Wednesday, January 25, 2012

San Diego Food Swap: From Soup to Nuts

I've written about San Diego Crop Swap, but it turns that we have another similarly themed group in town--San Diego Food Swap. This group, which has met monthly since April, has a little broader mission, as the name implies. It's not just about exchanging excess harvest bounties (think zucchini), it's about sharing homemade dishes, beverages, or products (including soap, toiletries, and pet food) that may or may not include homegrown produce.


Anyone in the community may participate--and there are FAQs on the website that explain the parameters. No, you don't have to exchange recipes but, yes, please label your product in case someone may have an allergy to an ingredient. Yes, to homemade beer and wine, but keep it to samples at the event. Make it, label it, sign it up on the website, and then decide the value of it compared to what you want to exchange it for. It's that easy--and that fun.


So much fun, in fact, that organizer Hillary Starbright Condon decided to have a soup contest. The event, held last Saturday at the Ocean Beach Women's Club, drew a couple of dozen people and nine competitors. The judges were Sam Zien (Sam, the Cooking Guy), Ed Decker of San Diego CityBeat, comedian Jesse Egan, and, well, me.


For the first hour, it was all about set up and exchange. Serious exchange. How many jars of lemon curd, hot fudge, or candied nuts would Gia Strang exchange for, perhaps, Peggy Spitz's lavender heart cookies or Lisa Stockton's Meyer lemon meringue pie or Sandy and Jared D'Onofrio's Dangerously Good Irish Cream?

Lisa Stockton's ware: French Onion Soup, Lemon Meringue Pie, and Chipotle Salsa
 These folks are serious about their food. Spitz is all about lavender. She makes sugar cookies infused with the herb and lavender jam. She swears that if you dry the herb and remove the flowers, the stems create a wonderful smoke that permeates proteins when added to the grill. She also spent years refining her treasured recipe for her Burgershire Soup, inspired by the Cheshire Inn in St. Louis, a restaurant that she visited before her marriage, now decades ago. This is one of the soup entries in the contest.

Peggy Spitz's Burgershire Soup with homemade crackers
Judging was based on three criteria: taste, presentation, and creativity. Some folks, like Spitz, really got into the presentation. But, of course, the most weight was given to taste and though the competition was tight, we each had the same clear winner: Gia Strang's African Peanut Soup.


This was a rich, stew-like dish, with deeply layered flavors that come from chopped peanuts and peanut butter, chicken stock, ginger, garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, yams, sweet potato, chunks of chicken, and cilantro.

The group's next event--on Feb. 18 from 2 to 4 p.m., also at the Ocean Beach Women's Club--will include a Holiday Bake Off with cash prizes and "celebrity" judges. This is definitely something to check out--these folks are fun.

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