But by far, the most amazing thing that happened during this long blogging hiatus was that... I became an auntie!!
After spending first part of August helping my sweetheart to harvest his wheat crop (as you'll see in the video below), I headed back home to hang out with my sister and her big beautiful belly, preparing for little Dax's grand arrival. After months of being on her feet for very long days while running her newly opened café, she finally got a chance to put her feet up and get some much-needed rest during the last two weeks of her pregnancy. We went to the beach, picked flowers, cooked, ate, slept and talked about the many strange things life throws our way sometimes, and of course dreamed of what little Dax would look like. Her parents-in-law arrived and we all began the exciting anticipation and waiting game as Dax took his sweet time coming.
One of the things we did in preparation for Dax's arrival was to bake a traditional "groaning cake". I first heard about this old post-partum recipe while reading Ami McKay's masterpiece of a book, The Birth House, last winter. I was immediately intrigued, not realizing at the time that the opportunity to make one would come sooner than I thought… or that it would be for my own sweet sister!
As you may remember, this past spring, I was introduced to another type of food that is shared around the time of a birth. A few days before giving birth to her little one, my dear friend Synda showed me how to make Zrir, a Tunisian recipe that is served following the arrival of a newborn. It turns out many cultures have traditional birthing foods, many of them originally intended to help the mother replenish her strength after labour and childbirth. Groaning cake is one such custom and Ami McKay describes it like this:
"The tradition of a groaning cake, or kimbly, at birth is an ancient one. Wives’ tales say that the scent of the groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother’s pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby are “churched” (or the first time they go to a public gathering) after a birth.”
A couple of things surprised me about my sister's labour. One was how swiftly it unfolded (I think that surprised everyone, including the nurses and the mother-to-be herself)! After 5 hours of labouring at home, it was already time to go to the hospital. The other thing that surprised me was how calm and serene my sister was through the whole thing. The sweet and kind nature of her spirit infused every moment of that long night. Of course, labour is messy and painful business, but even as she moaned and breathed through the contractions there was a strength and grace in her that took my breath away. I was bursting with pride and so in awe of her. Following her lead, us three birthing companions applied acupressure to points on her lower back and hands to help relieve some of the pain, well into the wee hours of the morning.
When the time came to push, a silence and peacefulness came over the hospital room, despite the hustle and bustle of the nurses who had not anticipated such a quick progression. Between pushes, Ariell would make eye contact with the nurses and doctor, and all of us, flashing a smile as brilliant as a sunrise, gathering her strength for the next push. And in the exact same voice she would use if she was politely asking for a cup of tea, she would ask if the facecloth on her forehead could be a little colder, please. This made me chuckle because before labour, she had told me that one thing she didn't like was an ice-cold facecloth on her forehead. But now, understandably, the circumstances were a bit different. So a nurse kindly wheeled over a bucket of ice water and I started keeping a swift rotation of icy facecloths like it was my job. And whenever I got distracted and swept away in all the excitement and anticipation of soon meeting my little nephew, my sister would ever so politely bring me right back to my task, between pushes: "could you make that facecloth a little bit colder please?"
After about an hour of pushing, a plump and sturdy baby Dax came into the world and it was love at first sight for all of us.
After our mom died 5 years ago, my sister and I felt the loss of not only our mom as an individual person, but also the loss of our family as a unit, as a team. It's a loss that comes with an aching loneliness, and a longing for the way things used to be. Having a new addition to our family is like a tree sprouting a new limb where one was cut off. Dax is growing our small family a little bigger, opening our hearts a little wider, and bringing us all closer together. Like many people, I spend a lot of my waking hours either yearning for days gone by, or dreaming of how things will be in a perfect, imagined future. The thing about a newborn baby is that they bring you right back to the present moment. Everything else melts away, the past, the future, there is only the simplicity of being present with this tiny new human: gazing into their eyes, studying every feature, every finger and toenail, and delighting in every small gesture and movement. This is one the many gifts a newborn bestows upon us.
Some days after Dax was born, we enjoyed more groaning cake together. And this video is our way to spread a little of that joy. If you are interested in making this traditional cake, you can find my recipe on my post at PBS Food.
Groaning Cake Recipe Link!