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Friday, October 24, 2014

Congee all day

To reap all the remarkable health benefits of congee, you really only need to eat it for your first meal of the day. You don't have to eat it for multiple meals of the day.

I just like to.

Here's what I packed in my bag for a full day at work: A jar full of coffee. Three persimmons. A jar of bai zhou topped with coconut-oil-sauteed kale, a lovely fresh egg, and a little bit of the roasted pork shoulder left over from the awesome tacos Adam made the other day. Two more jars exactly like that first one.

Here is where I 'fess up to having broken my vow of eating congee every day for a whole year. The truth? I've eaten it most days. But in June, Adam and Kamal and I went to Hawaii for a week, which is where I grew up, and I ate loco moco for breakfast every day: steamed white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and epic amounts of brown gravy. Ohhhh, so amazing. It's the island answer to a bacon cheeseburger. I love bacon cheeseburgers, but I'd pick a bowl of loco moco over a bacon cheeseburger any day.

Hawai'i was pretty awesome, you guys.

Here is the one family photo we managed on our trip. How amazing is that tree?

And, ok, even when we've not been traveling, there have been days, here and there, where I've been out of rice and/or out of time and grabbed a healthy breakfast somewhere, or eaten something like toast and a spinach omelette.

I expect to feel a little more sluggish when I eat a rich, heavy breakfast like a loco moco, or something high in sugar and low in fiber and protein, like a muffin. What I find interesting is how different I feel when I eat congee versus eating what most people would consider a healthy breakfast. Root veggies with baked eggs and greens? That's pretty healthful, and it's not like I feel bad when I eat them, but I don't feel as awesome--as energized, as ready for the day, as, I don't know, spry--as when I put down my spoon after that last bite of congee. Oatmeal with fresh berries and coconut milk? So delicious and warming, but nope, not the same kick as my savory, light-but-satisfying, comforting-but-not-cloying daily congee bowl.

On the left: K-small demonstrates how I feel after eating congee for breakfast. On the right: K-small demonstrates how I feel after eating anything else for breakfast. Cute either way, but a lot brighter and floatier with congee in my belly. 

From a Western nutritional standpoint, it's a little far-fetched that a bowl of congee and the baked-egg breakfast I described make me feel so different. The components are largely the same: starchy carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the egg, and leafy greens. If anything, because the root vegetables are not refined carbohydrates, as is the white rice in my congee, I ought to feel less good after slurping up my bai zhou than eating the other breakfast.

But from a traditional Chinese medical perspective, it's totally logical: the congee is easier to digest. White rice nourishes the Spleen, which does take a little while to wake up. (Root vegetables do too, but not as gently.) The fact that the rice is technically way overcooked means it all goes down a lot more easily, and even more importantly, is converted into usable nutrition more efficiently. The coconut oil's very healthy fat, the egg's fat and protein, and the fiber from the leafy greens keep the white rice from causing a quick blood-sugar spike.

So: I have erred. I have slipped up on my yearlong congee commitment. But I keep coming back to congee, and I know I will continue to do that year after year--and not just because I said I would, but because I notice how much better, stronger, sharper I feel when it's part of my early morning. And frankly, when it's part of my late morning, too, and early afternoon? I feel even better. Why wouldn't I eat it more than once a day?  

It helps that it's delicious and infinitely variable. What also helps is that I have a brilliant husband who decided I don't have to choose between loco moco and congee when we're at home--he made me loco moco congee. CHECK THIS OUT, you guys: 

Without gravy.

With gravy! Is there anything that is not better with gravy? That's a rhetorical question. Don't answer it.

This isn't healthy. BUT IT WAS AWESOME. Sprinkled with toasted hei zhi ma and fresh scallions for prettiness and extra deliciousness, it was an unusually rich bowl of congee--but still didn't make me feel weighed down and gunky the way a proper loco moco typically does.

Holler if you want the recipe for Adam's loco moco congee!

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