grapefruit curd tart + how to plan your perfect birthday

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I had a birthday over the holidays. In honor of which I made myself this grapefruit curd tart. Because grapefruit is one of my favorite flavors. And because grapefruit goes really well with champagne. And because I love champagne.

Some people might think a person shouldn’t have to bake her own birthday dessert. I have to disagree.

We live in an age of endless to-do lists. Tsunamis of work obligations. The creeping suspicion (developed after too many hours on Instagram) that our ass is too big. Or too small. Or not clad in the right brand of aggressively tight workout gear. Or too often glued to our couch as we binge-watch Netflix.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Which is why we need a day set aside to remember that everything about us is OK. Beautiful even. Regardless of how few items we’ve checked off our productivity app. Or how our boss feels about our TPS reports. Or the size of our backside.

And what better occasion to proclaim “fuck it” to all the obligations of adulthood and spend the day doing exactly what you want than your birthday?

Yes, it is impractical. Yes, you might feel like you don’t deserve it. Yes, it might even feel a little sinful. And yes, it will be 100% WORTH IT.

To help you fully celebrate yourself, I’ve put together a list of the 10 Birthday Commandments. As someone with a Christmas birthday who still manages to make the day her own, I consider myself something of an expert. Consider this your modern self-care manifesto.


The 10 Birthday Commandments

  1. Sleep in. Ask your partner to get the kids ready for school. Tell your roommates to wake you under absolutely no circumstances. Because you need plenty of delicious sleep to wake up feeling like the goddess that you are.

  2. Skip work. Yes, I mean it. Take a personal day. Call in sick. Bribe your boss with cronuts for a month. I don’t care. Do whatever it takes to get the whole day to yourself. Remember: work is highly detrimental to the art of celebrating yourself.

  3. Start the day out by eating your favorite things. Chicken and waffles? Pancakes? Leftover pizza? Birthday cake? Yup. Kick that diet mindset to the curb. Nothing is verboten on your b-day. To make your birthday morning extra delightful, make sure you have what you need for said breakfast on hand. Hangry is no way to start the day.

  4. Wear your favorite outfit. Feel like zipping into a skin-tight dress and super high heels that make you feel sexy AF? Do it. Prefer to spend the day in your softest tights and hoodie? It’s all good. Today is a day for living your best life.

  5. Proclaim yourself queen for the day. Seriously. This is a thing we do in my family. When it’s your birthday, you get to choose the food, the music, the pace, the movie. Make sure your friends and fam are on board beforehand though or things could get a little heated.

  6. As Your Royal Highness, you now have permission to fill your day with things you love to do. Get a massage. Take in an art exhibit solo. Hit a spin class to get yourself energized. Have lunch with your best friends at your favorite restaurant. Make it happen!

  7. Buy yourself a present. As nice as it is to receive presents from others, your friends and family are not mind-readers. Only you can buy yourself exactly what you want. Right color. Right size. Right details. Buy yourself something that brings you joy, and feel no guilt.

  8. Let your squad celebrate you. Even if you aren’t used to being the center of attention. Letting your friends and family shower you with love is one of the best parts of having friends and family.

  9. But don’t expect anyone to make your day unforgettable. Don’t get me wrong--a perfectly executed surprise party or a bottle of champagne for two by firelight are pretty special. But unless you are supremely lucky, they aren’t going to happen every single year. Which is why I’m a big fan of taking matters into your own hands. Communication is key. Let those around you know what you want and need on your special day. Then plan some (or all) of the festivities yourself. It’s your day; you get to live it however you like.

  10. Disregard any (or all) of these commandments if they don’t fit your personality. Add your own birthday commandments if you want. The most important thing is that you fill your day with all the things and people you love most. And that you create a moment to celebrate your beautiful, amazing, perfect self.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Grapefruit Curd Tart

  • 1/2 recipe pâte sucrée (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 160g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 160mL (2/3 cup) freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit zest
  • Pinch kosher or sea salt
  • A few drops red food coloring (optional)
  • 70g (5 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
  • 240mL (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)
  • Few thin slices grapefruit to decorate the tart (optional)

Pâte Sucrée

  • 320g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 220g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 60mL (1/4 cup) ice water, plus more if needed

*Notes: The pâte sucrée can be frozen up to 1 month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding with the recipe.

- The tart shell can be baked a day in advance. Cool it completely in the pan then wrap tightly in plastic wrap until you’re ready to fill it.

- I prefer to top the tart with the whipped cream just before serving. But it can be assembled and topped with the whipped cream up to a day in advance without losing much in terms of texture. If you go this route, be sure to use powdered sugar in the whipped cream as it helps stabilize it. Place the tart on a large plate and invert a large bowl over the top to protect the whipped cream before putting it in the fridge. (This is also how I stored the leftovers.)

- Remove the tart from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

For the crust: Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. Add the yolks and pulse to just combine. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube until the dough just holds together (no longer than 20 seconds). Check the dough by stopping the machine then pinching some of the dough together in your hand. It should come together into a ball when you squeeze it. Don’t wait for the dough to come together in the machine.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Gather it together into a ball then divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour (and up to 2 days).

Roll out one disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer the dough to an 8-inch shallow, removable-bottom tart pan. Lift and press it into the edges of the pan. Do not stretch the dough into the edges as this will make your crust shrink as it bakes. Trim the edges of the crust. One trick I use is to press the sides down into the flutes of the tart pan to make them a little thicker then the bottom. I use a rolling pin to roll over the top of the tart, trimming off any excess dough. Then I use my fingers to push the sides up just slightly past the top edge of the pan. Use a fork to prick holes evenly over the bottom of the tart (this is called docking). Place the tart pan in the freezer until the dough is frozen solid (15-20 minutes).

When you are ready to bake the tart shell, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 400°F (205°C). Line the frozen shell with parchment paper and then fill it with pie weights (I use beans. You can also use rice.)

Bake the shell until the edges are starting to brown, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and pie weights (they will be very hot), reduce the oven to 375°F (190°C) and continue to bake until the center is golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes more. (Cover the edges with aluminum foil if they are darkening too quickly.) Transfer the tart shell to a wire rack and cool completely in the pan. When you’re ready to fill the cooled tart shell, carefully remove it from the tart pan and place it on a serving plate.

For the curd: Whisk together the gelatin and cold water in a small bowl, and set aside to let the gelatin absorb the water. Set a fine mesh sieve over a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the sugar, eggs, juices, zest and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk well to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until just warm to the touch. Add 1 piece of the butter and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula to prevent scorching, until the butter is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining pieces of butter. If using, add food coloring 1 drop at a time, stirring well after each addition, until you reach your desired color.

Cook the mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. If you want to use a candy thermometer, cook the curd until it reaches 175° F (79°C).

Once the curd thickens, remove the pan from the heat and pour the curd through the fine mesh strainer into the bowl to remove any bits of cooked egg. Microwave the small bowl of gelatin for 10 seconds, until it is liquid. Add the liquefied gelatin to the bowl of grapefruit curd and whisk well.

Pour the curd into the baked and cooled tart shell and transfer it to the refrigerator. Chill until the curd is set, at least an hour.

To serve: Place the cream and powdered sugar (if using) in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat at medium-high speed until firm peaks form. Take care not to overwhip the cream. Mound the whipped cream in the middle of the chilled tart and spread with the back of a spoon to make decorative swoops. Arrange the grapefruit slices over the whipped cream and serve.

Makes 1 8-inch tart

Pâte Sucrée recipe from Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. Curd recipe adapted from SugarHero!

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

italian plum pie

italian plum pie

I’m writing you this week from Brussels. Beau and I are staying with friends and recharging between the Paris photography workshop we hosted and the retreat we’re leading in Portugal. Since we arrived, our days have mostly involved sleeping late, cooking with all the gorgeous fall produce, leisurely meals with friends and long walks through the forest. Needless to say, I do not want to leave.

apricot-pistachio ice cream eton mess

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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!

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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 on millys-kitchen.com

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.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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

  • Pinch salt

  • 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. 

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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.

Apricot Sorbet

  • 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.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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.

Recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz


Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

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

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com