Drought Plus Fire: A Devastating, and Potentially Deadly, Combination

Cory Carman of Carman Ranch is a pasture-based rancher on the land in Eastern Oregon's Wallowa County that her family has passed down over four generations. Her story brings visceral meaning to the words "drought" and "fire."

“Dry” was the word we used at the start of the growing season. The plants barely grew, their normally vibrant colors signaling spring and early summer strangely muted. The land I know so well felt completely unfamiliar. 

It didn't rain. We began to say “drought,” a word that invokes a certain level of anxiety and urgency. It was time for action, but what to do? And when to do it? Our ranch manager, Sam, and I spent hours revisiting our grazing plan and forage budget. Should we sell cattle? Which ones, and when? If we did, would we be able to serve our customers? Pay our bills?

Then the storm clouds rolled in, not with rain, but with lightning. It struck in the dense timber north of where we were running 320 pair.  We watched the fire grow, traveling across the gnarly country toward the cattle. To gather and keep them bunched together would make it easier to evacuate them, but to do it too soon would mean leaving them for a period of time that would stress the land.  To wait too long might put us in danger.

I reached out to Ed, a public information officer from the Lick Creek Fire, as it came to be called. Ed was from a very competent national team sent to help manage the blaze. We discussed the location of cattle, the progress of the fire and devised a plan.

He told us the fire crews were attempting to hold the southern line of the fire (at that point 50,000 acres) along two forest service roads. If we could consolidate the cattle into one large pasture, we would be able to gather them in a day. If the fire crossed the road to the steep, rugged terrain, thick with timber, they wouldn't be able to stop it until it reached the cattle. It would take more than a day for the fire to travel the 7 miles to the cattle, leaving us time to get them to safer ground. We had a plan.

So last Monday  (7/12) night, Sam, my 13-year-old son Emmett, and two other riders hauled the horses two hours to the ranch house where we lease the pasture. They set up cots, slept a little, and were at the pasture at daylight. I met them that morning with food and water. Together, we gathered the cattle until late afternoon.  

Back at the ranch house, Emmett fell asleep before he could finish eating his sandwich. While he slept, we checked the rest of the cattle and headed back, feeling like we'd executed the first part of the plan.

The Elbow Creek Fire on July 20th.

The next morning, I called Ed to see what the fire did overnight. For two days, the crew held the southern line through back-burning and we began to breathe a sigh of relief. Then, on Thursday (7/15) afternoon, we heard rumors that another fire had started to the west and it was moving quickly toward the cattle. The fire (later named the Elbow Creek Fire​), was gathering speed, burning on both sides of the Grande Ronde River. 

Exceptionally dry conditions and the steep terrain overwhelmed local fire crews quickly. With four active wildfires in the region, not including one of the largest in Oregon history—the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon—there was very limited help to send. Ed called after his briefing. His tone had changed and, reading between the lines, it was clear he didn't know if they would be able to stop this fire. He suggested we move our herd of cattle closest to the new fire out of the area.

That evening, Sam went home, saw his wife and 2-year-old son, and  loaded up the horses. I grabbed food and water and headed out, this time leaving Emmett home. We called Marvin, one of our favorite truck drivers, and asked him to meet us at the corral in the morning.  

When we gathered at daylight, it was beautiful and crisp, but the huge columns of smoke to the north and the west made what would have otherwise been an enjoyable task surreal. At 6:30, Marvin arrived and we loaded the truck with 33 pairs, then traveled several miles to the next group of cattle, to consolidate them into a smaller pasture.  We took a break in the heat of the day, when the cattle were so deep in the brush we had to walk right into one to find her.  

We came back in the evening, finishing up by moonlight. We did the same thing the next day. When Marvin arrived at 6:30, we loaded out the last of the smaller herd, before we finished collecting the cattle we missed the day before. The timber was so dense that it sometimes felt like luck to find any at all. I glanced at a wolf pup and kept searching. The smoke made the temperature more bearable, and we were able to gather all but two of the cows in a 200-acre pasture, with good water and enough feed to allow us time to see what the new fire would do. 

It’s been five days now, and the Elbow Creek fire hasn’t moved much closer to our cows, instead heading west and—almost ironically—south, towards the ranch where we brought the first two truckloads and where my kids and I live. When I look out our front window, there's a sea of tents and porta potties, and a helipad two fields in the distance. During the most recent briefing, we were told that there were over 1,000 firefighters on this fire, more than doubling the Wallowa's population of 805.

The drought set up the conditions for these fires, each of which has caused us to consider our relationship to our animals in a new context: In times of stress, we forfeit good management and a grazing plan in favor of being able to leave quickly. When there's no rain, we have to compromise our goal of constantly moving cattle to green and lush pastures, and think about how many animals the land can support.

This isn't over yet, but I've come to realize along the way that we can't control or obsess over the financial implications. Every time I worry about how we’ll make our budget work, or if we'll be able to pay down our operating loan, I go down a path that ends with decisions that are ultimately detrimental to our people or our land. And those are relationships that can't always be repaired. Digging out of a financial hole can be time consuming, but it’s possible. And in a year like this, something has to give.

My relationships with the people who care for our animals are ones I hold most dear. And also the myriad relationships with customers and friends in the culinary community, who have texted and emailed and called. There's no doubt that this will continue to be a challenging year, and so we'll keep looking for different ways to make it work. As I have before, so many times in this business, I am finding all the solace I need from you, the people who support us and have our backs.

Thank you.


Read my interview with Cory Carman about why she chose to raise her animals on pasture, and how she sees it as a vital tool in reversing climate change and building a more resilient and vibrant local food system.

Nicoise Salad: The Definition of the Season

It's summer and the first line and troll-caught albacore of the season are being brought in by local fishing families right off our coast. Beans and cucumbers are being picked from their vines and potatoes and carrots are being pulled from the earth. Hens are laying eggs as if in competition with one another for the most prolific producer in the henhouse.

2021/julia _child_salade_nicoise.jpg
Julia Child with a Salade Niçoise at her home in France.

Summer also means  temperatures are climbing, and the less time you have to spend sweating over the stove, the better. Which all adds up to a big platter of Salade Niçoise for dinner, one of the most satisfying summer meals I can imagine.

Or, as my hero Julia Child noted:

“A bountiful arrangement in bowl or platter is so handsome to behold that I think it a cruel shame to toss everything together into a big mess. A careful presentation means more work, but it’s easily manageable when you ready each of the numerous ingredients separately, which you can do well ahead. Season each just before assembling and serving, and you will have the perfect Salade Niçoise.”

The recipe below is a guide, since the ingredients of your salad will depend on what's available and in season, and amounts will vary depending on how many people are at your table. Ms. Child recommends a simple olive oil and lemon dressing, with or without garlic, but I like to add fresh chopped herbs and Dijon mustard, which I like to think Julia would approve of, too.

Oregon Salade Niçoise

For the dressing:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
1/4 c. chopped green herbs like tarragon, chives, parsley, lovage, oregano, etc.
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
Oregon albacore loin
Green beans (whole haricot verts or sliced romano beans of any color)
Potatoes (red or yellow or fingerlings)
Hard-boiled eggs
Cucumbers, sliced
Tomatoes, in wedges
Roasted carrots, if you have them, or julienne and blanch raw carrots with the beans

To make the dressing, take any tightly lidded container (I often use an empty, clean salsa container, or a lidded glass jar), put all the ingredients into it, put on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink, in case, as once happened, the lid wasn't as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. Give one last shake just before serving and pour into small pitcher for use at the table.

Slice and blanch the beans and julienned carrots until almost tender (this is a salad, after all). Quarter eggs and arrange with other ingredients around the albacore loin.

Sear the albacore loin over a hot fire on all three sides; check the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer and pull it off the fire when the interior reaches 90 degrees; cover with aluminum foil until it's time to serve. Cut into 1-inch slices and lay on your platter.

Drizzle dressing over the salad ingredients or have each person serve themselves from the platter and dress their own salads to their liking.

Note: Feel free to add or subtract ingredients with whatever's in season and use any leftover roasted root vegetables or peppers and the like. However, be aware that Julia insisted it wasn't a Niçoise without tuna, tomatoes and potatoes. (Just so you know.)

Farm Bulletin: Appreciating Henry

An appreciation of Henry Richmond by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm.

In fall of 1989, a soft-spoken person called me and introduced himself as Henry Richmond from Oregon. He had a meeting in New York City at the Ford Foundation and hoped I could meet him afterwards and join him for dinner. It was my first dinner date with someone from Oregon, and he seemed very nice, so I accepted. I took the train from New Haven to Grand Central Station, and met Henry in front of the foundation’s headquarters. We enjoyed a stroll and had dinner at Mamma Leone's. He asked me to come to Portland and work at his organization.

A year earlier, the brutal murder of Seraw Mulugeta shone a harsh light on the Pacific Northwest where the Aryan Nation had found a safe haven. Portland itself had a reputation as the grubby, down-at-the-heels sister of San Francisco and Seattle. The revered James Beard had fled Portland for Europe in much the same way that Ernest Hemingway had fled Oak Park. It was a rough city trying to salvage its dying core under the expansive vision of Neil Goldschmidt, formerly Secretary of Transportation in President Carter’s cabinet. Carol and I were mindful of all this as I headed off to my assignation in New York.

Maybe it was the rich meal or the violinist spooling out Neapolitan love songs, or maybe the magic in Henry’s gentle eyes. One way or another, I returned to New Haven that night enthralled by Henry’s vision. The fact is, years earlier, Carol and I had worked for an organization call The Trustees of Reservations. The goal of The Trustees was to create a "museum of the Massachusetts landscape." As a warden of Bartholomew’s Cobble, I worked with the farmers who kept the working elements of the landscape. The vision Henry articulated was more extensive; his was the preservation of a working, livable landscape encompassing a whole state through careful management of growth. That vision drew us westward.

A month later, Henry and I travelled down to a Board of Forestry meeting in Eugene. On that trip I became AB and that is what called me henceforth. On the way down, he pointed out the Coast Range on right and the Cascade foothills on the left. The narrow, 150-mile long Willamette Valley offered some fine agricultural land and most of the state’s population. He explained how the valley’s Urban Growth Boundaries kept growth from sprawling into its productive farm and forest land, and orderly growth also facilitated the management and livability of its cities. It was not a formula for stasis; growth would and could occur, but it was a careful approach to growth.

The Board of Forestry exhibited a level of civic comity few public boards could even dream of. At the time, the law required that the board convene with a consent agenda. If any member had an objection to an item on the agenda, it was tabled until the next meeting and staff would work to address the member’s concern. No votes were taken; as long as all members consented, the agenda item was adopted. The forestry board meeting had a cerebral quality more in common with a Religious Society of Friends meeting than the normal rough and tumble of public board. 

On returning to Portland, Henry dropped me off at the Mallory with his endorsement: “It is a well-run hotel without being showy, and that is why ranching and farming families always stay here when they are in Portland.” Guests at the Mallory could count on an understated competence; a satisfying meal and a genuine smile. In the following years, we arranged for visiting friends and family members to stay at the Mallory.

From our first date in New York, I realized Henry was exquisitely attuned to the sensibilities of Oregon. He was like the Board of Forestry of the time, careful, deliberative and working to achieve good policies, and like the Mallory of the time, possessed of an understated competence that was used to build a better Oregon with his fellow citizens, and like that thin valley between the mountains, productive but vulnerable. For me, he was a mentor, teaching me how to advance legislation, build alliances and trust staff. For some reason, I was always AB to him. 

In advance of the legislative sessions and critical meetings of the Land Conservation and Development Commission, the conference room at 534 SW Third was aswirl with disparate citizen activists—a carrot seed farmer from Madras, a pig farmer from Hermiston, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate from Washington County, a Benton County grass seed farmer, a Coast Range forestland owner, a cut flower grower from Forest Grove, chief lobbyist of the Metro Homebuilders, Chair of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau—all working with staff to forge a better planned Oregon. 

This was Henry’s forte; he always stressed the need for “buy in” from a broad base of Oregonians. As professionals, staff could work on the nuts and bolts of the statutes and rules, but the underpinnings of policy were forged in that conference among people from different parts of the state and different sectors of the economy. Of the 19 Statewide Land Use Planning Goals, the first is "Goal 1: Citizen Involvement." Henry was also careful to keep the editorial boards updated and tracked the editorials diligently. The Oregonian had a box in front of their offices where, at 4:00, the 1-star edition was available. It was the first edition of the next day’s paper and, if an editorial on some critical issue was expected, a staff member was dispatched around 3:30 to grab it while the ink was still fragrant. 

“The proof is in the pudding” was Henry’s oft-used caution. This November, as we meander down the valley to make our preserves, we will pass through farmland that remains protected from non-farm uses and rural sprawl, spotted with vital towns and cities carefully contained within their urban growth boundaries. The proof of Henry's diligence at building community support for the protection of Oregon’s character is there as the miles tick by, as are the names of the people on barn sides and mailboxes who helped him along the way. 

As berry season approached, I thought of Henry and how nice it would be to see him when he stopped by for his flats of Chesters, which he shared with his friends and neighbors. At the end of June, his son Easton sent me an email simply saying “please call me.” Easton confirmed what I surmised upon seeing the terse note; I wouldn’t be seeing Henry again. But I will have plenty of occasions to remind me of the kind guy from Oregon who took me to dinner at Mamma Leone’s that crisp autumn day over 30 years ago. 

To Henry, with all my love,

AB


Photo of Henry Richmond from 1000 Friends of Oregon website.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Hits and Misses Tallied for Oregon's Food System

The Oregon Legislature adjourned "sine die"—which translates as "without a day," i.e. with no appointed date for resumption—on June 26, after a session marked by the usual rancor between the GOP minority (which staged a virtual "walkout" over objections to Governor Brown's COVID restrictions, the third year in a row for that maneuver) and the Democratic majority. Despite that and the fact that the session was conducted online due to the pandemic, there was some progress on strengthening our food system. Below is a summary of the hits and misses of the most important bills affecting our local food system:

Hits

Oregon supports more small meat processors.

Grant program to increase small-scale meat processing capacity (HB2785): The grant fund was allotted $2 million, plus an additional $300,000 for OSU’s Clark Meat Science Center. According to a report from Friends of Family Farmers' Amy Wong, "This long-overdue investment should be considered a major milestone for small farmers and ranchers who have pushed for expanded processing for decades." What this program means for you is that, in the future, more locally grown, sustainably produced meat from small Oregon farmers should be coming to your table.

Bovine Manure Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This measure died in committee. It would have continued funding tax credits for factory farms that use methane digesters to product natural gas. The vast majority of these credits have gone to Threemile Canyon Farms, the 70,000-cow mega-dairy supplying most of the milk for Tillamook cheese products, which is owned by an out-of-state corporation. It's a big step forward that our legislature rejected a highly greenwashed process that maintains investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, one that also props up a factory farm system that harms small farmers, rural communities and our environment, not to mention the animals it exploits.

More fresh produce for Oregonians on food assistance.

Double Up Food Bucks (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program assists recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. This important program was funded at the $4 million level—a big jump from the initial $1.5 million funding level in 2019. Nearly one in four Oregonians experienced hunger during the pandemic and this program is a triple win for eaters, farmers, and local communities.

Farm to School Grant Program (part of the Education Dept. budget): The Oregon Farm to School Grant Program, which was in danger of being eliminated altogether, was awarded $10.2 million, maintaining its current level of funding.

Misses

Oregon Organic Action Plan (SB 404): This bill would have increased funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. Assurances were made to advocates that it would be included in the final budget reconciliation bill, but at the last minute it was dropped from the bill.

Bill to pause permits for dairy CAFOs dies in committee.

Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, as posted in the mid-session report, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.


Thanks to Amy Wong, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, for her help in compiling this report.

Camp Stories: Return to Paradise

It was a frantic beginning to a trip that was supposed to be all about chilling out. First, a record-breaking heat wave upended the balmy summer weather typical of Western Oregon in late June, which followed on an exceptionally dry spring. Indoor temperatures, even with fans blowing and our window air conditioner blasting on high, were hovering in the high 80s.

Home away from home.

The generous offer of a beach retreat from a friend was one we couldn't refuse, so we threw the dogs and the ice chest in the car and took off for two nights, returning mid-week. On returning home we quickly emptied the car, started a load of laundry, threw the tent in the car and dashed to our targeted campground, hoping to find a site where we could spend the Fourth of July weekend, a yearly pilgrimage considering our noise-averse pups.

Paradise Creek, a rustic campground in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest where we've camped in years past, has around 40 sites, 60 percent of which are reservable with 40 percent available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some of the best sites along the creek (particularly numbers 27 and 29) are non-reservable, so we hoped that by arriving mid-week we might just snag one of those.

Puppy's first camping trip.

As we turned into the campground, I said a silent prayer that the camping goddess would favor us with a good campsite. We noted that there were indeed a few available near the entrance (bordering the road) that might be okay in a pinch. As we rounded the turn to the creekside spots, I held my breath.

We ticked them off as we crept past. Nope. Nope. An inside site, across the road from the creek, was open, but we rolled on knowing we could come back around if we had to. Site 27, a large double, was taken—crap!—and there was just one more site on the creek side, number 29, beyond it.

Astonishingly, it was open! We parked the car at the site and I practically ran to the registration stand to fill out the slip and deposit our check while Dave started setting up the tent. The plan was to leave the tent set up on the site overnight—allowed if you return within 24 hours—then dash home to pack up our gear and come back the following day.

G&T on the rock(s).

The next evening found us settled in, with drinks in hand and pasta bubbling on the campstove, ready to be smothered in a Bolognese I'd brought from home. The following days were blessedly quiet—this campground is normally punctuated by birdsong rather than generators—full of walks, reading by the creek, naps and relearning how to relax. After our COVID year, it was more than welcome.

Read more Camp Stories about our favorite places here and here, and get my list of must-have gear and hacks collected over our decades of camping!

Who Is The Oregon *You* Are?

As a fifth-generation Oregonian, the Oregon I am spans the breadth of the places I love in our state, from the sun on the jeweled spray of ocean waves, to long sandy beaches stretching between wild green headlands with their haystacks and spires that refuse to crumble under the relentless pounding of the tides. It's the snow-covered spine of the volcanoes of the Cascade Range, and the Blue Mountains with their granite boulders tumbling down to alpine lakes, as well as the wide wings of the towering Wallowas on our eastern border.

But the Oregon I am also strives to live up to a deeply held belief in the values of community and our interdependence, a concern for the rights our fellow citizens and the preservation of our shared resources. Knowing that we've not always lived up to these shared values doesn't mean we shouldn't still work together to make them real. In fact, it means we should work all the harder, since we'll all be stronger for it as we move forward.

That's why I'm excited about "The Oregon I Am" campaign launching today from the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts (COLT). It's an invitation to step outside and discover the Oregon we all are, to connect to each other and to our favorite Oregon places, including those we've yet to discover. To that end, the coalition of 30 individual Land Trusts around the state—each one dedicated to preserving land in perpetuity for the people of Oregon—have created a map highlighting 81 locations, each one a unique, protected place that anyone can visit.

In coordination with the campaign, eight Oregon craft breweries are releasing eight new beers that celebrate our state's diverse landscapes, each related to or inspired by a location on the map. Each brewery tackled the challenge in their own way—by using all Oregon-grown ingredients, by fermenting beer outdoors in a nature preserve using microbes from the air, by capturing the essence of a sunny Oregon summer day, or by collaborating with a local land trust.

“As Oregonians, we love our trees, we love our deserts, we love our mountains, and we love our beer,” said Kelley Beamer, COLT Executive Director. “Many of our land trust members have strong relationships with local breweries because brewers deeply understand the connection between healthy environments and the healthy water, hops, and malt that make great beer. As we built our beautiful map of accessible properties across Oregon we knew that working with like-minded breweries would be the perfect way to celebrate the incredible bounty of our land and give cheers to these hidden gems in our state.”

For instance, Crux Fermentation Project in Bend made an Experimental IPA with 95 percent Oregon-grown ingredients, which the brewers fermented in the open air at Deschutes Land Trust’s 151-acre Camp Polk Meadow Preserve (left photo, #9 on the map). Eugene's Ninkasi Brewing, inspired by the brewery's volunteer days with the McKenzie River Trust, made an Unfiltered NW Pale Ale inspired by Green Island (#24 on the map), a 1,000-acre island in the middle of the Willamette River where it meets the McKenzie.

Seven of the beers will be available at their respective breweries and at retail locations (see list below) starting today, and the Crux Experimental IPA will be released for a Happy Hour event on July 25th. Register for the First Friday of Summer Happy Hour with the brewers on that date and talk with them about their inspiration for these brews.

If you're inspired to tell your story about the Oregon you are, you can submit a short video and it could be selected to be part of “The Oregon I Am” film premiering in December!

The beers inspired by The Oregon I Am map can be found at:

Gearing Up for Local Grains: Grinding Our Own Flour!

It started innocently enough. Dave got interested in baking bread several years ago and, from a post I wrote at the time, it went like this:

"Dave made a few stabs at baking his own bread using recipes he garnered from various websites and books, even going so far as to start his own sourdough from the yeast left at the bottom of a bottle of Doggie Claws from Hair of the Dog. Results of these experiments were mixed, from lumpen to acceptable, but none had the crisp crust and bubbled interior of the artisan-style loaves he was dreaming of."

Then he got Chad Robertson's book, Tartine Bread, as a gift from perceptive friends, and he was off to the races. Initially he was using standard AP (all-purpose) white flour, then began incrementally adding whole wheat to his loaves to add texture and flavor. I encouraged him to try organic flours, since they're beneficial not only for our family's health, but also better for the soil, the water, the air and the planet than flour from pesticide-dependent conventional grains.

Shortly after that he began reading about locally grown grains being pioneered by farmers and institutions like Washington State University's Breadlab that sought to marry flavor and sustainability, as well as revitalizing local grain economies that have been (literally) losing ground to global conglomerates for decades.

Around that time I ran into Adrian Hale, Portland editor, writer and bread evangelist, and told her about my husband's fascination with sourdough. She immediately put us down to receive her Thousand Bites of Bread e-mail newsletter that lists the local grains, flours and legumes that she distributes from her home, sourced from farms and mills around the Northwest. And that's when 25-pound bags of flour began showing up on our kitchen counter with names like Rouge de Bordeaux, Edison, Hard Red, Bono Rye, Einkorn and Sonora.

But it didn't stop there.

Now those 25-pound bags of flour have turned into 25-pound bags of grains with the addition of a Komo Mio grain mill. We'd originally discussed getting a milling attachment for our KitchenAid mixer, but were concerned that, over time, it would stress the motor too much. The KoMo Mio is the product of a collaboration between legendary German mill designer Wolfgang Mock and Austrian Peter Koidl—the name is derived from "Ko" for Koidl and "Mo" for Mock—and it's compact enough to sit on the counter and is designed to last a lifetime. It was also not much more expensive than the mixer attachment, so it made that decision easier.

So far it's been used to grind some of the flour for Dave's incredible bread, of course, but also his amazing biscuits and scones, and the flavor of the fresh-ground grain is noticeably more vibrant and it has a much more distinct grain aroma.

For those of you new to baking, you'll find a list of Dave's favorite resources below.

Essential Baking Books:

Video Series:

Being Green: Asparagus and Sorrel Risotto

Author's Note: First of all, apologies for not posting for so long…having a new puppy will do that to a schedule! Waking up an hour earlier every day, taking the youngster outside every hour for potty breaks, plus the exercise it takes to tire out a nine-month-old—fortunately we've found out he loves to play soccer—has filled up our days but limited my writing time. (And we wouldn't trade the experience for the world!)

Plus it's spring! I've been seriously indulging in asparagus at every opportunity, mostly in the simplest way possible (puppy, remember?), that is, drizzled with olive oil and pan roasted in a 350° oven for 20 minutes, then served with a squirt of lemon. Heaven!

But when I've had that umpteen times and want to change it up a little, I'll make a risotto that does double duty as a main dish and veg…though if someone in your household happened to grill up some salmon or chicken to go alongside, that would be hard to turn down.

Asparagus Risotto with Sorrel Pesto and Preserved Lemon

For the pesto:
2 c. sorrel leaves (some peppery arugula or spinach would be fine, too)
2 c. cilantro or parsley
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. pine nuts or filberts (aka hazelnuts)
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. grated parmesan

For the risotto:
1 lb. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/2 onion, diced

1 Tbsp. garlic, finely chopped
2 c. arborio rice

1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 c. sorrel pesto

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. preserved lemon, chopped (or zest of one lemon)
Salt to taste


To make the pesto, place the sorrel, cilantro, garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Begin processing while slowly adding the olive oil until the mixture is a smooth purée, scraping down as necessary with a spatula. Remove to a bowl and stir in the half cup of parmesan.

Clean the processor, then put half of the chopped asparagus stalks in the food processor and add just enough water to make a smooth purée; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over very low heat. Then, in a deep skillet or large saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid absorb into the rice. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about absorbed into the rice, add more. 

When you have used about half the stock, add the puréed asparagus and asparagus tips, then continue to add stock as necessary. In 5 minutes or so, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. Add a half cup of the pesto, preserved lemon and parmesan and stir briskly, then remove from heat. Taste and adjust salt. (Risotto should be slightly soupy.) Serve immediately.

Oregon Farmers' Markets Can Require Masks While They Wait for State Guidance

If you're planning on going to your farmers' market this weekend, be aware that markets will still be under state mandates that require mask-wearing and social distancing, despite the new guidelines issued yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We have confirmation today from Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) that markets and other businesses should not be making changes before getting new guidance from Oregon Health Authority [OHA]," according to Rebecca Landis, market director of the Corvallis-Albany Farmers' Markets.

Governor Brown announced in a press conference that updated guidance will come from Oregon HealthA in the next few days for businesses, employers, and others to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status. "Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now, rather than worrying about verifying vaccination status," she said.

For the time being, that includes Oregon's farmers' markets.


UPDATE 5/19/2021: Portland Farmers Market announced on its Facebook page today that it will continue to require masks at the market.

"On May 18, OHA released updated guidance about mask and physical distancing requirements for individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“'In public settings where vaccination status is not checked, masks will still be required.'

"Thank you in advance for continuing to wear a mask at the farmers market, as our staff will not be verifying vaccination status. Read Portland Farmers Market’s full COVID safety guidelines. Your efforts to make this space safer for everyone are appreciated!"

Read the Oregon Health Authority's Interim Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Individuals.


UPDATE 5/22/2021: Oregon farmers' markets are allowed to require vendors, shoppers and staff to wear face masks, according to the latest guidance from OHA:

"Businesses, organizations, employers or other entities in control of indoor or outdoor public spaces may continue to require masks, face coverings and face shields. Individuals should be aware that some businesses, organizations, entities, events or facilities may require more stringent mask or face covering requirements and may exclude from their premises those individuals who, regardless of their vaccination status, fail to comply with those requirements."

Going Where (Almost) No One Has Gone Before: Kimchi Risotto?

If nothing else, this pandemic has taught me to not be so slavishly obedient to the dictates of a recipe, and to trust my own tastes in flavoring dishes. That's because I haven't been able to run to the store for an exotic ingredient, or dash out when the yen for a special dish pings my brain's rolodex, or even to simply give up on a recipe, thinking I don't have everything the instructions call for.

Five-allium risotto? Why not?

Cooking every day—like everyone else, we're WFH or, in Dave's case, retired—means sometimes making three meals a day from a pantry that gets refreshed only a couple of times a week. For daily shoppers like we used to be in what are being quaintly referred to as "the before times," it's meant we've had to be more creative, more flexible and not so darn fussy. You might say we've been developing our dancing-in-the-kitchen muscles, while trying not to sacrifice deliciousness to expedience.

Not that every experiment or adaptation has been a smashing success, mind you. But the five-allium risotto made with  the yellow onion, green onion, shallot, leek, and garlic we had on hand when there was no chicken in the fridge? Or the mapo tofu made with some admittedly inauthentic ingredients? Or the sausage and pasta casserole when we didn't have enough sausages for grilling? They were all pretty dang good!

Not enough sausages for the whole family? Make a casserole!

So it was, when yesterday evening I found we only had three-quarters of a jar of Choi's kimchi and most of a leftover grilled pork chop to work with. To be honest, I'd actually been itching to try a kimchi risotto, just because it sounds so weird, and our nearly empty veg bin was the perfect excuse. How bad could it be? (Insert winking emoji here…)

Turns out it was actually easy as heck, and more of an umami bomb than you usually get from a traditional risotto. From the reaction of the diners I'd say it'll be appearing again regardless of the state of our pantry.

You can't ask for more than that from an impromptu dance in the kitchen!

Kimchi Risotto

3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced fine
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock, warmed on the stove
2 c. prepared Napa cabbage kimchi plus 1/4 c. brine
2 c. cooked pork or chicken (or substitute 1 lb. ground pork, sautéed)
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
Salt to taste
Red chile oil for drizzling

Heat butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat until the butter melts and starts to bubble. Add onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and sauté for about 3 minutes or so—each end of the rice grains should be slightly translucent.

Add a ladle-full of stock with the kimchi brine and stir until it's almost all absorbed, then add another ladle of stock and stir until it absorbs. Continue adding stock, and when you've ladled in about half the stock, stir in the chopped kimchi and cooked meat. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is al dente or still has a nice texture without being crunchy. Stir in the fish sauce and salt to taste. Serve with a drizzle of red chile oil.

I separated a head of cauliflower into small florets (adding the chopped stalk and leaves), mixed in olive oil and garlic, then roasted it on a baking sheet in a 375° oven while I made the risotto. When it was browned nicely, I served it alongside the risotto as in the top photo.