Fires and evacuation alerts are sensitive subjects for me. My parent's home burned to the ground many years ago. Their loss wasn't caused by wildfires like the ones we are currently experiencing in Southern California but we each, (my siblings, parents and I), lost memories, photos and handcrafts that will never be replaced.
What does someone with this experience and a penchant for cooking do when homeless friends and pets arrive at the door? We cook. We cook to quell fears, to calm, to reassure, to comfort, to nourish, to heal and to commune in sorrow over loss and laugh with joy that we live on to see another sunrise.
Food preparation is sensitive business. It is not a game when black soot wafts through open windows, not a competition, when one is dealing with food. It's about nourishment, nurturing and most of all cleanliness to avoid illness or fatal incidents from Escherichia coli O157:H7 and a variety of other bacterium that reside in mass-produced food. Avoiding illness is vital in times like these when houses are burning, food is scarce on grocery store shelves, doctors are displaced, and many stomachs are aching with hunger pangs.
Our first line of defense is cleanliness. What do we do to keep our kitchens and food preparation areas clean? We wash our hands with soap and water. Simple. We clean our hands, brush our fingernails and dig into food preparations for the masses that congregate in our homes as evacuees from wildfires.
In my case, not masses per se, but thirteen displaced adults and children who arrived at our door with four dogs and four cats, announcing, "We've been evacuated."
We went into action here, pulling the children to the kitchen sink to sanitize their ash-covered hands while the adults unloaded provisions for camping out in our home. We assigned rooms and sleeping spaces, doled out towels, soap, and forgotten personal items overlooked in the hurry to leave the comfort of their homes. We set out water bowls for dogs and litter bins for cats.
Food, glorious food, is the greatest means to immediate comfort that I know so cooking became the task at hand. Oh so many hands too! We had six pairs of hands, aged six to twelve who assisted the six pairs of adult hands to make dinner, lunch and breakfast for the better half of this week. My hands were busy orchestrating and composing.
Today I feel fortunate, very fortunate, to have moved through adversity with some of the most willing and able hands to ever grace my kitchen: the children. They contributed energy, a willingness to learn, appreciation and together we composed some of the most wonderful meals to sit upon our dining table.
We survived with creative food combinations, dog slobber on floors, heat all around us, ashes flying in windows, freaked out cat scratchings, fear of the unknown as the fires consumed flora, fauna and structure, and laughter evermore to greet another day.
I thank those of you, here, who have kindly inquired about our well-being. You are precious souls. We will survive, we will thrive and we will go forward from ashes. I won't be online much in the coming days as more immediate considerations take me away from this desk. To those of you who messaged and emailed, I thank you for being such caring and compassionate friends.
We made buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas, Spicy Hot Chicken Pizza with Linguine and Spicy tomato sauce and a host of other delicacies. I wish I could show you their smiling faces, but here are the squeeky clean hands that helped my hands in these difficult times: