Monday, August 14, 2006


Last Friday, Guillermo and I went to visit our friends who have just had their first child. This calm and healthy baby girl is as beautiful as her names, Lily Elspeth. Her parents looked relaxed and happy and the grandparents who flew a huge distance from Melbourne to be here were justifiably proud. The atmosphere in that young family of three was festive; a celebration not only of a beautiful new life being born into this world but certainly of the radiant new mother braving through the 40 weeks with flying colours.

I have been reading up on pregnancy lately. It is common knowledge that morning sickness is part of life for most pregnant ladies in their first trimester and, in some cases, beyond. Women are told by a whole host of websites and books on the subject that it is the body's reaction to a sudden surge of hormones. However, an article in the Guardian (UK) last month helped to shed new light on the matter. Researchers at the University of Liverpool, put together 56 studies from 21 countries that looked at the prevalence of sickness in pregnant women. They linked these figures to the typical diet in each country.

They found that countries with a high intake of sugars, sweeteners, stimulants such as caffeine, vegetables, meats, milk and eggs had more sick pregnant women and those with high intake of cereals and pulses had lower levels. They concluded that nausea and sickness during pregnancy are the body's way of protecting mother and baby against poisons and bugs in food.

English based information advises women to avoid raw fish, raw eggs, raw meat, charcuterie items, soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, alcohol, caffeine and smoking for obvious reasons. The Baby Center website of the U.S. recommends pregnant women who are lactose intolerant to take calcium tablets; but it warns of side-effects such as constipation. There was no mention at all that sesame is a much more potent source of calcium as well as other dark leaf vegetables. I have also read on another U.S. website which tells pregnant women to reduce intake of food rich in vitamin A because prenatal vitamins should already provide enough. I think it was upon reading the last two pieces of advice when I started to think about how different cultures approach pregnancy.

North America has a more established culture in taking supplements which extends to pregnancy. The Anglo-Saxon attitude towards alcohol is also significantly different from those of the Latin and Asian cultures. In many parts of Europe and Asia, drinking is an activity that goes only with food and celebration, generally conducted with moderation, especially in women. Hence, mothers-to-be are guided to reduce their intake of alcohol during pregnancy because heavy warnings are probably not as crucial to raise their awareness.

In addition to all these, the Chinese advises against eating too much shellfish; food that is too "heat-generating" or "cooling"; or anything that is ice cold in temperature which means ice creams, and cold frizzy drinks are out. Instead, women at this stage in their life should eat more walnuts, fish, fruits and vegetables with "neutral" properties. Most importantly, lots of nourishing soups to prepare the mothers for breast feeding. Interestingly, papayas are known in the Chinese culture to help boost milk production and fermented black beans give the opposite effect.

I am sure I will find out even more when I venture beyond books and websites to talk to experienced mothers. This is a new area of food and diet which I am excited to learn more in the coming months.

Chickpea is a great source of protein and vitamins. It is a food highly recommended for pregnant women who should have small nutritious meals. The spiciness in this hummus inspired spread may have the added bonus of satisfying cravings for stronger flavour food in some women.
Not Quite Hummus:
175g chickpeas, soaked in 570ml cold water overnight
1 tbsp of flavourless oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
1 fresh chilli, chopped
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 large tomato, skinned and chopped
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 level tbsp natural yoghurt salt & pepper, to taste
To garnish:
black olivesparsley, chopped

Begin by draining the soaked chickpeas and place them in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring them up to simmering point, put a lid on and simmer gently for about 45 minutes or until the chickpeas are tender when tested with a skewer.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small frying pan and gently sauté the onion for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. The spring onions should now be trimmed and chopped small and the chilli should be split, de-seeded under a cold running tap and also chopped small. Don't forget to wash your hands straight away!

When the chickpeas are ready, drain them in a sieve set over a bowl, then transfer them to a food processor along with some salt, the sautéed onion and garlic and any oil left in the pan.

Now add the lime juice and blend until you have a smoothish purée – if it's too stiff add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid from the chickpeas. What you need is a soft purée, like hummus in texture.

Now empty the contents of the processor into a bowl and add the tomato, chilli, spring onions, Tabasco, coriander and 2 tablespoons of soured cream or fromage frais. Taste to check the seasoning and add a few more drops of Tabasco if it needs a little more kick. Cover the bowl and chill till needed. Serve garnished with black olives and some flat-leaf parsley.

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