BBQ Chicken Adobo

Chicken Adobo |

The doula group that I work with meets on a regular basis to participate in continuing education, share stories, and just gather together.  A few years ago, we started centring our gatherings around a simple potluck, with dishes hailing from Iran to Costco, including everything from hand-crafted spanikopita to generations-old family fudge recipes.  The power of food always holds an allure, and it wasn’t long before these educational evenings became something to look forward to each month.

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On Motherhood and Mom’s Butter Tarts

I’ve become a mother in the past couple of months.

It snuck up on me – not like the shocked awe of the word “pregnant” on a test stick; me perched on the bed and the brink of a new life.  Not like the soul-altering pain and triumph of labour and birth, the story of which I carry with me like no other story I’ve created in my life; a story that I replay every day, a story that will feed itself and my belief that I can do anything.

Mom's Butter Tarts |

It’s not the survival motherhood of those early days, singularly focused on keeping my baby alive.  It’s not the mourning motherhood of the months following, when I painstakingly and reluctantly buried my former life and the woman I used to be, one day at a time.

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On tiny bits of bravery and Tres Leches Cake

I guess it’s time to just come out with it.

I’ve been alluding to some big changes that are happening in my life for a little while now, and it’s pretty much official now.

In a couple of weeks, I will be starting a one year term position as the Coordinator of the Volunteer Doula Program in Halifax.  

Tres Leches Cake |

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a little while knows that I could never have turned down this opportunity.  I’ve been a doula for over five years, and a lactation educator for nearly a year.  The work that I do with birthing mothers and their families is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done, and I feel so fortunate every day that I stumbled my way into the birth community, and honoured by the families that choose to have me support them.

Tres Leches Cake |

Nevertheless, the decision to take on this role was one that required a tiny bit of bravery on my part.  It will mean a lifestyle change for me and my family; it will signal a serious uptick in the sheer amount of work I will have to do in a given day – and now including on-call duties.  I wonder what will happen to the career trajectory I have been on since graduating a few years ago with my Masters in Health Promotion and getting a job with the Nova Scotia government.  

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…on being a doula…and a recipe for Groaning Cake

…on being a doula…and a recipe for Groaning Cake

Over a year ago now, myself and my hubby were at the neighbour’s for Christmas dinner.  I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant and had been feeling like my baby was going to kick her way out through my ribs and onto my plate of turkey.  Turns out, that was exactly what she had planned:  I stood up and felt the tell-tale trickle.  My water had broken.

Sometimes women’s water breaks spontaneously before labour, sometimes not.  It’s often followed by the onset of contractions.  For me, this was not the case.

My frantic, trembling rush (three weeks early!  no!  I had to finish up at work!  the Christmas tree was still up!  the baby blanket wasn’t finished!  the brand new iPad I had gotten for Christmas was still in the box!) to the hospital to confirm that my water had broken was greeted with…nothing.

Over the next few days I drew on every remedy in the book to bring on contractions.  Our house smelled of funky herbs and I’d been poked by acupuncture needles and prodded by my massage therapist.  The bottle of castor oil was sitting on the kitchen table and I had walked and rocked and swayed myself into exhaustion.  Still nothing.  It became obvious that the natural birth that I had dreamed of wasn’t going to happen:  I was going to need to call on the medical world to help me with this process.

The decision to venture into the world of birth intervention didn’t come easy, especially given my experience and, let’s admit, the ideals I had, coming into this as a doula.  I needed to prepare myself for the journey ahead.  I sat down and finished the baby blanket in a frenzy of knitting needles and brightly coloured wool that somehow calmed me as I visualized what it would take for me to bring my baby into the world.  And then, I baked a groaning cake.

Groaning Cake/muffins

The ancient tradition of baking of a groaning cake during labour, as the old wives tales say, is thought to perhaps reduce a birthing mother’s pain, or make her labour shorter.  I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but what it can do is distract a woman from early labour pains and ensure that she’s got some delicious, quick-to-eat food at home for when she returns, her babe in arms and her life transformed.  I had always pictured myself baking a groaning cake, leaning against the counter while I contracted, cracking eggs and stirring flour and somehow readying myself through the creation of food.

Groaning Cake/muffins

I was in a place where I needed to grasp tightly to the things I could control, to own my birth and hold the power in my process in every way that I could even if I knew that not only was this experience out of my control, but that my birth was going to go differently than I had planned.  Planned.  Good one.

So I baked.  When in doubt, right?  And when that groaning cake came out of the oven, I let it cool, cut off a few slabs, wrapped them in tin foil, and, slinging my hospital bag over my shoulder and wiping away tears of fear, of relief and of a little bit of defeat, drove to the hospital for my induction.

Groaning Cake/muffins

I’ve now returned to my doula work after taking some time off to focus on my other 24-7 job:  the mom-ing.  I’ve taken some time to really wrap my head around this work again.  It’s different to me now – now that I’ve gone through the experience myself.  I carry my own birth with me now.  I carry an experience that I can share with other women, but also an experience that is completely my own, and in that respect, does not have a place in my role as a supporter of other women’s births.  I decided now would be a good time to make another groaning cake.  It was time to immerse myself in my client’s intentions, her fears and desires, and to think about how I was going to show up to her experience as  her doula.  What better way to do that than to crack eggs and stir flour, pour out molasses and measure orange juice?

Groaning Cake/muffins

While walking to the dentist earlier this week, I got a breathy, rushing call from a client to whom I’m providing doula services:  “My water broke about half an hour ago, and my contractions are about 3-4 minutes apart.”

Knowing that I would need to stop everything I was doing and head to the hospital soon, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the piece of groaning cake (in muffin form) I’d brought with me that day.  It was good fuel for the road ahead, in so many ways.

Here’s what you need:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 eggs

½ cup oil

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup molasses

1 ½ cups apple (grated, no skin)

1 tsp. almond extract

Here’s what you do:

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Whisk together the dry ingredients, and then add in the wet ingredients.  Stir until combined.

Pour out the batter into a greased loaf pan or into a muffin tin lined with paper liners.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin/the loaf comes out clean (muffins probably won’t take the full baking time).

Groaning Cake/muffins


Recipe courtesy of Ami McKay, author of The Birth House 

Beet and Cashew Salad

On a monthly basis, I attend one of those potlucks that feels like a treasure trove of the most comforting recipes from each attendee’s culinary repertoire.  It’s a gathering of my fellow volunteer doulas, where we take the time to connect and participate in a continuing education seminar.

Back the truck up, you say?  What’s a doula, you ask?

A doula is a person who provides physical, emotional and informational support to women and their families during the antenatal period.  We don’t do any medical procedures, but we meet with women and their support people a couple of times before their due date to talk about their options for birthing, and then we support them fully throughout the duration of their labour.  Once the baby is born, doula supports a woman’s transition to motherhood by helping with breastfeeding and basic baby care.

That’s the technical definition.  But what does being a doula really mean?  It means sharing the fears and anticipation, living in the unknown with a woman as she nears her due date.  It means a call at 2a.m., a nervous, rushing voice on the other end of the line, “I’ve been having contractions on and off all night…”  It’s swaying with a woman who leans into you, hands clasped behind your neck, while she quietly integrates the intensity of her contractions.  Holding hands as she bears down, and witnessing awe, delight, love and relief wash over her when she holds her baby her to chest for the first time.

It is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

I’ve been a doula for almost five years now, I guess.  It was something I stumbled upon – one of those things that somehow the universe conspires to make happen, if you listen closely enough and have the bravery to trust it’s meant to be.  Along with the incredible birth stories I’ve been honoured to be a part of, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of the other women in my city who have dedicated their hearts to this work.  They are a strong, passionate, exceptional bunch.  Several of us get together regularly, and there’s always food.  These are women who are serious nurturers, and I think we all agree that sharing food is one of the best ways to care for others.

One of my favourite recipes from these potlucks is a beet and cashew salad.  I made this not too long ago to share with my family, who had all come to visit and spend time with my daughter Ada.

Okay, so this picture does no justice to this salad.  Sometimes, you have to make salads at night, when there's no natural light to take nice pictures with, and your salad looks kinda like ground beef.  That's just me being real, right?

Okay, so this picture does no justice to this salad. Sometimes, you have to make salads at night, when there’s no natural light to take nice pictures with, and your salad looks kinda like ground beef. That’s just me being real, right?

Here’s what you need:

1 raw beet, grated

1 cup cashew nuts, roasted (I use sliced almonds sometimes, too)

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp maple syrup

3 cm fresh ginger, grated

1 tbsp sesame oil

Salt to taste

Here’s what you do:

Combine the grated beets and nuts.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients.  Pour over the beet mixture and stir to coat.


Oh, and by the way, you should check out the blog of my friend Amy – she started blogging on the same day I did (!) and is choosing one type of food per month to make recipes with.  This month is beets!  She’s super healthy.

Recipe courtesy of Lindsay Miller, a volunteer doula at the Chebucto Family Centre.