fun and excitement, a Yankee Swap flair instead of straight bartering. Will I get the thing I have my eye on, or will it be gone by the time my turn comes around? It forces us to strategize the order of our choices and try to discern what will get snapped up first. “This is the real Hunger Games,” according to my friend Liz.

With eleven choices between the mister and I, we came back with quite the haul.

homemade trade club haulFor the next few weeks I’ll be stuffing my face with lemon cookies, lemon-basil jelly, tomato jam, a single hop IPA, strawberry jam, vegan kimchi (made by Ann Marie!), T&A cookies, cinnamon-walnut mini muffins (admittedly, just one muffin left), vegan pepperoni slim jims, and smoked bourbon peach pie in a jar. Not pictured: the eclair that I ate before we even left. Whoops.

Tea smugness

“All tea pretty much tastes the same.”

This, from my mister. Sorry buddy, but I gotta disagree with you.

See, I’ve gotten into tea in the past couple of months. Even typing that out makes me feel like a smug asshole. Sorry.

The thing is, I used to have a big diet soda problem. I’m not going to admit how much diet soda I drank. It was an embarrassing amount. I needed the caffeine to get through the day. What about coffee? says everyone ever. Well, the coffee at my office leaves something to be desired. And I’m certainly not able to get it together in the morning to brew a pot at home. Plus, I don’t know… coffee has always been more of a Sunday morning brunch thing for me, a weekend treat rather than an every day occurrence. I like mine with a bit of sugar and real cream, and that is certainly not something I need to do every day.

So my friend Emily encouraged me to switch to tea. I was initially reluctant because while I like tea, I was under the impression that it was all pretty much the same, much like my mister. I’d drink it iced, but otherwise I wasn’t really into it.

Because tea bags suck. Yep. I just figured this out.

Anyway, I don’t really drink diet soda so much these days. But I am tearin’ through my tea stash like there’s no tomorrow. I guess I switched from drinking an embarrassing amount of diet soda to an embarrassing amount of tea. Being embarrassing is my default setting.

I’ve mostly ordered from Adagio, just because I’ve ordered gifts from there before and gotten good feedback. I’ve been happy.

Genmai cha, with it’s robust toasted rice flavor against the vegetal background of the Japanese green tea has become a staple of mine. I love it in the mornings, but even further into the afternoon as the rice helps cut down on the caffeine level. I’ve only had it hot, but I recently ordered a large bag and plan to make a nice big pitcher of it iced.

Another one I’m really into right now is gunpowder green tea mixed with an equal amount of spearmint tea, to make a sort of Moroccan mint tea. This is one that I’ll occasionally indulge with a bit of raw, local honey, as it really brings out the mintiness — though it’s wonderful unsweetened as well.

My nighttime tea, on the other hand, is an herbal blend that Adagio calls Foxtrot. It’s vanilla flavored rooibos, peppermint, and chamomile. I like to make a few cups after dinner to relax and help get on the road to sleepytown. Honestly, I think the peppermint is a little overwhelming in this blend, at least on the first infusion. The second infusion is definitely the star as the peppermint backs down a little. The third infusion, if I do it, usually tastes mostly of chamomile, very apple-y; the rooibos and peppermint are mostly spent by that point.

The weirdest tea I’ve ever tried? Yunnan pu erh gold. I was intrigued by the description: pu erh is an aged, fermented tea with really woodsy, earthy tones. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I knew I wanted to try it. The verdict? Well, it smelled much worse than it tasted. I had one of my coworkers smell it after steeping, and his response was, “That doesn’t smell like something you’d want to put in your mouth.” He declined the offer to take a sip. It tasted vaguely mildewy. Not the worst, but not something I’d voluntarily do again. I only ordered a sample, so I gave the rest to another coworker of mine who said he’s really into pu erh. I don’t know, he used to live in China.

Anyway. Where do you buy your tea? What are your favorite varieties? I need more for my stash.

Miniature garlic

You know how people will complain about having garlic breath? I like having garlic breath. I mean come on, free tastes after you’ve already finished the food! What’s not to like about that?

Knowing of my garlic obsession, my mister’s mother gave us some of her homegrown garlic harvest last year. It was delicious, and we ate almost all of it.

Almost, because I decided to save one head to plant in containers on our patio. I read up a bit, and learned that apparently garlic is pretty difficult to kill. This is important to me, because I am really talented when it comes to killing plants. Animals, I’m fine with. But plants can smell my fear.

Of course, I can be creative in how I sabotage my attempts to grow things. I don’t have to kill them outright by forgetting to water them, or giving them too much/not enough shade, or what have you. With this garlic… I just plumb forgot to plant them. After countless reminders to my mister of, “Don’t use that garlic! I’m planting it!” I just didn’t manage to actually get them into some dirt.

As a result, instead of planting them in the fall like you’re supposed to, I just said screw it and decided to plant them after the last frost around April of this year.

So, what happens when you plant garlic in the spring?

Miniature garlic!

miniature garlic

Maybe I should have a party where I serve mandarin oranges, forelle pears, lady apples, quail eggs, and intact roasted heads of my tiny garlic to spread on bitty melba toasts? Then I can pretend I did this intentionally.

miniature garlic

Stuffed Grapes

Imagine an appetizer made of globe grapes, sliced in half with the flesh scooped out of the middle. The rim dipped in toasted chopped walnuts, the cavity filled with herbed goat cheese.

If this sounds like an unnecessarily fussy Martha Stewart appetizer, that’s because it is.

I also tend to credit this dish as the genesis of my love of cooking, especially of recipes that are “unnecessarily” complex.

“Why are you making deviled quail eggs? Why not just use regular ones?”
“This isn’t any worse than stuffed grapes!”

I’ve always helped my grandmother in the kitchen. She loves to host dinner parties, sometimes for family, sometimes for friends. Her dining table seats twenty, maybe more, and she likes to fill every chair. She even sells seats for a dinner party at her church auction every year, and it is well-attended. Despite being a Gentile, she hosts a Seder every year — in my opinion because it’s one more dinner party she can throw, but also because one of her dear old friends Maury isn’t able to do it on his own. The woman loves to feed people.

And of course, she loves having little sous chefs.

One of the most frequent assignments was adding butter and sour cream to the mound of boiled potatoes before turning on the Kitchenaid mixer — which admittedly, as far as cooking tasks go, is… small potatoes (sorry). But it’s a great task for kids. I also did a lot of stirring: simmering gravy, brownie batters, soups. When it came to putting things into things and maybe stirring it some, I was a champion.

Then there were the stuffed grapes. I was about ten years old, sitting on the step stool at the kitchen bar while my grandmother prepared for one of her parties. She mostly goes for the veggie trays and hummus these days, but fifteen years ago she was going for the gold, yo. She sliced dozens of grapes, and may have scooped them too. But then she put my little fingers to work: dipping the grapes in the nuts, rolling tiny balls of chevre, then placing them in the divot without disturbing the crunchy halo.

The thing is, I rarely cooked at home. My father was never much of a cook, and was busy working and raising three kids on his own. With all of that, plus trying to carve out some time where he could relax, home cooking wasn’t high on his list. So we relied on a lot of convenience food. Yes, I helped my grandmother cook at her house, but it never seemed like a thing that regular people did. Food came out of boxes, cans, and drive-through windows. Even when I became a vegetarian at thirteen, it was still easy enough. After all, there was a KFC/Taco Bell combo a few miles away; I could get a bean burrito and my siblings could have chicken fingers.

In college, I cooked nothing but scrambled eggs with various things on top, pasta with various things on top, and heated up canned soup. I was trying to eat less junk food, but my kitchen skills were limited to the very basic on one end, and then special occasion foods that I had made with my grandmother on the other. Something had to give.

So what else could I do? I learned how to cook. Without the internet, I don’t know what I would have done. But with YouTube videos, food blogs, and some calls to my grandmother, I started my transition to making and eating real, good food. Following and then adapting recipes, learning techniques to transfer to other foods, and acquiring a few too many kitchen gadgets. And luckily, my early training in watching my grandmother improvise in the kitchen seems to have paid off.

At the time the stuffed grape incident, I think I scoffed at my grandmother — all this work for a grape! It’s gone in one bite! I didn’t even get to taste the creation, because as a picky child I was not down with the goat cheese (thankfully, my palate has matured).

Now I get it. The interplay of sweet, juicy, crunchy, salty, tangy, creamy, all in one bite. Worth it.

I still love making cocktail vittles, but the lesson applies to so much more. Cooking is a process. It takes time and effort, and then it’s gone in a blink. Sometimes I get home from work and am so exhausted that all I can do is boil some pasta and throw some gross jarred pesto on top. And you know what? I’m usually disappointed. Taking the time to make food that looks and tastes extra special, food that delights and sometimes surprises? So worth it.

This is not to say that everything I make is complicated. I work a full time job, have hobbies, maintain personal relationships, and spend way too much time playing with my ferret. I’m not making extravagant meals every night of the week. But still, I try to eat well, and eat tasty.

So there you go. Vegetarian food, sometimes fancy, sometimes modest, always delicious.