Friday, June 16, 2017

Saddle up, it's rodeo time!

The tradition began 64 years ago when the first frolic was organized in 1953. As the event grew, in 1983 the rodeo was added, creating what is now the regionally renowned Philomath Frolic and Rodeo.

With over 5,000 tickets sold each year, not including attendees under the age of 6, the event now attracts more people than the town's population, and is its largest annual event.

In the past year, there has been uncertainty about the future of the Frolic and Rodeo because of possible land use restrictions, leaving many community members wondering about its longevity. But the tradition will continue now that Paul and Lola Skirvin have donated the 15-acre property used for the grounds to the city.

Now that the future is certain, the event's board of executives needs volunteers to help during the weekends leading up to and during the event. This year’s Frolic and Rodeo will be held July 6 - 9.

With the transfer of land ownership, there is now means to start putting money into improvements. Chris Workman, city manager and president of the event's executive board, is currently mapping out a five-year facilities plan for prioritizing upgrades.

“The lights, the grandstands—those are the big ticket items,” he said. “You don’t replace those things if you don’t know if you’re going to be here. Now we can do those things.”

To attract visitors from all walks of life, organizers have continued their focus on adding special events to the festivities. This year's new event added to the schedule is a freestyle bull riding contest.

“It’s basically like Spanish spear fighting without the spears,” said Workman.

The bulls used in the competition are Mexican bulls, smaller and more aggressive than other breeds. The competition includes distracting with colorful cloth, dodging the charging bull, and jumping over the bull. Points will be given for performance, style, and for not getting run over by the bull.

Thirty bull riders will travel to Philomath from Texas, Colorado, Washington, and greater Oregon. With a grand prize of around $4,000, stiff competition is expected as well as a showcase of talent, all from the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association.

“This is a new rodeo event nationwide and we’re right on the fringe in Oregon,” said Workman. “This will be the largest bull riding event in Oregon ever, and there will be three national champions of Oregon here.”

With organizers working towards a goal of keeping the Frolic and Rodeo true to its tradition, they also aim to keep it fresh and fun.

“Everything we do is looking at the fan experience and trying to improve it,” said Workman.

With that in mind, organizers have decided to move vendors behind the grandstands, reducing walk and wait time. Beer will also be allowed in the stands, eliminating the need to gather in the beer garden away from friends or family.

To help manage lines in the entrance area, tickets sales will now be available online. Tickets can be printed at home or scanned from one’s phone at the entrance. Buying tickets online includes a reduction in price and free parking.

Care has also been put into scheduling events to ensure they are not overlapping each other, another complaint organizers have heard and addressed.

A fan favorite—the fish rodeowill be back. Two-hundred tickets will be available to catch 12-inch trout by hand. Organizers want volunteers to design merchandise for the event.

“We could have shirts that say ‘no hook, no pull, no problem,'” Workman said.

The amount of time spent is up to each volunteer. Pulling weeds, trimming trees, mowing fields, or preparing facilities are all on the list of things to do.

“There’s always chores to be done,” said Darrell Hinchberger, vice president of management on the executive board. “I don’t think we’ve ever said no to anyone; everyone is welcome.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Chris Workman at

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Exclusive: Can Font, Spanish cuisine in the Pacific Northwest

Willamette Life Media had the chance to celebrate the highly anticipated arrival of Portland’s newest restaurant, Can Font. On May 31, with an exclusive tasting of Chef Joseph Vidal’s specialty menu, we were among invited guests experiencing the restaurant before its June 3 opening.

The self-described “traditional Spanish cuisine with avant-garde Mediterranean flair” is the sister location of Spain’s famed restaurant of the same name. Located just outside of Barcelona, Can Font is included on the 2016 and 2017 Michelin restaurant guide’s Bib Gourmand, a list focused on high-value restaurants. Portland’s sister location will mimic many of the same dishes.

Located in the Pearl District’s Cosmopolitan Building, its floor to ceiling windows, accent mirrors, and white table cloths create a refined space of openness and class. A thoughtful design of woven woodwork on the ceilings lined with oversized light bulbs similar to strung lights on a trellis, holds the appeal of an intimate indoor patio.

Owned by acclaimed Executive Chef Joseph Vidal, he has partnered with Portland-based restaurateur Vladimir Zaharchook to bring the Catalonian dining experience to the Pacific Northwest.

Before the night’s five course meal was served, Zaharchook stood before guests as they sipped on Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine.

“I always was a dreamer and I always try to convert my dreams into reality,” he said. “When I see people eating and drinking I always enjoy myself. I’m proud to say one of the best cities in the United States, one of the coolest in the United States, has our presence now.”

The evening’s meal included sliced potatoes with sheep’s milk cheese and langostino; canelones stuffed with black truffles, chicken, beef, pork, and foie gras; squid ink paella; duck confit and seared duck magret; and Catalan custard with an almond biscotti.

Textures were smooth and rich and exquisite. Everything was cooked to perfection, and sudden bursts of flavor came from creamy, savory sauces that delicately adorned the dishes such as aioli, piquillo pepper sauce, orange infused demi-glace, and pear puree.

The space includes a tapas bar, open view of the kitchen, and a dining floor for about 60. Turquoise accent walls channel a classic Mediterranean feel, and a mural wall captures the essence of Spain. With their shared passion for innovation and a rich culinary experience, the duo have created a unique, must-have dining experience.

Can Font will be open for lunch and dinner and available for catering. With plans to change the menu several times a month, the selections of fresh seafood, locally-sourced produce, and a rotation of rice, pasta, and paella dishes will certainly wow guests for many years to come.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cammo, machetes and pyros: Camping to remember

With the recent three-day Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of camping season has begun. I embrace the chance to sit under the stars, soak up the beauty of the night sky, and experience the sights and sounds that surround me.

Camping can be quite entertaining, but that entertainment doesn’t always come from around the campfire. It sometimes comes from people-watching opportunities. With no walls of a home separating us from one another, people often still act as if no one can see them despite being in plain site. Their antics can be comical or a little crazy at times, but either way, they make for good stories.

I had one such experience at Moonshine Park last summer.

It was a hot weekend, one of the hottest we had. Temperatures were over 100 degrees, even though we had expected to escape the valley to cooler weather. Spending much time laying under the canopy of a tree trying to beat the heat, a series of odd events made for a good show.

The first was the arrival of a man with one arm in a sling and his very pregnant companion. She seemed about to burst and he looked to have seen better days. After watching him struggle to put up their tent, he began to pump up their air mattress. He had a handheld pump, and with only one arm, it was difficult for him to maneuver and hold it steady. She was of little help.

With each pump it hardly seemed the man was making progress. After we had enough of watching his battle, we offered our leaf blower which doubles as an air pump and souped-up fire blower. He was grateful, and his mattress was ready in minutes. However, the mattress apparently had a hole, and each morning he would come to our site and ask to use the blower again. We had opened our non-existent door to our neighbors.

Then there was a group of boys, maybe around 10 years old. They kept appearing at vacant sites to start fires in the pits. They would gather whatever they could find on the ground to build them, have their fun, and walk away. But they would leave the fires burning, which as you can imagine in 100 degree heat is not the best idea, so a few times we went over to stifle the fires. We wondered where their parents were.

Periodically there was a shirtless man with a machete. He was not the camp host we had encountered when buying firewood. He appeared to just be a camper. We watched him several times whacking at blackberries and brush along the banks that lined the campsites. He made sounds which added drama to the activity, and his efforts piqued our curiosity. We didn’t expect to see a man channeling Danny Trejo in Moonshine Park.

Through all the commotion of firestarters and bushwackers, there was a relentless barking dog. Every few minutes, the dog, who was tied to a table across the campground, would bark insistently. All the while, the owners sat, talking around their fire as if they couldn’t hear it, or didn’t care to. I wondered why someone would allow such behavior in a place with no walls.

Among all the chaos there was a wedding in an open field below the sites. We watched as the young couple said “I do.” The groom was wearing cammo.

Come morning, as campers would pack and head back to where they came from, we would watch as a mad dash to collect left-behind firewood began. If a neighboring camper wasn’t quick enough, like clockwork, the camp host would appear in his golf cart and swoop up the wood to resell to the next camper. Both smart and sneaky, I thought.

The park may have had an interesting cast of characters the weekend we were there, but it won’t stop us from going back. I imagine in the next couple months we will find ourselves at the river’s edge; sitting on smooth, warm rocks in the middle of the current, lounging on float tubes, hiding in the shade of a tree, and staring at the night sky. Camping, after all, is made for exactly that. And even though you never know what company you will find yourself surrounded by, that, to me, is the fun in the gamble of camping.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Taste of Italy in Oregon

Tucked behind Arby’s off West 11th Ave. in Eugene, you will find a small, modest complex of industrial buildings. Within the unassuming lot is Crescendo Spirits. I found Kyle Akin, owner and cello maker, standing outside the warehouse-style door with a big smile and warm welcome.

Inside I was surprised to find a cozy and classy space, in which Akin has designed a lounge complete with couches and lamps, giving the feel of a living room. It also had a tasting table and small bar surrounded by bold, red walls. Akin wasted no time beginning to educate me on what exactly cello is.

“Cello,” he told me, “is defined as a homemade liqueur and is the name for an Italian liqueur.” He continued, “There’s always this mystery surrounding how it’s made and everyone is locked into their grandma’s recipe. But I don’t have that, my ancestry is German.”

So how, I wondered, does an American of German descent rise to the top of the Oregon cello market for making the highly coveted and secretive liqueur? The short answer is trial and error.

The long answer is on a visit to a Northern California winery a winemaker offered Akin a sip of his homemade Limoncello. Akin was intrigued by its robust, unique flavor and asked to take a small sample home. The winemaker obliged, and as an engineer by training, Akin began rigorous research to discover what exactly makes “grandma’s” traditional Limoncello, limoncello.

“The process is quite difficult to do,” he said. “It has to do with how you cut the rinds, the jar you use, and the duration of steeping.”

The details of how exactly that is done was off limits. It involved countless hours of learning curves, tracking down the equipment, and negotiating with Italians to get the equipment to the Willamette Valley.

His secrets are his key to success.

This past winter, their top-seller, Limoncello, was entered into two competitions: the 6th Annual Denver International Spirits Competition and the 4th Annual Berlin International Spirits Competition.

In Denver, it was given the top honor of a double gold medal by a double-blind panel of highly regarded beverage professionals. Competition was stiffer in Berlin with over 400 entries from 20 countries. Despite their underdog status, Crescendo earned a bronze medal.

“When we sent it across the pond to Europe no other fruit liqueur won but us,” he said. “The judges were definitely wanting a particular type of liqueur that took a significant more finesse. But, we still got the nod, we still got the bronze, no matter how they were feeling.”

He asked if I wanted to taste the award-winning cello, and I welcomed the opportunity.

“These are the primary colors of bartending—lemon, lime, and orange,” he said as he placed the bottles on the bar.

Traditionally cellos are sipped straight, but the engineer in Akin has had fun playing with flavors and textures mixing them with other spirits and juices. He lists some of his favorite recipes on their website.

First up to taste was the Limoncello. It was fresh on the palate, left no chemical taste and the flavor subtly disappeared, making it very easy to drink.

Next up was the Limecello. Again, it was smooth and pleasing on my palate and I couldn’t help but ooh and ahh as I sipped it.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Arancello, which tasted like drinking a creamsicle. It was flavor-packed and my personal favorite.

With these staple flavors used so often, my mind started to wander thinking of the possibilities of how the cellos could be used. They could be added to lager, to cider, to ice tea; poured over ice cream; drizzled on key lime pie or chocolate cake; used as a marinade. My mouth began to water.

Each of the cellos had clean, fresh flavors with no syrupy aftertaste. Akin explained that all their spirits are dye-free, GMO free, gluten free, and are organic with no artificial flavors.

On the heels of their award-winning season, Crescendo is now adding vodka to their handcrafted delectables. Expected to be ready for distribution by late summer, I was able to taste from a bottle Akin had on hand.

Vodka is not generally my first choice for hard alcohol, but the taste I had was delicious. It was pleasant, didn’t have a bite, was sweet, and easy to swallow. I didn’t even scrunch my nose and close my eyes as straight vodka often provokes.

Akin explained that their vodka is distilled five times. Gray Goose, for example, is distilled three times. With each round of distilling it further purifies, filters, and refines the essential characteristics of the vodka, making it more concentrated.

“The defining characteristic of a good vodka is that it does not taste like, or smell like, anything,” he told me.

With hopes to infuse botanicals in the future, Akin is already experimenting with fruits and flavors that may be contenders.

During my time at Crescendo Spirits, I was impressed by Akin’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and passion for making liqueur. If the chance presents itself to stop by, I recommend it. You may not leave with his secrets, but you will leave with a friend. And possibly a new favorite liqueur.

(This content was written for Willamette Living Magazine.)

Friday, April 28, 2017

More than just a garden

This time of year reminds me of visits from my grandmothers when I was growing up. Especially when I work in my garden. My flower beds are full of little reminders.

My mom’s mom loved day lilies. She had them in plentiful bunches all over her yard in Maryland. I remember them clearly, with their bright yellow and orange and maroon flowers. I spent many hours playing among them with my cousins.

My grandmother loved visiting us. On one of her visits we took her to Myrtlewood Mystique Gallery off Main Street. She found the store fascinating and thought Myrtlewood, native to Oregon, was a beautiful wood when polished and presented in the form of art.

On that particular visit, she bought a Myrtlewood seedling and brought it to our beach property. She was excited to plant it and hoped it would grow. Sadly it did not, probably because it’s native to Southern Oregon, but it was worth a try. Soon the place we had cleared for it was taken back by salal, the leafy shrub found as a prominent groundcover in nearly all areas of the coast.

Years later, after her passing, we had a chance to plant again in her memory. My mom dug up some of her day lilies and carried them home on the plane. Uprooted and transplanted to a new life, like many of us humans do, they began their life on the Oregon coast.

Those lilies have since established themselves at my mom’s and multiplied like lilies do, packed in bountiful bunches, just as I remember them in my grandmother’s yard. I have since dug up a section of those lilies from my mom’s garden and planted them in my garden. In the past few weeks I have watched them spring to life, once again, keeping my grandmother’s memory alive.

My dad’s mom also loved coming to Oregon. When she would visit us we would take her to Marys Peak. She was not an outdoorsy-type. In fact, in all her 90 years she never got a driver license. Listening to the radio, doing crossword puzzles, and watching soap operas was her idea of a good time. But she did love her peonies.

The house in which she was born and raised was her home for 80 years, until her Alzheimer’s became too advanced to live alone. In the backyard she had lined the fence with peonies. Come summertime her yard was in full bloom, rows and rows of peonies decades matured. I can still smell their sweetness.

When my dad brought some of her ashes to Oregon we sprinkled a handful into an oversized ceramic pot. Mixed into the soil, gently and with love, we planted a peony. Each year it grows back from the depths of the soil and memories of my grandmother’s peonies return. I want to remember what she ultimately forgot; that they were her favorite flower.

Now, as I tend to her peony, which I have affectionately named “Grandma,” I think of her, her yard, and our trips to Marys Peak. I recall the times we sat together at the picnic table at the top of the peak. She would be so proud of herself for “hiking” to the top. The gravel road that led us there had enough of an incline that she felt like she was on a true adventure. She would look over the valley in awe, amazed by the lush, green trees. “They don’t make trees like that in Delaware,” she would say.

As I have worked the soil these past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that my garden beds are full of love. Not just the love I give them, but the love they represent. I’ve never before thought of my garden as a place reminiscent of time spent with loved ones. But, as I come across plants that spark memory of moments passed, I realize my garden is more than just a garden; it’s where my memories will sprout back for years to come.

For me, this realization is a reminder that life goes on in beautiful forms if you take the time to see it. Looking at my garden, I can now smile at the little reminders. I think about the saying “home is where the heart is,” and, for me, my garden is also where my heart is.