Friday, October 24, 2008

Mama's Pecan Pie

My grandparents had a giant pecan tree in their back yard and every year they would share its bounty with anyone that asked. My mother always got a few bags of pecans and would use them to make her famous pecan pie on special occasions. Her recipe is simple, its preparation easy but take my word there is nothing much better tasting in the world!

Mama’s Pecan Pie

1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
3 eggs, whole
pastry for one pie
1 cup pecans, broken

Beat sugar and eggs until thick. Add corn syrup, pecans, vanilla and salt. Mix well and then pour into a pastry-lined pie pan. Bake at 300 degrees for about an hour or until filling is firm. Wonderful when served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Eric's Website

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shrimp Arnaud - a recipe

I have found New Orleans Recipes, a great old cookbook by Mary Moore Bremer. The book I have is the Tenth Edition published in 1944. Unlike most modern cookbooks, this one presents its recipes in a simple way that encourages intuitive cooking. Here is Bremer’s recipe for Shrimp Arnaud.

Six tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of paprika, one half teaspoon of white pepper, one half teaspoon of salt, four tablespoons of Creole mustard, on half heart of celery, chopped fine, one half white onion, chopped fine, and a little chopped parsley.

Mix well. Chill; Serve on cold boiled shrimp, about twelve to a serving.

Enthrone on crisp, chopped lettuce.

Eric's Website

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brandy Ice - a recipe

Junior’s, in the basement of the Oil Center Building, is one of my favorite Oklahoma City restaurants. They serve choice steaks and strong drinks. Brandy Ice, one of their after dinner drinks, is a favorite of mine. In a recent trip to Junior’s, a waitress gave Marilyn and me their recipe. It’s simple but wonderful.

1 pint Vanell ice cream
¼ cup dark Crème de Cocoa
1/3 cup brandy

Blend in blender until smooth then serve in a brandy snifter

Eric's Website

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Red Heads and Banty Roosters

My Grandmother's farmhouse in east Texas was five miles from the nearest paved road. She raised chickens, and had one bantam rooster, her favorite pet. Realizing the little rooster’s place in my Grandma's hierarchy, my brother Jack set out to cause a disturbance, a way to get a rise between the two. He started by throwing stones at the banty.

Jack was always my nemesis, two years older, he tormented me any way and any chance he got. He was mean – at least I thought so - and he had bright red hair to prove it. He seemed to have a sixth sense about what he needed to do to get under my skin. I wasn't the only one he bothered.

Jack's plan soon worked, but not quite the way he had planned it. The rooster, seeing his flame red hair, attacked him, driving his sharp talons into his head. Within seconds, Jack was screaming like a banshee. Grandma soon heard the commotion and reacted immediately.

Racing from the kitchen, she grabbed her pet rooster by the neck and twisted. Nothing happened immediately, at least anything good for my brother. The headless rooster continued flopping, his claws intact in Jack’s neck. When the beast finally stopped moving, grandma pried him off my wailing brother’s neck and then clutched him to her ample breast.

That night, we had chicken and dumplings, my grandma's specialty. Jack never got punished, even though he was to blame, but I will never forget that little red banty rooster working over my mean bro's own red head. Did I enjoy it? I’m almost ashamed to say that it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Eric's Website

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dave Beatty's Spider - a pic


A new pic taken by my friend Dave Beatty. Here is his story to accompany the picture:
This spider (some call it a zipper spider because of the artwork she builds into her web) has lived on my back porch this summer. She was a pleasure to watch all summer.

Last week she was gone, but she was very busy all summer. She left me with three eggs (one pictured below) to watch for her this winter. My understanding is the eggs, which contain many babies, matures over the winter to hatch in the spring. Story to follow.

Junior's - an Oklahoma City Legend

Junior’s is a restaurant in the basement of the Oil Center Building. Junior’s was opened by legendary Oklahoma City restaurateur Junior Simon in 1973. It soon became an oily hangout and more oil deals were likely consummated there than in any boardroom.

I ate at Junior’s for the first time in 1978, shortly after meeting my second wife Anne. Anne was the accountant for a little oil company that had an office in the Oil Center. She had once worked for Carl Swan, one of Junior’s original partners.

Junior’s, at the time, was a private club as Oklahoma had yet to pass a liquor-by-the-drink law. You were supposed to have your own bottle (with your name on it!) to get a drink at a bar. It was rarely required and you could get a strong drink almost anyplace, at least if someone there knew you. The practice was known as liquor-by-the-wink. You could also get a “roadie” (an alcoholic drink in a plastic go-cup) to tide you over on your trip home.

Junior not only knew every one of his clientele by their first names, he knew the names of their kids, friends, employers or employees. I don’t recall ever seeing him without a smile on his face.

Since Junior’s was a club, Junior billed his members once a month. I had a medium-sized oil company and often took clients there for drinks, and dinner and my monthly bill almost always ran into the thousands. When my oil company went belly up, I owed Junior more than three thousand dollars.

“I’m broke,” I told him. “But I’ll pay you a little every month until I get it whittled down.”

Junior smiled and put an understanding hand on my shoulder. “Eric, I know you will. Just do your best and I’ll understand.”

It took me more than two years to finish paying my Junior’s debt and I felt like a giant weight have been lifted off my soul when Anne and I finally did. Junior didn’t make a big deal about it. He just smiled, nodded and patted me on the shoulder.

I was in Junior’s the night Penn Square Bank went under, just one of my many memories of the super club that would fill a small book. Mostly, I remember Junior Simon – the best restaurateur the State of Oklahoma has ever seen, and a fine gentleman to boot.

Eric's Website

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Underground Chinatown in Oklahoma City

I became an independent oil man during the late seventies, just as Oklahoma City began urban renewal of its downtown area. My partner John and I had an office on the eighth floor of the Park Harvey Center and we watched and listened as construction went on across the street. We soon heard rumors that the crews had discovered a maze of underground rooms, halls and passageways dug by former Chinese residents of the city.

The rumors were true. People of Chinese origin began arriving in Oklahoma City shortly after the Land Run. The Daily Oklahoman reported in 1969 that Underground Chinatown extended from the North Canadian River to Northwest 17th and Classen. If this is true, the “City” encompassed an area of several square miles.

According to eyewitness accounts, the tunnel system had a low ceiling and connected both large community rooms to tiny apartments where the residents of the underground city lived. Chinese writing covered the walls, including the words, “come gamble” at the entrance of one of the community rooms.

The underground city lay below restaurants and establishments owned by legal Chinese-Americans that likely took advantage of the cheap labor available from the illegal Chinese immigrants, afraid of deportation. Oklahoma City Fathers elected not to save the underground city and it was bulldozed in the name of Urban Renewal.

Like many of the historic Oklahoma City buildings destroyed during Urban Renewal, Underground Chinatown is now little more than a memory; all that remains are a few eyewitness accounts and the ghostly reek of opium often whiffed late at night in downtown OKC.

Eric's Website

Monday, October 06, 2008

Voodoo Crossroads


Perhaps the notion of the crossroads is the most powerful concept in the observance of voodoo. Vodoun practitioners believe there are two worlds - the one we inhabitant and the spirit world. The crossroads is where these two worlds meet, and literally every voodoo act is an attempt to reach this destination.


To reach the crossroads in Vodoun is the ability to communicate with, and to convince the various spirits and deities to intercede for the living with respect to healing, casting spells, or any other outcome desired by a practicing mambo or houngan.


The practice of voodoo is a dominant element in my murder mystery Big Easy. The murderer practices voodoo, his every action motivated by it. Mama Mulate, a voodoo mambo, uses her considerable powers to fight the murderer’s evil at every juncture.


Both characters are seeking the crossroads, and both, in their own ways, find it, as does Wyatt Thomas, the book’s primary character, and Lieutenant Nicosia, a pivotal personality in the plot that takes a definite twist near its conclusion.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Murder in OKC


When I moved to Oklahoma City in 1973, the downtown area was already a victim of urban sprawl. Many stores and businesses had moved out of the City’s original area for the more affluent outlying neighborhoods. Downtown OKC had long since fallen into disarray and disrepair. There was no new construction, no new businesses and little sentiment to revive this crumbling portion of Oklahoma City.

Like other cities, OKC had its skid row. In the seventies, and to a large extent today, beggars, panhandlers, winos, prostitutes and runaways congregated in an area near the downtown bus station. Hotels, many built shortly after the beginning of the city, remained along the Reno Avenue corridor. Most were run down, shabby, and homes for gamblers and prostitutes. One of these hotels was the Tivoli Inn on W. Sheridan Avenue.

The Tivoli was built in 1922 as a grand hotel. It went through several transformations but in October of 1972 it had degenerated into little more than a flophouse for transients taking a detour off I-40, one of the interstate highways that bisect the city. On October 13, 1972, the desk clerk of the hotel met her untimely death.

I hadn’t yet moved to Oklahoma in 1972 but I remember hearing about the murder of Phyllis Jean Daves. Daves, age 49, was the desk clerk at the Tivoli Inn the night of her death. According to accounts in the Daily Oklahoman, she was beaten, robbed and strangled to death.

On October 13, 1972 (yes, it was Friday) she was dragged into the elevator and apparently still fighting for her life when she and her attacker reached the sixth floor. Her nude body was found under a bed in room 607 and rape was likely attempted but never consummated. Two former employees of the Tivoli Inn were suspected but later cleared of the crime when they failed to provide a match to bloody hand prints held as evidence.

I remember hearing stories of blood covering the lobby walls from the horrific struggle that ensued. The crime remains cold, never solved. Urban renewal of downtown Oklahoma City began in earnest during the latter seventies, the Tivoli Inn razed in 1979 to make room for the Myriad Gardens.

Nothing remains today of the old Tivoli Inn but memories and some old photographs. Most Oklahomans don’t even remember it, nor does anyone remember Phyllis Jean Daves, or worry much about who killed her, or why.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Man Named Glome

Before the written word, there was only word of mouth. Unfortunately, oral history is often lost forever, or else progresses beyond the bounds of reality to enter the realm of lore and legend. It is absolutely true that many important circumstances occurred that were never recorded.

Often, only mysterious artifacts remain that possibly foretell significant historical events. Oklahoma has such a mysterious artifact. It is located in eastern Oklahoma, close to the Arkansas border, near the tiny mountain town of Heavener and it is now know as the Heavener Runestone.

Discovered in 1874, the Heavener Runestone is a large slab of rock that bears eight letters identified as Norse Runes. There is little controversy as to the origin of the runes. According to popular conjecture, Vikings visited Oklahoma around 700 A.D. to 1000 A.D. A Danish scholar has translated the Heavener Runestone as a land claim by a man named Glome. Four other runestones have since been located in Oklahoma.

What does all this mean? The facts are so sparse, that perhaps they lend themselves only to the dangerous imagination of a dedicated (or possibly demented) fiction writer. Since I fall into at least one of those categories, I’m presenting my picture (albeit fictional) of the Runestone’s origin:

By 874 A.D., people of Norse origin had begun colonizing Iceland. Continuing their westward quest, they reached Greenland in 984 A.D. Still hungry for colonization, these people wanted more. Sometime after 984 A.D., a lone Viking longboat powered by oar and sail headed south.
These fifteen, or so, explorers soon encountered the east coast of what would eventually be known as the United States. They continued sailing south, stopping only periodically to gather food and water. They didn’t stop for long because they were looking for something.

They were looking for a large estuary of fiord because the shallow draught of a longboat almost perfectly lent itself to the exploration of shallow and narrow waterways. It needed no harbor, and was light enough to pull ashore and be carried overland, should the need occur. The Norse explorers finally found this estuary at the mouth of the Mississippi River, some 5,000 miles from where they had embarked. Their trip to that point had taken three months.

The explorers continued up the Mississippi River until they reached the confluence with the Red River. They continued their journey up the smaller waterway instead of continuing north on the Mississippi because the narrowing river signaled to these ancient mariners that, like their faraway homes in Norway and Denmark, they were possibly nearing a settlement.

The Norsemen continued up the Red, a journey taking another month, until they reached what is now southeast Oklahoma. There they stopped because the gnarly, highly dissected Ouachita Mountains reminded them of their own Nordic homeland. Also, it was probably as far as their longboat could take them. By now it was fall. Exhausted from their arduous journey, the explorers established a base camp, intent on weathering the coming winter.

These early Norse explorers were a hardy lot, used to long sea journeys. This trip, though, had taken its toll, possibly because of periodic contact with inhospitable Native Americans. This is likely because many tribes, many of them hostile, settled along the waterways traversed by the explorers. When they finally reached southeast Oklahoma, only ten Norsemen remained.

Somewhere in the wilds of southeast Oklahoma the remnants of a Norse settlement remain, still waiting to be found. When spring finally arrived, there weren’t enough men left to crew the longboat on its trip back to Greenland. Six men decided to try anyway and abandoned their settlement. After saying their final farewells, they started their trip downstream, toward the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River.

Three men remained, one of them named Glome. They headed due north, looking for that elusive Viking settlement they hoped in their hearts might exist. Although they never found the settlement, they soon found the peaceful valley where the tiny town of Heavener is now located. On a flat spot on the way to the top of Heavener Mountain, they rested. From this vantage, they could see the entire valley below. There was game in the mountains and fish in the streams. They felt safe and established a base camp.

Two of the men finally departed, continuing their quest, while Glome waited behind on his mountain-top vantage point. During his time alone, he marked his stay with what is now the Heavener Runestone. His two companions never returned, but marked other rocks along the way to mark their journey.

All six Norse explorers that left in the longboat made it to the mouth of the Mississippi River, into the Gulf of Mexico where a seasonal hurricane forever ended their journey. Glome and the other two Vikings lived out their lives in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Did they prosper, or were their lives fraught with danger? No one can say, but next time you see a person with bronzed skin, high cheekbones and blue eyes, I hope that it gives you cause to ponder the question.

Eric's Website

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mavis' Magic Moonflowers


My Mother died in 2006 and Marilyn and I haven’t had any moonflowers since then. We have both blamed her for the absence of the gorgeous flowers. Today, Marilyn said, “I’m not planting any moonflowers next year. I don’t think they’re ever coming back.”

“Maybe I’ll try,” I said. “Surely Mom will forgive me for whatever it is she thinks I did.”

“You think you have a better green thumb than me?” Marilyn asked.

“No, but maybe it has nothing to do with having a green thumb.”

I got a resounding “Hmph!” from Marilyn.

When I noticed a new flowering vine today and pointed it out to Marilyn. “Do you have a clue what it is?”

“There’s one like it on the front fence,” she said. “Want to see it?”

I followed her out the door, to the fence surrounding the dog pen. We found the pretty little pentagonal bloom known as a Cardinal Vine plant, but we also found something else - a beautiful moonflower in full blossom.

Yes, it is the mystical season of autumn, the time when moonflowers are supposed to bloom. Maybe my Mother has finally forgiven whatever transgression she thought Marilyn and I may have committed and is once again blessing our gardens. Maybe! At least it’s what I like to think.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Peaches in Champagne - a recipe

During the almost six months that I spent in the boonies of Vietnam, I ate many C-Ration meals. Most of the foods, contained in small, Army green tin cans, were very forgettable. There were only two entrées that could even remotely be described as “good” - the peaches and the pound cake. Unfortunately, they were in short supply and never came in the same box.

I still love both peaches and pound cake and recently found a wonderful recipe that includes one of these ingredients. It’s in a cookbook called Recipes from an Old New Orleans Kitchen by Suzanne Ormond, published in 1988 by Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. Here is Suzanne’s recipe for Peaches in Champagne.

6 large fresh peaches
24 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
1 bottle chilled champagne
Water
6 sherbet glasses
½ cup Napoleon Brandy

Peel peaches and leave them whole. Press 4 cloves into each peach. Place peaches in a large saucepan. Pour sugar over them and cover them with water. Bring peaches to a boil. Add brandy. Lower heat and simmer until peaches are tender to a fork. Drain peaches and remove cloves. Put peaches in covered bowl and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Place peaches in a sherbet glass and fill glass with chilled champagne. Serve with cookies. Serves 6.

Eric's Website

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Digging for Treasure

I may have already told this tale but that’s okay. A story is never really complete until it’s been embellished and retold at least twice.

This story happened during the time I spent in the boonies with the First Cav. We were patrolling the Jolly Trail System near the Cambodian border when we happened upon a freshly deserted North Vietnamese bunker complex. After a nervous couple of hours deciding if the NVA were truly gone, or set up to ambush us, we decided on the former and established a base camp, sending out several patrols to see if we could find out which direction the enemy had gone. I was one of the lucky ones that remained at the base camp.

I have always been enamored by buried treasure and soon I had myself and everyone else convinced that there was probably a fortune in gold buried somewhere within the perimeter of the bunker complex. This was not such a far-fetched idea as the NVA were known to carry large amounts of money and gold to trade with the locals.

Since they had abandoned the complex in such a hurry, perhaps they had forgotten to take the treasure. Before long, practically everyone left at the base camp was poking around with trenching devices (military shovels). As luck would have it, I was the first one to find something.

“It’s here,” I said, beginning to dig feverishly over a spot of loose earth.

I was quickly joined by others and we soon had a large hole in the ground. I soon became apparent that what we had found was not a treasure trove – well, unless you were a maggot. The bunker complex, it seemed, was a well-established stop along the trail from North Vietnam, our covered treasure no more than a buried latrine. The other soldiers were soon shaking their heads and looking at me as if I were freshly escaped from a loony bin.

“Hey, I’ll bet the treasure’s in the latrine. No one would think to look there.”

The other men didn’t buy my argument and, since I couldn’t convince anyone else to poke around in the smelly remains of an NVA latrine, I decided that even if there were treasure a few feet from where I stood that it wasn’t worth digging through the sh-t for.

No, I didn’t find any buried treasure during my tour of Vietnam. Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever seeing a single rock during the entire time I was there. As a geologist, you’d think I would have noticed.

Eric's Website