Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Home Fires are Burning

I can now see the glow of the Station Fire from the ridgeline behind my house.

Ironically enough, the evacuation area on Starlight Crest Drive in La Canada, where the Station Fire began, is where I grew up. We used to live on the eastern edge of Starlight Crest, down the hill from the country club and golf course. When we bought this house in Altadena, I used to joke that if I got on the roof, I could probably see my old house in La Canada. Now, if I get up on the roof, I can see the fire line extending from my old house to my current.

Rather than sit here and anxiously wait, last night we decided to go to a party at ME's house for an hour or so, to see friends and tucker out the baby. When we left, we could see spot fires on our side of the hill. We took the 210 through La Canada and could see the way it was spreading west towards La Crescenta and Big Tujunga, that's the picture above. 90 minutes later, on the way home, the smoke driving through LC was almost like driving through dark grey fog, and the smell permeated the car so strongly it was cloying in my nose. What were spot fires on our hill were now connected into what looked like one solid fire line on the hill to the west of my house. This morning, like I said, I can see glow through the trees behind me. We have spent the last two days with the doors and windows shut and the AC on, but this morning the smell of smoke has permeated my house.

We have the essentials packed in case we are told or advised to evacuate. W has made it clear that CJ and I should go to my mother's, he will follow when the pool is boiling. Until then, he's going to stay behind with a camera and a hose. I should clarify, I've packed a bag for baby and a box of necessary documents, but I can't bring myself to pack my own clothes and necessities, mostly because I groan at the thought of having to unpack all of this when we're not evacuated. Dumb, I know.

In all my years of living in LA, of living in the San Gabriel mountain area, I have never seen the fires this close. I have friends and family who still live in La Canada, who are packing and evacuating and waiting anxiously to see what will happen in our sleepy little town. The air quality here is bad and W wants me to take the baby to my mother's, but I really don't want to leave my house without an evacuation order, it feels like conceding. In the meantime, I think I will try to continue to pack. That seems like a good compromise.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Personal Cheesiness

Bite size baklava is so good. Except when you drop a sweet, sticky, flaky piece on the floor and you can't vacuum it up for fear of waking the sleeping baby.

As a new mom with a baby who only likes to sleep in 20 minute intervals during the day, I'm always looking for recipes for dinner which don't require a prolonged or carefully timed prep. You never know if he will sleep for 15 minutes or 3 hours, or if he will amuse himself while you cook, or if he will begin screaming halfway through your chanterelle truffle risotto. We had some small corn tortillas left over from taco night and some enchilada sauce in the freezer from the last time we made arroz con pollo. I decided to try quick chicken enchiladas, since I also had some shredded cheese, and really, what more do you need?

True to form, I scoured my books for chicken enchilada recipes and then turned to the internet. Every recipe wanted me to make the enchilada sauce from scratch, or wanted to include ingredients I didn't have. I understand being a purist - I don't believe in bottled garlic, fat free sour cream, or pre-chopped onions (and neither should you!) - but seriously, I just wanted something I could pass off as dinner. I didn't even care how "authentic" these chicken enchiladas were, I was aiming for edible. I thought I would make a salad and then I could pass the whole thing off as "balanced."

So I was pleasantly surprised again when we loved them. Again, why the dish is half eaten by the time I take the picture, I just wasn't expecting it to be that good. But when you make them yourself and can control the cheesiness (and therefore the oiliness) and everything else about them, well, I figured I had to share. It's not the traditional way of making them (this involves frying the tortillas in a little oil to soften them), but it is quick and convenient and if you have adventurous kids, is not too spicy or exotic. Store bought rotisserie chicken makes it quick and guarantees a moist chicken. For those who are exacting, I apologize, the measurements should be taken as general guidelines, as I threw this together by sense, but I'll try to approximate. The avocado salsa is optional, but lends a nice cooling contrast to the dish.


About 3 cups finely shredded chicken from a store bought rotisserie chicken
1 can (the big one, 28 oz? whatever is bigger than 14 oz) red enchilada sauce
1 sm can diced green chiles
8 small corn tortillas (we prefer white)
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (or to taste)
1 or 2 fresh tomatoes
1 diced avocado
3 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 - 2 tbsp lime juice

Place the shredded chicken in a medium size bowl. Lightly drain the green chiles, some remaining liquid is okay. Add chiles to the chicken along with a handful of shredded cheese, more if you want your enchiladas cheesier. Add enchilada sauce by the spoonful until mixture is moist but not too wet.

Ladle enough enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking pan to generously cover. My pan was approximately 8x10 and held 8 rolled enchiladas. Heat 8 tortillas on a plate in the microwave for 30 seconds, to warm and make them more pliable. Lay 1/4 - 1/2 cup of the filling in the center of each tortilla, rolling up and placing in the dish seam side down. When all enchiladas are tucked together, ladle more enchilada sauce over to cover. Don't be afraid of it seeming like a lot of sauce - the tortillas will absorb a lot of it. Be sure to cover any exposed edges of the tortillas well, unless you like the edges a little dry and cracked. Finally, sprinkle another handful or two of cheese over according to desired personal cheesiness. Bake, uncovered in a 350F oven for 15 minutes.

While the enchiladas bake, dice the tomato and combine with the diced avocado, chopped onion and chopped cilantro. Add lime juice to taste and mix well, coating the avocado with the lime juice to prevent (or at least slow) browning. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve enchiladas with avocado salsa.

We enjoyed them so much I forgot about making a salad.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When I Have Time

As a new mom, the question I am now often asked besides "How old is your baby? Is it your first?", is not whether CJ is a boy or a girl, or when I'm going back to work, or how my husband is handling new parenthood. The question I get a lot is, "How do you find time to blog?"

Here is the answer: it's 5:31am. At 4:30am, Caleb screamed at the top of his lungs. By the time I got to his room - which is the room right next to ours - he had both arms out of his swaddle and over his head and had put himself back to sleep. I figured he would be up soon and made a hot bottle so it would cool to the right temperature by the time he woke up. It has been an hour, and while he is making lots of little noises in there, he has not fully woken up, and I fully subscribe to my dear friend's philosophy of "Let a sleeping baby sleep. He's not going to starve himself."

So I made a cup of coffee and booted up the old laptop and played a few rounds of Bejeweled! on FB because honestly, I thought he would be up by now. We have a show and tell at my mom's office today around 10am (yes, he is the object of today's show and tell). I'm waiting on some soft boiled eggs to go with my coffee and I started a grocery list and thought I would check updates on the few blogs I follow, and maybe start the draft of another entry.... and then an hour went by and I thought.... damn. I could have laid back down.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is when I find time to blog. Much like college, when I had a paper due. I would think about it for days, maybe sketch an outline, but mostly just think about the topic and outline it in my head. Then the night before it was due, around 2am, after 2 hours of thinking about it some more over several rounds of Solitaire, I would sit down and shoot out a 10 page essay in 2 hours. Spell check it and turn it in, never look back. I was a B+ student, did I tell you that?

When the sun has yet to come up, you can find me at my corner of the dining table, coffee in hand, with the various accoutrements of my homemaking trade: that's Caleb's food log notebook, the grocery list (because as a new mom, its easy to forget the 4 things you needed from the store once you are there), scissors for the coupons that still need to be clipped from yesterday's paper, and the calculator to pay the bills I've been procrastinating paying. I'm thinking maybe tomorrow, since Wil is going to be home for the day, I can complete my most recent project which is going to be white peach jam - Mom gave me a case of peaches, what else to do with them?

The clock on the Mac just flipped to 5:47am. Damn, I could have laid back down....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ventura Beach Vacay

Courtesy of the generosity of my good friend Mary Ellen, we spent a few days at her condo at the beach in Oxnard. Since Wil also isn't working, we were originally thinking to just jump into the car and head northwards, but thought with a 10 week old baby, it might not be that easy. And when your stroller takes up the entire trunk of your Prius, there isn't a lot of room left in the backseat for stuff, certainly not enough stuff to be able to say you don't know when you're coming home. Oxnard/Ventura seemed just far enough to get away, and close enough to be home in 90 minutes if necessary.

Mary Ellen has a fabulous townhouse 600ft from Hollywood Beach in Oxnard. I know it's 600ft from the beach because we tried to look at one that was up for sale, only to discover it was already in escrow, but that's a topic for another day. It's a one bedroom with a loft, bright with light, with palm trees painted in the bathroom and bedroom, and plenty of what Wil would call "indoor palmage." It's her beach house, and all her cups and glasses are plastic with palm tree motifs, as if the idea of glass is just too formal for such a place. In the cupboard, she keeps little notes about Mrs Olsen's Cafe for breakfast and coffee a block away, and the fish market across the street. She keeps them there so that every time someone new stays in the townhouse, she can set the same little notes out without rewriting them, that's how generous she is with her beach condo. It's all wicker and Tommy Bahamas, complete with hula girl lamp (make sure she's turned off, or you'll burn out her batteries) and I'm telling you all this because you will have to imagine the townhouse - I was remiss and didn't take any pictures inside. Those are the cushions on her couch behind Caleb, that's the best I've got.

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and settled in. I had made reservations at Brooks Restaurant, one of the best in Ventura. Okay, I'm a little biased - Brooks' chef/owner is Andy Brooks, the older brother of my dear friend Alicia, and I have been lucky enough to enjoy his 5-course tasting menu (with wine, thank you very much). Wil started with the Tuna Tempura Roll and I started with the Chopped Romaine Salad, which was generous in its helping. Drinks were mixed a little strong, which I know no one except me complains about. I like a drink to taste like a drink, not a glass of alcohol with some grenadine mixed in for color.

Wil had the Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs, which were smoky and hot with the Honey Whiskey BBQ sauce, and served with Mexican Street Corn and a Green Chile Mac 'n Cheese. The Mac 'n Cheese was good and interesting in that I didn't notice any green chiles, but there was definite heat in your mouth. As you can see from the picture, Wil hated it.  I just managed to get this shot before he cleared the plate.  I had the Blue Crab Ravioli.  It pains me to say it, but the crab - when you could taste it - was a little too "crabby" if you know what I mean. I say "when you could taste it" because the entire dish was overwhelmed by Old Bay Seasoning. It was all I could taste, and up in my nose like accidentally inhaling pepper. I like to think that maybe this particular plate came over the pass and wasn't tasted before it went out, that the rest of the diners weren't eating Old Bay Ravioli. Despite my plate, Brooks is a great restaurant; if you are ever in the Ventura area you should give it a shot. I know we'll be back.

Otherwise, we hung out at the condo and the next few days were unremarkable. The weather was perfect and mild, we checked out Ventura Harbor and walked Downtown Ventura. I'll leave you with this last picture, which is my favorite of the weekend. We were having a fish/shrimp 'n chips lunch and Andria's in the Ventura Harbor when Wil decided to tap this lemon wedge against Caleb's lips. Dad sure does like to torture his boy! Wil says he can't wait to do it with an anchovy!