My love of Mexican food began years ago while living in Santa Barbara and being a close friend of a private pilot who flew for Doctors without Borders. My hubby would fly as copilot, and I, being a ’typical back seat driver’ was allocated to the back seat along with one doctor and his assistant.
We would leave from San Diego after precisely weighing all equipment, people, food, water, etc., being extremely cautious not to overload the plane’s weight capability for safe liftoff. It always seemed that I was the one who had to leave what I thought was necessary, my makeup paraphernalia, as the guys called it, just tipping the overload scale.
Once on the ground in Baja’s Punta Finale, we would check in to Josafina’s Hacienda, where Josafina had a makeshift hospital consisting of a concrete floor and adobe brick walls, two bare long tables, three open spaces which acted as windows and a door, and a gas generator outside near the entrance.
Any medical equipment needed was brought each time, by the doctors themselves, whether needed for dental, cleft palate, or minor surgeries that would only require overnight care at the Hacienda.
Usually, if more serious surgeries or longer treatment was needed, the plane would be refueled by Josafina’s one airplane gas pump, and we would fly that patient to Bahia de Los Angeles, where a fully equipped hospital was located. Understand, these people the doctors were treating were the poorest of the poor. I do not like thinking what or where they would have been without these doctors. Roads were dirt and vehicles were practically non-existent except for the one old four-wheeled truck owned by Josafina.
Rumor had it that Josafina had been married to an American with wealth…where he was, no one that we were acquainted with knew or questioned.
No money ever changed hands, everything needed was donated. God Bless Josafina and those doctors.
What happened in that little makeshift hospital was never witnessed by me. I am terrified of blood, in any form. Open wounds of any magnitude make me panic; I am useless in any form of an accident involving blood.
But I was great in the Hacienda. Josafina’s girls had me making tortillas, mixing masa with lard, patting and grilling on the outside huge comal, a large thick slab of iron which hung from a hook suspended over an outdoor barbecue. I learned how to make chili gravy from reconstituted dried chilies, how to make and form tamales, and what ingredients to use to make meatballs for albondigas soup. I was taught how to char those wonderful pasilla chilies that were used in so many of their dishes and sauces, my favorite…filing them with cheese and dipping them into a batter of eggs mixed with masa and deep frying in lard. Ceviche would be made if one of the men had been fishing that morning much to my hubby’s delight. I washed hundreds of dishes under the bougainvillea covered patio and learned how to drink warm beer and Coca-Cola. Blocks of ice came in only when the long trek to the nearest town of San Felipe was made.
The longest we stayed at a time was five days. Too hot to sleep inside, we chose to sleep on tarps by the water edge, as scorpions will not climb on tarps. Between us was a long-handled axe…we had heard about ‘bandidos’ fifty miles away; we took no chances. We would be awakened at five a.m. by the heat of the sun coming up and the pelicans and gulls screeching when schools of small fish swam near the shore.
I have always been grateful for those trips to the Baja Peninsula, for Josafina’s hospitality and generosity, and what I have learned about giving of oneself by those wonderful doctors serving through Doctors without Borders. I would not trade one second of that wonderful experience for anything you might offer.
Josafina’s Chili Rellenos (makes 8).
Heat barbecue on high or heat a flat iron grill on stovetop. Place 8 large pasilla or Anaheim fresh chilies (with their stems) on grill. With tongs, turn often until chilies are charred all over. Place chilies in a brown paper sack and let sit 20 minutes. Remove from bag and using a sharp knife, carefully pull thin charred skin from chilies, being careful not to damage flesh.
Make a slit 2-3 in long on side of chilies and reach inside very carefully, removing all seeds. Place on paper towels to drain.
Fill each chili with two thin slices of Monterey Jack cheese.
In a bowl, beat 3 egg yolks. Add 3 Tbsp. flour and 3 Tbsp. water. Mix well.
In another bowl beat 3 egg whites. Fold in egg whites to egg yolk mixture.
Dredge chilies in flour and dip into egg mixture.
Fry in oil until lightly brown, turn and fry until brown. Drain on paper towels.
Serve with Chili gravy. The recipe for the gravy can be found in the March 22nd issue of the Press Banner in print and online.