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Firing Your Way to Grilling Greatness

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It’s taken awhile for Oklahoma to warm up this year. Temperatures in the low 30s lingered into April.

Rib Crib

Despite the late spring, we’re back on target this month and the high heat is coming as summer awaits and people uncover and dust off their grills and smokers.

In our annual section on outdoor cooking, we get away from the norm of hamburgers and hot dogs and explore weird foods, like fudge, that you can grill over the coals.

Tasty sausages, in their raw state, can pose challenges on the grill. We show you how to be the best with brats. We also examine the advantages of the main types of charcoal grills.

Also included are short takes on grilling with skewers and a debate over hickory and mesquite as woods that add flavor to your food as you cook it.

We have a quick rundown of some new barbecue equipment on the market.

Experts weigh in on what makes a good homemade barbecue sauce. There’s even a glossary of sauces by region of the country and the world.

 Opinions vary, but those differences make for robust discussion about a favorite Oklahoma pastime – outdoor cooking.  

9. What Wood You Prefer?

It’s a non-debate debate – or a debate non-debate: distinct and resonate vs. sweet and subtle … mesquite vs. hickory. Regardless of an outright victor, those who grill and smoke love to flavor meat by burning wood.

The battle between hickory and mesquite, like most disputes in the outdoor cooking world, is good-natured. The rarest of species is someone who likes barbecue but refuses to eat because food has been grilled or smoked with chunks from a certain tree.

Jose Todd, assistant manager at Howler’s Famous Barbecue in Pawnee, favors mesquite because “it is a stronger, bolder taste than hickory. Wood-wise, it burns slower. You get a smokier taste.”

He adds – while chewing on a piece of brisket to examine the flavors – mesquite “is not sweet, so you can actually taste the meat; it doesn’t overwhelm the meat.”

In another corner is Andrew Timmons, executive chef in charge of research and development at Tulsa-based Rib Crib.

“I always use green hickory,” he says. “It’s not harsh or bitter and it’s readily available. It provides a good color and smoke ring.

“It provides better heat, too; it will burn the longest because it’s the hardest of the hard woods.”

The great news is that the home grill master doesn’t have to pledge allegiance to the tree. It’s OK to switch back and forth. The Barbecue Po-Po won’t come after you.

8. GO FOR THE WEIRD

Grilled pineapple slices with honey on crumpled paper. selected focus.

Hamburgers, hot dogs and some vegetables comprise a typical backyard barbecue. However, if you see your grill as just a cooking surface with wood and charcoal as the heat source, your options become limitless.

Bananas, lettuce, eggplant, tofu, watermelon, pineapple, peaches, tomatoes, pizza, quesadillas, edamame, nuts, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, bacon, polenta, lobster, avocados and chard are among scores of items you can plop on the grates.

Nick Corcoran, pit master at Tulsa-based Burn Co. Barbeque for seven years, could perform standup comedy with the shenanigans in his lair and some of the foods he’s grilled.

“What we do for a living is absolutely ridiculous because I have access to the best meats and food that you can get,” he says. “We have fun and play around with anything.”

Corcoran has grilled schnitzel, elk sausage, squirrel, lamb and alligator.

“Probably the most unusual thing I’ve done on the grill is fudge – salt-candy-bacon fudge,” he says. “It didn’t go over too well, but I liked it and ate most of it myself.”

OKC’s Scotty Irani, of the In the Kitchen With Scotty, recalls foods at beach parties while he was in culinary school in Rhode Island.

“Grilled oysters and clams are phenomenal,” he says. “The trick is to find those big, gnarly, thick mollusks, then toss them on the grill until they open. Knock out some garlic-herb butter, shuck the clams and oysters, spoon in the butter and place them back in the shells on the grill to cook.

“Can you taste it? I know you can.”

7. CHARCOAL GRILL TYPES 

Traditionalists in the outdoor cooking world eschew electricity (pellet cookers) and propane (gas grills). They go for charcoal and wood and fire.

The equipment they use, however, may vary. Dillon Stockard at Everything Barbecue in Oklahoma City runs down the advantages of various types of charcoal grills.

• Barrel – “The cooking surface is large. It’s a vertical style and you have several tiers, so you can get a lot of food on there,” Stockard says.

• Brazier and kettle – Each of these basic grills is essentially the same (charcoal pan, grill and lid). The former is rectangular; the latter is (surprise) shaped like a kettle. “People love the nostalgia of either. It’s the grill that people saw their grandpa or father using.”

• Crank-style – Hasty-Bake of Tulsa patented this type. “You have the versatility to easily move the charcoal around,” Stockard says.

• Kamado or egg – The names are interchangeable, with Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe well-known for this style. “It’s a complete, three-in-one cooker – grill, bake and smoke. Most also have a lifetime warranty.”

In addition, Stockard says the materials of the cookers make a difference.

“The advantage of metal comes in smoking meat,” he says. “Metal provides a drier cooking environment, so you get a more pronounced smoke ring and bark.”

Ceramic cookers “are fantastic if you want to grill basic burgers, steaks, chicken or sausages because of the moisture, flavor and heat retention,” he says.

6. Fowl Weather Ahead

What makes chicken and other winged meats popular today – the relatively low fat content – is also what makes grilling them a fair or fowl proposition.

Beef and pork have enough fat to make hamburgers and bratwurst juicy. However, poultry and flying game can dry out quickly on the grill because there’s nothing in them to keep the meat moist.

The key is getting the moisture in ahead of time with brines and marinades. For instance, brining chicken or turkey breasts for 1½-2 hours renders plump, tender, juicy meat hot off the grill.

Chef Scotty Irani, who runs his In The Kitchen With Scotty line of products out of Oklahoma City, says prepping fowl for the charcoaler is vital.

“When grilling game fowl, keep in mind that these birds – duck, pheasant, quail, dove, grouse – are going to be ‘dry,’ plus you’re using a ‘dry’ way of cooking them,” he says. “To counter-balance that, marinating or brining is always a good idea. Wrapping in bacon or classic ‘larding’ makes a tasty bird bite, too.

“Always make sure you’re grilling these guys to proper internal temperature – 165-170 degrees – especially if they truly are wild game fowl.”

5. sausage success 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Charred on the outside. Uncooked meat on the inside. This dreadful state of affairs is why many people shun grilling raw bratwurst and sausages.

However, a little patience, a lot of experience and strategic charcoal placement produce casing after casing of ground, flavorful goodness.

“The key is heat control,” says Jeffrey Yates, deli manager for 10 years at Siegi’s Sausage Factory in south Tulsa. “Let them slowly warm up for even browning.”

Nick Corcoran, pit master at Tulsa-based Burn Co. Barbeque, makes sure he has direct and indirect sources of heat. He warms up and browns the brats away from the coals before finishing them over the fire.

“The casing will firm up and the sausage will firm up,” he says. “I know this sounds kind of funny, but as they become plump, they become bouncy as well. I’ve dropped one of the ground and it bounced up.”

Yates uses a feel test before pulling the sausages off the grill.

“When they’re nice and firm and tight, you know it’s done,” he says. “If tiny holes in the casing split open and clear juices come out, then they’re done.”

Puncturing the casing is a no-no because it keeps the meat moist and zesty, so a thermometer is out of the question. However, Corcoran suggests making one of the brats “a sacrificial lamb and cut into it. The others are going to be like it, so you’ll know if they are ready or need more time.”

Yates, whose favorites are ones with any type of cheese in them, says “sausages sometimes get a negative connotation because people think they’re just fancy hot dogs. They’re not. There are a lot of excellent, gourmet sausages out there.”

4. The Art of the Sauce

tomato sauce on white background

Just like foodie disputes over the best way to prepare fried chicken or which type of gravy is best, the art of making barbecue sauce is highly subjective.

With every grilling or smoking expert comes a different opinion on what is needed in a good sauce. Oklahoma Magazine talked with barbecue masters in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and got their preferences.

Nick Corcoran,
pit master, Burn Co. Barbeque,
metropolitan Tulsa

“Around here, we like sauce that’s thick, ketchup-based and sticky – something that you can put on a bun and not have it run off. I always use high-quality ingredients, like blackstrap molasses as a great addition to the ketchup base. Technically speaking, good barbecue shouldn’t need sauce, but, if you do use it, it should be used during the cooking process.”

Chuck Gawey,
owner, Albert G’s Bar-B-Q, Tulsa

“We put a lot of TLC in our sauce. You don’t want anything too, too sweet or too, too tangy or too, too hot. You want something versatile. I had a guy tell me that he puts our sauce on everything, including eggs. That’s what we want.”

Tomas Lopez, chef,
Iron Star Urban Barbecue, OKC

“It’s the sweetness, tanginess and spices altogether. It’s also important to have smokiness and something sweet, like molasses or brown sugar. Onion powder is a good addition, and I like some hot spice for a little kick.”

Brent Swadley,
third-generation owner,
Swadley’s Bar-B-Q, metropolitan OKC

“No. 1 is starting with the best ingredients. We only use Heinz ketchup as the base. We make our sauce fresh. Oklahomans generally like a sweet sauce, but some like it tangy, too, so that’s why we have four sauces. You want the sauce to complete your barbecue. It shouldn’t overwhelm the food. It should cling to the meat, not thickly cover it. It should drape the meat like being on the back of a spoon.”

3. A sauce gloss

Some states and regions in America, along with other countries, claim to produce the best barbecue sauces, which have tomatoes, vinegar or mustard as their bases. Here’s a look at various types.

Alabama White – As the exception to the rule, this state’s white barbecue sauce has mayonnaise as its base, mixed with lemon juice, salt, black pepper, white vinegar and sugar.

Australian – Down Under, the sauce is served as a condiment, not as something swabbed on meat during cooking. Generally, it’s ketchup or tomato paste diluted with Worcestershire sauce and mixed with paprika and that most Aussie of all staples, Vegemite.

Chimichurri – Common to Argentina and Uruguay (and in some parts of Brazil), this uncooked sauce is red or green, depending upon the use of tomatoes. It blends parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, vinegar and red pepper.

Chinese – Tomato puree is mixed with ginger powder, sherry, soy and hoisin sauces, five-spice powder (cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and peppercorns), pineapple juice and garlic for a distinct taste.

East Carolina – Thicker than its West Carolina sibling (see below), this sauce still relies on vinegar and is mixed with crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper (among other spices).

Florida – Since this state is home to many citrus fruits, it’s no surprise that grapefruit juice is a primary ingredient – mixed with brown sugar, red onion, garlic, tomato paste, dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

Kansas City – Makers of this sauce like to double down on its key ingredients: tomato sauce and ketchup, blended with brown sugar and molasses.

Korean – Onion, Asian pear and kiwi fruit provide the sweet and loads of garlic provide the sour. Soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil are other key elements.

Lexington/Piedmont/West Carolina – Known by all three names, this sauce uses ketchup, is thin and has lots of vinegar.

Memphis – This sauce is heavy on the tomato base and zesty spices, which makes it thick, sticky and tangy.

Oklahoma – Minced onion and garlic, crushed celery seed, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves, paprika and either melted butter or olive oil give the Sooner State’s sauce a unique flavor.

Pacific Northwest – Pick your favorite fruit jam, jelly or marmalade from Oregon or Washington, then mix it with your favorite style of barbecue sauce.

South Carolina – The classic mustard-based sauce has lots of the prepared yellow condiment for even the smallest of batches. Honey and brown sugar provide some balance, but the tang goes up again with apple cider vinegar, chipotle pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

St. Louis – This blend of styles (tomato, mustard and vinegar) has some sweet (brown sugar) and heat (cayenne pepper).

Texas Mop – Ketchup or tomato sauce, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and chili powder are among the flavors in the Lone Star State type.

2. SKEWERING A
COMPLETE MEAL

Shish kebab on skewers with onions. On the black wooden table.

Often overlooked by backyard chefs is the humble skewer, which can bring a complete meal – meat, vegetable, fungi, starch and fruit – straight from the grill to each person.

The prep time is about the same. If they arrive early enough, you can let guests choose what they want on each skewer – such as two cubes of chicken, two potato wedges, three chunks of bell pepper, two mushrooms and a slice of pineapple.

“It’s a different way to eat than what people are used to doing with the grill,” says Dillon Stockard of Everything Barbecue in Oklahoma City. “It’s something nice to try. It’s easy, too – bite-sized food and you don’t have as much cleanup.”

Bamboo skewers are good because of their biodegradability and quickness to cool, so you can remove the hot food without burning your fingers. However, they don’t do well with high heat and can easily break or splinter.

Metal skewers stay hot and you can’t hold them with your bare fingers, but they last a long time, provide superior heat in the middle of a chunk of meat and should be washed after each use.

1. RECENT TECHNOLOGY

Grilling food over coals is as old as Homo erectus, so just about everything needed for barbecuing has been invented in the past 1.8 million years. However, some recently released products might grab people’s attention.

Dillon Stockard with Everything Barbecue in Oklahoma City touts some items that have made their way to the back porch.

  • Kamado Joe has added features to its ceramic cookers, namely an air hinge, which uses a compressed spring to make easy lifting of the 125-pound lid, and a long-lasting gasket (seal) made out of ceramic and woven mesh with a life span of 10-plus years. Conventional felt, nomex gaskets last about five years.
  • Several companies, responding to publicized instances of wires breaking off grill brushes and getting into food, have produced scrapers made out of bamboo or another hardwood. “You use it when the grill is hot; the tapered front conforms to the grates,” Stockard says.
  • Smokin’ Brothers and BBQ Hack – makers of pellet grills and accessories, respectively – have a griddle that reaches 400 degrees with the hood down and 350 degrees with it open. It quickly substitutes for the grates and indirect heating surface and fits over the center-mounted fire box. 

The Best of the Best 2017

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The Best of the Best 2017

The Best of the Best 2017

[dropcap]Whether[/dropcap] you’re looking for a qualified aesthetician, top-of-the-line barbecue restaurant or unique clothing boutique, Oklahoma has an overwhelming number of options. Each year, we ask our readers to weigh in on The Best of the Best – the places, people and companies you prefer. Over the past few months, we collected thousands of votes to find your best options, no matter what you’re seeking. The readers have spoken, and we are happy to honor the following as The Best of the Best in what they do. Sit back, read and relax – we did the heavy lifting for you.

Photography for section covers by Miller Photography

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Places and Faces

Artist

Local artists are the cornerstone of culture in our state. P.S. Gordon, a New American Realism painter, has found national success with his art. Utilizing different forms of media on her canvas, Cynthia Brown is another beloved Tulsa art icon. Wendeline Matson combines modern culture and childhood nostalgia for a unique artistic style.

OKC artists like Stephanie Brudzinski convey words of hope in her art, with natural, spiritual and peaceful themes. Ryan Cunningham embodies the spirit of the modern West, and Desmond Mason traded in his NBA jersey for the canvas with his original multimedia artworks.

Charity Event

Philanthropy events combine charity and revelry and showcase the giving spirit of Oklahomans. Tulsans voted the Philbrook Wine Experience, which benefits Philbrook Museum, to the top; this biennial fundraising weekend has become one of the top 10 wine events in the country. Many enjoy the Red Ribbon Gala, benefiting Tulsa CARES; the event is all about rejecting the stigma that surrounds an HIV/AIDS diagnosis and instead focusing on prevention and education. Carnivale, benefiting Mental Health Association Oklahoma, includes fine dining and dancing to help raise money for MHAO’s many programs.

The arts are ever-important in Oklahoma, and the Renaissance Ball, benefiting the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, helps to raise funds for new programs and exhibitions. Another art event is the 12×12 Art Fundraiser, benefiting the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, which helps artists realize their potential through education, exposure and funding. Lastly, Red Tie Night, benefiting Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund, works to raise awareness of and education about HIV/AIDS.

Bruce Rinehart, Best Chef (OKC)

Chef

The chef is the captain of the ship at any restaurant, and Michael Minden of Michael V’s in south Tulsa receives high marks for his culinary mastery. Justin Thompson, who helms the ship at Juniper, Prhyme, Tavolo and other area restaurants with Justin Thompson Restaurants, has established himself as a powerhouse in the Tulsa restaurant scene. Trevor Tack of the McNellie’s Group has taken on and succeeded at leading one of Oklahoma’s most beloved restaurant groups.

Patrick Williams utilizes local and fresh ingredients at Vast. Bruce Rinehart of Rococo serves up East Coast cuisine with a smile, and Brittany Sanger leads the charge at The Jones Assembly.

CEO

A business is only as great as the CEO who leads it. Jake Henry Jr. of Saint Francis Health System has championed his employees for 15 years and continues the legacy of excellence at Saint Francis. There are only superlatives to describe the leadership style of Chet Cadieux of QuikTrip, and Phil Albert of Pelco Structural LLC combines reliability and strong leadership to inspire employees. Paula Marshall of The Bama Companies leads by example and curates a culture of positivity.

In OKC, Bill Cameron of American Fidelity Assurance and First Fidelity Bank strives to improve and enhance client and employee relationships every day. Robert A. Funk of Express Employment Professionals creates a stable and encouraging work environment for his employees, and Clay Bennett of Dorchester Capital Corporation and the Professional Basketball Club LLC, the ownership ground of the Thunder, has contributed greatly to the OKC community over the years.

Company to Work For

Certain companies in Oklahoma make coming into work the best part of the day. Cherokee Nation Businesses invest in their citizens and give back to the community in numerous ways, and the Saint Francis Health System keeps its employees happy and well-prepared. The Williams Companies believes every voice counts, no matter your rank. Manhattan Construction Co. encourages collaboration and innovation, and ONEOK manages to make every employee feel appreciated in a massive work environment.

In OKC, the Chickasaw Nation puts faith and responsibility into the hands of its employees and citizens. There are also no complaints about the well-oiled companies of American Fidelity Assurance Co. and MidFirst Bank.

The Flaming Lips, Best Local Band (OKC). Photo by George Salisbury

Local Band

Local bands showcase the immense artistic talent in the state. The Fabulous Mid Life Crisis Band has become one of the most popular bands in Oklahoma since 1995, jamming out with classic rock and easy listening. Lovers of “MMMBop” rejoice; Hanson is voted one of Tulsa’s favorite bands. The Paul Benjaman Band combines rock, jazz, funk, bebop and swing for an electric listening experience.

OKC proudly boasts the legendary band The Flaming Lips as a top local favorite, along with Kyle Dillingham and Horseshoe Road, who produces an eclectic sound that the band describes as “heartland acoustic.” Finally, The Groove Merchants have won over the OKC voters with their mix of subtle jazz and top 40 hits.

 

Local Icon/Landmark

Local landmarks become symbols of a town’s culture and vitality. The Tulsa Golden Driller stands tall in the heart of the city and has become an iconic subject of clothing and art for local vendors. The Center of the Universe attracts residents to relax and enjoy a quirky local landmark, and the Blue Whale of Catoosa has a rich history and passionate following.

In the heart of OKC is the Devon Energy Center, standing tall over the city and housing numerous businesses. The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum honors those lost during the 1995 bombings. The Bricktown District is the perfect destination for food, shopping and relaxation.

Local Park

It’s often a good choice to disconnect from the outside world and enjoy an afternoon at the park. Tulsa’s Woodward Park boasts 45 acres plus a botanical garden and arboretum. Guthrie Green’s sprawling lawn and pavilion is a popular downtown spot in a sea of concrete, and Riverside Park offers lovely views of the river plus trails for exercise.

Myriad Botanical Gardens, Best Local Park (OKC)

You could get lost all day in Myriad Botanical Gardens, a 17-acre green addition to downtown OKC. Lake Hefner Park is a popular spot to lounge and bird watch, and the Will Rogers Gardens are open year round and offers 30 acres for exploration.

Local Radio Personality 

Whether on the commute to or from work, the right radio personality can turn your day around. Wake up with Lindsey Bauer on MIX 96.5 KRAV, whose bubbly personality and hilarious commentary will start your day off right, or settle in with Dan Potter of NEWS 102.3 KRMG, who keeps you updated on the latest local news. And for all things sports, turn to The Morning Animals at 97.1 KYAL.

OKC listeners tune in to Jeff Roberts on Magic 104.1 KMGL for his quirky personality, great tunes and sports talk. Chris Plank at 99.3 KREF also has the latest sports commentary and never fails to keep it real, while others listen in to Jack and Ron of 96.9 KQOB, a popular duo in the radio business for over 20 years. Bobby Bones of 101.9 KTST Twister serves up hilarious antics and killer tunes with his group of radio personality pals.

Local TV Personality

You need a familiar, trustworthy face delivering your news every day. Karen Larsen at KJRH, Channel 2 is an award-winning journalist and Tulsa’s top pick for a local TV personality. Chera Kimiko, also at KJRH, Channel 2, has become a familiar and beloved personality in Tulsa journalism, and voters trust her for accurate and entertaining content. Craig Day at KOTV, Channel 6 delivers you accurate and up-to-date news at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

Paul Folger has been with KOCO, Channel 5 for nearly 10 years and keeps residents in the know during the evening news. Linda Cavanaugh at KFOR, Channel 4 was the first female co-anchor of the evening newscasts at her station and has won numerous awards for her work. Emily Sutton, another KFOR, Channel 4 employee, is a prized member of the station’s 4Warn Storm Team and keeps residents aware of time-sensitive weather information.

Meteorologist

In a state as weather-fickle as Oklahoma, the local meteorologists have a challenging job. Tulsa’s favorite is Travis Meyer at KOTV, Channel 6, who’s been in the game for over 30 years and established himself as a reliable source. Brett Anthony at KJRH, Channel 2 is a face to trust when severe weather strikes, as is Mike Collier, who also works at KJRH, Channel 2.

OKC residents look to David Payne at KWTV, Channel 9, who’s been advising the masses for over a decade. Jonathan Conder at KOCO, Channel 5 has the readers’ trust and votes in OKC, as well, and others rely upon the reports of Mike Morgan at KFOR, Channel 4.

Celebrity Attractions, best performing arts organization (Tulsa). Photo courtesy Celebrity Attractions

Performing Arts Organization

Performing arts organizations bring art and culture into a city, entertaining all who attend. Celebrity Attractions is Tulsa’s premier presenter and producer of national touring shows, bringing in Broadway hits like The Little Mermaid and, in 2018, Hamilton. Tulsa Ballet is one of the nation’s most revered ballet companies, with artists flocking from across the world to join the elite ranks. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center is the heart of Tulsa’s entertainment, and the Tulsa Opera is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected opera companies.

OKC residents adore the Oklahoma City Philharmonic for their skilled performances from world-class professionals. The Oklahoma City Ballet never fails to impress with their impeccable choreography, costumes and technique. Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma is constantly producing and creating exciting shows for OKC residents.

Small Town

Oklahoma is teeming with small town gems waiting to be explored. Jenks offers up quaint shopping options, plus the RiverWalk Crossing and the Oklahoma Aquarium. Voters choose Owasso for its historical museum and plethora of entertainment and dining options, and Bixby has seen a substantial population growth in recent years with new entertainment options popping up constantly.

OKC voters love to take trips to Yukon with its outdoor activities, especially the Chisholm Trail Crawfish Festival every June. Guthrie boasts fascinating architecture, and its Historic District has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The little-known Byng is a small but mighty powerhouse and a perfect small city to explore.

 


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A Dramatic Change

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Two upholstered chairs featuring metal accent bands are comfortably placed near the fireplace and the large living room sofa. A glass-topped coffee table is a special feature in this setting. Photo by Alyssa Rosenheck.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] Tulsa couple was well on their way to building a new home. The design plan for the residence was established. They were working well with their interior designer, Mel Bean, owner of Austin Bean Design Studio.

Then, by chance, they discovered an older home near Utica Square that spoke to them, much louder than a whisper. Its multi-level, rambling style had an appealing charm. It did need updating, but the couple decided this home could be as impressive and comfortable as the one on the blueprints that they had approved.

The Midtown location and the possibilities the home offered for renovation won over the original new home plans.

“The exterior did need updating,” Mel says. “It was dark and disjointed. We softened the exterior by painting the brick and wood white and enhancing the landscaping, enlarging the walk to the front door, adding a curve to the threshold and a small seating area near the entrance.”

While the interior of the home also needed a fresh look, the couple loved the neighborhood and decided this home could achieve all they wanted in a new “old” residence.

The entry makes an impressive statement. The couple have professional interests in geology, and the entry sets the stage with a welcoming console featuring mementos of geological history.

The couple’s interest in earth science is complemented with a variety of materials used in the furnishings and accessories. Among the materials are chrome, glass, metal, steel, stone, subway tile, copper, selenite and Calcutta gold marble. Wood floors, stained a medium dark brown, anchor each room to add a pleasing contrast to the pristine white theme. Guests to the home could have an interesting treasure hunt for the variety of materials and textures.

A soft touch was added by featuring a mixture of fabrics, including velvet, rugs fashioned of a wool and silk blend, soft leathers and straw-hued raffia for a master bedroom headboard.

A few structural changes were necessary, Mel notes. An awkward column was removed to provide more space to create a larger kitchen and family room for infomral meals and entertaining.“This is a very approachable, casual room designed for easy living,” Mel says

The kitchen got a facelift. New cabinet doors give the existing cabinets a contemporary updated look, enhancing the all-white theme. A new Wolf range and a custom designed hood look impressive. No longer a drab setting, the room is a great area for informal dining. The perfect splash of color is an antique patterned rug accenting the large commercial range.

The dining room overlooks the spacious front lawn and is an elegant setting for entertaining. The centerpiece is a dramatic selenite chandelier that, Mel says, “glows beautifully in the room.” The table for eight is flanked with white upholstered chairs.

The formal living room exudes a serene look. The custom fireplace is a major focal point, dominating one end of the room. Its dark bronze surface is accented with gold tones. A gray rug in a wool and silk blend is designed in a geometric pattern, and a chrome-and-glass coffee table enhances the seating area. Two lounge chairs, covered in navy velvet, invite seating near the fireplace.

While the room makes a beautiful first impression, Mel says it is “not too formal to be comfortable.” The design of the room and the placement of the furnishings invite conversation with guests.

Many of the rooms in the home overlook the garden areas, with nature adding its own color palette to the interior design.

Throughout this spacious home, the interior color palette is restrained and based on crisp white walls and some white upholstery accented with shades of blue and gray, adding the “pops of color” that Mel likes to use in interiors.

The home took seven months to complete, from the purchase of the home to moving day. Mel desribes it as “a wonderful project.” The clients were organized, delightful and trusting of the design firm to bring their dreams to fruition.

“The before and after photographs make this look like a brand new house,” Mel says.

Casting Calls for All

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Oklahoma has a vast collection of community theaters. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Oklahoma has a vast collection of community theaters. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

[dropcap]It[/dropcap]’s a popular notion in American history that the Puritans fled England to escape religious persecution. While the story has a grain of truth, the full reasons they were driven from their country are much more sinister.

While in power, they murdered a king, outlawed dancing, canceled Christmas and – most dastardly of all – closed the theaters.

Lucky for us today, theater is alive and well in the New World. And few places have more dedication to the arts than Oklahoma’s collection of community theaters.

“In my opinion, community theater is our national theater,” says Sara Phoenix, artistic director of Theatre Tulsa. “It really doesn’t exist in the same varied forms in any other place in the world. It is an American treasure. And in the American spirit, community theater is all sorts of things. It’s small clubs of all-volunteer groups producing in theaters or community centers in towns across the country, all the way to large civic theaters doing work that rivals anything you see on Broadway. It’s the heart in it that makes the difference.”

Since 1969, the Oklahoma Community Theatre Association has served amateurs, students, theaters and professionals with resources, educational events and opportunities to connect with others in Oklahoma’s flourishing theatre community. Over the decades, the organization has grown from 16 theaters and 30 individuals to 32 theaters and more than 100 members, as well as youth members and university theaters. The work of OCTA and Oklahoma’s theaters is invaluable to the state, says Sally Barnes, the association’s treasurer and past president.

“Research has shown that communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefits of jobs, economic growth and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in a 21st-century creative economy,” she says.

Chuck Tweed, production director of Oklahoma City’s Jewel Box Theatre since the 1970s, calls himself “a perfect example of the old adage ‘Find a job you like, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’” Tweed agrees with Barnes that theater and the arts are essential to communities.

“Oklahoma needs the arts – badly,” he says. “We entertain, teach life lessons, make you laugh and cry, and let you come into the lives of characters who affect you.… It is only my opinion, but, without the arts, we cannot grow to our full capacity. They feed us.”

Tweed says one of the best parts about participating in community theater is the connection forged with others.

“The actors form a family bond with other actors that last forever,” he says. “You work with them again at other theaters, see their shows and support each other through good and bad times.”

Joanie Elmore, managing director of Theatre Bartlesville, says the importance of community theater cannot be overstated.

Photo by Brent Fuchs.

“Community theater has a huge impact on all the actors and volunteers that participate, and the impact on the audiences is almost immeasurable,” she says. “Creative skills are learned and performed, new skills are acquired, camaraderie and community spirit are experienced, and large opportunities for personal and community growth are facilitated. The show themes deeply affect the audiences and the participants and can change the fabric of the society that they are presented in. Some communities are never the same after certain shows because, with community theater, new heights and depths within the community itself can be reached with theatrical expressions of culture.”

Elmore says those who want to become involved in community theater need the “heart of a volunteer”– a true commitment of time and spirit. Tweed has a different warning for aspiring thespians.

“It is addicting! You will never fall out of love with theater,” he says. “To give to an audience every performance is so rewarding. Not from an ego experience, but that you made a group of people laugh/cry/think/reflect on themselves and life.

“I would just like to encourage people to take the risk of getting involved. It could change your life!”

And as William Shakespeare wrote, “Nothing will come of nothing.”

Actors from jewel box theatre in OKC rehearse for A production of bus stop.
Photos by Brent Fuchs.

Perchance to Dream

For many who fantasize of treading the boards, just the thought of taking steps toward the stage can be daunting.

In addition to spending decades nurturing the confidence and skills of young artists as a debate and drama teacher at Norman High School, Betsy Ballard has been involved in every aspect of Norman’s community theater scene since the 1980s. If you’re nervous about getting involved, she says, go slow.

“Get on the lowest levels you can bear,” Ballard says. “Go sell tickets. Work the concession stand. Get in on the edges.”

And if you’re not scared? Ballard encourages neophytes to find every audition and just go.

“There is a group someplace that needs what you’ve got,” she says. “You’ve just go to find them. There are all types of productions, all types of gifts.”

And if you can’t find it?

“Make it,” Ballard says. “Make it and they will come.”

Life Behind Bars

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Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

[dropcap]While[/dropcap] many people may think of handcrafted mixed drinks as being the domain of bars in New York or Los Angeles or restricted to stuffy rooms, the cocktail scene is alive and growing in Oklahoma. We talked to four bartenders about the newest trends in drinks, how they got into the business and what they love about bringing the craft of cocktails to customers.

 

A Heck of a Party in OKC

You might not expect to find Anna Mains, the co-owner of Rockford Cocktail Den, DEKORA! and Knucks Wheelhouse, behind the bar that often. Far from being more work, however, her shifts behind the bar serve as a retreat.

“There’s something invigorating about working behind the bar,” she says. “I have had days where I am in hands-down the worst mood, stressed beyond any sort of stress I ever thought I could handle, and the moment I walk behind the bar and I start making drinks and I start interacting with guests and I see people having a good time, my mood is always completely transformed.”

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Mains had worked at restaurants while in college, but it wasn’t until she moved to Oklahoma City and began bartending at in the raw that she started on her current trajectory. When the owners wanted to sell the location, she and her husband purchased it and rebranded it as DEKORA!

While the performance of DEKORA! led to new projects, Mains didn’t become interested in creating a cocktail-focused bar until she was staying home after having her first child.

[pullquote]

Pina Colada

  • 1.5 oz pineapple infused Cana Brava Rum
  • 0.5 oz Cointreau
  • 0.75 oz pineapple juice
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz Coco Lopez or sweetened coconut milk
  • 1  egg
  • 2 dashes orange flower water
  • Shake hard and dump into hurricane glass. Garnish with pineapple, pineapple fronds and an umbrella.

 

[/pullquote]
“I enjoyed a cocktail, but it kind of seemed like something to me that was cool, but not anything that was applicable to what we would see in Oklahoma,” she says. “All of a sudden, especially in the first couple of months, I was at home a lot and started reading all the cocktail books, and it kind of grabbed me. I realized it was something I wanted to learn more about, and I really wanted to be able to take all these things that were going on across the nation and bring some of the fun cocktails to Oklahoma City.”

From there, Mains conceptualized and founded Rockford Cocktail Den, which provides those types of cocktails in a relaxed environment. She is also working with Proprietors LLC, the group responsible for high-profile cocktail bars such as Death & Co. and Nitecap in New York and Honeycut in Los Angeles, on a new project in Oklahoma City.

Mains is excited about the new project, but she says it will probably be her last for a while because she has realized how much she enjoys working behind the bar.

“In my eyes, we’re kind of in the entertainment industry,” she says. “I am a horrible actor. I am a horrible singer. I can’t entertain people that way, but I can make sure that when you come into my house, my bar, I’m going to throw you a heck of a party, and I’m going to make sure I go above and beyond to treat you special and make sure you’re going to enjoy your time there.”

 

 

A Taste for the Classics

Dressed in a tie, herringbone vest and pinstriped pants, Jamie Jennings looks exactly like the person to teach others about classic cocktails.

Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.
Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

“People have been drinking for so long, everything has been made,” says Jennings, bar manager at Hodges Bend in downtown Tulsa. “All these crazy drinks people are making these days are based on some historical drink. So if you can understand the history and the past, then you’re set.”

Cocktails-Jennings12212016--2753[pullquote]

Lion’s Tail

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 0.75 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (liqueur)
  • 2 tsp Gomme syrup (2:1 Simple syrup is an acceptable substitute)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • Shake and strain over ice in a rocks glass.
    Garnish with lemon wheel.

[/pullquote]

While Hodges Bend doesn’t ignore signature drinks (Jennings estimates the bar has created 50 or 60 signature drinks since the business opened in 2014), the focus on classic drinks helps guide what’s available to the customer. All employees at Hodges are taught how to make classics before trying anything original.

Jennings’s search for inspiration for drinks goes beyond the classics, and he actively seeks new recipes to study and try.

“With today’s technology, I have access to a lot of stuff that has been scanned into libraries and books dating back to the 1870s and 1880s, and we have a pretty solid library here at Hodges that we can go to,” he says. “I have a lot of really good, regular customers who will bring us old books that they have found and let us work through them before we give them back. I’m always reading old literature, especially based on bartending.

“I think we take this very seriously, and  people don’t always realize that. This is a serious thing. Bartending is not going anywhere, and we want to specialize in it, so we do take our time to study.”

Jennings started his career as a hotel bellman who started cleaning and setting tables because he wanted to watch football games in the bar. That turned into an offer to bartend, and he worked at several different taverns before landing at Hodges Bend.

While he enjoys working behind the bar, he says he doesn’t anticipate remaining a bartender and sees himself perhaps in the kitchen at some point. He enjoys working with food for the same reason he enjoys mixology.

“I love it because, in the end, a good bartender understands balance and so does a good chef,” he says. “It’s about balancing your citrus, your spirit, your sweet and your bitter, and it’s the same thing in the kitchen. I think they have a lot of commonalities, and it’s all about balance at the end.”

 

 

A Bartender and Sommelier

While Lesley Nelson, bar manager at Torero, may be skilled at crafting cocktails, she’s at least equally proud of her unofficial title of “Tulsa’s Youngest, Hottest Sommelier.”

“I’ve held that title for almost three years,” she says with a laugh.

Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.
Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

While Nelson has developed many skills, she says wine was her first passion. Starting as a server for a chain steakhouse, she moved behind the counter and worked at a wine bar before stints at Hodges Bend and Saturn Room, which led to her new position at Torero. In addition to serving as bar manager, she is certified with the Guild of Sommeliers and helps customers pick out wines as well as creating the wine list and educating the staff on the subject.

Toreo-Bartender-0032Nelson is also a certified specialist of wine with the Society of Wine Educators, a different organization that focuses on knowledge and standards instead of service.

[pullquote]

Zozobrara

  • 1.5 oz rum (blend of tobacco infused Brugal Anejo, Hamilton Saint Lucia and Smith & Cross)
  • 0.75 oz lime juice
  • 0.75 oz pineapple juice
  • 0.75 oz grilled pineapple syrup

Shake and strain over crushed ice in a rocks glass. Add more ice and garnish with a pineapple leaf.

[/pullquote]Though wine may have been her first love, she developed an equal passion for mixology.

“Bartending just came really natural to me,” she says. “I was good at memorizing drinks, and I liked it a lot.”

Like many other bartenders focused on mastering the craft, she studies classic drinks, reads anything she can get her hands on and tries mixing drinks from classic recipes, though she admits the results sometimes require some work.

“I’ll see a cocktail that’s something I’ve never seen before,” she says. “Some crazy, obscure recipe, and I’ll try to make it good. And usually they’re not that good, and that’s where I’ll tweak them and make them good.”

Nelson says she enjoys working behind the bar, and appreciates the respect the profession is given as more interest is being given to craft cocktails. That increased interest helps push her to improve.

“People consider bartending a career now,” she says. “All over the U.S., there are career bartenders, basically. There is a lot that goes into it if you want to be good, and even the consumers now know a whole lot more about what everybody’s serving now. You’ve got to be able to know what you’re doing to impress customers or get them interested in what you’re doing.”

 

 

The Accidental Bartender

Chris Barrett didn’t intend to become a bartender. Originally, he was hired to wait tables at a restaurant in Bricktown, but offered to help as a barback because he started work on Valentine’s Day weekend, where the crowds made going through training difficult.

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

He did a good enough job as a barback that the owner asked him to fill an open position as a bartender – but that doesn’t mean his start behind the bar was completely smooth.

“I remember on the first day of training, the owner overheard the bartender teaching me the most basic of things (I think it was how to make a martini), and he asked me if I had ever bartended before,” Barrett says. “When I said no, he got this [panicked] look on his face then said reluctantly, ‘Well I guess you gotta learn somewhere.’ I did learn, and I’ve been bartending ever since.”

Taste-Ludivine-120816-3148[pullquote]

Scotch Yer Nose

  • 1.5 oz. blended Scotch
  • 0.75 oz. Pedro Ximinez sherry
  • 0.5 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.5 oz. honey syrup
  • 3-4 basil leaves
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters

In a shaker, muddle the basil with the honey syrup. Add the remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Double strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a basil leaf.

[/pullquote]

Twelve years later, Barrett still hasn’t stopped. Now serving as bar manager and head bartender at Ludivine, he’s long past learning how to make basic drinks and creates his own.

His methods for working on a new creation vary – sometimes he starts with a spirit he likes and tries to create a drink to highlight its features, and sometimes he starts with one of the non-alcoholic ingredients.  Either way, he says he goes back to the classic cocktails, considering how and why they work.

“Most recently, though, we’ve been developing concept cocktail menus at Ludivine,” he says. “We start with a concept, then decide on the names of the cocktails that fit that concept and then create a drink that, to us, fits the name. It’s working backward from a name to a cocktail.”

Barrett doesn’t see the cocktail resurgence as anything truly new and compares it with other skills you’d find in a restaurant.

“The word ‘mixologist’ dates back to the 1800s when creating drinks was a highly respected craft,” he says. “But I tend to agree with Anthony Bourdain’s view of cooking being more of a craft than an art. Cooking, mixology and bartending are crafts with immense room for creativity.”

Barrett’s favorite cocktails run to the classics: the Martinez, The Last Word and the Vieux Carre. At home, he says he’s more likely to drink straight liquor or something simple, such as a Manhattan, martini or Negroni. If he has guests, though, he’ll make something fun for them.

“But I don’t drink much at home anyway,” he says. “I’d rather go to a bar.”

Our State’s Great Comfort Foods

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Photo by Mary Beth Ede.

[dropcap]“[/dropcap][dropcap]Feel[/dropcap]-good food” encompasses a whole scrumptous spectrum of quality fare, mainly because the idea of comfort food means something different to everyone. To some it’s mom’s stew, to others it may be that one diner’s fried chicken, and to you it might be a warm brownie fresh out of the oven. Regardless of your definition, the food you choose to eat on rainy days, after a breakup or just because you can offers a comfort unlike anything else. We searched far and wide across Oklahoma to find the state’s best “feel-good food,” and we found it. Oh boy, did we.

A Quick Bite of Heaven

Feeling a bit of the mid-day blues? Whether you’ve spent the morning fighting crowds while doing your holiday shopping or just need a bit of comfort to help you through the afternoon, these quick bites are sure to fix your mood.

Photo by Mary Beth Ede.
Photo by Mary Beth Ede.

Meatloaf Sliders – Lucky’s

A twist on the traditional slider, these mini-burgers aim to please. Topped with jalepeno coleslaw and catsup glaze, you’ll find yourself eating all three faster than you can say “meatloaf sliders?!” 

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Fish and Chips – Picasso Cafe

For a taste of the sea, the beer-battered cod, seasoned fries and caper remoulade at Picasso Cafe is just the ticket. Small yet mighty, this dish will fill you up and keep you smiling.

Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.
Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

Skillet Fried Chicken – Celebrity Restaurant

This fried chicken is the real deal. Cooked in a cast iron skillet and seasoned to perfection, it’s a popular choice at Celebrity.

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Sante Fe Chicken Sandwich – Cafe 501

This sandwich is a stunner: begin with tortilla crusted chicken, monterey jack cheese and roasted corn-avocado salsa, pile on the chipotle-mayo, then place it all on some fresh focaccia and garish with tri-colored tortilla chips.

Just Got Dumped?

In our humble opinion, the only way to heal a broken heart is through good ol’ food therapy. Drown your sorrows in sweet and savory options that will make you forgot about you-know-who and think solely of the scrumptous sustenence in front of you.

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Skillet Cookie – Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse

Ooey, gooey deliciousness that will melt in your mouth. Hello, sugar high!

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Turtle Brownie – Lucky’s

Heaven on a plate: vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, candied pecans and a heaping chunk of delicious brownie. What’s more break-up friendly than that?

Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.
Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

Roasted Chicken and Mac and Cheese – Tallgrass Prairie Table

Get farm-to-table perfection with this creamy carb and chicken combo. Delish!

Fighting for Food

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Iron Gate provides its guests with meals every day of the week. no one has been turned away hungry since its opening in 1984. Photo by Natalie Green.
Iron Gate provides its guests with meals every day of the week. no one has been turned away hungry since its opening in 1984. Photo by Natalie Green.
Iron Gate provides its guests with meals every day of the week. no one has been turned away hungry since its opening in 1984. Photo by Natalie Green.

[dropcap]With[/dropcap] the holidays approaching, many of us are looking forward to feasting with our families. But for plenty of Oklahomans who don’t have enough to eat, it’s just another time they’ll go hungry.

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the number of Oklahomans suffering from food insecurity outpaces the national average, with more than one in four Oklahoma children relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the modern iteration of food stamps more commonly known as SNAP, to meet their nutrition needs.

“I have been working with non-profits for more than 20 years, primarily in international relief and development,” says Cari Ogden, vice president of community initiatives for the Oklahoma City-based Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “ … I’ve witnessed desperate conditions while living and working in Eastern Europe and Africa. But it wasn’t until the path of my life led me to food banking that my eyes were opened to similar conditions here in our own country. Hunger is very real right here in Oklahoma City.”

[pullquote]We live in a remarkable country, yet there are still many in every state that simply cannot afford to feed themselves and their families.”[/pullquote]Enough food passes through the doors of the RFBO every week to feed 126,000 Oklahomans. The food bank serves as a repository for donated goods that ship out to more than 1,300 charities and schools in 53 Oklahoma counties. The goods go to food pantries, senior feeding centers, boys’ and girls’ clubs, and other organizations feeding the state’s hungry citizens. During fiscal year 2016 alone, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributed 52 million pounds of supplies.

Volunteers play an integral part in the continued success and growth of Iron Gate. Photo by Natalie Green.
Volunteers play an integral part in the continued success and growth of Iron Gate. Photo by Natalie Green.

Ogden is particularly concerned about some of the Oklahomans that fall into the limbo between qualifying for SNAP and the financial ability to realize food security.

“Many Oklahomans simply make too much money to qualify for SNAP benefits, but not enough money to keep food on the table for their family,” she says.

According to Ogden, that’s where food banks like the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and their partners come in — to fill that gap.

“We envision a hunger-free Oklahoma,” Ogden says, “where everyone has access to food, regardless of circumstance. Oklahoma consistently ranks among the hungriest states in America, where one in six struggles with hunger every day. The majority of those served by the Regional Food Bank are chronically hungry children, seniors living on fixed incomes and working families who have difficulty making ends meet.”

Photo by Natalie Green.
Photo by Natalie Green.

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma serves as a food distributor for 24 counties. Eileen Ryan Bradshaw, executive director for the food bank, notes that the conditions that lead to hunger in Oklahoma are not unique to the state; they are instead intricate and more widespread.

“We live in a remarkable country, yet there are still many in every state that simply cannot afford to feed themselves and their families,” Bradshaw says. “It is a complex issue that encompasses education, wages, transportation and equality. The North Texas Food Bank had a billboard that illustrated the dilemma. It showed a woman’s face with the line ‘Paycheck on the first, pay rent on the second, hungry on the third.’ That is the new reality for so many of the working poor.”

Goods from these two food banks often wind up in places like Iron Gate LLC, a soup kitchen in downtown Tulsa. For two hours every morning, Iron Gate’s kitchen serves hot meals to around 600 hungry people, says marketing coordinator Tori Lieberman. In addition, the organization runs an emergency grocery pantry for families in need.

“In our history, no one has been turned away hungry,” Lieberman says. “Iron Gate’s mission is simple. We feed the hungry of Tulsa – every day. We feed people in three ways: through our soup kitchen, grocery pantry and the Kids Pantry. We call those who eat at Iron Gate our ‘guests’ because we invite them to eat with us. Our philosophy is we are all guests on this earth and guests treat one another with courtesy, kindness and respect.”

Despite the common perception that soup kitchens cater exclusively to the homeless, Lieberman says this is not correct, and that the poverty that breeds food insecurity is much more widespread than people would like to believe.

Photo by Natalie Green.
Photo by Natalie Green.

Lieberman explains that the majority of guests coming to Iron Gate “have homes, apartments or stay in shelters. It is not homelessness that pours through our door every day, it’s poverty and hunger.”

Ogden says that food banks need food, friends and funds on a year-round basis. Financial distributions stretch a long way – four to five meals on the dollar, according to her and Bradshaw – with the most-needed food donations being canned meat; vegetables and fruit; rice and beans; and peanut butter.

“All of us know someone that is hungry, even if we don’t realize it,” Bradshaw says. “People are often embarrassed to admit that they cannot afford food. It is a problem that can be fixed – there is enough food, we just need to keep working on the issue. We can solve it, together.”

Want to help out?

To join the fight against hunger, information on how to volunteer
or donate can be found below.

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma
regionalfoodbank.org

Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
okfoodbank.org

Iron Gate LLC
irongatetulsa.org

Aiming High

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Clockwise from left: Annie Oakley Society Oklahoma Chair Judy Hatfield, Leadership Team Member Mary Ellen Alexander, director Diana Fields, Leadership Team Member Freda Deskin and Whitney Tatum. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Clockwise from left: Annie Oakley Society Oklahoma Chair Judy Hatfield, Leadership Team Member Mary Ellen Alexander, director Diana Fields, Leadership Team Member Freda Deskin and Whitney Tatum. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

[dropcap]Sharp[/dropcap] shooter. Leader. Pioneer. Celebrated markswoman of the Old West Annie Oakley was all of these and more.

Many female innovators today channel Oakley’s courage and spirit, inspiring the Annie Oakley Society at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City to bring together some of the state’s – and nation’s – exceptional women with a mission to preserve our history.

“Following in the footsteps of one of America’s most illustrious female trailblazers, contemporary women leaders under the leadership of myself and Lynn Friess established the Annie Oakley Society,” says former Oklahoma First Lady Cathy Keating, the group’s founder and national chair. “The Annie Oakley Society comprises women leaders and philanthropists who, like Annie Oakley, play significant roles in shaping our communities and creating new horizons. Through their efforts, they demonstrate an undying determination for excellence and support for the American character preserved and promoted through the museum.”

According to Keating, the society’s mission is two-fold: to ensure continued outstanding education regarding the West through programs at the museum, and to recognize women who “embody the spirit of Annie Oakley.” Past recipients of the society’s honors include retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, singers and Oklahoma natives Reba McEntire and Kristin Chenoweth, U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard and Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci. The philanthropic efforts of the society have raised approximately $3.5 million for educational initiatives at the museum through its annual luncheon.

“We are passionate about keeping the West alive in the hearts and souls of future generations,” Keating says, “and the luncheon is the vehicle for the Annie Oakley Society to do that.”

Speaking of the Old West legend for whom the society is named, Keating greatly admires this female luminary of the past.

“Annie Oakley was a female entrepreneur, pioneer, educator and sharp-shooter who lived by the phrase ‘Aim high,’” Keating says. “We honor women who closely model the legacy Annie Oakley left behind. Like Annie Oakley, we value education, and, through that shared value, the Annie Oakley Society supports educational programming on the diverse history of the American West.”

stamp-shutterstock_100680895

The Annie Oakley Society Luncheon

The Annie Oakley Society Luncheon, the annual fundraiser for the organization, will take place Oct. 13 at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This year’s luncheon will recognize Donna Shirley, president of Managing Creativity and past manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with the Annie Oakley Society Award. The Lifetime Achievement Award will honor Jo Rowan, chairwoman of Oklahoma City University’s School of American Dance and Arts Management and founder of OCU’s dance program. Tickets to the luncheon are $150 for non-members of the society. The public is encouraged to attend, but reservations are recommended by visiting the museum’s website at www.nationalcowboymuseum.org/annieoakley/. For questions regarding membership or reservations, call the Annie Oakley Society’s director at 405.478.2250, ext. 233.

Laugh Out Loud

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Photo by Janelle Azevedo.

[dropcap]Even[/dropcap] in the most serious of situations, Oklahomans love to laugh.

Recall, if you will, the Tigernado phenomenon of 2015 or the passion with which many Oklahomans play the drinking game based on the weather reports by Oklahoma City meteorologist Gary England. Even better: check out the big name comedians and local legends performing around Oklahoma or showcased at Tulsa’s upcoming Blue Whale Comedy Festival, at multiple venues in the Brady Arts District Sept. 8-11.

Oklahoma has a growing comedy scene, and many comedians who may have moved out of state in the past for better opportunities are now staying local to build their careers. To get a better look at the state of stand-up in Oklahoma, we asked local comedians about their inspirations, their styles and the status quo of the state’s comedy scene.

Vanessa Dawn 

Vanessa Dawn of Tulsa got hooked on comedy because of a dare. She grew up watching BET’s Comic View and such comedians as Dave Chappelle, D.L. Hughley and Chelsea Handler, but she didn’t take the mic herself until her father said he didn’t think she’d do it.

“So naturally, I signed up for open mic the very next week,” she says.

Dawn describes her comedy as laid-back, observational and relatable. She encourages others to look beyond the comedy clubs to help nurture and grow the Oklahoma comedy scene.

“The comedy scene in Oklahoma has grown rapidly in the past several years,” she says. “While the number of comedy clubs is limited, there are several other venues where one can go practice their craft. There are plenty of open mics in Tulsa and the Oklahoma City area. In order to expand the comedy scene, it is necessary to promote shows. Once the people know there’s a big show, they usually show up, but there is not yet the same support for some of the smaller shows.”

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Jessi Kyle

Audiences might be surprised to know that irreverent comic Jessi Kyle of OKC used to fear public performances.

“What inspired me to take improv was wanting to help me with social anxiety and public speaking,” she says. “Through that, I learned that I can actually be funny from time to time, so I tried stand-up and have been performing ever since! I have so many comedians that I love, but never thought it was something I could do until that first improv class.”

In the ensuing five years, Kyle’s blend of true-to-life comedy and slapstick has earned her the title of a “delightful nut.” She says that while Oklahoma needs to find ways to provide more paying gigs for comedians to bring it in line with other large cities (and keep comedic talent at home), there are definitely benefits to the state’s comedy scene.

“The best thing about the Oklahoma comedy scene is that all comedians have ample opportunity for stage time,” Kyle says. “In larger cities, you may go to an open mic and not even get a chance to get up on stage, and if you do, you are most likely just getting three minutes. Here, we are able to get ample amounts of stage time every night of the week and really experiment and work on material. Also, the showcases we create as a communication truly amazing and unique.”

Photo courtesy C.R. Parsons.
Photo courtesy C.R. Parsons.

C.R. Parsons

As a child, C.R. Parsons was addicted to vinyl albums by classic comedians – Bill Cosby, Jerry Clower, Flip Wilson, Moms Mabley and the like.

“I just loved their storytelling,” he says. “And yes, that does mean I’m OLD.”

Parsons’s classic mix of one-liners and personal storytelling has earned him the moniker of “everybody’s alter ego.” He has definitely tried a bit of everything over the course of his life and careers, from songwriting to sky diving – all experiences that feed into his comedic style. He says the recent renaissance of comedy in Oklahoma is promising and the state’s comedians should unite.

“I have seen spectacular things happen with the comedy scene over the last five years,” Parsons says. “Five years ago, there was one club with one open mic night and very few people trying comedy. Since that time, we have seen so many shows pop up, but there’s almost not a night that you can’t find comedy in Tulsa. I know the same thing is happening in Oklahoma City, as they have a very strong group there as well.

“If there is one thing that we could do better, I would say it would be seeing ourselves as one comedy community instead of split comedy communities between Tulsa and OKC, and having the big cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City reaching out to smaller towns providing live comedy in more places more often.”

Photo by Mandee Johnson Photograph.
Photo by Mandee Johnson Photograph.

Leah Kayajanian

Norman native Leah Kayajanian came of age in the budding Oklahoma comedy culture. While such comedians as Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman have served as influences, she says her primary comedy inspiration has come from other Oklahoma comics.

“Before I tried doing stand-up myself,” she says, “I made a few trips to the open mic at the Loony Bin and saw a friend of mine, Nathan Anderson, perform. If I hadn’t gone to watch him, I don’t think I’d ever have the courage to try it myself. From that point on, the comedians that started doing stand-up around the same time I did in OKC became my family, and we were all so excited about performing at the time (an adrenaline rush that I miss now that I’m 10 years in) that we wrote and wrote and wrote and pushed each other to be better.”

Kayajanian describes her comedic style as biographical, with an emphasis on the ridiculous situations inherent in her life. She now lives in Los Angeles and regularly performs several times a week, and audiences may recognize her from Comedy Central’s Road to Roast Battle.

Andrew Deacon 

A self-described “sucker for wordplay and puns,” Tulsa’s Andrew Deacon started performing comedy after witnessing the creativity and tenacity of comedian friends.

“What first inspired me was how difficult the process is, without seeming difficult to the audience,” he says. “Comedy is deceptive that way. You spend so much time writing jokes, many of which will never see the light of day. You force yourself to go the open mic instead of driving past like you did last week. You have to get on stage, alone with your insecurities, self-doubt and whatever other problems are with you at that moment. You practice brand new material in front of audiences over and over and over again. You bomb, A LOT.  At least a couple of times a week, you think, ‘I’m insane for wanting to do this, right?’ You are insane for wanting to do it, but it pays off eventually.”

Deacon notes that the comedy scene in the region is expanding — using the Blue Whale Comedy Festival as an example — but says there’s always more to be done.

“What we as comics can do to improve is continue working to get better at writing and performing,” he says. “We need to work on how we promote our shows, grow our audiences and continue to be supportive of one another.”

Photo courtesy Shawna Blake.
Photo courtesy Shawna Blake.

Shawna Blake

Shawna Blake isn’t the first comedian lured to a career by “comedy therapy.” A combination of directionless creative energy and a bad breakup led her to take her first comedy classes at downtown Tulsa’s The Comedy Parlor. For the past two years, she’s been a regular in the Tulsa stand-up scene and still uses comedy to work through real-life situations.

“I make a lot of bad decisions and do a lot of things in my life for the story, and getting on stage allows me to tell those stories,” she says of her comedic style. “I’m basically just myself with the volume turned up on stage. I’m very self-deprecating and honest.”

Blake believes that people underestimate the amount of comedic talent currently in the state.

“I think the comedy scene in Oklahoma is better than a lot of people realize,” she says. “There are a lot of talented people doing a lot of cool things all the time. I’ve only been plugged in for about two years, but even in that time I’ve seen new people start doing comedy and bring great energy into starting podcasts, running new rooms around town and getting more people turned onto what’s happening locally in Tulsa and OKC, Stillwater and Tahlequah.”

Photo courtesy Zach Smith.
Photo courtesy Zach Smith.

Zach Smith 

The recent winner of the Funniest Person in OKC contest, Zach Smith has performed stand-up since 2009. Growing up, he idolized classic comedians like Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin and Bob Newhart.

“They were so smart, weird and funny,” Smith says. “I’ve always wanted to aspire to that. Something new, fresh and smart, which is extremely hard to do as it turns out.”

Smith describes his comedic style as a blend of one-liners and storytelling, with the occasional foray into working the crowd. He says that in the seven years since he started doing stand-up in Oklahoma City, the comedy scene has expanded greatly.

“I remember when I first started doing stand-up in OKC, there weren’t very many of us doing it,” he says. “Maybe 10-15 that were performing on a regular basis.… Now in OKC alone, you can see up to 50 different comics hitting different mics throughout the week. The only way to really expand it is to have more comics, more audiences and more places to perform.

“Being a ‘small’ scene, we have to somewhat worry about oversaturation. But the better we get, the more audiences will take note. We need to brand ourselves individually as comics but also as a comedy scene. The guys in OKC Comedy have been doing an amazing job of spreading the word of what we are doing here.”

BradChad Porter and Spencer Hicks. Photo courtesy BradChad Porter
BradChad Porter and Spencer Hicks. Photo courtesy BradChad Porter

BradChad Porter, Spencer Lenox Hicks, and Cameron Buchholtz (OKC Comedy)

BradChad Porter, Spencer Lenox Hicks and Cameron Buchholtz work as independent comics, but they are also the founders of OKC Comedy, a booking and promotion company that has helped bring bigger acts – think Maria Bamford, Hannibal Buress and Doug Benson – to the state. The group also focuses on nurturing local comedic talent.

Porter’s earliest influences, he says, were comedy luminaries Steve Martin and Kermit the Frog. Hicks also was inspired by the likes of Martin and Mel Brooks before moving on to heavies like the late Mitch Hedberg and Bill Burr. Both Porter and Hicks agree that the Oklahoma comedy scene has a lot to offer.

“Oklahoma has an amazing comedy scene, and it seems like no one knows about it,” Hicks says. “I’ve been to shows in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City, and I would put our up-and-coming comedians against theirs any day of the week. There is so much talent here. OKC Comedy has a mission of booking nationally known comics and putting a local comic on the show. It provides exposure for our comedians while the nationally known comic puts butts in seats. I think if more people knew what was happening, they’d be impressed.”

Photo courtesy Ryan Green.
Photo courtesy Ryan Green.

Ryan Green 

“I tell stories,” says Tulsa’s Ryan Green. “The longer I can talk, the happier I am. Stand-up is like being at a party where no one but me is allowed to talk.”

Like many other comedians, Green’s first stand-up experience came from a real-life trauma of sorts.

“While recovering from surgery to remove a kidney stone, I had nothing to do but talk to people that visited me,” he says. “I ended up telling the story of my hospital visit so many times that it felt like a stand-up routine. So I made it a stand-up routine. I was hooked from the first laugh.”

He says the hospitality and diversity of comedians in the state are some of the strengths of Oklahoma comedy.

“Oklahoma has a very welcoming comedy scene, and it spans a wide variety of styles,” Green says. “It could be improved by more well-attended open mics or maybe just more advertisement. For beginners, it can be very difficult to get stage time in front of an actual audience rather than just other comedians waiting for their turn.”

Photo courtesy Landry Miller.
Photo courtesy Landry Miller.

Landry Miller

Growing up, Landry Miller was enchanted by the chemistry of performers with their audiences on sitcoms and late-night talk shows. He started testing the comedy waters before he even reached his teens, at which point he says he got laughs wherever and whenever he could.

“I spent my entire teenage life doing stand-up at churches, coffee shops, open mics, anywhere that would let a youngster tell jokes, as well as hosting private events,” the Claremore comic says. “I also branched into writing sitcoms, plays and sketch comedy. About a year-and-a-half ago, I moved back from an attempt at college and wasted no time falling in love with and becoming involved with the Tulsa comedy scene.”

Describing his own comedy style as theatrical, Miller says that Oklahoma is on top of the comedy game – but audiences don’t seem to be aware of it.

“The comedy scene in Oklahoma is one of the best I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’ve been to Chicago, Los Angeles, and even Dallas, but Oklahoma, by far, blows them all away in the amount of support among comics, the talent potential and the amount of performance opportunities. The one thing that I find frustrating being a part of the comedy community is that not many people in Oklahoma … have any awareness that local comedy even exists. It makes it difficult to get people to shows.

“We are always searching for new outlets, new ways to reach out to those people that don’t know there’s an alternative to Netflix and television if someone wants to watch comedy. Every big name has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere could be your city. Some of the best comedians in the world are in your local comedy clubs and I encourage people to take a chance and to catch a live local show.”

Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.

Josh Lathe 

As soon as Josh Lathe became legal, he went for laughs.

For the past seven years, Lathe has been a regular performer in the Oklahoma City comedy scene. His zeal for comedy started at a much younger age, however.

“I’ve always really, really liked comedy,” he says. “When I was a kid, my dad would buy these Jeff Foxworthy tapes, and I’d wear them out. His timing and cadence were so perfect. When I was in college, I got super into Eugene Mirman. En Garde, Society! and God is a Twelve-Year-Old Boy with Asperger’s are brilliant. They’re still really, really great. Now, I really enjoy Dave Ross because of his emotional honesty and general silliness. He conveys a vulnerability that is impossible to ignore.”

Lathe describes his style of comedy as more of a traditional performance rather than a conversational type of stand-up. “I obviously care about the material a lot, but I grew up wanting to be on Broadway. I care about the stage and the energy I put into the performance. I want to be tired after a show. I am garbage at writing one-liners, so I mostly tell stories about things that make me anxious.”

Twice a month, Lathe can be found either hosting Comedy Fight League (“It’s like a roast and pro-wrestling had a baby,” he says) at Dave & Busters, or the Josh and Heather’s Good Time! Fun Show! at Anthem Brewery.

Inside the Box

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Casey stowe with the shipping containers that will house the stores at The Boxyard. Photo by Janelle Azevedo.
Casey stowe with the shipping containers that will house the stores at The Boxyard.
Casey stowe with the shipping containers that will house the stores at The Boxyard.

[dropcap]Downtown[/dropcap] Tulsa bustles with progress. Around nearly every corner, timeworn buildings regenerate and new buildings are created. At Third Street and Frankfort Avenue in Tulsa’s East Village, a different kind of development is taking shape, one that was fittingly inspired by an international trip.

“Four years ago, I was in London working with the Brazilian Olympic Team for the 2012 Summer Olympics,” explains Casey Stowe of Nelson+Stowe Development. “I would take the Overground every day to the training facility and right outside Shoreditch High Street station was the most interesting retail center I had ever seen. It was a long, street-facing structure built out of shipping containers called BoxPark mall.  I was fascinated by that place, not just for the unusual building material, but also for how the shops and the shoppers interacted. It was industrial and intimate at the same time. It just blew me away.”

Here in the States, 39 shipping containers that have traversed the globe for years will make their final stop in Tulsa to form the Boxyard. Stowe teamed up with Cisco Containers, a shipping container modifier based in Catoosa, and the Ross Group to turn the repurposed materials into a perfect fit.

“Some will be common space – restrooms, elevator, etc. And some containers will be opened up on the inside to create double-container shops, and some will be as many as five containers together,” Stowe says. “With 20 different businesses on a 14,000-square-foot lot, the Boxyard will be the densest concentration of retail in Oklahoma. Containers are very efficient.”

Efficient, but not easier or cheaper, Stowe explains. The appeal lies in the innovation and creativity required to make the containers work.

“At the end of the day, it is still a commercial structure and has to conform to and comply with all of the local codes and ordinances in the same way as any traditional building,” he says. “We owe some big thanks to everyone at the City of Tulsa Planning and Development Services departments for helping me navigate how to build something for humans out of something that wasn’t originally designed for humans.”

The Boxyard’s occupants will face similar creative challenges.

Photo courtesy Selser Schaefer Architects.
Photo courtesy Selser Schaefer Architects.

“Space in a shipping container is limited, so you must think about your area a bit differently,” he says. “At 320 square feet, you need to be deliberate in how you use your space and what you put where. I’ve seen many different shops in containers during my research and, when they are done right, you would swear the place is bigger than it really is. Smaller footprints also require less overhead and reduced build-out costs.”

Those benefits have proved enticing to local businesses. When the Boxyard opens this fall, it will be near, if not at, capacity. As for the kick-off plans:

“Well, we were going to sail a 950-foot Panamax Container Ship up the Arkansas, but we couldn’t figure out where to mount the PikePass,” Stowe says. “So we are just going to throw a grand opening party in November. Stay tuned.”

 

A Love of Vintage Signs

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Tulsan Bill Stokely has collected more than 80 vintage neon signs.
Tulsan Bill Stokely has collected more than 80 vintage neon signs.
Tulsan Bill Stokely has collected more than 80 vintage neon signs.

[dropcap]Signs[/dropcap] do more than point the way or announce a business. Done correctly, they speak to us. And they’re capable of speaking to us from the past.

This is a truth well known to Jim Gleason of Oklahoma City’s G&S Sign Services. He’s restored hundreds of old signs. His favorites, he says, are neon.

“When I get in front of a neon sign, there’s nothing like it,” he says. “In a way, when you get these things restored and turn them on, it’s almost like they’re talking to you from quite awhile back. To me, it’s almost magical.”

Gleason is a founding member of the Billboard Museum, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving old signs and their history. Fairly new, the museum currently is just a warehouse filled with signs in need of restoration.

He started in the business when he was twelve years old, sweeping the floors in his father’s sign business. Over time, he learned the craft of sign restoration from his father. It quickly became a labor of love for him.

“There are some amazing signs. As long as they’re staying local, people will be able to see them again,” Gleason says. “But when they get sold privately, who knows what state they’re going to end up in.”

The demand for neon signs peaked in the 1960s. During the ’70s and ’80s, they were replaced by the more conventional signs of today. Nobody, it seemed, cared about the old neon classics.

That changed with the airing of American Pickers on A&E’s History Channel. All of a sudden, old neon signs had value. They were collectible. With supply low and demand high, their prices skyrocketed. Many of them found their way into private collections, hidden away from the general public.

“It’s like a junk car sitting in a pasture,” Gleason says. “When you’re looking at a junk car sitting in a pasture, not everybody can visualize what that thing looks like restored.”

Today, conventional signs are giving way to electronic billboards using LED lights. But, says Gleason, the technology just isn’t there yet, and they’re still a way off from producing the eye-catching effect of neon.

Tulsan Bill Stokely has collected more than 80 vintage neon signs.
Tulsan Bill Stokely has collected more than 80 vintage neon signs.

Bill Stokely, also in the sign business, collects vintage neon signs and displays them in Tulsa’s Stokely Event Center. He shares Gleason’s love of classic neon.

“Everybody collects something. As time went on, I would find signs here and there that I just kind of liked,” he says. “I stuck them on the wall. I started collecting here and there. Signs that I liked to look at, the classics.”

There are over 80 signs on display at the event center. Gleason favors gas station signs, oil company signs, soda signs and signs that elicit Tulsa’s past.

He looked far and wide to fill his collection. A helicopter pilot, he flew over older highways in search of signs. He quickly learned that signs along the highways were privately owned and prohibitively expensive. He began flying over country roads close to the highways and found treasure on old barns, or even on the rooftops of older buildings.

He loves introducing people to his sign collection.

“When they walk in, I always get a big bang out of the expressions on their faces,” he says. “They go, ‘Oh, Gosh. Wow!’ Your eyes can’t collect it all. There’s just too many things to look at. So they just kind of stand there and gaze around.”

Big Care For Small Patients

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Dr. Rachel Davis-Jackson is a neonatal specialist and serves as the medical director for the Henry Zarrow Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis. Photo courtesy Saint Francis Health System.
Dr. Rachel Davis-Jackson is a neonatal specialist and serves as the medical director for the Henry Zarrow Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis. Photo courtesy Saint Francis Health System.
Dr. Rachel Davis-Jackson is a neonatal specialist and serves as the medical director for the Henry Zarrow Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis.
Photo courtesy Saint Francis Health System.

[dropcap]Driving[/dropcap] past 61st Street and Yale Avenue in Tulsa, one can’t help but notice a giant panda waving. The friendly bear sits atop The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis and serves as a symbol of the most comprehensive pediatric medical care available in eastern Oklahoma. Through The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis, children in critical need have greater access to life-saving treatments and care – and families have a chance for healing and hope.

“Since opening The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis in February of 2008, a team of individuals at Saint Francis Health System have worked to recruit pediatric subspecialists to the Tulsa community,” says Dr. Shannon Filosa, executive director of women’s and children’s services for Saint Francis Health System. “Many specialties that were not available in Tulsa have been added with the addition of these new doctors. The addition of these specialties for children has improved the health of children in Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma because families now have access to the latest treatments and therapies from pediatric fellowship trained physicians.”

[pullquote]I try my best to comfort our parents while always being totally honest about care and prognosis. One of the greatest rewards to this job is sending a previously critically ill infant home with their family.[/pullquote]The Children’s Hospital offers services in more than 25 different pediatric specialties and includes the region’s only Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), pediatric hematology/oncology clinic and pediatric cardiac surgery program. In 2014, as part of its regional impact, Saint Francis neonatologists, pediatric intensivists and pediatric specialists provided educational outreach to more than 15 regional hospitals and hundreds of pediatric and family medicine providers through a monthly tele-health education series as well as onsite clinically focused presentations and specialty consults.

The 30,000-square-foot Henry Zarrow NICU is recognized as a Level IV NICU by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“A Level IV NICU is the highest level in the country and provides comprehensive care for neonatal patients,” says Filosa. “A specific neonatal team attends high-risk deliveries and focuses on the baby’s condition to improve outcomes for infants born prematurely, difficult births, birth defects or any condition that places the infant at risk.”

The Henry Zarrow NICU cares for nearly 850 newborns and their families each year and provides life-saving procedures, such as therapeutic hypothermia and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for infants suffering with heart and lung failure. The NICU also includes a specially trained neonatology transport team that travels to more than 20 smaller referral hospitals throughout eastern Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. Nearly 35 percent of infants admitted to the Henry Zarrow NICU are born at other hospitals.

For families who live in Tulsa and surrounding areas, having state-of-the-art neonatal care close to home can be a great comfort.

“Because of the expertise available at this facility, parents and their babies don’t have to leave the city or state for most of the neonatal problems we encounter. Their support system is near home, and that’s what families need when they have an infant in the NICU,” says Dr. Rachel Davis-Jackson, a neonatal specialist with Warren Clinic and the medical director for the Henry Zarrow NICU at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis.

Davis-Jackson shares that she personally understands what it means to have a sick baby in the NICU, having had a child born premature, at 26 weeks. She considers it a privilege to help others along their journey.

“I thank God for the opportunity to do what I do. I believe, for me, this is a calling,” she says. “I try my best to comfort our parents while always being totally honest about care and prognosis. The news is not always good, but I attempt to deliver it in the most compassionate and caring manner I can. One of the greatest rewards to this job is sending a previously critically ill infant home with their family.”

She adds that after a child is released from the hospital, the rewards continue.

“Parents bring their growing children back to see us and send pictures,” she says. “It is an amazing feeling to watch these little ones grow, knowing the problems they started off with.”

Davis-Jackson and the staff at The Children’s Hospital are committed to providing the most advanced care in a compassionate and child-friendly environment, and their work was recently recognized. In 2014, The Children’s Hospital received a Four-star Award for its inpatient care from the Professional Research Consultants, ranking the hospital among the top 25 percent nationally.

Filosa attributes the achievement of a high level of inpatient care to the hospital’s comprehensive services and a dedicated staff that works in partnership with parents to promote family-centered care, quality and optimal outcomes for children.

According to Filosa, the unique features of the childbirth program that make it successful include the Henry Zarrow NICU and other key care services like the OB Hospitalist Program, which allows Saint Francis to have a board certified obstetrician in the hospital at all times.

stfrancisfacts

Resident Artists

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The neutral palette of this home is the perfect backdrop for Homeowner Melissa Key’s abstract art.
The neutral palette of this home is the perfect backdrop for homeowner Melissa Key’s abstract art.

[dropcap]Tulsa[/dropcap] artists Rob and Melissa Key were drawn to Tulsa for different reasons, but both found appreciation for their media in the city.

Melissa is a native of New Orleans, where she enjoyed a thriving career as a contemporary artist and freelance photographer. Katrina’s devastating aftermath prompted Melissa to move to Tulsa.

Rob, a native of Oilton, Okla., worked on the East Coast in the aviation industry, where he mastered his welding skills. The tumultuous devastation of Sept. 11 prompted his move to West Palm Beach, Fla., for five years, designing and producing metal art for multi-million-dollar homes.

“I moved to Tulsa in 2005 because I thought Tulsa needed a good iron shop. I barely had a business card,” Rob says, laughing. “My business grew by word of mouth.”

Today, his metal art company employs 15 people.

Rob and Melissa met through an online dating site and forged a friendship. They married a decade ago and now share their home with their 8-year-old son, Finn.

So what happens when two highly creative and artistic people merge their multiple talents to build a contemporary home?

“I’m a right-brain abstract artist, and he’s artsy, too. We are always talking about art and ideas,” Melissa says.

“My ideas come from everywhere,” Rob laughs. “Once an idea is born, it becomes a reality, almost overnight.”

Melissa wanted a home that echoed her love for New Orleans. Rob wanted a showcase for his exquisite metal art, including doorways and staircases, patio swings and sculptures.

The result is a 4,400-square-foot, two-story, dramatic home that has architectural whispers of old New Orleans mansions.

Melissa loves white, so white walls and floor-to-ceiling white draperies are contrasted with sleek, black wrought-iron railings and a center staircase, designed and built by Rob. White walls provide an ideal backdrop for Melissa’s larger-than-life abstract paintings, many with gold leaf traces.

“The seasons change my color palette,” she says. “I like different colors, and my art is a reflection of how my surroundings inspire me. Light and sunshine make me happy, so we are always opening doors to the outside.”

Twelve-foot ceilings and 10-foot interior panel doors, hand-crafted from cypress wood harvested from New Orleans swamps, provide a dramatic feel to the home.

“Originally, pocket doors in New Orleans mansions were left ‘naked,’ so the wood grain was evident,” Rob explains.

Oak wood flooring is arranged in a chevron pattern, which is mimicked in the fireplace interior.

For the Keys, the kitchen is the heart of the home. An enormous island of Italian Carrera marble is the centerpiece.

“I love to cook. It’s where everyone gathers,” Melissa notes. “The countertop is similar to those in New Orleans homes. The ladies there always made their pralines on a marble slab.”

Metal bar stools, crafted by Rob, line two sides of the island. Covered in white Icelandic sheep skin, they add texture to the setting.

The sumptuous patio beckons from every room. The pure white of the outdoor area with its pool and white Carrera border, white brick fireplace, covered pavilion and open seating area, reflects the couple’s talent for superb design.

Additional Web Exclusive Photography

 

Haute Stuff

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Hair styled by Shawna Burroughs, Jara Herron Salon. Makeup by Taylor Ledbetter. Model Provided by Linda Layman Agency.

See behind the scenes of this year’s fall fashion shoot in the web exclusive video.

The Breeze Blows In White’s Direction

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Oklahoma musician Don White was a Major contributor to Eric Clapton’s The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Photo by Brandon Scott.
Oklahoma musician Don White was a Major contributor to Eric Clapton’s The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Photo by Brandon Scott.
Oklahoma musician Don White was a Major contributor to Eric Clapton’s The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale. Photo by Brandon Scott.

[dropcap]Exactly[/dropcap] one year ago, this space was devoted to a report on veteran Tulsa-based singer-songwriter Don White, who, after decades of performing, touring, recording and writing, had just gotten one of the major breaks of his professional life. That column hit the streets about a month after The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale (Surfdog Records) became the highest-charting Eric Clapton disc in 20 years, soaring to No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 Albums chart in its first week of release.

The record wasn’t just Clapton’s, though. It’s officially credited to Eric Clapton and Friends, with a sticker on the CDs and LPs listing the more prominent Friends: Mark Knopfler, John Mayer, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty – and Don White. (Interestingly, it was Petty’s first chart-topping disc, Hypnotic Eye, that kept The Breeze from going to No. 1.)

Clapton had recruited White for the project after the two met at Cale’s invitation-only West Coast funeral a year or so before the disc’s release. An admirer and good friend of Cale, Clapton rounded up a number of other prominent T-Town musicians for the record, including keyboardist Walt Richmond, harmonica player Jimmy Markham and drummers Jim Keltner (a Tulsa native who moved to southern California early in his life), Jim Karstein, Jamie Oldaker and David Teegarden, all of whom had ties to the late Tulsa Sound architect.

White’s history with Cale included having Cale as a regular guitarist in one of his bands. Decades later, White returned the favor by playing guitar (along with such rock-world heavyweights as Derek Trucks, Albert Lee, Reggie Young, Don Preston, David Lindley and Clapton himself) on three Breeze tracks. But his major contribution was as a featured vocalist, performing a beautifully understated version of one of Cale’s most wistful works, “The Sensitive Kind”; singing lead (with Clapton doing backup vocals) on “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” a Ray Price shuffle that Cale recorded; and joining Knopfler and Clapton, with Markham on harmonica, for “Train to Nowhere,” a previously unreleased Cale composition. All are highlights of this 16-track collection that boasts, in addition to its star-studded roster, first-rate production and impressive packaging, especially on the 180-gram, double-gatefold vinyl version.

“Eric went all-out on this record,” White says. “Everybody’s saying it’s a million-dollar record, and they’re probably right. He hired all those people, did some recording on it in Europe, in France, in L.A., in Nashville. He got Willie and all those guys in there, too.”

And White is right in there with them.

“The names on the sticker are the featured artists,” he notes. “Willie and Mark and Petty and Mayer and me – we’ve all got the same contract.”

Classic Meets Modern

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The family library is a round room found on the first floor of this midtown Tulsa home.
Forged steel railings throughout the home were created by Rob Key of Rob Key Designs.
The staircases and forged steel railings throughout the home were created by Rob Key of Rob Key Designs.

[dropcap]With[/dropcap] the goal of creating an open and casual home for this active family and their dogs, Brian L. Freese, AIA, principal of Freese Architecture, began experimenting with various designs. The family was living in south Tulsa and wanted to relocate to the midtown area.

Ultimately, the homeowners were able to purchase side-by-side properties that allowed space for their expansive new home. And while the neighborhood covenants required new construction to abide by certain setbacks from the curb and minimum square footage, they were not constrained by any architectural mandates.

“The ultimate style was an amalgam of ideas,” says Freese. “They wanted an exterior appearance that had classic proportions but more modern elements. And they wanted their home to convey visual strength and a feeling of uniqueness.”

The focal point of the large family room is the horizontal tiled fireplace flanked by customized shelves that house the homeowners’ glass art collection.
The focal point of the large family room is the horizontal tiled fireplace flanked by customized shelves that house the homeowners’ glass art collection.

While there is a strong contrast from the other homes in this traditional neighborhood, the low, sloping roof and deep overhangs keep the project from appearing “shockingly modern,” Freese says.

David Isaccs Jr., owner of Isaacs Custom Homes in Claremore, worked as part of the team during the three-year process. One of the homeowners – a busy mother, wife and former owner of a dog training business – actively researched the finishes, selected the accent colors and located and purchased all the furnishings, accessories and area rugs.

“She wanted a clean, minimalist palette with punches of color and a variety of texture,” says Freese.

Just inside the front door is the large and comfortable family room; there are no formal spaces. Custom display shelves highlight an ever-growing collection of glass art. Two stainless steel doors above the fireplace open and slide back to reveal the television. Porcelain tile with horizontal detail meets the 20-foot-high ceiling. The back wall of windows blends the outdoors with the indoors.

The living room area opens into the dining area, which opens into the striking kitchen. Keeping in mind the space needed to accommodate the busy family and numerous pets, the cabinets are faced with sturdy laminate. The flooring is porcelain tile, and rows of glass tile that reach to ceiling create a unique backsplash. The large window, operable at the bottom, floods the room with light and provides a view into the backyard. Pantry and storage areas are camouflaged in a wall of exotic wood veneer.

The unique round family library, designed to be welcoming to the entire family, is on the first floor, as is the master suite. The master bath looks onto a private hot tub. A fireplace opens into both the bathroom and the bedroom. The goal was to highlight natural light and employ muted tones for the finishes and furnishings.

A bridge runs across the front of the house indoors and connects the two second-story wings. At one end is the husband’s office/study, and on the opposite side of the house are the children’s bedrooms and bathrooms.

The staircase on the children’s wing spans three floors and leads to the basement, which includes another rec room with a fireplace. There is also a theater, wine cellar, bar, half-bath and ample storage. A small exterior porch leads upstairs to the backyard.

The fabricated forged steel railing connecting the two wings of the house as well as the dramatic staircases were crafted by metal artist Rob Key, owner of Rob Key Designs.

“We worked as a team throughout the process, keeping in mind that the goal was to create a home of classic proportions with a modern, simplified style,” says Freese.

Protecting the Protectors

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Everyone from brand-new recruits to veterans are served at the YMCA in OKC. Photo courtesy YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City

New recruits get hugs and candy bars. Deployed personnel receive ‘Freedom Boxes’ filled with toiletries and Girl Scout cookies. Returning veterans find camaraderie and comfort.

And when it’s time for the final goodbye, grieving families are supported at the service and at the cemetery.

Across Oklahoma, volunteers serve in nonprofits designed to ease the burdens of veterans and active-duty military personnel. 

“The military is anything but glorious,” says Saundra Bixler, president of Tulsa’s Oklahoma Chapter One of the Blue Star Mothers.

“It’s hard living,” says Bixler, whose father was a lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Army. “You have wives trying to manage everything on their own while their husband[s are] deployed. There are parents who don’t know if they will see their children again. And their children change after they go into the military. There are a lot of praying parents in the military.”

When families make a request, deployed personnel can receive a package from the Blue Star Mothers as often as monthly. Every box is different depending on donations, but commonly include razors, hand lotion, first aid supplies, paperback books, magazines and snacks such as beef jerky, candy and trail mix.

The YMCA Military Welcome Center at Will Rogers World Airport serves active duty and retired military personnel who fly in and out of Oklahoma City and offers special support to Ft. Sill.

U.S. Army recruits headed for basic training come from across the country, says Paul Urquhart, executive director of the Earlywine Park YMCA who also works at the Welcome Center.

“They have just graduated from high school, and for many, it’s the first time they’ve left mom and dad, and even the first time they have flown,” he says. “We take care of them from when they land until they get to Ft. Sill. We feed them, we hug on them, we care for their needs, we provide direction.”

Most of the volunteers are ex-military or had a spouse in the armed services, says Urquhart.

“To me it’s the coolest thing the Y does,” says Urquhart. “Our volunteers are awesome.”

Dan Fuller, commander of Tulsa’s VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 577, says that after spending a combined 28 years on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserve, he understands what the post means to veterans. 

“It allows you to continue to have the kind of relationships you had on active duty,” says Fuller. “These are people you have a common experience with, that your neighbor won’t understand. A lot of people want to continue the esprit de corps of still serving, still helping.”

The Tulsa post serves breakfast to hundreds of people and enters a float in the parade on Veterans Day, decorates graves on Memorial Day and helps veterans with disability claims. It also partners with the Blue Star Mothers for the Freedom Box project and with the Boy Scouts to properly dispose of American flags.

Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members are welcomed home from deployments with honor dances, says Cheyenne chief Gordon Yellowman. Typically held during powwows, the dances date back to the days when the tribes had migratory lives on the Great Plains. 

“It gives them a sense of pride, and it reminds them of their identity as part of a community,” says Yellowman. “They might have been traumatized while deployed, but that love from their family is healing.”

Lawton nurse and longtime motorcycle rider Cindy Stroud-Ysasaga joined the Patriot Guard Riders shortly after the group was founded in Claremore in 2005. The original purpose was to shield mourners at military funerals from church protestors who claimed the fallen had died defending a nation “awash in sin.”

The protestors have mostly stopped coming, says Stroud-Ysasaga, but the riders continue to provide honor lines and flag lines, when invited, at the funerals of military veterans and first responders.

“We have more in common than just motorcycles,” Stroud-Ysasaga says of the group that now has chapters in all 50 states. “We have unwavering respect for everyone who has risked their lives for American freedom and security.”

When there are protestors to shield the families from, Stroud-Ysasaga says, “we do it strictly by legal and nonviolent means. We don’t acknowledge them. We just protect the families.”

Patriot Riders also build home upgrades for wounded warriors, attend troop sendoffs and place wreaths at national cemeteries. Volunteers who don’t own motorcycles help with charitable projects and drive support vehicles to funerals.

Bixler, whose daughter is a sergeant in the Army National Guard, says anyone is welcome to volunteer with Blue Star Mothers, and mothers and grandmothers of military personnel can be members with voting privileges.

In war zones where troops from across the world are serving, the Freedom Boxes get shared with fellow Americans, soldiers from other countries and civilians, says Bixler.

The Tulsa chapter typically mails 200 boxes a month, but in December, they send as many as 1,000. Students decorate stockings for the well-stuffed holiday boxes, and members of a woodcarving club donate handmade ornaments.

Urquhart says that when his children were growing up, they often went with him to the Military Welcome Center. 

“I would credit that as part of why my son joined the Navy,” he says. 

Staying in Touch

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In the wake of canceled flights, postponed events and a bevy of other broken plans, Thanksgiving shouldn’t be a time to be alone or away from loved ones.

It’s clear many vulnerable members of society – those at an advanced age or those who are immunocompromised – won’t be able to hop on flights or welcome large groups into their homes. The beauty of technology, however, means that families can stay connected in a variety of ways. Whether it’s a quick FaceTime, phone call or extended Zoom meet-up so everyone can eat together, ensure you stay in touch with your loved ones this holiday season.  

An Ode to Downtown Tulsa

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A sleek and unobtrusive staircase leads guests between the four floors. There is also an elevator for added convenience.

When Chuck Lamson and his wife, Leigh, went looking for a new home in Tulsa, they found the perfect residence in downtown’s East Village. The development, called Urban 8, features eight four-story townhouses that range from 2,700 to 3,500 square feet of living, entertaining and outdoor space.    

Balconies line the terraces, offering expansive views of the city that are magnified by stunning sunsets. At night, Tulsa’s many lights enhance this cosmopolitan view. 

The townhouses, built between 2014 and 2015 by West Construction, were designed by architect James Boswell, and more than 50 contractors were involved with the extensive building project. Chuck and Leigh bought the first Urban 8 townhouse in 2015 and moved in April 2019. 

With the help of designer friend Huc Lee, the couple did all of the interior design together, choosing a contemporary theme in furnishings, fixtures and accessories. Looking for unique accents, the team found pieces in Italy, Spain, Las Vegas, Dallas and all over Oklahoma to complement this sleek and inviting dwelling.

“We wanted a subtle color palette, so the walls are light gray and the trim is a darker gray,” says Leigh. White marble tile can be found throughout the home, except for the black granite tile on the fourth floor. With so many enticing exterior views of downtown, they let nature provide its own unique accents, as well. 

There are many compelling features about the townhouse, especially its prime location. 

“We like the modern design and urban setting,” says Chuck. “We like the energy and convenience of everything going on in downtown Tulsa. We enjoy getting out and walking everywhere.”

This downtown location is ideal for the busy and active couple. Chuck, former owner of the Tulsa Drillers, is now an Executive in Residence for the Collins College of Business at the University of Tulsa. He teaches sport management and oversees the internship program in the Management and Marketing department. Leigh is a homemaker, and the couple has two grown children.

One of the biggest highlights of these townhouses are the balconies; in Chuck and Leigh’s home, there is one on the second floor off the living room and another on the third floor, adjacent to the home office. 

The fourth floor rooftop space is an indoor/outdoor entertainer’s delight. The glass enclosed indoor area is designed for comfort (and for days when Oklahoma’s mercurial weather does not cooperate with entertaining). It includes a bar, TV, comfortable seating and even a sofa bed for overnight guests. Outside, there is a full kitchen and a dining/entertaining area, including a fire pit and TV. 

This modern townhouse space “has a perfect flow for living and entertaining,” agrees the couple. Among other enticing amenities are an elevator to promote ease of movement between the floors and a Savant home automation technology, which controls temperature, lights, shades, A/V and security – all remotely.

The kitchen has numerous special features. The center island has ample storage space, and all the Jay Rambo cabinetry features push-to-open and soft close hardware. The appliances are a couture alphabet soup of the best: Galley sinks; white Miele appliances, including an espresso machine; Napa Technology wine dispenser; Scotsman flake icemaker; Thermador no-touch refrigerator; and True cold drawers. 

Guests in the Lamsons’ townhouse are not only treated to great cuisine, gracious hospitality and wonderful views, but also to an impressive art collection. 

“We collect Thomas Arvid paintings,” says Chuck. “He paints wine and spirits scenes that look like great photographs. We also collect photos from modernist cuisine artist Nathan Myhrvold. He uses robots to depict scenes of movement in his food and drink photography.” His image of an exploding champagne bottle in the home’s entryway is a stunning conversation piece.

It is obvious the Lamsons love to entertain, and their townhouse has all the amenities to make guests feel welcome and experience the vibrancy and magic that encapsulates downtown Tulsa. 

A Food Lover’s Guide to Oklahoma

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By Brian Schwartz and Amanda Simcoe

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Veal chops 

Polo Grill, Tulsa

This rich, hearty dish with asparagus risotto and mushrooms satisfies with its lovely balance of flavors. “The wild mushrooms yield an earthy umami,” says chef Omar Galban, “and the freshness of the asparagus plus the sharp parmesan adds complexity and crunch. It’s all brought together with a veal demi-glace that takes five days to make. We first made this dish as a special to satisfy a longtime patron’s craving for veal. It sold out fast and everyone loved it, so we put it on the menu full time.” – BS

Photo courtesy Barrios

rib tinga chalupa

Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes, OKC
The chalupa is surely one of the most popular menu items at this south-of-the-border restaurant from A Good Egg Dining Group. Enjoy queso cotija, pickled jalapeños and onions, refried black beans, kale slaw and guacamole on a crispy flour tortilla. Pro tip: this dish pairs perfectly with a frozen avocado margarita. – AS

Photo courtesy Sheesh Mahal

Butter chicken

Sheesh Mahal, OKC
Since 2014, this family-run restaurant has offered delicious menu options for both devoted fans and newcomers to halal Pakistani and Indian cuisine. The butter chicken served in a rich and creamy curry sauce will make you want to return to taste your way through the entire menu. – AS

Photo courtesy The Summit Club

Half chicken roulade with wontons

The Summit Club, Tulsa
Bill Lyle whips up stunning French-inspired dishes at the Summit Club. For this recipe, he stirs some local flavor and rural memories into the mix. “It marries the bounty of Oklahoma’s harvest season with the nostalgia of late season hay rides through New England orchards,” says Lyle. “The chicken is sourced from Prairie Creek Farm, the pecans and butternut squash from the farmer’s market and the sage from our garden. The cider is from a Vermont cider mill that I would visit every autumn growing up.” – BS

Photo courtesy Nic’s

Original cheeseburger

Nic’s Grill, OKC
Yes, the cheeseburger at the original 15-seat Nic’s Grill is every bit as good as the hype. With lettuce, tomato, pickle, mustard, mayo, American cheese and their signature grilled onions, the only thing that could make this burger better is a side of curly fries. – AS

Photo courtesy Freddie’s

Ribeye dinner

Freddie’s Bar-B-Que and Steakhouse, Sapulpa
Order a steak, any steak. They’re all delicious. And long before that steak hits the grill, a cavalcade of yummy dishes arrives one by one at your table. There’s a hummus and relish tray, then a sprightly tabouli. A Lebanese cabbage roll is next, and then an enormous basket of barbecued ribs and bologna. There’s more too, all scrumptious, and finally, when you think you can’t eat another bite, a big sizzling steak arrives to perk your appetite right back up. – BS

The Struggle is Real, but You Can Help

This year has been difficult for small businesses across the state, and restaurants are no exception. With the changing regulations over the months, the hospitality industry has seen some of the harshest losses. Two Oklahoma restaurant owners share how customers can keep them afloat. 
Chris West, chef-owner of Lassalle’s New Orleans Deli in Tulsa, has felt the heat.
“One of the things that helped was a side project born in the kitchen during the pandemic,” he says. His new OklaNola Hot Sauces and spices, all made in-house, have brought in retail sales to help make up for limited service capacity.
Chef-owner of OKC’s Cafe Cafe D’Lasie, Vuong Nguyen, says the most important thing we can do is spend our dining dollars locally, and remember to keep supporting your favorites. 
“Go have fun and grab a bun – or two,” he says. 
How to help:
 Pick up your to-go order rather than use a third-party delivery service. The fees hurt an already tight margin. 
 Gift certificates or house-made retail items make great holiday gifts. 
 Consider catering-in group lunches with your co-workers. One big group order can impact a small restaurant’s week. – AS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Tenderloin of red fallow venison

Amelia’s Wood Fired Cuisine, Tulsa
Before Andrew Donovan found fame in New York City, he grew up in rural North Carolina. Bursting with the tastes and smells of a country autumn, this urbane sophisticated dish recalls both. “We glaze the plums with local honey,” says Donovan, “and a splash of red wine. The hunters sauce is made with demi glacé as its base, fortified with mushrooms and shallot. Venison is rich yet lean, so it lends itself well to be paired with slightly sweet fruit. The mushrooms and truffle help round out some of the acid with a nice earthiness.” All ingredients come from small-scale farmers and foragers, and the deer were raised in the Texas hill country. – BS

Photo by Amanda Simcoe

Coconut pandan waffle

Super Cao Nguyen, OKC
One of the best kept secrets for weekend eats is found, along with many other delicious options, in the Super Cao Nguyen market’s front entryway. Coconut-pandan waffles made fresh behind the counter are take-out only, so they are perfect for bringing home and serving with butter and coconut syrup (not included, but highly encouraged). – AS

Photo courtesy Cafe Kacao

Friends with Benedict

Cafe Kacao, OKC
Chef-owner Veronica Zelada, a native of Guatemala, serves up some of the best breakfast and lunch options in town at her family-run eatery. The Friends with Benedict features French baguette, black beans, asada steak, tomato, poached eggs, house-made hollandaise, house-made guajillo sauce and fresh fruit. Try it and thank me later. – AS

Up & Eat ‘Em!

Everyone loves a good brunch hotspot. Before the panic of ‘Where shall we go?’ sets in, try these choices: 
OKC
Kitchen 324 – My must-haves include the Prairie Mary (made with house-made yellow tomato Mary mix) and the scrambled egg sandwich with double-smoked pastrami. 
Grand House Asian Bistro –  For a traditional dim sum experience, select from an assortment of small plates presented tableside by servers. I like to choose several and share. Favorites include pork and shrimp shumai, barbecue steam buns, crispy pork and roasted duck.
Tulsa
Oren –  Don’t miss the Benedict. Poached eggs, creamed spinach, aleppo hollandaise, toast and potatoes. Delicious. 
The Bramble Breakfast & Bar – I’m always torn between the pancakes. They have several great options, but my favorites are the blueberry and lemon curd; and the white cheddar and jalapeno. Get both and share them with a friend. – AS

Photo courtesy Choate House/Good Egg Dining

Gulai ikan kuning

Rendang Indonesian, Tulsa
Gulai ikan kuning is a traditional dish from the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra. You won’t find it in all that many cities outside that remote region, and one of them is Tulsa. A whole pomfret (a butterfish native to the middle east and southeast Asia) is fried and served in a mild citric curry made with turmeric. It’s spectacular and delicious. This is just one of the many masterpieces to come out of chef Indri Bahar’s magical kitchen. – BS

Gnocchi with wild mushrooms

Osteria, OKC
Osteria, the Nichols Hills collaboration between chefs Jonathon Stranger and Fabio Viviani, serves various handmade pasta, pizza and other Italian goodies using local ingredients. One of my favorite foods this time of year is mushrooms, and this dish adds pillowy gnocchi, black truffle cream sauce, truffle oil and crispy shallots. – AS

Spicy miso ramen

Gorō Ramen + Izakaya, OKC
Gorō Ramen + Izakaya is up and running in its new home in the Paseo district, and the spicy miso ramen is as perfect as ever. Rich chicken broth, miso, corn, pork meatballs, sesame, scallion, marinated bamboo and soft egg create the ideal combination. Don’t forget the house-made garlic chili bomb for some extra kick! – AS

Photo by Jeff  Chanchaleune

Al Fresco All Year

Even though it’s getting chilly out, outdoor dining is still a great choice with some top-tier patios.

The R & J Lounge and Supper Club: This OKC favorite offers their homage to the classics of the 1950s, both indoors and on their screened and heated patio. Their extensive list of classic cocktails and daily drink specials offer something for everyone.

O Bar: Situated at the top of the Ambassador Hotel, this rooftop lounge offers overhead heaters to keep you comfortable as you enjoy stunning views of downtown OKC, along with cocktails and a wide variety of small and large plates. 

Doc’s Wine & Food: Darin Ross’ longtime Brookside hotspot has a cozy covered front patio area complete with heaters to keep you warm whether you are enjoying a romantic dinner or Sunday brunch with friends.

R Bar: Another Tulsa favorite (right down the street from Doc’s), R Bar offers extensive patio seating, heaters, and American grub to warm the belly. – AS

Fried mushrooms

Hideaway Pizza, Statewide
Hideaway Pizza is famous, not surprisingly, for its pizza, and it should be. But their other dishes are worthy of your attention, too. One delicious dish they do is the fried mushroom appetizer. Asked to describe it, Hideaway co-owner Brett Murphy simply responded: “Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” Every batch is made fresh from scratch – crispy golden brown on the outside, hot and juicy on the inside, and they’re perfect to dip in Hideaway red sauce or the homemade Hideaway ranch. – BS

Photo courtesy Hideaway

Hidden Gems

Pop ups: There are lots of genius chefs you’ve never heard of. Most don’t have their own restaurants; several places have installed side rooms with kitchens set aside for them, with an ever-changing roster of cooks doing a gig every two weeks or so. The huge and architecturally dramatic American Solera brewery in Tulsa does this, and so does Mother Road Market nearby. At the former, you might find Bic Nguyen, born in Vietnam, who cooks amazing pho under the name of Jackrabbit, or accomplished cooks Joel Bein and Amanda Simcoe serving inventive tacos every second Tuesday.
Food trucks: There are a lot of them, and many house chefs who really deserve their own restaurants. Broken Arrow’s Dr. Kustom features Brazilian sandwiches crafted by the former executive chef of Texas de Brasil, and 1907 Barbecue in Tulsa will show you that one of the city’s best BBQ joints is aboard a very big truck. In OKC, Taqueria Sanchez has acquired a an incredibly passionate fanbase. And Oh My Gogi, offering Korean barbecue and Asian fusion, is a can’t-miss. – BS

Take home: 

Some of Tulsa’s finest chefs, both new talent and veterans, offer food to take home and reheat one or two days a week. Teri Fermo does Filipino haute cuisine; Raqaun Bennett offers Caribbean; Hope Egan sells delectable dishes with totally local ingredients, and longtime caterers Josh Vitt and Josh Baker sell whatever they’re in the mood to make. – BS

Off the Grid:

Famed restaurateur Jenny Vergera runs an underground supper club that features secret multi-course dinners cooked by the best chefs in Tulsa. Some are famous, some have yet to be discovered. You sign up and receive invitations. If the dinner interests you, you join a lottery and only the winners can attend. Yes it’s secret, but hundreds have gone. We can’t tell you any more – visit testkitchenok.com. – BS

Pollo di Napoli

Ti Amo Ristorante Italiano, Tulsa
Here is a dish that’s light and healthful yet delivers a heavy load of rich, hearty flavor. The chicken breasts are skinless and boneless. The sauce has garlic and white wine, and there’s no cream or butter. Roasted almonds add crunch, Kalamata olives and roasted bell peppers add flavor. It’s delicious and satisfying. And, says owner Mehdi Khezri: “It’s got garlic, it’s got olive oil – it’s Italy!” – BS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Only in Oklahoma

You may have seen TV show host Andrew Zimmern walking down a cobbled alley in a mountain town in southwest China, searching for a food stall serving that rare and gloriously fragrant dish of spicy pig brains with tofu. But he could have saved his plane fare and found it in Tulsa. Most people think the “only in Oklahoma” category applies only to regional American delicacies. But, while you can find some marvelously cooked calf fries at Lazy Fisherman in Bixby and enough questionable yet yummy concoctions to bust your belly whenever the state fair opens, there are a few restaurants that serve food from far away that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else.
Tulsa’s Mandarin Taste, which sometimes features those pig brains, has a number of dishes the owner found inside China, including a rich, savory beef brisket stew that gourmets fly in from Dallas to try.
Golden Saddle, which looks like a standard American diner in Tulsa, can produce a huge spread of Iranian food on request, sometimes including kale pache, a breakfast stew that features sheep’s eyes, feet and stomach.
And, you can Google some of Little Venice’s weekly specials and you might find some hits only from northern Italy, right here in Broken Arrow. 
The same can be said of OKC’s Patrono, which focuses not on one area of Italy but on traditional Italian ingredients and techniques.
You can get your fill of Ethiopian food at OKC’s Queen of Sheba, which offers traditional dishes with a twist like the messob (beef, chicken and beef alicha), tibbs (chopped lamb) or kitfo (lean beef with mitmita and butter).
On the hunt for some Honduran goodness? OKC’s Fonda K-Tracha serves up everything from brochetas de camaron (shrimp skewers) to green bananas and ground beef.
And Del City’s Chibugan Filipino Cuisine can fill you up with tocino (cured pork), sinigang (pork sour soup) and bulalo baka (beef soup). – BS/MWA

Photo courtesy Little Venice

Pan-seared sea bass

Nola’s Creole & Cocktails, Tulsa
Nola’s food and ambiance perfectly evokes the New Orleans of yesteryear. Their new executive chef, Eliel Perezt, raises the bar and brings diversity into the mix, as shown in this dish, with French (green pea coulis) and Egyptian (pistachio dukkah) ingredients used to enliven Perezt’s favorite fish. The fish comes with roasted fingerling potatoes, rainbow carrots and pumpkin puree. “Sea bass has the perfect light flavor,” he says. “It can be cooked in almost any way imaginable and the spices for it are endless.” – BS

Lamb chops

Zam Zam Mediterranean, Warr Acres
It’s a combination restaurant and hookah lounge with delicious options all across the menu. Try the grilled lamb chops, served with a veggie skewer and your choices of two sides, such as hummus, baba ganouj, grape leaves, tabouli, a variety of salads and much more. – AS 

Pasta pomodoro

Mondo’s Ristorante Italiano, Tulsa
Fifty years ago, when Lou Aloisio built the first Mondo’s, he did it himself with the help of friends and neighbors. He probably won’t do that again when, a few weeks from now, work begins on the big new Mondo’s building, complete with outdoor and rooftop dining. The homey ambiance will be the same, though, with two smaller dining rooms. “Don’t worry, it will still be quaint,” says Lou’s eldest son Mike. And the food, too, will stay the same, popping with rich earthy flavors. Mike’s favorite is the pasta pomodoro. “It’s light yet flavorful,” he says. “There’s olive oil and garlic, fresh basil and diced tomato … perfectly balanced. If you enjoy eating, this is your dish, because you can eat a lot of it and it won’t fill you up. – BS

Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Carving Out Camaraderie

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Bill and Carol Payne of Broken Arrow often pack up a picnic lunch and head for the lake, where he works on a woodcarving project and she settles in with her embroidery.

It’s their pandemic therapy.

“It absolutely is stress relieving,” says Bill,  a retired power plant engineer for American Airlines. “And you can work on it for a while and lay it down, and come back whenever you’re ready to.”

Retired geophysicist Richard Dalke of Oklahoma City says he’s been fascinated with woodcarving since he was a boy, when his great-grandfather gave him a pocketknife.

“There’s a satisfaction that you get from being able to make something that you like and that other people like,” says Dalke, a longtime member of the Oklahoma City Woodcarver’s Club.

For beginners, it’s good to know that woodcarving is not the same thing as whittling.

“Whittling is what you do when you just are making chips off the end of a stick,” says Dalke. “Woodcarving usually involves something other than a knife, though it’s easily done with a knife and, for a lot of people, those are their main tools.”

Woodcarving clubs offer camaraderie, training and even opportunities for community service.

Betty Zumwalt, a Tulsa retiree and member of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association, is a wood turner who likes to make carvings to adorn the rims of her bowls.  For the past seven years, she has turned and carved a creation for the Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma to sell at a fundraiser.

Another project close to her heart is Beads of Courage at the Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis. She and fellow members of the NOWTA turn small boxes in which the patients store their beads. The program helps the children tell their treatment stories through the different colors of beads they receive for medical procedures, treatment milestones and acts of bravery. They typically make necklaces from the beads. Local artists help the patients paint and personalize their boxes. Zumwalt makes and donates 40 to 50 Beads of Courage boxes every year.

Dalke says his club, which has about 75 members, exhibits carvings and offers free demonstrations during Global Oklahoma at Rose State College and at the Harn Homestead Museum. Members teach their skills at public libraries, to home-schooled students and at Boy Scout camps.

Payne likes to carve Christmas ornaments and give them to the Blue Star Mothers to add to Christmas packages for deployed military personnel. By August, he had already carved 150.

Woodcarvers like getting together to socialize and hone their skills. Dalke and Payne say small groups meet weekly in Oklahoma City and towns across the state, setting up shop in churches, at parks, in senior centers and in one another’s homes. Edmond, Midwest City, Yukon, Moore, Enid, McAlester and Duncan are among the cities where small groups meet, though many put their meetings on hold due to COVID-19.

“We sit and drink coffee and tell lies, and whatever project somebody is working on, if you need help, we will get you started,” says Dalke.

Payne, who joined the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Club the year after it was established in 1973, has judged the woodcarving competition at the Oklahoma State Fair for nearly 20 years. He travels the country to attend conventions and shows, where he enrolls in and teaches classes, exhibits his work and makes new friends.

Zumwalt says she likes to work by sitting on her back porch with a power carver.

“Most of my carving is done with a power carver, and I’ve already burned up three of them,” she says. “When you carve, you take away anything that doesn’t belong there.”

Carvers tend to have their favorite woods. Zumwalt loves maple. Dalke is fond of bass wood. Payne says he loves them all.

“There are so many pretty woods out there,” he says. “There are about 50,000 trees in the world. Butternut is a pretty wood. Sycamore is a good wood to carve, and so is walnut. Each new kind of wood is a challenge, and there are so many different things you can carve.”

Dalke’s list of creations so far includes eagles, gargoyles, lions, polar bears, ducks, pumpkins, flowers, soldiers, wizards and cowboys. Some he gives away, but most he keeps.

“My wife, Leanne, doesn’t complain about me having a lot of stuff,” he says. “She’s a quilter.”

Zumwalt, however, says she never sells her pieces.

“It takes way too much time to make them,” she says. “I would probably only get 25 or 50 cents an hour for my time if I sold them.”

Payne donates some of his work, but there’s a reason why he also sells his carvings. 

“Hopefully I can sell enough to buy another block of wood,” he says with a laugh.

More than Football

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Bitson played for TU in the late ’80s before returning to coach. Photo courtesy the University of Tulsa

Dan Bitson is one proud Tulsan. A three-sport athlete (basketball, football and track) at Booker T. Washington High School, the talented wide receiver then played for the University of Tulsa between 1987 and 1991.

In 1989, he sustained serious injuries in a car accident, but returned to the field and finished his collegiate career as the Golden Hurricane’s No. 2 all-time receiver; he was inducted into the TU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I wanted to go somewhere that had a rich tradition,” says Bitson. “When Lovie Smith came to my house on a visit, I knew it was a rich school in tradition with the education and the athletes. When he told me that my parents would have an opportunity to watch every game – like they had already done throughout my career – that resonated with me and with my family.”

The roots for Bitson’s TU success were sown at BTW, where he played for two legendary coaches: Nate Harris (basketball) and Larry McGee (football). 

Now in his sixth year as TU’s director of player personnel and development – his second stint at his alma mater after coaching receivers in 2001 and 2002 – Bitson frequently draws from the advice of Harris, McGee and other great coaches he’s had while leading today’s student athletes.

“You’re a product of your environment,” he says. “What I enjoyed about coach McGee and coach Harris is there was a lot of tough love. They’re the type of coaches that could bawl you out and try and correct you. 

Dan Bitson draws upon advice from his former coaches to better lead. Photo by Brett Rojo courtesy the University of Tulsa

“They’d give you the constructive criticism, but at the same time, they could be the one putting their arm around you and noticing when you have a problem, not having to ask you but noticing and asking you what’s wrong. They also would follow through and try to help you with the problem, see if they could help fix the problem. And if it was a situation or a problem they felt like you needed to grow up as a man and walk into for your struggles to make you a stronger person, they allowed you to do that. They allowed you to grow up. It wasn’t about just sports.”

And one thing he loves about coaching is the opportunity to pass along the advice he received during his formative years.

“That’s how I am today in my coaching profession: It’s not just about sports. I believe in trying to help these young men become men outside of sports,” he says. “Sports end for everybody eventually, and when you’re young, you don’t see it like that. I had so many [coaches] put their arms around me and speak to me. I think that helped mold me from a kid into a man. I had a father at the house and my mother was outstanding, so to just have so many role models and mentors … I was really, really blessed.”

A Man of the People

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Sean Kouplen, the Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development, thoroughly enjoys positively shifting outsiders’ perceptions of Oklahoma. Photo by Stephanie Phillips

Among several other –perhaps more recognizable – titles, Tulsa’s Sean Kouplen is an author. His third book, The Abundance Mentality, highlights the importance of pouring into the lives of others. And that’s exactly the spirit with which Kouplen approaches his other roles: with a focus on helping make life better for those around him. 

For the last two years, Kouplen has served as Oklahoma’s tenth Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development, a position well-suited for those looking to positively impact fellow Oklahomans.

“Your entire focus, frankly, is around jobs,” says Kouplen. “Every minute of every day, I’m thinking about either trying to bring in companies that will provide jobs for Oklahomans, or get Oklahomans trained up to where they can have the skills to get a better job, or how to help our existing businesses expand and grow so that they’re hiring more people. So at the end of the day, the whole job is about helping people create a better way of life for them[selves] and their families.”

This secretary position is within the governor’s cabinet and has responsibility over 36 state agencies. When Gov. Kevin Stitt asked him to take on the challenge, Kouplen had a few questions. Mainly, his concern revolved around the fact that he is also the chairman and CEO of Regent Bank, a position he’s held since 2008.

“I said, ‘Governor, I’m not real sure how I’m going to do that; I have to run the bank,’” says Kouplen. He took, and still takes, his responsibility to care for shareholders, clients and employees of the bank very seriously. So, Kouplen employed a method he has used as leader of the bank: focusing on what he does best. Kouplen serves as the Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development in a volunteer capacity, while an executive director for the Department of Commerce handles day-to-day matters.

This arrangement allows Kouplen to build into the people at the state agencies within his care. He says he’s been very impressed with the caliber of leadership within these organizations.

“I try to be very responsive to them – coach them up from a leadership perspective,” he says.

And, because of his affinity for people, this farm boy from Beggs – and an alumnus of Oklahoma State University – loves to sell his state. He says he has spent a lot of time speaking with CEOs all over the world, giving them the true story about living and working in Oklahoma.

“I love to go out and just watch someone’s opinion of Oklahoma change in one conversation,” he says. 

This ability to focus on what he does best, and allow others to focus on their own strengths, has served Kouplen well. It gives him time for his other important duties: that of husband, father of three and active member of his church. He also leads a daily call-in devotional that reaches thousands of people across the country.

All of these responsibilities keep Kouplen’s days full of variety, but ultimately, his focus is on people, specifically the people in his beloved home state.

“I’ve been all over the country, all over the world, and we have the best people in the world,” he says. “I truly would not live anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than right here in Oklahoma.”

Midtown Modern

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A new Tulsa home in an upscale midtown neighborhood is a testament to the power of a traditional exterior with a surprising, crisp white interior. It’s not ‘country French,’ or ‘English country’ – always popular design themes – but its image is fresh and inviting.

This modern-style, 4,800-square-foot home was built in 2019 by Mike Alexander of Insight Homes. Bainbridge Design Group created the architectural footprint for the dwelling, and Ralph Lackner, owner of Jay Rambo Company, provided the cabinetry expertise. The homeowner, Janet Hicks, added some of the subtle interior design drama, which includes occasional overtones of soft color themes and Native American-inspired design, influenced by her husband’s heritage. 

A long, rectangular entry with high ceilings introduces the stunning design theme, punctuated by a large, colorful painting. It is one of the various styles of art featured throughout the home. Among the featured artists are Stephen Pentak, David Kroll and Tulsan Susan Eddings Perez; these works were curated by several Tulsa art-related businesses, including SR Hughes, M.A. Doran and Royce Myers. 

“We have collected a few fine art pieces throughout our 47-year marriage,” says Hicks. “We are still enjoying them to this day.”

The living room is where the couple enjoys spending time with their children and grandchildren. A large, built-in bookcase dominates the room, with favorite reading topics including interior design and art. 

“The living room is our only entertaining room,” says Hicks. “The formal dining room is where we have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.”

The well-appointed kitchen and pantry are on the opposite end of the living room. Both areas provide enticing views of the home’s well-landscaped gardens, featuring a view of the patio with its decorative fountain. 

Ralph Lackner designed the cabinetry in the 240-square-foot kitchen. 

“The cabinetry materials are a beautiful combination of European textured laminate and a high gloss lacquer,” he says. “Miele appliances are featured throughout the kitchen. All are tied into the bar area, which is accented with black aluminum doors. The pantry also features floating shelves and the European textured laminate.”

The master suite and bath are as elegant as can be. The bedroom features quiet, soothing colors, inviting rest and relaxation. The adjoining master bath features three sitting areas and a horizontal window designed to bring in even more stunning outdoor views. 

‘Enviable’ is the only word for the master his and hers closet, occupying 420 square feet of space. Two full length, triple-view mirrors and a center storage island are vital accent pieces. However, a crystal chandelier is the star of this space. 

“It is a Jacqueline Chandelier designed by Aerin Lauder,” says Hicks “I loved it when I saw it. Even though we were building a contemporary home, I thought it gave some warmth and beauty to the closet.”

Hitting the Open Road

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Nashville’s Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the original in Athens, Greece. Photo courtesy Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.

Road trips aren’t just nostalgic this year … they’re necessary. Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, people are seeking close-to-home vacation spots to entertain themselves and their families. Between quarantines, distance learning and an influx of Zoom meetings, Oklahomans are needing a getaway like never before.

 The road trip format provides the backdrop for many family memories of bonding, or for solitude if you’re traveling alone. Combining points of interest helps break up the driving time and can augment your sightseeing, providing something for everyone. 

Two pairings within reasonable driving distances from Oklahoma are in Tennessee and Texas.

Memphis and Nashville

The distance from Memphis to Nashville, Tenn., is approximately three hours. From Beale to Broadway, the streets of these two cities are alive with music, honky tonks, barbecue joints, southern comfort cooking and Americana galore. 

In Memphis, visit Graceland, Beale Street, the marching ducks at the Peabody Hotel, the hip Cooper Young district and the nearby Loretta Lynn Museum. The Beauty Shop in the Cooper Young district is a lunch spot full of nostalgia; it used to be Priscilla Presley’s frequented hair salon and the hair dryers are still there, incorporated into the decor. Blues City Cafe on Beale Street has delicious barbecue while Charles Vergos Rendezvous has an excellent dry rub flavoring.

In Nashville, the Parthenon, The Gulch, Broadway Street, the Grand Ole Opry and the Johnny Cash Museum are just a few recommendations. Trolley and bus tours will give you a lay of the land, so you can easily hop on and off at sights. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken is the truest moniker, because this fried chicken is spicy hot. Midtown Cafe is a must-visit for classic southern cooking.

Austin and San Antonio

Austin and San Antonio, Texas, are approximately an hour and a half apart from each other by car. This makes for an ideal pairing of sightseeing destinations in one of the prettiest areas of Texas. 

Austin is a stimulating destination where you can set your own pace. For those interested in live music, unique boutiques and taverns, stroll along Sixth Street. If nature beckons you, rent a kayak on Lake Lady Bird, which is a fun activity solo or with the whole family. Enjoy the vintage vibe on “SoCo” (South Congress Street) for eclectic treasures in wardrobe, furniture and decorations. Drop by the historic Driskill Hotel, built in the 1880s, to admire the architectural beauty. Consider a stay on Lake Austin and enjoy the bucolic setting, or venture to Bob’s Steak and Chop House for rooftop dining and city views. The Oasis on Lake Austin is ideal for hilltop views of the lake, and Fonda San Miguel has authentic Mexican cuisine and decor. Juan in a Million is Austin’s taco headquarters with so many delicious varieties available.

In San Antonio, Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, Sea World, the Riverwalk and the Alamo are all well-loved highlights. The Hyatt Regency Hill Country resort includes family friendly activities, like a lazy river, water slide, activity pool and slow rider – a mechanical surfing machine. Savor nightly s’mores and Thursday and Friday night movies on the lawn. Sea World is also open and following COVID-19 protocols. Dining recommendations along the Riverwalk include the County Line for delicious barbecue and Boudro’s Texas Bistro for surf ‘n’ turf and their unique prickly pear margarita.

Although this information is as up-to-date as possible, it’s recommended to check websites to confirm details during COVID-19 protocols. After that, get on the road and enjoy some Americana!

Feel the Thunder(bird)

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Thirdbird Films, based in Oklahoma, is a flourishing production company that helps the state's creators make quality films.

After nearly two decades in Hollywood as an actor and producer, Oklahoman Randy Wayne felt not only the tug of his state’s roots, but the frustrations that come with living in fast-paced Los Angeles. So, in 2019, Wayne and his partner, Talia Bella, brought their skills to Oklahoma to launch a new production venture: Thunderbird Films.

The production company was created to assist Oklahoma’s burgeoning filmmaking industry, which the state is encouraging with a generous tax rebate. The unique name came about from a desire to exude power and true substance. 

“The Thunderbird is known to create rain, which watered the earth,” says Wayne, who grew up in Moore. “Water is essential for growth.” 

Wayne says that while the film industry is growing here, it lags behind in infrastructure, equipment and qualified crew. Thunderbird Films, he says, can bridge that gap, by providing turnkey production services; movie cameras; grip and lighting gear; and production equipment.

“Movie makers come and hire us,” he explains. “We make the budget for the film, hire the crew, find locations and help them with the state tax rebate forms.” 

He refers to Oklahoma’s Film Enhancement Rebate Program, adopted in 2001, which offering filmmakers a 35% rebate on qualified expenditures.

In addition to producing several movies so far – including one that was a week from completion when the COVID-19 pandemic hit – Thunderbird Films has rolled out commercials for Tulsa’s GameStop and Cox Communications.

After graduating from Moore High School, Wayne spent a year at a Kentucky college on a swimming scholarship before moving to Los Angeles in 2003 to launch what has been a noteworthy acting career. There, he met Bella, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires’ Communication and Media program. She has produced more than 100 commercials, including several for companies like Apple, Nike and Oakley. Wayne branched into movie production 10 years ago. Among his producing credits are Rudderless, directed by William H. Macy and starring Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin and Selena Gomez; and Trust Me, directed by Clark Gregg and starring Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and Felicity Huffman.

During this time – despite a successful career – Wayne was yearning for his home state. Oklahoma had so much to offer, after all, including a less-hurried life, cheaper costs of living, stunning landscapes and “the nicest people,” he says. “Besides, it’s my home state, and I have pride in being here.”

Thunderbird Films, based in Oklahoma, is a flourishing production company that helps the state’s creators make quality films. Photo courtesy Thunderbird Films

His goal now, he says, is to pitch Oklahoma City and Tulsa to his contacts in California. 

Thunderbird Films currently has no other permanent employees, but hires 30 to 60 cast and crew members for each production. They try to hire as many locals as possible. Next up for the company is to build a studio for stage and television shows, with a green screen and sound stage.

Although production shut down over the summer due to COVID-19, Wayne says he and Bella are ready to get back to work. They have a film project they hope to start this month.

“People are still wanting to film,” he says. “We think we can do it safely.”