Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Steamed mussels with corn, tomatoes, and bacon...and a confession about envy

I am flawed. Few days pass me by without a struggle to manage anger, fear, anxiety, and, perhaps worst, envy. Oh yeah, envy, that nasty little twit of a demon that sits around highlighting how successful person A is; and how well person B seems to manage a career, a family, and a glamorous life; or how gorgeous person C's food photograph is; or...the list goes on. I know envy is bad for me. I know envy doesn't tell me the real story of another person's life and accomplishments. I know envy doesn't tell me the real story about what and who I am and what I have accomplished. And that's why I fight with it, try to talk it away. It doesn't always work.

These daily struggles is one reason why it's so refreshing to be with a friend or a person whom I admire and feel deeply for without the tiniest scrap of envy or anger or anxiety. I can simply enjoy his or her skill, competence, self-confidence and feel peace. I think I am able to articulate this for the first time because of last Sunday, when we went to dinner at a friend's house, a friend my husband and I haven't seen in a long time. She knows I have been doing the Grand Tour, introducing my son to different countries and their cultures, food, history, art, music, anything that comes up. She's Indian so she suggested we comes over for dosas (she knows I love them) and have India week. So we did. 

And while we were there, I sat back and watched her. I loved the genuine affection she immediately showed my son, whom she's never met before. I enjoyed watching her strong hands as they skillfully spooned idlis out of the steaming trays, or placed them on plates for the children to eat; her hands were fast and steady, but unhurried. Her demeanor was calm, competent, and loving. She's smart, skilled, successful, manages her household well, and yet she induces no envy in me, only peace and a sense of being cared for. It's indescribably wonderful. And such a relief from the evil spirits that seem to infest my mind half the time. (And, no, I don't really think that evil spirits infest my mind. It's just a metaphor, OK?)

Anyway, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the steamed mussels with corn, tomatoes, and bacon I ate a little while ago and now am going to share with you. It's just a thought, an aside, and a tribute to a person who made me feel welcome, full of admiration, but free from quotidian poison. It was truly lovely.

So, let's move on the mussels. I hadn't been to a regular grocery story in a few weeks, but we were almost out of toothpaste, sandwich bags, canola oil, cheese cloth, canning labels--the kind of things that are hard to find at an organic market or a farmer's market, so my son and I went. While we were there, I had the idea that I wanted to make something with mussels for dinner (after all, I recently found out that farmed mussels are OK to eat according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and I really enjoy mussels). So I got a bag (I also got a couple of gorgeous sockeye salmon fillets, but that's a story for another day). When I got the mussels home, I took them out of the plastic bag they were in and put them in a container full of ice in the refrigerator. As I was putting them away, I got a whiff of them and was immediately entranced: A briny, fresh, salty smell came from them, clean and bracing as the ocean. I was entranced. I don't remember ever smelling mussels like that.

When thinking about how to prepare them, I knew I wanted to use some of the sweet corn and tomatoes I got from the market last Saturday (after a visit to another friend on Saturday, we walked away with more tomatoes, beans, and squash, so we've really got a bit of produce glut). I decided to steam them with the mussels in some wine, with a little bacon, and oh yeah, how about a sprinkling of homegrown parsley to round it out? This was a tasty, fresh summer meal, cooked in a just a few minutes.

A note on cleaning mussels and food safety: Most recipes that include mussels have you "debeard" them with a sharp knife. Truth is, most of farmed mussels you get these days don't have much of a beard, perhaps one in ten will. But the beard is kind of a yucky, stringy business that isn't going to please anyone at the table, so definitely cut them off when you find them. Also make sure that you scrub each mussel thoroughly; that will help eliminate any grit. If any of your mussels are already open before you've cooked them, discard immediately (that means they are dead, and you don't want to cook dead mussels). Also, if any of them don't open after you've steamed them, again, discard.


  • 2 lbs (1 bag) farmed mussels, scrubbed, sorted, and debearded
  • 4 slices of bacon, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely
  • corn kernels from three ears*
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a handful of chopped, fresh parsley (or any other herb you've got growing in the garden)


  1. This dish takes very little time to cook, which means that preparing all your ingredients in advance is especially important. So first thing, prepare your ingredients. 
  2. In a large, deep pan, cook the bacon over medium heat until it's golden brown and crispy. 
  3. Add the onions to the pan, cook them until they are soft.
  4. Add the corn, tomatoes, and garlic. Stir until the garlic is fragrant. 
  5. Add the mussels to the pan. Stir a couple of times.
  6. Add the wine and cover the pan with a well-fitting lid. Let the mussels steam for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. 
  7. Just before serving, season with salt, pepper, and parsley. Make sure to give everyone some bread to soak up the broth, which is so delicious, it's ridiculous. Imagine you are by the sea and relax.  

* A few days ago, I tried to describe how to cut the kernels off the corn cob for my corn chowder post, but I am afraid I didn't do a good job of it. Hopefully the following images do a better job of showing how to do it. Stand the cob up on its end (cut off the end if the cob shifts around too much on the cutting board), hold the knife perpendicular to the cob and slice down, cutting off corn kernels in sheets.


  1. I think we all have some experience with those pesky evil mind-inhabiting demons -- I'd like to imagine swatting them away with a figurative mental broom.

    But I'd be willing to bet they didn't hang around you too long, with all that delicious mussel love you cooked up! I've always been a little intimidated by cooking shellfish, but this post just might inspire me to get over it. :D

    1. Oh do get over it! Mussels are definitely one of the easiest shellfish to cook and a great place to start if you've never done it before.

  2. We are going to cook with fresh corn for the first time this week. I have never done anything except eat it straight off the cob. Thanks for the great pictures, they really are good.

    1. Thanks so much! I keep working on the photography, but there's always more to learn. Definitely try to cook other things with corn; it's such a great ingredient to include in other dishes, especially this time of year.

  3. Beautiful writing and delicious food. Thank you for sharing. I found you via twitter, and I'm very glad that I did. I also have a huge passion for the intersection between writing and food. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! It really made my day!