This is the time of year that conscious consumers dust off their soapboxes to proclaim the virtues of "Buying Local" for the holidays. And indeed, if you are buying things, buying them from local artisans is they way to go. But the soapbox I'm standing on this December wasn't hand crafted out of local sustainably harvested lumber by a master carpenter, it was pulled from the dumpster behind the Goodwill. That's right, I'm talking about the Church of Stop Shopping right here.
Let's face it--sometimes, Buying Local can be expensive, unsustainably so. We are focused on building a life that we can maintain without having to work a combined 80 hours a week. Truth be told, we'd like to work as little as possible. That means we need to spend as little money as possible as well. We like living this way--it inspires us to be creative, and to find abundance in all the little cracks and crevices of modern life.
Lately, we've been revelling in the particular kind of abundance that stems from cooperation, generosity, and community. The "stuff" that you get out of this kind of abundance is extra special--you know who made it, and you know that it was made to be shared. It just feels good.
So, without further ado, I present to you two ways to enjoy this most special form of abundance while spending zero dollars and making new friends:
The Food Swap
We participated in our first formal food swap this weekend, and it knocked our socks off. Our local incarnation is called Valley Food Swap; it uses the Food Swap Network format. Basically, you bring a bunch of food items (canned, frozen, fresh produce, baked goods, you name it) to swap with everyone else who attends. It runs a bit like a silent auction--every item has its own sheet of paper where you can make a swap offer. At the end, you review your swap sheets, decide which offers look most appealing, and make your trades. Here's a before-and-after of what we brought to the swap, and what we brought home:
Check that out! We brought five items: spiced carrot jam, cranberry-ginger chutney, low bush blueberry jam, kimchi, and frozen pie crusts. We brought back...all this loot! The pile includes homemade caramels, an aloe plant, applesauce, hot sauce, three pints of tomatillos (who still has fresh tomatillos this time of year? wizards?), fresh eggs, and frozen pumpkin puree. We also brought back some of the stuff we brought to swap, which is great, because I wanted some of those pie crusts for my own freezer! In fact, we've got a chicken pot pie in the oven right now...
Some of this loot will stock our own pantry, and some of it I got to give as presents to friends and family. In addition to bringing home all this amazing food, we got to see some old friends, meet one of our new city councilors, and chat with some amazing gardeners and home preservers.
Update: One of the swappers asked me for the recipe for the carrot jam, so here it is (modified from this one):
Spiced Carrot Jam
Makes about 8 or 9 pints
6 cups sugar
4 cups water
4 lbs carrots
4 oranges, peels (chopped) and juice
1 cup blanched slivered almonds
Juice of 1 lemon
seeds of about 20 cardamom pods
1/2 hand of fresh local ginger, grated (use less if you're using the normal brown cured kind)
2 tsp citric acid
Heat the water and sugar til dissolved, add sliced carrots and cook til soft. Puree. Add the remaining ingredients and cook 5-10 minutes. (Stir constantly just like making any other jam). I canned these in 1/2 pint and 1/4 pint jars in a hot water bath for 35 minutes (25 for the 1/4 pints.) This makes a sizeable amount of jam--half the recipe if you want a more reasonable quantity.
Inspired by this potluck, we decided to try holding a similar weekly event at our home a few towns over. We live in a community that can feel a little isolated from the more happening towns nearby, which makes those of us who live here form a very unique sense of camaraderie. But, it can be kind of sleepy round here. We need more places and excuses to get together.
We have had a few weekly potlucks now, and it's been a wonderful experience. And talk about abundance! Guests have brought oysters, fancy chocolate, amazing wine, and homemade tiramisu to share. When each person brings one lovely dish, you have a first class feast on your hands.
At last week's potluck, some guests who are a generation older than us were reminiscing about the potlucks they used to have in their neighborhood when their children were small; a rotating affair several nights a week that took the burden of cooking a big meal off of the entire neighborhood, freeing them all up to do other things.
We all decided that it's high time for a revival of potluck culture.