Is this what it is, the so-called Empty Nest Syndrome? Our baby boy, Simon, has been in the States for the past year and our older son, Clément, left us for his summer internship early July. We are told that our home should be filled with an oppressive emptiness, the weight of loneliness heavy on our hearts. We should yearn for the company of our dear children, their presence a necessary part of our happiness. Shall we feel abandoned, as the experts say, craving the bustle and camaraderie, desiring for nothing more than overseeing their needs and wants, preparing them hot, wholesome meals and providing them with clean and lovingly ironed laundry? Do we feel the chasm their desertion has left; are we jealous that they have quit the bosom of the family for greener pastures and the companionship of others? Just two lonely parents who have given their every waking moment for the last twenty years to a pair of beloved, darling offspring, parents now wandering aimlessly around an empty space, a home no longer a home without the noise and laughter, the demands and the exciting challenges of parenthood? A family no longer quite a family?
Who are we kidding? We hugged each son goodbye, making sure that their suitcases were filled with all necessities and clean clothes. We made sure that they would be heading to a safe haven, a roof over their heads and food on the table. Maybe a motherly tear or two was shed as I waved goodbye. And then, well, let the fun begin!
The Empty Nest just happened to coincide with JP’s sabbatical, a time when he would be home full time; no office, no office hours, no long work days away from home. How could we possibly deal with such total upheaval, these major changes all happening at one time? Without the sons to cushion our face-to-face daily existence, would we manage to fill our hours with activities not centered on them and find subjects to talk about together? Would we risk having nothing to do and nothing to say to each other? Well, if you follow my blog and understand the message nestled within the words, you will understand that, in fact, our days have been filled with joy and laughter, projects and outings. We force ourselves to separate for several hours a day simply to accomplish our individual tasks as the urge, day after day, is simply to be together, side by side, doing something, anything, nothing. Our newfound freedom, for this is what it is, allows us to do as we please when we please, and we have.
So many bloggers are writing post after post about their babies and toddlers, offering images of chubby hands and arms reaching into baskets of berries or scooping up sweet treats, stories of young children crawling into bed with them in the morning or dragging dirt into the house after a rambunctious morning outside. Not us! Those days are long gone and we find the solitude delicious, the freedom exhilarating! Neither chubby, darling toddler nor loud, demanding youth taking up our space and our time. Neither childish babbling nor adolescent kvetching to break the silence. There are no schedules to coordinate nor mealtimes abandoned for more interesting invitations, no eyes rolled in disbelief as we head early to bed or invite them to take a trek in the woods with us, no picking up after messy boys or worrying when they don’t come home at night. Just calm and serenity, lazy days dotted with bursts of energy and exertion as we see fit, quiet meals and long mornings in bed. Date night is every night and the only one we need take into account is one small Boston Terrier.
Until September: Simon returns home with the hopes of going back to school and Clem will be back for another year to continue his studies. The house will once again be filled with young men, both our own and their friends, the Young Dudes who have taken into the habit working together in the back bedrooms, popping out once in a while to enjoy a meal or a bit of tv. Doorbells buzzing, music blaring, cutlery clattering on plates, laughter ringing throughout the house and the dog bouncing after the boys in the hopes of being invited into the bedroom to crash. The house will no longer be our own to do as we please and once again we’ll be needed and argued with, confided in and made fun of, just like old times.
But maybe, just maybe, it will be different this time. Maybe they have grown up thanks to the time away and the responsibilities that were placed on their young shoulders, adolescence morphing into adulthood. Maybe their teen grumblings and unreasonable demands, their hormonal mood swings and irrational bickering will have been replaced by rational adult conversation and trust in our experience and opinions. Maybe the old skulking around, their secretiveness and mistrust will have miraculously transformed into a well-meaning sharing of confidences and a desire to meet us half way. All joking aside, we have always enjoyed our children’s company when their intelligence, kindness and humor were not overshadowed by all of the stereotypical adolescent woes and boorish comportment. We have been lucky not to be stricken by any Empty Nest Syndrome and thoroughly enjoy, appreciate and delight in our time alone, yet, truth be told, we do somehow miss our boys and being involved in their lives. We do love having them join us at a restaurant for a meal or for a picnic and a trek in the vineyards. We love hearing all about their activities and discussing their future plans with them. We love their wicked sense of humor and their clever musings. We do, after all, miss being a family.
So, until then, we will take advantage of our time alone and enjoy every single second of it.
We’ll do as we please without the risk of being caught in an uncompromising position or being accused of being old. We’ll run our lives according to our own schedule and our own whims without the judgmental glances of those two. And then we’ll prepare the house for the return of our two prodigal sons. And then we will celebrate.
Meanwhile, we cook and bake for two. I have been cutting back on the sweets but I have too long neglected Mactweets. Deeba and I decided that the theme of July’s Mac Attack challenge would be Ice Cream and Macarons, certainly a match made in heaven. I have long been craving a rich vanilla ice cream dotted decadently with chunks of pecan brownies. And what better to go with Pecan Brownie Chunk Vanilla Ice Cream than Mocha macs, that fabulous combination of chocolate and coffee, my personal favorite?
MOCHA MACARON VANILLA BROWNIE CHUNK ICE CREAM SANDWICHES
The stunning combination of chocolate and coffee, the two flavors perfectly balanced and complimenting the other; neither one too heavy, bitter nor rich to overpower the other. A delicate macaron, the outside elegantly crisp and the inside satisfyingly dense and chewy, the best macaron shells I have made yet. Perfect with the ice cream or filled with your favorite chocolate ganache.
For the shells:
7.2 oz (200 g) confectioner's/powdered sugar
4 oz (115 g) finely ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites (about 4 oz/ 112 g)
1 oz (30 g) white granulated sugar
1 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp powdered (not granular) instant espresso powder
Follow the method and instructions here or here for the macarons.
VANILLA BROWNIE CHUNK ICE CREAM
From Donvier Ice Cream Maker Recipe & Instruction Booklet’s French Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart (1 liter) ice cream
3 large eggs
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
1 cup (200 g) granulated white sugar
2 cups (500 ml) light cream
2 tsps vanilla
1 – 2 cups coarsely chopped pecan brownie chunks
Whisk the eggs and the milk together in a large saucepan until very well blended. Whisk in the sugar. Over medium-low heat, cook the mixture, whisking continuously, until thickened, about 10 minutes. It should smoothly coat a spoon. Allow to cool and then whisk in the cream and the vanilla. Refrigerate overnight.
Bake a pan of brownies using your favorite recipes or make one of mine:
Fudgy Brownies (for an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9-inch square pan)
- or –
Best Big Pan Brownies (for a 15 ½ X 10 ½ x 1-inch (38 X 27 x 2-cm) jelly roll pan with ½-inch sides)
The fudgier the brownie the better. Adding pecans, walnuts or another kind of nut (try it with salted peanuts!) adds a satisfying crunch to the brownie and to the ice cream.
Once the brownies are cooled to room temperature, coarsely chop and reserve 1 to 2 cups, depending on how much you like to add.
Prepare the ice cream:
I used a hand-crank 1 pint (500 ml) ice cream maker, making half the custard base at a time. Once it was thickened to a smooth, creamy but still workable (not stiff) ice cream, I scraped it into a plastic freezer-friendly ice cream container and stirred in brownie chunks. I repeated with the second half of the custard base and added more brownie chunks. My brownies were slightly overdone and a bit dry so that they crumbled in the ice cream, but it is still delicious. I also added swirls of liquid caramel au beurre salé.