By Susan Nelson,

"hot flames"In the moving frame of mind, I got to thinking about when I first moved to the States.  I was nine.  My mother had remarried  the month before, and many new experiences were being added to my memory book.  Never having known a father before, and now having one suddenly fill the left side of the picture frame, was, to say the least, a bit jarring for me.  Also, the prospect of leaving my grandmother’s home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and taking a trip across the United States in our new Buick with the newlyweds, all made for a scary mix for a nine-year old girl.

California, to those of us growing up far removed from it, was all about everything we saw on the television set.  Movie stars roaming the streets, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and sunny beaches.  For me, it was as strange as being told I was taking the space shuttle to Mars for a premier landing.  All new, and, for a little girl, all pretty scary.

I had a lazy eye as a child, so two months prior to the nuptials I’d gone in for surgery to correct the problem.  In the wedding pictures I appeared as a rather chubby, pensive looking child, with an eye patch over one eye.

Saying goodbye to my grandmother was one of the saddest moments in  my life, and there have been a few.  I looked out of the back window of the shiny new Buick until she, and the house I grew up in, finally faded into the background and there was nowhere to look but ahead.

We entered the U.S, in Bangor, Maine, having taken the car ferry across from Nova Scotia.  Maine offered much the same vistas that I was used to so was not as strange to me as the trip that would follow.

Our destination was Santa Ana, California.  The carrot that was held in front of my nose was that Disneyland was there and a promised trip to visit soon following.  I signed up, no problem.

Not having any set schedule, we stopped  at so many places along the way.  Carslbad Caverns, which I’ve never forgotten, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, the spot that touts the largest ball of tin foil, and a stand that had mummified Indian remains with a tee-shirt acknowledging that you had spent time in their shop.  Growing up in the small peninsula I’d called home until this point, this was some pretty heady stuff.

California was an amazement to me.  Orange  County, living well up to its name was lined with one orange orchard after another all below bright blue skies dotted with soft white clouds, and the first palm tree I’d ever laid eyes on.  Disneyland, at the time, was just announcing the opening of the Matterhorn, and life was suddenly full of new adventures and things to see.

For the first few weeks we stayed with my new stepfather’s father, who was, as I remember a kind and lovely man.  His “lady friend”, as she was referred to, whose name was Dolly, was a wealthy widow who lived in a gorgeous penthouse apartment in a more exclusive side of town.  As a child I was enchanted by her.  If I was to draw a parallel, it would be Carol Channing, lots of  makeup, an overabundance of jewels, along with a deep, smoky voice, probably due to the fact that she smoked Camel unfiltered cigarettes, lighting one off the fading embers of the one before.  I loved her.  Nova Scotia was a lovely place to grow up, but the people who I’d met up until that point never looked, or smelled anything like Dolly did.  Nice memory, nice lady.

Feeling decidedly like a fish out of water I struggled to fit into my new surroundings.  Blessed with an English round face, and, at that time, a round body to match, I suddenly found myself in Southern California surrounded by blond athletic people who were so different physically, and emotionally, than I was.  It was interesting, to say the least.

I was enrolled in school, and the first day I remember feeling as though someone had plastered the bottom of my shoes with cement, but in I went, seeing no choice but to do so, and soon I was making new friends.

I found the heat incredible, as in Halifax 85 degrees would be considered a heat wave, and people might be flinging off their clothes as though inhabited by bed bugs if the thermometer encroached, ninety.  That, and the fact that the clothes we brought with us were total unsuitable for the climate we found ourself in, I spent a good time sweating.

The first dinner out that we attended was at what we were told was a Mexican restaurant.  Having no clue what that was, as there were no such restaurants at home, we forged on.  They sat us at a large table and delivered what looked to me like hard chunks of bread and spaghetti sauce, but this, so it was explained, was referred to as chips and salsa.  No one mentioned there was heat involved in this food.  Being a steady eater, I dipped my “chip” fully in the salsa and put it in my mouth.  Seconds later the heat of day simply couldn’t compare with that was happening to my intestinal track.  Hot, very hot.

At the time I thought why would anyone eat this?  Now, it’s my favorite type of food, other than a good hamburger, which is seriously on the top of my list.  We went on to have enchiladas, something called a chimichanga, and guacamole, which to me tasted somewhat like Elmer’s glue to my young palette, and is now on my list of favorites.

Here’s a recipe I’m very fond of .  Hope you enjoy it.  Add heat, or take it away as you like.  These days I like my food hot.

Chicken Chimichangas

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 jalapeno chile, chopped and seeded
1 1/2 Tbsp. cooking oil
2 large onions, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (can use canned)
2 cups canned tomatillos, drained
8 10″ flour tortillas
salt and pepper to taste
oil for cooking
Salsa, guacamole, and sour cream

Place the chicken in large, deep skillet. Cover with water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10-12 mins. until chicken is cooked. Remove chicken from pan and place on plate. Allow to cool slightly and then shred using two forks.

Heat oil in large skillet. Cook onions until translucent. Add garlic and spices and continue cooking for 3-4 mins. Add tomatillos and beans. Mash with tomato masher to break down. Simmer for 5-7 mins. Add chicken, diced jalapeno and salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Place tortillas in foil and wrap tightly. Place on plate in pan over boiling water for 5 mins. until sort.

Spoon 1/8 of filling in center of each tortilla. Fold in from both sides and then fold in each bottom end to form a small rectangular parcel. Secure with toothpick.

Heat oil in large skillet. In batches fry the chimichangas until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream.