Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fading Memories and Watercolor Dreams

A creek runs through the area where I live and trees, ferns and creepers grow thickly around it. As I walked past it today, I had to step around a tree that had fallen across the sidewalk. Long dead, it had shattered when it hit the cement. One protruding branch looked like an arm, extended, perhaps, in a last attempt to break its fall.

The fallen tree reminded me of the bony remains of an old man. It also reminded me of an email I got from longtime friend and fellow North Caddo High graduate Clarice White Stephenson. Clarice grew up in Oil City, ten miles down the road from Vivian. She asked me if I remembered something. She has a poetic gift with words and this is part of her query:

“I dreamed about "old" Oil City last night, in particular the Chester Hotel that used to sit next to the Ford dealership. It was on the way home from school on the rare occasions my mother allowed me to walk with a friend. The unpainted frame hotel was never open while I remember it. It sat on the east side of the "old highway" and railroad tracks, and there were usually old men sitting on wooden benches under the porch overhang.”

I do not remember the old hotel so I asked my Aunt Dot. Her husband Bert grew up in Oil City, his parents the owners of the Pourteau Hotel and Café. She didn’t remember the Chester either but reminded me of the proximity of Bert’s hotel to the train tracks. The same track continued through Vivian, Myrtis, Rodessa and Bloomberg, and there were similar train tracks that ran through Belcher and Hosston.

These little Louisiana towns are only ghosts of what they once were - no longer the boomtowns that king cotton and big oil built. Some vestiges, like the fallen tree across the sidewalk, remain but many of the buildings and people that populated them are now little more than a close friend’s fading memories and watercolor dreams.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Softball, Pizza and Red Bikini Briefs

With the temperature approaching triple digits as I began my walk today, my thoughts regressed to a time when my then business partner John and I sponsored a men’s slow pitch softball team. We did not win many games but we drank lots of beer, and the team was great for PR.

Most of the players on the team were geologists, or at least married to one. John and I traded off pitching duties. Neither of us could claim to be either a great pitcher or wonderful athlete, but since we footed the bill, we took advantage of our power. No one complained because we also picked up the tab for the beer and pizza after the games.

We usually went to a now defunct pizza chain called Shotgun Sam’s because they were kid, and obnoxious softball player, friendly. It was a common occurrence for the rowdy members of the team to become even rowdier after a few pitchers of beer. One night, they became more boisterous than usual.

The evening started with an unexpected win on the softball diamond. Our exuberance began with lots of rah-rahs and high fives, and continued as the entire team and their families gathered to celebrate the win at Shotgun Sam’s picnic-style tables. What started out as rowdy soon became even noisier.

The management was usually tolerant because we always spent lots of money, and the pizza place served as a haunt for many other loud softball teams. Things would have been fine, except for one of the players dancing exhibition.

Terry was a geologist and single at the time. Caught up in the revelry, he stood on the table and began dancing to a Creedence Clearwater Revival record blaring on the jukebox. Even that might have gone unnoticed, had everyone at our table not began chanting, “Take it off.”

Terry was no shrinking violet. Except for my friend Mickey, I have never known another male that liked to take his clothes off in public more than Terry. He quickly stripped down to only his red bikini briefs when the stunned manager could take no more.

Out of coins, the jukebox stopped abruptly, and all sound ceased in the large open room as the angry restaurant manager stood glaring at me, hands on his hips. Quickly, I handed wife Anne a handful of ones and nodded toward the jukebox. Instantly getting my drift, she hurried toward it.

My hand was still on my wallet and I extracted a hundred dollar bill that thankfully I had stashed for such an occasion. “We are so sorry for the disturbance. We don’t win many games and this was a special celebration. If you will take this for your trouble, we will calm down, finish our beer and pizza and leave.”

The jukebox fired again at just that moment, filling the room with sound before the man could answer. His expression quickly changed from anger to disbelief as he slipped the Benny into his shirt pocket.

“Fine,” he said. “Just hold it down to a mild roar.”

Duly chastised, we finished our beer and pizza in relative tranquility, but the people present that night, even after twenty years, have yet to let Terry live down his red bikini briefs.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pugs in the Pool

This is starting out to be one of the hottest Oklahoma summers in years. The temperature exceeded one-hundred degrees more than once in June, an unusual occurrence, and will probably top the century mark many times before September. Because of the weather, I have settled into an after dinner routine.

I usually turn on the backyard lights, fire up a few Tiki torches and then sit by the pool until well after dark. My two pugs, Princess and Scooter, always accompany me. Sometimes I take my laptop and write by the light of the moon, fireflies and torches. I usually swim a few laps in the pool and then sit on the steps at the shallow end, playing with the pups.

Scooter is fearless and loves the water. Princess accidentally fell in once as a pup and is more leery. Tonight, Scooter jumped down into the few inches of water covering the highest step. Feeling cocky about his accomplishment, he jumped out and chased Princess as she watched with curiosity. Close to the edge, he bumped her a bit too hard. She tumbled into the water, he following her. The plunge surprised them both.

They were only a few feet from the steps so I calmly pointed them in the right direction and watched as they scampered out of the pool and began shaking the water off. Thankfully, neither seemed too traumatized by the experience.

I petted them both, removed their wet collars, dried them with a towel and then gave each half a chicken strip. Dogs are like humans. If something scares them, they often go out of their way to avoid the experience again.

Some well-meaning people dunked Lucky, my Lab in the pool as a pup. It frightened him to the extent that he never wanted to go swimming, even though it is in his retriever genes. Something similar happened when my Mother was young. She had a frightening experience in the water and consequently never learned to swim, but made sure that my brother Jack and I did.

I hope tonight’s pug dunk has no adverse effect on them. For Scooter, I am almost positive he has already forgotten about it. I not so sure about Princess, though. Like my Mother and Lucky, she may already have a permanent phobia, further strengthened by tonight’s dip.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lemon Vinaigrette Grilled Chicken with Arugula

I am always looking for tasty recipes that are also healthy. I found this recipe in an insurance company’s member update brochure, the author or authors not credited. It sounds so good, and healthy, that I am sharing it.

Lemon Vinaigrette Grilled Chicken with Arugula

Ø 4 packed cups baby arugula leaves
Ø 2 packed cups baby spinach leaves
Ø 6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Ø ½ tsp salt
Ø ¼ tsp ground black pepper
Ø 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Ø 1 lb. skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces

Heat grill to medium-high heat. If using a ridged grill pan indoors, set over high heat until very hot. In large mixing bowl, combine arugula and spinach. Cover and refrigerate

In small mixing bowl, whisk lemon juice and salt until salt dissolves. Add ground pepper and whisk in oil until combined. Set dressing aside. One at a time, place each piece of chicken breast between two pieces of wax paper. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound chicken until evenly 1/8-inch thick. If chicken pieces are thick, turning over several times may be necessary. Coat chicken lightly on both sides with cooking spray. If desired, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Grill chicken until white in center, turning once, about 3 minutes each side. While chicken grills, pour dressing over greens. Using tongs, turn until well coated. To serve, place one piece of chicken on each of 4 dinner plates. Mound ¼ of salad on top of each. Makes 4 servings.

170 calories, 5 g. total fat per serving


Monday, July 13, 2009

Okie-Italiano Pasta Sauce - a recipe

Commercial coal-bearing sediments are located at or near the earth’s surface in many parts of eastern Oklahoma. Coal, first mined in Oklahoma in 1873, resulted in miners from many European nations immigrating to Oklahoma. They brought their culture and cuisine with them.

These German, Italian and eastern European immigrants adapted their culture and cuisine to the lifestyle of eastern Oklahoma, its people and its food sources. They learned how to brew Choc (short for Choctaw) beer from the Indians, and adapted their native cuisine to fruits, vegetables, etc. grown in Oklahoma.

The largest Italian population west of the Mississippi once resided in western Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and many wonderful restaurants such as Venetian Inn, Mary Meister’s, Pete’s Place, Isle of Capri and Roseanna’s still serve authentic Arkansas/Oklahoma-influenced Italian fare. Here is an Italian pasta sauce recipe with an eastern Oklahoma/western Arkansas flare.

v 28 oz whole tomatoes
v 12 oz tomato paste
v 1 med onion, chopped
v 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
v ¼ tsp black pepper
v ½ tsp thyme
v 1 tbsp parsley
v 1 tbsp oregano
v 1 ½ c Arkansas red wine (yes, grown from native grapes)
v 2 tsp salt
v 1 tsp sugar
v 1 tbsp olive oil
v ½ c chopped green pepper
v ½ c mushrooms

Use a 6-quart stew pot to sauté onion and green pepper in olive oil. When onion is soft and clear, add remaining ingredients, except the mushrooms. Stir well. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least an hour (longer is preferable). Add mushrooms 15 minutes before turning off heat. Buon appetito, pardner!


Sunday, July 05, 2009


I realized there was something exciting and quite different about New Orleans the first time that I visited the city. Today, if you go south on Canal Street you will eventually end up at the Mississippi River. The City is in the process of rebuilding, but if you had followed Canal to the River before Hurricane Katrina you would have encountered many tourist attractions such as the Aquarium of the Americas, the World Trade Center and the Canal Street Wharf. Unlike today’s tourist-driven atmosphere you would have found something quite different had you taken the same journey in the 1950's.

I first visited New Orleans during the Eisenhower Era and remember standing on south Canal Street and staring down the hill toward the Mississippi River. New Orleans is a major international seaport and what I saw was a bunch of seedy bars that sailors from many countries frequented when they were in port. The bars were off-limits to American military personnel, and for good reason. They were dangerous, the women you met there "loose," and venereal diseases rampant.

"Those bars are a good place to get killed," my Aunt Carmol, an ex-marine during World War II and no shrinking violet herself, had told my brother and me. "Don’t ever go there."

The Canal Street bars were long gone before I ever had the opportunity to defy Aunt Carmol’s advice. Still, even as a youngster I felt the potential danger and lingering intrigue present around nearly every corner of New Orleans. One less dangerous but very intriguing place that was eventually cleaned up by the U.S. Navy was Storyville, the Big Easy’s early-day fantasy land that did as much to establish the City’s reputation as a latter-day Gomorrah as anything else in its history.

During the early days of New Orleans there was a shortage of females. To alleviate this situation, street prostitutes were released from French prisons on the condition that they migrate to the new colony. In 1744, the number of bordellos and houses of prostitution prompted a French army officer to comment that there were not ten women of blameless character in New Orleans. City-wide prostitution continued until 1897 when a puritanical city official devised a plan to control the problem. The plan resulted in the formation of Storyville.

Locals called Storyville "The District." It existed from 1897 until 1917, the concept of New Orleans’ alderman Sidney Story. Story’s plan wasn’t to legalize prostitution, but to control it by defining the boundaries within which it would not be prosecuted as a crime. The concept worked for nearly two decades and ironically the District became one of the City’s leading tourist attractions.

Despite the belief of many - likely propagated by fictional accounts in literature - Storyville wasn’t located in the French Quarter. It encompassed an area north of the Quarter, just east of Canal Street between N. Rampart and N. Claiborne. Elaborate bordellos, fancy restaurants and dance halls quickly appeared and flourished, along Basin, the street that became a legend because of its association with early jazz.

Jazz flourished in Storyville, although it didn’t originate there. Each bordello was a place for music as well as prostitution and each establishment generally had a piano player to entertain its guests. The bordellos often hired bands to perform, as did the restaurants and clubs that sprang up in the District. Jazz superstars such as Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong often performed there. Storyville was near a train station and many visitors to the City also frequented the bordellos and the clubs to listen to jazz. These visitors, as well as sailors of all nationalities, took this new sound back with them to their cities and countries of origin.

In 1917 the Secretary of the Navy was Josephus Daniels and his nickname "Tea Totaling" perfectly described his tolerance for sin. Daniels insisted that New Orleans either shut down Storyville, or else he would close the naval base across the river in Algiers. The base provided too much income to New Orleans for the City fathers to see it close so they shut down Storyville instead.

A wave of Puritanism swept across the United States during the era of World War I and the residents of New Orleans weren’t exempt from this phenomena. Embarrassed by Storyville, city fathers began systematically dismantling the District. In the years following 1917, all the elaborate bordellos were demolished leaving only a metaphorical scar in place of nearly two decades of irreplaceable history. Even the street names were changed, world famous Basin Street becoming North Saratoga.

Toward the end of World War II, city fathers made yet another planning blunder. Soldiers were returning home from war and needed a place to live, so the Iberville Housing Project was built on the site of Storyville. Never spoken about in travel brochures or in tourist information, the low-cost Iberville Housing Project quickly became dangerous and crime-ridden. Close to the French Quarter, the Project was a place to avoid at all costs instead of the tourist attraction that the District had once been.

Even with the dismantling of Storyville, prostitution never left New Orleans. It simply spread out across the city to places like the seedy bars frequented by sailors on south Canal. Unlike south Canal, transformed now into a tourist attraction rather than a city blight, the area around Storyville remains largely unknown and off limits to tourists.

New Orleans’ city fathers made a colossal blunder when they demolished the historical District. They compounded their error when they covered up their mistake by building the infamous Iberville Project. Finally realizing their horrible error in judgment, they did return the name Basin to the famous street that was home of legendary jazz and fabulous bordellos.

New Orleans still exudes a well deserved aura of danger and intrigue and there are still more than enough historical sights to see, even though one of the most famous is forever gone. Few vestiges of Storyville remain, yet like the tang of Tabasco Sauce on the palette, its memory remains long after the last spicy bite of Etouffee has been consumed.

Louisiana Mystery Writer

Devilicious Cheese Balls - a weekend recipe

I love cheese balls and found this recipe on the back of an Underwood Deviled Ham wrapper. I haven’t tried it yet but the recipe sounds yummy, and Marilyn promises she’ll whip up one for Father’s Day. I can hardly wait!

2 cans (4.25 oz. each) deviled ham.
1 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 package (.04 oz.) dry ranch style dressing
½ cup diced tomato
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
½ roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except sunflower seeds. Refrigerate until firm enough to handle. Form into a ball and roll in sunflower seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes one large cheese ball.