I'd come screaming up the steps, cement, one-two-three, and burst through our kitchen door, on a mission. The mission varied—food, water, facilities—but the speed, the urgency, never did. Had I not just uprooted myself from the Wisconsin woods, or torn myself away from my tenuous island existence, or ripped my attention from the all-consuming task of constructing a fairy village of sticks, stone and grass, I might've, oh gosh, walked through the door. And my eyes might have had time to adjust.
As it was, I had no such patience, hell-bent as I was on getting back to "work". And so, every day, summer after summer, I would find myself frozen just inside the kitchen door, startled once again by the full-stop sun-blindness that hit me like a semi- and stopped me cold.
I never, ever learned.
My poor pupils.
My eyes adjusted eventually, of course, first twinkles of green, then gold, then dark shapes. As soon I could be sure of not tripping, could make out the silhouettes of the counter corner, the table's edge, I'd grope my way toward whatever I needed, and race back out, to do it all again.
This was summer.
We went swimming, Saturday, and Sunday, and Tuesday, as we've learned to do in summer, here. It took us a few years to come around, to realize this is how you handle the heat. When the mercury reads incredible, and the humidity, the same, the pool's the only sane place to be. Well, the pool and the basement floor, flat-faced, spread-eagle, soaking in the cement's cool. But the pool's more socially acceptable, and even though I would never call myself a pool person, on balance, probably, it's more fun besides.
Anyway. We went, we splashed, we mitigated the heat, we fought wet air with wet water. And as we were walking home again, skin recently sopping already dry, dripping hair not far behind, it hit me: this will be what summer was. The well-worn loop to the pool and back. The shrill whistle signalling everybody out, rest time. The sharp prickle of chlorine. Buoyancy. Cannonballs. The eternal pursuit of a Choco Taco.
I was floored.
My entire experience of swimming as a child was shivering, constantly, in the water and out. Swimming pools, occasionally. (Chilly.) Open ocean, mostly. (Frigid.) Not far—waist, shoulders—just deep enough to bring on the numb, the quicker, the better.
The numb didn't help with the shivering, per se, but it did make the fierce cold recede, or seem to. Swimming in the Northwest was always one part leap of faith, one part suspension of disbelief, and six parts endurance. I was pretty good at all three. Also, I didn't know any different. My kids do.
Childhoods, I realized in that moment, are like the children that inhabit them: singular as snowflakes. Theirs isn't mine, which wasn't my mothers, which certainly wasn't her mother's before. I knew this, of course, but didn't know know, you know?
How weird that July in their mind will always mean air indelibly inked with damp. That their memories of breakfast in August will be lit by that strong spill of sun across the table. That upstairs downstairs won't for them mean Masterpiece Theater, but sweltering bedrooms and a freezing main floor, the weird sensory dissonance of our (beloved) A/C's answer to gravity.
That they don't think freezing and swimming are synonyms. Weird. Just, weird.
So much of childhood is swallowed and forgotten. I expect our days will mostly follow suit. The silly things we dream up to pass time. Deploying a red cabbage to test pH. The odd bit of counting to keep our minds moving. Cards and beads and blueberry pies.
Stuff of days. Background noise.
They'll remember their world: friends, private jokes, play dates. A thousand small games, invented with siblings. The garden, home to tomatoes and adventures. Wedgits, Kaplas; building, always building. iEverything. The world in their pocket. That ring pop they got in 2013.
I still remember my first ring-pop, age: 5. Tell me you don't. (See?)
And of course there are fragments that won't be forgotten. I trust they'll remember their other home, the one we work hard to keep fresh, every year. I reckon they'll remember the soft fwoosh of bread dough, and the way its baking fills up a house. I'll go out on a limb and name soft-boiled eggs, even though last Thursday was our first go. They've been requested four times since. I have a boy who loves him some eggs.
I don't doubt crêpes will stick around. And magic shell. Definitely magic shell.
This formula's been floating around for some time now, which means I expect each of you to have tried it already. If not, good grief, what are you waiting for? Hop to it! Don't dawdle!! Chop chop CHOP!!! Delight like this doesn't come along every decade.
The details involve nothing more than the melting together of chocolate and coconut oil, and nothing less. The wonder and fun come courtesy of that coconut oil, the melting point of which is a magical 76°. You see the corollary, yes?
Sit yourself down near a bowl of ice cream, drizzle a spoonful (or three) over all, and wait. About 27 seconds. 32 seconds, if you've a particularly heavy hand. In no time, in other words, The Chocolate Sauce Formerly Known as Liquid is now matte and solid and shatteringly crisp. Instant gratification never tasted so good.
Unlike the bottled stuff I occasionally scored at friends' houses as a kid, this looks and tastes like chocolate, profoundly so. Better, at least in my book, is the mild whiff of mellow coconut the oil leaves in its wake. Like a Mounds® bar walked by when you were stirring, swiped its finger through, smiled wide, and vanished.
But that's just much ado about flavor. The shatter deserves a moment. I'd like to write it off as child's play, as a neat party trick with a good PR firm. I mean, really. It's chocolate that breaks.
But! The viscosity of said chocolate is such that it drapes just so, like linen, dreamy. And when you crack it, it's shards become little rare sought-after treasures to chase with one's spoon. Because once you catch one, it does this little pas de deux with the ice cream, hard and soft, crunch and cream, all contrast. Briefly. Until that seventy-six degree moment, when all is melt and memory. Swallowed, yes, but not soon forgotten.
Chocolate Bombe Shell (a.k.a. Magic Shell)
adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, by Jeni Britton-Bauer
Both good chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli bittersweet) and thin bars (think Ghiradelli or Lindt) work well here. I love unrefined coconut oil, for its faint, sweet flavor. Alternatively, if you want all the crackle but aren't a fan of coconut, opt for the refined oil.
12 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup unrefined coconut oil
Combine chocolate (broken or chopped into shards, if a bar) and coconut oil in a heat-proof, microwaveable container, and heat on high, 30 seconds. Stir well, and continue to heat in 10 second intervals, until chocolate is mostly melted, another 10-30 seconds. (Alternatively, heat in a double boiler, set over a pan of barely simmering water.) When a few bumps remain, stir a few moments to melt them in the residual heat. Serve immediately, over cold ice cream.
Store at room temperature for several weeks. (Ha.) If your room's temperature is above 76°, your shell will be liquid, and ready to use. If, however, it is 75° or below, and returned to a solid, simply warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, stirring once, to return shell to its pourable self.