Category Archives: First Nations

Indian Summer Dinner

‘’Ya quilt y’all?’’ – asks me an old Native gift shop-keeper. ‘’Not really, but I would love to … one day,’’ I say sounding more like a schoolgirl than I want to. There is a display of gorgeous ethnic quilts on the wall and a row of huge quilting machines lining behind the Native lady like cannons. ‘’So, what’s y’all deal here?’’ she continues with all the nonchalance of one discussing the weather. ‘’I just stopped for a gas and decided to buy some dream catchers. It’s a very nice shop you have. Your quilts are impressive…’’ Always be polite and extra courteous when visiting a Native American reservation – they have their own laws that are sacred to them, so you never know. ‘’S’peiti ya’dunn quilt cuz y’all dunnow what y’all missin’.  Sammer’s fixin’on ra:d – perft thame to quilt y’all…’’ she goes with a strong Southern drawl (read: ‘’It’s a pity you don’t quilt, because you don’t know what you are missing. Summer is fixing on the ride – perfect time to quilt’’), which I just adore: it sounds like a lullaby for me (that’s why I am always ready to re-watch No Country For Old Men or Mud again and again). I can tell she was born in Southern US and/or most of the time resides there. 
Two younger Native women enter the shop with baskets full of squash, green beans, spinach and Brussels sprouts.  They give them to the old lady, saying ‘’Too many this year and they keep popping up, so here you are.’’ ‘’A’ll have’m for dinneh,’’ she lady responds in gratitude. I totally get it now: she is not just a shop keeper. She is a Matriarch.  ‘’How will you cook them?‘’ – my curiosity has no limits (and that’s why it killed a cat). ‘’Bake’m and eat’em. Thæjət would bɪjə $23.99,’’ the old Native lady wraps up our communication. That is good enough for me to have an idea of what will be my supper for the next few days. 
I am driving away from Kahnawake thinking about what Natives do as Mother Earth prepares for her long winter slumber. The Matriarch lady, the quilt, the dream catchers, the baskets of the fall bounty, the colorful trees and the growing carpet of leaves… 
It’s the Indian summer when the weather is breathtaking, the spiders make webs and the time stands still. About this time Natives are going to their last Powwow to connect with each other and the spirits of nature. Curiously (and by pure symbolic coincidence in in this case), in many European countries the Indian summer is called ‘’The Old Ladies’ Summer’’: a few days of unusually warm and sunny weather following the first fall’s frost. 

According to the Lakota legend of ‘’Why the Leaves Fall’’, many moons ago when the world was still young, the nature was enjoying a nice summer weather. As the days went by the autumn set in, and the weather became colder, so the grass and flower folks who had no protection from cold, asked the Creator for help. The Creator said that the leaves of the trees should fall to the ground, spreading a soft warm blanket over the tender roots of the grass and flowers. To pay the trees for their loss, he allowed them one last array of beauty. Since that time, each year, during Indian summer the trees take on their pretty farewell of colors red, gold and, brown. After this final display they turn to their appointed mission covering the earth with a warm rug against the chill of winter. 
So how about I’ll have what she has and include squash, Brussels sprouts, spinach and perhaps some kind of poultry. Coq au Vin sounds like is a good idea to add some substance and comfort to our Thanksgiving table. Here is my quilt of belonging representing a bounty and colors of a humble fall dinner: a butternut squash soup; Brussels sprouts with walnuts and orange zest; spinach mushroom puffs and no fuss Coq au Vin. Please stay tuned for the recipes as I have to go host a Thanksgiving dinner.
In the meantime, Happy Indian Summer and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, with my best wishes for joy and never-ending feast. Cheers!

Pow Wow & Clay Roasted Herb Chicken

A month or so ago we went to see the PowWow, a Native American celebration event in the Mohawk reservation in Kahnawake.

For those of you who don’t know, Kahnawake is a First Nations reservation located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River (in Quebec, Canada) right across from Montreal. This reservation is arguably considered to be Canada’s contraband country (cigarettes & alcohol), and represents a nation within a nation within a nation: the signs in the village feature the Mohawk, French and English languages.

During the times of Pow Wow in July the village is in its most peaceful state while it hosts friends, family, dancers from other tribes and visitors. The origin of Pow Wow goes back as far as 100 years into the Native American culture and is about gathering of medicine men or spiritual leaders of different Indian tribes.

You can see both Native and non-Native people from all over North America dancing, singing and socializing and honouring native Indian American culture in their unique regalia.

What is great about this show is that its open to the public, women and children are welcome, there is no violence or sacrifice rituals and there are no drunken “Indians whooping it up”. The whole experience is almost meditative.

Little information is available on this ancient custom, but once you get to see it you will never forget it and will surely be willing to know more about it and to see it again. Pow Wow takes place on or around July 14th & 15th, sometimes a bit earlier (Saturday & Sunday). No reservations required, a small fee of $7.00 is charged to enter the grounds. Next year we are definitely going for more of this one of a kind experience.
CLAY ROASTED HERB CHICKEN

Inspired by this exotic adventure I decided to cook something approaching the First Nations food. And the first thing that came into my mind was to roast a bird in a clay. Why? Because I will finally get to try the gadget from William Sonoma that has been screaming from pantry: ”Hey, I am about to expire!!!”: nine pounds of chicken roasting clay…

According to the instructions, this gadget was supposed to make chicken roasting process fun and easy: encase the bird, harden during cooking, trap the heat and juices and then get cracked with a mallet to release the bird. Except the clay was sticky and almost unmanageable and it took me a century to complete the wrapping part.

Although, the slam-cracking part was fun, especially if you have children around.

Even though the chicken turned out to be pale (I broiled it on top for a minute to get the look), the meat really turned out to be succulent and flavorful. 
The question is however, would I do it again at the price of this gadget and the time it took me to wrap it? I doubt it. I do know how to make a succulent chicken without this extra mile. Despite some positive reviews there is a reason why this clay roasting kit is no longer available at William Sonoma. I guess, the gadget is a gadget.
For the record, William Sonoma did not invent this dish. Here is a recipe-legend of a traditional Chinese dish called Beggar’s Chicken cooked in a pond mud The New York Times featured in 1990. Who would ever thought? Yet, many other sources refer to the same recipe as one of the First Nations staple dishes with no need to pluck the feathers at all. This rustic version starts with unplucked chicken, cooked covered with mud/clay all over it, buried in a mountain of camp fire ashes. When done, the whole piece is thrown down to the ground to break the clay. As you remove the clay/mud pieces, the feather gets plucked with it. Keep it in mind for some fun camping times…

Clay Roasted Herb Chicken

Ingredients:

8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbs. finely sliced green onion
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbs. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 chickens, each 4 1/2 to 5 lb.
9 lb. roasting clay

Instructions:

Preheat an oven to 425°F.

Mix together the butter, lemon zest, green onion, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper until well blended.

Working with 1 chicken at a time, slip 4 to 5 Tbs. of the herb butter under the skin and massage the butter to distribute it evenly. Rub 1 Tbs. of the herb butter on the outside of the chicken. Wrap each chicken separately in a large piece of parchment paper, with the seam underneath, so the chicken is completely covered.

On a sheet of parchment paper, roll out a 2 1/4-lb. piece of clay into an oval about 14 inches long and 11 inches wide. Place 1 parchment-wrapped chicken in the center. On another sheet of parchment paper, roll out another 2 1/4-lb. piece of clay into the same-size oval. Place, clay side down, on top of the chicken and gently pull off the parchment. Carefully crimp the edges of the 2 clay ovals together to completely encase the chicken, pushing out any air pockets. Repeat the process with the other chicken.

Line a large roasting pan with parchment paper. Place both clay-wrapped chickens in the pan, transfer to the oven and roast for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let the chickens rest for 15 minutes before cracking the clay.

Using a mallet, tap on the clay to break through the baked shells. Carefully remove large pieces of hot clay and brush away any small pieces. Discard the clay. Open the parchment and, using tongs, transfer the chickens to a cutting board. Carve the chickens into serving pieces and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

Recipe adapted from William-Sonoma Kitchen website.