Kurt WinnerThe National Mountain Trail Championships for 2009 are here. Each November, at the
Oregon Horse Center in Eugene, Oregon, riders and their mounts complete the indoor course meandering over a walking bridge, around a waterfall and pond, through a mini-forest, and over rocky ledges, boulders, and downed trees. The Championships and the varied terrain is the brainchild of the center’s Major Defoe. How did it get started? Major says “It’s based on a plywood cow. We had a show in the arena and every time the horses came around the plywood cow, they‘d duck and dive. We all watched as each horse got scared. So I thought if I could build something to keep them from hurting themselves and keep the people in their seats… (so) I based the course on what happened to me, along with my wife, on my hunting and fishing experiences.”

The championships began from a mailing list. That first year, eight years ago, a surprising 59 horses entered. This year, Major says, “Entrants top out at over 250 horses and it is now a four-day event with various classes running. The following weekend, we hold a Northwest Mountain Trail Explorer Challenge open to novice trail riders, so there is an event for all to participate in. And back again this year is the exciting Cowboy Mounted Shooting and speed runs called Wild Fire.”

Just what is involved? Well, for Major and his crew of 12, it begins with 10 days of work to build. I counted over two dozen kinds of machinery from harrows to dump trucks and it takes eight trips to the Cascade Mountains 150 miles away to get boulder and rock, and all the way to Christmas Valley to get the sagebrush. The trees come from the mountains and are over twenty feet high. Indeed there are over 250 tons of rock and boulders to place, a huge pond and running waterfall to create, and sand and dirt to layer in.

What you come away with after watching each animal and rider come through the course is the sense that you can do it, too. Major says, “People are going home and setting up their own (courses). They tell me all the time that they look forward to this more than any other event. We have all become like family.” If you’d like to try, Major says he recommends the Northwest Mountain Trail Explorer Challenge for beginners and intermediate competitive trail riders to get a feel for it. The National Mountain Trail Championships are for the experienced. And come they do, not just from the Pacific Northwest, but also from far afield, like Alaska and Louisiana. As Major says with a laugh in his voice, ”People are getting hooked on it!”

Do you think you’d like to attend or participate? OHC National Mountain Trail
Championships were November 5 – 8, 2009 with the Northwest Mountain Trail Championships
November 13 – 15, 2009. Check the website @ www.oregonhorsecenter.com or call 541 689-9700 for details.

And last year’s winner? A Mule!

Here’s a warming treat after a training session trail riding with your own horse, a favorite of my wife’s and her riding friends, the Fabulous Four. As with trail riding it looks simple, but if you pay attention to the details, it’s so much more! ~ Kurt

savory bread puddingSavory Bread Pudding Layered with Asparagus and mixed Herbs

Save your leftover bread ends for a week. Ends from baguettes and focaccia make a dense pudding, white bread a soft pudding. Serve with smoky ham if you like.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 3-quart mold or casserole – a soufflé dish works well.

12-16 thick slices very dry bread
2 1/2 to 3 cups milk
1 pound asparagus
5 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
4 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small bits
1/2 cup chopped, mixed fresh herbs~ here are two combos to choose from:
chives/parsley/tarragon or sage/thyme/marjoram

Method: Place bread in a single layer in a shallow dish. Pour 2 1/2 cups milk over top. Let soak until the bread has absorbed the milk and become soft, about 30 minutes. Press the bread slices to extract the milk; measuring the extracted milk; you should have 1/2 cup. If not make up the difference with additional milk as needed. Set bread and the milk aside.

While bread soaks, trim asparagus, removing woody ends (vegetable peeler works great). Cut stalks on the diagonal, approximately 2 inches long by 3/8 inch thick. Arrange asparagus on steamer rack over gently boiling water. Cover and steam until barely tender, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Immediately plunge into bowl under cold running water until cold. Drain and set aside. Reserve 6 to 8 asparagus spears for garnishing top of the dish.

In a bowl, beat the eggs, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup milk until well blended. In bottom of the dish place a third of the bread. Top the bread layer with half of the remaining asparagus and half of the herb mix. Strew one third of EACH of the cheeses over the asparagus layer. Repeat with another layer, using half of the remaining bread, all of the remaining asparagus the herbs, and half of the remaining cheese

Now arrange the last of the bread on top, sprinkling the last of the cheese and garnishing with the reserved pieces of asparagus. Pour the milk-egg mixture over the layers and then dot with butter.

Bake in the preheated oven until the top is crusty brown and a knife inserted comes out clean, approximately 45 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

Kurt Winner is an avid traveler and cook. He likes to experiment with new ingredients
and new cuisines but also enjoys simple one pot meals and putting his own twist
on good old American comfort food. His love of cooking began in his grandmother’s kitchen and developed through the years as he shared his passion of good food with friends and family. Although his technique is self-taught, his recipes are thoughtful, well presented, and always satisfying. Kurt is also a photographer and member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). Look for his column each month where he will explore an event, an interesting person, holiday celebration idea, a farmer or rancher, food artisan or a cowboy! And always, a delicious recipe to share.