The Healing Power of Congee {With Recipe}

Last June I started attending acupuncture for my severe digestion issues. They were so pervasive that they were bleeding into my mental health, and if that sounds dramatic, I swear, it doesn't do the situation justice. Now, I could write an entire series on how much I LOVE acupuncture and all the amazing things it has done for me personally, but today I want to talk about the first, best, easiest thing you can do for your body, digestion problems or not.

And that is to make and eat congee every. Damn. Day. 

Now, I don't want to front or anything. I am no expert on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), or even on congee itself, but I have been a years-long sufferer of ill digestion, and I'm nearly a year in on my acupuncture and TCM diet regimen, so I have picked up a thing or two along the way. I've also read The Book of Jook, which is an amazing foundational book on TCM's eating philosophy, which I highly recommend if this interests you beyond your breakfast plate.

Let's start with the basics. What the heck is congee and why should you be eating it? 
Congee is a slow-cooked, broken rice porridge, not unlike a cream of wheat or cream of rice hot cereal you might get at an American grocery store. It's essentially one part rice to 8 parts water, and during the cooking process the water swells the rice so exquisitely that it bursts, turning into a creamy, slightly sweet, porridge. When cold, it congeals, but when heated, it becomes nice and creamy.

It is a staple food in China, and one eaten by the peasants, who incidentally, live longer than their wealthier counterparts who do not eat congee. It is also a foundational food in the TCM philosophy of eating because of its constitution (rice and water), its versatility in being paired with ingredients (and healing herbs), and its ability to slowly awaken digestion in a soothing manner, and therefore be a good breakfast food that promotes the positive movement of Qi--the energy life source, the gooooood stuff.

The idea, distilled, is this: raw food is hard to digest. We have to work really hard to break down food that isn't already what the principles would dub "the 100 degree soup." So, if you're throwing an apple in your gob first thing in the morning, well, you're working overtime. And in TCM, that is no way to gently awake the system.

Another way to think of this is to consider the stomach like a fire. Hot foods help stoke the fire, while cold foods are like throwing a damp towel on your digestive fires.

Congee is a terrific candidate for the job of digestive wake up because it's full of water (hydrating), rice is easy to digest, it's warm (no extra work on the stomach's part), and you can add lots of healing herbs and spices to make it even more beneficial. It stokes the fire. Also, if I've had any upset from the night before, this generally quells the beast, and gets me back where I need to be, digestively speaking.

Let's talk versatility
Congee is a great "base" food. Which is probably why it's so favored in TCM. As you can probably imagine, there are as many maladies as there are people in the world. While congee benefits everyone and anyone, if you are trying to heal, your protocol is likely to be more individualized. Luckily, congee pairs well with everything from sweet to savory. I enjoy mine with a variety of fruits, like blueberries, dried cherries, pineapple, or mango and I like adding a bit of raw honey and ginger and cinnamon.

But there have also been times when I have found I skipped breakfast. One reason I do this is if I am not hungry. My acupuncturist encouraged me to stop eating when I wasn't hungry (even if it's mealtime.) It's too taxing on the digestion, who is not signaling a need for food. There are times when I skip breakfast and instead enjoy congee for lunch with savory items, such as Irish beef stew, or my favorite, Beef Bourginon. It is SO delicious ramped up with some salt and lots of gravy!

Will it keep me full? 
The goal of congee is not so much to keep you full as it is to get your system started in the morning. It's a complex carbohydrate, so it breaks down a bit more slowly than others, so it is a great breakfast food for this reason. I'll also tell you a secret: for a person who has had digestive issues (and anxiety issues), feeling hungry is the best feeling EVER because it means 1) I'm not anxious, and 2) everything is working properly!

So the short answer is that unless you pair your congee with a protein, you'll probably be hungry again in about 2 hours. For me, this works because I have my congee about 10am, and then I eat lunch about 12:30PM or so. According to my friend, in school for Acupuncture, the optimal time to jumpstart your system is between 7AM to 9AM...but we aren't the breakfast police, so you do you.

So, is this easy? 
Is congee easy to make? The answer is YES, but for ease, it does require a crockpot. If you don't have a crockpot, you could use the stovetop, but it would require some babysitting, and I honestly have't tried it. However, it you do use a crockpot, it is so simple and easy that you can cook it while you are at work during the day, or while you are sleeping at night, as it has an 8 hour cook time on low. One pot is enough to last me a little over a week, and even share some with my mom. So make it on a Sunday and have breakfast all week long!

Ready for the recipe? Here she blows....

Simple Congee Recipe 

Time: 8 (inactive) hours | Makes: 1 large pot | Difficulty: SO EASY! 

You Will Need:

1 cup of white rice (I use organic white or jasmine, both are great!) 
8 cups water 

Special equipment- Crockpot 


Add rice and water to crockpot. Turn on low and cook for 8 hours. If you are able, give it a stir a couple of times throughout the cooking process. If not, no worries. 

Cool and store in the refrigerator, and reheat for breakfast or whatever meal you fancy! 

Serve with your choice of sweet or savory toppings (see above suggestions). 

When Lying is a Good Idea

Last year, I was happy to discover that they were planting corn in the fields outside our house. It's so nice to have the privacy, I thought to myself. Until I remembered a story my friend Katie told me about how her two cousins got lost in a corn field for hours when they were children. "They were screaming and my Aunt couldn't find them. Literally," she said, "it was traumatizing." 

My daughter is, for the record, obsessed with corn. She tells me corn is favorite vegetable, and that corn stalks are her friends. So instead of panicking, I did what any decent parent would do. I lied. Yes, I did. At first, I had some misgivings about this, but after running it by a trusted friend, who assured me that it was the right thing to do, I felt it was totally fine. Her reasoning was that in tribal cultures there were myths that they would tell the children to help keep them safe, and this was no different. And we dubbed it "the safety lie." 

There was only one thing my daughter had been afraid of up to that point and it was called "The Lump." Don't ask me why, I guess the word just freaks her out, so I decided to leverage this to my advantage and, ultimately, hers. We told her that "The Lump" likes to live in the corn fields--that's where he makes his home--so it's important for us to stay out of the corn fields because, naturally, we don't want The Lump to get us. That was it. That was all I needed to say. She never touched a toe in those big, leafy corn fields, and when they plowed them down, she asked what was going to happen to The Lump. I told her he would go move to another field. No harm, no foul. 

Eventually she will get older and she will realize there are not Lumps that live in the fields, and this will be part of her maturation process. But in the meantime, it kept her safe, not lost in a corn field, and bought me some peace of mind. Sometimes you have to tell a little lie to keep kids on track. 

And you know what? I think we need to lie to kids a little more often. 

This became clear to me, particularly when it comes to Active Shooter Drills in daycares and elementary schools, as my daughter's new fears now extend beyond Lumps. After an intruder drill at daycare several months ago, my kid now ends phone conversations by saying, "hey, if any strangers try to come in your house, let me know!" and asks her grandma during sleepovers, "What will you do if a guy with a gun is waiting outside the house?" And as it turns out, she is far from alone. 

There are more and more reports coming out that children are being traumatized by these drills--that they are scared of going to school--or, like my child, think that a "bad guy with a gun may come in at any time." Personally, I don't think that these are things that five year olds should be scared about. Lumps, to my way of thinking, should be about as scary as it gets. 

Of course, I cannot fault the daycare for doing the drill. They are being prepared, and as a mom, I can appreciate that. Ditto for schools. But what I cannot get on board with is telling kids what they are all about because it's too much unnecessarily scary information. And the drills themselves are, in fact, scary for children. For god's sake, we need to stop telling little kids whose wild imaginations cannot process the thought of "active shooters" that we are doing a mass murder preparation drills. Call it a "hurricane" drill. Call it a "safety drill." Call it an "all out ostrich, put your head in the sand" drill. I don't care. I'm asking that we collectively get together and tell a little white lie to protect the innocence of childhood. 

Adults used to be comfortable lying to their kids about all kinds of things. Shit, my parents told me that a chicken lived behind our refrigerator because it made a strange clucking sound. And also, my mom told me that she was elf--a real elf--who traveled on Santa's sleigh to his workshop. I mean, how many of us are about to tell our kids that A HUGE BUNNY is coming to deliver presents?! And I get it, these things are "fun" and silly and traditional, but maybe that's more to the point. We will lie to our kids in the name of a good time, but not to protect their developing minds which deserve a safe haven. Nah, bro. I ain't down with it. 

Yes, they will look back and realize what it really was, and that we told them a lie. YES, we can give them more information the older the get, but NO we don't have to be explicit about what that means when kids are four, five, six or even seven. I think a lie--a safety lie--is in order. I even think that looking back, our kids will thank us for not giving them information they really weren't ready for. The worrying needs to be left to the adults because the adults are the ones who are equipped to fix it. 

And honestly, sometimes, for all our rigid morality, the truth is simply overrated.