Steamed Whole Trout on Bacon-Cranberry Wild Rice
"Envy eats nothing, but its own heart." -- German Proverb
Sister Nora wouldn't approve: despite the guilt she seared into my very being with her fire-and-brimstone glare during first grade, followed by ten more years of Catholic schooling, I'm not much of a regular church-goer. However, that's not to say that I haven't retained the lessons of parochial education; in fact, my attention was focused on a bit of Church doctrine this past Sunday.
What weighty religious matter had me preoccupied on a day of rest? Why, nothing less than the Cardinal Sins, known more ominously as the Seven Deadly Sins. Specifically, I was contemplating how they applied to my relationship with food: Gluttony is obvious while Greed rears it's avaricious head whenever I squirrel away the last bit of chocolate for myself. Sloth can quickly overtake me, generally in the form of laziness about cooking and blogging, but when I actually rouse myself to cook a dish praised by Mr. Noodle or manage to write a well-commented post, it is unseemly Pride that swells. The most difficult to connect were Wrath and Lust, until I considered how frustrated - angry, really - I am at myself when a silly mistake ruins a recipe, or (taking the Church's original term for the latter vice - Extravagance) how I spend those extra dollars for some exotic ingredient when a homegrown variety would do. But the sin that really struck me to the core with more than just a twinge of shame was Envy.
I'll Have What They're Having . . .
The best thing about food blogs is reading about the wonderful food experiences of others around the world; the worst thing about food blogs is reading about those wonderful experiences and wishing they were my own. This is what envy is to me.
Unlike the other vices, envy is not always an obvious trait. Like a lovely piece of fruit infested by a worm, it may appear as a relatively positive emotion: emulation. Of this desire to acquire for ourselves that which we admire in others, Aristotle wrote, "[Emulation] is felt not because others have these goods, but because we have not got them ourselves . . . [It] makes us take steps to secure the good things in question . . . " (Rhetoric Bk II, Ch 11). In fact, the modern study of evolutionary psychology suggests that envy has been beneficial for human evolution by spurring competition, innovation, and social values:
"[E]nvy's salient features - its persistence and universality, its fixation with social status and the fact that it cohabits with shame - suggest that it serves a deep social role . . . [helping to] explain why humans are comparatively less hierarchical than many primate species, more prone to rough egalitariansim and to rebelling against kings and tycoons who hog more than their fair share." (Angier)
However, emulation as a positive catalyst can turn negative when we increasingly evaluate our lives in comparison to others and find our own wanting:
"[Envy is] a reluctance to see our own well-being overshadowed by another's because the standard we use to see how well off we are is not the intrinsic worth of our own well-being but how it compares with that of others."(Immanuel Kant, as cited in D'Arms)
And although it's been enshrined in religious doctrine as a human failing, envy - or something very close to it - may be an emotion shared by other primates, according to primatologist Frans de Waal. He observed that monkeys became dissatisfied with their cucumber treats when one of them began receiving more coveted grapes. As a result, the primates stopped working cooperatively and appeared to develop grudges against fellow monkeys who were perceived to have an advantage (Angier).
The Dish Is Always Tastier at the Other Table
(Photo by Crystl/Flickr)
Envy fosters a nagging discontentment with one's personal set of circumstances, no matter that it may be perfectly fine by any other measure, and it makes us doubt our satisfaction with what we have. Envy is the reason why I crane my neck to peer at the food being enjoyed by other diners, then fret that they made a better selection than I did or somehow received a larger portion. The saying goes that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but for someone who constantly thinks about food like I do, it's the dish that is always tastier at the other table.
It's difficult to admit that I'm an envious person, especially when Aristotle goes on to say that "envy is a bad feeling felt by bad persons . . . [and] makes us take steps to stop our neighbor having [good things]". Ouch. I would argue certain points with Dead Greek Philosopher, but there is no denying an element of truth in his words: envy can lead us to deprive others of 'good things'. It is often unintentional; when I am envious of another's good fortune, I don't plot to snatch it from them or anyone else. Yet feelings of envy may lead to subsequent actions that indirectly affect the fortunes of others.
When I recently read a comment from someone who wished they lived in a 'cool city' instead of their own mid-sized, Midwest town, my first reaction was, "Me, too." With that small thought, I managed to negate all the great aspects of Minneapolis and St. Paul, not the least of which are the wonderful quality and wide diversity of food offerings in these cities. I lamented the departure of Nate Appleman, winner of this year's James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef Award, from San Francisco's A16 but completely ignored the fact that the Best Chef Midwest winner was Minneapolis' own Tim McKee of La Belle Vie. I've commented on other blogs about how I'd love to stroll through the Hollywood Farmer's Market in Los Angeles or visit the Asian Night Markets in Vancouver but have never posted on my own blog about the delicious food to be found at any of the 50-plus outdoor markets in the metropolitan Twin Cities. And I've yearned to dine in other cities' urban ethnic enclaves (choose your favorite '-town' or 'Little *'), even as I dive into a steaming bowl of pho, posole or avgolemono on Nicollet Avenue, a.k.a. 'Eat Street'.
By casting envious eyes at far-off fields, I've blinded myself to the bountiful garden right before me and in doing so, I've deprived local farmers, merchants, chefs and other dedicated people of the 'good things' they rightly deserve: attention, acknowledgment and respect.
So the next time a mention of LA's Kogi Taco Truck sparks a want, I'll grab locally-sourced beef tongue tacos and goat's milk ice cream from The Chef Shack at the Mill City Farmer's Market instead. Before I special-order some Stichelton from Neal's Yard Dairy in the UK, I'll pick up some robustly pungent, aged Danish-style Tilsit from Eichten's Hidden Acres, just a short drive northeast of Minneapolis/St. Paul. And while I wait for the chance to eat Fish Ball Noodles at a Singaporean hawker center, I will enjoy fresh-caught Wisconsin rainbow trout over Minnesota wild rice, hand-harvested by the Scenic Waters Wild Rice Company.
Who knows? As I explore and share my appreciation for the culinary delights to be found in the Twin Cities, some of you might even come to envy me!
Angier, Natalie. "In Pain and Joy of Envy, the Brain May Play a Role." New York Times Feb. 17, 2009. n.pag.
Aristotle's Rhetoric. Online compilation by Lee Honeycutt from translation by W. Rhys Roberts.
D'Arms, Justin. "Envy" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward Zalta (ed.) 2009.
Bacon-Cranberry Wild Rice
Wild rice is many things, but rice isn't one of them! It is actually a grass seed (Zizania palustris) that is native to the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States, but its particular abundance in Minnesota has earned it the title of state grain. I purchased a batch at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market from Scenic Waters Wild Rice Company, a family-owned business which collects naturally growing wild rice from local streams and lakes in northern Minnesota using centuries-old traditional methods of hand-harvesting. Unlike commercially cultivated versions that are found in many grocery stores, truly 'wild' rice is organic, lighter in color and cooks a bit more quickly. The end result are firm grains with a slightly chewy bite and light, nutty flavor that is excellent in combination with crisp, salty bacon and tender, sweet cranberries. For this dish, I decided to borrow techniques for making Filipino fried rice.
1 cup wild rice (yields 3-4 cups cooked rice)
2 - 2 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked in 1/4 white wine
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4-6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
2 Tbsps fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, and basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a heavy saucepan, bring 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water or broth to a boil; in the meantime, wash wild rice thoroughly, rinsing well at least twice, then add to boiling water;
2. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 25-30 minutes; when done, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. For best results, prepare rice the day before and store in the refrigerator;
3. In a pre-heated skillet, fry chopped bacon until fat is rendered. Add minced shallots and garlic, and fry in bacon fat until soft and fragrant;
4. Add 3-4 cups of cooked wild rice and sauté until just heated through;
5. Reserving the wine, drain cranberries and add to rice mixture, stirring well to incorporate. If the rice has dried out a bit from being in the refrigerator, add reserved wine a few tablespoons at a time until desired texture is achieved;
6. Just before serving, add fresh herbs and stir well. Serve hot with your favorite meat, fish or poultry!
Steamed Fresh Trout
Located about an hour northeast of the Twin Cities in neighboring Wisconsin, Star Prairie Trout Farm has been raising their namesake fish since 1856! Although it is a much larger operation today, the farm prides itself in the same cold spring waters in which their trout were raised then as they are now, producing the lovely specimen that I purchased, already cleaned, at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market this past Saturday. Learn more about Star Prairie Trout Farm in this great article in the Twin Cities-based online food magazine, The Heavy Table.
Of all the choices for preparation, I decided to steam the fish whole, stuffing it with slices of ginger and sprigs of Thai basil, topping with lime slices and seasoning it with salt and pepper. I then wrapped it in banana leaves and set it inside my bamboo steamer, cooking for approximately 30-35 minutes. The trout had a delicate flavor with hints of the ginger, lime and basil, as well as the banana leaf, and its tender flesh was a perfect match for its bed of chewy, nutty wild rice.