Archive for the ‘Native American food’ category

Coyote Cooks Press Presents: Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories

February 13, 2013

I started this blog soon after I moved to Arizona a few years ago. At the time I had long dreamed about publishing a book that would be a combination of a cookbook on Native American traditional and contemporary recipes, the meaning of food within the context of Indigenous cultures, and a sort of memoir of my experiences living and working in Native communities in the United States and other countries.

Icoyote-still-revised wanted to share in a way I had watched my relatives do–teaching and sharing with others in a non-threatening and entertaining way. It was also an opportunity to give people in the local storytelling community a chance to get a sense of the sort of Stories I would tell when performing. But ultimately, I thought of it as a chance to get something down I would one day show to a publisher.
More recently epublishing has revolutionized how books in various forms can be distributed to the public. Just so, I recently released Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories. The new book is now available on Amazon at
or Apple:
or Barnes & Noble:

It will also be coming out in a paperback version and as an audiobook. If you enjoy my work, it would mean a great deal to me if you were to leave a review on the site where you bought it, or on Goodreads. Thank you!

Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories

by Ty Nolan, Coyote Cooks Press

Here are some Stories (Traditional Native Legends) and some stories (personal history.)
I am a professional storyteller and a therapist. Coyote Still Going retells the mostly Sahaptin and Twana traditional legends I was taught by my relatives. It’s also a memoir of how I have told these stories, from celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Mr. Rogers to using the Sahaptin legend of the Butterfly at an International AIDS Conference in discussing grief and loss. Traditional Native American legends are powerful teaching tools.
The book also contains recipes. Food, spirituality, and community are always woven together—you can’t understand one without the others. I was raised with the importance of the sacredness of food and the legends that explain why we celebrate the First Salmon Ceremony, or why we understand taking a sip of water before a meal is a type of prayer.
Many Native Nations begin a Coyote legend with some variation of “Coyote Was Going There.” Trust me—Coyote? Still Going. It’s about time Ebooks caught up with that crazy Trickster.
You can also visit my Amazon Author Page:

Meet Richard Hetzler, Executive Chef of The National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe

February 7, 2011

I regret deeply not being able to participate in the 2004 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian—my family flew in to dance for the celebration, but I was presenting at a conference, and wasn’t able to join them.

Over the intervening years when I’m in D.C., I’ve always tried to leave time to visit the Museum’s Mitsitam Café (in the Piscataway and Delaware languages, mitsitam means “let’s eat”).  It’s been recognized as one of the major culinary attractions in the D.C. area, and Rachael Ray has recommended it on her television show.  Atlantic Monthly has featured Mitsitam Café and its Executive Chef, as has Cowboy and Indian Magazine. Gourmand Magazine has awarded its new cookbook as “Best Regional” in the U.S.  In March, it will be competing in Paris for “Best in the World.”

Executive Chef, Richard Hetlzer, was involved from the inception of the restaurant, with its intention of integrating the Museum’s emphasis on Native cultures through indigenous foods.  He is a 1995 graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary College,   “We were involved with
planning a year and a half before the opening,” Richard told me.

(Richard Hetzler)

In the Atlantic Monthly article, architect Duane Blue Spruce discussed some of the challenges in designing the café:   “The assumption was that, of course, the cafeteria would serve native food, but we had a difficult time backing that assumption up… We wanted to show that there are regional differences. Not only culturally, but in terms of food.”

The Mitsitam Native Foods Café is divided into five geographic stations, with each region having a separate menu. These include the Northern Woodlands, South American, Meso America, the Great Plains, and the Northwest Coast and Columbia Plateau.

(Three Sisters Salad)
Several of the stations also provide a “feast for the eyes” as visitors can
watch their food being prepared in grill fires and pots.

Richard has discussed working with foods very familiar to most Native Americans, such as fry bread, or salmon prepared on cedar planks.  He’s also been creative about combining what
was available to local Native Nations.  “A great example is the maple-brined turkey…We know that Native Americans cured items in salt, so essentially they were doing a brine, infusing the flavor, adding  moisture…They definitely had turkey. They had maple syrup. It works for us,” he said in a Smithsonian Institute interview.

(Maple Brined Turkey)

One of the issues that came up during our interview was the
challenge of providing Native based foods for the enormous volume of customers served.  “In the winter, our slow season, we’re serving 500-600 people a day.  During our peak that climbs to 1,500-3,000 a day.”  Richard is always looking for sources of Native foods from tribal suppliers.  He has salmon flown in from the Quinault Nation of Washington State.  To supply buffalo meat, he works with the Montana based Intertribal Bison Cooperative.

(Mitsitam Indian Buffalo Taco)

We also talked about working with what food sources are available.  Some items that a tribal group might supply may be too small in number, or simply too expensive for the general Café format.   This isn’t a problem, according to Richard.   “Nothing is too big or too small. Winter is a slow time of the year, and we might feature something on the menu that we couldn’t provide in the peak season.  We change menus every three months.  We can run it as a special—turn it into a vinaigrette—giving customers  the flavor.  For example, with fiddlehead ferns, it would be too expensive to serve them by themselves. But I can have twenty pounds of salad and add five pounds of fiddleheads, so everyone gets a taste of them. “ (Fiddlehead Ferns)

Richard also mentioned his fondness for saguaro cactus syrup, comparing it to a truffle as an item that costs too much to use every day.   He buys the syrup from Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a Native American non-profit organization based in southern Arizona.  Expensive items like this might be used as a drizzle for a special presentation.  One of the reasons it costs so much is how labor-intensive the syrup is to make, as the TOCA site explains:

The saguaro fruit ripens during the hot months of June and July and is hand harvested just before the torrential monsoon rains using a traditional picking stick up to fifteen feet high made  of saguaro ribs. Traditionally, the fruit is made into syrup and the tiny black seeds and saffron like pulp are sun dried. Most saguaro syrup – bahidaj sitol – is used in the annual rain ceremony. A very small amount is available to the public. Thick and mahogany colored, this is the most rare of the world’s fruit syrups. Made from hand-harvested saguaro fruit, cooked slowly over mesquite fires, its unusual, deep flavor is both sweet and  smoky. Saguaro syrup can be used in a similar manner as the finest aged balsamic vinegars. It is excellent as a glaze, garnish or drizzled over fresh fruit or ice cream. The crunchy seeds are rich in healthy oils and fiber and can be used in place of poppy seeds in any recipe.

TOCA provides Richard with another favorite of his– Ciolim (Cholla Cactus Buds), as well as Bawĭ (Tepary Beans). It’s easy to understand why these Cholla Cactus Buds are such a hit—again, turning to the TOCA site:  Ciolim – cholla buds – have sustained the Tohono O’odham for countless generations.  Just before the buckthorn cholla cactus flowers in the spring, its buds are hand picked, cleaned of their many thorns and dried for use year-round.

Cholla buds have a unique flavor that includes tones that range from artichoke to asparagus –green and vibrant. Once cooked, cholla buds will triple in size. These delectable desert vegetables love marinades and will readily absorb the flavors of whatever they are cooked with. Terrific in antipastos, chiles, salads and sautées, use them as you would artichoke hearts or asparagus tips.

Cholla buds are incredibly healthy. Even as a side dish in a meal, cholla buds can improve how food affects the body. Two tablespoons of dried buckhorn cholla, for example, provides as much calcium as a glass of milk (14 grams of dry cholla buds supply 394 mg of calcium while one cup of whole milk supplies 276 mg of calcium). Yet, while a glass of milk may have 100-150 calories, the cholla buds only have 28 calories. And because cholla buds contain soluble pectins, they slow down digestion of sugars and other carbohydrates.  The result is better control over blood-sugar level, eliminating the highs and lows.

(TOCA Art)

Richard shared with me the restaurant  wants to buy from and give back to Native communities, the way they work with TOCA, ITBC, and the Quinaults.  While the non-Native Richard has had the opportunity to employ only two American Indian workers, the week of our interview, he had entered into discussions with the Navajo Technical College to explore placing interns with the college’s culinary arts program.

The Mitsitam Café Cookbook was the result of three years of labor, and features 90 recipes with beautiful photography from Renee Comet.  Because the restaurant serves so many people per day, the recipes had to be modified to meet the needs of a home cook.  Richard explained, “The staff at the museum each took three or four recipes home, made them and critiqued them, and we adjusted the recipes. One of the pushes behind the book was to really find and make recipes that any person could make. You don’t have to be a chef to recreate any of it.”

Richard will be flying to Paris this March, where the Mitsitam Café Cookbook will compete at Gourmand Magazine’s World Cookbook Awards.  There are 53 categories, with over 150 countries represented.  When I asked him what he will demonstrate, he told me he planned to showcase his Wild Rice Salad, explaining it was something he could do that would easily fit within the 20 minutes he will be allotted, and uses ingredients that are easily available.

Best of luck, Richard—and here’s the recipe he will be using:

Wild Rice Salad

This recipe is from Mitsitam Cafe,
National Museum of the American Indian.

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

6 cups chicken stock

11/2 cup wild rice

1 carrot, cut into
half-inch-long matchsticks

3 tablespoons dried cranberries

1 Roma tomato, finely diced

4 or 5 scallions,
finely chopped

3 bunches watercress

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the pine nuts and pumpkin seeds in a small baking pan and toast them in
the oven for about 10 minutes, until they are golden brown. Let cool.

Combine the chicken stock and wild rice in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 45–55 minutes, until the grains are just opened up and tender. Spread the hot rice on a baking sheet and let cool.

When the rice is cool, scrape it into a large bowl and add carrots, dried cranberries, diced tomato, toasted pine nut and pumpkin seed mixture, and scallions.

Toss all of the ingredients together with the vinaigrette, refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and serve over watercress.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.


3 tablespoons
apple-cider vinegar

1/4cup plus 2 tablespoons
canola oil

2 tablespoons honey

Place cider vinegar in a bowl, and slowly mix in oil. Sweeten with just a touch of honey.

Why You Shouldn’t Whistle At Night…

November 2, 2010

She is tall…bigger than Sasquatch, and her body is covered with long, black, greasy hair. Her eyes are large like an owl’s, and her fingers are tipped with sharp claws. Her lips are formed in the eternal pucker of an eerie whistle, and children are told if they don’t listen to their elders, she will come to them at night and suck their brains out of their ears. She is called At’at’lia, Dash-Kayah, Tsonoquah, and names whispered when the time is right, and not for publication.  Children are warned not to take food that she offers.  If she catches you, she’ll throw  you inside the basket she carries on her back.  Her basket is so large she can fit 10 children in it…and that’s her favorite meal—10 children.  She is a cannibal…she eats human flesh.


Long Time Ago…there was a young boy, named after the Silver Salmon.  He woke up early in the morning and the warmth of the rising sun felt good on his face.  He sang a song to thank the sun.  The boy went out to go fishing but he went so far he realized he wouldn’t be able to return home before the sun went down, so he decided to camp where he was.

It was late at night and the moon was full.  Now White people tell us there’s a man in the moon, but our old people tell us it’s really a frog.  And so it was , the frog in the moon was looking down at him when clouds covered the moon and everything was dark.

Suddenly he heard a strange whistling, and the clouds blew away from the moon and he could see a monster standing in the darkness.

“Don’t be afraid,” she called out to him—“People make up terrible stories about me, but I’m really a very nice person.  In fact,” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m a very nice person.  I have some berries for you…I know you must be hungry.  Children are always hungry.”  And in her claw like hand he saw a pile of berries.

When he reached to take some of the berries, she took her other hand from behind her back.  It was smeared with sticky sap from the trees.  She slapped him with her hand and his eyes were glued shut!  He was blind!  She grabbed him up and stuffed him into her basket and ran through the woods whistling.

She came to a clearing and dumped him on to the ground.  She had built a large fire and all around the fire were other children she had stolen.  She was going to barbeque them.

She was so proud of herself, that she was going to have such a fine meal of young children, she started to sing and dance around the fire.

The boy was afraid, because he knew he would be eaten.  He wished he could start his day over again.  He thought of how his day had begun, with the warmth of the sun on his face.  The warmth of the fire reminded him of the warmth of the sun.  Just so, he leaned closer to the fire.  The heat of the fire began to melt the sticky stuff on his eyes, and he could see again.  As the Cannibal Woman continued to dance, he got an idea and whispered this idea to the girl next to him, who whispered it to the boy next to her…and so it went around the circle of the children.

When she finished, the monster was so tired she could hardly stand up…and that’s when the boy shouted, “NOW!”  And all the children jumped up and pushed her into the fire.  She began to burn…but she didn’t burn like ordinary things burn. 

 She burned like fireworks!  Her body burst into a cloud of sparks…and that’s where mosquitoes come from.  They still live off the blood of young children, even today. 

That was the end of At’at’lia …but she had three sisters…and those sisters are still around.  And that’s why we teach our children “you must never whistle at night…because you don’t want to call those spirit beings to you!”

A traditional Sahaptin story

Retold by CoyoteCooks

I thought I’d share the At’at’lia legend as a celebration of Halloween.  A number of years ago, I first met the Medical Director of the clinic where I would work at a Halloween Party for Medical Residents.  He was wearing a tuxedo and a gorilla mask.  My mentor, Carolyn Attneave was a scarecrow, and I had on an articulated skull mask and a button blanket I had made.  I had been cast earlier in the play Raven, based on NW Coastal legends, and was playing “Shadowman” which explained my costume decision.

The Medical Director was from Belgium, and I asked him about Halloween customs in his own country.  He said he was shocked the first year in the United States, when children suddenly knocked on his door demanding candy.  To my own surprise, he shared Jackolanterns in Belgium were made from turnips instead of pumpkins.  In retrospect, I suppose this makes sense, given the reality pumpkins are Native America in origin—they’re a type of squash.  Pumpkin seeds dating back to at least 8,000 years ago have been found in Mexico.   In fact, the word “pumpkin” in Europe refers to what would be called “winter squash” in the United States.   In a quick search, carved turnips and other root vegetables used as a jackolantern were well known in Ireland and the British Isles, but there’s not a lot written about Halloween customs in Belgium.

(Traditional Irish Jackolantern)

 While it was certainly traditional to use fire to celebrate the harvest time, apparently jackolanterns are a relatively late addition.  Nathaniel Hawthorne is reportedly the first to mention them in 1837 in his Twice-Told Tales, making reference to making a jackolantern, and a magazine article from 1885 is the first to mention Americans introduced the idea of carving pumpkins into jackolanterns—much easier than carving a turnip.

By the way–here’s what the Trick or Treat crowd found when they rang my doorbell–

For dinner, I took a small sugar pie pumpkin, and did the standard scoop and clean, saving the seeds for planting and roasting.  I washed out the inside and rubbed in butter, with a sprinkling of garlic, ground black pepper, and salt.  I put the “lid” top back on and microwaved it for four minutes to cut off time in the oven.  Let’s face it, when you live in Arizona and it’s still hovering in the 90’s, you really don’t want your regular oven on any longer than necessary.  This is also something I often do with other squash. I  then took four slices of bacon and cut them into smaller pieces.  Plopping them into a skillet, they provided the grease to sauté chopped onion, carrots, and celery.  I also took out one of the sweet Italian sausages I’ve been enjoying, and sliced it up to add with the rest.   I seasoned the mixture with Italian herbs, and a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce.   When the veggies had softened and the meats were done, I added breadcrumbs, a handful of parmesan cheese,  and enough water to have a soft consistency dressing.  (btw–in re-reading, I should mention I’m not giving specific measurements, because I was “eye-balling” what would fit into the pumpkin, and that would vary based on the size of pumpkin you might use.  Since I’m always thinking a meal or two ahead, the leftover stuffing I had went into a freezer bag to be used to stuff portabella mushrooms in the next couple of weeks.)  I stuffed the little pumpkin with the dressing, placed the top back back on and wrapped it tightly with aluminum foil and placed it on a cookie sheet in a 350degree oven.  This results in a pumpkin softened to the point you can eat everything (Hey—in my family, we were raised to eat the skin of the salmon and the “outside” of a lot of vegetables) and the dressing is extremely moist.    I had also prepared chicken kabobs, and after spending about an hour in the oven, I removed the pumpkin and then used the oven to grill the kabobs.  A knife piercing the pumpkin let me know it was done, but it was easy to just look at it and know it was ready.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting recent study in China on the use of pumpkin extract which shows it may regenerate pancreatic cells.  This could have a potential beneficial impact on pre-diabetics, although American researchers stress it’s too early to know if the animal study can be directly applied to humans.  Apparently, however, pumpkin is traditionally used in Asia in alternative medicine for the treatment of diabetes.

Update:  I had some leftover stuffed pumpkin, and on a whim, I prepared some angelhair pasta, and microwaved the pumpkin (cut into cubes) with the bacon/sausage dressing, and a few tablespoons of leftover fresh salsa, since I didn’t have any tomato sauce.  When tossed with the angel hair, this was so good I think next time that’s how I’ll serve it–as the entree,  rather than using it as a side dish.

Roots and Wings

July 15, 2010


Long and long ago, there was a great Chief. 

He had a son, and loved him very much.  “One day,” he always told others around him, “my son will not only grow up to be a Great Chief, but a powerful Medicine Man as well.”

  The boy heard this, but did not think anything of it.

  When it was time, the boy was prepared for his Vision Quest.  For a girl this is when she is usually first tied to the Moon, and for boys, it is often when their nipples turn out.  Traditionally, the Vision Quest will take place on the top of a mountain, or by running water.  A child is taken to the place of the Vision Quest, mentored by a Medicine Person.  The Vision Quest helps a person discover who they are meant to be…a purpose and a reason for being.

  “My son,” called the Chief, “will become a powerful Medicine Man.  For that reason, I summon seven Medicine Men from the four directions to watch over him—to prepare him for his Vision Quest.” And so seven Medicine Men came, some from very far away.

In the traditional manner, they painted him with red ochre.  

This is considered to be a type of protection.  When someone is involved in spiritual things, he or she will shine, and it will attract the attention of things of the spirit.  Some of these are indifferent, some are dangerous and some are kind.  The red paint is to keep away those things that are not kind.

A Vision Quest will traditionally take 4 days and 4 nights.  During this time, the Seekers will not eat.  He or she will fast, and take only as much water as they can hold in their mouths at one time.  The first day went by, and there was no vision.  The second day…no vision.  The third day…no vision. 

 On the fourth day, when nothing had happened, the Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father.  “Perhaps he is not yet ready,” one said.  “There is no shame in this.  Different people grow in different ways.  Let us bring him back and have him try again at a later time.”

  “No,” the Chief replied.  “You know, and I know that the longer it takes for a vision to occur, the more powerful it will be.  That is why he has not received his vision.  Paint him again!”

  And so it was the Medicine Men returned to the boy, painting him again with more of the red paint.  A fifth day went by without a vision.  A sixth day.  A seventh.  The Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father.  “No one has ever fasted this long,” said one.
“We fear this is not his time,” said another.  “We ask that you let us bring him back.  Let him continue his Vision Quest at another time.”

“No!” said the Chief.  “You are all jealous because you know that he will not only one day be a Great Chief, but one day he will be more powerful than any of you!  Paint him again, and let the Vision Quest continue!”

The Medicine Men returned to the boy.  They repainted him.  Nine days went by without a vision.  Then ten.  Then eleven.  On the twelfth day, the Chief went himself to the place of the Vision Quest.  His son was gone.

Frightened, he ran through the woods, calling out his son’s name.  A small bird followed behind him.  Finally, exhausted, he sat down on the stump of a tree, his eyes full of pain—for he truly loved his son.

The little bird approached him.  “I was your son,” the small bird said. 

“All my life you would tell other people that I would one day be a Great Chief.  That I would one day be a powerful Medicine Man.  But never once did you ever ask me what I wanted.  I did not desire to be a chief.  I did not desire to be a Medicine Man.  I just wanted to be myself.  The Creator took pity on me, and gave me this shape to wear.  It is to teach parents that they must not force their own dreams on their children.  They must give their children roots and wings.  They must help their children become who they are meant to be.”

 In English, we call that little bird the Robin.  And so it is even today when you see a Robin it still wears the red paint from long ago.

A Sahaptin Legend retold by CoyoteCooks

This was a legend my Aunt Prunie used to tell.  One time I asked her to paint me for a powwow, and she took red paint and marked my forehead solid, and then used her thumb to remove the red ochre in four small and equal circles.   When I do traditional dancing, this is the way I continue to paint my face.

In the Pacific Northwest, the red ochre (and other colors) are often mixed with elk marrow used as a base, so the paint can be easily applied.  The elk marrow was also a salve that speeded up healing of the skin.  For example, an elder used it on me when I had developed some blisters from constant drumming while helping someone being initiated into Winter Spirit Dancing.  It was amazing to me how quickly the blisters vanished.

The tradition for many Native Nations is to have the first Vision Quest take place around puberty, but there are certainly stories of younger children who did this.  Over the years, when the American and Canadian governments attempted to suppress Native traditions, some people had to wait until later in life to be initiated or to go for a Vision Quest.  For some people, a number of Vision Quests might take place during a lifetime.

I was very happy with how the salmon turned out tonight.  I realize I keep mentioning several ways of preparing salmon, but I try to eat it at least three times a week, so I enjoy a variety of options.  For today’s marinade, I whisked together 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a couple of spoonfuls of sesame seeds.  I had wanted to add some roasted sesame seed oil, but was disappointed to discover I was out of it.   Given the fact it was supposed to hit 114 degrees (and the next two days it’s going to be 116…) I decided I could live without running to the store to pick up some more roasted sesame seed oil.  I wanted to add more honey, but I was also low on that so I sprinkled in another tablespoon of raw sugar into the mix. I left the salmon dressed in this for a few hours.  The sesame seeds seem to provide a nice thickening agent.  When I placed the salmon into a shallow Pyrex roasting pan, I shook out more sesame seeds on the top.  Popped it into a 400 degree oven until it was done, spooning the marinade over it again before serving.

To compliment the salmon I took fresh broccoli and spinach leaves and added salt, pepper, and crushed garlic.  I used a large skillet, adding water to the veggies and brought it to a boil.  After a few minutes, I used a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli and spinach into a bowl of water, and added ice.  This keeps the veggies a bright green and doesn’t let them overcook.  When I was ready to serve, I added them back into the water of the skillet and heated everything up again.  I then plated the veggies, sprinkling them with bacon crumbs and more sesame seeds.   I  placed a serving of salmon on top of the veggies. The smokiness of the bacon mixed wonderfully with the flavor of the salmon.

Why Dog Does Stupid Things

July 1, 2010

There’s a Twana word that has no direct translation into English.  Dukwaps. Elders say it means “Something so stupid, only a dog would do it.”












Long and long ago, The Creator was giving out gifts to all the Animal People.

To Eagle, The Creator gave powerful eyes to see.

To Bear, The Creator gave the ability to heal.

To Beaver, The Creator gave the skill of working with wood.

To Wolf, The Creator gave great hunting prowess.

At last, when the bag of gifts was almost empty,

The Creator looked inside and saw there was only one item left…Dukwaps.

 “Who wants Dukwaps?” called The Creator.

Dog (Who had already been given Faithfulness) yelled back, “—I’ll take it!”

 And so it is, even today, when a dog does something so stupid, only a dog would do it, Elders say, “Why did you have to choose Dukwaps?”


A traditional Twana story retold by CoyoteCooks

Yesterday when I was taking the dog to do her business, she ran back over to a rotting bird carcass I had yelled at her about the day before.She ran up a vet bill for over $200 a couple of weeks ago for eating things she shouldn’t.  This time she not only ignored me shouting at her to leave it alone, but ran off with it in her mouth to wolf it down.

 Why did Dog choose Dukwaps?

  For all the years I lived in Seattle, I always tried to grow basil on my windowsill.  This resulted in a few scrawny stalks and tiny leaves for a few weeks which then broke out in mites and then ladybugs who swooped in for the mites.  I always enjoyed the ladybugs. 

 Imagine my delight to move to Arizona and discovering how much basil loves the constant sun as long as I water constantly.  I enjoy going out nearly every afternoon as I prepare dinner and harvesting not only fresh basil, but fresh mint from the abundance that spills over its pot.  The  basil and mint plucked from a few feet away on the patio combine nicely with fresh cilantro in a tasty mixed greens  salad and dressed with various vinaigrettes.  For an extra kick, I’ll add in some crumbled feta.  I’ve also discovered a stilton and apricot cheese at Trader Joe’s that is a great addition to the salad.  This trio also rocks when I toss in some bean sprouts and garlic while  making spring rolls as long as I add some shrimp or pork.

For a recent dinner, someone else took over duties and enjoyed being creative with the salmon and the fresh basil and additional herbs.  When the red onion he was cutting up unexpectedly fell apart,  he was inspired to take the slices and to place them in what he called “gills” but I thought looked more like the design of scales.  It looked so good I decided to take a photo before grilling it.  I’m happy to say it tasted as good as it looked.  Lately I’ve been using a marinade of honey whisked with a berry (blue/rasp) vinaigrette that does well under the broiler…a sweeter taste than the citrus combination  that’s my old reliable.

 While I love basil, I had never really spent much time looking into its origin, other than knowing it isn’t Native American.  We have a Native mint, which in Sahaptin is called shuka-shuka and is used in making tea–the scientific name is Clinopodium douglasii.  Mint and Basil are related.  The word Basil comes from the Greek basileus and it means “royal” or “king” and some have suggested it was often used in preparations for the nobility.  It’s also called the “king of the herbs.”   Although in the states we associate it with Mediterranean cooking, it appears to have come from the Iran/Indian area of southern Asia, where it’s been grown for over 5,000 years.

 Now excuse me, I have to check on the dog to make certain she isn’t being dukwaps

The Origin of the Bear Clan

May 20, 2010

 Long time ago, the daughter of a chief was warned by her elders to be careful as she went to pick berries, because many bears were around. She went out anyway, and as she drew near the berry bushes, she stepped into bear dung.



Upset, she cursed the bears, as she tried to clean herself. Bear people emerged from the woods and abducted her. Inside their cave, she sat sadly in a corner, until a tiny thin voice spoke to her and she looked into the bright wise eyes of Grandmother Mouse.

“Tell them they must take you out to relieve yourself–and that as a proper person, you must do this in privacy.” Then Grandmother Mouse touched the gleaming copper bracelets that the young woman wore, indicating her high-class status. “Take off your bracelets and break them into small pieces and leave them on the ground.” Traditionally, copper was very valued by Native people…it is the one of the only metals that can be used directly from the ground without smelting.

When the young woman did as she was instructed, the Bear people inspected where she had gone to relieve herself and whispered to one another. “No wonder she complains of our dung. She is so high-class that she shits copper!”

Impressed, they informed the Bear Chief, who married the young woman, and thus the Bear Clan was begun. 






A Traditional Twana legend, retold by CoyoteCooks

There are many variations of this story throughout the Pacific Northwest, and a number of artists seem to take a great deal of enjoyment depicting the Bear Chief’s wife breast feeding her children, always shown in the form of cubs.  There’s an obvious concern about what happens when her babies start cutting their teeth… Here’s an example from the great Bill Reid. For those of you not that familiar with a number of Native traditions, during the time of legends, physical forms were more fluid than they are today, and individuals could often switch back and forth between an animal shape and a more human one.  For this reasons, it’s said the Bear People wore robes of bear skin, and upon removing them, looked like human people.  Some stories say that when the twin sons of the Bear Chief and his wife grew up, they put aside their bear skin robes and became famous hunters.

I had a request to do my “standard” acorn squash—which in my household means slicing one in half, scooping out the seeds and pulp, then plopping the halves like green bowls inside a shallow baking dish.  A pat of butter in each, then a sprinkle of garlic powder, ground pepper and a pinch of salt—and all I need is an hour or so in the oven at 400 degrees. I should warn readers that after moving into a new condo and confronting a very old oven…I hesitate giving an exact time and temperature.  I mean, in my years of cooking experience, I really don’t think a chicken should take more than 3 hours at 400 degrees to roast the way it went last Sunday.  I’m happy to report I have a new gas oven in the kitchen now, making things much more predictable.

I’ve written before about squash being Native American in origin–but I enjoy introducing Native foods to “new comers” to Turtle Island.  For example the gabanzo bean, or the chickpea…is thought to have originated many thousands of years ago in Turkey.  “According to recent studies, the domesticated form of chickpea contains nearly twice the tryptophan of the wild form, an amino acid that has been connected with higher brain serotonin concentrations and higher birth rates and accelerated growth in humans and animals.”

So–a healthy addition to the acorn squash…

But frankly, I sometimes get bored doing the basics, so I thought I’d try something a bit different.  I took garbanzo beans, straight from the can.  I placed them into a plastic baggie and poured in enough olive oil to coat them, along with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  I then spread them out on a cookie sheet (well, on top of aluminum foil on the cookie sheet, making clean up a lot easier), and topped them off with pepper and salt, putting them into the 400 degree oven for at least 30 minutes.  If your oven is better than my old one, you’ll know they’re done when they’re nice and crunchy. When the acorn squash was ready to be served, I then added the roasted garbanzo beans in the acorn half.  I felt the spicy crispness of the garbanzo beans gave a good texture contrast to the savory softness of the squash.  I’m also thinking about doing another batch of the roasted garbanzo beans and tossing them into a salad for some extra crunch.

Origin of the Butterfly

April 6, 2010

Long and long ago, there were two caterpillar people who loved each other very much, but as with all living things,  one of them died. The caterpillar woman mourned the loss of her husband. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t want to be around anyone. She wrapped her sorrow around her like it was a shawl and began walking. All the time she was walking, she was crying. For twelve moons (one year) she walked, and because the world is a circle, she returned to where she had started. The Creator took pity on her and told her, “You’ve suffered too long. Now’s the time to step into a new world of color — a new world of beauty.” The Creator clapped hands twice, and she burst forth as the butterfly. Just so, for many Native people, the butterfly is the symbol for everlasting life and renewal.

A traditional Sahaptin story retold by Coyote Cooks

Just as life repeats art, this legend sets a pattern the Sahaptin people use in accepting the loss of a loved one.

By the way, writing about the Butterfly legend was actually the first “official” (i.e., academic) publication I ever did, through the University of Manitoba Medical Journal.  My mentor, Carolyn Atteneave, recommended me to take over her obligation to submit an article.  Since then, I’ve tried to support her effort by asking others to work with me in publishing something professionally for periodicals, or textbooks.

 When a family member dies, a Palaxsiks is held.  The mourning ceremony of the Palaxsiks follows the “map” of this legend.   After the body has been buried, the surviving spouse, usually within a week of the burial, will be stripped of his/her regular clothing behind a blanket screen. Relatives from one side of the family have brought new clothes of dark colors that are used to dress the widow/widower. This indicates the cocoon stage. The hair is cut. But since hair continues to grow, and at one point, will return to its original length, this represents the psychological and spiritual healing that is taking place internally. Incidentally, the cut hair and the dark clothing also serve to mark an individual in the mourning process, so community members can acknowledge this and act accordingly. However, when a non-Native client begins therapy, a provider will have no way of knowing if the client is experiencing bereavement until a history is taken, and even then it may not come up immediately.

At the end of one year, there is a closure ceremony where the family members who received the clothes during the first ceremony bring new clothes of bright colors to dress the widow/widower. The bright colors represent the wings of the butterfly and also signify that the time of bereavement is over, and the individual is freed of the restrictions of the previous year.  For example, when in mourning, an individual is not permitted to take part in social dancing.  After the end of the year’s observance, the headstone for the dead is usually placed.

Community members are exposed to the story throughout the year.  Like many tribal nations, Sahaptin reservations will have dances that are considered “theirs” apart from the conventional “powwow” style competitive dancing that is acknowledged as “outside” and brought back during World War II where they were shared by Native soldiers from Oklahoma.  Just so, one such traditional dance is the “wilik wilik waashasha,” or Butterfly Dance.  It is performed by adolescent females who line up single file.  They pull their colorful fringed shawls over and begin to cry out loud as they walk in a circle. Again, this represents the cocoon.  The head drummer carefully watches, and when the lead dancer completes a circle, he or she will strike the drum twice.  This is signal for the dancers to spread their shawls across their shoulders.  They then begin a skipping dance as the song’s rhythm changes from its mournful march to a bright pattern.  The legend is normally told as part of the performance.  Just so, community members grow up hearing the legend told repeatedly, even when there are no deaths to be observed.  As a result, the knowledge of how to properly mourn is passed on so when a family must deal with death, the members know how to do so.

After the Palaxsiks is performed, a feast is provided to those who attend.  Over the years (in my experience) as more and more Latinos have come into the pacific northwest as migrant workers and intermarried with Native people, it’s now common for tamales to be served, along with more traditional foods, such as salmon or deer meat.

Cooking for someone you love is, from a Native American experience, a sacred process. I believe I mentioned in an earlier post, the closest to “home style” canned salmon I’ve found is at WholeFoods—Copper River Salmon.  I’ve also used leftover salmon I’ve baked, but the slightly smoky flavor really compliments alfredo sauce.  In full disclosure, I should point out I’ve never been served smoked salmon alfredo on the reservation, even at the luxury resort.  Here’s a quick and easy recipe.  Take about 8 ounces of fettuccine pasta that you place in boiling water for about 12 minutes or so, checking to see if it’s al dente, and then drain it.  In a sauce pan, plops a stick of butter along with a couple of chopped garlic cloves, browning the garlic to fully release its flavor.  Blend in a cup of heavy cream, along with a few sprinkles of black pepper.  Mix in a tablespoon of flour to help thicken the sauce and then gradually add a cup of grated Parmesan.  Crumble 8 ounces of salmon, along with a couple of spoonfuls of capers.  If you like, you can also toss in a cup of fresh spinach.  I always keep fresh basil in my garden to add another level of flavor.   Stir it all together for 3-5 minutes, until everything is fully heated and toss with the pasta.  We also enjoy an artisan crusty bread with a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a side…it’s great to dip into the sauce.