Of Fad and Fallacy

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 29 comments

Lemon Rice with Ramps & Cashews

I give up.

Actually, I'm giving up for the second time: the first instance was supposed to have been the basis for a blog post - a post that simply refused to be written. After three weeks of trying to coax a reasonably interesting essay from a jumble of thoughts, all I have to show is a screenful of blah.  So, I give up . . . again.

And it's the smartest thing I've done in a while.

I ditched an entire blog post with a few simple keystrokes, though the decision to do so was not as easy. Those now-deleted words represented a considerable investment of time and effort, which in hindsight might have gone toward reading a book, taking a walk or baking some cookies. Given these costs - what I put in and what I gave up - the idea of erasing all of my work seemed too hasty. It just needs a little more time, I thought, a bit more effort. After all, winners never quit . . .

Hmph! How many of us have been shackled to a lost cause, thanks to that bit of misguided motivation? More than enough, it seems, to warrant its own economic term: the Sunk Cost Fallacy. By its flawed logic, abandoning an endeavor wastes the precious resources already invested; therefore, the investment of even more resources is justified in order to make it all worthwhile. In reality (and rationality), a futile continuation only compounds those losses and the end result is often a big, fat zero. At its optimistic best, the sunk cost fallacy prods us to persevere at a difficult task; at worst, it traps us in a Sisyphean challenge.

Warning: Fruitless Effort Ahead
(photo credit: fouro)

Well, the boulder rolled back on me one too many times, so I finally left it where it lay and started over with a more reasonably sized rock. I may not be able to recoup the hours spent on the discarded project, but at least I can direct the rest of my time toward more enjoyable and satisfactory activities.

Oh, wait! I almost forgot: Would you like to know what it was that I first gave up on - or rather, gave in to - and started it all?

Jumping on the Rampwagon

When it comes to trends and fads - say, skinny jeans or the latest iThingie - I am usually standing on the curb as the bandwagon zooms by. Frugality and a rather contrarian nature keep me from impulsively latching onto a current craze, but they can't entirely suppress the instinct to follow the herd. 

In a process known as an informational cascade, the adoption of an idea (or product) by a community spreads as each individual sees others before them taking it up:
"[P]eople form their beliefs using information obtained by observing the behavior or opinions of others . . . 'It is optimal for an individual, having observed the actions of others ahead of him, to follow the behavior of the preceding individuals without regard to his own information.'"
(Pierre Lemieux, Following the Herd)
According to the article above, such behavior has economic advantages by saving us the time and energy of gathering information ourselves, and the risk of making potentially bad decisions based on that information. Instead, we can watch others, such as role models and peers, for the results of their actions. When it comes to fads and the food blogosphere, this is quite easy to do.

Take for example the springtime phenomena known as ramps. I might have remained in blissful ignorance of this elusive wild leek, if not for the flurry of recipes, tweets and sundry news articles that sprouted early in the season. And I might have been unaffected by the frenzy if I hadn't seen respected friends and admired bloggers among the enthusiasts. Honestly, it felt rather lonely reading rapturous accounts of cooking with ramps and not being able to say "Me, too!" So, in spite of my general aversion to crowded spaces, I finally gave in to the fad and bought myself a bunch of those wild and crazy greens.

It turns out that in giving in and giving up, I had a lot to gain.

Lemon Rice with Ramps and Cashews
(Adapted from a recipe by my friend Nitya I.)

Depending on the source, ramps are to be lauded ("The New Arugula!" declares Time Magazine) or lampooned ("Stop talking about ramps!" implores Shut Up Foodies). Either way, at least now I can say I've tried them. While I'm embarrassed to admit that I searched for ramp recipes - it's an onion, Noodle-head! -  at least it gave me an idea of how they are most often prepared, which is pretty much any way you darn well please.

For my bunch, I chose this sunny side dish of Lemon Rice, made by Nitya I., a friend and former neighbor. The original recipe called for asafoetida, a pungent flavoring made from the resin of giant fennel and ubiquitous in Indian cookery; when cooked, its aroma is reminiscent of garlic and onions. Sound familiar? I had no asafoetida on hand, but I had plenty of ramps . . . 

Serves 4-6

1 cup Basmati rice, uncooked (will yield 3 cups cooked)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 Tbsps raw cashews, coarsely chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup chopped ramps, leaves and bulbs
1 clove garlic, minced
4-5 Tbsps fresh lemon juice 
1/4 tsp salt
Fresh cilantro, chopped

To make:

1. Cook rice according to package directions or these instructions
2. In a sauté or frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp ghee over medium heat and add mustard seeds. Cook until seeds start to 'splutter' (i.e. they start popping up - watch your eyes!);
3. Add cashews, red pepper flakes and turmeric powder, and cook until nuts turn golden brown;
4. Add ramps and garlic, and sauté until greens are wilted, then turn off heat; 
5. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and salt;
6. In a large bowl, add 1 tsp ghee to warm cooked rice, then add sautéed seasonings and lemon juice mixture. Stir well to combine.
7. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with grilled meats, such as lamb.

As mentioned, I was persuaded to join in the 'rampage' after seeing the marvelous dishes created by some of my favorite food bloggers. Ramps are nearing the end of their season, but there may still be some available at specialty grocers and local farmers' markets. So, check out these great recipes, then head out and forage some wild leeks of your own!
  • Kat of A Good Appetite offers Wild Things Pasta with ramps and wild morel mushrooms, and a rustic Ramp and Potato Tart.
  • Aiofe of The Daily Spud shows how it's done across the pond with a Wild Garlic Pesto - a close relation to ramps.
  • Phyllis of me_Hungry has a great primer on how to prepare these greens in Ramps 101.
Finally, I'll leave you with one more iteration - Ramps, Cottage Bacon and Herbed Goat Cheese Pizza!

Pizza, Before the Oven


  • Anh said...

    I sometimes give up writing on a particular dish... I dunno..

    I'm glad you post this dish. Very interesting to know about ramp... uhm...

  • The Cilantropist said...

    Oh you are not the only one, I have given up writing many things and there are several "drafts" of post in my blogger editor that will never get published.. but yet I don't delete them for exactly all the reasons you so eloquently outlined. :)

    And I have yet to give ramps a try, but I am sure I will get around to it sometime!

  • Jenn said...

    Those darn ramps. hehehe...
    I know that feeling all too well. There have been a dish or two that I had given up writing on. I'm sure thing will get back to normal once again. Don't give too all together. :)

  • Lori said...

    When I read of your writing struggles it makes me think of my travel blog. Since moving back to the States and settling in this year with less travel, I'm really struggling with content. I scratch posts all the time because they seem to go no where.

    I am in the new-to-ramp camp as well. I saw them mentioned once and then they seemed to be everywhere. I enjoy reading about all the uses. It is an ingredient I haven't seen around here. Looks like you put them to good use. This rice sounds delicious.

  • Anonymous said...

    Your lemon rice with ramps sounds excellent! I've cooked with ramps last year but haven't seen them in Wegmans this year or any other cool spring ingredients like that :(

  • kat said...

    Our CSA turned us on to ramps three years ago & I really fell in love with their flavor. Since they have such a short season, I consider them a treat to cook with

  • Karen said...

    This rice dish looks so clean and delicious. We food bloggers are cooks, but we're also writers, aren't we? Sometimes the two don't jell!

  • thedabble said...

    There are , no kidding, 14 posts that I gave up on after hours of work on each. They just sit on my desktop where I abandoned them for a less labor-intensive post for the day.

    Also, I'm not one to join the bandwagon either but sometimes ramps or the "it" ingredient take over my mind. Once in a while it actually turns out as great as I imagine. This dish sounds wonderful!

  • Daily Spud said...

    I had never heard of the actual term 'Sunk Cost Fallacy' but boy am I familiar with what it entails! Why is it so very hard to give up on something that is plain not working?

    I am glad, though, that you found a way to turn your own efforts into a thought-provoking post that, yet again, manages to satisfy both mind and belly. And thanks for the shout out too, of course!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Happy to hear that I'm not alone in slogging through an endless and futile task! 8-)

    Anh - I didn't know much about it until recently and I'm just happy that it grows in this part of the country so that it's relatively easy to find in the spring!

    Cilantropist - I have quite a few 'drafts' as well, although I'm not as exasperated enough (yet) to delete all of them. When the opportunity presents, definitely give ramps a try!

    Jenn -I'll try not to. I go through these cycles when words simply escape me. I'll just keep cooking and eating and see what inspires. 8-)

    Lori - I sometimes feel as if I've locked myself into a certain 'style' of posts, so that it seems like I'm forcing the words to fit when they just don't. But, I just have to learn to let the ideas work themselves out. I hope you get a chance to use ramps sometime - they are quite tasty although the it was a bit anticlimactic after all the hype and hoopla. 8-)

    Penny - I don't have quite that many, but who knows? Perhaps in time, you'll go back to them and finish! I wonder if there's a Australian species of wild onion, leeks or garlic?

    Tigerfish - Thank you! The lemon gives it such a bright flavor. 8-)

    5 Star - After missing out completely last year, they seem to be everywhere here in MN! I only bought 1 bunch and I'm not sure I'll find any more but I'm happy to have tried them. 8-)

    Kat - I'm glad I found them this year and will be better prepared for next year to make something different. Wish I could've had a dish of your ramp and morel pasta, though.

    Vanillasugar - Oh, lemongrass and cashew sound awesome! I can almost taste that combo w/noodles, rather than rice . . . mmmmm!

    Karen - In this instance, the writing and cooking just weren't getting along! At least the photos came out well . . . 8-D

    Juliana - Thank you! It's a very striking side dish and tastes even better overnight!

    Pigpigscorner - Oh, I don't know if I've ever heard of kedgeree! I'll have to look it up - this dish plus fish sounds delish! 8-D

    The Dabble - I'm learning to stop clinging to futile effort. It's astounding to think of how much time I waste on them that could have been more productive or just plain fun! As for the bandwagon, I don't like falling in with the crowd but sometimes the curiosity is too overwhelming! At least I haven't succumbed to morels - $40/pound is crazy!

    Daily Spud - I should thank YOU: when I saw your wild garlic pesto post, I was relieved to see that I hadn't missed a window of opportunity/interest in wild onions and garlic. Otherwise, I might've shelved this dish until next year! 8-)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Lisa - I have to admit that one of the reasons I jumped on the rampwagon was the realization that I had access to such an ingredient that is not widely available. I thought about how I feel when I read about your Meyer lemon tree or fresh figs in California. It would've been a shame not to try it! I'm happy I did - it went really well with this dish.

  • Erica said...

    The rice sounds amazing!!!Well, here I am trying to write in English. Not a problem for a lot people, but a little difficult for me. So, I understand....Sometimes I just want to cook :)

  • Jeanne said...

    Oh dear, I can see the ramp bandwagon passing me by. I've never seen ramps in my local market. I'll have to conduct an investigation to find out whether I can get a hold of some.

    I've "abandoned" quite a few posts in my short time blogging. You've done quite an eloquent job of describing this phenomenon, and I'm happy to learn the official term for this situation.

  • Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

    Writer's block is very common, for me too! Divide the ideas, brainstorm as you can and read articles about the theme, I've several in my roundups often.
    The lemony rice looks splendid, well done :)

    Have a great weekend!


  • Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    I do so love these types of posts, that make the rest of us know that we're not the only ones doing these things! I'm a victim of the sunk cost fallacy in my working life too, but I think that's pretty much inevitable when you work in research. It would be nice to have every thought path end up in a beautifully written and published paper, but I realised long ago that it's just not going to happen.

    There have been so many -wagons I've wanted to leap onto but the bounds of space, time and climate just won't allow it. I'm preparing myself for the onslaught of delicious northern hemisphere recipes!

    Oh and well done on the ramp conquering. Looks delicious :)

  • Manggy said...

    Ahaha, I thought it was a fruitless endeavor cos once you'd succeeded, the boulder would fall back to the original elevation anyway...

    LOL! Why were you resisting ramps in the first place? This looks delicious! I can't be part of it till next year, though, so I'll just be blissful in my ignorance...

  • diva said...

    O dear you made me laugh! Good one on the ramps. have never had it, maybe i need to jump on this bandwagon too because it looks SOOO good. joy to lemon rice.

  • Liren said...

    First off, I love how you write! Always such a joy to read your posts. And if it's any consolation, trashing that post that was not meant to be has led to this one, a wonderful piece!

    I love how you referred to the ramp mania as rampage! And the lemon rice looks lovely. I admit I haven't attempted a ramp recipe yet, but if it's really not dissimilar from leeks, I have a feeling ramps and I will get along very well!

  • sophia said...

    No wonder all your writings in your blog comes off as immaculate and eloquent and frankly, awesome. You put a lot of thought and consideration into it!

    I'm also glad you jumped on the ramp bandwagon...this recipe sounds delicious! I've got to get on board and find me some ramps!

  • Trissa said...

    Very well said! Sometimes, we have to step back and put things in perspective... all is not lost giving up for awhile... we've got to chose our battles right? :)

  • Phyllis said...

    Hi TN! Sorry I've been MIA, been in Vancouver for the past few weeks catching up with family (and food LOL). Glad you finally jumped on the ramp bandwagon! When it comes to food, I'm all for 'following the herd' especially when something delicious is involved. Your lemon rice recipe looks and sounds fab (first time I've seen an Indian ramp preparation, can't wait to try it!) And thanks for the shout-out on the ramp primer :)


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