I knew the instant I walked out of my apartment this morning that today was going to be a long day. After waking up to my early morning alarm and grabbing my gym bag, I headed out the door ready to brave the heat. Never could I have guessed how bad it would feel.
The instant I opened the door from the inside to step outdoors, I felt as if I had stepped into a sauna. The sunglasses on my face immediately fogged up because of the dome of the humidity and heat that hovered over the city. My watch read 7:00 a.m., yet the thermometer already spiked past 90 degrees. With this in my mind, I knew that it would only get worse.
For the past few days, D.C. and much of the East Coast have been suffering from one of the greatest, and grueling, heat waves in recent memory. Today, heat records smashed across the region as temperatures soared past the 100-degree mark and the heat indexes peaked in places more than ten degrees higher. In D.C. Friday’s forecast estimated a heat index of an astounding 116 degrees, with some places even hovering closer to 120. To make matters worse, forecasters see little relief in the future.
With temperatures so high that it makes it unbearable to do practically anything, especially cooking, I wondered what could help me keep me from focusing on the sweat droplets that form when stepping into the sun. After a long day at work, the five-minute walk to my apartment seemed like it was five miles. Hungry and sticky, I had no idea what I could eat that would keep me cool and required little energy from my oven or myself. Then it hit me in the mind like the wall of humidity hit my body. The secret ingredient to a heat wave: ice cream.
Along with the fresh produce and barbecued items from the grill, one of my favorite aspects of the summer is the sudden cravings for dessert that initiate spontaneous trips to the local ice cream shop. Depending on which shop I am visiting, my flavor choice varies. While I do love a simple cone of vanilla with rainbow sprinkles, I rarely can pass on a scoop (or two) of black raspberry. If I am lucky enough that my sister orders chocolate chip cookie dough, then I can usually wiggle my way into sampling her cone to get my chocolate fix.
I love these summer excursions to the ice cream shop because they truly are a treat. I never buy ice cream for my freezer at school, and on that the rare occasions that there is a pint freezing at home, the flavors never compare to the assortment available from an ice cream shop’s menu. For me, ice cream is the epitome of summer: sweet, satisfying and exuberant.
Considering that the most popular ice cream shops back home do not open until the temperature begins to climb, I have always deemed ice cream a summer signifier. When summer concludes and fall arrives, I know it will be another three seasons before I get my hand on another cone. With this in mind, you can imagine my surprise when walking around Italy in January and seeing more than a handful of people eating cones of gelato in their winter coats. Across the nation, gelateriae are open year-round. To the Italians, gelato is not a summer treat; it is a whenever-you-want –it- even-if-it’s-every-day-treat. As someone who is always cold, the thought of eating ice cream kept at a temperature the same as the winter air did little to assert my sweet tooth.
Yet, as the weather became gradually warmer, I became grateful that Italy offered me rich and creamy cones of gelato whenever my stomach had room. By the time April arrived and temperatures climbed into the 70s and 80s, there was little I enjoyed more than walking to my favorite gelateria in Florence and enjoying a two-flavor combo cone while perched in the sun on a bridge to the Oltrarno.
Those moments, so simple and relaxing, have me rethink the idea of ice cream only as a summer thing. Whether the temperature is 55 or 105, the richness and lusciousness of churned milk solids cools the body and warms the soul. A heat wave might seem like a good excuse to eat ice cream, but there really is never any need to have reason to indulge in a scoop or a sundae.