Sunday, December 8, 2013

MSG Woes & Chicken Stock

It's interesting how foods have power.  Some liken food to medicine thanks to Plato's infamous mantra.  My own Native culture sees strawberries and many other plants as medicine, not merely food.  Food has healing power beyond simple nutrients and broken down scientific components.  We empower ourselves with the choices we make and enjoying these creations within the company of friends and family has its own potential healing component.  The act of cooking can be a ceremony in itself, an exercise of sovereignty or political statement.

Unfortunately, some "foods" also harm.  Over the last several decades, there have been a number of man-made chemical compounds being passed off as "food" and our bodies don't recognize these substances or know what to do with them.  Processed foods fill the shelves of our supermarket to the point where we have to question what food really is now.  Many of us have developed allergies and sensitivities to these substances.  I figured out I have a pronounced sensitivity to MSG (monosodium glutamate), a common food additive.  Whenever I consume significant quantities of this substance, I feel like I have the flu and experience headache, stomach ache, heart palpitations, sweating, anxiety, and extreme thirst.  MSG is the extracted version of free glutamic acid.  Glutamic acid is actually a naturally occurring substance in nature created by the breakdown of food and is common in foods like mushrooms, seaweed, soy, and aged cheeses.  Glutamate even has its own name, umami, or savory taste, the supposed fifth preferred flavor within our palates.  Some enjoy the earthy taste this substance lends to cooking, especially in Asian cuisine.  This is all fine and well, but the problem begins when food manufacturers add MSG to our food without a choice, without disclosure, or in misleading ways by using other names.  It is commonly added to flavored chips and crackers, canned soups, instant noodles, soup mixes, dressings, bouillon cubes, gravies, cold-cuts, and many other products.  Now that people are catching on to the effects, food companies are having to sneak it into their products under other names like "autolyzed yeast," "yeast extract," "whey protein," or even vague terms like "seasonings" or "natural flavors."

When I think about some of my favorite foods from my past - chip dip, Doritos, hot dogs, pizza, crackers - or even foods from my upbringing like Ramen Noodles, Hamburger Helper, Spaghetti-O's, canned soups, macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, lunch meat, it dazes me how much MSG I have consumed over a lifetime.  You'd think that having my body endure this garbage for so many years, I would have built a tolerance or something!  I'm afraid I was mistaken.  These days, I read labels and menus like a detective and interrogate the wait staff at restaurants, but some things still slip past me.  I was making homemade chicken soup a few months ago and, pressed for time, used Wegmans Organic Chicken Stock as my broth.  Nearly an hour after my meal, I was in full-on MSG mode!  Thinking it was safe because it was "organic" and because the label did not specify "MSG", I later figured out the culprit was "yeast extract."  (Visit these links for more detailed information about MSG and its many labels: What You Need to Know About MSG AllergyMSG Adverse Reactions, Body Systems Affected By MSGProducts Likely to Contain MSG, MSG and Its Disguised Forms.)

Lesson learned.  So what can we do?   Using Michael Pollan's guidelines from In Defense of Food may help you get a good start.  I like his first rule about trying to eat like our great grandmothers, something I hope the recipes in this blog might reflect.  Be "food revolutionaries" and scrutinize, question, and rethink the foods we eat.  Be outraged by the contaminants often being accepted as food and the work we have to do to protect our health.

Or, you could simply make your own chicken stock.  I took some help from Chef Anne Burrell from the Food Network and made her Basic Chicken Stock Recipe.  It was a delicious chicken stock I made from all organic ingredients and it had such a beautiful, pure, golden sheen emanating from it.  I was impressed with the yield, its cost-effectiveness, and the flavor it continued to retain despite freezing it.

(verbatim from Burrell's recipe:

2 pounds chicken thighs and legs, skins removed (Don't throw those chicken skins out!  I left them on to roast at first.  Then when the chicken was done, I peeled them off the chicken thighs and roasted them for an extra 10 minutes on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet with onion powder and sea salt until they were crisp.  Mmm.)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch dice
2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs thyme

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Place chicken thighs and legs on a sheet pan. Lightly coat with oil and roast until golden, about 35 to 45 minutes.  

Coat a large, deep stock pot lightly with olive oil. Add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic to the pot and bring it to a medium high heat. Cook the vegetables stirring frequently until they start to get soft and are very aromatic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and add to the pot of vegetables along with the bay leaves and thyme (Don't let those juices on the bottom go to waste either!  I like to add some water and heat the pan on a burner for a few minutes so those healthy fats and scrap pieces loosen up.  Add this to your stock pot too.). Fill the pot with water. Place the pot on a burner on high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Eventually a gray scum will form on the top of the water. Skim the scum and the fat off the top of the water. (Using all organic ingredients, there wasn't much of anything to skim off the top.) Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Refill the water as it evaporates.

Strain stock and discard the chicken and veggies. (I wanted to salvage the chicken, but it had no flavor left in it.  Maybe it might make good dog food?  The veggies were still edible though.  I hate wasting food!) Store the stock in smallish containers, plastic pint and quart containers from Chinese take out are perfect! Recycle! If not using right away freeze for later use.

My yield ended up being five 1.5 quart containers that went straight to the freezer.
These are just a few of the recipes this stock has come in handy for: Beef Stew;
Black Bean and Butternut Squash Soup; Slowcooker Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  To thaw, I transfer the frozen broth cube to a glass dish and let it sit on top of the running oven for a while.  You could always use the microwave defrost setting, or just throw it into your stock/crock pot as is and it will break down and melt.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gardening, Part I: Mothers' Hands

     I have been putting aside writing this post since things have gotten very busy.  I’m diving back into my dissertation work and will have my hands full researching and writing my prospectus.  It may be more appropriate to write this now anyway as the fall season is coming to an unofficial end and the dreary, gray clouds roll in filled with snow and biting cold.  I write this with some bitterness because Buffalo has a long, and often sunless, winter and the thought of not seeing green, vivid color, or plant life for the next five months takes its toll on my spirit.  In fact, I have learned I (and I suspect many others) deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) every winter.  Fortunately, it’s not severe and I do my best to soothe it with careful attention to diet, Vitamin D supplementation, a light box, and restorative activities that help center me.  I try my best to survive the cold, listless days with beadwork, photography, yoga, reading, puzzles, or (if I am absolutely without energy) binge-watching TV shows on Netflix.
      Before we fully succumb to the short days and long evenings, I want to reflect on gardening.  When I was a little girl, we often visited my grandmother’s house on the reservation, and my mother, sister, and I sometimes lived there too.  It was a small two (?) bedroom house built by my grandfather’s own hands and it’s amazing to think they raised thirteen children there.  From what I remember, Grandma always had a small garden in the backyard where she grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, green beans, and squash.  She often canned what she grew, or shopped from the nearby farmers, and made THE BEST homemade pickles with fresh dill, spices, and cucumbers.  Having worked in a cannery in the past, Grandma has a vast amount of knowledge on how to preserve tomatoes, chili sauce, beets, peaches, plums, black-caps, jams, or pretty much anything.  Many times I would come home from school and be greeted by the spicy sweet smell of salsa or the garlicky dill, acidic vinegar scent of pickles waiting to be canned in her pristine jars.  Sometimes I was sternly scolded for getting my grimy hands on her precious, clean Masons.  I would see her and my mother standing over the hot kitchen stove, boiling jars, peeling tomatoes with the speed and ease with which we might peel string cheese, shoving cucumbers into jars, and telling jokes and stories about rez happenings.  I usually kept out of their way so as to not be a pest, playing outside and making forts, but sometimes I stayed and watched, quietly enjoying the comfort and nurturing of two maternal generations who have taken good care of our family.  I can still remember the smell of onions and garlic lingering long in the pores of my mother's hands when she tucked me into bed later in the evening.  The scent permeates with the love, care, and strength of women providing nourishing sustenance for family so that we can live and thrive.  I dream of the day my own hands can one day carry on the tradition.  Though Grandma no longer has the energy to do these things these days, I still like to ask her about it and hopefully can learn myself someday. 
     I look back on these memories with such fondness.  I loved having the chance to water the garden and be her assistant, watching green fruits ripen under the hot, August sun, or being the one to pick these Creator-given gifts when they were ready.  We never knew how each growing season would treat us and sometimes our poor plants were flooded or scorched and our yield depended on that.  Regardless, we did our best.  It really makes you respect the old agricultural ways and farmers who do this for a living.  My mother inherited this gardening tradition and now has the green thumb of the family.  She lacks the land for a garden plot right now, but I assure you she has the ability to revive wilting plants destined for the garbage, or to magically produce more tomatoes than a ketchup factory might need in a week.  My aunt carries on the wonderful practice of food preservation and her pickles almost rival those of Grandma’s, especially her special spicy formula.
      I have been trying to keep these gardening traditions alive through my lowly little porch container garden over the past few years.  I started gardening in Oklahoma when I soon found out practically only cacti and prairie grass can survive heat of that magnitude.  My cucumbers and tomatoes did not stand a chance by the time the mid-June steambath hit and water would begin to sizzle once you poured it.  Exaggerations aside, my first attempt at gardening was a failure.  Then my husband and I moved back home to New York where I began to start container gardening using clay and plastic containers and store-bought soil.  I found that tomatoes thrived here, but lettuce not so much, and growing out of containers comes with its own challenges. 
      At our current apartment, I am fortunate to have a south-facing porch that gets plenty of sunlight from season to season.  I got a late start this year since I was finishing my comprehensive exams in mid-June.  This year I planted green beans (bush), kale, arugula, spinach, and basil from seed.  Since I started so late, I supplemented with plants I purchased at the nursery.  These included: strawberries, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, catnip, mint, and lavender.  I had a wonderful turnout with the herbs, beans, and arugula.  In fact, soon I’ll be devoting a separate post for ways to harvest and preserve homegrown herbs.  This year, my spinach became the gardening casualty as well as the kale and green beans, but for different reasons.  Spinach turned out to be a less than stellar container plant because it needs more space to grow and branch out.  My kale became a breeding ground for a family of hungry caterpillars that transformed into what I believe were yellow sulphur butterflies.  I thought I was safe to plant a new batch of seeds after they cleared out, but a new generation introduced itself.  Luckily, I was able to enjoy a salad and a smoothie for a split second before they decimated my greens.  My last nemesis, red spider mites, attacked the leaves of my green beans  In late July, I noticed my leaves took on an unhealthy yellowy, spotty appearance and soon discovered tiny red bugs just barely visible by the naked eye on the underside of the leaves.  They quickly spread to other containers and it was too late to wage war on the little critters, but next year I’ll get my revenge.  I look forward to carrying on these experiences in six months (eek!).
      Thanks for listening to my ramblings about gardening, food preservation, memories, and my maternal teachers and inspirations.  Today I am grateful I had these experiences for they taught me the value of patience, hard work, love, and faith.  It brings me such great peace when I garden, connecting with my family, past memories, the natural world, and growing food I can pridefully enjoy consuming.  I know there is a larger story underneath this telling that I hope to unravel in another post about gardening, resistance, economic self-sufficiency, and sovereignty; but for now my mind must get some quiet rest before this winter storm hits us.  Enjoy your evening and take a moment to remember the greenery while the flakes fly. J

Do you have any beautiful and inspiring stories about your own or your relatives’ gardening experiences?  Or maybe you have natural remedies and advice to get rid of these pests?  Please feel free to share them in the comments.  I would love to hear them.

Delicious baby arugula leaves made for great salads and smoothies.  I really enjoyed it blended with pears or peaches and coconut milk.

The green beans were so plentiful this season until the spider mites appeared.  You can see the beginning of their destruction in the top right photo.

The unfortunate kale and beautiful pests!

Gorgeous sunflowers grown from seed gifted by the Indigenous Women's Initiatives last year.

My container garden, two curious eyes, herbs in a clay pot, and lavender flowers.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Week of Indigenous Eating Challenge + Broiled Haddock with Cranberry-Sage Quinoa and Delicata Squash Strips

     I have to say that November is a pretty good month and it's not just because of an extra hour of sleep or a day to gorge ourselves in delicious Thanksgiving foods.  November has been recognized in the U.S. as National American Indian Heritage Month officially since the year 1990, though an American Indian day has been celebrated in some form since around 1915 thanks to Arthur C. Parker (Haudenosaunee, represent!).  It is marked by events, celebrations, and festivities around the country that celebrate the strength, survival and continuity of Indigenous nations.  Coincidentally, it is also Diabetes Month in November which started as a week-long dedication in 1948 and has since expanded.  It really does make one wonder if it is truly a coincidence since Native American people have extremely high rates of diabetes - 2.3 times higher likeliness of type 2 diabetes diagnosis as adults and a 110% increase in Native youth diabetes diagnoses from 1999-2009.  But I'm not here to throw around scaremongering statistics vis-a-vis news reports or on your doctor's office waiting television monitors (whoever thought of this idea, I would like to personally force him/her to listen to them for hours nonstop!  Grrr... yes, I have some built up anger here.).  However, I do think it's important to acknowledge and bring awareness to this heightened risk and to do what we reasonably can to make our lives healthier right now to ensure better health and healing in the future.  So November basically means I get to acknowledge two really significant components of my identity and existence as a Haudenosaunee woman with type 1 diabetes.

     In relation to these month-oriented dedications, there are some interesting developments going on around Indian Country in terms of this correlation between diabetes and Native American people while examining the impact of decolonzing/ancestral-based diets.  A recent news article highlights the work of Martin Reinhardt at Northern Michigan University and the Decolonizing Diet Project blog, a year-long challenge to eat only Indigenous foods.  The participants of this study ate foods native to the Great Lakes region pre-1609 like turkey, fish, duck eggs, rice, wild cattail, berries, squash, and many more.  You can check out their master food lists here.  Devon Mihesuah had inspired Reinhardt with her own work at the American Indian Health and Diet Project at University of Kansas.  This project calls for a return to Indigenous eating to bring attention to Indian health problems, connect with the natural world, and find sustainable ways to support the earth in this process.  Mihesuah posts meals/recipes consisting mainly of Indigenous Western hemisphere foods and geographic region food lists.  You can find her Facebook page here and her own food list here.  Both projects, as well as previous writings I have cited, support a decolonization of our sustenance and eating patterns as a means to alleviate many of our health ailments and to nurture this connection between ourselves and the earth.

     Reverting back to an ancestral diet can be difficult to fully adapt to because of the time-pressured lifestyle in which most of us live.  For some of us, eating this way may never take us off insulin or Metformin.  Yet it is still a powerful concept and there are little ways we can make changes and move towards a path of wellness.  Challenge yourself to cook a meal from scratch and avoid the pre-packaged freezer section or interior grocery aisles for just one day.  Perhaps sauteing your vegetables in duck fat or coconut oil instead of hydrogenated margarine or fake butter products can be a start.  Maybe substitute a nut and berry trail mix as your afternoon snack instead of that 10-ingredient cereal bar that was processed in a factory on a conveyor belt.  You could simply substitute sunflower seed butter for peanut butter.  Or if that all seems too much right now, simply give some thought to how your own ancestors (whether Native or not) might have eaten and maybe meditate on the gratitude the act of eating itself provides.

     As part of Mihesuah's Indigenous Eating page and in conjunction with the Decolonizing Diet Project, she offers a Week of Indigenous Eating challenge to us for November 3-9, 2013.  Now I'm a bit late in joining this and can't commit to a full week at the moment.  However, I am making it a personal goal of my own to incorporate more ancestral foods into my diet, especially ones that are local.  Ideally, I would like to make an Indigenous meal weekly at least.  Most of my diet already consists of whole, natural, unprocessed foods but they are not strictly "indigenous" per se.  I encourage you to join me and try this out maybe just for one single meal and see what happens.  It couldn't hurt and I think challenges like this create an awareness we need to help combat the colonizing diseases we face, especially diabetes.

     I made my first meal this evening in response to this challenge - Broiled Haddock with Cranberry-Sage Quinoa and Delicata Squash Strips garnished with Red Onion.  While I didn't have enough time to take elaborate step-by-step photos or write down recipes and measurements this time, I will still delight you with a photo and description.  I breaded and broiled a store-bought haddock fillet with traditional Iroquois white corn flour and ground flaxseed seasoned with garlic powder, homegrown oregano, and sea salt.  I used lemon and olive oil to help the breading stick.  The red quinoa was cooked on the stovetop and infused with fresh sage, a pinch of dried cranberries, and walnuts.  The squash was previously roasted and leftover from another meal, so I simply peeled it, cut it into long strips, and reheated it.  This whole process took me about 20 minutes (10 minutes prep time + 7 minutes broiling/12 minutes quinoa).  It was also okay to my blood sugars as the carb count was moderate (29g quinoa, 5g cranberries, 5g corn flour, 4g squash) and the protein/fats from the fish and walnuts helped curb a rapid rise in glucose.  The fish turned out crispy on the outside and moist, flaky, and flavorful on the inside.  It was a wonderful and balanced meal and most of the ingredients were sourced from the Western hemisphere.  Nya:weh!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Butternut Apple Soup

This recipe comes to you just in time for the peak of the fall season.  Fall is my favorite time of year, not because of my birthday in September, but because it is when the colors really come to life, as though the leaves of the maples and elms are hand painted in brilliant shades of orange, yellow, and red magically over night.  The days become cooler and crisper, encouraging us to slow down and warm up with a satisfying mug of tea or coffee.  The usual, hectic pace of summertime starts to slow down as the days gradually get shorter and the natural world gets ready for its long winter nap.  There's something about this these months that is just inexplicably beautiful.

Another gratifying benefit of this season?  The food!  By now, the supermarkets and farmers' markets are filled with delectable seasonal treats.  So many varieties of apples greet you upon walking in, varying from tart to crisp to sweet or a little bit of everything.  The various textures of squash and pumpkin await you in their many forms, eager to provide that starchy, delicate balance your evening meal was waiting for.  Ripened pears, bright carrots, jewel-toned beets, sweet grapes, earthy potatoes, and others complete the cornucopia that is fall harvest season.

I think about the types of foods this time of year and notice that most of them come from underground or close to the ground.  They are starchy, sweet, and filled with carbohydrates and fiber.  As a person with diabetes, this raises some red flags because the more carbs one consumes, the more insulin one has to take, but in reasonable portions these are excellent sources of nutrition.  I have been curious about the cyclical seasons of crops and am sure it is no mistake that the gifts we are offered this time of year are so starchy.  Traditionally, this would be the time to get ready for winter, to spend time hunting, gathering and storing food, and expending lots of energy performing such activities.  What this means for us today, I'm not sure, since we don't prepare for winter like we did in the past.  It's hard to think in this way when our weekly trip to the store keeps starvation at bay.  Does this mean the extra carbs we eat and neglect to burn off have to simply become added weight and insulin resistance?  Not necessarily.  Maybe create your own ritual activity for the fall time.  Make it a point to can some apples, beets, or tomatoes.  Freeze some of your garden grown herbs with some olive oil in ice cube trays before the frost gets to them.  Plan a hunting trip, gather some walnuts, or simply go for a hike in the leaves.  The point is to make good use of the extra energy these seasonal foods have given you and prepare for winter in some way that connects you back to our ancestors.

Today, my gift to you is a recipe for butternut squash and apple soup.  I have been making variations of this soup for years and still have yet to perfect it.  This is the closest I've got.  It is a dish best made when you have an afternoon free because it does take some extra time to prepare.  You may also play around with the balance of this soup according to your individual taste.  I prefer it primarily a bit sweet, somewhat salty, and with a small kick of heat.  You might have different preferences so adjust accordingly.  It might also be richer with a small splash of coconut milk or half and half.  As always, make it your own.  It's yours now.
(For my 'betes friends, I will start posting carb counts soon!  For people on Autoimmune Protocol and avoiding nightshades, you might use chicken stock instead since the veggie stocks have tomato and pepper and, of course, leave out the cayenne.)


6 cups Roasted and Cubed Butternut Squash (1 and a half large squashes)
2 Large Peeled/Chopped (McIntosh, or your choice) Apples
2 cups Chopped Onions
1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
2 tablespoon Coconut Oil/Butter
1 32 oz./Qt. container Vegetable Broth/Stock*
1/3 inch piece of freshly grated ginger root
dash of Cinnamon
1 teaspoon (additional to taste) Sea Salt
10 drops of Frank’s Hot Sauce
splash of Apple Cider Vinegar

*Depending on the salt content of your broth, you might add salt seasoning more mindfully as you cook.  I used Kitchen Basics' Vegetable Stock that uses minimal salt and contains no MSG.

1.  Preheat oven to 350.   Slice the butternut squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Rub with oil and roast for an hour, until tender.  Allow squash to cool.  Peel baked squash and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Set aside.

2.  Set soup pot to medium heat and add coconut oil or butter.  While stirring, sauté the onions until tender.  Add diced apples to the mix.  Shortly after, add minced garlic.

3.  When the mixture is on the verge of browning, add broth/stock, vinegar, salt, spices, hot sauce, and squash.  Allow this to come to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes.

4.  Remove pot from heat and pour contents into large glass bowl(s).  Allow the mixture to cool down until tolerable to touch. 

5.  While waiting, sauté another diced apple in some oil until the pieces are cooked, but still somewhat firm.  Remove from heat.

6.  Using a food processor, carefully puree the boiled soup mixture in batches until smooth, leaving one cup of mixture unblended. 

7.  Add pureed soup to the pot with the diced cooked apple and mix in the unblended portion.  Heat through again until warm or simmering and season accordingly.  Garnish with frozen cranberries, pumpkin seeds, or cinnamon stick.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Decolonize Your Diet

I want to fill you in about my absence on the blog lately.  I assure you that I have many, many recipe ideas and photos taking up space in my mind just waiting to be written in post form for your consumption (If you're hard up for inspirations in the meantime and need some foodporn, hit up my Instagram account at 'IndigenousFoodRevolutionary').  Look for some scrumptious posts in the coming two weeks.

What's been keeping me, you ask?  Well, I have been volunteering for the 10th Annual World On Your Plate Conference on Food and Sustainable Living, October 11th & 12th at Daemen College.  More specifically, I've been helping out with working with local, organic farms to secure donations for our amazingly delicious conference luncheon and doing a lot of website work.  Soon after, I will also help co-write and compile the annual recipe book with indigenous-inspired recipes for sale at next year's conference.  If you're interested in hearing more about my work on this site, I will be presenting, "Eat Like a Caveman?: Ancestral and Decolonizing Approaches to Diet and Wellness," an exploration into my health changes including, but not limited to: ideas about diet, food allergy and sensitivities, incorporating new habits, and recipe ideas.  I may even bring some samples in if I can find the time to bake.  :-)  This year's conference features Indigenous agricultural expert, Dr. Jane Mt. Pleasant and organic farmer/activist, Elizabeth Henderson.  Our organizing committee has done a wonderful job putting all of this together and I encourage you to check out the program online as there are many interesting topics and workshops - (students get in free!).  I'll have a vendors table set up as well, so come visit!

Aside from this, I have had lots of ideas stewing and marinating (pardon the cooking puns), begging to be organized and written in some form.  Deconstructing the purpose and theme behind this blog may be the best place to begin - "INDIGENOUS FOOD REVOLUTIONARY."  What does this even mean?  What or who qualifies as "indigenous"?  What the heck is "food" anymore, anyway?  And, what do these things have anything to do with "revolution" - do you mean, like, the agricultural revolution or the overthrowing of governments?  Well, I've been giving a lot of thought to this concept.  As I mentioned, the idea of a "food revolutionary" comes from a discussion that took place last year with my friend Nancy about how the supermarket and our food system has changed so much over the last several decades that we can no longer trust the USDA, FDA, or food manufacturers to create food in our best interests (GMOs, high fructose cornsyrup, pesticides, food additives, artificial flavors, anyone?).  It was concluded that instead, we need to be advocates for ourselves, shopping with a sense of skepticism and producing our own foods when possible.  I was inspired by this because it got me thinking about where change or "revolution" ought to come from in terms of our diet, health, and the food we consume.  It's apparent that one has to make change at the individual level to hopefully cause a ripple effect in the system.  It seems as though traditional methods of activism like letter-writing campaigns, organized protests, and marches don't nearly have as big an impact as they used to in terms of the food industry.  One might wonder where our generation of muckrakers are.  Today, it is more about the power of social media, shared knowledge and discourse, individual action and voting with one's dollar - a dollar spent on a locally grown, organic apple rather than a bag of Cheetos sends a message that reverberates.  

Now, for the indigenous part.  As Native American-Indigenous people, we have within us the inherent concept of sovereignty or nationhood: the way-way-way-before-1492 right to self-governance, upholding our traditional ways, and deciding what is in our best interest to sustain our communities at the moment and through seven generations beyond our time.  Several components comprise this idea of sovereignty: our people, land and communities, spiritual beliefs, ceremonies, worldview, languages, arts, traditions, and so forth.  For my non-Native readers who may be lost at this point, you might be familiar with local Indian issues via news media like cigarette and gasoline taxation, casinos and gaming, treaty rights, fishing or hunting rights, or environmental issues - at the heart of these "debates" and "controversy" is this time immemorial right to tribal sovereignty, and the issues televised (albeit, skewed) usually deal with Native resistance to a long legacy of infringements on this concept/right.  There is a lengthy and complicated history as well as federal Indian law background and court cases to support this, and I will bring it up on an as needed basis, but that's not the focus here.  The point is that Indigenous people, being "from the land", have a right to uphold longstanding traditions, protect the earth, and make decisions with these principles in mind.  

What does this have to do with food?  Everything!  Our food is what sustains us; it is our connection to the land, the waters, animal and plant life, the sun, our ceremonial cycles, our higher power.  Despite centuries of colonization, there has been great movement to "decolonize": that is, to do our best to return to traditional ways, exercise this sovereignty, and make changes to undo what has been done through various means with the realistic view that we may never totally get back to what we once had.  Nonetheless, this concept extends to our diet and sustenance.  To "decolonize your diet", as Waziyatawin Angela Wilson writes, is to promote a lifestyle centered on traditional Indigenous foods for "good nutritional health, physical activity, spiritual and cultural strengthening, and a revitalized relationship with the land and its beings" and to undo "the negative effects of colonization on our health and diet and restoring a sense of well-being to ourselves, our families, and communities" (Wilson and Yellowbird 68).  Although this definition might seem exclusionary, I invite my non-Native readers to embrace this idea too as it applies in your life since we share the afflictions of consuming a Standard American Diet.

Allow me to circle back to where we started, considering how to define an "Indigenous food revolutionary."  I believe that being an Indigenous food revolutionary means being an advocate for traditional foods and practices, resisting the Western diet and food industry as reasonably as we can, reconnecting with the land and our food, eating with gratitude and the Good Mind, sharing and connecting with others, participating in ceremony, and exercising sovereignty over these decisions with the intent that each little change can have larger, systemic implications.  This revolution is the little back yard garden that produces tomatoes and peppers.  It is the deer carcass hunted and shared by a family, or the bass fish frying on the stove that came from the nearby stream.  It is the "nya:weh" you say after your meal has been eaten.  It can even be your annual CSA membership or the transaction you make at your Saturday afternoon farmer's market.  Decolonize to make change.

I conclude with some of John Mohawk's thoughts from the article, "Wild and Slow: Nourished by Tradition":
In the contemporary world, doing things without thinking about them is not working out.  This is true for all people, because the same issues are impacting all populations worldwide.  We are seeing an unprecedented growth of the same kinds of diet-related diseases... The antidote may require some organizing.
The first step is nutrition education, but simply telling people about the problem is not enough.  Something like a mini cultural revolution needs to happen in order to change behaviors.  People who are motivated to change are going to need to find alternatives to unhealthy diets and lifestyles.  They will need to support one another and share ideas and, in this case, recipes...
It helps if people organize themselves into support groups to help each other.  This is consistent with the societies created by indigenous cultures of people who were committed to helping one another.  In this case, the help might come in the form of shared recipes and information about how some foods are beneficial and others are dangerous.  Regular meetings can offer information about the traditional culture and provide information about sourcing traditional slow foods.  There are ways to share foods, recipes, and success stories (22). 
He goes on to emphasize that such a movement should reach out to all and contain the messages that "exercise is important, food is important; self-esteem and a long list of other healthy things are important; and sharing a path toward healing is the most important of all" (22-23, emphasis added).  Indeed, this whole journey for me has been "a path toward healing" and this is what has started this blog site and what I envision will help others.  So I ask, won't you share this path with me? 

Barreiro, Jose, ed.  "Wild and Slow: Nourished by Tradition."  Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader.  Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2010.

Wilson, Waziyatawin Angela Wilson and Michael Yellow Bird, eds.  "Decolonizing Indigenous Diets."  For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook.  Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2005.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Arugula Pesto Sauce with Zoodles (Zucchini Noodles)

I apologize for not posting any recipes in a while.  I have been busily working on updating the blog.  This whole managing a website thing is fairly new to me and my most recent training was MySpace (remember those days?).  I was also writing the new blog entry celebrating my year-long healthy milestone.  Thanks to everyone for the overwhelming support, by the way!  As always, I welcome any comments about the site, particular recipes you would like to see, or your feedback on the recipes.  

August is a particularly wonderful month even though this is the same time my immune system tries to attack the tiny ragweed particles floating in the air (thanks, allergies!).  It's around this time that food really seems to be invigorated with life.  Gardens are woven with vines of sun-ripened tomatoes and the cheerful colors of squash and peppers.  The farmers markets and produce departments are lined with rows of beautiful, fresh leaves and fruits with their own color palette and scents.  We are truly blessed by these magnificent gifts of the earth for our consumption, though we often take this for granted when we get caught up in the busyness of the day-to-day.  Next time you're tempted to get "cart rage" while angry at the person standing in your way because they can't make up their mind, take a moment to think about what it took for that little apple to make it to the crate and finally your shopping cart, or even just savor the smell of dill weed.

Lately, I can't seem to get enough of the fresh, local zucchini popping up everywhere.  It feels like Bubba Gump's love for shrimp except with zucchini.  I've made breads, muffins, pan-fried, baked fries, roasted with veggies, raw dipped in hummus, minestrone, and I could go on...  One of my favorites lately is making zucchini noodles, which is fairly simple with the right tool.  To go with it, I decided to make Arugula Basil Pesto Sauce because I needed to use the leaves in my garden before the caterpillars finish them!

Printable Version

What You'll Need:

2 cups Basil Leaves
1 cup Arugula Leaves
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Walnuts/Pecans (or your choice)
2 Peeled Garlic Cloves
1/4 teaspoon of Sea Salt
Pepper (to taste)
Honey (optional)
1 medium-sized Zucchini
2 cups Water

1.  Rinse and dry your zucchini.  Carefully laying your vegetable flat on a non-slippery surface, use your julienne peeler or noodle-making apparatus to make zucchini noodles.  I use a high-quality julienne peeler and it works something like a razor.  Be very careful with it because it may actually cut you like a razor.  To make noodles, pretend you're shaving your leg, but it's a zucchini.  Run your peeler from top to bottom and then clear off the noodles, making a pile.  Repeat.  I usually continue slicing noodles until I get to the seed layer, then I rotate it until all you're left with is a white zucchini.  I save it for later and chop it up in the next day's stir fry.  Sprinkle a little salt over your zucchini noodles and let them sit for a moment.
2.  Meanwhile, heat your two cups of water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat for use a little bit later.

3.  Using a food processor, chop your basil and arugula leaves using the pulse or low setting until finely textured.  Add your garlic cloves and run it on the low setting for a moment.  I chose to add only two garlic cloves because I prefer my pesto to be somewhat on the mild side.  If you prefer more of a "bite", feel free to add another clove or two.  With the processor still running, pour your olive oil, salt, and pepper in through the top and run it for a minute. 
4.  Lastly, add your choice of nuts to the food processor and let it process for another minute.  I chose to use both walnuts and pecans because it was what I had on hand and because I think the sweetness of the pecans helps to tame the "bite" pesto and arugula tend to have.
5.  Turn your machine off and sample a small taste of the sauce.  If you feel it needs more seasoning, adjust accordingly.  At this point, I like to take a spatula and scrape it up and down the sides and manually mix it to be sure everything has blended really well.
6.  Add a small drizzle of honey to the processor and blend if you would like.  I chose to do this because I think the little bit of sweetness keeps the peppery zing of the arugula from becoming overpowering.
7.  Place a metal steamer basket over the top of your pan that should now contain boiling water.  Place your zucchini noodles in the basket and let them lightly steam for 3-5 minutes or until your desired doneness.  I like to sprinkle a little Mrs. Dash seasoning on them.  Remember, you could always eat these noodles raw or saute them in a pan rather than steam them. 
8.  Remove and serve your fresh pesto over your steamed zucchini noodles.  Personally, I like to add a fried egg for a protein source, but it's delicious just on its own.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

365 Days of Healthy Changes

As a young adult, I have encountered several health issues.  For years, I dealt with weight struggles that seemed to have no end.  In 2004, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes (insulin-dependent) and hyperthyroidism.  I have also had a hard time with psoriasis and other issues.  My naturopathic doctor has nicknamed me "the autoimmune queen."  The challenges of these conditions accumulated over the years up until the point where I decided to make lasting changes.

On July 31st last year, I decided I no longer wanted to feel bad anymore and I would do everything in my power to change that.  With the help of a naturopathic doctor, I began a process of elimination in my diet.  I immediately removed all of the WHEAT/GLUTEN, DAIRY, ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS, REFINED SUGARS, PEANUTS, WHITE POTATOES, HIGHLY REFINED GRAINS, HIGH GLYCEMIC FRUITS like oranges, grapes, and bananas, or DRIED SWEETENED FRUITS/FRUIT JUICES, and PROCESSED FOODS in general.  When possible, I would buy fruits and vegetables that were ORGANIC and NON-GMO.  When I could afford to, I would try to purchase meats and poultry that were ORGANIC, GRASSFED, FREE RANGE, or CAGE-FREE.  I also tried my best to be mindful about the origins of certain fish, usually looking for WILD-CAUGHT or FARMED, but being careful about contamination.  
I paid more attention to my meal times and the amount of starches with each meal as well as many other details.

Today, one year later, I am 65 lbs. lighter than I was.  My HbA1C (measure of blood sugar control over the past 3 months or so) has gone down from 8.9% in May 2012 to 6.6% in July 2013.  My other numbers have been coming down too.  I have been working on getting into more activity now and becoming more comfortable working out with diabetes.  I continue to learn about health, foods, the body, the mind, and knowledge of sustenance.  I am inspired by Indigenous food philosophies, the year long cycle of food, and Haudnosaunee spiritual practice and sustenance.  I love to cook and think of new meal ideas and inspirations.  Though the past several years have had their share of pain and ill health, I am very thankful I have found the path I am on.  I hope my story and blog brings you some hope, comfort, or happiness too.  Nya:weh.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lavender Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Lavender Honey Frosting

Since making these lifestyle changes and going gluten-free among many other things, I sometimes find myself craving cake.  Given my reaction to gluten products, "cheating" is out of the question as I am very physically intolerant.  My search for a good cake recipe started last September for my own birthday.  I found and experimented with many recipes, but was never fully content with the ones I had encountered.  Months later, I found the recipe for Very Vanilla Cupcakes {using Coconut Flour} from the Comfy Belly blog that features delicious and healthy recipes that work with Paleo, diabetes, food allergies, and other accommodations.  This recipe was the answer I was looking for.  To me, they were the closest I could come to the real deal!  While these cupcakes are not entirely sugar/carb free, they are a wonderful treat and worth the extra little bump of insulin.  Unlike gluten baked goods, these were nicer to my blood glucose levels without that dreaded surge and drop in blood sugars.

I have made these cupcakes many times and find that this is a good staple recipe to play around with.  This post is the result of a little experimentation.  Over many trials, I have discovered: (1) they turn out better with maple syrup than honey (honey gives a drier, denser texture)  (2) organic/cage-free eggs give them a fluffier texture  (3) coconut oil can be tricky to use (it turns from liquid to solid when cold) as it hardens when it is added to cold eggs/maple syrup and this messes with your cupcake texture; I prefer to use grapeseed oil  (4) they are difficult to "veganize" because of the moisture-ratio.  If you get the hang of the original recipe and keep in mind the moisture-sucking characteristics of coconut flour, you can make adjustments to spice it up.  Maybe for future posts, I will reveal how I adapted these into Lemon Poppy Rhubarb Muffins or the Starbucks Chocolate Chip Banana Coffee Cake Muffins...

(Adapted from ComfyBelly)
Printable Version


1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 eggs
1/3 cup oil or unsalted melted butter (coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, or cooking oil)
1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
seeds from one vanilla bean

1/2 teaspoon culinary-grade lavender buds

1.  Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Using two separate bowls, combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another.  I like to sift the dry together with a sifter so they mix better.  Add the vanilla bean seeds and the lavender buds to the wet bowl.  Mash the lavender buds in really well to release the oils.  
2.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.  This can be done by hand or with a mixer.  Either way, make sure all clumps of flour are well-blended.

3.  Fill 8 cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way with batter.  Note: You must use liners for this recipe or they will stick to your cupcake pan.
4.  Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool and then frost.  Store covered for a few days at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for a few days.  Makes 8 cupcakes.


1 tablespoon raw honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
a pinch of culinary-grade lavender buds
4 tablespoons palm shortening

1.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, vanilla, and remaining lavender buds.  Again, mash the lavender buds into the mixture to release the fragrance/flavor.  Allow to sit for a little while.  
2.  Add the palm shortening to mixture and blend well by hand or by mixer.

3.  Frost your cupcakes and enjoy!  :-)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Cilantro Lime Chicken Thighs

This is my first attempt at a food blog post, so please bear with me.  If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to leave them!  Things here are still in development.

Since making all of my diet changes, I have made an attempt to try out different kinds of meats. One kind of meat I could never really bring myself to like was chicken thighs or dark meat.  I have always liked chicken breast with no problems, but the other parts just seemed to have an off taste to me or they are too fatty.  A few months ago, I attempted to get over this by making oven-roasted garlic chicken thighs.  My husband liked them, but I was not a fan!

This recipe post then comes from my second attempt to like chicken thighs.  The difference this time is I purchased the organic/cage-free version.  Now, I'm pretty self-conscious about this shift in preference and identity from standard American diet to less processed, more conscientious and higher quality foods.  I used to scoff at pretentious labels like "organic" "cage-free" "free-range" "grass-fed" "eco-friendly" "non-GMO" as snobby douchebaggery (Portlandia "organic", anyone?).  In fact, I still do in some ways, as I grapple with my own upbringing and how this part of our status has an effect on how we are able to eat, but I suppose this may be another blog post in itself.  I thought I would give the organic a try because I recall reading in many Paleo blogs that it would be a good idea to buy fattier meat cuts in organic form because the animals store many of the hormones, chemicals, and stress in their fat stores (yum...) and it shows in the taste.  So here goes...

Printable Version

What You'll Need:

1 lb. Boneless Chicken Thighs
2 medium-size Limes
2 T. chopped Cilantro
1/4 teaspoon of Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon of Garlic Powder
2 T. Coconut Oil or Butter

1.  Rinse your chicken thighs, sprinkle some salt over them, and leave them in a bowl or dish.  Rinse, dry, and coarsely chop your cilantro.  The limes can simply be cut in half.  Squeeze the juice of three of these lime halves over your chicken.  Add your cilantro to the chicken, rubbing it in either by hand or using a fork.  Poking holes into the meat with your fork while you're doing this helps to get the flavor in even better.  Allow this to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and turn your stove top burner to medium heat.  Using a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, heat your coconut oil or butter (I cheated and used a small amount of butter. I'm still testing exactly how dairy-intolerant I am) on the stove top.  Now saute your chicken thighs until they have some brown on them and flip them over, about five minutes for each side.  

3.  When they are done sauteing, use your last lime wedge to squeeze more juice over the chicken breasts.  Sprinkle the garlic powder over them and some leftover cilantro if you'd like.  You may also add more salt to them if desired.  Cover with the lid or foil and place in the oven for 20 minutes.  I'm sure this recipe could also be grilled.  Remove and enjoy amazingly juicy and delicious chicken thighs!  

I paired this with Native Harvest wild rice and homegrown baby arugula with honey and olive oil for dressing.  Nya:weh!