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If ever spring were eagerly anticipated, it is this year. Every ray of sunshine that peaks out from behind a gray cloud, every bud on every tree, every colorful blossom replaces winter fatigue and gloom with hope and a physical reassurance that, no matter what, spring is indeed imminent.

There is more daylight and all too soon, daylight saving time will begin again, giving a false impression of much longer days while casting early mornings back into dark shadows. It’s a mixed blessing, one many of us abhor, but this year, anything and everything helps.

We always hear about spring cleaning, something typically applied to our homes, to the cobwebs that have gathered in the dark corners of our rooms, to the broken branches and tree limbs brought down by storms, to the mud tracked through the house. It’s fine and necessary to throw open our curtains, open our doors, and spend a few days cleaning.

But it is important to focus on ourselves, too, with spring foods that brighten us from the inside out. Some people think this means a cleanse with special foods, tonics, tinctures, and an avoidance of most things that bring us pleasure. But, as a source now forgotten said in a recent article, our bodies are not toxic dumps; they are self-cleaning ovens. It’s a good point, I think. If we simply celebrate spring and all that it offers, it is enough. A seasonal diet is all the cleansing we need.

For more spring recipes, including tonics and elixirs, from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.


Congee is delicious and nourishing year round but especially valuable when you’re recovering from an illness or simply feeling gloomy, depressed,or under the weather. This version has evolved over my several years of making it. For a heartier meal when your appetite is blossoming, consult the variations at the end of the recipe. Turmeric is a widely acknowledged anti-inflammatory but it must be eaten with black pepper to be absorbed so don’t leave out the pepper.

Congee with Sweet Potatoes, Nettle and Turmeric

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup white rice of choice

1/2 cup diced sweet potato

— Kosher salt

3 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable stock

4-6 ounces fresh nettles

— Handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

— Black pepper in a mill

— Fish sauce

— Hot sauce

1/2 lemon

Pour the oil into a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the rice, and sauté for about a minute. Add the sweet potato and sauté 2 minutes more. Season with salt, add the stock and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat.

Using tongs, lift the nettles and plunge them into the boiling liquid, holding them there for about 30 seconds, until they are fully wilted. Lift out and set on a clean work surface to cool

Cook the rice and sweet potatoes until the mixture is very thick, about 1½ hours; the sweet potatoes should nearly fall apart. Add water or stock as needed; the mixture should have the consistency of a thick soup, not risotto.

Chop the nettles when they have cooled.

When the rice is fully tender and the liquid rich and thick, stir in the nettles, the parsley, the turmeric, and several turns of black pepper. Cook 5 minutes more, taste and correct for salt.

Remove from the heat.

To serve, ladle into cups or bowls and to with fish sauce, hot sauce, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The congee will keep for three to four days in the refrigerator.

Variations: Sauté a pound of ground beef, ground pork, or ground lamb until just done, season it with salt and pepper, and stir it into the congee with the nettles.

Top each portion with a lightly poached egg before adding the condiments.


This recipe is adapted from a dish in “A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens” (Knopf, 1999) by Nina Simonds, a favorite book by a favorite writer. Simonds recommends it as a perfect hedge against that sore throat that often signals the onset of a cold. It is also ideal for anyone who prefers things on the sweet side.

Soothing Pear Congee

Makes 8 to 10 servings

1/2 cup Arborio or other Italian short-grained rice, rinsed in cool water and drained

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 star anise

— Poached Pears in Cinnamon-Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)

1 orange or lemon, zested, optional

Put the rice, salt, and star anise into a medium saucepan, add 5 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan, and simmer until the rice is very tender and the mixture thick, about 1½ hours. Add more water as needed.

Meanwhile, prepare the pears and syrup. When the rice is tender, stir the pear mixture into the rice and simmer gently, for about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, use tongs to remove and discard the star anise. and ladle the congee into soup bowls or cups and enjoy. This congee will keep in the refrigerator for three to four days.


Poached Pears in Cinnamon-Ginger Syrup

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

8 thin slices of fresh ginger, crushed

6 firm-ripe pears

2 lemons, cut in half

Put 10 cups of water into a medium saucepan, add the sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Use a vegetable peeler to peel each pear and rub the outside of each one, after peeling, with lemon to prevent browning. Carefully lower each peeled pear into the simmer water and squeeze in the juice of the lemons. Simmer very gently for about 25 minutes, or until the pears are just tender. Transfer the pears to a plate or bowl to cool.

Use tongs to remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and ginger and turn the heat to high.

Boil until the liquid thickens considerably and develops the consistency of a syrup. There should be about 1 1/2 cups.

Cut the pears in half, remove the cores, and cut into small dice. Stir into the syrup. Use according to directions in the main recipe.


This refreshing tonic, which appeared in Seasonal Pantry several years ago, is offered again by request from a couple of readers. It helps shake the cobwebs of winter out of one’s head and, if you have been sick, other parts of the body, as well. It is easily doubled and even tripled.

Hot Ginger Lemonade

Makes 1 quart

4 ounces fresh ginger root, thinly sliced or chopped

2-3 lemons, juiced and strained

— Simple syrup or honey, to taste

— Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, whiskey, Scotch or brandy, optional

Put the ginger into a saucepan and add about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, remove from the heat and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes.

Strain the water into a clean pitcher or quart jar and discard the ginger. Add the lemon juice along with enough water to make 4 cups. Add simple syrup or honey to taste.

Serve warm, with or without a shot of vinegar, whiskey, Scotch or brandy.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 24 books to date. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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