Lettuce Eat Local
They say to keep your eyes on the prize, and a couple weeks ago at 40 weeks and 6 days, the prize was definitely birthing a healthy baby into the world. But to be honest, I also had my eyes on a malt.
Specifically, a chocolate malt from Bull’s Eye Grill, located conveniently a block or two from the birthing center. After having Benson in the middle of the night after almost three days of not being able to keep food down, and then having the only food offered to me be a pitifully unappealing coldcut turkey sandwich, I knew I needed to proactively take matters into my own hands. So I resolved with no level of uncertainty that a chocolate malt was what I needed after I got this baby out. As far as I was concerned, while it wasn’t the actual target, it was definitely going to hit the mark. And did I think about it at least once during labor? Why yes, yes I did. I was going to get a baby after this, and thank goodness, I was also going to get a chocolate malt.
Was that the most nutritious and replenishing immediately-postpartum meal? Especially in combination with the spicy chicken sandwich I had craved for both pregnancies and not actually eaten until also just now? Should I have gone with some sort of organic bone broth porridge type situation instead?
Enough with the rhetorical questions. I think postpartum nutrition is a much more significant issue than we Americans tend to acknowledge or understand, but I also think there are no clear-cut answers as to the best way to approach it, and there may be as many answers as there are new mothers. Around the globe, there are both beautiful themes and beautiful variations in values and practices regarding postnatal care. I’m clearly a little biased at this stage in my life, but I’m finding all the traditions to be beautiful in their sweet, gentle care of new mothers; pregnancy, childbirth, and caring for a newborn require mamas to be both strong and weak in so many ways, and I don’t mind saying it’s great to be taken care of.
Many cultures emphasize more than ours that caring for new moms and their nutrition is as critical as caring for new babies (although my community does an amazing job). Often the first month or so after a new baby arrives is a particular period of intentional rest for mama: cuarentena in Mexico, saam-chil-il in Korea, omugwo in Nigeria, and so on around the world. The resting mama focuses on feeding her newborn, maybe not even leaving the house for 40 days, and meanwhile her mom, in-laws, or other community and family members focus on feeding her specific postpartum foods, sometimes exclusively so. Postnatal food traditions in different countries range from seaweed soup or bone-broth congee to nettle tea or spiced pudding panjiri. In my very minimal research, I saw a theme of warming, hydrating foods, with soups, porridges, and teas topping the lists and including ingredients like rice, oats, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and cumin. Easy to digest and nutrient-dense, fortifying and restorative.
Not exactly how I would describe my milkshake. Cold, highly-processed, without many redeeming nutritional qualities…chocolate malts weren’t on any of the lists I found. I probably could have made a better choice.
I, however, don’t regret it for a second. A crucial aspect of postpartum care is listening to your body, and mine said it needed a malt.
But looking at all these postnatal teas got me thirsty for something a little warmer. Newborn baby or not, tea is always the answer.
Lebanese New Mama Spiced Tea: Aynar
This tea (or technically tisane, since it doesn’t have any actual tea leaves) is lovely for this time of year. It’s considered perfect for new moms — the spices have healthful healing properties, and some are purported to be galactagogues (aiding in milk production) — but also for anyone visiting or meeting the baby. The nuts are quite a twist, included to give strength to the mama, but I find them oddly delectable. If you want to adhere to other Lebanese postpartum traditions, consider making “meghli,” a rice flour pudding made with much the same flavors as the tea. The timing is on point to discover right now, as it’s served for 40 days after a baby is born, and also on Christmas Eve in honor of Jesus’ birth!
Heat water in a saucepan, along with cinnamon, ginger, caraway, anise, and nutmeg. Simmer for 15-60 minutes, until tea is deep brown and aromatic. Season to taste with sugar.
Meanwhile, put a handful of nuts in the bottom of your cup. Strain the hot tea into the cup and drink, enjoying the surprisingly delicious chew of the nuts!