Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lee Family Jai - a weekend recipe

January 26 is the first day of the Chinese New Year and it is a time of rebirth, new beginnings, sharing and celebrating with family. My accountant, Shu Chen was fairly bubbling as she prepared for the fifteen-day celebration. She is a vegetarian, maybe because Chinese people connect the eating of meat with man’s animal nature. Because of this belief, it is traditional that the first meal of the Chinese New Year is the vegetarian dish jai.

Jai is much more than a traditional dish; it is a state of mind. James Lee, co-owner of Hee-Hing Restaurant in Honolulu describes it thusly:

"Jai actually is the Chinese word for principle. When you say 'lo han jai,' it means the five-hundred disciples of Buddha; so jai is really the principles of Buddha. Buddhism taught that you do not eat any meat and you do not slaughter any animals. It (jai) came to be the name of the dish and it is a strictly vegetarian food. The Taoist and Buddhist monks eat all forms of jai. Jai is a different form of cooking; when you say jai food, it is vegetarian food."

The Lee’s waver a bit from a true jai recipe because it includes oysters, an ingredient to which I can relate. Here is a jai recipe from Lee’s family:

Lee Family jai – a recipe

6 cups water
½ pound Chinese brown sugar sticks
½ cup raw peanuts
2-ounce bundle long rice (dried mung-bean thread)
1 ounce black tree-ear fungus
1 ounce dried lily flowers
4 ounces dried mushrooms
1 ounce dried black moss
¼ pound fried wheat gluten
¼ pound fried tofu
¼ pound dried bean curd sticks (foo jook)
2 tablespoons oil
3 pieces red bean curd (about 4 ounces)
6 ounces garbanzo beans
4 ounces ginkgo nuts
4 ounces dried oyster, optional
2 cups shredded Chinese cabbage (won bok)
4 ounces sliced arrowroot (see note)
4 ounces sliced water chestnuts
2 ounces snow peas
1 tablespoon salt or to taste

Boil 6 cups water, add brown sugar and set aside to dissolve. To prepare dried ingredients: Soak the following in separate bowls of warm water for 15 minutes each: raw peanuts, long rice, black tree-ear fungus, and dried lily flowers. Then, boil raw peanuts 15 minutes; drain long rice; rinse and drain black tree-ear fungus; rinse and drain dried lily flowers, and cut off stems.

Soak dried mushrooms 12 minutes and discard stems. Soak dried black moss in warm water 5 minutes, rinse and drain. Boil wheat gluten in water 2 minutes; drain. Boil fried tofu in water 1 minute; drain. Soak bean-curd sticks in water, then cut in 3-inch lengths.

To stir-fry jai: In a wok, heat oil, add red bean curd, then stir and break up curd. Fold in peanuts, black tree ears, dried lily flowers, bean-curd sticks, garbanzo beans, ginkgo nuts and oysters, if used. Stir-fry 2 minutes. To braise jai: Add brown-sugar liquid and bring to boil. Add long rice, black moss, gluten, tofu, Chinese cabbage, arrowroot and water chestnuts. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, adding water if needed.

Add Chinese peas and salt to taste. Lower heat. Makes 12 one-cup servings.

Thyme Flies

Friday, January 23, 2009

Why I Never Excelled in Sports

There is no reason that I should like men’s college basketball as much as I do, I just do. A while back, I watched Oklahoma State and Texas battle through three overtimes until Mario Boggan of OSU finely outdid Texas’s freshman phenom Kevin Durant, icing the game when he sank a long, desperation shot with less than four seconds remaining on the clock. It was an exciting basketball game, and I have seen quite a few.

What makes my love for basketball so unlikely? As a kid, I was always the last person selected when Captains chose sides for baseball, football, etc. Well, unless my friend Rod was around.
I have an excuse, though. Near-sighted does not come close to explaining my vision. When I first got glasses in the fifth grade, I remember seeing the blackboard clearly for the first time in my life. Corrective lenses cured my vision problems but did nothing to enhance my depth perception, or should I say my lack of it.

Its hell standing in the outfield, tracking a baseball as it plummets from the sky toward you, hoping beyond hope that you will somehow snag it deftly with your trusty glove before it hits ten feet away. It’s even worse hell seeing the looks of derision on your teammate’s faces when you drop the ball and the winning scorer reaches home base, ending every chance of their pulling that elusive upset of the best team on the block. Hey, if you look up klutz in the dictionary, you will see my picture beside the definition.

I tried every sport: football, softball, basketball (when I tried out for the team in the fifth grade, the coach simply shook his head and frowned), track and field. Being a skinny kid, I was a good runner, but nothing special.

Why do I like basketball so much? My first three years at Northeast Louisiana the football team lost every game. My senior year, they tied a game. Basketball was different. When I was a freshman, the team went sixteen and three.

Every home game, sixteen-hundred or so fans and students would crowd into our painfully tiny gymnasium, and go crazy when five-foot-nine basketball legend Tommy Enloe started dunking balls. We never lost a home game and for about two hours, we basked in the team’s success and felt (pardon the cliché) like kings of the world.

Last night, watching first-year head Coach Sean Sutton almost faint after a particularly stressful play (I’m not kidding) I remembered that feeling. As Boggin’s winning basket swished through the net, it intensified even further. Hey, I am old, I am fat and blind as a bat, but at that moment, I was once again King of the World.

P.S. – Kudos to my old bud Rod. He was no athlete either, but he was one of the best and most intelligent persons I have ever met to this day, and he served his country well, and with pride, as an armored company captain during Vietnam. He is now a wine expert, living in Napa, California.

Eric's Website

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just East of Eden - reply to comment

I got a very interesting comment from James concerning my post Just East of Eden which I am reprinting here:

I HAVE PICS OF WHAT WE THINK IS A ANACONDA WE SAW IN MAY 08 IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAKE ON A WATER TRAIL WE WERE CRUISING DOWN. WE LOOKED UP TO SEE ABOUT A TWELVE TO FIFTEEN FT SNAKE SLITHERING HIS WAY UP THE TREE. ONCE BACK IN ARL. TX WE LOOKED UP ON THE COMPUTER TO FIND THAT THERE IS A SPECIES OF ANACONDA IN SOUTHERN TX/LO. BORDER LAKES. HAVE PICS SO REPLY.

James, I would love to see your pics and post them on this blog. Maybe one of my readers can identify the snake. You didn't leave an email address for me to contact you so if you read this post, please send them to wilderinok@yahoo.com.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pink Lazy Boys

During the fourteen months that my wife Anne suffered with cancer, we spent endless hours in a large room where friendly nurses administered chemotherapy. I saw and heard many interesting things during this time, some funny, some sad and all surreal. I remember one such story that seems almost like fiction, but is true.

Pink Lazy Boy recliners populated the chemo room at Oklahoma City’s Mercy Hospital. Anne liked the one in a corner. She would get comfortable in the chair as a nurse inserted a needle in her vein to supply the cancer drug suspended from a drip (unlike many cancer patients, Anne had no port in her chest to accept the drug).

Benadryl was usually one of the components of the chemo cocktail. The drug usually put Anne to sleep. I would read a magazine or newspaper (usually a U.S.A. Today) cover-to-cover while Anne slept beneath a soft blanket on the reclined Lazy Boy.

Treatment times vary, but Anne’s always lasted a couple of hours. She would awaken before the last drop of chemo fluid had drained from the plastic bag. The steroids that were part of the chemo cocktail made her feel stronger and better, and she often made cell phone calls during this time.

These conversations always amazed me because for a few hours after the treatment, her former healthy persona seemed to return. It was drug-induced, of course, but we both cherished the first few hours following a chemo treatment. After listening to one of Anne’s animated cell phone discussions with a friend, the man in the pink Lazy Boy next to us introduced himself.

“I heard you say you went to high school at Capitol Hill. Where did you live?”

“Near SW 42 and Western,” she said, giving him the exact address, and telling him the years that she lived there.

“I also have lung cancer, but we have something else in common. I remember you as he little girl,” he said. “I lived across the street from you.”

Anne and the man began talking and exchanging information when the man sitting across from us interrupted them.

“I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but I lived in the house behind you during the same time.”

The three former neighbors spent the rest of their time in the chemo room exchanging friendly anecdotes and comparing notes about everyone they knew in common. I put down the paper that I was reading and listened to the amazing conversation.

Call it a coincidence, but all three patients were receiving identical treatments for the same type of cancer at the same time, and all three had lived within a block of each other for a period of several years.
Smoking is the usual stated cause for lung cancer. Anne was a heavy smoker but had quit more than four years prior to contracting the disease. The man sitting next to us had also been a heavy smoker, but not so the man across from us.

“I never touched a cigarette,” he told us.

The strange coincidence lingered in my mind long after that particular trip to the chemo room. What else did these three patients have in common that could have caused their cancer? I can think of only one explanation.

The part of Oklahoma City where Anne and the two men lived is near the center of a large oil field known as the Oklahoma City Field. Once the World’s largest producer, the Oklahoma City Field will ultimately produce around a billion barrels of oil. During the early days, many of the wildcat wells “blew in” for twenty-thousand barrels of oil per day, much if it covering the ground for miles because of prevailing winds.

Were oil by-products the cause, or the catalyst causing Anne and the two men’s cancer? I am a petroleum geologist and it pains me to believe it could have happened. Oil companies cleaned up the oily cesspool decades ago but it is impossible to know how many harmful chemicals sank into the soil and leached into the groundwater.

Environmental oversight of oil and gas drilling is far more stringent these days and a spill of even a single barrel of oil can result in stiff fines and penalties. It still makes me wonder what other industries are doing to harm our fragile ecosystem.

Anne’s cancer treatment cost our insurance company more than a million dollars. One chemo cocktail treatment cost nearly twenty-thousand dollars and did absolutely nothing to curtail the disease. Our scientists can put a man on the moon but they do not have a clue what causes cancer or have an inkling of how to cure it, except to inject expensive, painful and worthless toxic chemicals into the patient’s veins.

Will there ever be a cure for cancer? The answer is a resounding no! Too many pharmaceutical companies and scores of doctors are making far too much money to introduce a cure. One thing I know for sure. Some patients survive cancer but it is not because of their doctors or the toxic drugs injected into their veins. It is because their immune systems reengaged and killed the cancer.

I am not a doctor but as a geologist, I know that if you keep drilling dry holes, you must be looking in the wrong place. If I had the same success rate as most (I really mean all) oncologists, I would have been out of business years ago, and I suspect this is true for almost all businesses.

Sorry for the rant, but spending hours beside a pink Lazy Boy gives you plenty of time to reflect on life’s absurdities, and the almost total lack of control we have over them.

Eric's Website

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Muscadine Memories

I have fond memories of the vacant lot next to my family’s house in northwest Louisiana. The remains of an old fence bordered our yard and the adjacent lot, and a thick muscadine vine, covered much of the fence. I don’t recall the time of year the vine bore fruit, but I remember vividly my brother and me picking the thick-skinned berries for my mother, eating one for every five that we collected.

We didn’t worry about washing pesticides off the muscadines before we ate them because there were no pesticides at the time – except for DDT, which we didn’t, at the time, know would hurt us. As I recall, the purple skin was too sour to eat so you simply popped open the fruit, eating only the pulp, less the seeds of course.

A blackberry bush grew adjacent to the muscadine vine and we collected and sampled them when they were ripe. My mother made jam and jelly with all the various berries my brother and I gathered - jam and jelly devoid of preservatives. The vines and bushes provided a bit of shelter from hot Louisiana sun – shelter for critters such as grass snakes, stinkbugs and stinging scorpions. My brother and I collected them as well.

There is a new fence between my parent’s house and the once-vacant lot next door. Gone are the muscadines and blackberries, replaced now by mown grass, brick and concrete - at least for the outward world to see. The muscadines still grow on that vine, their thick purple skin still as sour as their insides sweet. There they will remain until the last remnant of my vivid childhood memories waft away like wispy Louisiana clouds racing from the sun.

Eric's Website

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cherokee Hominy Casserole - a recipe

Debra (Debbie) Dawson is an Oklahoma City teacher at North Highlands and she worked with Marilyn when she was running the reading lab there. Marilyn made this dish New Years Day and I can attest that it is wonderful. I don’t know if Debbie is a Cherokee, but almost everyone in Oklahoma is, at least to some extent.

3 c. hominy, drained
1 can cream of celery soup
8 oz. sour cream
½ c. onion, chopped
4 oz. green chiles, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz. Monterey jack cheese

Mix all ingredients well in casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Eric's Website

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Digging Up the Past

In the early days of oil exploration, explorers had many reasons for drilling a well at a certain location. If someone found oil, the leases around that well would suddenly become more valuable and other operators would try to drill as close as they could to a producing well.

Some companies still practice this technique of closology rather than geology. During the seventies and eighties Texas Oil and Gas Corp. would sidle up as close as legally possible to a producing well, a practice called corner shooting. TXO earned a reputation as corner-shooting kings. A reputation that was not always good.

Before the days of seismology and other geophysical exploration techniques operators would often drilled near an oil seep, or on the crest of a hill. Harry Sinclair, the founder of Sinclair oil was very superstitious and liked to drill near cemeteries. He had a lot of luck finding oil that way.

Cities Service Oil was the first company to hire geologists to try finding oil. Using surface mapping techniques, this band of geologists found literally millions of barrels of oil. This includes the El Dorado, the largest oil field in Kansas, and the Oklahoma City Field, the largest oil field in Oklahoma and at one time the world.

When I began working as an exploration geologist for Cities Service in the 70’s the company had many maps of surface features that they had never gotten around to drilling. They also still had a surface geologist that worked in Tulsa. Ernie Tisdale was a wonderful man and geologist but a throwback to an earlier period of exploration.

I was working Kansas at the time, along with another geologist named Dave Forth. While digging through a stack of old maps one day we came across an undrilled surface structure in Elk County, Kansas. Management decided that Ernie, Dave and I would drive to Kansas and check out the surface structure in person.

Elk is a rural county in far southeastern Kansas. We spent the night in Elk City in an old wooden, two-story hotel. While eating at a local cafe, Ernie recounted a story about two Cities Service “lease hounds” that used to work the area.

The geological crews and leasing crews all stayed in the same rustic hotel as the one we were staying in that night. Yes, the building was very old with no fire escape from the second floor, only a rope outside every window that extended to the ground below. The two landmen, I will call them Ted and Joe because I cannot remember their real names, were partners but different as proverbial night and day. Ted was quiet, a teetotaler and a minder of his own business. Joe was anything but.

Joe was also quite the practical joker and Ted the usual butt of his jokes. He told Ted that the owner had explained how afraid of fire he was and that the old wooden building was in constant danger of burning. Later, long after Ted had retired for the night, Joe banged on his door.

“Get the hell out. The stairwell is on fire. Climb out the window or you’ll be burned alive.”

Much to the glee of his partner Joe Ted shimmied down the rope with nothing on but his skivvies. Joe, inebriated by this time, met Ted at the front door, still rolling with laughter.
That night I slept lightly, waiting for someone to bang on my door. Thankfully, neither Ernie nor Dave was a jokester like Joe had been.

We spent the next day checking out the undrilled surface feature. The structure was there all right, just as mapped in the 1920’s. Maybe a million barrels of untapped oil. We proposed a well and Cities bought leases and agreed to drill the structure. Alas, Cities never drilled the prospect and it remains undrilled to this day. The map is probably locked away somewhere in a warehouse in California.

I am thankful for experiencing at least some of the excitement early wildcatters must have felt when deciding to drill a well at a particular location. Wildcatters such as Frank Phillips and Harry Sinclair found large fields, amassed untold fortunes and are now famous. Many forgotten explorers like Ernie, Ted and Joe played important roles, finding the oil that made this nation what it is today.

Eric's Website

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sooner Stew - a weekend recipe

I may be prejudiced, but the Oklahoman is my favorite newspaper. I rarely miss reading it, and then only when I'm out of town and can't find a copy. The paper is a great source of wonderful regional recipes and this one appeared just in time for the national college football championship game between OU and the University of Florida. I haven't tried it yet but I don't think that I will be disappointed when I do.

SOONER STEW

3 pounds chuck eye steak or roast, well-trimmed
Salt and pepper
¼ cup flour, divided in half (half to sprinkle meat and half for thickening stew)
3 tablespoons canola oil (reserve half for second saute)
2 cups chopped onion
2½ cups chopped red sweet pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine (zinfandel or Chianti work well)
1 (14.3 ounce) can chopped or petite diced tomatoes
1½ cup carrots sliced ¼-inch thick
1½ cups red potatoes diced ¾-inch, scrubbed, skin left intact with blemishes and eyes removed
3 to 4 cups chicken broth or beef stock
12 ounces frozen whole green beans, thawed

→Cut meat into large bite-size chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper, dusting lightly with flour. Heat oil in the bottom of a large Dutch oven or stew pot. Brown meat in batches. Do not overcrowd meat for best results.

→Prepare onions, garlic and peppers. Add additional oil if necessary and saute, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. As onions and peppers soften and become translucent, incorporate flour, stirring thoroughly.

→Deglaze mixture with wine, stirring to loosen any remaining drippings. Add meat and canned tomatoes, stirring well. Cover and allow mixture to simmer for 30 minutes. Prepare carrots and potatoes, and stir into the mix along with at least 3 cups of broth or stock. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour. Stir in green beans. Serve hot with thick slices of crusty bread and olive oil for dipping.

→Cook’s notes: It is essential to pay careful attention to browning the meat, being sure all sides are browned. This is the foundation for flavoring the stew. It takes about 2½ hours to make this stew, so get it started before the game. I do not recommend serving this stew with Gatorade.

Serves 6 to 10 depending on appetites and scores.

→Source: Sherrel Jones, The Oklahoman

Eric's Website

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Whiskey Sour Punch

Here is a party drink that I know I could get into.

2 quarts orange juice
12 ounces maraschino cherries
4 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups water
6 quarts bourbon
6 pints lemon juice
6 oranges, sliced
6 lemons, sliced
Dash of Angostura bitters

Pour orange juice into two ring molds, arrange half the cherries in each, and freeze. Make simple syrup by boiling water and sugar 5 minutes. Cool; combine with remaining ingredients in large containers and chill 24 hours or overnight. Pour over frozen mold in punch bowl. Serve in punch cups over crushed ice.

Eric's Website