When our daughter was born 20 years ago, my husband and I struggled to establish new routines that would give our upside-down lives a more dependable rhythm. We looked for small rituals to carry us through this wild new territory — some regular activity that would remind us of our carefree childless selves while helping to shape our future selves, the capable parents that we hoped to become.
The answer, we decided, was coffee. Our favorite pre-baby activity on weekend mornings was reading in bed. At about 10 or 11 a.m., we’d take our books and go to a coffee shop where we’d read and drink coffee, then go to a bookstore for another couple of hours and buy more books and possibly have another coffee in the bookstore’s coffee shop. (We often wondered, after we became parents, why we didn’t we go to plays and concerts and galleries when we had the freedom to do so. But no, it was always coffee and books, coffee and books. We were a painfully well-read and dangerously caffeinated couple.)
Though we sorely missed our coffee-and-reading outings, it was sometimes too overwhelming to bring the baby with us, what with naptimes and nursing and bottles and diapers and strollers and car seats and unpredictable bouts of fussiness (both the baby’s and our own). So we decided to bring the coffee shop to our house. At 10 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, no matter what else was going disastrously wrong, we scooped a handful of roasted beans into our coffee grinder. The loud, steady whir of the grinder’s blades was the signal that a tiny bit of normalcy would ensue. We weren’t fancy with the French press and pour-overs and all that. We had a cheap but cherished four-cup drip coffee maker that gurgled and steamed while it brewed, sending the powerful aroma of coffee into our living room. When the coffee was ready, we let everything else go for 20 minutes and just sat and sipped our brew, side by side.
This ritual became “sacred coffee time,” because, amid all the poop and spit-up and crying, it restored our joy and gratitude. We had a baby. She was beautiful and perfect. We were learning, day by day, how to be Mommy and Daddy. And here we were, in our home sweet home, with sunshine coming through the windows and a cup of coffee in our hands like normal people on a Saturday morning. We could manage this. We might even be good at it.
Even if you don’t have a newborn in the house, you might want to treat yourself to a leisurely coffee break at home (and avoid paying $6 for a latte). Here’s a recipe for a cool, creamy iced coffee that’s the perfect antidote to sweltering summer temperatures. With just five common ingredients (instant coffee, water, cream, powdered sugar and milk) and a glassful of ice, you can enjoy your own sacred coffee time.
Coffee aficionados may blast me for using instant coffee and instead suggest using cold brew (a process by which coarsely ground beans are soaked in cold water for one or two days), liquid coffee concentrate, or espresso. I agree that those things will make scrumptious cold coffee drinks but the beauty of instant is that it’s instant. You don’t have to wait a couple days for your cold brew, you don’t have to go to the store or order anything online, and you don’t have to spend $3,000 for an espresso machine. Well, you will have to go to the store if you don’t have instant coffee, but that’s it.
To begin, you’re going to use the instant coffee to make a concentrated coffee syrup. Put two heaping tablespoons of instant coffee and two to three heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup. Add ¼ cup boiling water. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the coffee and sugar then add ½ cup cream or half-and-half. Fill two 16-ounce glasses two-thirds full with ice. Pour half of coffee mixture into each glass then fill to the rim with 1 or 2 percent milk.
Two tablespoons might seem like a lot of instant coffee. After all, won’t one little teaspoon make a regular-strength cup? The answer is that the coffee flavor must be extra-strong to shine through the milk and cream. In fact, the above recipe makes a fairly mild iced coffee and you could comfortably increase the coffee to 3 tablespoons, especially if you find sleeping to be a shameful waste of time.
If the cream is too rich for you, leave it out and use only milk. In fact, that’s how I usually make it, since we don’t often have cream. My version is also not too sweet and certainly nothing at all like the wallop of sugar you’d get from some coffee shop lattes. I recommend powdered sugar because it dissolves easily, but I frequently use honey or brown sugar for a more flavorful sweetness.
To this basic recipe, you can add flavors (vanilla extract, almond extract, flavored syrups and the like) or make substitutions (maple syrup or honey instead of sugar, coconut milk or almond milk instead of milk, coconut cream or nondairy creamer instead of half-and-half).
To me, this indulgent coffee drink is as good as dessert (and probably just as caloric, if you’re careful about that sort of thing). On midsummer afternoons when the sun is hot and yellow overhead, it’s a refreshing way to perk up those taste buds and put extra pep in your step.
We still go to coffee shops and bookstores on the weekend, but now we’re three adults looking for caffeinated bliss. It’s a bittersweet fact that in 10 too-short weeks, when our daughter leaves for Fairhaven College at Western Washington University, it will be just the two of us again. My husband and I will have the freedom to do whatever we like without a third person weighing in with opinions and preferences. But I know it won’t feel like freedom, at least not the kind we had in our early 20s. Even after our daughter has left home she’ll never leave our hearts. No matter where we go or what we do as a couple, we’ll always, always feel her absence.
We’ll keep our coffee ritual and savor our quiet couplehood while wondering what our baby is doing — not in the next room, but 265 miles away. Maybe she’ll eventually move to a farther city, another coast, another continent. Maybe we’ll someday be drinking coffee with a grandbaby napping nearby. Who knows what the years may bring? We’ll just take it a sip at a time.
Creamy Iced Coffee
2 to 3 heaping tablespoons instant coffee
¼ cup boiling water
2 to 3 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
½ cup cream
Put instant coffee and sugar in liquid measuring cup. Add boiling water and stir to dissolve. Add cream. Fill two 16-ounce glasses two-thirds full of ice. Pour coffee over ice. Fill to rim with milk.