Thursday, August 1, 2013

Redeeming The Grains Part I: The Paleo Narrative

An interlude of sun and heat has lately interrupted the symphony of soddenness this summer has intoned. A crescendo of growth among the grasses on the field above has at last begun to taper as the mower finds its beat. Slender stalks of gold and green bear seedhead notes of varied form; as my striding legs pick through their riffs, one note- discordant in this tableau of wild growth- holds and arrests my unshod feet.
One of these seedheads is not like the others...
This Demeter-borne builder of man's daily bread, this vilified villain of Paltrow's vulnerable villi, this stout yellow sheaf of starchy seeds- whether sanguine or sinister- is our familiar Wheat. I smile as I would at an often-troublesome friend, resigned to knowing that while not all of our disagreements can be resolved, fondness creeps in around the edges when my guard is relaxed. Such is my relationship with this embattled grain, as I have yet learned that redemption treads even in the territory of past condemnation.

Yet far afield from my meeting here a battle still rages- between those who bear reverence for this golden grain, and those who would see it forever diminished to a source of adhesive. In forums, on blogs, on talk shows and in grocery-store aisles, wheat and its glutenous cohorts are on trial in the stomachs of a hungry world. That they feed so many of its denizens just sets the stakes higher; even if they're found guilty, how would we extricate them from our lives?

The list of charges is long: our once-celebrated cereals now stand accused of everything from mangling our intestinal mucosa to stripping the noble paleolithic savage of his inherited liberty and casting him into the pit of civilized subordination. Does it surprise, really, that the grain-rejecting “Paleo Diet” has gained greatest momentum here in the USA, a nation founded on and formed by periodic spasms of grasping for a freedom we've never quite managed to define? If stems of grass weave the manacles that restrain our spear-throwing shoulders, is it any wonder that we who need a struggle to self-validate would move to torch the granaries?

For some this debate sparks quite a bit of passion. But do these passions equate to justice? Do the charges brought with such fury stand? I was once resolute in pronouncing the Evils Of Wheat. Now, I am not so sure.

The question of our prehistoric relationship with grains is where I first entered the fray. Yearning to find some existence alternative to expected participation in a culture that just wasn't convincing, I came across the concept of Rewilding. The notion that an animal confined in a zoo is unlikely to experience its full biological inheritance of being, and that this is reflected in the modern dysfunctions of humans in cages built of culture and concrete, continues to resonate with me. A dietary regime aspiring to return to humanity's wild roots held an obvious appeal. With growing health concerns that seemed reasonable to link to the previous year of eating mostly boxed remixes of grain, vegetable oil and artificial flavorings, diving headlong into the Paleo Diet was certainly a more accessible way to feel like I was rewilding myself than retreating to a bark hut in the PNW.
Though I did give it some thought.
One of the central concepts of the Paleo Diet is that ancient human ancestors, living as hunter-gatherers, would not have bothered to eat grass seeds, and as a result we modern humans are poorly adapted to the grain-heavy diets that appear to coincide with health conditions regarded as “diseases of civilization.” Scattered heads of tiny grains would be passed by for game, fruits, larger nuts and seeds, leafy greens and roots (popular manifestations of the paleo diet include endless variations of proscribing or promoting some of these elements over others).

This is not an unfounded notion; the field of Optimal Foraging Theory explores the dynamics of human behavior in hunter-gatherer cultures in relation to maintaining a sufficient supply of food. Optimal Foraging models often indicate a much higher return-for-effort with foods like game, fruit, and (where available) honey. Grains require the gathering of many seedheads and then separating the nutritive seeds from their indigestible husks through threshing and winnowing in order to yield seeds which must then by cooked to be digestible. This is not exactly a process most of us would describe as energy-efficient. Thus, Optimal Foraging Theory might predict that preagricultural hominids would have little use for grains.

Optimal Foraging Theory has its shortcomings. Models must be built on data, and our information on what foods were available and in what ways they were utilized in ancestral environments is far from complete. Often data is substituted from modern hunter-gatherers, which poses a number of problems. Most persisting hunter-gatherers have remained so long because the landscapes they inhabit are considered marginal for agricultural food production. Their cultures are very specialized to their modern environments, which may not be as productive and abundant in human food as land now converted to agricultural production (due to its fertility) may have been. The modern tableau of species these hunter-gatherers can choose from is also likely radically different; what modern species are equivalent to the pleicostene megafauna whose bones bear the cut marks of our early stone tools? None of these people inhabit the sort of fertile grasslands generally considered to be the pivotal environment for genus Homo.

Reflecting the influence of that grassland environment, several papers recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored changes in bone isotope content over the course of hominid evolution that would suggest an increasing intake of proteins with carbon isotopes derived from grasses. Inane quips about Paleo Dieters investing in lanwmowers drew a very solid rebuttal from Dr. Cordain, one of the original paleo diet proponents. As he explains, the bulk of available evidence would suggest that the major source of these grass-derived isotopes would be the meat of ruminant herbivores living in those grassland environments. As is typical, though, his writing is also heavy with disdain for the idea that grasses may have had any importance in early human diets.

A lawnmower likely to increase your dietary quality.
I have grown uncomfortable with the prevalent attitude that the caloric inefficiency of grasses as a dietary staple for hunter-gatherers means that they had no importance or value for our ancestors. This attitude heavily colors Cordain's further arguments in the rebuttal and indeed the whole Paleo diet movement. This is the attitude that opens the door for the notion that humans are poorly adapted to eating grains at all, and that we might all improve our health by eliminating them from our diets. This attitude serves to stave off the application of critical thought to the long lists of “reasons” for grain avoidance furnished in paleo circles.

I would contend that grasses and their seeds would likely have held significant value for our early ancestors. Our modern agriculture-based relationship with grains, wherein they're most importantly an easily stored, high-calorie staple, has shrouded our ability to see and understand what that value (or values) might be. I'll be exploring those possible values in the next installment, followed by an exploration of the rise of grain sensitivities and how they might relate (or not) to our ancestral relationship with grains.

This post is linked to Tasty Traditions and Simply Natural Saturdays,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Writing From Thursday

Where the chickens live.

Today I learned how to locate the carotid arteries of a chicken. Feeling the bird's throat, just below its ear, there is a soft spot in the triangle of flesh bracketed between the skull and the descending spinal cord. Or ascending spinal cord, as the case may be, with the chicken suspended upside-down in an aluminum cone, lulled into calmness by the fingers stroking its feet.

My fingertips, encountering this soft spot, provide a rough estimate of where the major blood vessels will be found. But they do not, themselves, play the role of finding the arteries. The arteries are found by the thin knife in my other hand. I ask the knife, “is this the place?” and it answers, I hope, a yes in deep red that promises that the chicken will be unconscious almost before it can register what's happened.

I am new to this question-and-answer, though, and the knife sometimes responds with “no.” Here instead is a windpipe, or a minor trickle of blood and a squawk of pain. When this happens a feeling of discomfort centered in the point where my jaw meets my ear demands that I ask again, apologetically, finding relief only in flowing affirmation of the end of a life.

I have never before killed something for food, or really much of anything more advanced than an insect. I've spent one summer raising beef cattle, and am partway through a summer raising chickens, turkeys, guineas, ducks, geese, goats and pigs, all of which are eventually food. But this step in the process is new to me. While it's not pleasurable, it does feel important. I'm not yet sure why, though. Do I know more now than I did before, aside from where those blood vessels reside? Do I understand something now that was hidden to me before?

Even if I'm still sorting out some of the reasons why, I do feel it to be an important piece of the process of understanding, in more than just the intellectual sense of knowing, the way in which energy from the sun interacts with the materials of earth to animate the fantastic web of living things in which we're all inextricably embedded.

New lives begin even as others end.

Each thing that falls feeds another's growth.
For two and a half weeks, a beautiful black Cochin chicken named St. Agnes' Daughter did me the service of incubating twelve small speckled eggs that were not her own. They were fertile Guinea Fowl eggs, a gift from another farmer. It was decided that raising a little flock of Guineas would be a good project for me to take on personally, so I built a cozy nest box and scraped a corner pen in the big blue chicken coop free of the seemingly ancient, solidified chicken manure that coated the floor.

The chicks are beautiful. Lightly striped with a lavender gray that hints at their future coloration, a pale blue-gray laced with white. Guinea Fowl originate in Africa and are raised both for food and for the role they can play in reducing pests like ticks on the farm. With Lyme disease a point of growing concern, Guineas may be an increasingly appreciated presence on small farms in the region. They are voracious hunters not just of ticks but supposedly anything small enough to eat, insect and reptile and rodent alike. They are also reputed to be excellent guard animals, with raucous voices that they raise whenever an intruder appears.

Less domesticated than chickens, Guineas are supposed to have a good bit of wild left in their natures. Managing them in spite of their instincts to roost in the woods, for example, may prove a serious future challenge. I still have a lot of learning to do.

I look forward in particular to learning the character of Guinea Fowl. Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese all have different species-characters. Their are plenty of individual personalities within each species, of course, but there are certain actions and tendencies that are very “chicken” traits or very “duck” traits. So far I definitely prefer the species-characters of chickens and geese to those of ducks and turkeys. It will be interesting to see where Guineas fall on that spectrum.

It has not been a good season for vegetable crops. Rain is usually a good thing for a garden. Rain of varying duration appearing five days out of every six, and often as not in very heavy showers, can be a bit too much of a good thing. Rot takes a toll on root crops like onions and potatoes. A heavy rain just after I planted rows of carrots flooded that section of the field and many of those little seeds floated right up out of their shallow coverings of soil and are now growing as far as 20 feet from where I planted them. A good portion are in the strawberry patch.

We'll be borrowing a backhoe shortly. After we dig a ditch to improve the drainage of the garden field I hope to take advantage of the wet season by preparing part of the ditch for growing watercress. The field is wet enough as it is that there's already watercress here and there volunteering as weeds in my scattered carrot row.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ain't Got No Blog...

...err, Time. Ain't got no time. Not time that would qualify as both productive and free, at least, in the last couple months. And consequently there has been a total lack of blogging. Not that I haven't wanted to, or run a wide range of ideas through my head in draft form, but I've come to a time of transition once again wherein I hope to more consistently make time to write some nice little entries and eventually bring strife and controversy down upon myself (probably). After, all, this blog is for naut-y ideas, eh? Not just tasty fungi.


My To-Do List as outlined a few months ago has seen some progress- I did go out and get a job almost immediately after returning from NOFA. Shortly thereafter, however, we had the surprise crisis of having to move in a hurry, in the middle of the semester in a little college town that's going through a rental cost bubble tied to the availability of hefty student loans and rising costs of on-campus housing, which of course means that it's entirely disconnected from what your average person who works a normal job would find reasonable. There are mediocre apartments here in Fredonia going for the same monthly rate (though payment is by semester) as some of the cheaper places in Brooklyn. We managed to get a place at the bottom of the market, which still costs enough to make the equation of benefit provided by "town job" a lot less friendly than it had been.

This has made progress towards that car a little slower than initially predicted, along with other factors like working nearly all the hours the DMV is open, having no time to go there anyway thanks to all the other non-work stuff to do, and generally never getting to sleep. But all this is on the cusp of change, as the business I work at is closing, my landlords sold the building (no worries about the lease), and the semester is ending. Even as a non-student, the level of busy in my life is generally tied into whatever is happening at the college.

So, it's time for me to get back to working in what I really want to do- farming. In about 2 weeks I'll be moving up to Roo Haven farm with the people who sent me to NOFA. I'll be working for them, working for a rancher and a carpenter here and there, and probably continuing in my recent role as a traveling bicycle doctor. Perhaps most exciting to me is that I've got a piece of land to work with, to grow whatever I may so choose.

So what to do with that? I have a good quantity of seeds, a bunch of groundnut tubers on offer, and a young fig tree named Stella who needs to get out of her pot and into the ground. Past that I've got mostly just a lot of pie-in-the-sky ideas, from experiments with a better drought-and-weed resistant low-tech water delivery system, to a poorly thought-out experiment with the hoped-for results of selling sustainably farmed trout at the farmer's market and turning our regional culture towards better stewardship of the lake (like I said, that pie is hovering way the heck up there). I am open to suggestions as to interesting things that could or should be done with a blank piece of arable land.

That's not really accurate, of course. None of the land up there is blank. It'll be interesting enough just to see what already grows on it, and whether some of the systems already present there could be coaxed into a productive food-bearing state.

In the meantime, I have two more weeks working in a restaurant before I get up there, and they are in danger of being lonely- this afternoon I saw my girlfriend onto a plane to travel around the west coast for a month (as I write she just texted me that she's arrived in Chicago for her layover). So I hope to channel that potential lonely-time into writing here and other projects.

There's plenty to write about. I do intend to finish my NOFA recaps but will also probably go way off the rails into the role of starch in early human diets, whether or not biology influences cultural gender roles and mythical narratives in popular media coverage of the Boston Marathon Bombings. Hopefully I'll persuasively ruffle some feathers, as ranting silently to myself on these topics is an activity with absolutely zero outlet of tension.

In the meantime, perhaps I'll go trim my yarrow-stache:

If you let it grow too long the fibers get too tough for most trimmers to handle. Trimming once per week is advisable.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

NOFA-NY 2013 II: The Shroom Cult

I must begin by assuring the reader that there were no midnight chants or revelatory trances fueled by funny fungi (that I was aware of) at the NOFA-NY conference this year. There are other mushrooms worthy of reverence, after all, for reasons ranging from the medicinal to gastronomical. And of course, who could fail to praise a mushroom that brings in the cash to keep their farm afloat? Mushrooms of all these sorts were frequently under discussion, with many of their enthusiasts in attendance.

I think it was within the first few minutes after our arrival that I heard a passerby saying something about their local Mycology Club. There was a tall fellow in an odd hat who seemed to have based his entire lifestyle around mushroom-hunting. These people were serious about their mushrooms.

But it gets even better: thanks to a few informative workshops presented at NOFA, I now look forward to getting serious about mushrooms as well!

I've long had an interest in foraging, which of course drew me to the Foraging Fun: Fungi and Otherwise workshop on saturday afternoon. Led by the brightly energetic Petra Pagemann of Firefly Farm who led us through a long list of wild edibles, my awareness of the abundance of tasty edible fungi saw some definite expansion. I still have a lot to learn, of course, before I'll be relatively comfortable gathering most mushrooms aside from morels, but I also learned that these mushrooms I found and photographed a couple years back are definitely NOT good for eating:
I never trusted these guys anyways.
We were invited to try a couple different medicinal mushroom tinctures, the utility of which is usually related to boosting the immune system, though ongoing research into the many active compounds in certain fungi hints at far more potential benefits to herbal and pharmacological application of these fungi yet to be confirmed.

Petra didn't limit herself to fungi; the season-based list of wild foods also included plants I find familiar like nettle and cattail, but also some I've explored less like spruce tips and the Autumn Olive, a tip which led me to finally identify the shrubby plant, heavy with red berries, that takes up so much space down in our local creekbed, the related but less-tasty Canada Buffaloberry. 

The only entry for the month of february was the Chaga mushroom, so it pains me to say that I'll have to wait a little while to start this year's foraging, as Chaga is almost unheard of in this part of the state (it loves to live in adirondack birch trees, however). I did get to taste some Chaga tea, which had a complex flavor that was definitely novel to my tastebuds.

And yet, my aim is to be a farmer, not just a forager. To this end the aforementioned Forest Farming of Shiitake, Specialty Mushrooms and More provided a lot of detailed info via a panel of experienced farmers and experts, including Julie Rockcastle of nearby Green Heron Growers, who harvests quite a lot of delicious shiitake mushrooms every year to sell fresh, dried, or in a nut pate at the market. Last week, with everyone around me seemingly coming down with something, I bought a bottle of their shiitake tincture myself. One of the other panelists (some guy from cornell) gave a lengthy presentation on the science showing confirmed immune-stimulating and anti-inflammatory effects of compounds derived from shiitake. Skeptics beware: shiitake is not just for hokey herbalists like me.

The workshop taught me quite a lot that I must admit I had no idea about regarding the life cycle of many fungi. In most, the cycle begins when spores inoculate a nutritious substrate, where they develop into mycellium, which spread through the substrate, digesting nutrients until they've stored enough that certain environmental signals like temperature shifts and the presence of moisture stimulate the mycellium to put out "fruit," the parts of the fungi that we see as mushrooms. The fruits release spores, which find a substrate, and the cycle begins again.

In shiitake, the appropriate growth substrate is hardwood logs. In cultivation of shiitake, the mycellium is given a head-start by being cultured in sawdust in a controlled environment, which is then packed into holes drilled in the substrate logs. Once inoculated with mycellium in this way the logs are referred to as "bolts" and are kept in stacks in well-shaded woods. A year is required for the mycellium to fully colonize the log and store nutrients.

To induce fruiting, the shiitake farmer "shocks" the logs by immersing them in cold water for a day, with the temperature change and moisture mimicking the environmental signals that would naturally tell the fungus to fruit. Done this way, the timing of the fruiting is predictable and happens all at once, rather than bit by bit over time. After about 8 weeks the bolts can be shocked again, so many shiitake farmers stagger the timing of their shockings so that they have at least one stack of bolts fruiting each week, allowing a continuous harvest.

Other farmeable fungi, mostly more difficult and unpredictable to cultivate include Golden Oysters and Wine-Cap Stropharia. One of the coolest-looking fungi is Lion's Mane, which apparently tastes like lobster but consumer awareness is insufficient to support a market for it at the moment. It apparently loves beech forests, so I'll be keeping a keen eye out this year.

Ginseng, Ramps, Goldenthread and Cohosh were also discussed as high-value forest crops, things with which someday I can hopefully stock my forest. Speaking of forests, however, pretty much everything I've talked about so far resides in the understory. It is those denizens of the forest who make it a forest to whom I must turn my attention next: the trees.
So many trees, so little time to climb them all.
Hopefully I'll get that one up more quickly than I did this one.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

NOFA-NY 2013 I: Towards Becoming a Farmer

My excursion to the aforementioned NOFA-NY conference was motivated by the life-direction which I've been growing into for the last few years: I am going to be a farmer. While my interests and hopes for the future are many, farming has emerged as the path which ties them all together most cohesively. As self-labels go, however, "farmer" is certainly loaded with its fair share of preconceptions.

The version of "farmer" that I intend to be strays pretty far from the stereotypical image of the fellow astride a roaring tractor, a slow-flying shuttle passing endlessly over the warp of his fields weaving sun, soil, seed and Dow chemistry into the fabric of his harvest. What we see there is in the end a lonely miner, extracting nutrients crop by crop from the ground via short-lived roots to be ripped up, bundled, and sent somewhere else. In truth he has for decades been a secondary miner; with the soil already stripped, nitrogen-rich fossil fuels are mined elsewhere by a primary miner and then shipped to our secondary miner, that he might spread them on his fields and mine them back out again in the form of sunny sweet corn.

Not that driving a tractor around isn't fun and all, but my eventual farm is less likely to host sights like this:
Yes, that field has been mowed to say "USA"
And more like this:
This doesn't even look like a farm, right? But there's enough  food
in this photo, calorie-wise to feed you for a year or more.
This might be an edible oyster mushroom but I sure didn't eat it. 
Why? I've come to feel very connected to this hilly region of WNY. The soils, topography and climate of this region naturally give rise to a forest ecosystem with mixed patches of grassland and wetland. A method of agriculture that nurtures and gently manages such systems, rather than seeking to suppress them and impose an entirely foreign ecosystem, can yield rich harvests of food for humans while also restoring the land and preserving or increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity, of course, is critical to the robustness of a biological community (I'll write more on why in the future). Dependence on monoculture is already starting to show its vulnerability to even small changes in climate. Farming our native forests is an extremely viable path for society. Sadly, it's also foreign to our culture.

Coming back down to the present, of course, my pie-in-the-sky ambitions have a more immediate obstacle than the titanic trends of consumer culture: as a 22-year old with little money or material assets whose formal education ended at highschool graduation, there are a lot of resources I need to gather before I can begin to put together the farm I envision.

Fortunately, that was the focus of Friday's first workshop at NOFA. Called "Starting from Square One" and led by Erica Frenay of Shelterbelt Farms and Angela Nelson of Daily Harvest Farm, the workshop was focused on exploring and defining one's vision and goal as a farmer and translating that into real-world actions to bring that vision closer to fruition.

A resource assessment brought no real surprises but there was certainly value in putting it all together in one place. I am presently poor in material resources, having gotten by for the last year on almost no money (just enough to cover rent and food, for the most part) from odd jobs and an internship. I don't own a car, much less any workable land. And farming probably never will make me rich- almost every one of the farmers I admire in WNY has a non-farming "day job" to make ends meet.

I do feel well-off in terms of nonmaterial resources, however. I feel lucky to be plugged into a great community of those farmers I just mentioned. Going to the farmer's market is one of the highlights of my week. There's so much generosity, so many opportunities to connect and to learn. In this coming spring I have some land-access on offer from some of those farmers so that I can get started doing some self-directed cultivation. Some of the members of that community have through internships and work imbued me with further resources in the form of skills and knowledge. I've already got a solid grasp on small-scale organic produce gardening and grass-fed livestock management, among other things. As a good self-directed learner I also have an entire university of knowledge down the street here at fredonia state, with a well-stocked library and talkative professors.

A value assessment was next: without getting into the more abstract aspects which are always in expanding flux, I know that I wish to avoid debt wherever possible, have the opportunity to both do hard work and have times to relax, and to furnish the existence of a functional, integrated ecosystem in which I would be a part, as the farmer. In terms of land, I would ideally have a wooded hillside with a level clearing and some portion of wetland.

From the contrast of available resources and the desires elicited by those values, the generation of goals was the next and last part of the workshop. Clearly the primary resources I still need to acquire are a vehicle, capital for purchasing land, livestock, trees etc., and a good amount of further knowledge and skills. My brainstormed "to do" list for this coming year read:
1) get a job
2) get a car and, first, my driver's license
3) grow some crops in the spring
4) continue expanding my skills and knowledge through work and study.

I am pleased to announce that, with regards to this list, I already have some successes to share!

In the week since I returned I have gotten a job, worked two shifts already, and seem to be fitting in very well there. I have also begun self-directing studies at the college library, which I'll be talking about more here in the future. I'm excited to feel that I've got the process underway.

Returning to the NOFA conference, though, that last goal certainly was going to see some work, particularly in regards to the subject of forest farming. That'll be for next time, though, in NOFA-NY 2012 II: The Shroom Cult.

Do come back later.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Briefing from NOFA-NY 2013

For the last two days I've been in attendance of the 2013 NOFA-NY conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farmer's Association, brings these conferences together annually to provide a venue for education and networking amongst the region's organic farmers, farmer-curious and farmer-teachers.

Julie Rockcastle of Green Heron Growers in my own western corner of NY was part of the panel presenting "Forest Farming of Shiitake, Specialty Mushrooms and More" on friday afternoon. Laying out the process of cultivating shiitake mushrooms in detail, the workshop also gave the audience the opportunity to drill and inoculate their own shiitake mushroom logs ("bolts") to take home.
The long tools here inject the drilled logs with mycellium-infested sawdust.
I chose not to make one myself, to instead document the process. After all, I can go visit Green Heron Growers without much difficulty, and I'll probably be moving around a lot before the mushroom is ready to start fruiting like this (about a year):

Out of the 6 workshops I've attended so far, 5 have been excellent and one was just downright abysmal, but I'll say more about that later. The food has been great (and even the coffee!) and, for better or worse even the beer is organic.
Worse for the wallet, certainly, but tasty for sure!
Still coming up tonight are a couple films (one by Farmer of the Year Steve Chaskey) that I've got to hurry up and catch but I'll certainly be back to summarize and share some thoughts. A photo of me bestially devouring a large turkey leg may also come to light.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A new year, a new job?

Well, December slipped right past my blogging intentions despite the occurrence of many good meals. I kept busy; working on the beef ranch, splitting wood and helping with harvests, doing some carpentry. It's fortunate that I've developed enough community to find enough work to at least pay the bills. I'd be happy to keep doing the work I do, but I've decided that if I'm going to be able to buy land to start my own farm someday, I need to be pulling in a bit more income.

So today I went to a job interview for a cooking position at a local restaurant I happen to like. While it didn't go badly, my voice was pretty rough from a new year's eve party that turned into a raucous Journey singalong. Talking audibly took a bit of effort, but I did add a link to this blog, so I might as well take the opportunity to present my case a little more strongly.

Perhaps my biggest weakness on paper is the relative lack of visible restaurant experience, which mostly consists of my 15 months at the Tearoom. After all, many didn't even know it was a restaurant while it was there. The little laminated menus weren't terribly impressive. But from my perspective, those crazy shifts handling stacks of breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, salads, paninis and burgers all at once on nothing but two little electric griddles in the worst-laid-out kitchen in town while also running the register and making drinks must count for something? If I must toot my own horn about something, it'd have to be the ability to learn, react and adapt quickly in a food-preparation environment.

But of course beyond my time at the Tearoom, I've been refining my sense of food and cooking continuously for a couple years now, and with the passing of 2012, I'd like to review some of the highlights. 2013 should be even brighter, if for nothing else but being gifted a set of squared-off plates and bowls. I don't know why food looks so great on square plates, but it does... perhaps it appeals to my compositional sense from drawing and painting?

Anyways, starting from the most recent:

Simple Hearty Breakfast: fried egg, hash browns and roast pork heart

"Hoppy" Chowder: based around goat milk and frog legs. Hoppy because both critters like to jump a lot, right?

Chicken Gizzard Egg-drop soup

"Tuesday Night's Dinner" remixed to fit inside the squash, for breakfast.

Baked feta-and-herb stuffed lobster

Roasted Beef heart with braised radishes
While I'm sure these pictures do a great job of conveying my love for odd cuts of meat, I find myself wishing I hadn't passed up the opportunities to document a lot of the other meals I've made. I think the square plates should help, though. I genuinely don't like how food looks, in photos, on round plates. But sadly blue clam chowder, Salmon-squash curry, heart-and-tongue sandwiches and Harvest Pie didn't make it, among others.

2012 was a tasty year. Here's to 2013, whatever may lie on the horizon.

This post is part of Food Renegade's Jan. 4th Fight Back Friday