Mouths to Feed: Slow Drip

I feel lazy. 

How lazy do I feel? Too lazy to think up a good reply to that question. 

Topping a long list of additional things that I feel too lazy to do in this heat is cook. Tonight for supper I had a wedge of avocado, some cheese and half a peach. For dessert, I had a handful of blueberries and the other half of the peach. I was perfectly satisfied, but my husband was a bit perplexed when he came downstairs to an empty table. 

Perhaps I should take comfort in the cool breeze of knowing that I am not alone. According to research published by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute, worker productivity drops by 4 percent for each degree that ambient heat rises above 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That research was conducted in factories across India, but equivalent results were found by researchers in cities around the world, from Athens to Los Angeles. 

The University of Chicago team also found that a mere 1-degree increase in the average daily temperature across a 10-day span “increased the probability that a worker would be absent by as much as 5 percent.”

It’s disheartening that researchers find it necessary to use an economic caliper to weigh the impact of heat on human beings. And still: Is it any wonder I feel like phoning it in? 

Not everyone gets like this in July. I know people who feel super-energized in summertime; who love the heat, relish the feeling of sweat on their skin and would wear flip-flops and shorts year-round if they could. They actually go out dancing on hot days. On purpose. I’m guessing their ancestors did not come from the snowy north. 

But tempting as it is to allow my genes to justify my apathy and thus conclude that nothing can be done, there are times when I actually need to muster enough energy and enthusiasm to accomplish something — cook a meal, write an article, make the bed. 

This got me wondering what, if anything, gets me fired up in summertime. Many things, as it happens. No. 1 is lake swims. It’s what I yearn for most during cold months. Tied for second are summer fruits and lingering daylight. After that comes simple cotton dresses that allow you to get dressed in 10 seconds flat, fireflies and ice cream. 

Do you remember how it felt to be a kid standing in line at an ice-cream parlor or truck, waiting for your turn to order? How unbearably exciting it was to imagine the flavor you’d choose? How every cell in your body seemed to anticipate your first taste? 

If I were a researcher at the University of Chicago, I would study how to take that energy and transfer it over onto another task, so you could show up for, say, a dentist appointment or a Zoom meeting with your boss filled with the passion you feel for dahlias or ice cream sundaes.

Until someone solves that puzzle, I will cherish the uplift I get from things I love. And I will focus my culinary energy on making food I can cook once, stash in the fridge, then enjoy for several days, like this wonderful caramel sauce, a favorite since my ice-cream truck days. Next time Peter shows up in the kitchen hungry, I can offer more than DIY sliced avocado. “How about ice cream for supper?” I’ll say. “It’s July, after all.”

Caramel Sauce with Ice Cream and Fruit

Caramel Sauce with Ice Cream and Fruit

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

For serving:

  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Peaches, blueberries and/or other summer fruits

Put the sugar and ¼ cup of water in a small saucepan. Stir once or twice, then place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer without stirring; use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the saucepan (this helps prevent crystallizing). 

Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook the sugar mixture without stirring, until it turns golden. Swirl the pan gently and keep cooking until it’s a deep amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cream (careful; it will spatter) using a wooden spoon. Add the butter, lemon juice and salt. 

Allow to cool slightly before tasting, then adjust the salt and lemon if needed. Serve warm, over ice cream, with sliced peaches or berries, or other favorite fruits. Store any leftover sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

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