Culinary Traveler: Holiday Traditions Oregon Style

Celebrating Christmas in the Pacific Northwest is a natural. Oregon is the number one U.S. producer of Christmas trees so even it’s agricultural traditions are part of this treasured holiday. Here are two longstanding traditions that are part of many an Oregon Christmas.

Christmas at Timberline Lodge First a toy drops. Then the polished buckle and toe of a black boot is visible just below the immense wood beam mantel. Finally a huge bag of toys squeezes through the small opening of the massive stone fireplace. And all of a sudden boys and girls of all ages get worked into a frenzy when a jolly fat man in a red suit pops out of the stone shaft. “Santa” the kids shout. “Santa you came!”

Christmas tradition is part of the heart of this great lodge. Oregonians have been making Christmas Eve at Timberline a part of their holiday celebration for several generations. It’s a perfect place to feel the magic of Christmas. And so it has been for many Christmases since Timberline Lodge was built by depression -era craftsmen and laborers in the 1930’s as a WPA ( Works Progress Administration) project. Constructed on a flank of Mt. Hood or Wy’East as the first peoples called the mountain, Timberline Lodge is now a place to reconnect your spirit to nature in all seasons. Winter is special here. As snow drifts climb outside the windows and wisps of ice clouds halo the peak of the mountain, visitors take to the lifts to snow board or ski and return to cozy up by the two rock fireplaces. When nighttime skiing is suspended for Christmas Eve,( you wouldn’t want someone to ski into a reindeer would you?) the quiet outside adds to the expectation as swirls of snow dance along the windows.

These smiling kids don’t care that the Lodge was built by hand of local stone and timber. Nor that old utility poles became fanciful newel posts of a bear, eagle, mole, lynx, mallard, fox, fawn, pelican, king-fisher and badger in the hands of a skilled carver. Or that old uniforms were cut and hooked into rugs and railroad rails were hammered into andirons. These kids have one thing in mind as they sit patiently through dinner and listen for the update from the Lodge ‘s PA system. Finally the announcer returns and says. “Santa was spotted crossing the Columbia River and is headed directly for Mt. Hood!”

Oh boy, it’s time to roll ! Kids hop off the carved wooden chairs, all running now through the halls of modernist artwork, scrambling up the newel post- trimmed stairs to the main fireplace to wait for the man of the hour. The big red guy is on his way to Timberline; do you hear reindeer hooves on the roof?

This instauration of magical Christmas excitement renews each December 24th about seven o’clock after a candlelight dinner and before caroling begins. Once Santa has extricated himself from Oregon’s most famous and best-loved chimney, he holds court near the towering Christmas tree twinkling with lights. The children line up to visit with him in turn showing Santa that they are indeed very good boys and girls. When one very tiny boy reaches the head of the line to receive his personal message of Christmas from Santa and a special toy, his parents look on with a sense of wonderment that still lights their eyes. Outside, where surely the reindeer await on the roof, the wind throws the snow in timeless patterns against the windows as the moon lights the peak of Mt. Hood. Timberline Lodge: www.timberlinelodge.com for packages , overnight stays and dinner reservations. Fly into PDX, the Portland, Oregon airport. Rent a car and drive to the lodge approximately ninety minutes away.

The Christmas Ships For fifty-five years the Christmas ships have paraded along the Willamette and Columbia rivers creating a beautiful tradition for the people of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. The story goes that in 1954 a lone sailboat festooned with ribbon and bows sailed out of the Portland Yacht Club to spread some holiday cheer up and down the rivers. Now it has become so much more. Small craft of 14ft to vessels over 60 feet cruise the two rivers for two weeks in December lighting up the darkness with creative displays. Some elegant, some whimsical, all a part of Christmas now for so many. Early in September President Jess Heitman tells me, they ramp up the year-long planning to get this holiday tradition ready for December. When asked how they manage all of this volunteer effort Jess says, “ Linda Penland. She is our energizer bunny and makes everything happen.” The captains and crew of approximately 60 power and sail boats brave the icy, cold night to bring a message of Christmas hope and cheer to people watching from the river bank, restaurants, homes and hotels along the Willamette and the Columbia. Captain Burt Burgess holds the honor for participating an astounding 32 years, but all individual boats decorate, pay for their fuel and give their time and commitment sharing from the heart. President Jess says that viewing the parade of Christmas ships is the great equalizer. “No matter who you are ,” he says, “the experience is the same for everybody.” He sees this gift of joy as “made anonymously” by the participants on these gaily decorated Christmas ships. By sending a message of light “they are giving back to the community,” he says. On certain nights the flotilla hosts decorated Navy patrol boats and Coast Guard tenders like the Blue Bell to join them in bringing their message to people along the shores. There are also some ride-alongs. The Blue Stars, people with a family member on active military duty will be on boats some evenings as well as another ride- along for the Gold Stars, families who have lost a member fighting on active duty. To locate a place to view the parade of lighted ships go to the Christmas Ships’ website at www.Christmasships.org. Among the active supporters of the parade are the Red Lion Jantzen Beach, Shenanigans Restaurant, Mark’s on the Chanel and Beaches restaurant where you can grab a window seat early and enjoy dinner. The Columbian Newspaper has a detailed list of vantage points along the Columbia for the Vancouver side created by reporter Matt Wastradowski at http://www.columbian.com/section/christmasships And then just sit back and wait for the magic as the first of the boats comes into view. Hey isn’t that Santa on a jet ski? !

Stuffed Mushroom Caps Award-winning Executive Chef Leif Benson, CEC, AAC, at Timberline Lodge and creator of fresh Cascade cuisine sends you this special holiday recipe. Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

Mushroom Caps:

  • 2 pounds very large mushrooms, brushed and stems removed( keep stems for stuffing)
  • Butter
  • Fresh bread crumbs
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

 

Cheese Stuffing:

  • Stems from 2 pounds of mushrooms
  • Butter
  • Dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Prepare Cheese Stuffing mixture to set aside: Chop stems and sauté in butter with a splash of white wine and minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper. In mixing bowl combine cream cheese, garlic powder, 1/2 cup chipped parsley, dill weed and 1/2 cup butter. Drain sautéed mushroom stems and add to cheese mixture with sour cream. Prepare mushroom caps to stuff: Sauté mushroom caps in butter until soft. Allow to cool a little. Stuff caps with Cheese Stuffing. Sprinkle with half bread crumbs and half grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until hot and golden brown. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.