Monday, September 27, 2010

Another reason to go to Oklahoma

Though few of you may realize the many characteristics of Oklahoma, most of you probably don't.  You may all know that the wind comes sweeping down the plain and that the waving wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right begin the rain.  You probably also are aware that there are still a lot of Native Americans living there and that they were sent there by the immigrants that wanted their land in the southeast. And if you read our last blog you know a little about some of the interesting architecture in Oklahoma.   But I feel certain you don't know about okra and it's Oklahoma connection.
Now to be fair to the long and interesting history of okra, it didn't originate at all in Oklahoma- but is rather a transplant- like the Indians- and my family- for that matter.  And growing up I wouldn't have even recognized that Oklahoma "did Okra", because all the okra I ever ate was during my visits to my aunt's in the south- Tennessee to be exact. But I usually didn't eat much of the okra- too slimy for me! I much, much preferred the coconut cake- or the pecan pie- or the boiled custard- or the country ham.

Though it's not quite clear the absolute origins of Okra, most experts believe that it's most likely origin is in the area of the Nile- Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt.  It has been found growing wild along the banks of the Nile.  But it didn't take long for this vegetable to spread across to both the east and the west. It's well known in the the cooking of the middle east and all across Africa. It's passage to the New World was via a slave boat from west Africa- and it's first "sighting" was in Brazil around the middle of the 17th century.  By the middle of the 18th century it had made it's way to North America. It established it's central role in Gumbo - a signature dish in the Creole cooking of Louisiana- very early in the culinary history of this country.  Okra won't grow much north of the Mason-Dixon line or even very well where it is hot and wet. 

We do see okra occasionally in Ohio in the produce section of the grocery, but it usually has a sign on it that says:  "this is okra".  You never see signs like that near the tomatoes.  But Oklahoma is hot and usually dry, and Okra thrives there. My Dad used to grow it in our garden, and it grew so fast that we would have to pick it every day or the pods would get too big and tough.

So why am I blogging about okra???   I never really liked it very much when I was growing up.  You can slice it up and boil it into a slimy mess to put in stews (awful in my opinion), or you can slice it, batter it and then fry it (my Mom's chosen way to cook it and not too bad if you also mix in some onions or peppers), or you can PICKLE IT.  Now if you have never eaten pickled okra, I feel a little sorry for you for you have missed one of the wonderful things in life.  The first time I ever ate pickled okra was at Mom and Dad's dining room table.  And oh my!  It was love at first bite! I didn't marry into the Lucas family for the okra but is did sweeten the pot a bit! Unfortunately, Max and I have also been missing that delicacy these past few years.  My Mom always made pickled okra and then my brothers and I would make off with a few jars, whenever we came to visit.  Brother Bill used to love to put okra into his Gin Martinis instead of an olive.  But Mom left us almost two years ago and we've been left to our own to find pickled okra.  The stuff you buy in the stores isn't bad, but it isn't that good either. Certainly it's never as good as Mom's. 

But Mom did leave us her recipes, so Max and I decided we could try pickling.  Since we couldn't get decent okra here, we tried pickling other things.  We did pretty well with asparagus and it has become a fairly popular appetizer here at our house.  And though we like asparagus, it has a fairly short growing cycle, and it is also pretty expensive. And it's just not as good as okra.  You can use it as a substitute- but it will always be the substitute for the really, really good stuff.  Last year we found a bit of okra here and I quickly brought it home and we pickled it.  Oh my!  The addiction started- I just had to have more.  My produce "guy" told me he'd keep his eye out for it- but this year hardly any made it's way north- not a good growing season in the southeast- the origin of much of our "southern" food.

But this year the stars seemed to align in a way they never have before.  We had planned to go to Oklahoma in October to see Frank and Fay,  Max's father and step-mom on their birthday.  Unfortunately, Clint, Max's son, will be deploying to Afghanistan in late October and he will have two weeks leave about the same time we had planned to go to Oklahoma.  So this year we moved the date for the Oklahoma trip to early September, and early September is peak Okra season in Oklahoma.

Fay did a little advance searching for us and found a farmer's market not too far north of them in the thriving town of Bixby, Oklahoma.  When I last lived in Tulsa 40 years ago Bixby was not more than a filling station and a sign, but now it has grown into a very nice community that is commuting distance to Tulsa.  So Fay and I drove to Bixby and bought 1.5 bushels of Okra.  It was beautiful okra, nothing at all  like we get here in Cincinnati.

We packed it all in ice chests for the long drive back to Cincinnati.  And once we got home we realized that we were going to be very short on Bell Jars.  So it was off to the store to buy another 8 dozen pint jars.

 And of course we also needed several gallons of vinegar, lots of garlic, hot peppers, pickling salt and spices.

But in the end, it was all worth it.  We ended up with 111 pints of pickled okra, an amount that will surely last us for a couple of years, that is unless the kids start taking them home with them like I used to do.

Grandma Lucas’ Pickled Okra

Pickling mixture for 4 pints:
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/8 to 1/4 cup pickling salt
        (Depending on taste and propensity to high blood pressure)
1 Tbsp mustard seed
2 tsp dill seed (whole)
Okra, whole (about 2#)
Cloves of garlic, 1-2 per jar
1/4 tsp powdered alum per jar
Hot peppers, 1-2 per jar
Fresh dill-optional

1. Fill 4 pints with okra, alum, hot pepper, garlic cloves, and dill if using.

2. Bring vinegar, water, mustard seed and dill seed to a boil.

3. Pour the vinegar solution over the filled jars of okra.

4. Seal each jar and water pack for 5 minutes for a good seal.

(And if you get really interested in pickling I recommend the book The Complete Book of Pickling by Jennifer MacKenzie.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Trip Home...

I was hardly home from my travels east when it was time to head down south for a trip to Oklahoma.  There was of course a bitter sweet part to this trip.  Our recent goodbye to Don's brother Bill- and his Mom- and his Dad- has made too many of our recent trips sad at best.  We miss them in our life here in Ohio, but the miss is more poignant when we return to Oklahoma.  We're trying to fill the hole they left behind with memories, but I have to say that the emptiness is always more palpable when we drive into Tulsa.  I think maybe the loss is just going to linger a long, long time. 

We try to avoid the Oklahoma summer- always so hot and so, so, so dry.  What a surprise this year! We left the "brown lawn" look here in Ohio to arrive to the beautiful "green" of Oklahoma. I didn't even know it was possible to have "green lawns" in August in Oklahoma.  Guess some things have changed since I left a little over 16 years ago...

A trip to Oklahoma is always a reunion!  A reunion of family and friends and this trip was no exception.  We crammed so much into our time there that I'm still taking out the memories and reliving the time we had to share.  This year was especially nice because my sister scheduled her trip from Florida at the same time so I got to spend extra time with her as well.

But the trip was a whirlwind!  And the pictures will tell the story better than words might ever.  So here goes the story....

After "dumping" our stuff at Dad's we were off for a day in Bartlesville with our sister-in-law Elaine.  Now that's always a good time!  First I have to tell you that Elaine's home is absolutely stunning!  We had never been there and we were totally blown away.  Wow!

You can't pigeon hole the look- though certainly there is a strong "southwest"- but rather it is a visual expression of Elaine- comfortable- funny-interesting- impulsive-creative... There is nothing better than when  home reflects the person that resides within.  And this one certainly does.

It is interesting that Oklahoma was very late in achieving statehood.  It was originally established as Indian Territory, or to be more truthful, a place to send the many tribes of the real Native Americans because the immagrants wanted their land.  This all worked well (except for the tribes) until oil was discovered in great abundance on these "tribal" lands.  That prompted the reservation lands to become smaller and the influx of boom towns looking for oil.  Below is a representation of the first commercial oil rig that struck oil in what is now Bartlesville.

And then this trip had an extra treat!  Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper was built right here in Oklahoma!  You got it- right here!.  Wright actually designed it for the NYC skyscape- but the depression put it into moth balls and it was never resurrected until an
"oil rich" gentleman in Oklahoma- Bartlesville to be exact let Wright have his way! Price Tower changed not only the landscape of this prairie town, but certainly earned Oklahoma a very visible place in the "tour" of modern architecture.  Wright built this tower for the Price family because their favored architect- Bruce Goff, the dean at the Oklahoma University School of Architecture (you're going to hear more about him later)- was unavailable and he recommended Wright.  The rest is history!

Cincinati does pigs! Vermont does moose!  Chicago does cows! Lexington does horses! Toronto did moose!  Well Bartlesville does buffalo! And Price Tower is in the background!

Wright designed the building to have two distinct sides.  The side with the horizontal lines was established as offices for the Price Pipeline Company and the side with the verticle lines was set up as residences which eventually became part of the Inn.  The green lines that establish the horizontal and verticle sides are fins made of copper and were put in place to help deflect the Oklahoma winds that come sweeping down the plains.

Currently the Price Tower has been restored as an Inn.  We stopped by at the end of our day at the Copper Bar for a fine, fine, fine finish of a wonderful day!

But back to Goff for a minute.  He designed a number of buildings in Oklahoma and another one is located in Bartlesville.  He designed the Redeemer Lutheran Church and incorporated green glass cullets in the outer structure.  These cullets are actually glass by-products that used to be produced during process of making glass.

But as we said, more about Goff later.

After an evening with Dad and Fay- and of course breakfast at Tally's!  Tally's is at the
corner of Yale Ave and 11th Street (11th Street is part of the original Highway 66) and it was my brother Bill's favorite breakfast spot.  He was a personal friend of Tally and we always make it a point to eat there once.

Oklahoma has quite a bit of interesting architecture.  Little did we know when we grew up there that we were in some of the finest examples of Art Deco style.  For more information see .  In the 1920's and 30's Oklahoma was in the oil boom and the wealth was expressed in the boom of building.  One of the more common buildings was Will Rogers High School where Max and I first met.  It is still a beautiful building.

Here are some close up examples of the detail of work that went into this building.

After leaving the high school we drove towards the downtown area to Boston Avenue Methodist Church, another beautiful Art Deco building.  This church was designed in part by the prevously mentioned Bruce Goff who eventually became the Dean of the School of Architecture at OU. This was Goff's first major work.

Finally we were off to OKC/Norman to reconnect with friends from so many years I just don't stop to count anymore.  Just suffice it to say that I moved to Norman when I was 6 months pregnant with Clint and he is now almost 33 years old!  We're talking about a LONG TIME! We stayed in the gorgeous home of Clare and Oliver.


And it was here at Oliver and Clare's I had my first "good" wine (not the pink stuff) and where I was introduced to the possiblities of "home" cooking!  I am forever grateful!

And of course we always have a Sunday Champaigne Brunch!  I do love TRADITION!

Now we really crammed in the "friends" on Sunday after breakfast.  Our first stop was with Maggie... (PS- I might mention that her son is currently over in Afganistan making maps for Captain Kappel)...

And then Walt and Earline... (PS they're going to be here in Cincinnati this weekend for the University of Oklahoma versus University of Cincinnati football game- you're going to hear more about that later!)

And then finally dinner with Sharon and Bruce at Legend's- one of my favorite restaurants in Norman- and yes it is still in business after all these years!

Monday was not nearly so busy. Maybe you're relieved- but I know I was! We spent the day with our dear friends, Kathy and TH- always a profound joy in our life!
We decided to visit the Bruce Goff designed home in Norman.  See, we told he would come up again. Now I lived in Norman a long time- 17 years if you don't count undergraduate- but I had never heard of Bruce Goff- shame on me!  It is interesting that Goff was apprenticed out to an architecture firm at the age of 12!  And still managed to become the dean of the University of Oklahoma Architecture School without ever even finishing high school!  So we were off to the Bavinger House- listed on the TOP 15 MUST SEE architecture buildings to be seen in the US!  How about that!  And not too far from where I lived for oh so many years!  This is a very strange house and now we know why.  The Bavingers were in the Art Department at OU the same time Goff was there and one night at a party (a drunken party as described by the Bavinger's son who now owns the house) they designed this house on the back of a napkin.  Apparently the next morning they decided it was still a good idea, so Goff did the real design and Bavinger built the house with a lot of volunteer student help.  The house is described as the place where art and architecture merge with nature.  In the picture below you can see that the roof is suspended by cables that come from a central spire.

The center pole of the house is actually an  oil drill pipe that runs from the base to the apex of the house.  Below is a picture of the drill pipe extending through the top level of the house.  You can also see the large number of green glass cullets that are used extensively throughout the house.  Goff apparently really liked these pieces of glass and used them in quite a number of his designs.
The inside of the house winds around and up the center pole with each of the 5 levels getting smaller as they wind to the top.  All of the furniture was either built in made of natural stone or it was suspended from the ceiling

Needless to say this is a very unusual house, but then again the Bavingers were not particularly usual people.  Near the back side of the house a road came by and people would often stop and just stand and stare at the Bavingers and their guests.  This prompted a new piece of art shown below and placed across a small creek next to the road..

If you haven't figured it out yet, it represents the people that would stand and stare at the Bavingers.  And even better, if you look close you can tell what the faces are made of.  Answer at the bottom of this blog.

And then we were off for a quick visit to the "farm"!  TH's Tree Farm that is!  That is T.H. in the picture below standing in front of the pond.  T.H. is a retired Botany Professor from  OU and dedicated his retirement to growing and providing native Oklahoma trees for planting on the campus and in yards around Norman.  He is 86 now and the tree farm has been given to the Oklahoma Nature preserve.

And of course you must see Kathy's beautiful gourd's! Now Kathy spent a career in nursing- but then found her true calling in retirement in her artistic expression!  Her work is beautiful.  Why one of her gourds was auctioned at $600! at a local benefit fund raiser!

She even grows the gourds that she uses in her back yard.

And at the end of our day with these dear, dear friends we packed into the car and returned to Tulsa for a much needed dose of FAMILY!
Fay and I slipped off for a "mother-daughter" lunch- and our much loved trip to the Philbrook Museum.  It was, of course, stunning! As always!  I never tire of my visits!  Philbrook is another gift of Oklahoma oil.  It was owned by the Phillips family, owners of Phillips Petroleum company which is headquarterd in Bartlesville.  The house was their residence until it was donated to Tulsa for use in the arts.  It has 72 rooms and sits on 23 acres right in the middle of Tulsa.

But the rest of this visit was uninterrupted family time!  And as far as I'm concerned you just can't beat uninterrupted family time!
This first picture is with family friends- Nancy and Jimmy Dodds- from our childhood.  We lined up oldest to youngest.  I'm not telling which end is the oldest...

Our beautiful niece Piper and her husband Cory where able to join us!  What a treat!

And of course my sister!

And sister-in-law...
And my brother....

Of course the really good looking ones are Dad and Fay!

If you are still with us on this blog you get to see the answer to the art work at Bavinger House.  Here is the picture again:  Each of the heads is the bottom of a sink.  The eyes are holes for the hot and cold water faucets and the  mouth is the drain.  The center sink was made to fit into a corner.