I recently started reading a new blog, Year of Congee, written by Lorelle Saxena. It is an account of her commitment to eat Congee for breakfast every day for a full year. First of all, my spell check doesn’t know what Congee is, and until I read the blog, I didn’t either. What I can tell you now, having done some research, is that it is a super delicious- and healthy-looking rice-based meal.
I won’t go into a lot of detail because really, you should read about it for yourself, and I am not the one to do it justice. I will, however, share with you my reactions to reading about Congee, so far.
My first and most lasting reaction was one of awe and bewilderment. I am always unreasonably taken aback and highly impressed when watching – or in this case, reading about – someone I know preparing food that is healthy, delicious, and to them, second nature. Especially when it involves nonchalantly slinging ingredients I’ve never heard of (tea eggs? galangal root? pandanus leaves?) like it’s no big thing. Meh, what? You don’t keep daum salaam leaves in your pantry? Hm. *shrug*
The next reaction surprised me. While reading, I found myself feeling a little bit envious – in the same way that, as a kid, I would sometimes hover in the background at a friend’s house, biting my lower lip, observing in giddy/jealous wonder as the family all sat down to dinner together, or discussed a current event, or listened attentively to each other and responded with genuine interest. I wanted what they had. And when I read about the preparation and eating of Congee, I want what Lorelle has, too. Namely, a familiarity and ease with a warm, healthy, satisfying, seemingly soul-nurturing food.
Luckily, with the benefit of age and life experience, I can step back from that feeling and realize that I can’t change my own past. I can’t change who my parents were and how they chose to feed and interact with me. I can’t change that while some people eat and actually enjoy greens, seeds, leaves, spices and herbs and an entire world of other things that they prepare and put into their mouths without a second thought, my body tells me without variation that it wants cheese, bread, and pasta.
If I had chosen a different path in life, still lived in the cold climate I came from, never stepped out into the world and experienced whole foods and home-grown eating, I would probably still be making mac n’ cheese from scratch, never measuring the cheese, butter or milk but just putting in more than humanly necessary, because that’s what tastes good, and that is what my body asked for. I would also probably be quite obese (find my ‘recipe’ HERE!). When I say I would “still be” doing it, I of course mean I’d be doing it every week, as opposed to say, once or twice a year, because you know I never actually went cold turkey on the mac. No way – that would be unthinkable!
Every once in a while, I like to allow myself to step back and recognize that my eating habits could benefit from some change. I’m often a bit roly-polier than I’d prefer, and I know the easiest way to change that is through diet. Still, I have to make a special effort to prepare and eat healthy foods for myself. When it comes to cooking for others, especially my children, I’m a big vegetables and quinoa and kale pusher – when I’m cooking for myself it’s a cheese quesadilla cooked in butter and drenched in canned salsa.
And it is so good. And it is so bad for me. And it makes me soooo happy.
Because I was raised without balanced meals or nutritional guidance, I have no idea how to taper out of my eating habits and into something more beneficial to my body. Sure, I could learn this, but why would I when everything I crave is so damn delicious?!
I realized that I feel the same way about starchy carby cheesy food that Lorelle feels about Congee: it is comfort food. And perhaps if I can try, and learn to prepare, and maybe to love, and ultimately to find comfort in Congee – or another variation of a well-balanced, healthy addition to my diet – then perhaps I will be started on the right path – that being a path I’ve always been curious about and wished I knew a way to get to, without climbing too many obstacles or really even breaking much of a sweat. Because I’m lazy like that.
Or, maybe I can just stop wishing I was in someone else’s dining room.