News Column

A Bakersfield girl in Oregon: Loving the quirk

August 8, 2014

By Kelly Ardis, The Bakersfield Californian

Aug. 08--Where else but in a fairytale land would Humpty Dumpty falling off a wall be considered news? To the bitter disappointment of preschoolers everywhere, the fate of the gravity-challenged egg is always the same: All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put him together again.

But this time Humpty's tale has a different ending. And a different setting. At the Enchanted Forest theme park in Turner, Ore., owner/creator/artist Roger Tofte is doing what the king's finest handymen couldn't: putting Humpty together again. Actually he's not exactly fixing the egg statue -- made of cement, rebar, sand and plaster. He's making a new one.

The state of Oregon might not be a true fairytale land, but it's pretty close. Lush forests, weird characters and the potential for adventure are around every corner in the 33rd state. It's why I was eager to return to Oregon, specifically Eugene, the home of my alma mater, and Portland, where, according to IFC's "Portlandia," young people go to retire.

From the food (often made up of weird combinations that should not work but totally do) to the beer (Widmer, Rogue and Ninkasi, oh my!) to the entertainment (the delightfully kitschy Enchanted Forest theme park, arcades with full bars and the incomparable, almost indescribable, Oregon Country Fair) there is a lot of fun to be had with our Northern neighbors and maybe a few lessons about how we can adapt some of their best ideas right here in Bakersfield.

Food and drink

A good introduction to the unique eats of Eugene is Off the Waffle, a local restaurant owned and run by brothers Omer and Dave Orian. Their specialty, obviously, is waffles. But not just any waffles: liege waffles, a sweet and carmelized version of a Belgian. The names of the various waffles are as fun as some of their topping combinations are weird; the No, Really Though has sweet sauteed onions, spinach and bacon in a balsamic reduction with strawberries, chevre, basil and nigella seeds and real maple syrup.

Another one for bacon lovers, The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (topped with one sunny side up egg, bacon and real maple syrup) is, I hear, delicious.

Vegetarians like me still have plenty of choices. My go-to waffle is The Sweet Funk Machine (pear, gorgonzola, cinnamon and local wildflower honey). For something sweet, there are waffles like The Beloved Bully, with belgian chocolate chips, fresh strawberries and a garnish of housemade dark chocolate sauce.

Off the Waffle exemplifies one of my favorite things about Eugene (and many other Oregon towns): Carnivores, herbivores, locavores and the gluten-intolerant can all find something tasty to eat just about anywhere you go.

Over at any of the 13 Cafe Yumm locations in Oregon (and one in Seattle), fresh, nutritious and fast food is served daily. On the menu are a variety of bowls made up of rice and beans, and additional toppings depending on the type. My favorite is the Smoky Yumm Bowl, with vegetarian chipotle chili, rice, veggies and Yumm sauce.

This is perfect lunch fare: light but filling, tasty but healthy. Like many restaurants in Oregon, Cafe Yumm places an importance on organic ingredients. Meat eaters might have to search a little harder for something here, but they'll find it in chicken skewers, salmon burgers, turkey sandwiches and more.

Fortunately, Cafe Yumm sells their Yumm sauce in bottles so you can make your own bowls at home. Unfortunately, those aren't sold anywhere near Bakersfield, so when that bottle of mine empties, I guess it's back to Oregon I go. Oh, darn. Or I suppose I could order it by visiting www.cafeyumm.com. One case of six jars will cost you $27, plus shipping and handling.

The Bier Stein in Eugene is one of my personal heavens on earth. What started out as a bottleshop selling regional microbrews and international beers evolved into a restaurant when owners Chip Hardy and Kristina Measells reluctantly started offering more food, despite no initial interest in running a restaurant.

But thank God they did, because the Bier Stein's Bier Cheese soup and Bavarian soft pretzel (also served with two-mustard sauce) is perfection. Surely Lengthwise here in Bakersfield could add something like this to its menu. I'll even save them the trouble of naming it: How about "Kelly's Beer Cheese Soup and Pretzel"?

But it's not all beer and pretzels in Oregon. Tea tastes good and is good for you, but it's always standing in coffee's shadow, especially in Bakersfield, home to some outstanding coffeehouses, many with nice teas of their own. But as far as just-tea-thank-you-very-much scene goes, we have just one shop that I know of, the Tea Bar, where I go as often as I can for a variety of bubble teas.

Townshend's Teahouse, with four locations in Oregon, is something else altogether. The locations are huge, with plenty of chairs, tables and couches. My friend and I spent about two comfortable hours sitting there, sipping and reading.

In addition to various black, green, white, rooibos and oolong teas, there are many kinds of chai, including a pumpkin spice that I am kicking myself for not trying. There's also a list of teas called Apothecary, with relief, mood and body tonics.

And then there's the kombucha. I still don't fully understand what kombucha is, other than that it is fermented tea, raw and organic. Townshend's brews, bottles and sells their own Brew Dr. Kombucha throughout the Northwest, but the teahouses offer kombucha on tap. I had the spiced apple kombucha, which tasted a lot like apple cider. Coming home, I was happy to see that different brands of kombucha are pretty easy to find here, but no place sells Brew Dr. Kombucha.

Our day trip to Portland kept the good food coming. We had a slice of pizza at Sizzle Pie, a small casual restaurant that blares metal music just shy of being too loud for conversation. This didn't bother me. You can buy the classic pies by the slice or whole pies, choosing from a massive list of 44 signature styles (six classic pies, 14 meat pies, 14 vegetarian pies and 10 vegan pies). In Bakersfield, we vegetarians are used to having one, maybe two, meat-free options at any given restaurant. This place has 24, not counting the endless combinations you can create yourself. This is the rule in Portland and Eugene, not the exception.

The massive line outside Portland's Salt & Straw ice cream shop evokes two thoughts: "I do not want to wait in that line!" and then "But wait, it must be worth it if so many people are waiting." And it was.

The flavors there are ridiculous, in the very best way. Each month owners Kim and Tyler Malek add new flavors based on a theme. July's was Oregon berries, and August is Portland Farmer's Market. The employees know how wacky these flavors are and take time to offer samples. They didn't rush us at all, even making friendly conversation. Obviously this contributes to the long wait, but it was nice to have what amounted to an ice cream consultation. I sampled the delicious Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero, which had a small kick but was not terribly spicy. In the end, I got a scoop of the very tasty and refreshing Summer Cucumber & Raspberry Sorbet in a freshly made waffle cone.

Good reads

What better place to wait out your body's digestive process than an independent bookstore? Remember bookstores? Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland should be on bucket lists of bibliophiles everywhere.

There are other Powell's locations in Portland, but the downtown shop is the one people talk about. The largest new and used bookstore in the world, it's 68,000 square feet, four floors and incredibly easy to get blissfully lost in. It's divided into 11 color-coded rooms, two of which were closed for remodel when my friend and I went. We still spent a couple of hours (and a somewhat regrettable amount of money) there.

Approximately 6,000 people visit the City of Books each day, according to the store's website. Somehow, it didn't feel crowded and the long line took less than 10 minutes to go through.

I don't have a suggestion for re-creating Powell's in Bakersfield, because this place is iconic. I really just wanted to tell you all about it.

Weird

And now we're back to Humpty Dumpty and his friends at the Enchanted Forest in Turner, Ore. Artist and owner Roger Tofte opened the park in 1971, and besides the new and improved Humpty and a few rides, not much has changed since. Everything looks like it's 40 years old, but that's part of its charm. So are the slightly creepy statues throughout the park.

You enter the Enchanted Forest through the Castle and continue on through Storybook Lane, where you'll meet fairytale characters as either outdoor statues or crudely animatronic dolls inside their respective houses, such as Hansel and Gretel in the gingerbread house, dangerously close to being eaten.

Soon after my friend and I left the child-eating witch's clutches, we came upon a rabbit hole. After crawling on our hands and knees through the pitch-black tunnel, which we were possibly too big for, we reached the Wonderland portion of Storybook Lane. (Yes, there was an alternate route for adults. No, it would not have been as fun as through the rabbit hole.)

Approaching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' cottage, we're introduced to the familiar miners, with not so familiar names: Snoozy, Grouchy, Wheezy, Smiley, Droopy, Dingy and, my favorite, Lumpy.

Later, in the "olde English" village part of the park, we toured Geppetto's workshop and saw one of the Enchanted Forest's creepier scenes: Geppetto in his chair, Pinocchio on the desk and the Blue Fairy, who comes out of the window to turn the toy into a real boy. Doesn't sound creepy, but to see it play out in "action" with the mannequin-like fairy entering the room with dead eyes and limbs ... it's shudder-inducing and hard to describe.

There are a few rides, including a haunted house (went on it once, too terrifying to ever return) and a Matterhorn-like bobsled ride (with carts that look like "Jetsons" cars, with a see-through roof that comes over your head). The best ride is the Challenge of Mondor, one of the latest additions and a pretty blatant rip-off of the Buzz Lightyear and Toy Story interactive rides at Disneyland. You go through the ride in the dark, with more creepy mannequins and Halloween store decorations, and shoot at everything evil. A panel on the cart keeps track of your score.

I'm not going to be modest: I am great at this game. But even if I weren't, it would still be fun. It's like in scary TV shows where some real threat is lurking among the fake ones in a haunted maze; I couldn't be certain our cart wouldn't deliver us to some dungeon where Tofte would cook us up for dinner, eat us and use our bones for decorations. (I'm mostly joking; I'm sure he's a very nice, non-cannibalistic man.)

The first time I went to the Enchanted Forest was when I was 18, and my friends and I were roadtripping from Bakersfield to Seattle. We saw signs for this place off the 5 North and knew we had to check it out. We giggled the whole way through, obviously older than the target audience but not caring at all. We loved the quirky kitsch and sincerity behind every detail at the park.

Now, seven years later and back for the fourth time, I love it all the same.

The creepy, quirky, kitschy attractions are all part of the Enchanted Forest's appeal. Some people describe it as the Northwest's Disneyland, a 20-acre theme park bought for $4,000. It's a fair comparison only because there's nothing else like the Enchanted Forest. I guess it's like Disneyland, but to me, it's more charming.

From one very Oregon attraction to another: the Oregon Country Fair is probably harder to describe than the Enchanted Forest, but I'll try.

OK: It's an annual three-day festival along the Long Tom River in Veneta, Ore., about 15 miles west of Eugene. Under the cover of trees, Oregon vendors sell arts, crafts and food. Several stages host various types of music and vaudeville acts.

But what that description can't convey is the carefree, supportive be-yourself culture -- the attitude that whatever you look like, whatever you're wearing, whatever you're into is A-OK.

Crazy costumes, horns or wings, face and body paint and, well, a little nudity, is all normal at the Oregon Country Fair. Off the designated stages, traveling bands of any kind will parade down the paths, making music (or noise, depending on your viewpoint) and smiling at everyone they pass.

But really, everyone smiles at everyone. The first thing mentioned on the "What to leave home to have a fabulous time" list on the fair's website is "All you cares and woes." Of the approximately 45,000 visitors, you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody having a bad time. Even when my friend and I got lost, following the same upper loop in the fair's figure-eight pathway, we were having fun, seeing something new each go-around.

The fair is a nonprofit organization and advocates eco-friendliness. Like many other places in the state, recycling and compost bins are crammed more than any trash (or "landfill") bins. The mantra of "Pack in, pack out" runs the fair, ensuring the beautiful wetlands don't pay the price for all the fun.

Since 1969, the fair has been a staple of Oregon culture. At first glance, the people there might look like dirty hippies, and maybe some of them are. But there were teachers, lawyers and journalists among them.

___

(c)2014 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

Visit The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) at www.bakersfield.com

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Source: Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)


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