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Sweet Mess

(by Kate Klein)

The three of us stand in our narrow kitchen with blue and white wallpaper. The girls are tip-toe on chairs, holding wooden spoons and attempting restraint about taking turns stirring and sneaking too many finger licks of dark brown sugar. I am trying to coordinate grabbing the proper ingredients, checking the order of the recipe, and making sure everyone feels included. I have to admit, I don’t always enjoy baking with my daughters. It is often a harried compromise and mess-making endeavor. It is certainly not the quiet, sensory process that I want to linger over, making sure the details are perfect.

“Do you think she’ll share some with Opal?” “Mama, when I have a baby, you’ll bake cookies for me, right?” “Can we save one for Papa?”

We are making my favorite oatmeal raisin lactation cookies for our neighbor who will be having a baby any day. These cookies contain lactogenic ingredients to boost milk supply and aid healing for a nursing mother. They accompany a nutritious meal of soup and salad that we drop off at door steps. And the note always reads: “These cookies can be shared BUT taste especially good to nursing mothers.” I basically ate my weight in them after my second daughter was born. I appreciate the fact that they are a delicious treat but contain enough good ingredients to ease any guilt.

My mom was a perfunctory cook—we were fed. Family meals were important to her, but there was no magic or sensuality in the food. I don’t remember assisting with cooking and never had a favorite dish that she made. Associations of food and my mom tend towards hard boiled eggs with a side of bland applesauce and Cheerios on alternating days for breakfast.

But a very young memory of enjoying oatmeal cookies with her is still a lingering taste in my mouth. A few times a week we would go to a local bakery, where she would get a cup of coffee and I, a cookie. In my memory, the cookie was free because I was a kid. I’m sure the world used to work in that generous, friendly way, even though it seems inconceivable now. The bakery had a glass rotating cake stand, and we would pause to watch the fancy frosted cakes bedecked with sugar flowers. It seemed like such a treat—a slow and flavorful luxury—that wasn’t typically my mom’s style. And the cookie was big and soft and studded with golden raisins.

In a significant class in college, we were discussing birth stories, and I realized I had never been told my own. Somehow, this lack of storytelling and lack of family recipes seem linked and are a source of personal sadness and a sense of loss for me. My mom’s avoidance of anything sentimental or messy or impractical seems, to me, like an unwillingness to acknowledge the feminine soul. Though unintentional, I have felt the loss of my inheritance as a daughter and granddaughter. I was efficiently steered around the gifts of wisdom and experience that are the intergenerational fruit of women.

Food has motivated so much of my own motherhood. I have also ended up working with birthing women. I think, in part, that these passions have been a way to heal the absence of a “culture of women” in my childhood. I want to be present in these messy female spaces. Both the kitchen and the birth room are places of warmth, passage and collection. Rooms where women congregate, observe, and participate. These are places where the energy and mood affect the outcome—creative places, at once both practical and sacred, that celebrate the individuality and survival of bodies, the necessary and ancient work of women.

In my daily life with my little girls, there is much cooking and discussion of food. They feel comfortable in the kitchen and a part of our meal preparation and enjoyment. We moved from our city apartment to our country home in part to be closer to the food chain—to know the soil and people that tend to our food. And it is so messy—cracking eggs and kneading bread, dragging chairs and somehow trying to keep up with the dishes. But there is much magic and storytelling: Cartons of blue eggs are appreciated; winter smoothies are made from autumn apples and summer berries we have picked. And we talk about those that we will nourish with our efforts.

For these particular postpartum oatmeal raisin cookies, it is especially important to me to include my daughters while I bake. There is the direct recognition that we will be caring for neighboring families. This is a way to wrap them in traditions of women caring for other women. To bring them along in acknowledging the hard work of having a baby and the amazing and inevitable transition within that family. I hope they too see a different model for themselves and expect tending and wisdom from the women surrounding them and that they can see the deep sweetness in their own messy lives.


Kate Klein is a mother of two girls and a postpartum doula living in the Hudson Valley of New York. She is passionate about supporting women as they find their strength and creativity in motherhood.

Oatmeal Nursing Cookies

(adapted from the book Mother Rising)

1 c. golden raisins (I like to mix dried cherries in too)

1 c. butter, melted (can substitute coconut oil, if trying to avoid dairy)

I t. vanilla

3 eggs

I c. packed brown sugar

1 c. granulated sugar

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

2 t. baking soda

1 1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. wheat germ

3/4 c. pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, soak raisins in melted butter and vanilla for 1 hour.

Add eggs and sugars, beat well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, oats, and wheat germ. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet.

Stir in the pecans by hand.

Spoon onto greased baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes until light golden in color.

Makes 4 dozen (these freeze well so it’s worth making the full quantity)

Share with your neighbors, friends and daughters.


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