Spencer Spins It…Dahlias

by on Sep 5, 2014

A battle between the sexes is being waged in garden plots throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Sure, women can plant their dianthus, impatiens and scented lavender. But when it comes to blooms the size of a Frisbee, leave it to the guys to muscle into the action.

Maybe it’s the names of the flowers. They are downright seductive: Blondee, Bodacious, Envy, Glamour Girl, I’m A Hottie, Lemon Kiss and A-Pealing. Then there’s the macho line: Gladiator, Wildman, Zorro and Spartacus.

We’re talking dahlias here. Yes, those little bulbs you stick in well-drained soil when the fear of frost has passed. Buried 5 inches down and covered with a thin layer of soil and bone meal, the bulb sends up delicate shoots. But don’t be deceived by this. By the time August rolls along, the plant will have turned into a 6-foot stalk studded with blossoms. Pinch off the side shoots, and you’ve got yourself a flower with a hefty diameter of 12 inches or more.

Yeah, this is a man’s sport.

Don’t know much about dahlias? It appears you’re not alone. You would think the history of this fibrous bulb would be fairly straightforward. Not so for the showy dahlia.

Its roots — hard to resist that pun — date back to the days of the Aztecs in Mexico. All was going well for the Aztecs and their dahlia plants, which they used as a food source, until the Spanish conquistadors entered the scene in the early 1500s. The Spanish invasion wiped out the Aztec nation along with any reliable historical record of the dahlia.

Two centuries later, the bulb arrived in Europe where it sprouted leaves in the Botanical Gardens in Madrid in 1789. Named in honor of Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist, the dahlia proved to be a natural hybrid that could be coaxed into a vast array of colors and shapes when grown from seed. By the mid-1930s, nearly 50,000 varieties were sprouting up flowers in Europe and America. In 1963, Mexico decided it wanted to reclaim the dahlia as its own and proudly proclaimed it as its national flower.

The late Jack Ames introduced me, and hundreds of other gardeners, to the joyous wonders of dahlias. At the corner of River Road and Fruitvale Boulevard in Yakima, Jack’s lush garden — always open to the public — brimmed with iris, chrysanthemums and nearly 200 dahlias.

Jack purchased most of his bulbs through Swan Island, the nation’s largest supplier of dahlia bulbs located not far from Portland in Canby, Ore. Swan Island has just about every kind of dahlia imaginable, from a pint-sized lilliput to a 14-inch-diameter monster called Emory Paul, which features bright rosy purple petals.

Ordering from Swan Island holds the same addictive power as clicking on the iTunes store and purchasing a single song at 99 cents a pop. There’s one catch. Some new varieties at Swan Island can set you back nearly $25, a far cry from ordering Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe through the Tulips.

What you can’t order from Swan Island, or from anywhere else in the world, is a distinctly sky-blue dahlia. It doesn’t exist. Nor does a dahlia with an alluring scent.

That doesn’t mean the dahlia is all show and no go. Far from it. The dahlia has become a godsend for the newspaper industry, where I worked as an editor and columnist for nearly 35 years. Though a slew of media pundits predict daily newspapers are headed for the same fate as the once mighty Aztec nation, don’t start mourning just yet. Swan Island has come to the rescue. How’s this possible? It all has to do with preserving the delicate bulbs during the winter.

Swan Island recommends extracting the bulbs after a hard frost in the fall and placing them gently in a bed of peat moss atop — are you ready for this? — sheets of newsprint. And you thought newspapers were only good as a fish wrapper. Not so.

And what better use for an aging copy of the Yakima Herald-Republic than becoming a winter’s resting place for the likes of I’m A Hottie and Spartacus? You couldn’t write a better ending to a story about dahlias.

Nor could I.

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Chinookfest Celebrates Third Anniversary

by on Aug 27, 2014

The third annual Chinook Music Festival is coming up in two weeks, and organizers say they expect a sellout crowd again this year.

According to Michelle Bounds, who handles publicity for the festival, they’re preparing for a bigger crowd this year after festival organizers negotiated to host more festival attendees.

ChinookThe festival was created three years ago by local band Cody Beebe and the Crooks to bring roots-rock to central Washington.

Bounds calls the setting “intimate” and notes that everything from the food and beverages to art vendors are local. “People end up leaving on Sunday with a good grasp of what the area has to offer,” Bounds said.

The event will be held at Jim Sprick Community Park at 13680 State Route 410 in Naches. Friday and Saturday are for ages 21 and over only, but on Sunday all ages are welcome (there will be no admission charge for children under 12).

The festival will be held from Sept. 12-14, and tent camping is included in the price of a weekend pass ($90). RV campers will need to find a space offsite—there will be a shuttle to and from the festival grounds. Day passes are also available for purchase at the event website.

Cody Beebe & The Crooks
Rags and Ribbons
Whiskey Syndicate
Sammy Witness & The Reassignment

The Silent Comedy
Sturgill Simpson
Robert Jon & The Wreck
Rust On the Rails
Planes On Paper
Vaudeville Etiquette
Jelly Bread
Nick Foster
West Water Outlaws
Snug Harbor
Xolie Morra & The Strange Kind
Root Jack


Austin Jenckes
Blake Noble
Tim Snider and House of Waters
SweetKiss Momma
The Wicks
Mikey and Matty
The Halyards
Fall Days


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Amateur Weather Forecaster Finds Fame on Facebook

by on Aug 25, 2014

Jeffrey Kadell has a little secret.

He’s the face behind Yakima Climate, an anonymous Facebook page that’s followed by about 1700 people. Kadell regularly posts weather updates and other local weather tidbits on the page, like statistics on record highs and lows and other weather history stories.

Yakima Climate

Jeffrey Kadell

Kadell’s page has been mentioned on-air by KEPR meterologist Mike McCabe, and Tim Adams from KNDU follows Yakima Climate. And Kadell says a local radio station has even contacted him about the possibility of doing a forecast for them. But he’s shy, and says he’s been on the fence about whether to expose his identity.

The 34-year-old Yakima resident says his interest in weather all started when he was named the “weather kid” in his fourth-grade class back in Hillsboro, Oregon.

“I used to drive my mom crazy,” he said. “I used to keep telling her how cold it was getting, and she’d worry that the furnace was going to break down.”

Now, he keeps detailed spreadsheets of climate data for several cities, including Yakima. He has his own weather station at home in the Terrace Heights area, and he volunteers as a weather spotter for the National Weather Service out of Pendleton. He’ll do things like study radar images to try to pinpoint exactly when a tornado touched down near Rattlesnake Mountain recently, and he regularly researches forecast discussions and other information online.

And now local people are messaging him, asking him to make predictions about what the weather will be like over the weekend for their camping trip or their outdoor events.

Kadell has been running his Facebook page for about two years (it used to be called “Yakima Weather”), and he has a reputation for being a stickler about data. Sometimes he says he’s pestered the National Weather Service about their statistics, particularly snowfall statistics, when he feels they’re inaccurate. His own weather station has been up since last May in the Terrace Heights area. So far, he says he’s measured a high temp of 108 and a low of zero. “That’s pretty accurate,” he said, compared with local readings (which are taken at the airport). He says he also likes to compare statistics with other local people online.

Thanks to all the climate data he keeps in his head, he’s quick to spot trends, like the fact that we’ve had almost as many 100+ degree days here in Yakima for the past three years as we did during our warmest years of 1971-1973. (In ’71-’73, we had 36 days of 100+. In ’12-’14, we had 34 days of 100+ temps.) Or the time he figured out last year that Yakima had the highest low temperature ever recorded (66) for the month of September.

Kadell mentioned other Facebook pages in Yakima that also have a large following, like the Yakima Scan page, and he talked about the pitfalls running a popular Facebook page. Sometimes he voices his opinions on local issues (like the recent car theft in Terrace Heights that ended with a teenager being shot), and has to deal with dozens of comments from people who follow his page. “People don’t always like me,” he said. “I don’t always hold my tongue.”


One of the spreadsheets Kadell posted to his Yakima Climate Facebook page.

Like a lot of weather geeks, though, he struggles to explain why he finds natural phenomenon so interesting. “When it’s 107 outside in the summertime, I know that will be a really nice number to look at in a few months when it gets cold,” he said, grinning. “Some people go fishing, some people work on hot rods, and some people look at weather spreadsheets.”

He reminisced about the first winter he lived in Yakima during the infamous storms of 96-97. “We had 30 inches of snow on the ground…I’ve kind of been waiting for that to happen again every winter since then,” he admitted. “That was a good year.”

For now, Kadell’s content to keep up his role as an unpaid amateur forecaster, although he admitted it might be nice to pursue some kind of private forecasting job. He says he enjoys working at a local gas station because he’s stationed next to a window and can keep an eye on the weather outside. “I used to work in a warehouse without any windows, and it just about killed me,” he says.

But as far as his future plans, he’s just not sure. “I just predict the weather, I don’t predict life,” he says.

*Note: this article has been edited since it was originally posted.

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Loopy for Fruit – Yakima’s Fruit Stands Delight the Senses

by on Aug 22, 2014

I can remember my first time.

I was in my mid-twenties and living in a cabin south of Mattawa…as a transplant from suburban Denver, I was valiantly trying to adjust to small-town life.

My former husband was working as a fieldman back then, and so he was always dragging home produce of some sort–either in his upturned ball cap or a spare plastic grocery bag. But this particular evening was the first time he’d brought home a bucket of fresh sweet corn.

My amazement lasted all the way through my first ear—and my second and most of a third. I couldn’t stop myself…I’m sure I looked something like a starved Tasmanian devil as I mowed my way through heaven. It was as if I’d never tasted real corn before…the stuff I’d grown up eating from the grocery store might as well have been tasteless yellow plastic compared to the ambrosia in front of me.

Living in Mattawa exposed me to a host of other delights, too: tree-ripened nectarines, Granny Smith apples left on the tree until November (best apple pie I’ve ever had), huge, perfect Rainier cherries.

Purple peppers from Jones

A peck of purple peppers from Jones Farm’s stand

My three boys all worked on an organic farm during the summer for years, and they brought home a procession of everything from ridiculously perfumed boutique melons to light-green Armenian cucumbers. We had green beans, heirloom tomatoes, baby squash, carrots, and fresh-dug potatoes.

But now I have a problem. Once you’ve tasted the good stuff, even the best grocery-store produce can’t measure up–my tastebuds have been spoiled for life. Nothing against supermarkets, but there is a price we pay when we demand out-of-season fruit and we breed our vegetables for ease of shipping and shelf life rather than for taste.

Onions from Jones

Onions from the Jones Farms stand

So I decided to drag my fiance R. (who can charitably be called a picky eater, particularly when it comes to vegetables) along on a trip to visit several different fruit stands in Yakima.

First we visited Jones Farm produce, which is located at the former Russell Nursery site at  6710  Tieton Drive.  There were about seven people there browsing when we pulled in–a fairly good crowd for about 2 p.m. on a workday. (They’re open Mon.-Sat. from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10-4.) The wonderful employees saw me taking pictures of peppers and ran to find me a basket of completely purple ones…we bought a couple to take home and try. (Just in case you’re wondering, they’re a beautiful lime green on the inside once you cut into them…and they taste great. R. made a  killer “Holy Trinity” type of reduction sauce with these peppers, garlic, onion, and bacon…that we then spread on top of oven-roasted fresh potatoes. OMG, was it good.

Plums from Residential

Plums from the Residential Fruit stand

For our next stop, we visited the Residential Fruit Stand (they have a Facebook page, but no website) on 3rd Street and Nob Hill. Residential had strawberries and blueberries, along with some mouth-watering looking plums. (I always love how plums look frosty even when they’re warm). I’d had no idea there is a little restaurant attached to the fruit stand called the Magic Kitchen…I vowed to come back and try it for lunch.  The Residential is open every day from 9-6:30 p.m.

Give us a rip-Fruit City

Sweet corn for sale at Fruit City. Give ‘em a rip indeed.

Then we hit Fruit City in Union Gap. The biggest of the stands in Yakima, we enjoyed their creative signage and the astonishing variety of stuff they carry…everything from elephant garlic to golden tomatoes. They’re open from 8:30-6, Mon.-Fri. R. They also carry a variety of honey and jams (R. bought a big jar of raspberry jam) and beautiful cantaloupes from Hermiston.

If you’re into pasture-fed meats and local dairy products, you owe it to yourself to go to Local Yokel downtown, which is located in the old depot (in the same building as the Northtown coffee shop). Owned by Baron Farms, they carry raw organic milk, and offer nitrate-free bacon and other locally-sourced products. (You can even pre-order flats of berries from them online.) The store downtown also carries a variety of local fruits and vegetables, and they’re open from 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Public Fruit Sales

If you’ve never been to Johnson Orchards, you’re missing out.

And last, but definitely not least, I traveled to Johnson Orchards’ stand on 4906 Summitview. Eric Johnson, the owner, proudly showed me a river of peaches he had stacked on his cherry line machine…and showed me a sign posted on the front of the stand that reads “Family Owned and Operated since 1904.” “This is the real deal,” he said. The Johnsons’ stand mostly carries fruit, but they also had tomatoes, Selah Ridge lavender products, a variety of luscious baked goods (there is a commercial kitchen onsite), and Copper Pot Caramels. They’re open from Mon. -Fri., 8:30-5:30, Sat. from 8:30-5, and Sun. from 9-4.

So now my fridge is stuffed with the Valley’s freshest produce, and yours should be too. Prices are reasonable, the fruit is ripe, and nothing is a treat for the senses like a visit to a fruit stand.

Peach River

A river of peaches at Johnson Orchards.

Golden Boys - Fruit City

I brought a couple of these home from Fruit City. A little onion powder and salt…mmmm.


Blackberry pie

Fresh-made blackberry pie at Johnson’s. They’ve added extra baking days this summer…check their website for more information.

Old boxes

I loved these old fruit boxes at Johnson’s. They also have a collection of fruit labels hung on one wall.

Fruit - Local Yokel

Pears and apples at Local Yokel, which is located downtown in the old train depot.

Artisian tomatoes

Artisian tomatoes at Johnson Orchards



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Out to Lunch – Memorial Hospital’s Cafe

by on Aug 19, 2014

If you’re one of the folks who hasn’t discovered the cafe at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital yet, that’s just fine. Those of us who are in the know want to keep it a secret.

But…hospital food, you say? Doesn’t that mean cold toast and saran-wrapped bowls of Malt-O-Meal?

Not in Yakima.

Robert Ebberts of Imogene’s Catering is the engine behind the cafe–he’s the catering manager for Memorial. In 2012, Robert served an apprenticeship at Wylie Dufresne’s WD50 restaurant in New York, and last year he and his wife Wendy Steere started Imogene’s, a catering company named after Wendy’s grandmother.

Imogene’s has been making a mark on Fridays this summer at Bale Breaker Brewing Company concerts, as well as other events. Robert’s known for his innovative food combinations and attention to detail (if you really feel the need to salivate, you can check out our reviews of Imogene’s excellent lunches here and here.

YummersWe decided to have a business lunch at Memorial last week, and when I arrived I wasn’t surprised to see about ten people already waiting in line for the doors to open (the cafe opens at 11 for lunch). The menu was posted on a lighted display by the door (you can also check out a weekly menu here).

I had the oriental noodle salad and a homemade whole-grain roll–a satisfying, healthy, and amazingly reasonably-priced lunch for only about $6 (including my drink). I’m not usually a huge fan of salty-sweet salads, but this one hit the mark–crunchy, not-too-sweet, and an explosion of different tastes and textures. My fellow diners had ravioli with marinara sauce and a delicious cupcake (two words: chocolate curls). The cafe also boasts and excellent salad bar that’s sold by the pound…and, as if you need another reason to visit, you can grab an espresso at the Into the Brew stand that’s located next to the cafe doors.

MarinaraOur table looked out on a shady courtyard that’s absolutely gorgeous this time of year. Trumpet vines tumble over trellises, and more than a few diners elected to eat outside on the picnic tables. (If you’re feeling especially indulgent, you can stop by Memorial’s excellent gift shop after lunch.)


Any day with chocolate curls is a good day.

There is one drawback about eating at the cafe: it can be hard to find parking outside the hospital’s main entrance, so we’ll give you an insider’s tip…try the lot directly east of the main hospital complex that’s located in back of the Memorial Foundation building.

Breakfast is served from 7-10 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Dinner is served from 5-7:30 p.m. Soup, salad and the grill are available all day except for fifteen minutes prior to lunch and dinner services, and the kitchen is closed from 3-7 a.m.

And make sure to have a few chocolate curls for us!



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