Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Walleye supper

The walleye supper is an institution in the Northwoods. Walleye pike is a much prized and delicious fish found in Minnesota’s many lakes. Churches, fraternal organizations and other associations of civil society regularly hold a walleye fry as a way to gather people together and more often than not, as a fund raiser to send kids to camp, or to help raise money for someone’s emergency medical bills. People brake for walleye. Tonight, after a weekend of superlative connection with my family, including a blissful several hours with my beautiful, charming and talented nieces--I am not biased-- I hosted my own walleye supper in my incredible cabin in the woods.

I have been staying here for a few weeks, and it is a virtual paradise. In spite of a rather significant mouse/bat/squirrel problem, this cabin has been my refuge and sanctuary. There is no internet and no cell signal, so I find myself with a surfeit of hours with which to occupy myself. I manage by reading—and have managed to do more reading in the past two weeks than in the last two years. I also find a luxurious amount of time to cook. My nieces, Taylor and Alexis, and I spent a long time last night talking about the joys and pleasures of cooking. As Taylor put it-with complete sincerity—“I like to cook. And eat afterward”. I feel like I have found the sisters I have never had.

So tonight, after we all went our separate ways—they back to work and college in the Twin Cities—and me to my cabin in the woods, I decided to make a very special dinner for myself. I took my cue from Alexis, who now has a “big girl” 9-5 job, and who spends her entire evening after work shopping, cooking, sharing and cleaning up after a delicious meal made from fresh, organic, and local ingredients. It must be genetic. She also spent a year with a vegetarian family Paris, so she knows something about how to cook righteously.

I went to the grocery store this afternoon, and as we had discussed, following Michael Pollan’s, rule # whatever, in Food Rules, I stuck to the edges of the grocery store. I spent a lot of time in the organic produce section, and as I wheeled over to the dairy section, I happened to pass the meat counter. I have been craving walleye for a week or so, ever since Tony mentioned taking me out to “net” walleye. The native population in Minnesota has rights to net rather than line fish on the lakes. (Having spent more than a few completely hateful hours trying to catch a fish on a hook, I can totally get behind netting as a way to get your year’s worth of walleye in the freezer). Natives cannot, however, sell any of their harvest.

Since I couldn’t buy it, I volunteered my time in exchange for a few filets. This fishing expedition never came to fruition for various reasons, so I was stuck with a walleye craving and no fish in the freezer. I found that the local grocery store (for which my brother worked about 30 years ago) was stocking some walleye filets from Canada. A meal of fish, rice and greens, materialized in my head, and I went for it, in spite of all kinds of reasons not to go for it, including not having the faintest idea where it came from in Canada, under what conditions it was caught, and for whom the $9/pound benefited. But I had rice, and it needed walleye all of a sudden.

A few weeks ago, I went to a drum ceremony on the reservation in Naytauwash. This ceremony constitutes its own blog post, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about it now. In short, a “big” drum which was gifted to the Ojibwe by the Lakota is brought out to the community and is played. The reasons for bringing out the drum are vast and complex, and I will do my best to explain this elsewhere. As part of the day, the women who guard the drum (ogichidakwe) distribute gifts of welcome to all those present and I was the incredibly lucky recipient of a pound of manoomin—wild rice. Wild rice constitutes its own blog post as well, and I have been remiss. Mea culpa. More later on that…

Wild rice grows in the lakes in the Upper Midwest and Cananda and is one of the staple grains for the Anishinabeg people distributed throughout these territories. The gift of rice was humbling in the extreme, and I passed on half of it to an elder who spoke with me at length about food sovereignty. The remainder sits in my kitchen waiting for a beautiful moment like tonight.

I have been helping to put the Farm-to-School gardens to bed for the winter and there is a surplus of broccoli in one of them. The big heads have been harvested already, but the tiny side shoots sweetened by the recent frost have been finding their way into my harvest basket on more than one occasion. Tonight, I panfried the walleye in a little salt, pepper and coriander and topped it with cremini mushrooms sauteed in garlic and oregano. If I knew more, I would be eating wild mushrooms, and if I lived here, that oregano would have come from my backyard not a farm somewhere fortunately not too far from here. The garlic came from a garden I visited somewhere on this journey. A big pile of the rice and an even bigger pile of broccoli shoots and greens topped off a plate full enough for two.

As I have said before on more than one occasion, eating in your local foodshed requires knowing when, where and from whom to get your food. In this case, everything I put on my plate was available locally, and all of it was, or could have been, obtained without money, in exchange for showing up and participating. In less than a month of showing up here, I have all of this already in place. It can be done anywhere, at anytime, by anybody who brings a spirit of reverence, cooperation and dedication.

Show up. Participate. Enjoy!

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