As part of our Small, Freeing Acts series, we visited with Diné-born scholar, educator, advocate Charlie Amáyá Scott and their mother. For Charlie, cooking — especially alongside their mother — has proven to be a source of joy and empowerment, but above all, of self-knowledge. “I am who I am because of my mother, and I learned who I am through her stories and through food.”
Womanhood is too often framed as what men are not. How would you define womanhood?
This colonizing world denies many of us of what it means to be a woman, and for me, to be a woman is to create. Create new worlds and possibilities, especially for those before me and those who will come after me.
What’s something you had to unlearn about food?
Food isn’t healthy or unhealthy. Rather, food is simply an experience that everyone should enjoy.
How would you describe a woman’s relationship to food? How do you wish it would be described?
The power to create new worlds and possibilities can happen anywhere and at anytime. Food is one way for this power of creation to come through.
Have you found cooking to be a source of liberation or joy? Are there any foods that helped you do so? ?
It was in the kitchen that my mother would tell me stories throughout her life. Moments of joy, of regret, of sadness, and so much more. Cooking was a medium of communication for my mother and I, and she taught me everything I know about cooking and about who I am as well. One of my favorite things to make with her has been learning traditional recipes, especially together.
What’s something you say to yourself or the women in your life to help reaffirm a healthy relationship to food and cooking?
Food is sustenance and there is a lot of love and care with cooking food for yourself or for someone else, and that’s beautiful.
What’s one piece of advice you’d want to share with your younger self or young girls today?
You are a constellation of experiences that this world has never seen before, and that truly makes you remarkable. Be powerful, be beautiful, and be brilliant.
Charlie’s Modern Navajo Cake
1 bag of roasted corn meal
1 bag of corn husks, pre-soaked for 2 hours
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of raisins (optional)
Mix 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of brown sugar with your Always Pan on low heat. Stir until it becomes a syrup-like texture. Add the raisins now if you are using.
In your Perfect Pot, add 4 cups of roasted corn meal and 8 cups of boiling water and mix until smooth. While you continue to mix, add the homemade syrup and remove any air and lumps.
Once fully combined and smooth, let it sit and cool. In the meantime, preheat the oven at 425°F (215°C). Place a layer of corn husks on the bottom of a baking pan, and then layer the sides of the dish with husks as well. Half of the corn husks should hang out of the pan.
Once you have the corn husks in the pan, pour in the batter, smoothing it evenly. Add another layer of the cornhusks over the batter, and then start to pin the corn husks with toothpicks.
After pinning the cornhusks, bake in the oven for 90 minutes, then let the cake cool for 45 minutes.
Slice the cake with the corn husks still on. Congratulations, you’ve made a modern version of Navajo cake!