A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening quartering 13 pounds of organic Meyer lemons, dipping them into kosher salt and squishing them into a dozen half-pint Mason jars. I had never preserved lemons before, but Iâ€™d cooked with them often and fallen in love with their sunny acidity and the way they seem to boost any flavor. I was pretty sure I could do it without messing it up.
I probably wouldnâ€™t have attempted it if it hadnâ€™t been for my Food Exchange. Every other month for the last year, my group meets to give tasty things weâ€™ve made to the 11 other households participating. Itâ€™s not a potluckâ€”instead, youâ€™re given an armload of treats to enjoy at home. Iâ€™ve walked away with lasagnas, simple syrups, soups, pickled everything, bottles of homemade wine, donuts, bagels, pasta sauce, flavored honey, family recipes and inspired first attempts.
Not all of us are great chefs, but we all use the opportunity to showcase something special, and I look forward to seeing what everyone will bring. Being a member of a food swap has inspired me to cook more and try recipes that Iâ€™ve been putting offâ€”challah a few months ago, now the preserved lemons. Not to mention the wonderful people Iâ€™ve met and the yummy things theyâ€™ve given me to eat.
My friend Mariah Sage started the group a few years ago as a way to engender community, motivate herself to cook more and move toward a more self-sufficient lifestyleâ€”goals that have been deliciously met through methods I fully endorse.
As much as I cherish the hidden gems of Santa Cruz, sometimes itâ€™s fun to pretend youâ€™re on vacation and play tourist in your own town. Happy hour at Stagnaro Bros at the end of the wharf hit that spot a few weeks ago. I sat happy as a clam, chili-lime prawn taco in one hand and a $3 Santa Cruz Aleworks kolsch in the other, rotating occasionally to enjoy as much of the 180-degree ocean views as possible. No travel arrangements necessary. 59 Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. Open 11 a.m. daily.