Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

There are so many celebrations about now in Indian country. Traditional Christmas celebrated by Christians and non-Christians, traditional Native American ceremonies, Winter Solstice, and the New Year First Night gatherings. I have never experienced it, but friends tell me of the wondrous festivals of light using luminarias throughout the pueblos in New Mexico. My all too brief jaunts to New Mexico have been in January and June.

In other cultural areas of the country, the holidays are honored in joyful ways of their own. Indoor picnics and candlelit dinners by a romantic fireplace, huge tribal socials with incredible buffets and simple brunches shared by a few close friends, all combine to make these occasions very special, very winter.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone great happiness and the best New Year ever.

This season tends to conjure memories and food cravings that go with those memories. When I think of winter, soups, game meats, hearty breads and, best of all, chocolate comes to mind. Only in recent years have I craved that devilish decadence. I never quite understood my friends who admitted to being addicted to chocolate; now I do. It may be caused by a hormone shift or simply because I have been exposed to more creative gourmet combinations in the last few years. I really don't care how my new love evolved, I'm just glad that it did. Mae West once said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful." Well, "too much of a good thing can hurt you!" The best rule of thumb for all things is, "everything in moderation."

Chocolate Dipped Orange Peel

4 to 6 oranges, peeled in large pieces
1-1/2 cups of sugar
6 to 8 ounces semisweet chocolate

Cover the large pieces of peel with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Pour off the water and put in more water, boil to simmer for another minute. Remove peel and scrape off the pith. Cut peel into stripes about 1/2-inch wide and an inch or two long. Return to pan and add sugar. Let this cook down until sugar is absorbed. Put the peels on waxed paper and sprinkle with more sugar. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot water, not boiling. Dip the tips of the orange stripes into the chocolate, coating half of them. Put them on foil to cool. Be careful not to let them touch each other. When firm, store in an airtight container. Put into cellophane bags and tie with a ribbon. A very nice gift.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons double strong ground coffee
4 eggs
1 teaspoon sugar substitute
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cake flour

Butter an 8-inch spring form pan, lightly dust it with flour. Melt the chocolate in the hot coffee. Beat the eggs in a glass bowl. Now put the bowl in a pan of hot water and add the sugar substitute and powdered sugar and the flour slowly. Add the chocolate to this mixture, stirring just enough to gently blend. Put into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool on a rack before carefully removing the spring form. The cake will be almost like fudge or candy. Each serving is only 120 calories!

Okay, time to take a break between holidays and have a nice warm thick soup made with fish. I must have seen ten different versions of this soup over time. It always contains lima beans, cornmeal, onion and beef broth, everything else is a variation.

An Iroquois Soup

1 pound of any white fleshed fish, cut up
1/2 pound of sliced mushrooms
6 cups of chicken or beef broth
2 large onions, cut up
2 tablespoons of corn meal
1-1/2 cups of dried lima beans
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon parsley
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 cups of corn kernels
1 cup dried kidney beans

Dash each: basil, ground black pepper and salt

Soak the limas and kidney beans in the broth before adding other ingredients. Saut? the garlic, onions and fish in the corn oil and stir frequently to break up the fish. Add this to the broth and beans. Now put in all the other ingredients and simmer for at least one hour.

If the soup simmers a long time and cooks down, add more broth or some water. This soup is excellent served with corn bread and a light watercress salad.

Notes & Tips

oA little more about chocolate. One ounce of semi-sweet chocolate contains 860 calories, 61 grams of fat, 255 milligrams of phosphorus and 553 milligrams of potassium. The best way to melt chocolate is in a metal bowl over a pan of very hot water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn it off.

oThe best thing you can get for Christmas is a smile. A smile from a lonely elder that you remembered to visit, a smile from a single mom having a hard time, but you remembered her and the kids, a smile from a perfect stranger just because you said hello.

oYou know how I love crock pots. Well, they are not just good for making pre-planned one-dish dinners. You can make a soup in them as well. Sometimes, that is all you may want after a hard day's work. There it is waiting for you.

oSome of these wisdoms from my files are quite appropriate now. These all start with, "I've learned ..."

~ that the less time I have to work with, the more I get done.

~ that life is tough, but I'm tougher.

~ the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elder.