The heat finally broke a bit – and by broke, I mean that the high for today is meant to just nudge up against ninety, rather than climbing high up into the hundreds as it’s taken to doing over the past couple of weeks.
For Boulder, these recent oppressive heat waves have been something to complain about moreso than anything else. Lawns everywhere started to take on a sickly yellowish hue, herb gardens and flower beds have withered and shrunk in protest, and even taking a stroll outside has gone from an enjoyable afternoon activity to a downright miserable torture session.
Unfortunately, for many other parts of Colorado and the West, the heat has been taking on a more sinister form. As of yesterday morning, there were eight wildfires raging on in Colorado, with one of them burning just six miles from the Bluegrass Festival we were at this past weekend, and sending a smoky haze across the town of Telluride. As I watched the news yesterday morning, I thought about all of the poor people affected by these fires, and it crossed my mind that I couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to have to leave my home behind in a panic, in search of refuge from the greedy and destructive flames.
And then yesterday afternoon, just as I had arrived at work and had settled in at a chopping board ready to break down some whole chickens, I got a call from my neighbor, who clued me in to potentially dangerous situation happening right outside our doorstep. She had told me that a fire had started up in the Flatirons – those very mountains I speak of living right at the base of – and as I dashed out the back door and gazed West and North, I saw the thick gray plumes of smoke rise up over the crest of Boulder’s signature landmark.
She was careful not to panic me, but I could hear a certain concern in her voice that I suppose one only recognizes when there is genuinely something to be concerned about. We are the third house down from the famed park, and she the second, and with nothing separating the open space and our homes but a singular and skinny paved road, a fire this close to home poses a definite threat.
I called James and he headed home to make sure that we had everything in order that we would need, should we need to make a quick exit. File cabinets, wedding albums, important documents, jewelry…..those were the obvious items. And I don’t even need to say that before all of those ‘things’ comes our dear and beloved Winnie. But as I stood there wiping the sweat off my brow, wearing my white coat and dark blue apron smeared with harissa, it was hard to wrap my head around leaving anything we couldn’t fit into our Audi station wagon behind to potentially be erased in a cloud of smoke. What does one bring when you only have a trunk to fill and a couple of quick hours to do it? Our wedding china? Some favorite clothes? Do you bother with toiletries and personal items? Or do you focus on trying to find those things that are irreplaceable, but of no use to you when you have nothing, like the first birthday card I got from James, a favorite scarf I picked up in Aix en Provence three years ago, and Lily’s old leash and collar?
It was all very overwhelming to think about, really. Though I have lived through other minor natural disasters – a few bad hurricanes in my childhood, and a few while at Florida State – a fire burning less than a mile and a half from the very city I live in that is threatening to possibly evacuate us from our home is most definitely the most terrifying. With another fire raging near Denver, and multiple others across the state (a total of nine now), I am certainly not alone in these worries, and my heart goes out to all of those who have been forced from and lost their homes in the multiple other regions affected by these tragedies.
I decided to stay at work, since we were just then entering a ‘pre-evacuation’ warning zone, and not in any imminent danger – for the time being, anyway. Even though James was texting me updates on what he was seeing, hearing, and smelling, for most of the evening my mind was preoccupied. Though we certainly were not in the direct line of fire, fires move fast, and with the wind slamming the door to the restaurant against the door frame and blowing the pilot lights out on the stove, I wondered exactly where it was blowing the flames at that very moment.
We slept last night, and awoke this morning to a car that smelled like we had been partying at a campfire all night instead of trying to get some rest. I drove James to work, and as I drove back up 9th street to our house I could see gray wisps of smoke still curling around and crowning the mountains. As of now, the Flagstaff fire is still 0% contained, which is not very encouraging at all. However the amazing men and women firefighters who have worked tirelessly from one-thirty in the afternoon yesterday (when the fire began) and throughout the night non-stop appear to have prevented the fire from spilling over a very pivotal ridge; an area that once you crest up and over would lead straight down into the city and into areas packed with residential homes. Since Boulder is so concentrated, a fire that broke out into any of the neighborhoods would be devastating, and extremely hard to control. As of now the fire has consumed nearly 230 acres, and fire officials are very worried about high winds and thunderstorms that are meant to pick up as the day goes on.
I, once again, will head off to work this afternoon, and I hope and pray that the fire can be contained before the winds spread the flames and thunderstorms hinder any of the firefighters aerial efforts to drop flame retardant materials on the burning acreage. Not wanting to be an alarmist, I’m going on with my daily activities, and am getting packed up for our planned flight to Deer Valley, Utah tomorrow afternoon for a weekend of wedding celebrations for two of our close friends. However I’ve still got our valuables gathered close, and am keeping a tight tether to the news and emergency channels; the scary thing about a fire is that they are totally unpredictable, and have the ability to move at breakneck speeds. Here is to hoping and praying that the Flagstaff fire, and all of the others burning out there, get a run for their money today from the Colorado firefighters.
As such, there is no way it’s the type of weather to turn on a stove, or fire up the grill. This is the perfect no-cook/no-bake/nearly-no-effort salad that you can toss together in a hurry, and have on the dinner table or lunch buffet in less than ten minutes. Fresh heirloom tomatoes are a perfect match for creamy avocados, and kernels of fresh corn and ribbons of basil give this salad a punchy brightness that tastes of pure Summertime. Think of it like a souped up version of a Caprese salad – minus the heavy mozzarella, though you certainly could add some of that too, if you’d like to make it more of a meal. It is wonderful as a side dish, and I suspect it would be wonderful tossed over a tangle of skinny pasta or scoop of quinoa as a delicious light supper. This dish is something that ends up, in one incarnation or another, on my dinner table almost every night in the Summer, and is perfect for an afternoon barbeque or pot-luck with friends.
It’s fresh, it’s cool, it’s calm and collected….it’s everything these fires are not, and that in itself is a very good thing.
Heirloom Tomato, Corn, and Avocado Salad with Honeyed Vinaigrette
Serves 4-5 as a side dish
If you can’t find heirloom tomatoes or they just aren’t quite in season yet (mine are a hothouse variety), just use the nicest, reddest, freshest tomatoes you can get your hands on. This is one of those salads where the ingredients really shine, and they must all be fresh and of good quality – so unfortunately that means this probably isn’t the best salad to make in the Winter. The same goes for the corn – I found a bi-color variety that was delicious, but if corn isn’t quite in season yet, keep this in your back pocket till it is (and don’t bother with the frozen variety – it just won’t be the same!).
There is no need to precook or steam the corn if it is fresh, and the raw kernels will give a nice sweetness and crunch.
5 tomatoes – a mixture of heirlooms (about 1 – 1 1/2 lbs)
2 ears of corn
6-8 leaves fresh basil
kosher salt & fresh cracked black pepper
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
zest of one lemon
pinch kosher salt
First, make your dressing (you can do this up to 2 days in advance). In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar, honey, olive oil, lemon zest, and pinch of salt.
Nest, prepare your salad. Cut the heirloom tomatoes into evenly sized wedges, about 6-8 per tomato (depending on how large your tomatoes are), and place them into a large bowl. Next, carefully cut the kernels off of the ears of corn using a sharp knife, and add them to the bowl. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit, and then carefully slice the flesh all the way down to the skin in a crosshatch pattern in each half using a knife. Scoop the scored flesh out with a spoon and add it to the bowl with the tomatoes and corn – the avocado should fall into a medium sized dice.
Cut your basil into a chiffonade by stacking your basil leaves on top of each other, rolling them like a cigar, and then slicing that cigar into thin pieces. You will be left with thin and delicate strands of basil – add them to the bowl.
Remix your dressing quickly before adding it to the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salad, add a hefty pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and toss gently to combine.
Salad is best enjoyed immediately, but can keep in the fridge for up to a day (keep in mind that dressed tomatoes tend to become mushy with time, and I think this salad is best eaten straight away).