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Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Very Pungo St. Patty's

A Very Pungo St. Patty’s …

This past Saturday saw the latest gathering of the Pungo Posse. This month’s event was held two days before St. Patrick’s Day, which was on a Monday this year. Commonly, there are a couple members of the group who can’t make it, and just as commonly, a couple guests are treated to one of these undeniably fun food fests, compliments of one of the “permanent members.”  But I’m rapidly getting ahead of myself. First, the humble origins of the posse …


We moved to Oregon, and into our beautiful home in southwest Bend on the 31st of July 2005. While we’re very social and had in fact made many awesome friends shortly after relocating here from the San Francisco Bay Area, everything took a distinct turn in 2010. I’m a realtor and had listed the house next door to ours for the mostly absentee owner, who lived in Southern California. She would visit occasionally for the first few years, then rented it out for the last couple years. But the home was like new and had in fact only been occupied for about two of the five years it had existed.


I received a call from my real estate partner at the time that a couple from Portland were parked out in front of the house, and wanted to see it, if possible. It was short notice, but I was home and could certainly show them the property. We work on commission in this business, and I’m always available to show property.


The couple (Bruce and Carma) and a couple of friends of theirs from town (Cammy and Owen) were all very nice people, and the six of us totally hit it off. I’m not a pushy realtor, I’m very honest, and I’m inclined to point out positive features, and answer their questions truthfully. I of course made a point of telling them that their next-door neighbor (me) was a decent cook, did quite a bit of entertaining in the form of dinners and barbecues, and was pretty good about keeping the neoprene muffler pads on the large drum set that lived in the upstairs media room.


Somehow, I managed to invite them over for dinner that night. Them being all four of them. I think I made a restaurant-sized tray of lasagna, garlic bread and a salad, if my memory serves me correctly. The four of them showed up for dinner, and I just knew we were going to be fast friends, whether they opted to buy the house next door or not. Carma was carrying a couple good bottles of wine, and Bruce was cradling a bottle of Oban; one of my very favorite single malt Scotch’s.


Dinner came out great, the wine was picked with care and thoroughly enjoyed by all, the Oban hit the spot, and a friendship was born. They decided to buy the house, and the gatherings continued. Our house, their house, Cammy and Owen’s house (northeast part of town). And inevitably, they invited several their good friends to the frequent summer barbecues, and we did likewise. Our little group of six grew into a very tight group of twelve to fourteen of us quickly. And the parties began rotating from one house to another, with everyone in the group taking turns hosting.


Fast forward to the beginning of last summer, and those in the group who hadn’t already done so, discovered kayaking in a big way. The bulk of the group had Wilderness Pungo 120’s, a couple had sleeker and lighter Hurricane Santee’s, and we even had a couple of people on fishing-oriented paddle / pontoon boats. Over the course of the first seven years that we lived here, we were quite content to float down one of a couple sections of the Deschutes River, on rafts or inner tubes. The Deschutes runs from the Cascade Lakes behind Mt. Bachelor, south to north, ultimately finding its way to the Columbia Gorge, which separates Oregon and Washington. There are spots of rapids, some runnable, some not. And many calm, meandering sections, which are perfect for the twelve-foot kayaks. The best spots are below Sunriver in the Three Rivers South neighborhood. We always take one extra vehicle, which we park at the “get out” point and drive the rest of them up to the boat launch spot, which is where the journey begins. Amazingly, due to the winding nature of the river, it’s literally a five-minute drive between the boat launch and the exit point, but it provides about five hours of float time. We pack a lunch, plenty of water, and spend the day floating down the lazy Deschutes on the twelve-foot kayaks.


For longer and more scenic day trips, we’ll opt for one of several of the Cascade Lakes. In about a half hour, we can have the boats in the water at either Sparks Lake, Hosmer Lake, or Elk Lake, which have become our faves. Paddling around the Cascade Lakes with the towering Mt. Bachelor, Three Sisters, and Broken Top mountains just off the bow, provides some awesome views. And there’s an abundance of wildlife wandering the banks, otters playing tag in front of the boats, a colorful array of fish just under the surface of the crystal-clear water, and a combination of osprey and bald eagles always keeping a watchful eye from above or perched in one of the hundreds of trees.


After the first half dozen or so trips to the Cascade Lakes, one of the members of our group came up with the perfect name for our dinner (and kayaking) group, reflecting the brand of kayak that most of us had; we officially became the Pungo Posse. This immediately became a private “Group” in Facebook and gave us a forum to both share our kayaking adventures and pictures, but also a convenient way to publicize the “next” Pungo Posse dinner, which was now rotating among eight couples, and eight different abodes that ranged over the four corners of Bend.


The dinners usually take on a specific theme, which is up to the host and hostess for that month. It’s ranged from barbecues (lots of barbecues!), to Italian, Mexican, fondue, and a brunch. Whoever’s hosting will provide the proteins (or whatever the theme dictates), and everybody brings something to contribute, a side dish, appetizer, dessert, and always beer and or wine. Nobody ever goes home hungry from one of these gatherings, which are held roughly once a month.


Early last summer, our next-door neighbors and founding Pungo Posse members Bruce and Carma began planning their wedding. They narrowed it down to the middle of August, which coincided with the date that I usually have my annual Meatfest barbecue. All the dinner club members, as well as many other mutual friends, and of course their families and friends were going to be in town for the wedding, I decided to make it a combination “Pungo – Meatfest – pre-wedding” barbecue. The Meatfest barbecues always end up with fifty to seventy-five people, so this was in no way a major stretch. I’d do all the proteins, as always, and ask people to bring side dishes. Huge success, everybody had a great time and as is typical, went home full.


And the venue for their wedding? Sparks Lake, ON THE LAKE, in kayaks. Yep. Twenty-six kayaks (mostly Pungos) all paddled to a cove on scenic Sparks Lake, to witness the ceremony. A few dozen additional onlookers lined the bank, as Minister Doug (a frequent guest to Posse dinners, with his wife Dianne) performed the nuptials. The bride made a dramatic entrance, dressed in a white one-piece bathing suit and veil, paddling her orange Pungo 120 up the “altar” with her wonderful dog Peabody sitting in the front of the cockpit. The “wedding party” were toward the front of the cove, with immediate family members on both sides of the bride and groom. Wonderful event, uniquely creative, and everybody had a great time.


And now to come full circle, back to the recent Pungo Posse dinner at the Mills’ gorgeous home on the golf course in Tetherow, which commemorated Saint Patrick’s Day, a couple days early. Cathy made an amazing, corned beef and cabbage, guests brought fondue, smoked salmon and cream cheese, several side dishes, and an array of desserts. My contribution was a couple of Guinness chocolate cakes with a cream cheese-based frosting. Alan poured Black and Tans (Guinness and Harp) for everyone, and we made several attempts at getting a proper Irish toast “correct.” After dinner, we smoked cigars, had a wee bit of Jameson’s on the rocks, several people headed upstairs to play pool, and many of the ladies gravitated to the living room to sing and dance. A jolly time was once again had by all.


Next month, it’s once again my turn to host the group. I’ve decided to do a second annual Pungo Posse Brunch, which will be held the Sunday before Easter. I’ll make bacon, ham, and hopefully will be able to find some real English “bangers,” which are awesome breakfast sausages. We’ll also supply mimosas, and if I have the time and energy, I’ll do some beignets in the deep fryer, the newest addition to my cooking arsenal. I’ll no-doubt seek some recipe tips from my friend Siobhan, who made us a special order of her New Orleans grandma’s recipe, the last time we visited her restaurant The Wagon Train, in downtown Truckee, California. If you’re anywhere near Truckee, you owe it to yourself. Best breakfast, best service, and an unforgettable experience. And say hi to Siobhan, who’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever encounter.


The Pungo Posse events have really taken on a life of their own. We generally have the next four to six months planned out, as far as who’s hosting. The themes are entirely up to the hosts, as is the choice to not have a theme, and simply make something good, and ask people to bring side dishes and desserts that compliment it. It doesn’t seem to matter. Everyone has a great time, nobody goes home hungry, and it all seems to work out. There are now seventeen regulars, and between two and four semi-regulars, who are consistently invited as well. And nobody seems to mind if people bring a couple friends, kids, or visiting guests to the parties. We’ve gotten pretty picky as far as adding “permanent members,” mainly because it’s gotten to be a challenge to seat this large of a group in any of our homes. My dining table is big and will seat ten. But this means I have to add an extension table and borrow chairs or open up the pub table in the kitchen eating area to accommodate seventeen-plus hungry people. But we manage, and we all look forward to the monthly gatherings, which I can only assume will carry on for quite some time.


And as I write this, in mid-March, I’m looking outside at a clear, sunny day in Central Oregon. Although, with the temperature reading a chilly forty-three degrees, all of the group members are counting the days ‘til summer, when we can once again spend two or three days a week in the Pungos, and count on our near-perfect summer weather for the monthly Posse get-togethers. The first sign that the seasons are changing is the reappearance of the rock chucks (technically, yellow-bellied marmots), as they come out from their underground dwellings across the street from the Old Mill. And I spotted several of them nibbling on the grass a couple days ago. Summer is on the way, winter will in fact pass fairly soon, and the boats will be back on the crystal clear waters of the Cascades. Can’t wait.


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