Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Corn Mush

Here's a sneak preview from the Iroquois White Corn Project photo shoot!
     Niawenkò:wa to everyone that has shown such tremendous support since I unveiled the new work I've been doing with Mohawk language and food! I'm really thankful and excited to be doing something that may be of help to our community in regards to language revitalization and learning about our traditional foods. I'll be presenting a little bit more about this at the Third Annual Research Symposium on Haudenosaunee-Native American Studies Research at University at Buffalo on Friday, November 14th. For more information, check here. The title of my presentation will be: "Tetewatskà:hons ne Sewatokwà:tshera (We Eat From the ‘Dish with One Spoon’): Revitalizing Haudenosaunee Food Traditions through Mohawk Language ”

     While I'm on the topic of traditional foods, I've been doing some food photography work with the Iroquois White Corn Project this fall (more on this next blog post!) and have been thinking a lot about corn. I've been rereading Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation by Waugh (1916) and found what seems like no end to corn recipes and usages. Beyond simply cooking, the milk of the corn was used for infants when breastfeeding was not possible, the husks were used for beautiful basketry and dolls, or even for in-ground food storage during the winter months. I could go on and on about the numerous varieties of original, heirloom types of corn too, and how important this 1/3 of the Three Sisters is to our wellbeing, culture, and life, but I should probably get on to sharing the recipe I had intended to share today: Corn Mush.

          For those unfamiliar, corn mush (otsískwa) is a delicious traditional dish often part of ceremonial and social gatherings. It has the consistency of a porridge, almost like Cream of Wheat, or oatmeal. Put simply, it is the boiling of ground white corn flour until most of of the water has cooked or absorbed into the corn meal. It is easy, fast, and a scrumptious way to start your day or serve anytime. Though it is a simple two-ingredient dish, people prepare it in different ways adding maple syrup, nuts, fruits, or even meat if one desired. For today's entry, I am sharing the recipe from the Iroquois White Corn Project where you can find the White Corn Flour used to cook this dish.

*Printable Recipe*
Makes 1 serving

1 Cup Iroquois Roasted Corn Flour or Iroquois White Corn Flour
2 Cups Water (add more Maple Syrup if you like it sweet)

1. In a saucepan, whisk Roasted Corn Flour into water.
2. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat.
3. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.
4. Serve with fruit, nuts, or brown sugar.

     Share some comments below if you'd like. How do you make your mush? Do you add any additional ingredients?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kanyen'kéha Language & Food Project: Everything is Connected!

                She:kon, sewakwe:kon! I hope you’re all making the most of the last days of summer. It’s a wonderful time of year as the farmers markets and gardens are at their peak. The fields are full of sun-ripened fresh corn, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, greens, beets, and more. Trees continue to be decorated by sweet peaches, plums, and apricots. But soon enough fall will be upon us. I know it’s on its way as I already see leaves beginning to change here in New York, days are getting cooler and shorter, and my cats are shedding and coughing up hairballs. Ha! Make sure you enjoy what’s left of our sunny days!

                Today I write this blog post to share with you some exciting work I have been doing! You all know I’ve been part of the Mohawk immersion language program and we just hit our half-way point of the program recently. It’s been coming along really well. We are learning so much as a group, our conversation abilities are amazing compared to where we were back in April, we’re connecting with other Mohawk language-learning folks, and we’ve even had the opportunity to visit and hang with other fluent speakers. Now we are studying different verbs and their many tenses, and I won’t lie, it is challenging work, but so rewarding! (FYI: The NACS Mohawk Immersion Program is currently recruiting for the new session to begin in January 2015. Let me know if you're interested.)

                Before I get to talking about my project, I just wanted to say a bit about my time at the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation community last week. Our class went on a trip to be part of the Youth and Elders Gathering, a multi-tribal summit where the young ones and elders, and everyone in between, of different Native nations come together to discuss the issues facing our communities. These gatherings have been held since the 1970s, and the locations rotate across Indian Country every year. It has been a way to build communication, relationships, and spiritual unity and collective consciousness for our many Native nations as well as discuss issues and create action. This year it happened to be at Akwesasne, in Upstate New York, and what a meeting it was! I met people from all directions, got to speak Kanyen’keha with elder speakers, visited the Freedom School there and hung out with the little ones, heard from respected elders about our teachings, and heard beautiful singing from friends and youths. It was a good reminder of what is truly important to us – revitalizing our traditions, living by the teachings, gratitude and giving thanks, strengthening our relationships with one another, and working toward a healthy, strong future for our nations and communities. It was a beautiful gathering to be a part of.

                I remember one of the mornings, a younger man went up to speak and reminded us about how everything is connected: our bodies, our teachings, our languages, ceremonies, traditions, foods, gardens, land, songs… everything. He went on to discuss how we need to get back to the foods and gardening, the original sources of nourishment. I wanted to fist-pump in the air and scream, “Yeah!,” but it would have been wholly inappropriate. Nonetheless, it was a powerful thing to hear, especially sitting in a circle with so many like-minds and renowned Haudenosaunee elders. It was particularly powerful because we were surrounded by the community gardens and fields. While we gathered around the fire and heard about the importance of the thanksgiving address, the ceremonies, and the foods, stalks of traditional white corn rustled and swayed in the gentle breeze. The smell of fresh rain and sweetgrass permeated the air while a smoky cedar-sage scent from the fire lingered on our consciousness. As we sat there, a man in a ribbon shirt walked up and down the rows of the garden picking fresh green beans and tomatoes for our dinner later that evening. The St. Regis River flowed quietly in the background, reminding us that water is a blessing never to be taken for granted given the dire drought situation taking place in California. After taking all that in, I thought to myself, “skenn:en kenentenyons”… peace is in my thinking. This is what it’s all about: our connections to the earth, ourselves, each other, tyonnhehkwen – “the sustainers” or sources of nourishment, everything is connected.

                On that note, I’ll finally share some of the work I’ve been doing. Back in May, I started working on a community service project with Native American Community Services of Buffalo, the same agency managing our Mohawk immersion program. I plan to utilize and teach the Mohawk language in relation to foods, cooking, gardening, and eating. I am creating curriculum and supplementary materials possibly in the form of coloring books, story books, teaching materials, and gardening kits, and recordings suited for children, elders, community members, or anyone interested in learning this type of vocabulary. At this stage, I am creating and recording vocabulary lists via Soundcloud available for download right now (see table below). I hope to be able to write and translate recipes in the language, perhaps instruct cooking classes or demonstrations, and generally consult about Native traditional nutrition. It is my goal to show how this is all connected, advocate for better health for our bodies and communities by eating the foods we were meant to, and do so while knowing our original language and instructions. It’s not merely about decolonization or food sovereignty now, but re-indigenizing and breathing life back into the traditions that sustain us. As always, nia:wenkò:wa for reading and following.

                You’ll notice at the top menu bar of my page there is a new tab called “Mohawk Language Recordings.” Here is where you can follow along and access materials and recordings that I have been working on. Or you can go directly to my Soundcloud tracks here. I will be continually updating it. I encourage you to check it out, download some words, listen to the recordings, write some sticky notes in your kitchen or garden, and challenge yourself to learn something new. After all, you never know where it might take you!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Two Years and Counting...

     Friday, August 1, marked the anniversary of two years committed to my healthy lifestyle changes. That is, 730 days of no gluten, no dairy, artificial ingredients, very little processed garbage (I’m still a sucker for a gluten-free cookie or chips once in a while!) – just real, whole, (preferably, and when possible, indigenous) foods. I’m still in disbelief sometimes considering this is the girl that used to slug down a Pepsi while munching on a bag of Doritos, watching episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ ten years ago. I’ve come a long way since then! It has been an amazing journey full of healing, growth, positivity, and change. I have come to know my body better and appreciate it for everything it does.

     While I love and appreciate cooking, foods, and the physical changes I experienced, this second year has been about healing the internal parts of myself. I was recently at the Haudenosaunee Great Law Recital this week at Onondaga Nation Territory. I had a moment to sit down and talk with an elder about my experiences, and he said that healing needs to take place in the body, the mind, and the spirit. This most recent year has been about these final two levels. I have made great strides to try my best to have peace in my thinking, to heal from pain from my past that I had previously buried away, and remove myself from negative energy sources when possible. I’m learning to listen more, be more patient, understand my strengths and weaknesses, approach life with a sense of gratitude and curiosity, and to live with a “good mind.”

     Sure, these all probably sound like pretty common sense instructions, but I will tell you that it’s difficult to be of a good mind when your body is in a crooked state (see what I did there, H-peeps?! J). Part of Bob Antone and Rick Hill’s presentation on Monday was about how we need to decolonize all of the parts of ourselves, including our bodies, a message that often gets lost in the mix. When we feed ourselves foods that contain chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, post-colonization foods that are foreign to our bodies and genetics, and high-glycemic, inflammatory starches (including gluten/wheat) that embroil our bodies in an insulin-spiking battle, we set ourselves up for unwellness. When our bodies aren’t given the appropriate nourishment we were made for – foods close to the earth and creation – it’s hard for our minds to be well also. When our minds are unwell, it’s hard for us to make good decisions, treat each other well, and be strong people and nations. This is a lesson that I encountered along my way.

     Spiritually, I am still healing and I know this work will never be finished. As human beings, we are constantly growing, learning, and changing. Personally, my path has been about reclaiming who I am – being part of my community, learning the language, going to ceremony, and really trying to understand and apply our teachings to my life, thinking, and work. Studying and speaking Kanienkeha (Mohawk language) has truly been life-changing as I’m learning that our Native languages restore an ancient way of thinking, speaking, and being. It took me a long time to understand why language is so important, but I know that it too has been a powerful part of my healing process. Being at the Great Law this week also really shifted my perspective in terms of our traditional teachings. I was inspired by the many good-minded people who were there, feeling the presence of the wampum belts together again, and the power of that message. The Onondaga Cookhouse staff also graciously fed us three meals daily with nation-raised buffalo, turkeys, chickens, and pigs, traditional corn soup and corn bread made from Haudenosaunee corn, and a bit of fresh fruits and vegetables. I felt such peace and good energy after this week-long gathering (some of which can be attributed to the good cooking!). Things are at last coming together.

     This brings me back to why I am here writing. I started this blog in July 2013 with a lot of hesitation, not sure about what to do with all these thoughts, recipes, readings, and ramblings. I knew that I wanted to help people in whatever way I could short of going back to school for a nutrition program certificate. I thought there had to be a way to share the power of this journey I’ve been on and maybe encourage others to reconsider their sources of nourishment and ways of thinking about food. I truly believe in the power of healing through food, that it connects us in so many deep and complex ways to all of creation, and we can heal our bodies, minds, and ultimately, our nations, by re-indigenizing our traditional foodways and sustenance. This path, so far, has been incredible and I’m so grateful for the people I continue to meet and become inspired by, the readers who take the time to look at my posts or even cook recipes, and the opportunity to combine what I love doing (cooking, writing, reading, photographing and connecting with awesome folks). I hope you'll continue to walk with me! Niawenkowa, sewakwe:kon! (a big thank you to you all!)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Adventures in Blackcap-Picking

I used to always love the summertime as a child. Growing up, summertime meant possibilities. Those steamy, listless days were open for anything since we were out of school. For my cousins and I, that sometimes meant trouble, but we behaved for the most part. I want to share with you my childhood playground:

These photographs are of one of my beloved, special places in the woods. It is where fields see the seasons continually evolving, Mother Earth covered in blankets of snow, sweet woven grasses, bristly weeds, and gently layered leaves. It is where the frogs sing their songs at night, lightning bugs illuminate the bushes, fields of dandelion skeletons await blown wishes, and both Sun and Moon take turns watching over the fields. Deer and wild life would roam those woods, as would rez field cars. It is a place I’m sure my ancestors enjoyed also, as I sometimes imagine the earth underneath my feet holding ancient imprints of their own somewhere deep beneath the layers. It is where sweet childhood memories rest.

We spent many summertime bike rides cruising down this path, riding until we reached the middle of the rez, several fields in. Most often, it was my younger sister, Melissa, my cousin, Colleen, and I, while various cousins and friends would venture out with us. We popped wheelies, skinned up knees, rode three to a bike, endured bee stings, and even braved the great lengths of Chew Road back in the day, a.k.a. Pothole-ville. Back then, you weren’t much if you couldn’t ride a bike.

Apart from bikes and no school, there was no doubt that one of THE best parts of summer was blackcap season! For those unfamiliar with this delectable fruit, blackcaps (Mohawk word/pronunciation) are also known as wild black raspberries. They are related to raspberries, but are much smaller, darker, sturdier, and taste very different. Every time in early-mid July, right around when Indian Picnic time rolls around, we knew those precious berries were waiting. We would keep checking the bushes until the caps turned just the right shade of purple, then it was go time. Make no mistake, though, this was no easy task. We paid for these berries by making a ceremonial offering of sweat and blood. We came equipped with our bikes, bowls, buckets, and bug spray, but it was often no match for nature. Despite bathing in Off spray beforehand, the mosquitoes always found in us a scrumptious feast. The scorching July sun and humidity sometimes made it unbearable while sweat poured down our faces. Snakes, real and imagined, awaited our arrival into the thickest part of the fields. Thorns from the blackcap bushes stabbed at our arms, demanding blood as sacrifice and keeping the juiciest, blackest berries out of arm’s reach. And yet we continued to pick.

After all of our hard work and dedication, we would emerge from the woods triumphant, with two huge containers of berries filled to the brim. We beamed with pride, and stained fingers, and welts, and scratches, and stink, sweaty hair. The next best thing was actually eating the berries. We ate them plainly, scooped out from the bowl. We mashed them with loads of sugar until they formed a rich, deep purple goodness that was as sweet as jam. Sometimes our aunties actually made jam with them. Or, if we didn’t eat them all, our grandmother or aunt might make a pie. Other times, we would eat a generous amount of that sugary berry mush over ice cream. I think gratitude and hard work was what really made them taste the best.

I went blackcap picking earlier this month when my husband and I were walking along an unfamiliar park trail and noticed the little berries dotting the bushes. I soon started on a picking rampage, filling my hands, and then my hat, with the tiny pieces of heaven. I picked the bushes dry, but made sure to leave a few behind for the birds and other critters, and ended up with nearly a pint. I found such joy in picking these treasures again, and they were as delicious as I remembered. They have a simultaneously tart and sweet taste, and their seeds give it a fibrous, woody, crunchy texture. Soon after picking, we made sure to stop by the grocery store for some coconut milk ice cream (I found it sweetened with agave, a lower glycemic sweetener than sugar). I went home and mashed the berries up with a little honey, vanilla extract, and fresh sage and let them marinate for a few minutes while I impatiently waited. Finally, I served them over my ice cream for my husband and I, and enjoyed the first black cap sundae in what felt like forever. It tasted just as good as I had remembered. It tasted like simpler times and sweet memories. It reminded me of Colleen who I miss so much sometimes.

It is now mid-July and we are in the midst of peak berry season. It seems like everything is out now, raspberries, blackcaps, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and others. The bushes and farmers’ markets are brimming with nature’s candy. Niawenkò:wa, Shonkwayatishon! I hope you’re able to enjoy some this season. As if you needed any more reason to indulge in these goodies, here (see this, and this) are a few articles noting the health benefits of berries. And by the way, I found a few amazing gluten-free/dairy-free blueberry recipes. Check out Paleo Spirit's Paleo Blueberry Muffins made with almond flour and tapioca starch. These turned out delicious and not too sweet. Or Against All Grain's Gluten-Free Blueberry Waffles made with raw cashews, coconut flour, and coconut milk. Be careful with these, they like to stick to the waffle iron so spray in between waffles, but they're still yummy. Check them out! 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dairy-Free Maple Pecan Ice Cream

She:kon, sewakwe:kon! Wakatshenonni tsi wakatakarite tahnon i:kes nonwa wehniserate. Tahnon wakatshenonni tsi sewennanotha oh nahoten khyatons kentho. Akwah iken tsi kenonwes kekhonnis tahnon khyatons. Nonwa wehniserate, kekhonnis i:se Maple Pecan Ice Cream" skatne ya dairy. Niawenkowa tsi sewennanotha!

Translation (I think!): Greetings, everyone! I am happy that I am healthy and here today. And I am happy that you read what I write here. I really like cooking and writing a whole heck of a lot. Today, I make for you "Maple Pecan Ice Cream" with no dairy. Thank you so much for reading!

As you can see, I have started Kanienkeha (Mohawk) language immersion class. I've survived a month of instruction so far, and one exam, but I assure you it has not been easy! I have been wrong so many times and had my moments of frustration, but with it have developed an even more profound respect for Native language and language learners. I feel extremely humbled by the experience and am so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn with some really amazing friends and instructors. I'm looking forward to continuing on and building this vocabulary, meeting new people, and finding new ways to speak and use what I'm learning in my thinking and writing. I'm so very grateful and fortunate. It is good.

So this is why I haven't been around much, if you've noticed. Also, earlier in April, I mentioned we had our annual Storytellers Conference at UB and that I would be presenting on my experiences and research with Native diet and food. The conference was such a great time as we were lucky to have Taiaiake Alfred as our keynote speaker this year. We had so many interesting sessions to go to, new people to meet, Mohawk Beatles songs to sing together, and a meaningful sharing of experiences and dialogue about our work. My own presentation took a lot of courage as I talked about some of my background, which wasn't easy, and what has shaped my research interests and writing. I hope to develop this more into an essay here another time. The presentation and conference involvement helped affirm to myself that I am on the right path right now in doing what I am doing.

And now, the inspiration for this new recipe blog post -- maple season! Now I'm a bit behind in my writing, but back in March I had the opportunity to join the Seneca Nation cultural program to learn about their maple-tapping process and operations. While it was too cold that day to actual do any tapping or collecting, we got a good presentation on how it is done. It turns out there is a lot of work involved to get that little glass container of precious brown springtime gold! From tapping to collecting buckets of sap to cutting firewood to boiling it down in evaporators and calibrated equipment and filtering, I was tired just from listening! 2014 was a good season from what I hear since our consistently cool weather allowed for the trees to warm up and run, then cool down again. We even got to sample some of the batch they had just made and it was the purest maple syrup I had ever tasted! Thanks to Robbie and Jordan, and Penny, for having me join you all! Some travel plans kept me from full participation this year, but maybe next year I can get more involved and report my experiences here.

From the top left, clockwise: the "Sugar Shack" at the Cattaraugus Community Center; Firewood; Equipment;
Calibration Tool; Final Product. 
You might wonder how it is that a diabetic gets so excited over maple syrup since it's seen as a "no-no" food. I generally try to avoid most forms of sugar from my diet, but I make exceptions for maple syrup and honey since they are technically Native foods. I simply try to have them in moderation and/or try to increase my activity level around the consumption. I remember as a child having the opportunity to collect the buckets of sap in the forest around school and we would watch them boil it down over the fire. I'm grateful for that sense of pride instilled in me for producing something created by the earth, giving thanks for it, and working hard in the process. Every spring I think of the maples with this fondness and knowledge that the earth will be fully awakening soon after a long winter.

Thank you to the maples (you might remember these naughty trees here too) for this next gluten free and vegan recipe. I have made this several times now and most batches have been problem free. I'm no ice cream connoisseur so I researched several paleo ice cream recipes first and came across this basic Homemade Coconut Milk Ice Cream by "Mama's Weeds" blog website. I adapted mine based on this recipe. Listen to her advice though about coconut milk as she knows her stuff about the trial and error of it. Be mindful about your coconut milk's graininess and thickness and work accordingly. You could try it without an ice cream maker, maybe alternating between freezing and stirring, but I can't guarantee this will work. I will also warn you to only stick to making the portion below as I tried to double it and it turned out to be a mushy disaster!

Printable Directions

What You'll Need:
2 Cans of Refrigerated Full-Fat Coconut Milk (Refrigerate at least 24 hours in advance)
1/4 Cup of Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons of Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup of Chopped Pecans or Walnuts
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

1. Make sure your ice cream maker canister has been frozen for at least 24 hours prior to making this recipe. Do not remove from freezer until ready to pour. Also, refrigerate your coconut milk cans for the same amount of time.
2. Turn your coconut milk cans upside down and open them. The liquid should remain at the top while the fat sits at the bottom. Drain the liquid into a separate container and save for another purpose (smoothie or another recipe?). Scoop the creamy, thick fat stuff into your mixing bowl.

3. Stir in the coconut sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Let it sit for a few moments to allow the coconut sugar to dissolve, then mix well with a mixer. Stir in your choice of nuts. If it seems too thick, you might add some of the coconut liquid to thin it out.

4. Quickly prep your ice cream maker and pour the mixed contents into the frozen canister. Follow according to your machine's instructions, or churn for 10-15 minutes until thick and custard-like. Serve immediately, or freeze in an airtight container for about an hour. If you freeze any longer, it begins to turn ice-crystal-like and doesn't look pretty, but it might make a good smoothie later blended with a banana. This recipe made about 2 cups of ice cream, four 1/2 cup servings. Mmm... yahwehko! :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Really Delicious Fry Bread"

Hi everyone! Just checking in to let you know I'm still around, active, and writing. The library presentation last month had a really great turn out and it was a pleasure to share my experiences and research with everyone. I was especially enlightened by the questions and discussion we had afterwards. There are so many issues within the mainstream food and medical system that need addressing and questioning. Thank you again to all who showed up! I'll be giving a brief presentation at the University at Buffalo Storytellers Conference later this week on Saturday, April 12th on "Indigenous Food Revolution: re-Indigenizing Food, Sovereignty, and Body." You can find more information about the conference here.  My presentation is at 9:45am.

Warning: This is not a recipe!  It is just a tease!  Besides, you won't ever find frybread here on this blog, or on my plate.  Don't get my wrong, I used to love it!  But since I've discovered my severe gluten intolerance, I don't dare touch the stuff.  The last time I laid my hands on that beloved, golden entity of crispy, spongy, greasy goodness was at the Border Crossing Gathering in July 2012.  And oh boy, it was delicious and fluffy, yet dense; a little piece of heaven on a scorching summer afternoon while the powwow dancers sweat and voices wail over the loudspeaker.  I do wish I had savored it a bit more now that I think back.  Ah, summer days.  Ah, gluten days.

Now that I've made you hungry... I'm not here to praise or condemn (at least not this time) this beloved symbol of twentieth century Native American diet. For those who might not know, "frybread" is a deceptively simple fried dough dish developed in the mid-late nineteenth century. Its introduction was a response to U.S. Indian policy that purposefully shrunk Native land bases and tried to erode connection to the land and traditional ways. Because of these deliberate actions, Native diet became reduced to a state of dependence on government food commodity and rations. Though white flour is clearly not a traditional ingredient, its use became a means of survival while numerous Native nations struggled with malnutrition, starvation, and the effects of removal, allotment, termination, and the many assaults on indigenous existence. It has become a controversial staple of Native diet and culture, both treasured for its taste and cultural symbolism and blamed for its detrimental impact on Indigenous health. If you're interested in reading further, this Smithsonian Magazine article does an excellent job exploring the problematic aspects of frybread as a dual symbol of "perseverance and pain" given the atrocities experienced in the last several centuries. For now, I will leave it up to readers to decide for themselves their stance on frybread.

Frybread controversies aside, the reason for this post is that I came across a poem I thought I would share here on the blog. I remembered reading it before for a course called "Honoring Indigenous Women", and I was struck by how much the experience of cooking comes to life with her words and how survival, food, tradition, and women are to be honored. I read it again last night and its meaning becomes all the more powerful as I embark on my dissertation research and really think about the complex connections behind food and sustaining ourselves. Please read. And as always, I welcome comments, interpretations, and discussion.

"Really Delicious Fry Bread"
by Chrystos

To make really delicious fry bread

You need to start the night before
With some long slow sweet sweet
loving with the precious one of your choice
This brings good dreams of swimming in cool water
Listen to birds singing alive the dawn
Then put on some strong Indian music
Half of the taste, the part that makes her rise
Is the joy you stir in
but you start with plain old white flour
1 cup to 1 teaspoon baking powder
& a sprinkle of sugar
This makes enough for 2 if you have
bacon, potatoes & eggs
If it's all you have
better make 3 cups worth
Sift everything a couple of times
Pour in your water in a spiral
The way the earth moves
It helps if you're singing with your pow wow tape
or laughing with your lover
Stir until you get a good dough
not too sticky
Knead in all the names who need a prayer
Shape her into a round mound
& cross her in the four directions
with a sharp knife
Cover with a clean red bandanna
& make the coffee
When you've finished your prayers
she'll be ready to cook up
The oil should be hot enough
to make your spit sputter
but not smoking
Pinch off a piece of dough & roll her
around to make a patty
pulling her flat with your fingers
Some people put a hole in the middle
for the spirits to pass through
& some roll them out on a board
but I do it in the lazy squaw way
While you're frying them don't get caught
up in writing a poem
or talking on the phone
because even the crows
won't eat them burnt
We love fry bread in memory of the women
who, thrown off their land
with death in every dawn
& starvation in their children's eyes
made this food
so we'd all survive
Each tender bite honours our ancestors
who despite the greatest genocide
in world history
kept on
& kept on
So we could share bannock this morning
and love

Source:  Chrystos.  "Really Delicious Fry Bread."  In Lee Maracle and Sandra Laronde (Eds.) My Home as I Remember It.  Toronto: Natural Heritage Books, pp. 8-9.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NEW SHOP ITEM>>> "Gifts From This Earth" Native Foods Notecards Set

     In addition to all the academic work and writing I do, I often feel the need to balance the serious, analytical side of me with some creativity.  I foster this side of myself in different ways with cooking, poetry, beadwork, acrylic painting, or whatever strikes me.  One activity I have always loved but haven't always got the chance to nurture is photography.  I've changed that in the past few years and love to get outdoors and play with my camera, sometimes taking photography courses to learn new skills and perspectives.  Lately, I've taken to photographing food and have realized the simplistic beauty inherent in the very foods we eat.  Rarely do we take the time to admire the items in our grocery carts as what they are - beautiful gifts from this earth, manifestations of creation's reciprocal love for us.  It is amazing to think of all the colors, textures, flavors, and cellular constructs and how they sustain our bodies.

     My most recent creation takes inspiration from our relationship with these foods, from Native American traditional foods that have existed for centuries.  These photographs were taken last year while I was playing around with light, details, textures, and just admiring the beauty of the foods.  They have been edited from their original form, cleanly cropped from their backgrounds, and edited as a graphic.  I have printed them as a notecard set with blank insides, but they are available for individual matte photograph prints if you are interested.  Here are the included images: 1) Indian Corn  2) Haudenosaunee White Corn  3) Manoomin  4) Strawberries and Sage.  Although I don't partake in eating 5) Frybread because of its colonizing affiliations and the gluten, I've also listed a humorous greeting card on Etsy.

    Lastly, one final note.  I have added a "Shop" tab to the top of my webpage for items in my Etsy store.  I truly love writing this blog and sharing my journey.  I am thankful for my readers and the support I've been given.  If you are able, I ask for your continued support by shopping at my store for authentically Native American made artistry.  Thank you.

Here are the Etsy listing links:







Monday, March 3, 2014

Presentation at Audubon Library Holistic Health Series - March 11th, 7pm

I am excited to announce I will be presenting at the Audubon Library's Holistic Health series next Tuesday, March 11th at 7:00pm.  It will be held at Audubon Library in Amherst at 350 Audubon Parkway.  Please call ahead at 716.689.4922 if you can.  I would be delighted if you joined me!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Manoomin (Wild Rice) & Mushrooms


     Thank you all for reading the reflective piece on my type 1 diabetes anniversary earlier this week.  It means a lot that my friends (in person and online!) and family support me and my struggles.  I have been especially struck by the outreach by the diabetes online community, how these support groups and forums can help you feel less alone and alienated by a disease most people don't fully understand.  Thank you again for the love and friendship!

     Today, I am taking a brief break to write you a recipe that's been on my agenda for some time.  I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately and trying to prepare for a presentation I am giving in mid-March and a paper I'm writing for a conference in April.  I feel like my research, ideas, and goals have been all over the place lately, so if you can send some positive writing vibes and clarity my way, it would be much appreciated!

     Back in November, I began reading a newly published Native American cookbook by Heid E. Erdrich, called Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes From the Upper Midwest.  I am nearly done reading through it and have had the opportunity to make a few recipes from it.  I hope to write a review on it soon so I can give you a full overview of Erdrich's impressive work.  Erdrich offers a wonderful recipe book derived from family recipes, traditional ancestral inspirations, and local and sustainable ingredients from regional sources around Ojibwe territory (Minnesota).  She disperses indigenous knowledge highlights, whimsical anecdotes, Indian humor, and plenty of resource information pointing readers toward best practices and Native food organizations.  The majority of her recipes are vegetarian, but there is plenty of room at her table for omnivores, vegans, and pescatarians.  I've actually been wanting to make more recipes from her book, but have had trouble with availability of ingredients and some restrictive ingredients.  I'm excited that spring's on its way in soon though and we'll be able to get our hands on some of the foods that are difficult to find in the winter!

     I found inspiration from Erdrich's work for this next recipe post: Manoomin & Mushrooms.  She dedicates a whole section of her book to this beautiful non-genetically modified indigenous wild rice grain and leaves plenty of room for imagination in creating delectable recipes.  This recipe draws inspiration from "Rita Erdrich's Manoomin" (p.26).  I have made my recipe version only a few times and enjoy it more and more each time.  It can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.  It is more diabetes friendly when served with a generous amount of protein and perhaps slightly undercooked.  Feel free to make any substitutions or variations as you wish.  I'm sure it would be made even more wonderful with the addition of bacon (what dish wouldn't be?), different spices, or nuts.  On the other hand, you could subtract some onions if you're not as crazy about them as I am.  It's a very rich, hearty dish and could very well stand on its own as a main entree, or could be served with a leaner main course.  In this case, I served it with broiled lemon rosemary haddock and sauteed green beans.

     While my ancestral homelands are on the other side of the Great Lakes from Erdrich's homeland, I guess you can say the Haudenosaunee and Ojibwe are like distant neighbors.  We shared many similar traditional foods being nations in the Great Lakes region.  We have our ancestral white corn, and they have their ancestral manoomin wild rice.  I've taken great care to photograph these beautiful foods (white corn and manoomin).  These original, heirloom grains have been harvested with love by their respective nations and provide a special connection between the earth, our ancestors, and our bodies.  It's a blessing that these ancient grains still exist in the form they do, that they are still harvested by loving hands that tend the fertile fields or sift through gentle lake waters.  I try to meditate on this gratitude and connection as I cook and enjoy my meal.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Printable Directions

1/2 cup Manoomin Wild Rice*
8 oz. White Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, divided in half
1 small Onion, chopped
1 Shallot, diced
3 Scallions, chopped - separate the whites and greens
2 cloves Garlic
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze Lemon Juice
Homemade Chicken Stock - 1/2 cup and 2/3 cup (substitute vegetable stock for veg)
1 cup Filtered Water
1 tablespoon rendered Duck Fat (substitute Coconut Oil for veg)
1 teaspoon Coconut Oil
Fresh Rosemary & Thyme
1 tablespoon organic, grassfed Butter (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

*A note about Manoomin: Make sure you are using the real deal manoomin rice.  I order from Winona LaDuke's White Earth Land Recovery Project/Native Harvest brand because it is quality rice, sustainably harvested, and supports a Native non-profit doing amazing work for indigenous agriculture.  You'll probably want to rinse the manoomin with hot water a few times and make sure there are no pieces of dirt, unhulled rice grains, or other bits of debris.  I let it soak for a few minutes so the grains are nice and clean.  If 1/2 cup doesn't seem like much rice, be aware this stuff multiplies in volume!  Erdrich has very careful Manoomin prep. instructions in her book to which I have tried my best to adhere.

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Heat water and 1/2 cup of chicken stock in a medium saucepan over high heat.  When the water starts to boil, add the manoomin rice and some salt, and cover with lid.  Cook for 20 minutes without removing the cover.  This would be a good time to work on your main course dish or work on prepping the above ingredients.

3.  While you're waiting for the rice to cook, heat the duck fat and coconut oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.  Saute your chopped onions, the white portions of your scallions, and half of your mushrooms for about 7 minutes until the onions start to turn translucent.

4.  Add the shallots and garlic and stir, sauteing for an additional 3 minutes or so.  Add seasonings - 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves and 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary, and however much salt and pepper you would like.  Add the remainder of the mushrooms.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice over mixture.  Stir and saute for another minute.

5.  Add 2/3 cup chicken stock and green onions, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

6.  Add cooked manoomin to a casserole dish.  Pour mushroom and onion mixture over the manoomin and mix well with a fork.  Dot with butter if desired.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Let dish rest to absorb any remaining juices before serving.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The 17th Time I Puked, or a Diabetes Diagnosis Story

           I sat on the plushy couch looking down on a pile of my vomit.  Yep, this is the 17th time I puked over the course of 36 hours.  Even water was becoming a challenge to hold down.  My heart beat so fast as I sat there, too weak to move any muscle unnecessarily.  There was a whooshing sound in my head that crashed like violent, stormy waves angered by a storm.  Little pink dots (capillaries?) scattered across my face as though they were strange, unknowable constellations.  I thought to myself, this can't be it.  My life can't be over at just 20.

          This, my friends, is my diabetes story.  I have seen posts across countless diabetes blogs recounting their stories.  Some are quite dramatic near-coma episodes and others are simple "we got your lab results, and..." kind of stories, but regardless, the emotional toll and life changes are the same.  There is a power within our stories, despite the pain, and a shared sense of community.  Today, Februrary 24, is my 10-year type 1 diabetes diagnosis anniversary and I am joining the diabetes online community in sharing my own story.  I am thankful to be a part of this community.


          I was a junior, English-major student attending Buffalo State College.  It was a bitter cold February in the city of Buffalo and the "spring" semester was full of deadlines, meetings, and schoolwork.  I was a seriously dedicated student in the McNair Scholars program with many aspirations ahead of me, including a doctoral degree.  I was somewhat healthy, even playing collegiate lacrosse the year before, but I had come across an overactive thyroid issue and other strange symptoms.

           Actually, two months prior, I was convinced I had diabetes after I drank a frappuccino.  All Wilford Brimley "diabeetus" jokes aside, I became really shaky and dizzy after consuming my twice-weekly indulgence.  I mentioned this to my doctor and my labs did not confirm anything wrong other than a hyper thyroid.  Soon I became unbelievably thirsty and regularly downed two-liters of Mountain Dew, Gatorade, water, anything I could get my hands on.  I started carrying bottles of water with me because my mouth got so dry.

          And with this new habit came many visits to the bathroom. I used the bathroom to urinate several times a day, morning, noon, and night.  My sleep became interrupted by constant visits to the toilet.  When I even got sleep, I would wake with excruciating foot and leg muscle cramps. By now my frame had shrunk down by about 20 pounds and I took on a much thinner appearance, which I didn't mind much.  However, this was even despite my binge visits to the dining hall buffet and constant hunger.  I also complained of it always being too hot and regularly waltzed into the February air with nothing more than a spring jacket on.  My now-husband, Dan, still teases me about this when I complain I'm too warm.

          I did notice I was having trouble keeping up with my schoolwork.  I was extraordinarily tired all the time and it took a ton of energy just to wake up and walk to class from North Wing.  It was when I was in one of my English composition classes when I really knew something was wrong.  In the middle of a lecture, I bolted out of the room with a queasy feeling in my stomach and headed for the restroom.  Unfortunately for me, the bathrooms were located on the basement floor of Ketchum Hall.  I got in the elevator and, unable to make it, expelled a Special K breakfast bar and apple juice onto the floor of the mechanism.  I still feel really bad for the misfortune of those who later had to ride that elevator.

          I went home sick and immediately called my mom.  We called my doctor and he dismissively asked if I was sure I wasn't pregnant.  I angrily assured him I was not and came in for an appointment.  He tested my blood sugar and it was 250 mg/dl, and then came the mistaken type 2 diabetes diagnosis at age 20.  He sent me home with a Metformin prescription and some labwork for the next morning, only this never solved my problems.

          The next 24 hours was a strange blur where time also stood still.  I was in my own little place of hell, alternating between vomiting, short shallow breaths, heart pounding, and the whooshing in my head.  I started to keep track of how many times I barfed and by the end of it all, the total tally ended at eighteen times.  My mother continued to call the doctor who thought it was a medication side effect and waited until the last minute to advise us to seek emergency medical treatment.

           Back to the couch.  There I was in all my fear, anxiety, pain, and discomfort.  I truly feared my life ending at age 20 since I felt I had so much more to do and experience.  While the world continued to turn and people lived their lives, there I was on the couch feeling so very alone and scared.  Grandma was there though.  She comforted me and told me I was going to be okay with a convincing and unwavering confidence that I came to believe.  I continue to be grateful for that loving moment.

           Eventually, my mom came home and we went to the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center Emergency Room.  The staff immediately checked me in (I used to joke that I got VIP treatment), started doing their labwork and tests, and began treating me with IV fluids and medications.  I puked one final time and then began my road back to wellness.  I spent five days in the Intensive Care Unit at the top floor and two days in the regular rooms downstairs.  My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Dan was there by my side for as long as he could be, and he continues to lovingly provide support through the years of living with this condition.  Today, sometimes the mere click of the lamp at 4am provokes him to ask if I need a juicebox.  His support has meant so much to me and in some ways, we have both grown through this condition.  Many family members and friends came to visit me which I was so grateful for.  I was given cards, plants, stuffed animals, and slippers.  When I wasn't being poked or prodded, I spent my time writing, reading, praying, reflecting, and growing stronger.  It was a blessing to see the rising sun in the morning from the top of the hospital.

          They diagnosed me as a Type 1 diabetic who had experienced severe diabetic ketoacidosis.  I later learned there is no known cure for this type of diabetes and it was caused by my immune system gone haywire that mistakenly attacked my pancreatic, insulin-producing cells.  I would forever be dependent on insulin to function until they found a cure.  This was much different than the more common type 2 diabetes most of my family members had.  I was immediately started on an insulin injection regimen, taught how to inject insulin into myself by syringe and pen, and later set up for nutrition classes.  I learned how to check my blood sugars, how to correct high blood sugars, treat lows, and count carbohydrate exchanges.  It wasn't until three months later that I was set up with an insulin pump which made things considerably easier.  For months, perhaps even years, my blood sugar levels hardly ever stayed within the ranges the doctors wanted and I struggled with the highs and lows.

          Ten years later, I have learned quite a bit about living with diabetes and how best to care for my body.   My HbA1c is much better and I feel more at ease dealing with the ups and downs.  I know now the best foods and practices that create balance and wellness for me.  Emotionally, I still struggle with what to make of my experiences and journey.  Sometimes I would sift through my old medical files like a detective, looking for the minuscule clues for what exactly caused my diabetes - Was it the strep throat infection I had a year earlier? Mercury fillings months prior? A sensitivity to gluten and dairy? The hazardous chemicals reputed to be buried under Chew Road? Immunizations? A stressful upbringing?  It didn't matter, really.  Nothing would change the fact that I had diabetes.  Other times, I spent a lot of time living in denial, rejecting my condition, and being very angry and depressed about the cards dealt to me.

           The most recent years find me looking upon this experience and condition with more acceptance, kindness, patience, knowledge, and spiritual understanding.  Don't get me wrong, I still have my moments, but I've matured and learned to love my body despite the stresses it can cause.  The truth is, I don't know why this struggle has been granted to me, but I choose to acknowledge, accept, and grow from it.  As much as it sucks doing your pancreas's job and worrying 24/7 about your blood sugar, bottoming out to a 30 bg on your 21st birthday (true story!), or facing the idea of your own mortality at a younger age than others, I think there's a wisdom that comes from this responsibility.  Dealing with these daily trials requires you to be a strong person.  It may sound funny, but I thank the Creator for my path even though it hasn't been an easy one.  They say that we're given a set number of days to live on this earth by the Creator, that he holds a number of sticks in his hand to represent how many days we are given.  No one knows how many days we have, whether a brief time or a long time.  I end my blog post today with gratitude that he still holds my sticks.  My days did not end at 20 and I continue to be blessed with the ability to walk upon this earth and enjoy life, maybe even inspiring others in the process.  Nya:weh for letting me share my story with you.

A picture of me two weeks before diabetes diagnosis.

Souvenirs from my hospital stay.

The plant I was gifted by the Tuscarora Baptist Church during my hospital stay.
A decade later, it's still living and growing strong like me.  :)

The slippers given to me by my dad and the stuffed elephant Dan gave to me.

My best buddies these days: Dexcom sensor & Animas Ping insulin pump.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Evergreens, a story

A beautifully winter-frosted Colorado Spruce pine in our back yard.

Good evening, readers!  I hope you're staying warm and safe tonight.  There's a nasty winter storm and treacherous roads right outside my window, but I am indoors and am finding comfort in some reading and a warm cup of tea (a new rooibos flavor/treat!).  I realize it has been some time since I've posted on here and it's probably because I've been in hibernation.  Just kidding.  Though on days like today, it's tempting to take a giant dose of Hibernol (remember that SNL sketch?) and sleep through the winter.  In seriousness, things have been pretty busy, actually.  In addition to dissertation research and prospectus writing, I have been designing a new set of note cards with Native American food graphics from photos I've taken - look for a separate post on this soon.  I'm also going to Kanyen'keha (Mohawk) language class and studying to hopefully join an immersion program in the spring.  This has been a time to take good care of myself too, going to all of my doctor's visits and reassessing my wellness and diabetes care protocols.

I'm excited to share I'll be giving a lecture as part of the Holistic Health Lecture Series at the Audubon Library (350 John James Audubon Parkway in Amherst) next month.  My presentation is titled, "Indigenous Food Revolution: Ancestral and Native American Approaches to Diet and Wellness," and will be on Tuesday, March 11th at 7pm.  At this gathering, we will explore the ancestral diet trends like the "Paleo" diet and seriously consider the decolonizing efforts being undertaken by indigenous people to return to traditional eating patterns.  I hope that we can spiritually reconceptualize the way we look at food, healing, self-sustenance, sovereignty, and our connections to the earth, its beings, and our ecology.  I'll post another reminder and a flyer as the date approaches.  Many good things are happening and I'm fortunate and grateful to be part of them.

Sadly, I do not have a recipe to offer you today.  I certainly have some in my mind as I've been tinkering around with a cranberry citrus bread and manoomin wild rice.  I'm also finding inspiration lately from the Paleo blogs and a recently released Native cookbook I've been reading (review to come soon!).  Instead, I thought I'd share a story with you.  The time is right for stories now.  Earlier last month marked the Midwinter ceremonies that cleanse, renew, bring together, and give thanks for the many parts of our universe that provide for us.  Even though we curse having to shovel, brush off our cars, chatter our teeth, and drive on gray, slushy, slippery roads, this time of year is a beautiful and necessary part of life.  Mother Earth and all beings need their rest, including us, and the winter forces us to slow down, take care of ourselves, and appreciate the weather and sunshine that we miss so dearly this time of year.  Winter has always been a time of storytelling.  I remember hearing that stories were supposed to be told between the first frost and the first thunder.  I can only imagine how comforting it must have been back in the day when these stories would provide warmth and entertainment on days when bitter cold, naked trees, and perhaps meager meals can seem to take the spirit out of you.  It definitely feels like something is missing when stories are condensed to the written word or the only communication is between your fingertips clattering on a laptop and a blinking cursor on a blank screen.  Enough of my intellectual ramblings though.  Below is a story I would often share with my students to explain how etiology (the origins, study of origins/causes) is found within oral tradition and stories.

Paraphrased and quoted from Joanne Shenandoah and Douglas George's Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois (p.67-75). Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 1998.

"The Evergreens"

Long ago, if you can picture it, this earth looked like a very lonely, desolate place with endless, stretching plains, seas with no life in them, and great mountains of solid rock.  I imagine it would look like something from a science fiction movie, perhaps a planet where the Star Trek crew would make a stop.  The Creator realized this land needed beauty, life, and creatures on it and so they were made.  S/He took his time and thoughtfully created all of the land-dwelling, water-loving, and air-inhabiting creatures.  Soon there were fish, and birds, great animals, and even the tiniest of bugs we might now consider pests.

The Creator also paid careful attention to the plant life that would sustain these beings, and he began to create beautiful grasses, flowers, and plants.  These plants would take root in the earth and fill the land with magnificent colors and purify the air.  Trees were also made in so many different varieties.  They rooted themselves deeply in the earth, stood proud, and graced the earth with their delicate leaves, needles, and palette of color.  

All of these created beings were given instructions on how to live upon this earth and warned there would be trouble if this code were to be broken.  There was great harmony and peace among this world for a long time.  The Creator finally addressed the living world and advised them to remember the instructions they were given since he had to leave to spread life in other worlds.  He promised to return and reminded the trees that they were to watch the Earth and protect it while he left.  The trees affirmed their responsibility to remain alert, provide sustenance and shelter for animals and insects, and resist falling asleep during the darkened months.

And then the Creator left.  The trees remembered their promise and, season after season, year after year, stood still and awake, quietly watching the goings on around them.  When the wind howled or the rain went sideways, or the snow piled up and up, the trees remained strong and steadfast in their task.

One day, a maple tree curiously watched as the winter season started to roll in.  She observed the animals stowing away food in hidden places.  They also grew thicker fur coats and hunkered down in the deepest crevices of the earth to sleep away the bitter cold.  Maple wondered about this thing called sleep.  She would notice the animals curl up into a furry ball, close their eyes, and breath slowly.  They seemed to enter a magical, far away place deep inside their minds.

Maple often got lonely during the winter when the animals tucked themselves away for the season and she missed the Creator's presence.  She thought it might be possible to be with the Creator again by sleeping and temporarily leaving the outside world.  It wasn't hard for her to do.  She curled in each of her leaves, stopped her sap, and buried her roots deep into the earth.  The other trees noticed Maple's sleep and became equally curious.  They tried to wake her, but she was deep in slumber and quite comfortable.  

Eventually, the Earth turned toward Brother Sun again and his warmth reawakened all of the sleeping creatures.  The frozen lakes thawed.  Grass began to sprout again.  Birds sang with gratitude, and skinny, hungry animals were summonsed from their respite.  Maple also awakened, refreshed and renewed, with stronger branches and fuller leaves.  This greatly impressed the other broad-leafed trees and they decided to try it when fall came again.  However, the pines remembered their vow to the Creator and remained alert, standing tall even though their branches broke or they swayed in the harsh winter winds.

Winter came again.  The other trees joined Maple and curled up into a deep slumber as the snowflakes flew and animals hibernated.  Seasons passed.  Years passed.  All but the thin-needled trees went to sleep as they continued to watch the earth from lonely mountaintops, across hills, and in groves.

At last, the Creator returned to Earth from his visits.  He saw what had happened, that Maple and her friends shirked their responsibilities and neglected to watch over his creation.  Yet he was also very proud of the thin-needled trees.

Then the Creator decided.  Those who went to sleep during winter would lose their beautiful leaves during the winter and would have to grow new leaves in the spring, waiting a long time before they became fully dressed again.  They would not be able to enjoy the crisp, clear air of winter or feel the beauty of the season.  

The trees who stayed awake, the needled ones, would always be cloaked in lively green needles.  They would bring joy to the Earth with their presence and beauty.  They would be called "evergreens," a name of great honor since green is the color of life.  And so it is to this day.  The evergreens remind us to be patient and always live by our promises.  They continue to watch over us and the land.  

I should also note here that the white pine tree, an evergreen, is the symbol of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and that is likely no coincidence.  This "Tree of Peace" has great meaning to us and symbolizes our unity and need for peace, not simply from warfare but a state of balance, respect, and reciprocity for all beings.  I hope this story has brought you some peace, calm, and warmth on this snowy night.  Next time you're taking that frigid walk from the building to your vehicle, look around you.  Try not to feel embattled by the winter, but maybe comforted that the evergreens are still holding up their promise and looking over us.  Onen.

A spruce tree (not to be confused with the white pine) behind our apartment.

Close up of the needles and fresh clumps of snow.