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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

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The land, food and Native Americans have always been one. We move to nature's rhythm each season. All things involved with growing, hunting and preparing food took up most of the day in times past. Daily life revolved around food, gathering, hunting, foraging, growing, grinding, cooking, smoking, drying and, oh yes, eating!

The land provided the "Native kitchen." Clay became a cooking pot, birch bark for containers, turtle shell and beach shell "plates", wood, bone and antler implements, gourds, hoes made of shell, and even antler "rakes."

No bounty of fish, nor a plentiful crop was, or is, taken for granted. All fowl and animals were, and are, thanked for giving up their lives. Here another element of daily life comes in, music. Songs and dance rituals are integral elements of feasts, planting times and harvests. Here in the Northeast, the dried and smoked treasures of summer were stored within longhouses where they would supplement and enhance the dwindling fresh food supply. Hopefully, stores would last until spring foraging began once again.

Daily life today can easily revolve around food and its preparation. Driving a distance to the store, deciding what to buy that's on sale and what you need that isn't on sale can be a chore. Add to that the standing in line, packing and lifting. Not to mention chopping, prepping, cooking, serving and then the joy of cleaning up, and putting away.

A Mixed Gratin

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1/2pound mushrooms: oyster, shitake, portabella or button (one type or a mix of two or more)

4cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1/4cup fresh minced parsley

2potatoes, peeled, sliced thin

2small sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced thin

1/2small celeriac, peeled and sliced thin

1parsnip, peeled and sliced thin

6ounces cheddar cheese, grated

1/4cup olive oil

1/4cup white wine

1/2cup vegetable, chicken or beef broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a bit of oil in a saut? pan and saut? the onions and mushrooms for two minutes. Add the garlic, parsley and salt and pepper if desired. Add the rest of the oil, wine and broth and cook over high heat for just long enough to boil off the wine. Put a large spoonful of this mixture in a greased gratin or baking pan. Put a layer of the sliced vegetables on the onion/mushroom mixture and then alternate layers of vegetables and liquid mixture. Top with grated cheese. Bake for 40 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

A gratin, as above, can nicely accompany any meat, but it is also good alone with a spinach salad and some crusty bread. There are other unlikely dishes that can make nice light meals. One of these is also good for breakfast. I call them ...

Pancakes for Supper

1small onion, chopped

1/2package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

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4eggs, slightly beaten

2tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

Spray a non-stick pan or put a small amount of vegetable oil in a frying pan. Get the pan hot, but not sizzling. Mix the eggs in a medium bowl and add the spinach and onion. (At this point you can add other things if you would like, for example, sliced mushrooms, chopped chive, pinch of dill weed, etc.)

Use about 1/3 cup measure per pancake. Turn only once and top with the cheese. You can also add a little topping of fat-free sour cream.

'Licious Limas

1pound of fresh or frozen large lima beans

1/2large onion, chopped

2slices of bacon, cooked and set aside, save fat

Cook lima beans in two cups of water until tender, or if using frozen, according to package directions. Pour off some of the bacon fat and saut? the onion in it. Remove the onion with a slotted spoon and combine it with the lima beans. Crumble the cooked bacon over this and serve in a large serving bowl. Add salt and pepper and a tad of butter to season.

Just because it's winter, we should not ignore green salads. This delightful watercress salad is interesting because it has a bit of a bite and texture.

Watercress & Water Chestnut Salad

2bunches of washed watercress, heavy stems removed

1bunch of scallions, sliced thin

1small can of sliced water chestnuts

2tablespoons of feta cheese

Drain the chestnuts and rinse in cold water. Cut them up a bit to make smaller pieces and combine with the scallions and watercress. Use a vinaigrette dressing and sprinkle the feta over each serving using about one teaspoon of cheese per serving.

The best way to store watercress is stems-down in a glass of ice water covering the top with a plastic bag and use an elastic band to secure. It will keep like this in the fridge for almost a week. Watercress is a very healthful green. A member of the mustard family, it is loaded with beta-carotene and contains vitamins C and E. It is credited with cancer fighting and aids in warding off heart disease.

Notes & Tips:

*This is a hint you have probably all thought of yourselves one time or another. Check your pantry for 'little bits' and create a winter soup. What I mean is little bits of barley, rice, dried peas and beans of any sort. A nice mix is good. Put them in a soup or stock pot and cover with cold water to about three inches from the top of the pot. Now, while that comes up to boil, cut up some onion, celery, a couple of carrots and some squash. Add to the dried things in the pot and lower the heat to simmer for a couple of hours or more. Season with broth cubes or packets, salt, pepper and a smidge of whatever you have on hand that you like in the way of herbs.

*From the e-mail goofies:

Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.

And, remember, being kind is more important than being right.