Monday, October 10, 2011

Tasting Oklahoma

Whole wheat, pecan pancakes and PrimaCafe coffee start this morning off.  Some days it is Wagon Creek Creamery's non-fat Greek yogurt with honey and granola.  Or, I saute' some rosemary potatoes with onions and peppers and scrambled eggs.  I still haven't outgrown my peanut butter and honey lunches.  Dinner is often a colorful array of veggies - roasted or steamed - with pasta or chicken.  Peaches and apples (with peanut butter!) make a delicious snack this time of year.  Why am I making you hungry with all this discussion of food?  Because, these foods all have one thing in common - they are from Oklahoma.  Besides, if you know me, you know that I LOVE food!

An article in the paper the other day about the recent listeria deaths from cantaloupe stated that, "it's virtually impossible to sit down and eat a meal and eat food that hasn't come from all over the world."  Nonsense!  We just experienced the hottest summer in the history of Oklahoma (second hottest in the history of the nation), and our farmers persevered and continued to grow and harvest what they could.  While my garden seemed to burn (like many things I attempt to cook), the farmers' markets never failed me.

Let me explain what I mean by "farmers' market".   I don't mean the new Sunflower Farmers Market grocery store in Oklahoma City.  I don't mean the so-called "farmers' market" downtown that sells products from Texas, California, Florida, Mexico, Guatemala, and other foreign places.  When I say "farmers' market", I mean only those markets that sell only Oklahoma products.  Specifically, I mean the Friday Midtown Market (Urban Agrarian) by St. Anthony's, the Saturday market at OSU-OKC, and the Sunday Fresh Foods market (Urban Agrarian) in front of Cheever's (or the Urban Agrarian and Earth Elements new location at SW 2nd and Ellison when the weather is uncooperative).  There may be others, but you might have to do a little searching to be sure you are buying Oklahoma products.  A seller at OSU-OKC also tipped me off to the Bixby produce.  Bixby has a produce wholesaler that resells produce from Oklahoma as well as other states.  So, just a fair warning - if it says it's from Bixby, it may not have been grown in Bixby!  The Oklahoma Food Coop is another fantastic place to get your Oklahoma-local products (not just food - there are also various items like laundry detergent, artwork, wool yarn, etc.).

What about when items aren't in season?  My freezer is full of chopped onions, peppers, and zucchini as well as peeled and sliced peaches, steamed spinach and kale, and sliced patty pan squash.  I used to get overzealous at the farmers' market, only to end up feeding my compost bin more than I fed myself.  Since then, I've learned some valuable tricks to waste less and eat more.  One of my favorite people, Bob Waldrop, has got a fantastic blog with pure genius ideas on a plethora of subjects surrounding sustainability. 

I couldn't end this topic of discussion without promoting a garden of your own.  Nothing can beat the satisfaction of walking out to your garden in bare feet and snipping a few herbs or picking a few peppers to toss into whatever you're cooking at the moment.  Those rosemary potatoes I mentioned earlier? That rosemary, by some miracle, survived the summer drought in my neglected flowerbed (yes, I mix edibles with my flowers in the front yard) and continued to grow.  When the temperatures finally dropped back into the double-digits, I was amazed to discover that not only my rosemary, but also the oregano, sweet potatoes, basil, cilantro, and chives have all survived some serious heat, drought, and neglect.  I won't mention all of the other things that weren't so lucky.  I definitely have wholehearted respect for our Oklahomie farmers working long, hard days to give us food that is healthy and safe for us to eat.  It's a year-round effort, with no guarantees that Mother Nature won't spoil their bounty.

Is your mouth watering for some whole-wheat pecan pancakes now?  I'll share the recipe, right off the bag of GO Organic whole wheat flour from Fairview, OK, I bought at the OSU-OKC market, with the local options in parentheses:

John's Farm -- Favorite Family Recipe
Whole Wheat Pancakes

3/4 to 1 cup whole wheat flour (GO Organic, Fairview, OK)
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. honey (George's Apiary, Noble, OK)
1 T. oil (substitute applesauce from Earth Elements, OKC, OK)
1 cup buttermilk, or milk (Braum's!)
1 large egg (this week it is Bourlons Hilltop Farm, Sparks, OK)
Optional ingredients: blueberries, strawberries, 1 cup well-cooked rice, or 1/2 cup chopped nuts (I chose pecans from Peach Crest Farms, Stratford, OK)

For more recipes and local food ideas, check out one of my other favorite blogs by one of my other favorite people, Tricia Dameron.

Happy, healthy eating!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gone Noodlin'

It has become a rite of passage - to be considered an Okie, you must attend the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley.  Noodling, for those of you too northern to know, is the sport of catching fish sans hook and bait - just two bare hands and two lungs of breath.  Initiation begins when you double-park your truck on the grass and start the tailgating.  Break out the coolers of beer, jean cut-off shorts for men and women alike, and release the tats for all to see. 

July 9th was the 12th annual Okie Noodling Tournament, and my official induction as an Okie after almost 36 years here.  Mercury reaching 109 didn't stop thousands from flocking to the park for a day-long festival for all ages.  After passing the moon-bounce and Indian taco stands, we set up our shade tent and camp chairs for an afternoon of full-on, people-watching entertainment.

Bands played on one stage throughout the afternoon, while trucks rolled in with their hand-caught treasures.  The fish were hauled out for official weigh-in, with the biggest going in a tank on the main stage.  Others went into a trailer with clear sides for all to watch demonstrations on the finer points of noodling.  Who knew that you could wear your ball cap underwater while you grabbed a catfish out of his hole?

There was limitless entertainment when it came to apparel.  The obvious choice was any combination of red-white-and-blue, camo, overalls, and questionable t-shirt screenprints.  I was slightly disappointed in the lack of mullets and rat-tails, though there were a few (real and fake) spotted.  Professional film crews were busy capturing the details for the unfortunate ones who are unable to attend in person.

I am proud to now be able to say that I've been noodling.  Even though it was only in a large water tank in the back of a pickup, I still reached in the murky water and grabbed a HUGE catfish by his lower jaw and pulled him into the air.  The Redneck Wars team that rightfully caught the fish in the river claim that he was about 25 pounds, but I swear he was at least 60.

New friends are made over t's and teeth
Now that I had that under my belt, I am onto my next quest - being crowned Noodling Queen.  It appears that there were only two contestants for the sash and crown.  I don't recall seeing any information anywhere on how to get my name added, but I will be back next year and I will be prepared.  I bought a bump-it, cut off a pair of jeans short enough for my pockets to hang out, and scoured the internet for a confederate flag bikini.  Reigning Noodling Queen - look out!  Your days are numbered.

Lil trophy for his lil catch
When the last pickup rolled up to the weigh-in station, the awards began.  There are cash prizes up to $1000 for the top noodling teams.  Categories include total pounds of fish caught, biggest fish, biggest catch by a female and by a minor, and smallest catch.  The humble man who hauled his 7-lb catch to the weigh-in (biggest catch of the day was 60 lbs, for comparison) actually stuck around to receive his tiny trophy and pose for a picture for me - grinning the whole time.

Pauls Valley has come a long way since the first Noodling Tournament 12 years ago when just 50 people attended.  This year, there were over 6,000 who sweated it out in Wacker Park.  While the beer is abundant and the teeth few, it is a crazy and peaceful experience - unless you are a catfish.  Needless to say, I'm "hooked".
Winning catch weighing in at 60 whopping pounds!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Private Paradise

Ten miles from the main drag in Geary is a treasure that few have discovered.  It is only about an hour by car from Oklahoma City, but yet as remote as you can imagine.  It is a small spot of water - clear and alive.  Human traffic is sparse, quiet, and respectful.  You might have seen the plain wooden signs pointing out the direction of the lake, but without willful planning to visit those waters, you would never catch a glimpse.  It is American Horse Lake, and one of the best kept secrets in this state.

My first visit to the lake was a camping and kayaking adventure.  Camping is primitive - no facilities whatsoever.  Every campsite has an indecent offering of prickly sandburs to make flip-flops unbearable.  It is also rough on puppy feet, so consider this fair warning.  The kayaking though...the kayaking was spectacular.  The water was rivaled only by the starlit sky of a new moon that made flashlights unnecessary.

Since that weekend, I have been addicted.  I have cravings for that water that can only be satisfied by loading the boats and making the short journey.  A few years ago, there were three spots in the road to the lake that were washed out by flash floods.  Our caravan loaded with kayaks tried desperately to go off-road and find a passable route to reach our destination.  Twice we were successful.  When just a mile and a half separated us from the clear waters, our vehicles were defeated by the deep gully that divided the road.  It might not have been too far to portage the boats, but we knew that the return trip would be torture on our weary arms.  There was nothing left to do but turn around and drive back to the city, dejected and disappointed.

Today, the roads have finally all been repaired.  Every couple of months, when the craving dominates my thoughts, I load up the boats and head to my private paradise.  I roll the windows down and fill my lungs with the non-city air.  Every meadowlark I pass widens the smile that stretches to my eyes.  Anticipation replaces daily stresses.  By the time I park the car by the small boat ramp, I am already deep in my therapy. 

What is it about the lake that entices me?  It's the complete lack of man-made sounds, with the exception of an occasional trolling motor.  It's the smooth travel of fish and turtles, many feet below the surface - yet, still visible from above the waterline.  Maybe, it is the canyon below the dam that I have yet to fully explore.  Or, it is the quicksand area on the northeast side where herons and egrets rest and bullfrogs make their families.  At night, it is the call of the Chuck-will's widows, coyotes, screech owls, and wild boar that empowers my senses to overtake my mind.

There are sun-bleached skeletons of trees rising from the water and telling of lives before the area was dammed.  Turkey vultures adorn the white branches like a candelabra.  Kingfishers launch their dives from these same platforms.  Yellow-billed cuckoos and painted buntings flit through the cedars above red foxes and armadillos.  Red-eared sliders sun below the singing cardinals.  Whole flocks of wild turkeys fly clumsily overhead and common water snakes catch small catfish in the shallows.  If I'm lucky, I will catch a glimpse of the roadrunner that I can identify by his sound alone.

American Horse Lake is a wonderland that gives my soul new energy.  If you get the chance, come experience the enchantment that this spot beholds.  Just do me one favor - let's keep this place our little secret.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Red Dirt Shores

Welcome to the kayak tour of Lake Hefner.  Oklahoma City's drinking water.  Home to 9.5 miles of walking/ running/ cycling/ blading trails.  Classic spot for new, old, and quick romances.  (I still feel sorry for the first boy who took me "parking" here, before I knew what that was.)  Today, you will be introduced to the intimate details you might have missed those thousands of times you only thought you saw the lake.  When viewed from the inside, at the water-surface level, the perspective changes.  The lake view becomes macro.

We will start our tour at Hobie Point.  The sailboaters claim this sandy beach, but it belongs to us all.  What?  You didn't know that Lake Hefner had a sand beach?  It's been dry for a while, but the water is now starting to return.  The sand gives way to mud before we have enough water to float the shallow boats and launch.  Don't forget your water, sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses - you're going to need them!

Heading west and south, we pass Canada geese and great blue herons on the hunt.  We round the side of the Tom Jones Memorial R/C Flying Field (and home to a family of foxes).  I still remember the day that Tom Jones took his last flight in Oklahoma.  Do the kids with remote controls in hand know who he was?  They play on his field, never realizing that another anniversary of his end approaches.  Regardless, his legacy still takes to the skies in the field with his name.  As the daughter of a pilot, I can't forget.

Across from the fishing pier, killdeer babies run like fuzzy ping-pong balls on stilts.  Mallard families take turns sharing responsibility for the young ones.  We pass the marina, where thousands of cliff swallows emerge to clear the air of mosquitoes.  The recent drought leaves plenty of clearance to take our thin boats under the docks and see the busy parents filling the open mouths.  We wonder at their bravery to attempt their first flight over water.

The golfers to our left are oblivious as we glide by.  Look among the rocks and you might spot the blue-winged teal that rests there.  The wide inlet is bordered by nesting Eastern kingbirds.  An occasional grebe is spotted between dives.  This area is in the flight path of the ospreys who perch with fish in talons in the pond on the other side of the road.  When we round the next point, the red dirt shores seem to slough into the matching water.  It is a bale of soft-shelled turtles that sun on the beach.  This is where I learned how to identify them by their pointed noses as they breach for air.

Ahead of us, the water is rushing in from Lake Overholser through the canal.  A little higher, and the water will connect to the shallow bird sanctuary on the other side of the fishermen.  Eight types of egrets and herons reside there, as well as beavers, snakes, songbirds, raccoons, and cormorants.  The blackbirds guard their nests in every willow.  Flimsy starbursts of straight branches make up the nests of the green heron.  Their nervous, awkward ways entertain us.  Rarely-seen migrating species rest and refuel in this area.
See the dark birds with thin, bent beaks?  These few are the last hold-out from a group of 20 or 30 white-faced ibises that came through last month.  The visitors revolve with the daylight, and each season I spot something I've never before seen. 

Jetted ahead by the influx of water, we approach the shallow southwest corner of the lake.  Coots run on top of the water and small fish jump in our boats.  The sides boil with spawning catfish.  Let's follow the dam around and search for mink in the rocks.  Yes, there are mink here.  The runners and cyclists may never see them, but ask the fishermen that sit quietly.  The water tower still proudly brags about the '89 Olympics held here.

Windsurfers and kiteboarders catch the abundant air on the northeast side of the water.  Our small boats become a rodeo when we turn into the summer wind.  There is the Lego-like lighthouse to our left.  Smoky gray cats mingle with siamese by the boat docks.  See the left ear, missing the tip?  These cats are part of a large colony, fed and neutered by volunteers.  We splash past the row of restaurants, promising to come back after dark and listen on the water to the one-man bands playing the patios, or The Wise Guys playing covers to all ages on the lawn at Louie's. 

Further south, beavers are changing the landscape.  It snows with cottonwoods, fighting to reseed.  Pubescent geese mingle with the ducks, looking for a free meal by Stars and Stripes.  The park has a new face, complete with viewing scopes by the flagpole - ruining the days of losing layers and tanlines midweek in the center of the lake.

The muddy parking lot to the west is Paddler's Park - claimed by the kayaking community.  Just think of it as a day at the spa when you wade through the muck to get your boat wet.  A group of politically-active kayakers literally cleared the path to this area.  Their actions helped OKC Kayak to continue to bring boats and their experience for others to enjoy on the waters of Lake Hefner.  On the far side are remnants of a pier by funky, teepee-like shades.  Remember these landmarks when we return after dark, they will guide us back to the shore.

This completes your kayak tour of Lake Hefner, as our paddles dip in the mud at Hobie.  Feel free to stay a while.  Park your chair in the sand, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy front-row seats to a no-special-glasses-needed 3-D theater for another rich, Oklahoma sunset.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Walnut Creek Farms

Andy, the new generation of farmers
I couldn't resist an offer from new friends to visit their farm in Waynoka.  That was just going to be one of the stops on an adventure day at Glass Mountain.  We never made it to the mountain, and my only regret is that my camera didn't get to meet the farm.

Walnut Creek Farms is a chemical-free and happy farm.  The farming philosophy is simple - focused on the health of the land and the growth of the rural communities.  There are multiple types of chickens laying pink and blue eggs (no, it isn't pink for girls and blue for boys - I asked).  There are cattle, pigs, sheep, dogs, and a cat named Midnight.  It is 1300 acres that have been in the family since the landrun.  Walnut Creek Farms provides fresh products to local restaurants such as Ludivine and La Baguette.

When we arrived at the farm, our host, Andy, got his daily orders from his father-in-law, Kim Barker.  Just a couple of quick chores, he said.  What transpired was a beautiful display of the seasoned farmer patiently tending to his younger apprentice, while the newest farmer absorbed like the dry earth around us.  We replaced a broken water hydrant, started construction on a new chicken feeder box, and rounded up stubborn cattle.  Plans were made to collect freshly-harvested wheat from a neighbor.  It can't even be called bartering - it was just plain neighborly sharing in action.

Much more than the physical lessons being shared, there was an overwhelming code of peace, patience, and respect.  Respect for Mother Earth, her animals, and her people.  There was mutual admiration between father and son-in-law that was as obvious as the testicles on the sheep (impressive, believe me).

At the end of the day, we caught up with Andy's wife, Juli, and joined what seemed to be half the town of Waynoka for a dutch-oven feast.  Cast-iron pots were filled with meats, potatoes, beans, cobbler, breads, and even cheesecakes.  Bottles of wine were shared like stories.  Little ones there still know how to climb in the trees, and they were completely unplugged.   

When the sun finally gave up, the guitar emerged.  The stars responded and gathered 'round.  I neither lie nor exaggerate when I tell you that the brightest green glow of a shooting star actually sizzled when it crossed the sky.

The invite and temptation was strong to stay the night.  The VW pop-up camper/ van was definitely a draw.  Instead, I took home pieces of Waynoka and Walnut Creek Farms in my memory.  I feel fortunate to have shared in the abundant harvest of peace and kindness that day.  I want to preserve it, can it, keep some, and share the rest.

Juli, Andy, me, and LaNita

Friday, June 3, 2011


If I never leave the state again, I will still not get to see all of the things I'd like to in Oklahoma.  Then again, it's possible that I have witnessed more wonders of the world right here than most lifetime Oklahomies.  Today is a chance to challenge yourself to get outside and visit someplace in Oklahoma where you have never been.  Pick up a map, follow a trail, get lost.

Have you seined the urban creeks of Martin Park Nature Center, just to identify and release the living creatures captured?  Witnessed the beginning of Spring, when the riverbank branches of Muskrat Row turn into snakes?   Listened to wingbeats of mythical birds in the Red Slough?  Try searching for the state lizard in the mountains.  Get sick of spotting bald eagles at McGee Creek State Park.  Swim in the clear water of American Horse Lake.  Listen to coyotes, wild boar, and Chuck-will's-widows after dark.  Discover that a roadrunner sounds nothing like the cartoon.

There are most definitely treasured spots in this beautiful state, and natural wonders that I just haven't found yet.  I refuse to believe that there is nothing to do here.  There just isn't enough time to do it all.  I may be boulder-hopping in the rock gardens of the Wichita Mountains this weekend, or searching for bobcat tracks in the sand at Stinchcomb.  Possibly treading on a new path for the first time, or spending time on familiar grounds.  I will never tire of this get-acquainted phase of my relationship with Oklahoma.  Can you come out and play?

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I didn't know the word, but I have known the concept since I was small.  When my mother miscarried while my dad was out of town for work, her friend took in seven of us kids for a few days.  What is the appropriate word for a large group of kids?  It is a gaggle of geese, a herd of elephants, a murder of crows.  Maybe it should be a tantrum of kids.  Whatever the word, that is what my siblings and I were.  Yet, someone with two kids of her own took us in that night and selflessly cared for a tantrum of kids while my mother went to the hospital.

The people of Oklahoma display their selflessness on so many occasions.  Baking casseroles at a moment's notice when a friend's family member passes, or giving clothing, water, money, and blood when disaster strikes.  Before the news reporters can grab a poncho and cameraman, the anonymous help is already on the ground and mobilizing troops.

I see this selflessness daily.  It shines when my neighbor returns everyone's garbage bin to the sides of the houses on trash days.  It crescendos when piano students from scores ago return to care for the ailing couple on the corner without children.  And, it whispers when Oklahomies give a smile and a few dollars to any cause with a donation can.  They give cash for the sake of the cause, not the tax write-off.  No, they don't need a receipt.

We are all bound - not by a church, a town, or blood, but by our humanness.  Humanity is still very real, warm, and tangible here.  It will bake for you, mow your lawn, bring your paper to your doorstep, watch your kids, wash your dishes, and sift through the physical and emotional rubble with you.

I was born here.  I should have more of this trait by now.  My hope is that eventually the selflessness of others will seep through my skin, into my veins, and race through my heart.  The electrical current it creates should penetrate the base of my skull, fuse to my brain stem, and become as natural as blinking.  Meanwhile, I make these observations and admire the selflessness in others around me.  I want to learn from the masters surrounding me.