An Envious Appetite

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 44 comments
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.

Aristotle (
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!

Works Cited:
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.

Other Sources:

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

To make:

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.


  • Bob said...

    I'm already envious of the Chef Shack, that thing looks awesome! Course, not being Catholic I'm not very concerned about my envy. ;)

    Trout is one of those fish I've been meaning to try again since my tastes have changed. This method looks fantastic.

  • Jenn said...

    I get that food envy a lot especially when eating out. LOL. The things food does to us.

    I'll have to try a that steamed trout. I actually have some banana leaves in the freezer waiting to be used. I'll keep this in mind.

  • Manggy said...

    Haha, thanks for reminding us all. I'll remember that the next time I want to throttle local patissiers who have nothing to brag about :P But the thing is, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. It's not a sin to dream, really :)
    Like the way I dream about your rice 'n' trout, but hey, we get a ton of other fish here ;) (I do like trout though.)

  • Erica said...

    Trout and cat are the most popular fish in Colombia.
    I love any kind of food wrapped in banana leves, the taste is amazing.

    Looks fantastic!

  • diva said...

    i like the way you write! i was hooked from the start :) and i think i may ahve the same problems - greed and extravagance when it comes to shopping and food. oh no!
    i'm liking the wild rice recipe - will def keep that in the books for the next time i host a dinner. cheers!

  • kat said...

    Delicious looking dish. There are an awful lot of good things about living in Mpls/St. Paul. Since moving back from San Francisco we've been continuously surprised by how much the food culture here has grown & improved. Now our friends who come visit from SF talk about moving here

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    As a fellow Catholic, I must say ... there's nothing more fun than having fun with the Seven Deadly Sins! Wonderful post, Noodle! I love the discussion of food envy and I can totally relate ... why is it that my husbands dish often looks better than mine when we're dining out?! Envy, indeed!

    Meanwhile, I adore wild rice and your inclusion of the bacon has me swooning. It looks amazing!

  • lisaiscooking said...

    I've been envying Minnesota wild rice for a while now! Great suggestion to appreciate and support what we have locally, and your wild rice with steamed trout looks fantastic.

  • OysterCulture said...

    I love cooking with banana leaves and the flavors it imparts. The recipe looks yummy.

    Your envy commentary had me thinking of "the grass is always greener on the other side" but the TC has a great food scene as far as I can tell, ok maybe no Filipino restaurants but otherwise it is very respectable.

  • Heather S-G said...

    Your words ring true, Ms. Noodle...your words ring true. I think as long as we remember to appreciate our own "enviable"'s okay to feel a "little" longing. Sometimes!

  • Anonymous said...

    I never thought I was greedy, but my envy scares even me when it comes to food! Defintiely having some envy now looking at these delicious wild rice salad and trout!

  • Jo said...

    The sound of the wild rice is delicious and when I saw the picture I'm really hooked. I'll have to give this a try soon.

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    I'm envious of that fresh water trout. While I'm the envy of many friends with my euro travel life I envy those with a real sense of home. I do find that my envy comes and goes like my moods. I guess "envy" could drive one to make better choices...I'm heading to the midwest next week for a wedding and the dress is "Sexy Midwestern Elegant Attire". So if Sexy and Elegant are in the same phrase as Midwestern there's got to be a lot more than meets the eye! p.s. I very much envy your amazing, thought-provoking posts.

  • Yarntangler said...

    At least Sister Nora won't have to remind you of the starving children in India(China, Africa,Russia-which ever country your nuns worried about)while she makes sure you clean your plate with this rice dish!
    With or without the trout I can't wait to try this.

  • Daily Spud said...

    A couple of years back, someone who was, at the time, a relatively new friend of mine turned around to me and said "I'd like to have your life". She then went on to list the various things that she was envious of. Yikes!

    She was quite serious in her aspiration and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I mean, I do a good line in envy myself (right now I'm envious of your local wild rice) but to have it stated so blatantly actually made me stop and think about the fact that perhaps, yes, I did have something that people could be envious of and that, perhaps, like your appreciation of the Twin Cities, that I should appreciate what I've got more. Lesson learned to some degree at least, though I think I'm becoming envious of that trout, too :)

  • Reeni said...

    What a great post! I go through all those different feelings. I love the rice(or the not-rice) with the cranberries in it - a delicious bed for the trout!

  • Admin said...

    Kant's quote gives me something to think about today.

    Trout cooked this way is the best! Now I'm having a craving for steamed fish and it's only 7:25 AM in Bangkok!

  • Forager said...

    That's one nice, fresh looking trout. Looks delicious! I love reading your blog - you write so well! I'm passing on my Kreativ Blogger award to you - please visit my blog for details :)

  • Lory said...

    I have not tried to cook wild rice, although I have eaten them in restaurants and actually liked them.
    I think I would like to try this method of cooking trout, but probably will use the grill instead of steaming (since it is covered with banana leaves and it probably will cook in a short time anyway, enough for the bananas not to burn, especially if I place it at an indirectly heated spot).
    Envy?...well, I think everyone of us is guilty...

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments!

    Bob - I was envying all those East & West Coast gourmet food trucks and there was one right in my own backyard. Woo-hoo! For me, whole fish is something I try to avoid but this trout was too good to pass up.

    Jenn - Eating out or reading about someone else eating out gets me going (which is why food blogs can be such a minefield!) I've started stocking frozen banana leaves and have been using them with everything!

    Manggy - You're right: envy can actually spur is to try and improve our circumstances. For me, it's pushed me to learn how to cook Filipino food instead of pouting that I don't live in big city with a large Fil population.

    But now that you've reminded me of the fantastic fish selection there, I'm envious! 8-P

    Erica - I love catfish, too, although my husband is not such a fan. I'm only just now starting to steam and grill food in banana leaves. As you say, the taste is amazing!

    diva - Thank you so much! I'm so pleased you enjoy this. I think we can all find a few of these 'sins' in ourselves but the positive thing is that we are aware of them and try our best to be 'good'!

    Kat - We've been here for 4 years now and I'm still discovering so many new aspects of TC. We moved further out in the suburbs so getting downtown is often a bit of an effort but it's been well worth it. But I still need to try harder in appreciating all the Mpls/SP has to offer!

    Diva - We're of the same mind: I always make him tell me what he'll order so that I can prepare NOT to be envious.8-) When I decided to add cranberries to the wild rice, 'bacon' thoughts immediately followed. It turned out quite delicious!

    Gera - How sweet of you! The recommendation made was to fry the fish but I really didn't want to that; steaming was an easy choice. I'm so happy it turned out well.

    Lisa - Now that I've had both the wild, wild rice and the commercially grown kind, the former is by far the best! I hope that I will continue to take my own advice and give my support to local producers when I can! Thank you!!

    OysterCulture - I'm definitely keeping a supply of banana leaves in the freezer from now on! The envy I felt for you and my sisters, living in CA with its large Filipino population did have a positive effect: it made me want to learn to cook the cuisine myself! 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    (replies, cont'd)

    Girlichef - Agreed! I realized that I was doing the exact opposite of what you say: I ignored all the wonderful things around me while longing for what others have. I'll still admire those others but now, I'll look close to home.

    Amanda - My first thought was to grill it in the leaves but really wanted to try steaming as it's a technique that I'd never tried before. Thanks!

    Greg - When you're back to full chewing capability, I will send you some! 8-)

    Burpandslurp - Thank you! We all feel envious at some point but I guess the key is what we do with it. If we improve ourselves, then it's a benefit but if it leads us to think badly of others, then there's something wrong! But when it comes to food, I'm always looking out for #1 - me! (Terrible of me, I know!) 8-D

    Helene - Thank you! I've grilled fish in banana leaves before (delicious) but this was my first attempt at steaming. I'm happy it turned out!

    Miranda - Thank you so much! This is only the second time I've cooked a whole fish - fillets are so much easier. 8-)

    Jo - I hope you do! I love the chewier texture of wild rice and it's often mixed with white rice for variety.

    Gastroanthropologist - Thank you!! I will admit that reading of your travels elicits both enjoyment and envy - I love that you share your experiences but feel that twinge of 'wish it was me!' What I hope to achieve is accepting that I will be envious but to act on it positively - to still be happy for the person who has the good fortune while being proactive with my own life to make those same things happen.

    With that said, wish you safe travels to the midwest wedding and perhaps a rundown of the fashion you see there (half the fun of wedding pictures is seeing what everyone's wearing!)

    Sophie - Thank you so much! The wild rice and trout was such a natural match and I'm fortunate that we have great local producers of both!

    Yarntangler - I hope you'll enjoy it! Wild rice is now such a favorite although I may have to cut it with some white rice to make it last longer! 8-D

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    (And more replies!)

    Duo Dishes - I hope you'll like it! Bacon makes everything taste so much better. 8-)

    Pinknest - Trout has moved to the top of my list, too!

    Daily Spud - Wow! Talk about pressure! Although no one has ever said anything like that to me, I've certainly felt it about others. 8-) I think about all the great invites you've recently received and admit that I feel total envy but at the same time, I'm so happy to know you and that you share those experiences with us!

    Reeni - Thank you so much! The cranberries and wild rice went really well with the trout. I'm definitely going to make it more regularly!

    Leela - When I first read it, I immediately recognized myself. I'm working on it!

    This was my first attempt at steamed fish and I was so happy it turned out well! Now, I need to buy a larger steamer for the really big fish!

    Forager - Thank you so much for both this lovely comment and for sharing your award! I will be posting a proper thank you in the next week or so - I really appreciate it!

    Manang - I actually grilled red snapper in banana leaf a few weeks ago. I soaked the leaves in water first and even though I had it over the flame (gas grill), the leaves didn't burn up! The only mistake I made was not turning the fish, so it cooked well on only one side. I had to finish it in the oven. 8-(

    I hope you do try wild rice at home - it's easy to make; next time, I might mix it with white rice.

    Sam - Thank you! The trout was delicious but in the end, we were just eating the rice with spoons - it turned out that well!

    Pigpigscorner - Yes, it can be scary . . . and very ugly, if it makes one act in a selfish way toward others. I've been guilty of that sometimes . . .

  • Anonymous said...

    Wonderful post, as usual, TN! I know what you mean about looking longingly over the fence to other culinary pastures, but maybe Dorothy was right: it's no further than our own back yard.

    I am fortunate that this back yard in which we find ourselves is full of good things to eat, amazing farmer's markets and excellent cooks and chefs. Sounds like your back yard is filled to overflowing, too!

    The wild rice looks wonderful; I've only ever had the "dark" kind--love your description and pictures of the real thing!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Palidor - I hope they're good memories! 8-) Steamed fish is so tasty but this was my first time cooking a whole one, and trout is almost no-fail!

    Nora - I hope you do! I love fish but sometimes have a tendency to overcook it on the stove or in the oven. No issue like that with steaming - so moist!

    OPC - I miss Raleigh tremendously! The State Farmer's Market is so wonderful (especially the seafood restaurant - drooling for a calabash plate!) But now I realize that I can find the same feeling but in different ways with the fantastic resources around me. I'm learning to be grateful . . .!

    Teanna - This platter was CLEANED!! I was expecting some leftovers but it was that good, if I may say so myself . . .! 8-P

  • Phyllis said...

    Hey TN, I had some trouble posting this comment so I'm sorry if it ended up posting several times :)

    Well, after the recent poutine showdown and the ice cream crawl, it's obvious which deadly sins I'm guilty of!

    And I'm actually quite envious of you for several reasons, here are just a few of them:
    -you are an amazing photographer and a fabulous writer who possesses impressive word power
    - you have access to the Minnesota State Fair (deep fried heaven) and fresh squeaky cheese curds (the stuff of my dreams)
    - you can cook a whole fish! (I've never even cooked a whole chicken)
    - you create the most amazing recipes from scratch
    -Minneapolis is home to my favorite potato chip company of all time - Old Dutch (can't find their snacks in the Northeast)
    - this last one is a bit weird (but I'm a weird food kinda girl) I'm a little envious that you can try lutefisk whenever you want :)

    Looking forward to reading about your culinary exploration of the Twin cities!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Phyllis - You are so incredibly sweet for these lovely comments! I really enjoy writing but taking photographs is something new, prompted by blogging. I'm still learning and perhaps one day, I can get a fancy SLR but for now my trusty point&shoot.

    I have not yet gone to the State Fair but I want to try all the deep-fried stuff that it's famous for. As for lutefisk, I can try whenever I want but the trick is wanting to try it!! 8-D

    Since there are quite a few things you enjoy about MN, you will definitely have to come for a visit!

  • Phyllis said...

    Hubby did find it strange when I told him that MN is on my short list of places to visit :) I truly hope to make it over there one day! And your photos are pretty awesome. I guess have some cool tricks up your sleeve to make that point-and-shoot camera work just like an SLR!!!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Phyllis - [LOL] MN has its charms and I'm sure you can convince the hubs to come along! As for the photos, my only secret is a lighttent made from a cardbox box, tissue & rice paper, and bristol board background. I have to take TONS of pics to get a few good ones. But it's so much fun!

  • Carolyn Jung said...

    Steamed whole fish is one of my favorite dinner dishes. I love it just simply steamed with ginger and green onions, and with hot peanut oil and soy sauce drizzled over just before serving.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Oooo - this is sooo late! Sorry!

    Phyllis - The light tent is 99% responsible for any decent pix I take! Hope you get your hubs to make you one, too.

    Carolyn - This was my second attempt at steamed fish; the first one was a wee bit undercooked so I had to finish it in the oven but this was so much better!


Clean Template ©Copyright 2011 Tangled Noodle | TNB