I will remember this last weekend for a long time. First, because it was the first time I ever made pastel de choclo (note: I’m from the Midwest, so I would translate it to mashed corn casserole or mashed corn hotdish if you will). Second, I will remember it because it was when I finally noticed the lightning in my left peripheral vision, which I will get to later.
L and I went to Valparaiso this weekend to visit his family. It’s a common joke among us that I like pastel de choclo. The joke isn’t that so much that I like it (I do), but it’s that one time I was entering Chile and the surly looking immigration official was flipping through my passport trying to find an empty page, “Chile, Chile, Chile, Argentina, Chile, Chile, Colombia, Chile, Chile, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile…” He stopped and asked, “Why do you come and go so frequently?”
I was actually on one of my border runs to renew my tourist visa at the time, but I couldn’t say that, so I knew I had to think of a good excuse. I couldn’t. Instead, I replied, “I just really like pastel de choclo.”
He looked at me like I was joking, but all I did was shrug my shoulders like, “What can you do?”
He laughed. I laughed. Then, he stamped my passport and I went on my way. Now, I’m not saying everyone who has to make Chilean border runs should use the pastel de choclo excuse, but let it be known that it worked at least once!
That’s why when L’s family found out I was coming back to Chile, they offered to make it for me, but I ended up helping. By helping, I mean I used a machine that we estimated to be older than L’s grandma (We think it was close to 100 years old). I joked that it looked like a medieval torture device and he told me to be careful and watch my fingers instead of talking. He has this habit of worrying that I’m going to cut off a digit or something because I did come close once right after my surgery when I was trying to open an English muffin and nearly stabbed myself. I digress…
(All photos are unedited and from my iPhone that I still use as my everyday camera).
These are my hands with the device. A corn grinder, I think we would call it. You can see my medical alert bracelet if you don’t believe me that they are my hands.Here is a bigger picture of me. He snapped like 20. I asked him if he was going to use it as evidence later that I could actually do something domestic. He just reminded me again to watch my fingers. I guess when I got distracted they would enter the corn grinder danger zone.
I’m not sure where the hat came from, but he disappeared for a second, came out with this hat, put it on my head, and said I looked right out of the 1960′s. I said, “No, I look like I’m part of the Inquisition and I’m forcing the kernels to confess to their heresy or DIE! Mwahaha.” The corn water you saw running off in the previous picture is added back to the ground corn and basil and then boiled. I was a little worried about that because I thought since I was outside there was a good chance little bugs had fallen into my grinder. If they had, then they definitely met their buggy doom during the boiling phase. The traditional way to eat pastel de choclo is in little single portion sized bowls made of clay (Cultural note: single sized here is relative. I find I could easily share one). In the bowls you place the beef and onion mix, chicken chunks, egg pieces, and raisins if you so wish. Oh, and nothing is complete without an olive or two–pits and all!
Then you have to put the mushy boiled corn on top of your casserole bed.
After that, it bakes for 30 minutes and comes out steaming hot. Enjoy! But not until after it cools or you might burn your tongue like I did and that kind of sucks.
It wasn’t difficult to make. There were no complex cooking directions, but it was quite laborious. It is not a meal where you can say, “Gosh, I’m starving and I have 30 minutes. I’m gonna make me a pastel de choclo.” Nooo… I think it took us around 2.5 hours from start to finish, and that was with our army of helpers.
I would describe what happened after lunch as what it looks like in the US right after Thanksgiving dinner, everyone sprawls out on a couch or chair and sleeps off their indulgence. I told L I wanted to see the ocean because it had been months, so we sneaked out.
We walked to the Muelle Baron and took in the sun as it was just starting to set.
Another view from the dock.
We sat there for a while, talking, and eating ice-cream, when I told him that I was seeing lightning out of the corner of my left eye. He got concerned, “What does that mean? Are you okay?”
“I’m more than okay,” I explained. “That’s exactly what happened on the right side when my vision returned seven months ago.”
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, then you know that because of my tumor’s size and location, I was woke up with what can sometimes be described as significant vision loss. Although, it has slowly been recovering. The left peripheral vision has taken the longest to come back. I did recently start seeing color pixels on that side, but for the most part, the left side of a room does not exist for me.
When I told him that, he said we should go celebrate. I can’t drink too much alcohol, yet, but I would definitely raise my sparkling mineral water to that!
We went to a bar where I had never been before in Valparaiso. It was still empty because it was rather early for going out in Chile. We had our choice of tables. As we sat there, toasting my recovery and our successful pastel de choclo adventure, we saw this:
The top line says: ALL YOU NEED IS (MAKE) LOVE(S).
Below it reads: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE(S).
Because I want to try and keep this family friendly, we will pretend that the word in parenthesis does not exist. So, that is your advice for this week folks: All you need is love(s). Grammatical issues aside, it’s still pretty good advice