Laughing with Lucas

This is a review I wrote back in July. This would make a great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer for any young ones in your family.


Laugh with Lucas at the Banjo Farm

By Brent Wilcox

“I want to hear Lucas Ross again,” said Kai from the back seat of the vehicle as we were driving from Oklahoma City to Minco.

I had no problem with that request so I started Banjo Farm playing again.

The comedic genius of Lucas Ross is that he makes me laugh (I’m 51 years old) and he makes seven year old Kai laugh too. Lucas also happens to be a darn good musician.

On Ross’ new album his banjo playing shines on all eight tracks, but it stands out even more (in my opinion) on the last three tracks. These three songs were recorded live with the Oklahoma Community Orchestra.

On the first of those three songs, we hear orchestra conductor Irvin Wagner ask Lucas what he is doing up on stage. “I thought I could join the string section!” Wagner tells him he has to audition first. The audition is Lucas playing his banjo against the entire orchestra in Duelin’ Banjos.

The other two songs Ross recorded live with the orchestra are his original song S.O.B.K. (We Got Bees) which was on his first album and The Muppets’ song Rainbow Connection.

On the title song, Lucas calls his grandma and tells her that he needs “something new to play” and so his Mema takes him to the Banjo Farm “the one place that instruments get to play.” Accordions swim in an aquarium, triangles grow on trees and “all the instruments on display from xylophones to old trombones.” The song tells a fun story and is cartoonish, which in my mind, makes me envision animated characters.

The next song is Kai’s favorite, probably because he can relate to the main character who is a kid who “Faked Sick” to stay home from school, but there are also many lines in the song that makes Kai laugh out loud. The kid in the song has a 190 degree temperature because he put the thermometer up to a heater and he tells his mom he needs to stay home. A couple of the lines that draws laughter out of Kai every time he hears it include: “Mom, my toenails and my rear hurts,” and later he’s telling his mom about an embarrassing incident at school which includes “Mom, my food went everywhere plus I ripped my pants and everyone saw my underwear.” The song starts out with just Lucas playing the banjo, but shortly other instruments join in. Lucas also plays the accordion on this song.

On Ninja Dog, the third song on the album, the barking dog in the song is actually Ross’s six-year-old son Simon. In the song, he thinks his dog might be a super hero.  Or he could be an archeologist because he digs and “maybe he’ll dig up a dinosaur, ooh! and be on the front page of the newspaper!” His real dog actually did appear on the front page of the Millennium a couple weeks ago when we covered the release of the new album. The Ross’s dog Sprocket appears on the roof of the house behind Lucas in the cover art of Banjo Farm.

Bored Cow, the fourth song on the album, has an awesome beat that makes me and Kai both want to get up and dance. But Lucas sounds totally different. He sounds like a cross between Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley singing to a Beach Boys beat. There are many bovine-related jokes. You will be “a-moooosed” listening to Bored Cow.

The fifth song is a cover of Late for School, the Steve Martin song from his 2009 Grammy-winning album. Anyone who knows Lucas knows that Steve Martin is his comedic idol, but probably also his biggest banjo influence. Lucas does a super job covering this song, and his banjo playing is exceptional. Ross wrote all the songs except this one, Duelin’ Banjos and Rainbow Connection.

I highly recommend this album for anyone who has a sense of humor and likes laughing and those who enjoy music. For those who have never listened to Ross, if you like Steve Martin, or Sesame Street, or the Muppets – then you will enjoy Lucas Ross and his second album. Banjo Farm is good clean fun for adults and children. You can download it digitally from iTunes for $7.92 or we have CDs available for $8 at the Re-Store.

Whole Grains

This was my forth In the Kitchen column from 2014. One difference I have made between then and now, I use canola more often than I do olive oil. Canola is grown here in Oklahoma and according to many is healthier for us.


I wrote about beans being an excellent source of protein last week.  They are also a great source of unrefined complex carbohydrates.  My heart healthy diet recommends that I eat at least five servings per day (one-half cup cooked equals one serving) of unrefined complex carbohydrates.  They help stabilize blood sugar levels for several hours after eating them.

Another good source of unrefined complex carbohydrates is whole grains.  Whole grains include oats, wild rice, quinoa, whole-wheat couscous and bulgar wheat.  It is strongly recommended that we limit or completely cut out refined grains like white bread, white rice, and white pasta.  So when cooking or eating those items, be sure they are whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain tortillas or brown rice.

We have to be savvy shoppers when looking for healthy products at the grocery store. There are no regulations on food marketing; companies can basically claim anything they want to sell their products.  But there are regulations dealing with listing ingredients.

When shopping for whole grain products, be sure to check the ingredients section very closely.  USDA regulations require that ingredients be listed in order of volume by weight.  So make sure the first word in the list of ingredients is the word “WHOLE” on any product claiming to be “whole-grain.”   If the first ingredient listed is not “Whole Wheat Flour,” “Whole Grain Barley,” or some other grain with “whole” in front of it – the product is not truly whole-grain.

Whenever we cook spaghetti, we always have left-over noodles.  Save them for a heart healthy spaghetti frittata!  Place the leftover whole-grain spaghetti noodles in a container with cold water and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Spaghetti Frittata

4 cups of cooked whole-grain spaghetti

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion chopped

1 large bell pepper chopped

6 egg whites

½ cup skim, or 2% milk

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped basil

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tomato, diced

 

If you have just cooked the spaghetti and it’s not leftovers that have been refrigerated, cool it off in cold water and drain it.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until golden, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

Whisk the egg whites and milk in a large bowl.  Stir in the cooked onions and bell peppers, Parmesan, parsley, basil, salt and pepper.  Add in the spaghetti.

Coat the skillet with cooking spray (preferably olive oil spray) and place over medium heat.  Pour in the egg mixture and distribute evenly in the pan.  Cook until the underside is golden, about four or five minutes.

Invert a large platter over the skillet and carefully (with oven mitts) turn it over.  Spray the pan again with cooking spray and slide the frittata back into the pan and cook the other side until the bottom is golden.  When finished, slide the frittata onto the platter, cut it into six slices and garnish with diced tomato.  We also like to eat ours with homemade salsa on top.

You can eat this with a piece of whole-grain toast and some fruit or I like low-fat cottage cheese with peaches.   Here you have another heart healthy and filling meal (with no meat) that helps to stabilize your blood sugar!

A Favorite Dessert (super foods!)

This was my heart-healthy cooking column almost a year ago in the Minco Millennium.


In an email I received from the AARP this past Friday, there was a link to their website with a story about the top 15 superfoods for people over 50 years old. The first item on the list will make lots of people I know happy – Dark Chocolate.

They said that the antioxidants in dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao) may help prevent heart attacks. Apparently these dark chocolate antioxidants protect our arteries from becoming clogged! They said small amounts of dark chocolate eaten on a regular basis can lower our blood pressure and help decrease the rate of stroke in women.

Some of the other superfoods included: Blueberrys, which they say can help lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure; Apples, which are a great source of soluble fiber, potassium and Vitamin C; Asparagus, which can help reduce the risk of prostate cancer; Broccoli, which I wrote about last week; and my favorite – Coffee, which a study by the National Institute of Health found that people who drank coffee, regular or decaf, “were less likely to die from heart and respiratory diseases, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections. The remaining items on their list includes Butternut Squash, Fava Beans, Greek Yogurt, Green Kale, Oatmeal, Olive Oil, Pears, Quinoa and Salmon.

The recipe I’m including this week came from health.com and four of its five ingredients are on this list of 15 superfoods. The fifth ingredient – walnuts – was one of the two nuts recommended to me at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital cardio rehab. To make this Greek Yogurt, Chocolate, Walnut and Wild Blueberry Parfait you will need:

½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

2 cups nonfat Greek Yogurt

2 ½ tablespoons mini dark-chocolate chips

½ cup oat granola

Chopped Walnuts

The oat granola is not on the list of 15 superfoods, but it is made from oats which is on the list – so I counted it!

This recipe makes four servings. To make it start by placing 1 tablespoon of the blueberries in each of four parfait glasses. Then spoon in ¼ cup of the Greek yogurt on top of the berries. Next, place 1 teaspoon of the dark chocolate on top of the yogurt. Add one tablespoon of the granola over the chocolate and then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts. After you done that, do the same thing again so there are two layers of each ingredient. Serve immediately.

One serving of this healthy dessert is only 243 calories (about – depends on how many walnuts you sprinkle on each serving – this is if you use about a tablespoon on each). But this dessert also gives you 93.8 mg of Potassium and 14.8 grams of Protein. Of the daily recommended vitamins and minerals, it will give you 33.1% of your Manganese, 13.8% of your Calcium, 10.8% of your Vitamin E, and good amounts of Thiamin, Phosphorus, Selenium, Magnesium, Copper and Zinc.

A Favorite News Article (John Rule)

This is a story I wrote for our local weekly in February 2015. A local artist was selected to produce the cover for the 2015 Oklahoma Travel Guide. This is about that artist – John Rule.


By Brent Wilcox for the Minco Millennium

On the handsome cover of the new 2015 Oklahoma Travel Guide one will see the state bird, the state animal, the state flower and the state wild flower. It is not photographs gracing the new guide cover, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Bison, Oklahoma Rose and Indian Blanket are all carved into leather by John Rule, a local artist and leather craftsman.

front cover cropped

Rule lives just over a mile west of Red Hill, south of Minco. He and his wife have lived here for about 8 years. Before moving to the Minco area he and his wife owned one of the oldest saddle shops still operating in Oklahoma, the National Saddlery located in the Oklahoma City Stockyards.

“It was started in 1926 and I worked there for 31 or 32 years. My wife and I bought it in 1980,” said Rule.

He told me he made his first belt at age 11. “It’s approaching 50 years,” Rule said when asked how long he had been tooling leather. “I made my first saddle when I was 16. It can be a fun hobby or a life-long journey.”  Rule made it a life-long journey and clearly that decision has paid off when you view his artistry.

Rule was chosen as the Official Saddlemaker of the Oklahoma Centennial. The saddle he created is on display at the Oklahoma History Center. He thought that was probably how the Oklahoma Department of Tourism found him to approach him about creating the cover for the 2015 Travel Guide.

“They gave me size instructions, but had minimal input on the design,” Rule said about the cover. He had included the scissor-tail and bison on the Centennial saddle and he said it was pretty much a no-brainer to include them on the cover. He said once the design was completed and approved it took him about 7 days from start to finish on the cover. However, Rule’s work days are usually 12 to 15 hours.

About 90% of what he does is custom orders. “I do most everything in leather, except boots and shoes.  Belts, billfolds and of course I still build saddles,” said Rule. He was working on a cover for a day planner while I visited with him for this story.

But leather is not his only artistic talent. Rule is also a magnificent sculptor. He’s only been sculpting with clay for about 10 years but as he explained, “Basically that is what I do with the leather, I sculpt it,” said Rule.

Rule is currently working on what will be a life-size bronze sculpture for Oklahoma City Community College. He has titled it “Downstream Drifters.”  There are three longhorn steers with a cowboy on his horse using a hoolihan loop to rope the steers.

DSC_0010
Artist John Rule shows how he attaches different pieces of his sculpture together.

Rule explained that once he gets everything sculpted the way he wants it, it will then be broken down into pieces and they’ll create molds in his shop. The rubber molds will then be taken to a foundry in Wilson, Oklahoma and the molds will be poured with bronze. An interesting note on the foundry where his sculpture will be bronzed, Rule said, “It’s where they make the Heisman Trophies.”

When “Downstream Drifters” is complete it will be put on a large fountain with running water outside at OCCC. “The steers should be at about eye level when it is all finished,” said Rule. He hopes to wrap up the sculpting part of this process within the week. As soon as he is finished with this one, he will immediately begin on another custom ordered sculpture. He couldn’t disclose who it was for yet, but said it would be another cowboy on a horse to be displayed somewhere in Oklahoma City.

John Rule is a true artist who knows his craft and his subject matter. You can find him on Facebook under John Rule Saddlery if you would like to custom order a saddle, a belt or just about any other leather item or to custom order a sculpture to display at your home or business.

Beans, Beans the wonderful fruit…

“What about protein? We need protein and you said we can’t eat meat or much of it anyway!”  That’s right, we do need protein and for a heart healthy diet it is recommended to limit the amount of animal protein we intake. But there are other, healthier ways to get the protein we need.

It reminds me of a poem my daddy taught me as a kid: Beans, beans the wonderful fruit, the more you eat the more you … oh, never mind. But seriously, beans are a wonderful source of protein that we can eat every single day. And there are so many different ones to choose from: Pinto, Navy, Kidney, Black, Lima, Cranberry, Soldier, Fava, Northern, and the list goes on and on.  And dried beans are very economical on your grocery budget.

One of my favorite meals now is one I got sick and tired of as a kid: Pinto beans, corn bread and fried potatoes. I could eat almost any kind of beans and be happy as long as I have some good corn bread and fried potatoes to go along with them. But, sigh, I’m not supposed to have any fried foods so that cuts out the fried potatoes. But these are almost as good.

Cut up potatoes just like you were going to fry them in a pan. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray a pan lightly with olive oil and dump the potatoes in. I like to cut up an onion and bell pepper as well and include. I spray it all lightly with the olive oil and sprinkle it with some Mrs. Dash Original or Onion and Spice blend. Cover it with foil and let it bake for about an hour. I usually stir it once or twice while it is cooking.

And I’ve created my own healthier type of cornbread. I love this stuff.

Brent’s Whole Wheat Salsa Cornbread

Mix together dry ingredients of

¾ cup Corn Meal

1 ¼ cup WHOLE wheat flour

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoons Baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

Add in

2 egg whites

½ cup low fat sour cream

½ cup skim or 2% milk

½ cup salsa

¼ cup olive oil

Add in

½ cup frozen corn

1 cup shredded low fat, skim mozzarella cheese

 

Divide into 12 muffin cups spayed with olive oil

Cook 20 minutes in pre-heated 400 degree oven

 

Eat this healthy cornbread with some oven-baked-fried potatoes and a pot of good old beans and you’ll be getting your protein, your fiber and all sorts of good tasting flavors on your tongue and you won’t be clogging up those arteries.

 

That little poem my daddy taught me ends, “…the better you feel, so eat some beans at every meal!”  That’s some good advice right there!

Eating Meat

The following column was only my second for In the Kitchen.  As you’ll see, the original recipe called for Tilapia. Since this column originally ran, I’ve read several articles about Tilapia and the way they are raised. A couple of those articles claimed that because of the way Tilapia is raised it is not a healthy fish to eat. One article even claimed that bacon was healthier than Tilapia. Wild caught fish are much healthier for one than farm raised Tilapia, according to much of what I’ve read. So you may wish to switch to something like wild-caught Alaskan cod, or some other wild-caught fish.


We Americans love our meat, and here in Oklahoma where so many of us raise or have raised cattle and hogs – we love our red meat.  Every day I see at least one pickup with the “Eat Beef” sticker.  But I’ve learned that it really can be hard on your heart, your arteries and your body to eat too much meat, especially red meat.

The heart healthy diet I was placed on calls for only one serving of animal protein a day and by one serving, they mean 3.5 to 4 ounces of meat.  That is about the size of a deck of cards.  I’m supposed to only eat one serving of red meat once per month, if at all.  And red meat does not just mean beef.  The National Pork Producers did a splendid job in marketing with their “Pork, the other white meat” campaign, but it is just marketing.  Pork is considered red meat, as is duck, lamb, and veal.

I can have white meat poultry (chicken or turkey) once a week, and I can have shrimp, crab, lobster or crawfish once a week.  They told me I could have fish every other day, to include oysters, mussels, scallops and clams.  My problem is I don’t care for most fish or water based life as food.  I loved fried catfish but that was about it.  But I’m not supposed to have any fried food!

The good thing about fish is that they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart attacks and reduce inflammation.  So, I am learning to like fish in a few different forms.  Here is a recipe that I do like and it is healthy.

Oven Baked Blackened Tilapia

1 pound tilapia fillets (I buy frozen)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Blackening Rub

3 Tablespoons Paprika

1 teaspoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Onion Powder

1 teaspoon Black Pepper

½ to 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

1 teaspoon Thyme

1 teaspoon Oregano

½ teaspoon Garlic Powder

 

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Combine the ingredients to make the Blackening Rub.  Line a sheet pan with foil and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Brush the oil over the foil where the fish will be laid.  Rinse and pat dry the fish fillets.  Brush with olive oil.  Cover the fillets with the spices and rub it in on both sides.

 

Place the fillets on the foil and spray them lightly with PAM (or something similar).  Place in the oven and cook for 10 to 11 minutes.

 

I prefer to eat mine with Tartar Sauce.  This is a simple homemade recipe.  Combine 1/3 cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of sweet pickle relish and ¼ teaspoon of onion powder.  Mix it up well and you are ready to eat some healthy, baked blackened tilapia!  Add a fresh salad and a baked potato and you have yourself a heart healthy meal!  Well, if you leave off the butter and salt on the potato.  I eat mine with salsa!

A Favorite Memory (Rain Man)

On my birthday in 2015 (my 50th), Kelly and I got to attend an awesome reunion. This is the story I wrote for the newspaper about that reunion.


By Brent Wilcox for the Minco Millennium

Do you remember the scene from the Academy Award winning 1988 movie Rain Man where actors Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman get out of their car on a country road and walk up to a white house with a big front porch? Cruise’s character Charlie Babbitt says, “I want you to look normal, or normal as possible. Put your hands down.” Raymond (Hoffman’s character) says, “Four minutes to Wapner.”

Charlie knocks on the door several times and then a lady in a red house dress opens the door. Charlie tells an elaborate lie about how he is with the Nielson Company and the lady’s family could be chosen as a Nielson family. The whole time Charlie is going on with this lie, Raymond is muttering and wobbling back and forth. The lady, played by actress Beth Grant, asks who Raymond is and as Charlie begins to tell her he is his partner, she slams the door shut.

Raymond begins to lose it and goes from window to door, wobbling back and forth. “One minute to Wapner!” The lady is watching out the small window in the door and we see this herd of little boys get up and go to the window.

Finally the lady opens the door again and says loudly, “What is going on out here!” Charlie comes clean and says he lied to her. He explains that Raymond is his brother and says, “If he doesn’t get to watch People’s Court in about 30 seconds he’s going to throw a fit right here on your porch. Now you can help me or you can stand there and watch it happen.”

She says, “Well we like to watch cartoons, do you think he would settle for that?” The scene then cuts to the television tuned to the People’s Court. We see Raymond sitting in the floor looking up at the TV. As we hear Judge Wapner talking in the background, the camera scrolls around the room and we see the face of each of the lady’s six sons. We then hear the youngest of the boys crying while his mom says, “Daddy’s not here right now sweetheart.”

That three minute scene was filmed 27 years ago just east of Hinton, Oklahoma on Highway 37 over a two-day period. This movie and that scene were the first real big break for actress Beth Grant. She has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows over the last quarter of a century. The six boys are actually real brothers from Hinton, the Dougherty boys.

Grant was in Oklahoma again filming another movie in our state, this one entitled “Great Plains.” She and the Doughertys have wanted to have a reunion over the years and it finally happened on Saturday, October 10, 2015.

Grant had been filming scenes in El Reno and after wrapping up there, she and her producer drove to Hinton to the Dougherty’s Royal Oaks Farms. It was just like a long-gone family member coming home with Beth Grant hugging each boy as well as their parents Michael and Catherine. As Grant hugged the boys’ sister Elizabeth, she said, “I tried to get you in the scene too.”

The script actually called for the mom character to have two kids. Grant said that Marie Rowe, the casting director came to her and said she was actually going to have six kids.

“I said ‘Boy, I’ve been busy!’ and she asked if I would like to go meet the actual kids,” said Grant. She then recollected going out to the Dougherty’s farm and meeting the kids prior to filming. “I got there and just fell in love.”

Real-life-mom Catherine brought out an old photo album of photos she had taken during the filming of Rain Man. As Grant looks through the 27-year-old photos she points to one photo of her and the boys in the living room of the old farm house.

Beth looking at photos
Beth Grant and Catherine Dougherty look at old photos from the movie shoot 27 years earlier.

“I’ve had that photo on my wall all these years!” she said.

Come to find out that same photo hangs on a wall in each of the boy’s homes too.

When she came to a photo of her in the red house coat she said, “They made me try on 18 different dresses before picking this one.”

After sharing hugs and memories at Royal Oaks Farms, everyone loaded up into their vehicles and made the short drive to the farm house where the scene was filmed.

As everyone walked to the front of the house where the scene begins in the movie, more memories began to be shared by Grant and the Dougherty brothers.

“Look at this! This is an iconic porch for all time,” exclaimed Grant. “And it’s going to live into perpetuity, and having gotten Best Picture it will be preserved forever!”

We learn that Andrew was the baby boy crying in the movie. John remembers being confused and asking if Grant was his “real mom.” He also remembered being promised cartoons and candy, neither of which were provided.

Grant said, “I’ve just got to put in a plug for making movies in Oklahoma! This is my third movie in Oklahoma. Just working on Great Plains and I did Heartland this summer. It’s a beautiful place to work; the people are friendly and wonderful. The crews are fantastic, the best crews in the world.”

Pointing to the Doughertys she said, “These people, it affected their lives to have this movie made here. They’ve grown into such incredible young men, I’m so proud of you guys! I’ve already cried three times and not going to do it again!”

After the reunion, Catherine Dougherty described the reunion as magical. As observers we would agree.