It is finally Summer. Even here in London.
The temperature has swung like a like a gravity-defying pendulum from 22°C to 36° and back down again, these fluctuations punctuated with violent, electric, torrential, midnight storms. At home we have all fallen victim to concatenations of sneezes and nose-blowing, burning eyes and dry, scratchy throats, all five of us, yet managing all the while to fill a decomissioned sand pit in the garden with water, the kids wading in to the icy shallows with levels of pleasure more suited to the most luxurious infinity pool.
It is the way things sometimes get towards the end of the school year; we are run down, short of fuse, functioning on depleted sleep and patience reserves, hyper alert and irritable with nerves jangled like microphone feedback. I don’t know about you, but my appetite has gone a bit bi-polar, not unlike the weather and I have swung from a tea-and-carb-consuming machine to a leaf-and-brown-rice-munching exemplary citizen. It could be the heat or maybe the stress (two of the most potent appetite suppressants). Many things seem to be in the balance, instability looming large and real: I am thinking seriously about a return to permanent work and in tandem, marvelling at the cost of living in this beautiful city. The kids are at the end of their ropes as the end of term hurtles towards us, spent and over-excited and uncooperative in the extreme. I scared off a well-meaning mum yesterday when she asked: “Things ok with you?” (I ought to have been more British and just said “yeah, fine, you?” but instead I replied “I screamed so hard at the kids this morning, I damaged my voicebox, you know? Just the usual.” Thankfully most parents I meet at the gates are a lovely bunch and are fine with honesty, even if it does catch them unawares. Whatever the root cause of anxiety – I strongly suspect it is more cumulative – something needs to change. I can’t go on snapping and yelling at my children, then sobbing behind my new specs as I drop them off at school, defeated and disappointed in them and far more so, in myself.
I don’t mean this to morph in to a whiny blog, particularly as I have spent today repeating like a stuck record to my son “don’t whine, use your words!”, and must practice what I preach… One of my favourite aunts who recently lost her battle with cancer had a mantra which was: “if money can fix it, it ain’t a problem“. She didn’t mean that money problems are not a problem, just that they are not serious problems in the grand scheme of life. Sometimes, even with blessed perspective like that things can still feel overwhelming: My grandmother who suffers from advanced Alzheimers is fading slowly away, having been trapped inside her body for too many years, I suspect she will die when we are away on holiday. Then there is the vertiginous raft of payments for all manner of clubs and activities and school fees received and the ongoing litigation with more than one contractor involved in our building work dragging on from last year, with the result that our day to day life at home is affected by a faulty floor, a faulty door, a blocked sink, a leak and persistent drain smell… and meanwhile, farther from home, the world seems to be melting down, the Greek crisis further unravelling the economy and the endless misery of world politics, the mistreatment of humanity, of animals. I wonder whether it was it always like this? Or am I just more susceptible to the collective energy and ambient misery of the world? My friend D, echoing my husband’s sentiment, said to me last week that she thinks it is normal, despite being someone so glass-half-full, to feel so sensitized and hyper aware of the world, its risks and its dangers…that to live with some fear and integrated crisis management within your daily life is simply what it is to be an adult. I think I might agree.
Not hugely surprising is it then, that I just haven’t been feeling my usual entertaining/hosting buzz? …Seeing as I have barely been managing to keep things on an even keel on the home front, let alone reach out to others. In short I have been in bunker mode, at home with spouse and kids, reading until the wee hours in the way of escapism and worrying quietly about the instability of the universe. Like a spinning top that spins beautifully when in balance, but which lurches rhythmically then wavers haphazardly and skitters – in terms of life balance – I am all out of kilter. The general consensus amongst my peer group is that, that kind of balance is elusive yet it appears so easily attainable. It is the mirage of the modern day mother.
Currently I seem able to manage virtually none of the simple necessary promises I made to myself that would improve my wellbeing and my morale: sufficient sleep and exercise, meditation (more on that another time), drinking enough water…. and those are just the basics! I have become that person I normally loathe, who says “let’s do lunch next week!” and then who never follows through. I have so much metaphorically on my plate that I just want to keep things light and I have no bandwidth left for entertaining.
Which brings me to my next plan… My husband, who is not unlike my version of the publication called The Week (in that he is a digest for all the things I don’t have time to read but which he knows I will appreciate) has recently read this book: Happiness by Design, by Paul Dolan. One of the interesting things it states is that there are three simple elements which have an undeniable, clear and important impact on your over all happiness. These are:
- Spending time with friends
- Spending time in nature
- Listening to music
When things are this simply put, don’t they seem actually quite achievable goals? This much I can do. All three could be combined by hosting a simple get-together with minimal food and drink frankly, second up the “nature” element could be just holding it in a garden or putting together a small picnic in the park…Add some tunes, and we’re ready to go.
I am going to share something I can claim no personal glory for as it is as much a national treasure of Italy as pizza and Parmesan, but it has often been the perfect cap to a Summer dinner or a great standalone treat. It is in keeping with this theme as its name means “drowned”, that is “affogato”. To be clear, I see it more as a drowning of personal hassles than of drowning in one’s sorrows. The delicious bittersweet kick of coffee poured over the simplest of ice creams. I suppose all moments are shaped by their neighbouring highs and lows, the bitter and the sweet.
This recipe is not really a recipe, more of picture of what to do as things don’t get easier than this. I urge you to try it if you have never had it. It will make you stop and linger in the way no knickerbocker glory or banana split ever could. You can pull it together in a snap and it is mind-blowingly sexy and comforting and impactful and mellow all in one. Sometimes we just need a gastronomic hug and for me, this is it.
I have put no quantities as you could make this for one or for 20 people. This is it's beauty. It all depends on how much ice-cream you wish to eat in one sitting and how much coffee to douse it in.
- Good quality, freshly brewed espresso coffee
- vanilla ice-cream
- Remove your ice cream from the freezer, allow to soften to the point of comfortably soft scooping, serve into tall glasses or bowls and simply pour all over with steaming espresso.
- Extremely satisfying to eat it with a long spoon from a tall glass, or cradled in your hand like the antidote to a thin cup of tea.