Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fires and the need to bake

The worst seems to be over, but the last 2 days have been eerie, weird and frightening, even though I don't live near where the fires have been burning. It started on Sunday, while I was cleaning the house. I kept going into the kitchen, wondering if I had left something on the stove. Nope. So I went back to my cleaning, but a little while later I came out again. Maybe I left something in the toaster? Nope. But I definitely smelled something burning. I turned on the radio, and that's when I heard about the fires.It was 4 years ago, almost to the day, when the Cedar Fire began. That was one of several fires which burned in San Diego in 2003, and by the time it was over, approximately 20% of the county had burned. The fires we've had these days are far worse. The Santa Ana winds have been blowing with hurricane force at times, driving these fires at incredible speeds. This time they evacuated about 350,000 people!

They've been recommending that people stay indoors if possible, and I've been happy to comply. I've kept my windows shut. But today I had to get out around 4pm to see what the city looked like.

heading towards the airport at around 4:40pm

After heading east towards the fires, I headed towards the airport, which is by the bay. San Diego Bay at around 4:45pm

These images are not photoshopped. The sun turns red as it descends into the smoke.

The sun became a red eye, straight out of Dante's "Inferno"

But the moon was a beacon of hope in the gray sky...

The television has been on nonstop, and the images of the fires have left all of us restless and uneasy. What do you do when you feel restless and uneasy? I find that baking is a wonderful antidote to this angst. Unlike Nora over at Life's Smörgåsbord who can bake to soothe anger, I bake to soothe the jitters. I had just read Cynthia's post at Tastes Like Home where she described various ways to grate fresh coconut, and then offered a compliment of dishes to showcase coconut.

Coconut was always a favorite flavor in my childhood. I loved coconut cake and coconut ice cream. (I think I inherited this from my dad who would always request a coconut cake for his birthday.) Just reading about grated coconut made me remember my childhood - a gentle memory for an edgy time. I didn't have any fresh coconut to grate and didn't want to go out to get some, but I remembered that I had some unsweetened dry coconut in the back of the pantry. I had been eying the two bananas which were aging gracefully on my counter and had already earmarked them for banana bread. Hmmmmm.....What about banana coconut bread? I had never added coconut to my banana bread, but it felt tropically right.

The recipe I use is the permanently place marked one from the Joy of Cooking. It's simple and no-fail. Just right for someone who does little baking of sweet things. While I tend never to fiddle with recipes for baking, this one is like an old friend. It forgives me. It understands me. I have, over the years reduced the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup, substituted 3/4 of a cup of whole wheat flour for the all white version presented, and have discovered that the bread gladly accepts chopped apricots. Now I've learned that it embraces 1/2 cup of shredded coconut with no hesitation. Who can resist such a flexible friend?

Preheat oven to 350

Have all ingredients at about 75 degrees Farenheit
Sift before measuring:
1 3/4 C all-purpose flour

Re-sift with:
2 1/4 tsp double acting baking powder

Blend until creamy:
1/3 C shortening
2/3 C sugar
3/4 tsp grated lemon rind

Beat in:
1 to 2 beaten eggs
1 cup ripe banana pulp

Add the sifted ingredients in about 3 parts to the sugar mixture. Beat the batter after each addition. Fold in:
1/4 C chopped apricots
1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

Place batter in a greased bread pan. Bake the bread for about 1 hour or until done. Cool before slicing.

(I use more than 1/4 C of apricots. I don't measure - I just make sure there's plenty!)
Thank you, Cynthia! This turned out to be the best banana bread I've ever made!!!! And you know what? The fires are more under control, too!

This will be my entry into this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Pille at nami-nami.

I will be going to New Mexico on Thursday for an extended weekend of breathing clean air!

For health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture


Thistlemoon said...

This sounds delicious Toni! I am with you and Cynthia - anything with coconut is great in my book. Stay safe over there. My thoughts are with all of you out there.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Our thoughts are with the residents of San Diego as we in the East read about and watch reports of these terrible fires. I can certainly understand the urge to bake and to restore some comfort to your life right now.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're okay, and I hope that everyone else that you know is okay too. What a disaster. I'm glad that food & baking can provide solace... but I think you have the right idea by getting out of dodge for a few days. Breathing incredibly dirty, smoky air is good for no one!

Katie Zeller said...

Fires are very scary - even from a distance. When we lived in Andorra there were bad fires in Spain, about 2 hours away. We had ash coming in our windows when the wind changed... it was creepy. Eerie but cool photos!

Vicki said...

Hi Toni -
Glad you weren't in any danger - we came close up here in North County, but never had to evacuate. Air is still hard to breathe, though.

Unknown said...

Jenn - Thanks for the kind thoughts

Lydia - Yes, baking is a comfort thing. It seems to say "Everything will be alright."

Ann - I am looking forward to breathing something I can't see!

Kate - Yes, they're scary, even when they're not visible from where I live. It's like there's a horeshoe of fire and I'm in the middle of it but not affected by it.

Vicki - I think the air is much worse today than it's been any other day. At least it's that way here in Mission Valley and Hillcrest. Stay safe, and thanks for stopping by!

Chris said...

Toni, I have been thinking about you while hearing about all that is going on. My thought are will everyone out there!

Anonymous said...

For some reason, the photos aren't showing up in my browser :-(

My sister is down in San Diego and the last time I talked to her, the car was packed up and they were waiting for the word to evacuate. I haven't been able to get in touch with her so I'm not sure if they were forced to leave or not.

I'm glad to hear that you're out of harm's way! It's such a horrible situation for so many people!

Susan said...

And you'll have more baking comfort to come on your return home, Toni. I'm popping the sourdough starter in the post for you tomorrow. Glad you weren't impacted by the fires - very scary stuff.

Rachael Narins said...

I am SO glad you are okay!

And, excited to hear your fathers favorite cake was coconut...it's my all time number one favorite too!

Nora B. said...

Hi Toni, it's good to hear that baking can soothe your jitters. We have many, dangerous bush fires here too and with summer round the corner, it has already started. The photos are amazing and scary at the same time.

Pille said...

Toni, thank you for the WHB entry! I do hope the situation is slowly improving already - forest fires do happen here in Estonia, but never at such scale, so I can only imagine what you've been going through!

Kalyn Denny said...

I'm so glad you are ok, and what a terrible situation. I feel so sad for all those who have lost their homes. Blogger is acting up so I can't see the photos for some reason.

Cake sounds delicious, and I'm glad you got to have a distraction.

Unknown said...

Chris - Thanks for your thoughts. We're all breathing clearer air now. So many people lost their homes, but thanks to the fantastic coordinated efforts of fire, police etc., very few people lost their lives.

Nicole - Don't know why there was a problem with the photos, but that's been fixed. I hope your sister is OK and that she didn't lose her house!

Susan - I look forward to the starter - thanks!

Rachael - I remember his birthdays - always a white coconut cake for dessert!

Nora - I hope you are safe through your fire season, and do not have to evacuate.

Pille - I was fortunate to have made plans to leave town for a long weekend, so I've been out of town until this afternoon. I could breathe smokeless air!!!

Kalyn - These fires have gotten worse over time, but the response has been spectacular. Very, very few people lost their lives, which is impressive considering the extent of the fires. We can all be grateful for that.