Profile: Doula Nicole Rice
Nicole Rice is a very good cook. She’s also a doula; my friend Alexis suggested I interview Nicole after she experienced her excellent care and heavenly food before and after delivering her first child.
So, on a recent rainy Friday afternoon, I met Nicole and her rescue dog Ozzy at her house in Pasadena. Over steaming cups of Darjeeling, we chatted about how she went from Australia to America, and what led to her becoming a sought-after Ayurvedic practitioner and supporting women during childbirth.
When Nicole was growing up in Sydney, her mom worked long hours at a production company; it was her auto mechanic dad who was the main cook in the family. “He would finish work early and then cook,” she remembers. “It was the same thing every night, with some alteration, but really good: always a protein—like steak, lamb chop, or sausage—with a slice of tomato, cucumber, some lettuce, or coleslaw in summer, and mashed potato, pumpkin, and peas in winter. There was roast dinner once a week, too.”
When Nicole was 13, her mom left the family. “It forced me to grow up quickly,” she says. “I started cooking for [myself] and my younger brother—who’s now a chef, by the way—and I really liked it.” Her grandmother and aunts had an important culinary influence on her, as well. “I spent school holidays with them, and they taught me how to bake, how to make cakes, and I learned how to make custard without powder.”
At the same time, being a sickly kid and always on antibiotics, she discovered a local health food store. “I was about 17 and got into juicing, fasting, eating seasonal whole foods, and listening to my body,” she recalls.
After a five-year stint as an advertising manager in Sydney, she landed in New York and started a job in fashion, but she was still drawn to all things holistic. “I found the Sivananda Yoga Center and hung out there a lot, and also at their ranch in Woodstock, doing yoga and meditation. And there was a store in New York called Prana in the late ‘90s that I loved. They had these cool newsletters I devoured.”
When she won the Green Card Lottery, Nicole changed coasts and ended up in L.A. “I foolishly moved with very little money and no job,” she says, smiling. “I spent a lot of time in [metaphysical bookstore] Bodhi Tree and [natural foods market] Erewhon.” She later worked in fashion again but “couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
In 2008, a friend who trained doulas in Australia asked her to come and help. Though she had no intention of getting into this field, she stayed for six months. “It was second nature to me, actually, and I really enjoyed it,” she says. Back in L.A., she met a midwife who was looking for a doula (midwives deliver babies, while doulas assist pre- and post-partum with everything else mom and baby might need). They got along, and from that point on, Nicole slowly and organically built her business. “I was really lucky. I never had to advertise or build a website; it’s all through word of mouth.”
Between gigs cooking kitcheri for new moms and helping them with breastfeeding, Nicole expanded her education at the California College of Ayurveda in Nevada City, California, and at Ayurveda Health Home in Kathmandu, Nepal. “It definitely shifted the way I cook and eat, learning about things like what’s good for inflammation, what are warming foods, how to nurture women after they had a baby, and so on.”
Last October, as a culmination of all her knowledge and experience, she launched Countertop, a line of flavor-packed, wellness-focused staples like butters, sweeteners, and spices. “It sort of sprung from the stuff I always had in my doula kit, like ghee, coconut butter, rice, mung beans, and sweet and savory spices.”
Age 46 — Hometown Sydney, Australia — Where do you live? Pasadena, California — Occupation Doula and cofounder of Countertop — Signature dish Kitcheri — Who taught you how to cook? My aunts and grandmother taught me some basics as a kid, and then I’ve done a few cooking courses over the years. My Ayurvedic mentor, Benita Carol, taught me some great things, too—like how to make yoghurt and paneer! — Favorite kitchen tool Cast-iron pan — Always in your pantry Split mung beans and polenta from Italy — Go-to snack Raw cashews — Favorite cuisine Chinese — Do you diet? No — Food addictions Butter — Food allergies No — Food fad pet peeve Paleo. Really, you think the caveman was eating that stuff??? — Who’s your sous chef? My dog! — Drinking while cooking? Trying to be sober for 2018, so no! — What’s for dinner tonight? I might get takeout from the Delicatessen by Osawa, this wonderful Japanese deli in Pasadena that I love. — Do you ever cry over spilled milk? I cry at almost everything; I am a sap! — Best meal you ever had The first meal I had at Lucques blew my mind. It was lamb with peas, and it was so good. — Contact countertopfoods.com
“Kitcheri is so good for you,” says Nicole about this vegetarian, porridge-like Indian dish made with rice, legumes, and tons of fresh vegetables. It is nutritious, loaded with protein and healthy carbohydrates, and a great thing to make when you have digestion issues or just want to reset your body. “I make it at least once a week—it’s a total comfort food and so energizing.”
This recipe starts by melting Golden Butter—a superfood concoction of clarified butter, turmeric, cumin, and other spices—which Nicole developed to season and fortify whatever you’re cooking. If you don’t have Golden Butter, use ghee and add turmeric and cumin to it. For a vegan version, use coconut oil.
- Serves 2–4
- 3 tablespoons Golden Butter or ghee
- ½ teaspoon turmeric (skip if using Golden Butter)
- ½ teaspoon cumin (skip if using Golden Butter)
- ½ cup peeled, finely diced carrots (about 1 medium carrot)
- ½ cup trimmed, finely chopped celery (about 2 celery stalks)
- ½ cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon peeled, grated ginger (about 1 small knob ginger)
- ¼ cup basmati rice, rinsed
- ¼ cup lentils (any kind) or split mung beans, rinsed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups water or stock
- 2 cups of your favorite vegetables (such as zucchini, broccoli, or cauliflower), finely chopped
- ½ cup soft-leaf vegetables (such as spinach, chard, dandelion), finely chopped
- Topping ideas
- Sliced avocado
- Sliced radish
- Lemon wedge
- Fermented vegetables
- Greek yogurt
- Melt 2 tablespoons of Golden Butter or ghee in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. (Add turmeric and cumin if using ghee, and sauté, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.)
- Add the carrots, celery, cilantro, and ginger to the pan and sauté, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Mix in the rice, lentils, and salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, for 2–3 minutes.
- Pour in the water or stock, add the 2 cups of vegetables, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to low and cook with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until the rice, lentils, and vegetables are soft and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 35–40 minutes. It should have a consistency of runny risotto or thick soup.
- Turn the heat off. Stir in 1 tablespoon of Golden Butter or ghee, along with the soft-leaf vegetables. Cover with a lid, and let sit for another 20 minutes.
- Serve topped with sliced avocado, radish, fermented vegetables, lemon wedge, or Greek yogurt.
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