I’ve been so busy compiling “top food stories of 2011″ lists for KQED’s Bay Area Bites and Berkeleyside, I almost forgot to compile a similar list here. So, as 2011 comes to an end let’s take a trip through the Lettuce Eat Kale archives at, arguably, the year’s best blog posts (horn toot alert).

It’s been a different kind of year here at LEK, as regular readers may have noticed. I’ve had an abundance of paid freelance work (no complaints) and thus much less time to write original pieces for my own site. So, you’ll see some crossover on my end-of-year lists this year, as most of my working days have been devoted to turning stories for other outlets, which I reprint on LEK.

I do miss penning personal posts here, and I’d like to make it a goal for 2012 to try to do more such pieces, but given my lousy track record (see exhibit A) with New Year’s resolutions, consider it an intention rather than a guarantee, okay?

Some of this year’s LEK posts spurred lots of comments, others pointed to national trends or local enterprises, some profiled well-known people and their culinary pursuits, still others focused on little-known folks who worked without fanfare on worthy food causes. Some I picked for this list simply because something about the subject or person particularly resonated with me, and I hope it does with you too.

Feel free to check out a post you may have missed, chime in on your favorite piece, or comment on those featured in this list.

And don’t be shy about letting me know what you’d like to see more (or less) of on this site in the year ahead.

I am grateful to Berkeleyside, Civil Eats, and Bay Area Bites, for sharing my stories with a wider audience on a regular basis. Thanks, as well, to other outlets who have published my work this year, including AFAR, Bay Citizen, Eating Well, Edible East Bay, California, Diablo, Great Schools, Grist, San Francisco, and Shareable.

Here’s wishing you, my loyal readers, a healthy, well-read and well-fed 2012.

Top Ten LEK Highlights of 2011 (in no particular order)

1. Covering the business of food blogging: Two posts I wrote for Bay Area Bites struck a nerve with readers — or at least other food writers. Will Write for Food, Payment Preferable generated so much attention I was worried I’d win the underpaid, underappreciated food writer of the year honor (which, seriously, would be okay if there was a big check attached.) A post later in the year, So You Want to be a Successful Food Blogger? Here’s How., annoyed some male bloggers, spoke to others, and appeared in BAB’s top 5 viewed food posts of the year. Oh, and the irony of The Huffington Post (see Will Write for Food) choosing my seafood story as its first BAB feature was not lost on me.

Artisan preserver June Taylor. Photo: Sarah Henry

2. Interviewing dozens of food folks for Berkeleyside’s Friday food column: I’ve been so fortunate to have the chance to chat with some of the most enterprising people in my hometown who work in the food and farming world, as part of my weekly food series for Berkeleyside. Highlights this year (a baker’s dozen) include Q&As with gleaner Natasha Boissier, urban farmer Kim Allen, artisan preserver June Taylor, community activist Joy Moore, culinary couple Wendy Brucker and Roscoe Skipper, jam maker Dafna Kory, cooking instructor MikeC, pasta maker Eric Sartenaer, baker Eduardo Morell, cheese purveyor Cathy Goldsmith, ghee artisan Matteo Girard Maxon, and pop-up restauranteur Nigel Jones.

3. Having a whole lot of fun with Whole Foods Parking Lot: What can I say? Sometimes a story comes your way that is just a blast to write. That’s exactly what it was like with the viral hit Whole Foods Parking Lot in two stories also for Bay Area Bites, the first of which appeared in that site’s top 5 viewed food posts of the year as well. Bonus: The fact that Dave Wittman was a super sweet interview and the story earned me cool cred with my son and his friends.

These guys had fun at a vegan speed dating event. Photo: Karine Brighten

4. Going undercover to document the perils of speed dating with a food focus: Just as well I was on assignment for Berkeleyside for this one, because social anxiety might have prevented me from attending a speed dating event for vegans and vegetarians, if it wasn’t the subject of my food column for the very next day. As you’ll see, this night was not for the faint of heart — or the hungry.

Nikki Henderson of People's Grocery. Photo: Rick Gilbert

5. Continuing coverage of the food insecure: My social justice reporting roots had me ferreting out stories about people working to get affordable, healthy food to the hungry in our communities. I penned pieces on James Berk of Mandela Marketplace in Oakland who brings produce to his people, chef Andre Green, who feeds the homeless in Berkeley, and People’s Grocery executive director Nikki Henderson, who educates people in her community and beyond about food security matters. I also stayed on the school food beat and covered the opening of the first faith-based urban farm in my area, Urban Adamah, and reminded readers on Thanksgiving to give thanks for farmworkers, the people who pick our food, often under difficult and dangerous conditions.

6. Ongoing reporting of promising food phenomenons: This year saw the launch of several food swaps, crop swapsfood book clubs, an heirloom produce resource sharing project, and community supported aquaculture, all of which were covered here.

Talking Head David Byrne and a waiter wearing one of his designs. Photo: Christina Diaz

7. Chronicling the adventures of Alice: It was all about Alice in August. Alice Waters that is, the local food icon whose landmark restaurant Chez Panisse celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with a series of fundraisers for her edible education programs. Personal paparazzi moment: Greeting rocker David Byrne and immediately introducing him to a surprised waiter wearing a T-shirt he designed to support the Edible Schoolyard, all for a photo opportunity. Phew! (Those pics were taken by Christina Diaz, the wonderful photog I collaborated with on several occasions this year. Working with such a talented photographer was a highlight in itself.)

Scenes from the film Toast, released this year in the U.S.

8. Reviewing food films and books: There was less time for these posts this year than in 2010, but I still managed to sneak in a story about Serve Yourself author Joe Yonan and his solo suppers. I also covered an intriguing conversation between Gabrielle Hamilton, who penned the popular Blood, Bones, and Butter, and New York Times writer Kim Severson (so much left unsaid). And I had a chat with Food Rules author Michael Pollan. On the film front, I reported on screenings of the documentary Corner Store, the pilot episode of the TV series Food Forward, the couple behind The Perennial Plate online video series, and Toast, the theatrical release of British author Nigel Slater’s memoir of the same name.

Snapshots from a Wild Onion farm dinner. Photos: Heidi Gross Sandvoll

9. Turning the infrequent original post here: On rare occasion I wrote a post that just appeared here — whether it was an homage to the humble potato, a report on a visit from Michelle Obama or the U.S. Surgeon General, a reflection on the simple pleasures of a country dinner, or a reprint of a previous post (this time with awesome images of my grandmother attached) on the joys of listening and leftovers.

10. Winning an award: I was delighted, surprised, and honored to receive this year’s Karola Saekel Craib Excellence in Food Journalism award in recognition of my food writing on LEK and elsewhere. The San Francisco chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international philanthropic society of female leaders in the culinary world, established the fellowship in honor of Karola Saekel Craib, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter whose writing helped to define food journalism as we know it. Saekel Craib died earlier this year.

The $2,000 award was presented by Saekel Craib’s daughter, Anne Craib, whom I connected with over excess backyard citrus and local gleaning efforts designed to share that surplus with those in need. The award check, which came with no strings attached, was immediately put to good use: I updated my website and bought my growing teen a bigger bed. Speaking of beds, compiling this list makes me feel tired. Time to take a nap.

And that, dear readers, was the year in food over here at Lettuce Eat Kale. Let me know below if you have a favorite LEK story from 2011.

 

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianne Jacob December 29, 2011 at 8:32 am

Mazel Tov, Sarah. What a year indeed. I can’t wait to see what awaits you in 2012.

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Sarah Henry December 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks, DJ. Me too!

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Susi December 29, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your ‘pieces’ this year Sar. I love the diversity and integrity not to mention underlying wit which is always present. May you flourish and continue to share well in 2012. S x

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Sarah Henry December 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Why thank you muchly, Suse.

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Sheryl December 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Congrats, Sarah, on being so prolific and busy in 2011. I’ve enjoyed reading your work and look forward to much more. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2012!
Sheryl´s last [type] ..The Best of Midlife Matters

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Sarah Henry December 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Likewise, Sheryl.

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Alexandra December 30, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Congratulations on the award, well-merited I might add. I have enjoyed so many of these posts that I cannot pick one over the others. Glad you were so successful with your freelancing, even if it left less time for this blog, and wishing you the same success for 2012.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Sally Branch Passes Away

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Sarah Henry January 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Thanks, Sandy, much appreciated.

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Alisa Bowman December 31, 2011 at 9:47 am

I first read about the whole foods parking lot here and didn’t know about the video til you pointed it out. Your other picks were also faves.
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..Yes, There is Good in this World

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Sarah Henry January 2, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Always makes me happy, Alisa, when someone discovers something new to them on my site.

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Jane Boursaw December 31, 2011 at 10:05 am

Wow, just shows what a diverse and amazing array of things you’ve written about through the year. Super round-up! And yes, I do need to get cracking on my best family movies of 2011 post.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..National Film Registry Adds Bambi, Forrest Gump: Watch Clips, Trailers, Interviews for All 25 Films

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Sarah Henry January 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Please do Jane: Just hosted 10 teens who asked me to pick up Horrible Bosses and Bad Teacher for their movie viewing. Can you say inappropriate? I hope you do a family-friendly list that includes picks for this age group too. It’s tricky.

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Living Large in our Little House December 31, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Thanks for giving this roundup. While I read most of them, I had missed a couple. Great stuff and I’m looking forward to reading more in 2012!

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Sarah Henry January 2, 2012 at 3:32 pm

That’s one reason why I do the roundup, LLLH, so folks can catch something they may have missed.

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The Writer's [Inner] Journey December 31, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Your blog is a favorite of mine. I think of it as a place where food, culture, ethics and community intersect. It’s unique and so thoughtful and well done.
The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last [type] ..The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Jessica Alvarez

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Sarah Henry January 2, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Why thank you, merr. I do believe you made my day.

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Jeanine Barone January 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I love your round-up. What a busy and productive 2011 you had. Wishing you the very best for 2012 as well!

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Sarah Henry January 9, 2012 at 7:21 am

And to you, Jeanine. Speaking of productive: I’m impressed by many trips you take around the globe in a calendar year.

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Kerry Dexter January 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

you have such a lovely balance of story ideas, Sarah. wishing you the best and looking forward to reading your writing in 2012 — and beyond.
Kerry Dexter´s last [type] ..Winter’s journeys and music

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Sarah Henry January 9, 2012 at 7:22 am

Thanks so much for saying so, Kerry. Balance is one of those things I strive for in all areas of my life, with mixed success, but it’s worth shooting for, right?

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MyKidsEatSquid January 3, 2012 at 11:57 am

I enjoy all of your posts, but I’m always eager to learn more about what changes and innovations you encounter when it comes to food in schools.

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Sarah Henry January 9, 2012 at 7:23 am

Duly noted, MKES. I suspect a school food post or two will appear on this site in 2012.

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Anna, The Lemon Lady January 9, 2012 at 1:34 am

Hi Sarah, This by far is the best post of the year. (Well, it is already 2012.) Congratulations on the award! I enjoy all of your posts. You get to dine with some of the most fantastic company. You make it so much fun to read your stories. I do love your blog.

So much going on in the East Bay – not so much going on in Contra Costa. I always hope to see more from around here. I’m making my own food scene, door by door, farmer to farmer. One little lemon at a time… Happy New Year. Happy Harvesting. Cheers. Anna “the lemon lady”

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Sarah Henry January 9, 2012 at 7:24 am

Thanks for the kind words, Anna, nice to hear from you. It’s prime lemon time in my backyard, so I think of you, naturally. Oh, and I’m working on a story that’s right up your alley. More soon.

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