Whew! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. As soon as I touched down from my last Paris retreat, I set to work finalizing the details for fall retreats in Portugal and Paris and began promoting them. Which was aaaaaaalot more work than I imagined.
One thing I like about being self-employed is that it never gets boring. I am chief recipe creator, photographer, writer, editor, public relations agent, website developer and travel guru. Now that I’m leading more retreats abroad--and want to ensure they sell out--I am also head of marketing. Which is pretty funny since I know close to nothing about marketing!
But I believe in my retreats.
My guests tell me stories of major life shifts resulting from their time abroad with me. Decisions to go for that job. Step out of an unhealthy relationship. Stop working a gazillion hours a week and spend more time with family. Start dating again. Prioritize themselves in new ways.
I, too, arrive home after each retreat feeling energized--excited about my life and ready to imagine new projects into reality.
All of this makes the work that goes into planning each trip 110% worthwhile. Even though I know very little about marketing (at least in the traditional sense), it leaves me determined to get the word out about my retreats to the best of my ability.
Which brings me back to the last few weeks and the megaton of hours I’ve sunk into writing about Paris and Portugal. Meeting with collaborators. Editing images. Posting to Instagram and Facebook. Asking friends to spread the word, despite how uncomfortable I find it to ask for help. And researching how to promote my tours without feeling inauthentic or overly pushy.
I’m way outside my comfort zone. And my life is something of a mess. I just noticed there’s some sort of mystery substance peeking out from under my stove. The garden needs watering and the lawn needs mowed. There is a mountain of unpacked boxes in the garage from our move. Yesterday, I discovered a pile of unpaid bills hiding under about a dozen unread magazines. The dust bunnies that occasionally tumble out from under the couch are frightening.
But it’s all ok. It wouldn’t have been in the past. I’d have been kicking myself up one side and down the other for letting my life feel so out of control. But somehow, I’ve decided that I’m ok with all of this and that it will be just fine. I’ve even carved our time for my own pleasure in the midst of all this chaos. I saw a movie on a weekday morning. I went for a walk with my friend, Rachael. I tried a few new recipes. I sat in the backyard and drank rosé with Beau. I finished a novel.
So even though my life feels like a mess, I’ve decided it’s a beautiful mess.
In honor of which, I give you this Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess. It’s got homemade pistachio ice cream and tart apricot sorbet. Crisp orange blossom meringues. Honeyed apricots and clouds of whipped sweet cream. This is my kind of dessert: Made with love. Messy. And wonderful.
Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess
- 8 oz. firm-ripe apricots, each pitted and sliced into sixths or eighths
- 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 recipe Orange Blossom Meringues (see below)
- 1 recipe Pistachio Ice Cream (see below)
- 1 recipe Apricot Sorbet (see below)
- A few small fresh herb leaves and/or flowers, such as mint, basil, thyme, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, etc. (I used lemon balm)
*Note: The best thing about this Eton mess (besides how delicious it is!) is that you can make all the components from scratch or you can buy the ice cream, sorbet and meringues pre-made. It's like an edible choose-your-own-adventure!
- If you need a little help organizing your prep, I recommend you make the ice cream and sorbet 2-3 days in advance. Make the meringues and honeyed apricots 1-2 days in advance. Whip the cream an hour or two before serving and store it in the fridge. Then pull the ice cream and sorbet 10-20 minutes before you assemble everything to make sure they are easily scoopable.
Place the apricots in a large nonreactive saucepan along with the honey and water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat then cook until just soft. (You can cook the apricots longer if you prefer them to be more of a sauce.) Remove from the heat, stir in lemon juice to taste and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. (I don’t sweeten it because the meringue is pretty sweet, but you can sweeten to taste with honey or sugar if you like. If you go this route, add your sweetener to the cream before you whip it.)
To assemble: Break 3 or 4 of the meringues into large pieces and spread them over a large serving platter. Arrange scoops of the pistachio ice cream and apricot sorbet over the meringues. Dollop the whipped cream over the ice cream. Spoon the honeyed apricots over the cream and scatter the herbs over the top. Serve immediately.
Makes 6-8 servings. And you’ll have some ice cream, sorbet and meringue left over. (Score!)
Orange Blossom Meringues
9 oz superfine sugar (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 oz egg whites (from about 5 large eggs), room temperature
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water
*Note: For my full list of tips on working with egg whites, click here then scroll down to the recipe section.
- Orange blossom water varies in strength. Start with one teaspoon and see how your merengue tastes. Add more orange blossom water if desired. (I used two teaspoons of Noirot brand orange blossom water.)
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 225° F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
Place the sugar in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch and salt. Whisk to combine and break up any clumps. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites at medium speed until soft peaks form, 2-3 minutes.
Increase the speed a little and slowly sprinkle in the sugar mixture. It should take you about a minute; adding the sugar too quickly or before the eggs form soft peaks will result in a less stable meringue that might spread or weep. A minute or so after all of the sugar mixture has been added, add the vinegar and orange blossom water. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until the meringue forms very stiff peaks, 5-8 minutes longer. You will know the meringue is stiff enough when it will hold the whisk attachment perfectly upright with no other support.
Spoon the meringue into 6 heaping mounds, each about 4 inches wide on the parchment-lined sheet pan (be sure they aren’t touching). Use the back of a spoon to flatten them a little so they cook more evenly.
Bake the meringues until they are crisp and dry to the touch on the outside but still white (not golden or cracked), 90-120 minutes. Check on the meringues periodically to make sure they aren’t coloring or cracking. If they are, rotate the sheet pan and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
Turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to dry out. When the oven is completely cool, remove the meringues. If you're not using them immediately, transfer them to an airtight container. The meringues will keep, tightly sealed, for up to a week if you have baked them fairly dry.
Makes 6 large meringues.
2 lbs. very ripe fresh apricots
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 drops almond or vanilla extract (I used almond)
*Note: This makes a full-flavored but very tart sorbet, which is perfect against the sweet meringues and creamy pistachio ice cream in this Eton mess. If you want a sweeter sorbet, you might add a touch more sugar.
Split the apricots in half, remove the pits, and cut each half into thirds. Combine the apricot wedges and water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Once cool, puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth. Taste a spoonful and if there are any small fibers, press the puree through a mesh strainer. Stir in the almond or vanilla extract. Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Pistachio Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, finely ground
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar and corn syrup. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the pistachios, almond extract and salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold. Cover and transfer to the fridge to chill completely, 4-6 hours or overnight. Alternately, place the mixture in a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag partially then squeeze out as much air as possible as you lower the bag into the ice water. Seal completely and chill until quite cold, at least 30 minutes. (The increased surface area allows the ice cream base to chill much more quickly. I learned this tip from Jeni Britton-Bauer—the author of this recipe—and use it for all my ice cream.)
Strain the ice cream base if desired, pressing the pistachios with the back of a spoon to extract all the flavor. (I like the flecks of pistachio in my ice cream, so didn’t strain it.) Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pack the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the pistachio ice cream until firm, about 4 hours before scooping.
Makes about 1 quart.
Recipe by Jeni Britton-Bauer