Like most people in Napa, I spent a big chunk of the last two weeks in a state of suspended animation. Even though my house was not near the fires and I was in the lucky part of town that retained power and even cellphone coverage, all I could do for days was pace around the house and obsessively check the news. The dread and helplessness as the flames threatened in all directions made focusing on anything else nearly impossible.

Now that the amazingly wonderful firefighters (my total heroes) have beaten the local fires into submission, I feel a bit like someone who just came out of a coma. The calendar has moved on, but my brain hasn’t quite caught up.

As I and my town wake up, I find I’m desperate to return to something resembling normal life. So much so, that I’m going to buck the journalistic trend today and not write about smoke-filled air, nose-crushing N95 face masks, blackened hills, evacuations, torched houses and the heartbreaking loss of life and property that is going to keep life far from normal for a long time for too many of my friends and neighbors.

Instead (and I know this will shock you), I’m going to write about me, my house and my beautiful new kitchen.

Because I need to set the record straight, as I fear I may have misled you about the status of said kitchen. A number of the concerned messages I received from friends across the country referenced it, and how sad it would be to lose it.

I have to admit that was the least of my worries during the fires.

Because it doesn’t exist yet.

For the past two months, I have been waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting) for my kitchen cabinets to be made, so we can finally start the renovation process. My contractor and I are on the same page. No demo begins until every replacement item has arrived and been inspected.

Even though I renovated the back part of my house more than a dozen years ago, I still have raw, painful memories of the project stopping dead for six weeks because of a wayward shower pan and some missing tiles. Once you have lived for more than a month with nothing but a toilet in the middle of a construction zone and nary a contractor in sight, you get a little smarter about advance planning.

Which is why the mailman begins his route by parking directly in front of my house and I am becoming best friends with the FedEx guy. From my perspective, renovation is mostly a giant shopping spree. Now that I have awakened from my fire-induced stupor, I have resumed flashing my credit card so often the numbers are starting to wear off. Sink, faucet, hardware, garbage disposal — boxes are beginning to pile up in every corner of my house.

The bills have also been piling up, and I feel like the spending has been going on forever. But the end is in sight. Besides the thousand smaller items cluttering my space, I have been getting emails and phone calls reassuring me that the enormous sums of money I have expended on as yet invisible products will eventually result in a kitchen. The hood and appliances are ready and being held at their respective warehouses, the tile is being fired and — finally! — the cabinets are due to be shipped next week.

Which means (fingers crossed) that sledgehammers will be swinging by the beginning of November, and my beautiful new kitchen will finally be on the path from fantasy to reality.

Oh, but that reminds me, there is one more thing I need to buy.

Demolition is going to be messy, and dust will be flying everywhere. After all the time I’ve spent huddling indoors this month to avoid breathing the unhealthy smoky air outside, I don’t want to be defeated by the enemy within.

I’m heading to the store to pick up a new nose-crushing N95 mask.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango Puree

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen blog by Deb Perelman

One of the less than fun parts of planning a kitchen renovation is that it necessitates cleaning out all your cabinets, bringing you face to face with all the weird things you own and have chosen to forget about.

For example, on a high shelf just out of reach, I rediscovered my antique amethyst glass dessert set, which includes a set of delicate stemmed pudding cups. Judging by the grime, they hadn’t budged from the cabinet since they arrived there 19 years ago.

Having also just cleaned a portion of the pantry, I recalled finding a package of tapioca pearls among my Asian ingredients, next to a can of coconut milk. I also remembered spotting a bag of mango chunks in the freezer. The confluence of the glassware and those ingredients, plus this month’s desperate need for comfort food, inspired me to make tapioca pudding.

Since I am trying to clean things out, I used what I had on hand, which was full-fat coconut milk and whole milk. But I thought the pudding was almost too rich (if such a thing is possible), so feel free to cut back the fat with lite coconut milk and or 1 or 2 percent milk.

Serves 6

1/3 cup small tapioca pearls

1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk

1 cup milk

1 egg yolk

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3 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla paste

Lime zest for garnish

For the sauce

1-1/2 cups frozen mango chunks

Juice of 1 lime

Put the milk, coconut milk and tapioca pearls into a medium saucepan and let the tapioca soak at room temperature for 30 minutes. Then whisk in the egg yolk sugar, salt and vanilla paste. (Note: if you don’t have vanilla paste, you can substitute vanilla extract, but add it at the end, after the tapioca has cooked.)

Cook over medium heat until the mixture just begins to simmer, then take the heat as low as you can get it and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken and the tapioca pearls will become shiny and translucent.

Remove from the heat (you can add vanilla extract at this point). Stir well one more time, to make sure nothing is clumping up and sticking to the pan, and divide the pudding into six cups. Chill in the fridge.

While the pudding is chilling, prepare pureed mango sauce by putting the thawed mango chunks and lime juice into a blender and pureeing it. You may need to add about 1 tablespoon of water to help it along.

To serve, place a large dollop of mango sauce on each pudding and garnish with lime zest.

Betty Teller fervently hopes you survived the fires unscathed and life is getting back to normal. Tell her how you are coping at amuse-bouche@sbcglobal.net.

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