25 February 2015

Finally working on my February square

Progress photo for February block of 2015 Block a Month Crochet-along.

This has not been an easy month for me. My MS symptoms, which have been non-existent for months, are showing up again. The symptoms are mild compared to what others with this condition suffer with, but they are still annoying to me. Add them to the daily misery of my job, and I haven't had much motivation to work on my afghan squares. Then this week, I started getting yarn fever again so I finally got started on my February square. I'm still feeling a bit down, but I think I would feel worse if I didn't meet my goal of finishing at least one square a month.

As usual, my photography skills are sub-par. The yellow is true, but the outside color that shows as blue is actually purple. I'm trying to find a green that I like in my stash to be the background for this flower. I want to utilize what I have on hand rather than buy more, so I may end up using a shade I am not totally satisfied with. My instincts with color are not the best; I may dislike the color in the individual square, but the combination of colors in the finished afghan usually grows on me. I shall push forward through my misgivings so the project won't grind to a halt.

04 February 2015

Notes on my congee experiment

I posted to Facebook that I was trying to cook congee for the first time, and a pal from my parenting group wanted a recipe. Well, this was my first time making it and I consulted about 10 different recipes before striking out on my own with my congee experiment. It was a hit with my family, so I am sharing notes on what I did.

The first thing you should know is that congee, or rice porridge, takes a lot more liquid than your average 2-to-1 ratio for making fluffy white rice.  This is what I used for today's dinner:

--8 cups of chicken broth
--3/4 cup of white rice

Let's start with the liquid. You can use water if you want to make a plain congee that will be used as a palette for other strong flavors. I used chicken broth made with bouillon because I knew I was adding chicken later.

As for the rice, many recipes call for jasmine rice. I personally don't like jasmine rice. The one time I've had it, I couldn't handle the perfume-y taste. I used white rice. I don't know if it was medium-grain or long-grain rice -- we buy whatever the basic inexpensive white rice is at the grocery store and dump it into our rice container as soon as we get it home.

Another thing that differed among the recipes is whether to wash the rice. Many recipes didn't mention washing the rice, but the ones that did mention washing the rice emphasized it strongly. As far as I could tell, the bloggers who said to wash the rice were Asian so I figured that was more authentic advice. Some said wash it twice and others said wash repeatedly until the water is clear. I split the difference and washed my rice three times.

Anyway, let's get to cooking! I put the rice, the broth, and four dime-size slices of ginger in my slow cooker and put in on high. This was a big mistake because it ended up boil over twice. Next time I would start earlier and put it on low.

At the same time, I put three chicken thighs and three drumsticks in my other slow cooker with water and a garlic/black pepper spice blend. They were frozen because I didn't think ahead, but they still cooked in time. I am saving the leftover water for another soup. I hesitate to call it "stock" because it tastes like greasy water to me, just like every other time I've tried to make stock. Maybe it will taste better when I use it for the next soup and fancy it up with more seasoning and some onions and carrots.

After about six hours, the congee was the consistency of thin oatmeal. I was supposed to pull the ginger out at this point, but I couldn't find it. Hopefully no one bites down on it and gets a shock! I added the shredded chicken and a can of no-salt-added corn. Scoop it into your bowl and add a little soy, sesame oil, or fish sauce.  Most recipes call for adding chopped green onions which I'm sure I would have enjoyed, but I didn't have any on hand.

As I said, we all enjoyed the end result. Even ABM ate it, which is unusual because he has pretty much been preparing his own food since getting his lap band several years ago. I would definitely do this again because it isn't that much work, and it is definitely going in the book of staple recipes for the kids.



Less stitching, more cooking, and other nonsense

We are couple days into February, and I am already trying to talk myself back into my year-long afghan square project. The first crochet square for January went fine, but instead of going on and doing the second January crochet square I thought I should make a start on my knit afghan square. Not only did I make a royal screw-up of the pattern, but it also hurt my hands so much that I haven't even looked at yarn since I posted the square-in-progress two weeks ago. For now at least, crochet seems to be easier on my hands than knitting. I feel like such a quitter dropping the knitted squares this early in the year, but I know myself. If I force myself to finish the knitted January square before I move on to anything else, then I will just keep putting it off and not get anything done. So for now, I'm setting the 2015 Block-A-Month Knit-along aside and moving forward with the crocheted squares.

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This week I've spent some quality time with my slow cooker on both of my days off.  I think I'm cooking to avoid my homework because I can't think of a premise for my project! At any rate, today I am trying my hand at making congee, which is an Asian rice porridge that you can dress up with any manner of flavorings. ABM accidentally made something similar when he tried to make chicken and rice soup and the kids enjoyed it, so I figured I should try making it on purpose.

C1 has expressed an interest in cooking her meals ahead for the week. I explained to her the concept of once-a-month cooking, and we may end up trying it. I tried it once 15+ years ago with little success and I keep meaning to try it again now that I am more experienced in the kitchen. There are also more once-a-month cookbooks out with different recipes that may work better for me.

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It's been over a year since I started my current job. I am still fighting the blues, but I guess you could say I am making some progress. I've gone from being physically ill before every shift to being resigned to the fact that this is my life right now. Even after ABM finds a job, I won't be able to quit because we've got to dig ourselves out of debt. So my life now isn't about me being happy; it's about keeping my head up for my kids. After 21 years, I'm finally learning what it means to sacrifice for your children.

29 January 2015

It's FAFSA time!

Most people are thinking about the big Super Bowl game, but for parents of high school seniors this is FAFSA time. When all of my pals in my parenting group started griping about filling out the FAFSA, I knew I couldn't put it off any longer. So I used my day off to get it done. With me and all three of my girls taking classes this fall, I had to fill it out four times. Luckily, I've done it several times before so it was difficult -- just tedious. This isn't the end, either. Since we haven't done our taxes yet, I had to use estimates for the financial information. I'll have to go back in and replace the estimates with proper numbers from the tax form once it is filed, but at least the estimates get the process going so that we can get financial aid offers from the schools. If I remember correctly from Maia's first year, we had all the offers in hand by May.

As for which schools the twins will be attending, it is almost narrowed down. C1 was accepted at NC A&T and NC Central, so she will probably be going to one of those two. C2 wasn't quite as proactive as her sister when it came to filling out applications, so she may end up going to Gaston College for a year or two and then transferring. I'll just be glad when summer comes around and we definitely know where everyone is going.

22 January 2015

Block-A-Month: January knit-along block


This is the beginning of my January block for the knit-long that I joined. Unlike the crochet-long, this project doesn't have filler blocks or anything. It it just one block a month. I knit this much in one evening and then I didn't touch it for a week. It's not that I didn't want to work on it, but my body betrayed me once again. This time it was a headache and neck pain that took me several days to get rid of. The block is a fairly simple basketweave pattern, so I expect to be able to finish it by the end of the month if I don't have more pain to get in the way.

One other thing that may stall my needlework progress is that the spring semester has started. I only have two classes this semester, but they are both project-based. This makes me happy because the hands-on classes are my favorite. However, I don't know how much time I will have to knit and crochet. I may end up playing catch up with my squares at the end of the semester.