Story and recipe originally published in 2008.
One of the drawbacks to living in beautiful Southern California is that I am nowhere geographically close to any of my immediate family. Since no one in the family has yet to retire or become independently wealthy, none of us see each other that often. It was finally Dad’s turn to have to put up with a visit from us, so we packed our bags and headed up to Oregon.
I grew up in beautiful North-Eastern Oregon on good-sized cattle ranch, which has since been dissolved when my parents’ lives grew apart. However, my dad still lives in the same farming valley, now on a nice, little 10 acre property where he still has a few horses and enjoys the splendor of living on fertile soil surrounded by alluring foothill mountains. Going to see Dad is always still “Going Home” even if it isn’t the house I grew up in. To get home, we fly into Portland, then drive 5 hours east. The journey allows one’s mind to change pace from the busy city life to the more laid-back country-side. I become more reflective and nostalgic as the miles roll by. My mind starts savoring the things I loved from growing up in that little farming and logging valley, and I find myself more at peace with those things which I spurned as a youth.
“Snip”, the stallion & “Doc”, the gelding
We always enjoy seeing the changes in geography as we course our way across the northern edge of Oregon. Beginning in the lush, rain-heavy Portland, the highway leads us upstream along the Columbia River and the gorge which it has carved. Soon the rains fall less, the heat increases, and the winds dry out the landscape. In early spring there were still signs of green, but those will soon disappear. I used to see these parts as barren wasteland, but now see beauty in it’s dry frontier. Not long afterwards, the highway diverges from the Columbia River, and the geography changes again. The winds are less, and the rain a bit more, so you’ll start seeing farmland sprouting out of this gentle, but warm landscape. If you diverge north, you can cross the border and follow the road leading to the super fertile plain which Walla Walla, WA calls home. There is nothing like a Walla Walla sweet onion grown in Walla Walla. Soon our road east leads us through the cowboy and Native American town of Pendleton, then starts heading up into the foothill mountains.
“Rascal”, the troublemaker
Once in the mountains, I start to feel like home is near. Before long, the highway drops down into a valley where a river lazily courses through it, farmland quilts the land, cattle and horses outnumber the people, and where a cowboy turned urban Californian was born and raised. I’m back to soak in the beauty of my birthing ground. One of the allures which dominate my longings for home are our horses. I can get a quick mountain fix less than a couple hours outside our southern California home. We have friends down here which train show jumping horses, so it isn’t just horses in general that I miss. I miss “our horses.” Most of all Doc, who was the last colt born on the ranch I grew up on. Fully of personality and sass, Doc is a beautiful Quarter Horse who it notoriously ornery about being caught or letting people pet him. He’ll just tease you to let you know he is “allowing you the privilege” to come up to him. But once he’s accepted you, there isn’t a better horse to have under you to ride the trails or work cattle. I miss him like a brother. I know I am truly home when I’ve seen and hugged Dad, then have gone out to the pasture and been nudged by Doc.
“Best Ever” Baked Sweet Onion Dip !
Sweet Onions from their ranch Garden
Baked Sweet Onion Dip
- 1 8 oz package of cream cheese (very softened)
- 1 cup mayo (preferably Best Foods brand)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup diced or chopped sweet onion. You choose your size
- 1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
- Crusty bread or crackers
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl, place softened cream cheese. The cream cheese must be very, very, soft (like spreadable butter) to allow all ingredients to blend evenly together. If your cream cheese needs to soften more, place in microwave for a few seconds.
- Add mayo, parmesan cheese, onions and fresh cracked black pepper to soft cream cheese till everything is mixed thoroughly.
- Place mixture in ramekins or any oven safe dishes. Bake slowly, for about 30-45 minutes for all ingredients to cook together. When the top crust is brown, almost burnt looking then the dip is ready. The darker brown the crust of the dip becomes, the better the flavors are cooked.
- Serve with your favorite bread and crackers.
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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.
What reminds you of home?