Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Canning Class at Frasier's Gourmet Foods

To me, canning has always seemed like mysterious alchemy. Using boiling water and a host of strange-looking tools, grandmothers everywhere monitor pectin levels and fend off evils like salmonella and botulism. With so much at stake, it's no surprise that I've never attempted the process.

Justin Miller's canning class has changed all that, demystifying the practice and establishing my canning confidence. After three hours in the Frasier's Gourmet Foods demonstration kitchen, I now understand the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and compote, and I can tell you which pectin to use for which purpose.

I also know that all of those fancy canning tools are completely unnecessary. All you really need is jars, lids, a pot for boiling water, and some tongs. Yep, that's it. For some reason I thought there was an autoclave involved.

At the end of the class, we took home a pile of instructions and four types of canned food: orange marmalade, three-berry preserves, rhubarb and strawberry compote, and hot pepper compote. They'll keep in my pantry for 12 to 18 months, but I guarantee they won't be around that long.

Interested in learning more about home food preservation? Miller recommends Pick Your Own, which has a section called "How to Can Anything."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wine and Canvas Posts July Schedule

Wine and Canvas is enjoying quite a vogue in my social circle, and my friends are all aflutter about the new July schedule, which introduces two new venues: Barcelona Tapas and Santorini Greek Kitchen. W&C has also filled in its schedule, with classes offered every night from Monday through Thursday, all month long.

The difficulty now is choosing a class. Should you paint the Beatles homage "Abbey Road" at Mass Ave Wine Shoppe, the minimalist "Cup of Joe" at Muldoon's, or the "Wine and Flowers" still life at La Mie Emilie?

Whatever you do, be sure to sign up for the W&C newsletter, which includes a $5 coupon for your next class.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mini University: Day 6

Do I really have to wait a whole year until another Mini University? Although there were a few bumps along the way, I had another wonderful "nerd vacation" this week, and I look forward to reading more throughout the year about the subjects that grabbed my interest.

We had one final class this morning, and I headed to a session on the gnostic gospel of Judas. It was a fascinating look at early Christian history, and a reminder that the Christianity we know today is just one of many viewpoints circulating in the early church. Our instructor was a great presenter, and it was a perfect capstone to a busy week.

Afterward, we convened for the commencement ceremony, complete with diplomas, the IU fight song and "Hail to Old IU." Sadly, Jessica lost the Green Beanie award to an enthusiastic freshman we call Pantsuit Jan.

If I have one criticism of Mini University, it's that the program focuses so heavily on retirees -- which, to be fair, make up the vast majority of participants. So many of the classes focused on issues of aging, and we weren't always successful in weeding out those sessions in our own schedules. I'd love to see Mini University put some effort -- and some marketing dollars -- into reinvigorating this program with young professionals. I still had a wonderful time, but I hate being the only 20-something in the room. When I'm still showing up in 30 years, will I be the only person in the room?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mini University: Day 5

We kept busy last night by devouring Irish Lion puffballs, drinking a beer at Bluebird, waiting an hour for an incorrect delivery of fresh-baked cookies from Baked, and waiting another hour for a correct delivery, but this morning we were up bright and early for our last full day of classes.

I started the morning with a class on the blues, taught by legendary professor David Baker. I was thrilled, because his classes are so popular at IU that, as a student, I always got wait-listed. He talked about the origins and evolution of the blues, and he played us lots of examples.

Funny story: He doesn't have any fancy PowerPoint with audio files. Oh, no. His wife came with him and sat at a stereo, inserting CDs on command. This guy really needs a student assistant, who could probably digitize his music collection in 43 seconds flat.

Despite that, the class was interesting, and it was a good jumping-off point for more in-depth research on the genre. I now have a list of songs and artists to explore more deeply, and I have a better understanding of how the blues influenced other genres of music, from jazz to rap.

After breakfast at Runcible Spoon, Jessica and I started the afternoon with a class called "Robots as Helpers and Companions: Social Challenges in Technology Design." We all got to play with Paro, a robotic seal used in pet therapy when children have allergies to real pets, and he was definitely the star of the show. But we also learned about current research in robotic design, and we talked about the potential ethical challenges of replacing real, human social interactions with robotic interactions. Unfortunately, it sounds like Rosie the housekeeper robot is still a few decades away.

My final class of the day was "Artists' Courtships and Early Marriages: A Time of Creative Inspiration," which discussed painters' portraits of their lovers. We discussed the context in which these were made, plus lots of romantic gossip about some of history's most famous artists. The paintings were beautiful, but the session was a tad bit dry.

Can you believe we have only one more class? I start tomorrow morning with "The Gospel of Judas: Introducing a New Discovery," but then it's time for our commencement ceremony (and the answer to this week's most pressing question: Will Jessica be named outstanding freshman and win the green beanie?).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mini University: Day 4

We finally got around to playing Sink the Biz at Nick's last night, but I swear I was totally alert when classes started at 9 a.m. today. And I'm glad I was, because my morning class was about the fall of Communism in Europe, a potentially dry subject that was presented in a fascinating way.

Our instructor discussed the ingredients that caused the Communist collapse of 1989, such as economic breakdown, human rights pressures from the West, changing consumer expectations, and Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland. He also discussed key events in the Communist downfall, such as the 1989 Polish elections (which took place on the same day as the Tienanmen Square massacre) and the Velvet Revolution in Prague.

Most interestingly, however, he addressed the question of why some former Soviet republics have succeeded as democracies while others are still struggling. The answer, he said, is that democratic traditions must be built over many years; in Poland, for example, the Solidarity movement practiced democratic principles such as election and compromise during its decade as a subversive, underground organization. When Communism fell, Solidarity members already knew how to run an organization. To really succeed, therefore, a new democracy needs a history of democratic grassroots activism -- not a good sign for fledgling democracies in places like Iraq.

My second class focused on the future of book publishing, but it was a real dud. Taught by Janet Rabinowitch, who runs Indiana University Press, the lecture focused entirely on university-based publishers. Rabinowitch had no information on commercial publishing, which meant she had to answer question after question with "I don't know." I wish she had done some background research or perhaps had a co-presenter from the commercial publishing industry.

My final class of the day was taught by Amy Cook, an assistant professor whose research is focused on why theater-goers react the way they do. Why do we cry when Cordelia is hanged, when we know perfectly well that it's all a performance? Cook's lecture today focused on the theory that performances activate something called mirror neurons, which fire when we perform an action but also when we watch that action being done by someone else. The lecture was a strange combination of scientific details and Hamlet clips, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mini University: Day 3

After a late night at Bear's Place (where I enjoyed Comedy Caravan but skipped the Hairy Bear) and a post-midnight order of Mad Mushroom cheese sticks, I might have been a bit sleepy when I strolled into my first class this morning, "Newspapers in a Paperless World." While it was engaging -- we watched a few journalism-related video clips and did a group activity -- the class wasn't what I had expected. As a freelance writer, I wanted to hear about the future of the newspaper industry; instead, we spent most of the session talking about the past.

To be fair, it wasn't really the presenter's fault. The primary population at Mini University is retirees, and almost all of them still hold subscriptions to their local papers. Many of them don't get their news online, and at least one class participant actively resents "online only" content. (She wanted to know whether such content is legal, since she pays for a subscription but doesn't receive 100 percent of the content that's produced.)

Obviously, this would have been a very different session had the primary audience been young professional freelancers with journalism degrees who are concerned about job security. While there were a few interesting historical nuggets, this session didn't really meet my needs, and I was disappointed.

My educational experience improved this afternoon. My first session was about jury selection in capital cases -- what criteria are used to select them, what biases and influences they have, etc. The presenter is working on the Capital Jury Project, which conducts surveys and in-depth interviews with former capital jurors, with many interesting results.

Fun fact of the day: In a capital case with a black defendant and a white victim, when there are no black men on the jury, the chance of the jury choosing the death penalty is 71.9 percent. But when just one black man is included on the jury, the likelihood of choosing the death penalty falls to 37.5 percent. So, about that whole racial bias thing ...

My last class of the day was a visit to the Kinsey Institute, where we heard an overview of current research projects and then toured the current gallery exhibition, a collection of erotica donated by a single collector. This class was more interesting than it was educational, but it's a good reminder of yet another world-class resource that calls IU home.

If I can crawl out of bed tomorrow after a few rounds of Sink the Biz, I will be starting the day with a class on the fall on Communism in Europe, then head to classes on the future of book publishing and the use of cognitive science in interpreting Shakespeare. One of the things I love about Mini University is that it engages so many different subjects and parts of my brain. We are having a wonderful nerd vacation!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mini University: Day 2

Today I remembered why I love Mini University. In one day, I learned about embryonic stem-cell research, the cross-influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, and the ethical and technical ramifications of Mars exploration. Plus, I got to wander around Bloomington, and later we're going to the Comedy Caravan at Mother Bear's. Really. Awesome. Day.

First off, embryonic stem cells: Our professor discussed the difference between embryonic stem cells and iPS stem cells, which are adapted from adult cells. (Summary: The iPS stem cells are not a good replacement for embryonic stem cells, even if they do solve some ethical dilemmas.) We also discussed whether stem cells will soon be used to cure diseases in humans. The answer: Although we're doing lots of basic research, we don't yet know how to integrate these cells into existing human tissues -- in other words, we can create the cells, but we don't know how to use them to cure disease.

After lunch, Jessica and I headed to Ballantine Hall for a class on the cross-influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. It was taught by legendary professor Glenn Gass, and I could have listened to him for a few more hours -- completely fascinating. Fun fact of the day: The Beatles named themselves in honor of Buddy Holly's band the Crickets. They wanted to be bugs, too.

I ended the day in a class about the technical and ethical implications of Mars exploration. We spent about fifteen minutes on upcoming Mars expeditions, including the Mars Science Lab rover that launches in 2011. Unfortunately, there are two main ethical issues with such projects. One, which I've considered, is the wisdom of spending so much money on Mars exploration when we haven't even cataloged all life on Earth. The other issue I never considered: If there is life on Mars, we are possibly contaminating the planet's ecosystem every time we conduct another mission. In other words, we're possibly damaging Martian life without realizing it. Of course, the professor felt that the potential value of the research outweighs those considerations -- but it's something important to think about.

Tomorrow is another big day: "Newspapers in a Paperless World," "Capital Jurors: Who Serves and How Do They Decide?" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" (this one at the Kinsey Institute). Oh, how I [heart] Mini University.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mini University: Day 1

Last year, IU's Mini University received our Best of Indy award for best educational experience of the year -- so it's no surprise that I'm here again in Bloomington for another round. This time, rather than coming solo, I've brought my friends Stephanie and Jessica, who are equally excited about our summer "nerd vacation."

This afternoon, we attended an information session and then faced the most difficult task of the week: choosing our classes. Several of the time slots offered obvious choices; of course I'm going to take the classes about Shakespeare, the state of the newspaper industry, and the future of book publishing. In other time slots, however, I really struggled to choose: for the Monday morning time slot, should I take a class on Ernie Pyle, stem-cell research and human cloning, or dark matter in the universe? I finally settled on the cloning class, but I'm not sure I made the right choice.

The nice part about coming with friends is that we can divide and conquer, which means I can actually learn much more (and hopefully have some great discussions along the way). On the flip side, there's much more temptation to sneak away with the girls for a game of Sink the Biz at Nick's.

Mini University officially gets underway tomorrow morning and continues through the graduation ceremony Friday morning. Check back all week for updates on our nerdy adventures!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Today's Groupon: Cooking Greek

A few days ago, I mentioned Groupon, a daily e-mail coupon that often offers discounts on adult education opportunities. Lo and behold, today's Groupon offers a 50 percent discount at Cooking Greek, the new cooking school in Carmel. If you're interested, sign up now; the coupon expires at midnight tonight.

A Green Education

Many thanks to Green Piece Indy for this tip: The Indiana Sustainable Living Fair takes place this Saturday at the Marion County Fairgrounds. Meets eco-friendly vendors, sit it on sustainability seminars and round-table discussions, and watch a variety of demonstrations -- all with the goal of reducing your carbon footprint.

(How big is your carbon footprint? Try this calculator developed by the Nature Conservancy.)

Demonstration topics include oil-seed pressing, sheep shearing, worm composting, cooking with solar ovens, preserving food (canning and freezing), identifying plants and weeds, building your own chicken coop, and making art from found objects.

In addition, here's the seminar schedule:

9:30 -- Why Biodiversity Matters
10:40 -- The ABCs of Producing Your Own Food
10:40 -- The Benefits of Raw Milk
1:30 -- Sustainability from the Ground Up
2:30 -- Who Should Control Our Food System?
2:30 -- Nourishing Our Children
3:30 -- Choices in Natural Healing
3:30 -- Unity Community Gardens
4:30 -- Cancer, Nutrition and Healing

Admission is $10/person at the gate; children younger than 12 are free (cash only).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Art Center Gift Shop Closes for Remodeling

The Indianapolis Art Center's gift shop is set to close June 26 for remodeling, so now's a great time to snap up sale-priced treasures and support both local artists and a superb adult-education venue. You'll find funky jewelry, colored-glass vases, thought-provoking paintings and much, much more.

Once the shop is closed, don't despair: You can still support local artists on Etsy, probably the best online source for handmade goods. To search for Indy artists, click the "buy" tab, then choose "shop local." At the moment, you'll find everything from personalized bookplates to hand-stitched throw pillows.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Update: Wine and Canvas

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Wine and Canvas, a great program that offers fun, relaxing painting classes in restaurants across the city. At that first class, about eight people showed up at Muldoon's, and we had a lovely time.

When I went again this week, this time to the Chateau Thomas Winery tasting room in Fishers, there were about 30 participants, and another W&T event that evening, at the Mass Ave Wine Shop, had sold out completely. Obviously the program has struck a chord, and I look forward to seeing how W&T handles its success. (Did you know they also do private events for bridal showers, baby showers, etc.?)

Pictured is the painting we did that evening. It was supposed to be painted in earth tones, but I rebelled. (Look, I'm becoming more artistic already! Now if only the "O" weren't so crooked.) I'm going again next week to a class at El Torito Grill; the painting is a Picasso-esque Cubist landscape. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Get Your Groupon

Have you signed up for Groupon? If not, do it now! You'll get a daily e-mail with a fantastic local bargain, such as restaurant coupons, massage deals, and entertainment specials.

About once a week, Groupon offers discounts on local classes. A few weeks ago, for example, they offered a discounted class at Kiss Z Cook ($35 instead of the normal $75), and another day they offered a discount on painting classes with Wine and Canvas. Today, the deal is 50 percent off flying lessons with Freedom Helicopters.

There is, of course, a catch: You have to commit to the deal right away, usually within 24 or 48 hours, and pay up front. In theory, the coupon doesn't activate until a certain number of people sign up (thus the name of the service), but I've never known that to be a problem.

And, if you decide to take those helicopter lessons, let me know! I'd love to hear how it goes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Introduction to Meditation

This month, the Dromtonpa Buddhist Center is partnering with Indy Parks & Recreation to offer "Introduction to Meditation," a six-week course with teacher Kathy Ryan. The class runs on Wednesdays, 7-8:30 p.m., from June 16 to July 21, at the Broad Ripple Parks and Family Center. To register, call (317) 327-7161 or send an e-mail.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

IMA Offers Artists' Forum

The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park opens June 20, and the IMA has scheduled a bazillion grand-opening events to celebrate the 100-acre project. Among them is the 100 Acres Artists' Forum, featuring the eight artists who created outdoor art installations for the park.

At 11 a.m., Saturday, June 19, the artists will discuss their work with the museum's CEO, curators of contemporary art, and other IMA staff involved in the park's development. The forum is free, but tickets are required.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

City Market Cooking Classes

If you work downtown, you can get an education fix during your lunch hour: City Market is offering demonstration-style cooking classes each Wednesday from noon to 1:30 p.m., now through the end of October. The classes are free and no reservation is required, and each class is repeated every week of the month -- so, if that conference call runs longer than expected, no worries!

Here's the schedule of this year's topics:
  • June -- Food allergies: gluten-free grains and baking
  • July -- Heart disease: high-soluble fiber, low-sodium and low-fat options
  • August -- Vegan and vegetarian cuisine
  • September -- Diabetes: cooking with whole grains and legumes, healthy snacks and omega-3s
  • October -- Cancer: cooking with colors (natural plant pigments), organic and soy options, using herbs and spices