For some of us, life comes a-calling loud and clear. And if we tune in to the signals, our course becomes obvious. For Leah Rose Hagen, the calling is being a postpartum doula and founder of Nourish — an in-home chef and homemade-food delivery and catering company.
Leah Rose, 30, arrived in Bloomington from Wisconsin 12 years ago. A theater major at IU, she discovered that the real drama was in the kitchen and not on the boards. “I started cooking to avoid doing my homework,” she says.
She fell in love at 19. Her partner was into raw milk and butter, farm fresh eggs, and whole grain breads. “Food dictated my life,” she admits. She found employment at Bloomingfoods and Laughing Planet and was introduced to Nourishing Traditions, a book by Sally Fallon, which helped to chart her course.
When the relationship ended, Leah Rose moved first to a farm in Oldenberg in Franklin County and then to another in Greene County (with her faithful canvas wall tent). At both farms, the homesteaders were pregnant. Another port in her course was sending up a flare. Leah Rose milked cows, picked strawberries, ran the farm, helped out with the children, and was thrown into cooking.
Leah Rose says this lifestyle “was good until it wasn’t.” She moved back into a barn here in Bloomington — “I have had creative living situations,” she laughs — and was back at Bloomingfoods cutting up produce. At that time, co-op employees (along with food pantries, such as Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard) received “chump food” — anything that didn’t sell by the end of the day or had passed its sell-by date. She started making dishes from the chump food and distributing it to her friends. “I wooed my boyfriend with food,” she smiles.
She was making meals for families, too. Her business was shaped thanks to two clients — one vegan, the other paleo. “I stretched my cooking skills!” she admits.
By January 2011, her worlds were on a seemingly predestined collision course when she completed postpartum doula training.
Leah Rose sums it up this way: “Mothers and women are the center. When mothers are well, families are well, communities are well, and then our earth is well.”
Her doula work addresses physiological and psychological needs of mothers with newborns by addressing four elements: rest; warm, easy-to-digest wholesome food; warming therapies (castor oil packs and sitz baths with garden herbs); and body work (warm oil treatments and abdominal massage).
“New mothers need a soft place to land,” she says.
As do we all.
Becoming a doula has guided Leah Rose’s desire to provide nourishing food for mothers. She wants to take the snobbery out of hiring a personal chef, by offering a sliding scale for payment to make it accessible to a variety of budgets. She encourages friends who like cooking to join her in this endeavor, to provide good food to clients and to have their own independent employment opportunity. “I want to create ease around food and nourishment,” she says. “It should be a joy, not a burden.” Typically, Leah Rose will purchase groceries and make her way to a client’s house where she spends the day preparing a week’s worth of meals. She averages seven weekly or biweekly clients and two doula clients per month (meeting them for the first two weeks for a few hours every other day).
Mindful of the need to balance work and free time, Leah Rose and her boyfriend, Ben Fowler, now live in a cozy retreat in a round straw-bale house on Ben’s mom’s 60-acre farm in Mitchell. Leah Rose has a foot planted in two very different worlds: She is at home in both, and relishes both.
The former theater major now performs on a new stage. But sometimes the old one beckons. You can see her handiwork in the costumes of The Jefferson Street Parade Band. The drummer, her boyfriend Ben, is very grateful indeed.
(inspired by ‘The Moosewood Cookbook’ by Molly Katzen)
1 cup French green lentils
5 cups water
2 large (or 4 small) zucchini
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch rainbow chard, leaves and stems separated
10 ounces frozen corn (or 2 ears fresh uncooked corn, removed from cobs)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup MontAmore cheese (or any other rich, melty cheese of your choice)
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Place lentils in a medium saucepan with 5 cups water. Bring to a boil. Partially cover and simmer until softened but with the lentils still maintaining their shape, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling.
Cut zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the innards. Place face up on a large baking tray.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini innards, onion, and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes. Chop chard stems and add them and the corn to the skillet. Continue to sauté, stirring occasionally for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and any other spices that appeal to you. (Leah Rose likes to use spices that appeal to her clients from their own cupboards.) Cut chard leaves in ribbons and add. Cover the skillet and steam until the chard wilts, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
Drain lentils. Add to zucchini mixture. Stir well. Adjust seasonings. Spoon mixture into zucchini “canoes.” Sprinkle cheese over filling. Bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes.