Sunday, February 15, 2015

Paid in Full

Back in the darkest days of Application Boot Camp I was exhausted and dejected. We were working 18+ hour days, trying to complete lengthy web forms while the power cut on and off at random. These kids were geniuses, but really struggling with western style questions like First Name, Last Name, Address (no one in Rwanda has an address) let alone calculating family income in Rwandan Francs and completing applications for admission to the university, separate scholarship applications, and applications for aid. Not to mention certified academic results, certified statements of vulnerability and in some cases translations as well as letters of recommendation. Just completing one application for one kid was a marathon.

Then there were the odds. We were competing against all the applicants in sub-saharan africa (untold thousands) for about 100 spots at the few MasterCard Scholarship schools that didn't require us to submit SAT results. And what was I doing anyway, getting these student's hopes up? Working these kids so hard to get all the applications in, and then when no one got one they would be disappointed about their prospects in Rwanda. Just another person letting them down. I was talking a lot about hopelessness and futility.

Avi, a fellow cousin working at the school is an optimist for no good reason. He offered me a wager that at least one of the kids would receive a scholarship. If not, he would make me a full restaurant style dinner. If one of the kids did get a scholarship, then I cook. Now this wasn't really a fair bet. He can cook and as you know, I prefer to eat out, but at the time, it felt like a safe bet. Always up for gambling, I agreed.

Now we know that four of my students were awarded MasterCard scholarships and three more were admitted to a gap year program (Bridge2Rwanda) and they all got scholarships this year. (Congrats to Claude who will be at University of Rochester, Pacific who will be at TCU and Peace Grace who will be headed to Agnes Scott College.) So that's 7 of the 20. (And Maurice, Serge and Julien are still trying.)

So, it's high time for me to pay up.  We set a date for me to go to Brooklyn and make Avi dinner.

I'm not afraid of much. I'm happy speaking in front of large groups, eating spiders and goat brains, and running hill sprints in the snow. But trying to follow a recipe makes me sweat.

I settled on a menu: Ceviche, Chimichurri Beef and Flan.

Ceviche tastes good and you can't over cook it, (because lime juice does that). Chimichurri Beef is delicious and Flan was a dessert I liked that fit with the Argentine-themed courses.

I had tried to make each of the recipes a few times on their own. There were burns (both me and the beef). Smoke alarms rang. The neighbors upstairs stopped by to see what was going on. I had to flush my eyes with water for 20 minutes after a mishap with the Ceviche once and considered a trip to the ER. It was rough. I had never tried to make them all on one day.

I got up early and took the Amtrak to NYC. As soon as I arrived I got Avi's keys and went to his apt to start shopping. 

First I made the flan. This is me caramelizing sugar (which can go terribly wrong in a flash):
You can see me in the reflection of the tea kettle.

The flan cooks in a water bath. This was really tricky and had caused a number of sticky spills in the practice rounds until it was explained to me (thanks Scott & Nicole) to put the pan in the oven and *then* fill it with water.

The Ceviche

The Marinated Beef

Avi & the Wine

Plated Chimichurri Beef over Arugula

The Flan turned out
So in the end it all worked out. Everyone lived. No one got food poisoning. Two bottles of Argentine Malbec probably helped with the positive review. If I ever have to cook again (and let's hope I don't) this is what you're getting.

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