my first organized tandem cycling experience ever

Okay, so what I thought would’ve been my first organized bike ride on our tandem bicycle actually turned out to be the Moonlight Ramble, a ride benefitting Bike Houston, an organization that advocates for Houston to move toward becoming a bike friendly city. One of their most recent endeavors was getting the city to place bike racks on Metro buses so that bikers could transport their bikes using public transportation. Yes, this is something that almost every large U.S. city has been doing for years, but Houston, with their SUV and pick-up truck culture, has yet to yield to cyclists.

John and I were sitting at home last night doing what couples do when there’s nothing else to do on a Saturday night–we were watching The Silence of the Lambs (a movie that my husband had never seen until yesterday)–when John saw on Twitter that there was an organized bike ride to be held at 2 AM. And with nothing better to do, we decided to ride, convincing our friend Daniel to join us. So three hours later, we were at the George R. Brown Convention Center with our gloves on and helmets strapped under our chins. There were two paths: the short route (10 miles) and the long route (20 miles). Of course, we planned to do only the short route as it being two in the morning, we weren’t too keen on getting to bed at dawn.

They started us off in waves promptly at two. At first, there was a lot of stop-and-go traffic since we were obeying traffic lights. But soon, impatience got the better of everyone, and we were riding through red lights so long as there was no oncoming traffic. We rode through downtown and saw all the clubgoers stumbling out of the bars, honking at us for getting in their way and permitting them to only go ten miles per hour down downtown streets. We rode through the Medical Center, the Museum District, the Galleria.

“Where’s the split off for the short route?” Daniel asked one of the volunteers once we were seven miles in.

“Oh, that was way back there. Back at the fountain,” the man said.

After much cursing, we decided it was easier to just finish off the 20 miles than backtrack to the short route fork. We biked up the 610 feeder, down Memorial, all the while feeling perturbed that we were so much closer to home than to the Convention Center and thus, the end of the ride. Then John got the brilliant idea that we should break off from the route, bike home, and Daniel would take John to pick up his car at George R. Brown.

“That is the best idea ever!” I said, patting John on the back. Suddenly, things looked brighter, hopeful.

“Wait, my car keys are in John’s car,” Daniel said.

Egad! Now we really had no choice but to finish off the 20 miles. I nearly cried when we rode past the Memorial-Washington intersection. So close to home, yet so far.

We reached the car at 3:48 AM, earlier than I’d thought it’d be, later than Daniel had hoped it would be.

“Worst idea ever,” John remarked as we drove home.

Later, he apologized to me for “putting me through this.” But in actuality, I didn’t mind it. It was something different to do on a Saturday night. It was my first time participating in an organized ride, and on a tandem nonetheless. It gave me a chance for some much needed exercise. It felt nice to smell and hear things other than the smells and sights of Memorial Park. I got to say I survived biking 20 miles, my longest ride yet, and felt good about it–no soreness, no pain (other than the bike seat jabbing my crotch for two hours). Mostly, it was nice to do something with my hubby, something he used to do without me. Yes, this is only the beginning. I will slowly invade all his activities, seep into every crack and crevice of his life. Soon we will be one of those couples that can’t do anything without the other. Soon I will learn to golf.

hrw take 4: the final cut

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77057
713-780-7352


4/5 raspberry sorbets

Note: Sorry, no photos for this post; the restaurant was just too dark for any of that business.

The final cut as in the filet mignon cut. Okay, bad joke, I know.

During our August Supper Club experience, we decided to hit up Pappas Bros. for steaks as part of Houston Restaurant Week. This was my second time eating here. I’ve found that steakhouses are usually the best bet when it comes to HRW so I was looking forward to the dinner.

We were seated promptly at our reservation time and served a baguette and butter. John and I could not get enough of their French bread and butter–you could say we were still on a Paris kick–it was so simple yet fresh-tasting, soft, and so complementary of one another. Throughout our entire dinner, we must’ve gone through three or four servings of bread, and the waiter, upon noting John’s enthusiasm, offered to pack us a hot one to go. Nice.

For the first course, I tried something off the menu which was a beer-based cheese soup infused with bacon and jalapeno. It tasted very “American,” almost like a baked potato or jalapeno popper in liquid form. The concept may sound gross, but was served in a small portion (plus I shared it with another dinner guest) so it wasn’t overwhelming at all.

For our second courses, I had the filet mignon cooked medium rare topped with a smoked mushroom ragout and jumbo grilled shrimp, John had the live Maine lobster with butter garlic sauce, and our friend Christian ordered the dry aged prime New York strip. All entrees came with a side of mashed potatoes and haricots verts (which are the fancy French version of green beans–they’re typically longer and skinnier than their American counterpart). Per a friend’s suggestion who ate there a previous night, we ordered the crab mac ‘n cheese (off the menu), and while it was palatable, I wouldn’t say it was anything great. (Stay tuned for an even better mac ‘n cheese recipe right here on this site.) And to make it worse, I felt sick eating it the next day, and it cost us like $20 for a side dish! Other than that, all of our main dishes were wonderful as expected.

For dessert, we tried the New York cheesecake (so-so, but I’m not the huge cheesecake fan I used to be) and the raspberry sorbet. The sorbet was served in a chocolate shell cup and fulfilled a much needed craving for something lighter and refreshing after such a heavy meal. Definitely a good pick.

I must say we ended HRW on a high note. Until next year…

In the meantime, what’s your favorite Houston steakhouse? Or where did you eat your best steak? I know of two friends who claim Pappas Bros. has the best steaks. They’re good but I think Del Frisco’s is also up there, and I have yet to try Fleming’s or Morton’s or Mo’s. Any opinions?

eat a donut, ride a bike, make a wish come true

This week, John and I signed up to participate in the upcoming 2010 Tour de Donut on November 7 at 8:00 AM in Katy. The Tour de Donut is a charity bike ride supporting the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation the largest wish-granting organization that brings joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. The Foundation first started in 1980 when seven-year-old Christopher Greicius who was undergoing treatment for leukemia wished every day that he would grow up to be a police officer. One thing grew into another, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born, becoming big enough to warrant pop culture references (e.g. in “The Wink” episode of “Seinfeld”). In all seriousness, though, the Foundation does some great work, and with a cousin’s one-year-old daughter who died last year from neuroblastoma, I’m all for this line of charity.

The Tour de Donut’s concept is to bike one of two routes (28 vs. 55 miles) in the fastest time possible. A-ha, but here’s the trick. The more donuts you eat, the more minutes get shaved off your cycle time. The irony is blatant, but it’s all in good fun. This will be John’s third year doing the ride, and he said he’s even seen someone make a necklace out of the donuts to munch on while biking. Hardcore. But the grand prize this year, so I hear, are two ski lift tickets to a resort in Colorado. (Can anyone verify this?) So I’d say the snowy fun to be had may be worth the fashion sacrifice of a donut necklace.

This also marks our first supported ride on our tandem bicycle, not to mention my first supported ride ever. Hopefully our KHS holds up. We need a name for our tandem. Any suggestions?

I’ll blog about the Tour experience afterward, but in the meantime, why don’t you down some donuts, ride some bikes, and make some wishes come true? Click here to learn more about the Tour de Donut and register. I’ll see you there with a mouthful of glazed goodness a la Homer Simpson.

hrw take 3

Masraff’s
1025 S. Post Oak Ln.
Houston, TX 77056
713-355-1975


4/5 melt-in-your-mouth chocolate fondants

We happened on this place by accident, meaning it was a last-minute decision to go. But lucky for us, it turned out to be the best HRW dinner we’d had so far. Things seem to be on the up and up. Here are the courses we tried:

Calamari

Yummy calamari: the garlic & cilantro were key

First course:

  • Wild mushroom ravioli in a truffle sage broth
  • Garlic seared calamari in a soy reduction with oyster mushroom, shaved onion, and cilantro
Strip steak

So filling

Second course:

  • Pan seared New Zealand sea bass cooked in miso butter with leek couscous, oyster mushroom, and corn compote
  • Pan seared New York strip in red wine reduction with potato lyoannaise and pommes frites

Chocolate fondant

Got milk?


Pear creme brulee

A creme brulee in a pear peel!

Third course:

  • Warm double chocolate fondant with vanilla bean ice cream and and creme anglais
  • Butter roasted pear creme brulee and whole berry sauce

All of the dishes were excruciatingly delicious. The calamari was dressed in chunks of garlic and cilantro, the sea bass’s corn and couscous sides were flavorful, the creme brulee came in an actual cute pear bbowl, and the chocolate fondant was fudgy rich. Two questions for Masraff’s though:

  1. Why did the steak come with two sides of potatoes? This seemed a bit too starchy.
  2. What do all of those fancy words mean in your menu?

I can’t answer the first question, but I’ll attempt to answer the second. A compote is a traditionally a dessert of stewed or baked fruit. I assume the chef prepared the corn either in liquid or in the oven for a long period of time for it to be called a compote. The potatoes lyonnaise simply means potatoes cooked with onions. Pommes frites are a fancy way of saying French fries–and Masraff’s happens to serve them like shoestrings. And creme anglais is French for “English cream,” a light, pouring custard used as a dessert cream or sauce. Now there you have it: all these fancy culinary French-inspired terms to throw around in your kitchen next time you want to show off to your dinner party guests.

The self-proclaimed chef stopped by our table to ask how the food was, and I appreciate it when the busy man of the hour takes the time to visit with the guests. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our Masraff’s experience. Next time, we’ll have to spend some time at the live piano bar and try the real menu.

recap: 2010 rare neuroimmunologic disorders symposium

Three weeks ago, I attended UT Southwestern’s 2010 Rare Neuroimmunologic Disorders symposium in Dallas, Texas. At the time, it seemed like three long days of sitting in ballrooms listening to medical jargon for eight hours a day; my rear end and brain hurt by the end of each session. But somehow, like Rituxan, I knew it was one of those things where I had to suck it up because in the end, it would be good for me.

When we first heard about the symposium, John had said that the more we know, the better we’ll be equipped to deal with the future. So despite the time and efforts and money it took, we showed up, laptops in tow–mine for note-taking, John’s for amusement should he get bored. (And if you know us, both were inevitable.) The symposium was broken into two sections: the Basic Science side (for physicians and researchers) and the Clinical side (for patients and their caregivers). I mostly attended the Clinical portion except for one discussion regarding stem cell therapy done on the Science side by Dr. Richard Burt from Northwestern University.

After the long weekend, every time I was asked, “So how was it?”, I answered honestly: “Good, I guess. I don’t know. It was hard to sit through all that medical talk.” In truth, I was still digesting all the information–and boy, was there a lot to chew on. I’m not going to bore you with everything I learned. But I must say, in retrospect, I’m really thankful I had the chance to go. I met fellow patients with whom I now keep in touch, some whom I will see again at the 2010 NMO Patient Day in November. One such person I met attended the symposium alone. Her name is Brenda, and she approached me just as I was exiting the restroom. Out of the blue, she asked me about my case, my vision loss, my story. We ended up speaking at length, and when I introduced her to John, she thanked him for being such a supportive husband and taking me to this and sitting through it all. When we told her we were newlyweds, she actually started crying.

“I thought I would have to get better before God would give me a husband, but it brings me such joy in knowing that God loves you so much, he gave you one even after all this happened.” She gestured toward my white cane.

It turns out she is a reverend, and now John and I are on her international prayer list. Thanks, Rev. Bren.

And then there were inspiring stories I heard. Like Jim Leuben, the TMA webmaster. He wasn’t able to attend the event, but he was the one who sent out elaborate emails rallying people to get on board and attend the symposium. I learned from other attendees that Jim is a quadriplegic and does all his emailing and coding by blowing Morse code through a straw. How inspiring is that? So next time all you web developers out there complain about having to code something, think of Jim.

In addition to meeting patients–some coming from as far as Sri Lanka–I spoke to doctors (including Dr. Wingerchuck from the Scottsdale Mayo Clinic who saw me three years ago), nurses, and therapists. I even joined the Accelerated Cure Project (which I’ll blog about soon). The lectures, albeit at times tedious, were incredibly informative. Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is some great work being done out there using stem cell therapy (“transplant” is actually a misnomer, and when I blog about this, I’ll explain why) to reverse disability for patients whose spinal cords have been damaged due to these demyelinating diseases. We watched videos of patients who had been restricted to wheelchairs for a year or more, and after the stem cell therapy, they were able to walk and even run again. (This is why we must support stem cell research–more on this soon.)
  • Medical marijuana is used as an alternative treatment for neuropathic pain and spasticity (which Botox is also used to treat), common ailments of those with demyelinating diseases. (Maybe all the states will eventually legalize this?)
  • There is still no answer as to whether these autoimmune diseases are genetic or environmentally triggered, although scientists believe that people who develop such diseases were: (1) genetically predisposed to it (i.e. they were born with the “correct” genetic makeup for developing the disease); and (2) environmentally exposed to it (i.e. something in their environment triggered the disease). There is still no clear evidence as to what these environmental triggers are; they used to think it was canine distemper, then measles, then it was the Epstein-Barr virus (so don’t share drinks with anyone!). (As for me, I probably had the greatest chance of getting NMO anyway–I had/have dogs, had the measles, and have shared drinks with others. Doh.) But scientists still don’t have any hard proof of anything.
  • Autoimmune diseases have increased exponentially since the 1960s, and the rate of diagnosis is only increasing in women. Why? Nobody knows. But it’s important to note this because then scientists can pinpoint causation which leads to prevention which leads to cure.
  • Speaking of genetic predispositions, there exists a mutated gene that some people possess which prevents them from ever developing HIV regardless of exposure. This is not to say go behave recklessly. But I found this tidbit interesting nonetheless.
  • There are two things that your body can tell you that requires an immediate response: (1) I’m thirsty, and (2) I’m tired. Once you feel either of these things, it’s already too late–you’re already dehydrated, or you’re already lacking rest and relaxation. Many people with autoimmune diseases suffer from fatigue, and it’s hard because we often look fine on the outside, and others don’t understand or, worse yet, don’t believe us. Regular sleeping habits are crucial for managing fatigue; this means going to sleep the same time every night and waking up the same time every morning, seven days a week.
  • Neuropathic pain is apparently very common. Thank God I’m not alone in this! I used to wonder why I got this debilitating pain shooting through my back and sides. Now I know these pains are caused either by infection, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, and/or poor diet. I am probably always guilty of the latter two, but I have noticed that my pain pangs often follow an acute illness or several nights of unrest. Before this symposium, I sort of figured that out on my own and so would do my best to avoid sick people. And at the onset of any pain, I immediately took some Vicodin and ordered myself to bed. Now it’s just nice to know there is reasonable evidence behind my doing so.
  • 50 percent of MS, NMO, or TM patients will suffer from clinical depression at least once after diagnosis.
  • Just like the “coke” in Coca-Cola was once cocaine, the “up” in 7-Up was once lithium.
  • With each recurring bout of bladder dysfunction I’ve had over the years when I had to have a foley catheter tied to my leg because I couldn’t urinate on my own, I have more and more trouble peeing normally. (TMI? Too bad. This is a blog about my experiences and conditions after all, and I’m going to be damn candid about it.) Sometimes it takes me a while to get started. I learned here that I have sphincter dysinergia, a condition when the sphincter muscle responsible for opening and closing the bladder malfunctions and clamps down before the urine flow is finished or even before the flow could begin. (Like the neuropathic pain, I was simply happy to at least know I was not alone in my symptoms.)
  • And if you’ve read this far, here is perhaps the most interesting tidbit I picked up at the symposium: depending on which month you were born, you are more likely to develop certain things. If you are a May baby like me, you are more likely to develop MS. February like John and Joy? Allergies (and yes, they both have allergies). April? Suicide. August like my cousin Pauline? Asthma. September babies are more likely to hemorrhage in the brain. November babies get brain tumors. December? You are most likely to live to 105. Merry Christmas.

So while I knew a lot of what was discussed at the symposium (most attending patients are highly informed about their condition), I still learned a lot. So now if I was to be asked what I took away from all this, I can answer, “I’m thinking about switching neurologists.” [Cue dramatic music.] (to be continued)

shrimp & tomato linguine

Photo courtesy of Love to Cook



With half a bottle of chardonnay still left over from our wedding, I’ve been looking for recipes that call for dry white wine. In addition to using it on the scallops a la Julia Child and the mushroom risotto, I found this recipe online. It is also a good opportunity to use up the last of those ripened tomatoes from your garden. I am eating the leftovers as I type this entry, and the dish tastes even better after a day in the fridge.

Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.


Recipe: Shrimp & Tomato Linguine

Summary: Original recipe from Cindy in Pensacola on All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (optional)
  • 4 c. tomatoes, diced
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 portobello mushroom cap, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 (16 oz.) pkg. linguine pasta
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 tsp. red chili pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in garlic and onion and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, mushroom, and wine. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Once tomatoes have simmered into a sauce, add butter and season with salt & pepper.
  2. While tomato mixture is simmering, cook linguine according to directions for al dente pasta.
  3. Season shrimp with red chili pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Heat remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook shrimp until pink on the outside and no longer translucent in the center, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp into sauce, and serve over linguine with grated Parmesan if desired.

Quick Notes

My laziness screwed me again! Instead of dicing the tomatoes, I merely chopped them so they did not result in a sauce-like consistency. They were more like chunks. Make sure you chop them up into small pieces, about 1 cm. cubes, so they will soften and result in the right texture. Next time, I’m using the Magic Bullet.

My shrimp turned out slightly overcooked. (I seem to have this problem with shellfish.) The thing with shellfish is there is such a small window after it’s fully cooked but before it becomes too tough. I might have to look into this in a future blog post.

The preparation time below of 45 minutes excludes the shrimp peeling.

Variations

The original recipe didn’t call for onion nor mushroom, but I found some in the fridge and decided to add them. Onion and mushroom usually go well with any Italian-based dish, so why not?

The original recipe also called for Cajun seasoning instead of chili pepper flakes, but I like the less salty spice of pepper flakes more so switched it up.

I also was too lazy to devein the shrimp. (Us Asians tend to eat shrimp poop all the time.) Is it really that harmful for you? Sounds like a future blog post.

Cooking time (duration): 45

Diet type: Pescatarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

pasta 102: cooking & eating

Welcome to the second installment of the course in Pasta. Perhaps even more intriguing than choosing and measuring pasta are cooking and eating it.

I know I like my pasta cooked al dente, but what exactly does this mean? Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian and refers to the doneness of pasta, risotto, or vegetables. It suggests a firm resistance when bitten but not soft (overcooked) nor hard in the center (undercooked). So how do we cook this perfectly al dente pasta? Read on…

Cooking Pasta:

  1. Pasta should be cooked right before serving. Use enough water. This means one pound (16 ounces) of pasta requires about four to six quarts of water. This will wash away excess starch thereby preventing the pasta from sticking together and cooking unevenly.
  2. Begin with cold water, and bring to a rolling boil on the stove. Add salt only after it has started boiling. I use only kosher salt in my kitchen, and here’s why. Salt helps bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and won’t raise the sodium level of the dish. The reason you’ll want to add salt after it’s come to a boil is because: (1) unsalted water reaches boiling point faster, and (2) salt dissolves faster in hot water. Adding salt to cold water may cause it to crystallize onto the sides of your pot. Add about two tablespoons per pound of pasta. This may sound like a lot but it’s necessary for the flavor and most of it will wash off in the water. The water should taste like seawater.
  3. While What’s Cooking America (where I got all of this good information) doesn’t recommend adding any oil to the water because it prevents sauce from sticking later, I like to add just a little–maybe two teaspoons of olive oil–so the pasta is likely to stick together after draining. Another alternative is after draining, add pasta back to the pot and toss with some butter or olive oil.
  4. Don’t add the dry pasta until the water is at a rolling boil. Adding it beforehand will result in mushy pasta because the starch will begin to break down before it gets to finish cooking.
  5. Stir pasta frequently while it is cooking to prevent it from sticking together and to the pot. (Yes, it seems like a lot of pasta cooking involves preventing it from sticking.)
  6. Cooking time is a tricky thing. I find that my stove boils things rather quickly so I can’t rely on typical times suggested on the package or online. The best bet is after four minutes, begin checking the pasta by biting into it. (Throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks can also work for testing long thin pastas.) Watch the pasta closely because it can overcook very quickly. Remember that pasta also continues to cook a little bit even once it’s out of the water.
  7. For pasta that will be used in a casserole (e.g. baked ziti) or cooked again, you can cook it in 1/3 less of the allotted time. Boil until just flexible but still firm.
  8. Do not rinse the pasta after draining unless the recipe says to do so. The starch will help the sauce stick to the pasta. DO rinse wide pasta (e.g. lasagna) or else it will be difficult to separate them without tearing. Also, rinse pasta if using it for cold salads.
  9. As soon as it is drained, transfer the pasta back into its warm pot or a warm bowl. Toss it immediately with the sauce.

Eating Pasta:

  1. Don’t over-sauce the pasta. Italians say that Americans eat too much sauce with their pasta. There should only be enough to coat the pasta, not drown it. I.e. there should not be a puddle of sauce at the bottom of your bowl. (This is how I like my pasta–nice to know I have the taste buds of a true Italian.)
  2. Serve pasta in shallow bowls so that you can use the sides of the bowl as leverage to turn the tines of your fork when twirling pasta. It is not proper to use a spoon in addition to a fork, and it is definitely rude to slurp the pasta. Cut the pasta into smaller pieces with the edge of your fork if necessary.
  3. If you need to store the pasta, lightly toss it with some oil so it doesn’t stick.

And that concludes the Pasta class. Any questions?

obama signs bill to further equal opportunity for the blind and deaf

On Friday, October 8, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act which is a step toward equal opportunity for Americans with disabilities. It is fitting for such progress to be made 20 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990 by President Bush, Sr. While this first bill opened up doors for the millions of Americans with disabilities, the fight for equal opportunity is ongoing. This new 2010 bill is evidence that our legislature is lobbying for those who may not have the capacity to stand up for themselves.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will expand access to television, the internet, and other telecommunications technologies for disabled Americans. It will update close captioning and video description services as well as improve the dissemination of emergency information in the event of a national crisis.

Before signing the bill, President Obama addressed those attending the momentous occasion in the East Room of the White House. Visitors included Stevie Wonder among other key advocates–senators and civilian supporters alike–of the Act. (Go here to read the President’s remarks in their entirety.)

“[The signing of the ADA in 1990] was a moment for every American to reflect not just on one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in our history, but what that bill meant to so many people. It was a victory won by countless Americans who refused to accept the world as it is, and against great odds, waged quiet struggles and grassroots crusades until finally change was won.

“The story of the disability rights movement is enriched because it’s intertwined with the story of America’s progress. Americans with disabilities are Americans first and foremost, and like all Americans are entitled to not only full participation in our society, but also full opportunity in our society.

“So we’ve come a long way. But even today, after all the progress that we’ve made, too many Americans with disabilities are still measured by what folks think they can’t do, instead of what we know they can do.

“The fight for progress isn’t about sympathy, by the way — it’s about opportunity. And that’s why all of us share a responsibility to keep building on the work of those who came before us — one life, one law, one step at a time.

“The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted — from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an email on a smart phone. It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on. And that’s especially important in today’s economy, when every worker needs the necessary skills to compete for the jobs of the future.

“So equal access. Equal opportunity. The freedom to make of our lives what we will. Living up to these principles is an obligation we have as Americans — and to one another. Because, in the end, each of us has a role to play in our economy. Each of us has something to contribute to the American story. And each of us must do our part to continue on this never-ending journey towards building a more perfect union.”

Way to go, Government. Pretty soon, maybe every piece of technology will be equipped with features as awesome as Apple’s VoiceOver. (I still need to blog about the wonders of Apple products for accessibility.)

On an aside, Obama also signed Rosa’s Law–named for a nine-year-old with Down Syndrome–last Tuesday that now requires the replacement of the phrase “mentally retarded” with “intellectually disabled” in all federal health, education, and labor laws, the idea behind it being that (in the words of Rosa’s older brother Nick) “what you call people is how you treat them; if we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities.”

I know I am notorious for my callous political incorrectness, but reading the President’s remarks almost brought tears to my eyes. It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about until it directly affects you. Keep fighting the good fight, People.

pasta 101: choosing & measuring

Most of us started with pasta when we first learned to cook. Spaghetti with a jar of Ragu or whatnot. Just heat and serve. Or if we were feeling especially adventurous, we’d add some sauteed onions or mushrooms or ground beef. That was exactly me in my second year at college when I lived in my first apartment complete with its four-by-five foot kitchen.

More than a decade has passed, and while my pasta repertoire has stretched beyond spaghetti and jar sauce, I realized I still did not know exactly how to cook the perfect pasta al dente. This, of course, called for a blog post.

I found a plethora of pasta choosing, measuring, cooking, serving, and eating tips on What’s Cooking America. Because there is just so much to know, I’ve decided to split up the pasta tips into two posts. Here is lesson one, Pasta 101. Get ready to know everything you need to know about pasta.

Choosing Pasta:

  1. The best dried pastas are made of 100% semolina (“durum-wheat semolina” or “semolia”). Durum wheat retain their shape and firmness when cooked so they won’t be too mushy or sticky to toss with sauce. Of course, pastas not made of semolina can be used for casseroles as they won’t need tossing.
  2. Have you ever wondered the difference between noodles and pasta? Noodles are typically made of eggs which give it a more vibrant color.
  3. Also, have you ever figured why there are so many different shaped pasta? The shape is matched according to the type of sauce. Flat pastas are best with thin sauces while others with nooks and crannies are good for picking up chunkier sauces or catching soups.

Measuring Pasta:

  • Most dried pastas double in volume once cooked. A general rule is one pound of dried pasta will serve six as an appetizer or four as a main course.
    • 4 oz. dry long pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, linguine> = 1 in. diameter bunchof uncooked pasta = 2 c. cooked pasta
    • 4 oz. dry short pasta (elbow macaroni, penne, shells, rotini, wheels, ziti) = 1 c. uncooked pasta = 2.5 c. cooked pasta

Stay tuned for the second half (and arguably the more important half) of Pasta class.

promoting blindness awareness at discovery green october 15

WhiteCane

On October 15th, Houston will celebrate White Cane Day at Discovery Green (1500 McKinney St.). The march, which is open to both blind and sighted people, will begin at 10 AM sharp at the corner of Main and McKinney. Activities to follow include live music from a band, a DJ (which happens to be my vocational rehabilitation teacher [VRT]/Braille instructor), proclamation, a poetry reading, and community resources exhibits–all of which will either be for or by visually impaired individuals.

White Cane Safety Day was first observed in 1964 after a proclamation by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The purpose of the first Safety Day was to promote courtesy and special consideration for those who are blind. Over the 40+ years, it has evolved into a celebration of the blind’s independence and their right to participate fully in society. As an effective tool for mobility, the white cane symbolizes independence for the blind. Since its inception, White Cane Day has promoted safety and awareness for blind people.

All U.S. states have their own white cane laws which not only address pedestrian safety but, more importantly, guarantee civil rights protection. Texas law also states that people who use guide dogs have equal access to all public places.

While White Cane Days are taking place all over the state since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Houston will hold theirs next Friday. DARS is teaming up with Texas Rehab ACTiion Network (TRAN) to host the second annual event. I didn’t get a chance to attend last year even though I was invited to speak at the event (partly due to a busy schedule, mostly due to stage fight). So this year, I will definitely attend in order to support the cause. If you happen to be nearby, I urge you to come out even if you’re a sighted person. It might be an interesting experience to march blindfolded with a cane like the rest of us.

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