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August 11, 2022

What are the Odds?

You never think that the last time is the last time.

You think there will be more.

You think you have forever, but you don’t.

– unknown

I believe it was in 1977 while my Hubby Norm and I were living in Santa Barbara, that he announced, “we are flying to Baja with Bob.” Bob was Norm’s best friend. How could I say no?

Thus began our adventure flying with Bob who was involved in the Doctors Beyond Borders program. These doctors would give up their weekends and fly into remote areas in Baja, Mexico, treating children and adults alike, who had no other means of medical or dental treatment.

The evening before, I was told I could only bring one change of clothing and a nightgown. We would share toothpaste and a comb, and no frivolous items (makeup, shampoo, etc.). My suitcase became a grocery store brown paper bag. And, Norm explained, I would be weighed prior to our takeoff.  Single-engine planes could only carry so much weight and the two doctors, assistant and medical equipment had top priority.

For the next five years, one weekend a month, Punta Final, and Josephina’s hacienda became so familiar to us. I no longer feared the small plane nor the dirt landing strip that had just been bulldozed prior to our arrival.

It was here that I learned how to make tamales, chili rellenos, sauces, tortillas and how to char tomatillos and peppers on the huge Comal under the bougainvillea vines winding on the trellis above.

This past March I was buying masa to make tamales when the grocery clerk said how she love them and wished she knew how to make them. Later that evening, I thought how much fun it might be to offer a free tamale-making class, thinking there might be two or three people interested. The next morning, I messaged Next Door Neighbors, that I would have a class next Thursday morning and that all ingredients would be furnished at no charge. Also included were the chili sauce and gravy instructions.

Well, 33 Neighbors responded. I was dumbfounded. Undaunted, I have had four tamale-making classes and now am into teaching chili rellenos classes.

It was at one of these classes, when a lovely lady, Melissa, who lives just a few streets away, asked me where I had learned to make Mexican food. While the ladies worked away at skinning the charred chilies, I told them the story of our travels to Baja. I told them how many people had been treated by our doctors and how I had learned from Josephina the skill of cleaning those chilies—the skill I was passing on to each of them that day.

Melissa asked me where the hacienda was located, and when I said the name Punta Final, she said “I’ve never known anyone that knows Punta Final. My mom and dad had a camper, and we would go there every year to camp, driving the nearly impassable roads. Punta Final lived up to its name: the ‘end spot.’”

This morning Melissa came to my home to pick up my photo album of Punta Final. She was on her way to visit her mom in Cambria. Her father passed away a few months ago and she wanted to spend time with her mom on Father’s Day, making, you guessed it, chili rellenos that are exactly like the ones they would eat in Baja on so many of their trips.

“How can you bring strangers into your home? It’s not safe, Colly,” so many of my friends told me when they learned of my cooking classes.

Words cannot express how wonderful this experience has been for me. Just the fact that Melissa and her mom, together, will look through the album, remembering wonderful times with her dad. And making chili rellenos together makes Father’s Day bearable.

Remember, you think you have forever, but you don’t.

Chili Rellenos

Place chilies on a broiler pan four inches below the flames and char until skins are wrinkled, turning often to make sure all of the skin has charred.  Place in a towel for 10 minutes, to sweat.  Scrape skin off chilies and slit the side of the chilis and remove seeds.  Fill the chilis with two thinly sliced pieces of Monterey Jack cheese.  Secure opening with two toothpicks.  Dip chili into batter (recipe follows) and fry.

Batter for Chilies (6)

  • 3 Eggs separated
  • 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Beat egg whites until Stiff, but not dry. In separate bowl whip eggs yolks with 1 Tbsp. water. Add flour to yolks and mix well. Mix yolks into beaten egg whites carefully until incorporated.

Pour vegetable oil into frying pan about 1 inch deep. Heat oil until medium hot. Dip stuffed chilies into a dish with flour. Cover thoroughly. Dip floured chilies into egg batter, covering both sides.

Add chilies into hot oil and fry until medium brown. Turn over and cook until medium brown. This should take about one minute on each side. Remove and lay on paper towels to absorb oil. Serve with salsa or a hot enchilada sauce.

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

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