"Don't be afraid of the dark" sang an up-and-coming muso whose passion for women, lots of women, was matched in intensity by my singular and, as it turned out, rather unfortunate devotion to him. Even though the daily details of that time with the smoky pubs and amplifiers and Radiohead and late nights and tears have faded from my memory, or at least lost some of their colour, I still sometimes hear him singing those words in that haunting voice of his.
And while he probably wasn't singing that song with me in mind (let's face it Annie, he almost definitely wasn't), he could have been. So much of my 20s was about being afraid of the dark. Afraid of not finding an impressive career, not finding a true love, not being interesting enough, basically afraid of not getting A+s all round. There was this constant feeling of having to get somewhere else. And when I had all of the things I thought I needed to get I made up new ones.
Recently, for whatever reason, I seem to be a bit more comfortable with sitting alongside the dark. Feelings of anxiousness, loneliness, sadness and boredom are not pleasant but are just as much a part of life as happiness, excitement and joy. With a few major disappointments under your belt, I guess it's easier to accept that undesirable things happen and there's not much you can do about it. I am usually quick to mask any hints of awfulness with a glass of wine, some chips ("I am eating my feelings" said a friend one day, stuffing his face with twisties when I asked him what he was doing), a quick online shop, a third coffee, sometimes a cigarette, a few magazines, an intensive session about future plans and what to do to make life better later, but maybe it is actually better to just let the dark wash over and pass of its own accord before rushing off to do something or be someone important.
English poet John Keats praised the man who was "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". The irritable reaching, the constant striving to control situations and make them good or exciting or comprehensible rather than bad or boring or confusing ... well, it is annoying. And exhausting. And surrendering to all of this is what I was thinking about as I made this pecan, coffee and chocolate ice cream in the throbbing summer heat.
A big thanks to Philippa who gave me a very interesting book called The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman who talks about this and so much more with such humour and eloquence.
No-churn Pecan, Coffee and Chocolate Ice Cream
12 Amaretti biscuits, roughly crumbled or if you can't find them, some biscotti chopped up
1/3 cup strong black coffee
2 tbsp Amaretto di Saronno or rum (the alcohol not only adds a bit of punch but helps to stop the ice cream from getting rock-solid frozen)
6 egg yolks
Few drops of pure vanilla
3/4 cup milk
250g castor sugar
3 3/4 cups cream, softly whipped (do this first and put aside ready to add at the end) and 100g finely chopped 70 per cent chocolate
Soak biscuits in coffee and alcohol while you prepare custard. Use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks and vanilla until pale and fluffy.
Heat milk and sugar to simmering point in a saucepan and stir until sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 2 minutes, then pour onto the pale beaten egg yolks with the mixer running and continue to beat until cold. This takes a few minutes.
Fold in cream lightly but thoroughly and then fold in the soaked biscuits. Line a 1.5-litre log mould with a double layer of glad wrap. Or line smaller individual moulds with glad wrap. Pour mixture into mould, cover with another layer of glad wrap and freeze. Cut into thick slices to serve. And garnish with pecans and icing sugar.