Friday, June 21, 2013

Helba - A Dessert for New Moms

Monday is 'my' day of the week. It's the one morning when I don't see anyone, I try not to answer the phone and I do not do anything that can be termed 'productive'. After the man and kids leave early in the morning I usually flop down on the couch with a book and a cup of tea while the baby sits at my feet playing or strolls between the, now empty, living area and sunny playroom bringing me toys or books that we can look at together. Sometimes she force-feeds me bits of spitty rice-cake. She's very lovey in the morning, very docile, and soon goes down for a long nap, leaving me to indulge my slothful agenda.

My friends know this but, the week before last, one of them texted me asking me to come over the next day (Monday morning). "I know it's your day" she said, "but if you come over I'll make you a pot of tea". Bribery sometimes works. My price, apparently, is a cup of well-brewed Earl Grey tea and Za'atar Crackers. Because she is considerate enough to understand what Mondays mean to me I requested her to allow me just two hours of 'me time' in the morning and then I would show up, baby in tow. And so, off I went to see one of my most favorite people in the world. 

I met 'B.' a little over a year ago when we shared a ride to Ikea on the communal bus. She had just moved into our neighborhood, did not know anyone and was eager to make friends. We reached the store before it opened for the day, giving us opportunity to have coffee together with a few others while introductions were made and she told us where she was coming from. Her name is an unusual one: her father named her after a historical Palestinian town (since then re-named) renowned for it's beauty in Ottoman times. I remember being struck immediately by her gentleness which belies a passionate and strong nature. She has strikingly attractive blue eyes that are warm with compassion and an inner radiance. When she speaks she is calm, her voice comforting. She soothes me.

Where we are located, finding like-minded people is a bit of a fluke. It doesn't happen too often. I was lucky to have found 'B'. She is the one I call when I am wit's end with something one of the older kids have done and vice versa she calls me when she's trying to figure out how to deal with her stubborn middle child. We drink tea or Jallab and share Lebanese treats while we vent, sitting in her little backyard listening to the neighborhood kids frolic in the playground just beyond her yard.

'B.' had a baby earlier this year. Her third child. And it was only natural that I bring her something delicious (and nutritious) when she invited a few friends to meet him for the first time. And so I made Helba - a Basbousa-like dessert made with semolina, fenugreek seeds, shredded coconut and fennel-seeds: all the things that are great for lactating mothers. Fenugreek is a very good galactagogue, a fact few women seem to know, but needs to be taken carefully because it can have a severely lowering effect on blood sugar if taken in excess. Years ago my OB-Gyn advised me to steep a heaped teaspoon of fenugreek in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes and drink it up just before nursing, repeating as many times as I wanted to during the day. I followed this advice religiously and would drink up to 5-6 cups a day. I used to sweeten it with a spoon or more of honey but over the years (and 3 children later) I've acquired a taste for fenugreek tea and can drink it completely unsweetened. Fenugreek has lots of other health benefits that you can read about here.

Helba, in Arabic, means fenugreek. I found this recipe quite by accident over a year ago when I was looking up things I could make ahead for myself before the birth of the baby. I didn't know what to expect and was actually a little wary because fenugreek is very bitter and I thought the 2 tablespoons this recipe asks for would go a long way. So I was pleasantly surprised at how utterly delicious this dessert was. Especially cold, straight from the refrigerator. I made a large tray for myself and each morning a small square of this scrumptious treat was often the first thing that I reached out for. I have made it several times over in the past year, sometimes using more fenugreek and substituting whole wheat flour for the all purpose flour. The WWF substitution did not yield the best results but I still ate it all! I know it's super rich and so this kind of thing would not otherwise make an appearance at my house too often. But my justification is that us new Moms need to keep up their strength and a little indulgence in those early weeks is just okay!


I Wilkerson said...

You are smart to guard your "me" time!

Jas@AbsolutelyJas said...

I love the middle eastern approach to encompassing food into all aspects of life, and being so mindful about ingredients to the point of identifying when there are circumstances (such as becoming a new mother) when especially nutritious food with particular ingredients will be of particular benefit. Much better to give a new mother something to improve her health rather than a bunch of flowers (although, I do like flowers too ;)).

This sweet looks particularly delicious - spices in sweet dishes are just divine.

Beth said...

You definitely need to keep up your strength!
There's nothing like finding a true friend, someone who really understands and can listen.

The Squishy Monster said...

What a novel clever! You definitely need "me" time and sometimes, I forget. Love this spiced sweet too, YUM!

Kiran @ said...

A me time is definitely needed. Thanks for encouraging it in this post :)

Anonymous said...

How interesting - I never would have thought to use fenugreek in a dessert. And I totally understand about the me time - that's really important to me, too.

Needful Things said...

@Jas - I wholly agree: always bring food when visiting a new mom. It never goes unappreciated ;)

@Croquecamille - I know, right! I had never heard of it either till I came across this recipe.

Gemma said...

Great post. Me time is definitely needed! Thanks for the recipe!

xx gemma @


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