A Satisfying Ending

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Working in schools as an adult gives your life a distinct rhythm.  You pour yourself into setting up the course of instruction each August, strive to deeply get to know students throughout the fall, press them to make the gains you know they can make through the winter, and then assess them in the spring.  In a nutshell, that is the pace.  The thing is that none of this can be accomplished in a relational vacuum.  I just completed my 26th year of teaching and one thing I know is that I have to contribute my “pound of flesh” to match the gains I want my students to achieve.  The other thing I know is once you give so much of yourself to an effort, the result is a deep bond of trust and affection and it is difficult to end the relationship.
All schools have their year-end rituals and to anyone who says “They’re not doing anything at school the last week,” I defend that we have to end an intense relationship in a way that feels like a satisfying ending, not unlike a story.  We actually put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into the last week of school.  It feels very much like bringing a train into the station.    International schools, however, have the added intensity of families and faculty who are moving on from that location, so there is the overhanging melancholy that you aren’t going to see some of these people, ever again.
          The last day of school at an international school reminds me so much of the last day of summer camp.   When I was growing up, my family was very involved in Christian summer camps.  For as long as I can remember, my dad was on the board at Miracle Ranch, in the ponderosa pines near Dove Creek, Colorado.  Every one of my five siblings and I, throughout our different years of attendance, experienced significant life challenges and teaching at that camp.  I do remember, though, the tearful goodbyes and promises to write as my parents herded me to the car, where I collapsed in the backseat, grimy and exhausted. 
            This time of year, I bring that background experience to my overseas life.  We have had multiple parties, dinners, lunches, outings, wanting to make the parting as complete as it can be.  Last night, we had one last party at our house, but it wasn’t about goodbyes, but hellos.  Some dear friends of ours are moving here to help us do this work and they are in Tunis for a few days to settle their dog and see where they will be living.  We had a barbecue in our backyard with some of the staff, who are not leaving, so they can begin to make their new friends.  And the cycle begins all over again.
            I made a custard cake I have wanted to try.  The recipe calls for raspberries, but we have cherries at the moment so I substituted them and I can’t imagine it being any better.  Clearly, you could use any soft fruit.  There were several unsolicited comments of, ”This is the best cake I have ever eaten,” so I think it is worth posting for friends who are just heading into berry season in North America.  
Raspberry Custard Cake
Recipe adapted from Alice’s Cookbook by Alice Hart
Makes one 9-inch cake
Custard
2 cups light cream or half-and-half 
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise   
2 egg yolks 
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan
3 cups raspberries (or any soft fruit) 
1 1⁄4 cups granulated sugar    
4 eggs    
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour   
2 teaspoons baking powder     
1⁄2 cup milk     
1⁄4 cup Demerara sugar
1. Make the custard: In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the cream or half and half. Using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, then drop in the empty pod. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar together in a heatproof mixing bowl.
2.When the cream is almost”but not quite”boiling, remove from the heat and pour slowly into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Boil about 1 minute; the cornstarch will prevent the custard from curdling. Remove from the heat and cover the surface with plastic wrap or a circle of parchment paper so a skin cannot form. Let cool; once cool, remove the vanilla pod.
3.Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch spring-form cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Crush the raspberries roughly with a fork to release their juice. Stir half the crushed raspberries into the cooled custard and set aside.
4.In a medium bowl, beat the 1 cup of butter and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition; if the mixture starts to look a bit curdled, stir in a spoonful of flour. Sift in the remaining flour with the baking powder. Pour in the milk and gently mix together. Fold in the remaining crushed raspberries until just combined.
5.Pour half the batter into the prepared spring-form pan and make a shallow well in the center with the back of a spoon. Pour the raspberry custard into the well, then cover with the rest of the cake batter. Sprinkle with the Demerara sugar. Bake until golden but still a bit wobbly in the center, about 1 hour.
6.Let the cake cool in the pan, then chill in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours. Remove from the pan when completely cold; you may need to run a knife around the edge to loosen. Cut into slices and serve.
            And now, with a huge feeling of satisfaction about our first year’s work in Tunis, and excitement about starting it all up again in August, we are leaving tomorrow for Lummi Island and our fabulous boys.  It’s going to be a wonderful summer.

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