One morning as I was standing in line for my daily latte fix, I glanced over at the community board to take a quick survey of all the happenings around town. There were the usual landscaping services business cards, studios offering new dance classes, and band posters featuring their one night shows in various Lansing hangouts, but there was also something out of the ordinary: a small, simple postcard advertising a food swap. A what? My love for food pulled me to leave the caffeine line and get a closer look, but the ad offered nothing more than a website: mid-mittenhomemade.com. Without any research or perusing the foodie website, I registered for the food swap the following weekend. I had no idea what I had just gotten myself (or my brothers, who I also registered so I did not have to go alone) into.
I tried ALL week to think of things to bring to the swap, but nothing grand came to mind. At the very last possible hour, I decided to bring spicy roasted chickpeas, Fruity Pebble rice krispies, banana chocolate cookies, kale chips, and ONE SCOBY (a starter colony to brew kombucha). I still wasn’t 100% confident with my variety, but it’s all I had to work with.
Upon entering the swap, I was immediately greeted with the biggest smile and a genuine spark of enthusiasm: enter Danielle, Mid-Mitten Homemade’s founder. While we were signing in and becoming acquainted with our swapping neighbors, something outrageous happened- Danielle mentioned that she was so excited to meet me after recognizing my name on the registration. Excuse me? I had absolutely no idea who she was. Danielle stated that she was an avid Awesome Mitten reader and had been reading my articles for the past year on the blog. In all honesty, the swap could’ve ended there. I felt like a movie star (no joke)!
After introducing ourselves to the group, the tastings began. Seriously, it was some of the best homemade food I’ve ever had. Some of my favorites were the pulled barbeque chicken, mustard seed dip with homemade soft pretzels, dark stout, sriracha salt, and Buddha hand infused vodka. While trying the sample, swappers wrote their names next to the samples and offered what they would be willing to trade for full size portions. After everyone was happily full and loudly chatting (about the food!), the official swapping began. Each participant was allowed to swap one for one and every one was reminded that it was perfectly acceptable to decline a trade. I completely unprepared for how many swappers were fighting over my SCOBY and it was difficult to decide who to swap for it as I didn’t want to offend anyone! Overall, I ended up with a great haul of peanut butter granola bars, citrus vodka, chocolate biscotti, goat milk soap, whiskey stout, and much, much more!
Although all of the food was delicious, my favorite part of the swap was the community. Everyone was so inviting and excited about getting to know the newcomers, and the returning swappers were happy to share their favorite recipes. I strongly suggest attending the next Mid-Mitten Homemade Food Swap and experiencing the group for yourself – you won’t regret it!
Introducing the Mid- Mitten Homemade Founder: Danielle!
1. What is Mid-Mitten?
Mid-Mitten is a couple of things all in one place. First it’s a food blog that I use to put my recipes and thoughts about cooking while living in Michigan. I love to prepare infusions, whether it’s using berries that I’ve picked to infuse vodka for gifts, or making my own vanilla extract. Second, Mid-Mitten is a spot to register for my food swaps, the only one in Michigan. Third, Mid-Mitten is a place where I advertise my cooking classes as I host them. I hosted a knife sharpening class and an intro to pasta making class that was really well received.
2. What inspired you to start Mid-Mitten?
I decided that my infusions had gotten out of control. I had vinegars, sauerkraut, vodka infusions, and lemoncello everywhere. And I had started a food club that grew from 10 members to over 450 members in just two years. As I met more people I realized lots of people in Michigan were making their own stuff just like me. I met people who were brewing their own beer, curing salmon, and making pickles. So that’s where the food swap comes in.
3. What is a Food Swap?
Food swaps are private parties (you must register). You bring anything you have harvested, canned, cooked, or baked and you swap (one-for-one) with others that have registered. For instance, in the past I’ve brought wild ramps that I harvested, a couple jars of homemade coarse grain mustard, and a couple of vinegar “mothers” to swap. You then walk around and taste samples and decide what you want to swap for. In the end you talk with the other swappers and offer your swap for theirs. If they want what you brought then the swap is complete. When you go home you will have a great variety of homemade food products.
4. What is your favorite item to make for a swap?
I love infusions or anything that needs time to make it taste better. So I have made a cinnamon horchata with homemade almond milk that was received really well. I also have made shrubs. Vinegar shrubs used to be drank all the time in the past. You pick a great fruit, add a good tasting vinegar and let it sit for a couple of weeks. Then strain the fruit and add sugar and cook it down until the sugar has dissolved. You can drink them by themselves, pair them with sparkling water for a spritzer, or better yet: you can add it to your favorite cocktail.
5. How can other Michiganders get involved?
Anyone can join us but there are a couple of rules. You have to register for the event. The food swaps are free but you must register to attend. You can find the registration on www.mid-mittenhomemade.com , the Mid-Michigan Food club website at http://www.meetup.com/Mid-Michigan-Food-Club/, and also on the Mid-Mitten Homemade FB page https://www.facebook.com/midmitten.homemade. Then you bring along with you anything that is food and that you harvested, picked, cooked, canned, preserved, or baked yourself. There are a tons of examples on the Mid-Mitten homemade website, just click the food swap section.
6. What is the difference between Mid-Mitten Homemade and Mid-Michigan Food Club?
Mid-Michigan Food Club is a meetup.com club that is free for anyone to join. I am the organizer but also have four great co-organizers that help out a ton. We have a meet and greet at a restaurant, at least one tasting (beer, chocolate, chili peppers) and a couple of other foodie inspired events every month.
The Mid-Mitten Homemade is a passion of mind that I hope to turn into a business and grow the name.
7. Where do you see Mid-Mitten/Food Club next year? In 5 years?
Honestly I couldn’t have imagined how big the Mid-Michigan Food Club has gotten so I have no idea where it will be in 5 years. I assume we will still have a great group of people that love to cook, love to eat and want to have fun with others that like the same thing. Any new restaurant or food event will be on the agenda in the future.
For Mid-Mitten Homemade I have a couple of plans that I think could help the Lansing community learn how to cook and love food. I plan on having more cooking classes to help this goal as well as have dinners in the area. I am interested in the refugee and immigrant population showing their food cultures. Of course I will use the site as a food blog and highlight Michigan food stuff.
8. Favorite place in Michigan?
That’s really hard. I love Traverse City and the peninsulas around it. I lived in T.C. years ago and loved foraging in the woods, floating down the Bestie River on an inner tube, or picking cherries at one of the local orchards. I also love Detroit because I grew up hiking on Belle Isle, touring the Better Made potato chip plant or attending the Polish festival at Hart’s Plaza. Too many great places to choose.
9. Favorite Michigan brand/food?
Well I have to say that Sander’s Bumpy Cake is my favorite brand. My grandmother worked at Sander’s and our birthday cake was always a Bumpy Cake. I still get one every year (from the freezer section at Meijer).
10. Favorite Mid-Michigan restaurant?
My favorite restaurant really isn’t a restaurant at all. I love, love, love Super Mercado La Estrella in Lansing. They are a supermarket and if you walk into the back they have a meat counter and a prepared food area. The gordita’s are incredible and the tortas are huge! My favorite is an al pastor gordita and their homemade horchata. The gordita is really big and really cheap ($2.50) so my lunch is under $4 bucks and fresh and filling.
11. Any advice for anyone wanting to start their own meetup?
I think that anyone who wants to start their own meetup should realize that it seems expensive to be an organizer but worth it. The best piece of advice from me as an organizer is only schedule meetup events that you will want to go to no matter if anyone wants to join you or not. My first event was a class on how to make marshmallows and I was going to make them no matter what. One person attended and we had a great time. That member is still a member and in fact was one of the first people that registered for the food swap.
12. Something most people don’t know about you?
Not very many people know that I’m a certified Master Gardener and that I used to farm an acre in Eaton Rapids with veggies, chickens, and berries. Within that acre I was able to be almost self-sufficient.
13. Anything else you want to include?
One of the best events that we have ever had was a meal cooked by a Cameroon immigrant. The members that attended are still talking about it. So if there is someone out there that is an immigrant or refugee or cooks traditional, ethnic meals, and would like to share their food culture I would love to hear from them.