Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beading for a Cause

Greetings LIFEers. This week's class was about beading for a cause. The project: lanyards. The cause: children's neuroblastoma cancer foundation. The LIFE class spent our hour happily beading lanyards, the strings that go around the neck to hold a name badge or security card. Most lanyards you buy are boring fabric or elastic, but you can turn your lanyard into an attractive necklace through beading. Our instructors were from the NB Lanyard Project, a devoted group of mothers who create and sell lanyards to raise money for the children's neuroblastoma cancer foundation.

Neuroblastoma is the most common form of cancer in infants, with an incidence rate almost double that of leukemia, and has one of the lowest survival rates of all childhood cancers. The average age at diagnosis is 17 months, and nearly 70% of children are at the advanced stage of the disease by that time. But despite these startling facts, children's neuroblastoma research is tragically underfunded compared to other childhood diseases. All of the lanyards made in our LIFE class this week were donated to the NB Lanyard Project to help raise funds for this tragic disease.

For more information on The NB Lanyard Project, go to

For more information on children's neuroblastoma, go to

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Convex, Double Bevel and Chisel Point

Have you ever been out to dinner with a terrible conversationalist and thought to yourself, "someone, please, sharpen this knife"? If so, Professor Jason Moulenbelt is here to save the day, by teaching us LIFEers how to sharpen knives and other blades. (Side note: injuring yourself to get out of boring or awkward situations is never advisable. Instead, try faking a headache or an emergency phone call.) It was a full hour my friends, and the class hung on Jason's every word. The excited tension in the room was so thick you could cut it with a ...well, anyway, moving on.

Did you know that in most states you can only legally carry a blade that is 4" or less, but here in Texas, it is 5"? Which made Jason guilty of only one count of bringing a weapon on our campus, for the 9"golok, which was pretty cool. Jason walked us through the anatomy of a knife, ways to tell if your blade needs to be sharpened or honed, and then methods of sharpening or honing your blades. FYI, did you know scissors are merely two long chisel points put together on a pivot? That being said, you still shouldn't run with scissors, or chisels.

Sharpening vs honing? Who will win? Actually, you will, when you learn the right way to do both, since you will have knives in great shape, ready to cut through anything with minimal effort. Sharpness is defined by how well your knife cuts into something. Honing will make sure the blade is straight and thus makes a clean cut. An easy test to tell if your blade is dull is the thumbnail test. Run your blade GENTLY over the back of your thumbnail. If the blade bumps along, then it needs to be sharpened.

To sharpen your blades, you can either do it yourself, or take your blade to, as Jason put it, " a reputable knife sharpening place, not the mall." To do it yourself, you can use several tools, but Jason was quick to remind us that you get what you pay for. The best sharpening tools are usually Japanese water stones, Arkansas water stones, or diamond files. The stones need to be kept wet so the metal filings coming off the blade get whisked away and not embedded in the pores of the stone. Remember in the old days when your grandpa used to spit on the stone before sharpening his knife? Same principal.

To sharpen stones, pay attention to the angle you are holding the blade as you push the edge away from you. One way to tell you have the correct angle is to color the edge with a magic marker. When you sharpen at the correct angle, you should remove all the color. Also, pay attention to the grit of the sharpening material. A lower grit removes more material, but most knives don't need a low grit sharpening unless you really damaged your knife. When honing, pull the knife towards you on a firm strop. Strops can be made of many types of material, but are traditionally leather.

See the pictures below of our exciting class, including Jason's arsenal, I mean, tool display. Then read the slide show about blades, edges, and ways to sharpen a knife. With so much knowledge, soon you'll be the sharpest knife in the drawer! Aaaaaaaand I'm done. See you next week!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Greetings LIFEers; this was an exciting week as we got out of our chairs and put our dancing shoes on! We were joined this week by John Clement from the Houston International Folk Dancers, who gave us the fundamentals of folk dancing. Folk dancing is defined as any dance that people do in a social situation. As such, folk dancing changes over time. You could argue that the rock & roll dances of the 60s were a type of folk dance, that gave way to disco in the 70s and hip-hop of the 80s and 90s. But generally, people think of folk dancing as group dances done in lines or circles with simple steps. We learned several of these dances this week.

From Serbia, to Greece to the Israeli Waiter Dance, the LIFE class took a dancing tour of Europe. Of course, mere words cannot describe the dances. To get the most out of it, you must participate. This was the first time in LIFE history that our regular meeting room actually got HOT! But the time flew by as we danced around the room, and we thanked John for his instruction and his patience.

For more information on folk dancing in the Houston area, check out the Houston International Folk Dancers web page, where they offer group dances and instruction.

Until next time....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eating in the Raw

Bon appetit! That's what Julia Child always said at the end of her show, the French Chef, after teaching her audience how to cook meats, casseroles and sauces heavy in cream and butter. But as delicious as her food was, healthy it was not (unless you include the healthy French lifestyle of lots of walking and activity) which is why there is a focus on healthier eating through raw foods. Our LIFE class was thrilled to learn all about it from Elizabeth Harris, who joined us from her newly opened restaurant, Art of Pure Food.

So what is raw/pure food? Well, raw food is any food that is uncooked (or cooked under 114°F) unprocessed and organic (all natural soil, fertilizers and pesticides). Eating food raw gives you the active enzymes and nutrients that cooking and processing usually destroys. Living food consists of plant seeds that have sprouted, so their enzymes are at their most vital and active. Raw and living foods have more antioxidants, less fat, less cholesterol, fewer calories and helps you build and maintain a healthy digestive tract.

Although this seems like a recent trend, this diet has been practiced and preached for over one thousand years, and started to take off in the west as early as 1900, although it didn't reach mainstream culture until the 1980s here in America, with the publication of Leslie Kenton's book "Raw Energy-Eat Your Way to Radiant Health". Today, most grocery stores have organic produce and vegetarian/vegan sections of their stores to cater to this diet. And of course, there are restaurants sprouting up that have only raw foods on the menu. While scientists and nutritionists still debate the pros and cons of a full vegan diet, there is no doubt that a diet high in vegetables, grains and fruits is best.

Now you may be thinking, carrots and celery for the rest of my life, how exciting. But that is where restaurants like Art of Pure Food step in. You can eat many of your favorite dishes (including desserts, yeah!) following the raw food diet. And to prove that, Elizabeth taught us how to make chocolate truffles, which were delicious and nutritious, two words that I thought don't normally go together.

Chocolate Truffles
Prep time: 15 minutes - Servings: 24 truffles

  • 1 1/2 cups raw almonds soaked overnight & drained

  • 1/4 cup raw organic cacao powder

  • 5 pitted dates soaked for 30 minutes

  • 1/4 cup organic raisins soaked 30 minutes

  • 1/2 cup raw shredded organic coconut
    • Instructions:

      Soak the almonds for approximately 8 hours and drain. Soak raisins and dates for 30 minutes, drain water and set aside. Place drained almonds and cacao powder in food processor and process until finely chopped. Add drained pitted dates and raisins to processor with almonds and cacao, process until everything is combined and mixture starts to pull away from the sides into a paste. Remove mixture and roll into small balls the size of a nickle. Roll the balls in the shredded coconut. Other suggestions: roll into cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts instead. Keep refrigerated.

      If you'd like to visit Art of Pure Food, please see the link the below. They also teach classes in raw cooking, accept groups and feature art of local artists on their walls. Bon appetit!

      Art of Pure Foods
      14520 Memorial Drive, Suite 16
      Houston, TX 77079

      Wednesday, September 1, 2010

      From Fantasy Coffins to Funerals of the Famous

      Greetings LIFEers! This week's class was a grave history in funeral and burial history. Our instructor was Lucy Gonzales, from the National Museum of Funeral History here in Houston. Our parking situation is crazy here at the college, due to the start of the semester and all the construction, so she was a little late, but fortunatly not late....get it? Late. Just a little funeral humor to get you going. Not funny? Hmm, usually knocks them dead at the funeral da bum. Anyone, anyone? Man, this crowd is a bunch of stiffs.......okay, I'll stop.

      So, burial history. Fascintating subject. Did you know back in the 1800s and 1900s that many funerals were held in the home? The funeral director would come to your house, clear out your living room and bring all the necessary furniture to display the body. A family member sat with the body day and night until the burial. Families were required to wear mourning colors (usually black, although white is also a traditional color worn to funerals) for 2 years after the death of a loved one. After 2 years they could wear a little beige color around the cuffs and collar. They could return to regular clothes after 4 years. Imagine that, 4 years of wearing mostly black. While very slimming, it seems like it would become depressing, especially with higher mortality rates in those days. Some folks could wear black for decades. Queen Victoria, so distraught over her husband Prince Albert's death, wore black for the rest of her life (40 years), although she disliked black funerals, so for her funeral London was decorated in purple and white.

      Now the ancient Egyptians embalmbed their dead, and we still do today, but we use modern(ish) techniques. Embalming is mostly a Christian/western practice today. Traditional Jewish law and Islamic law forbids embalming and encourages burial within 24 hours of the death, if possible, and Hinduism discourages embalming. As we learn more about the toxicity of formaldehyde (probable carcinogin), more and more people are choosing not to be embalmed. The embalming process is really for the living, to better present the deceased to loved ones, who can more easily grieve for the deceased if they appear more life like. The last decade has seen the rise of green funerals; deceased not being embalmed, and being burried in biodegradable caskets under trees instead of tombstones.

      For more information on the history of funerals, including presidential and papal memorabilia, visit the National Museum of Funeral History, off I-45 between Airtex and Richie.

      Check out this SlideShare Presentation: