Friday, January 22, 2010

Bread Pudding With Rum Sauce - a recipe

Marilyn and I collect old New Orleans cookbooks and this week she found Creole Feast – 15 Master Chefs of New Orleans Reveal Their Secrets. This extraordinary cookbook, published in 1978 and written by Nathaniel Burton and Rudolph Lombard, features a recipe for one of my favorite desserts, one I always order whenever visiting the Crescent City.

This recipe is by Austin Leslie, master chef and one-time owner of Chez Helene, a wonderful New Orleans restaurant no longer in business. After being trapped in an attic for two days by Hurricane Katrina Leslie died in September 2005. He was the first person honored by a jazz funeral after Katrina in what was then a largely deserted Big Easy.

Austin Leslie, also known as the Godfather of Fried Chicken, was the inspiration for the short-lived television show Frank’s Place. If you are like me, an aficionado of fried chicken, you really should read the book, if only for his personal description of the absolute best way to cut up a chicken and fry it.

Chicken wasn’t the only thing Austin Leslie knew how to cook; he could also prepare wonderful deserts. I’ve published other bread pudding recipes and every one is slightly different. If you enjoy bread pudding as much as I, give this one a try because it is a good one.

Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

1 loaf stale French bread
¼ can evaporated milk
1 pound butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ pound raisins
1 small can crush pineapple
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
¼ cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wet the bread and squeeze the water out of it. Melt the butter and mix with all other ingredients. Pour mixture into a well-greased 4 x 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 2 ½ hours. The pudding will rise in the first hour. After an hour, remove pan from oven and stir the mixture to tighten it. Return to the oven for the second hour of cooking.

Rum Sauce

¼ stick butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
½ cup rum

Place all ingredients in double boiler and cook for 10 minutes. Beat until fluffy. Serves 10

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barn Kittens and Backyard Spirits


I have had many cats as pets through the years. My first was King Tut, Anne’s cat, which became part of my family when Anne and I married. Glancing through some old pictures today, I found images of the second and third cat members of my family.

Anne and I were in the oil business. A drilling contractor named John was dating Sheryl, a young woman that worked for Anne and me. He had a little ranch on the west side of Oklahoma City, several horses and a barn. Blessed by many barn cats, he gave two kitties, Buster and Squeaky, to Sheryl. Sheryl kept Buster and gave Squeaky to Anne and me.

Squeaky was the first female cat Anne or I ever owned and neither of us realized how fast cats mature. Because of our oversight, Squeaky became pregnant and soon had a litter of beautiful kittens. We soon found good homes for all the kittens except for one, a calico we kept and named Chani after a character in the Dune series that Anne loved. Squeaky and Chani soon became inseparable.


The oil business soon busted. Anne and I lost our home and moved to a rent house, Chani, Squeaky and Tut moving with us. During the difficult years that ensued, we moved five times. Some of the cats didn’t live that long but Chani made all five moves.


Calicos are three-colored cats and they are always females. Chani was a gorgeous, three-colored cat with a distinctive voice. She always let you know when she was around. She loved affection and would live on your lap, if you would let her. She also liked to drink water from the tap.


Chani died at the age of nineteen, still the queen bee of our cat family until the time of her death. I buried her in the flower bed where she liked to lie, among the flowers, in the spring and summer. Spirits abound around the Wilder household and I’m sure she still holds sway over her departed brothers and sisters. I’m also sure Squeaky is also around and that she and Chani are again inseparable.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

When the Weather Turns Cold

As a young geologist working for Texas Oil & Gas, I generated many prospects and experienced the late seventies oil boom first hand. One prospect a week was the company mantra. We drilled mostly developmental wells – those close to existing production. Texas Oil & Gas was the king of corner shooters, drillers that edged as close as possible to the wells of other operators. Although much reviled, we found lots of oil and gas.

I can’t remember exactly how many geologists we had at the old Midland Center in downtown Oklahoma City, but it is safe to say we had a dozen or so. During this time, Texas Oil & Gas was drilling more wells than any company in the country was. The Oklahoma City office of TXO was drilling the most wells of any TXO office, and I was generating the most wells in the Oklahoma City office.

It worked this way: I would drag into work about nine-fifteen on Monday. After a few cups of coffee, I would stare at a color-coded production map until I focused on a potential prospect. I would then map the geology, or trash the idea and start on another. By Friday, I would have a viable drilling prospect that I would show at the weekly meeting.

About a dozen people sat in on every Friday meeting, chief engineers, geologists and landmen. If they liked my prospect, they would approve it and put it on the drilling agenda. When I left the meeting, I would go to lunch. I rarely returned.

There was a bar in Oklahoma City at the time called Clementine’s. It was located in the basement of the Penn Square Mall. You could walk down a flight of stairs, or slide down via a sliding board. Once there, you felt as if you were in another world. Bill, a salesperson for one of the electric logging companies, would always be at Clementine’s after work on Fridays.

Mixed drinks were three for one at the bar and Bill had a standing tab for TXO geologists. I was always there, as were my fellow geologists, and many of the land, engineering and geological secretaries. After one very hectic week, my good friend and fellow TXO geologist Dave and I parked outside, entered the darkened doorway of Clementine’s and slid down the slide to the loud nightclub. It was a cold winter night.

Dave had curly dark hippie hair with a beard and moustache to match. His lips were always smiling and his dark eyes had a twinkle that somehow masked an ache in his heart he never explained to me.

Clementine’s had a parquet dance floor with a revolving disco ball overhead and vents for mists of steam that arose during every song. The bodies, both male and female, quickly became hot and steamy, and the crowd resembled pagans dancing in a misty Scottish moor. During the days before AIDS, casual sex was rampant, first names often disregarded, last names never discussed. Considering only the moment, we never thought about tomorrow.

How I survived my two years at TXO I will never know. That night, Dave melded into the darkness with some luscious honey he had met on the dance floor. After more Wild Turkey’s than I could count, I was ready to fall on my face. In the days before the cell phone, I somehow managed to find a pay phone and call my geologic secretary Gayle, asking her to join me. Gayle had two young sons - ages five and seven. It was her weekend to keep them.

Gayle was as tall as I am, with black hair that draped to her shoulders. Her dark hair and eyes contrasted with her light complexion. She looked like a goddess but had the gentle touch of a trusted friend.

“Stay there,” she said. “I’ll be there as fast as I can.”

I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t climb the stairs by myself without falling on my face. I was leaning against the wall when Gayle found me through the crowd. Putting her arms around me, she walked me up the stairs, and then to her car where her two sons awaited.

My ex-wife Gail and I still owned a house that we were trying to sell. Gayle dropped me off, bestowing a wonderful kiss before she and her two boys drove away, leaving me alone in the darkness. She and I soon became a number.

Gayle and I dated for the best part of the next two years. My mother loved her and she kept telling me to marry her. I also loved Gayle and I think she loved me, but it was not to be. Too insecure in my own sexuality, I was too busy pursuing yet another one-night-stand to hook up with just one woman, no matter how gorgeous and intelligent she might be.

Years later, I still remember the go-go years at Texas Oil & Gas. I can’t remember the countless obscure faces of my many drunken one-night-stands, but I do remember Disco Dave and my other fellow geologic toilers, and when the weather is cold, like it is tonight, I remember lovely Miss Gayle.

Eric'sWeb

Friday, January 08, 2010

Bullshot City

I am a big fan of Eric Felten’s weekly column in the Wall Street Journal. Felten highlights cocktails and rather than just providing his many readers with instructions on how to build the perfect Zombie or Mai Tai, he tells a story that is always interesting and informative. A recent column caused me to recall one of my own cocktail stories.

During the last oil boom, I began working as a geologist for Texas Oil & Gas, the most aggressive driller at the time and possibly since. My first day on the job, I had lunch at a downtown restaurant called Over the Counter with the district geologist and another company man.

Having just left Cities Service, a conservative, old-line exploration company, I was used to brown bagging a sandwich washed down with coffee or iced tea. Because of this, my lunch companion’s choice of beverages gave me a start.

Neither man actually had to order a drink. Gerlinda, our very German waitress brought Larry a Bacardi and Coke and Roger a Crown and Seven.

“You are a new one,” Gerlinda said. “What are you drinking?”

“Iced tea,” I answered.

Larry and Roger smiled when Gerlinda shook her head and said, “TXO geologists don’t drink tea.”

“A Coors then,” I said.

“There is no beer at Over the Counter. What kind of cocktail would you like?”

Larry’s grinning shrug clued me that he expected no argument from me.

“Bourbon and water, I guess.”

“What kind of bourbon?” It was my turn to shrug, and shake my head. “TXO geologists don’t drink house liquor and you look like a Wild Turkey man to me,” she said. “From now on I’ll bring you Wild Turkey and water.”

She did, three of them before we finished eating.

“Everyone drinks at lunch,” Larry informed me as I stumbled back to work. “Turkey and water suits you, Wildman.”

“Thanks,” I said as I returned to my office and tried not to fall asleep at my desk.

Lunch was the beginning of my indoctrination as a TXO geologist. I was instructed to put at least three-thousand dollars per month on my company expense account, even if I had to treat friends, cohorts and secretaries every meal. The Company expected me to create at least one drilling prospect every single week, no mean feat even when you are sober, much less when you can hardly hold your head up off the desk after lunch.

I - or I should say my liver - slowly grew accustomed to the daily consumption of alcoholic beverages that often continued into the wee hours of nearly every night. It did not seem to matter much as my seven-year marriage was already in shambles. An underground concourse wove a dark maze beneath downtown Oklahoma City, a pathway populated by restaurants, bars, barbershops and jewelry stores. The proprietors soon knew my name, and my poison of choice, greeting me happily when I stumbled through their door.

The last oil boom was populated by a cast of almost unbelievable characters – ex-used car salesmen sporting Rolex watches, diamond encrusted belt buckles and gold nugget necklaces, preying on the unwary investor, hungry to participate in the multitude of newfound riches and burning up with incurable cases of oil fever. I bought my own gold necklace, a half moon with a diamond eye, from an eight-by-ten jewelry store in the concourse that catered to the newly rich.

I managed to survive almost two years with TXO, having almost a hundred of my prospects drilled during that time. I do no remember if it was I that said uncle, or my liver. Whichever, I moved down the road with my life.

All this brings me to my cocktail story. Sometimes when I was simply too drunk to continue drinking Wild Turkey, I would switch to a drink called a Bullshot. A Bullshot is beef bouillon and vodka. I never learned the exact recipe although I tasted many varieties during my two years with TXO. The one I liked best came from an eight-ounce can. I cannot remember the company that produced it and I do not believe they are still in business.

The last oil boom is long gone, along with Penn Square Bank and thousands of drilling rigs cut up for scrap. Oklahoma now has liquor by the drink instead of liquor by the wink, and you can no longer leave a bar with a roadie to tide you over until you get home. Oklahoma City police no longer tolerate drunk drivers, nor should they.

An era of overindulgence died in Oklahoma City, along with the last oil boom. What survived was a group that could smile when someone said, “Last one to leave the State, cut off the lights.”

That was nearly thirty years ago and the lights in the City are again burning brightly. It has been nearly that long since I drank my last Bullshot. Still, the cocktail helped me survive an era every bit as exciting as the Alaskan Gold Rush, and Felten’s column every week reminds me that mixed drinks are more than a bartender’s recipe. They are an untold story.

Eric'sWeb

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Bar Hopping with the Old Man


I visit my dad at least once a week and I try to take him somewhere every Sunday, usually to a seafood restaurant overlooking Lake Hefner because he likes watching the sailboats and seagulls. A few Sundays ago, I decided to take him to a new place.


Lake Hefner is a large, manmade lake that supplies Oklahoma City with fresh water. Because of the prevailing winds, it is perhaps the best inland sailing lake in the United States. I can attest to as much after spending an exhilarating afternoon on a super-fast catamaran with my friend David Beatty. It is also the deepest lake in Oklahoma, nearly a hundred feet in places. This past Sunday, I decided to take Dad to another restaurant on the lake.


There are at least three Louie’s restaurants in Oklahoma City and Edmond, one less than a mile from my office. My friends Jerry and Terry and I go there almost every Thursday after work, the food and drink tasty and relatively inexpensive, the friendly female waitpersons always easy on the old eyes. Since I had never tried Louie’s on the lake, I took Dad there last Sunday.


Dad and I sat in the bar area, looking out the large picture window at passing joggers, walkers and cyclists, and the gorgeous inland lake. We ordered chips and dip. I had a Sam Adam’s beer while Dad drank decaf. As I sat on the high bar stool, looking at my smiling father, obviously having a great time, I thought about the absurdity of the moment.


My Mom was, and Dad still is a teetotaler. Both disapproved vociferously their wayward son when he was placed on disciplinary probation as a sophomore in college for drinking beer in the dorm. Neither ever tried alcohol, much less frequented a bar. Seeing the confusion in Dad’s eyes, it made me grin as I finished my Sam Adams and paid the tab.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Pink Cadillac - Route 66 Oklahoma



Here is a picture of the famous pink Cadillac located in front of longtime restaurant and equally famous Ann's Chicken Fry. Ann's is located on historic Route 66 as it goes through Oklahoma City.

Eric'sWeb