No-churn lemon ice cream for surviving life’s hilarities (and the hottest summer on record).
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I woke up in a snit, one of those tetchy moods where I am at odds with the world and spoiling for a fight, which in my case manifests more as a poisonous, simmering stew than a violent burst of confrontation. My contrary hackles were immediately raised by the cacophony of social media—that relentlessly accurate algorithm pelting my corneas with ramen packet hacks and the best way to warm cream cheese (DUH, the microwave, REALLY, do we need this, does the world need this?!), the inhumane horrors unfolding at the Texas border, and strangers attempting to look deeply into my eyes as they film themselves looking deeply into their own eyes in order to tell me—anyone—themselves—how to live better, fuller, thinner, smarter, richer. Meanwhile, the hottest temperatures in world history were recorded this month, and multiple continents are on fire. It’s too much, everything is too much. My own unrest is reflected back at me in this endless, earnest barrage of STUFF.
Media aside (my own fault, no one’s making me look), I think of the houseless woman in Santa Monica who watched me and my gaggle of friends walking by her and chatting merrily during a visit for my friend Javier’s 30th birthday. My bestie Ruth was giving me shit, I don’t remember why, and she said something like, “Don’t forget, Annie—something something something.” The rest was lost because the woman on the street immediately roared back at us, “Don’t forget you’re going to die, whore!”
So spake the prophet! We cackled then, and I am cackling now, over fifteen years later.
Don’t forget that all the softened cream cheese in the world, all the pseudo therapeutic memes and selfie videos about slowing down or never giving up or reaching for your dreams while accepting just who you are in this moment—all of it is so tiny. Tiny politicians with tiny hearts, tiny human strivings, tiny joys, enormous tragedies that, in the fullness of time, further emphasize our collective teeny weeny-ness. And when I settle into it, this line of thinking is grounding, comforting, as if I can gaze at the buzzing constellation of media (all media, I’m looking at you too, journalism) and find a peace similar to that of a stargazer taking in the Milky Way. Specks.
What I need in these moods, what I need basically round the clock, is a little humor to remind me of our tininess, to find joy in life’s absurdities, to laugh not only in the face of adversity but with it, alongside it, and alongside all others like me who find greater comfort in an exasperated giggle than humorless reflection (says the writer who, at this very moment, is giving humor the serious treatment—hopeless).
I realized one of the things that was bothering me this morning was this devotion I have to humor and the deep-seated suspicion with which I inevitably view all people who can’t make or take a joke. How tedious I find other people for whom laughter and humor are frivolous, a distraction from the BIG QUESTIONS.
You’ve probably known someone like that, too. Maybe they aren’t totally incapable of laughter, but they rarely generate it. They take life seriously, approach it all with unselfconscious earnestness, a kind of workmanlike trudge toward enlightenment. Maybe they view your humor fondly, but ultimately their inability to laugh or create laughter underlies a faith in life that you do not share. A chasm opens up between you.
Of course I asked my mother about this, because I suspected I did not develop these thoughts in a vacuum, and because I always ask her. As my dog faithfully dragged us down the heat-withered pasture, she told me it’s probably a moral failing on her part that she views humorless individuals as lacking intelligence. Who the hell are we, after all, but another couple of clueless schmucks? But neither of us can shake the belief that a commitment to seriousness, a dismissal of levity, indicates a lack of imagination, of wonder, even. We agreed that people for whom humor is a useless frivolity likely do not think that life is absurd—and this is where the rift between us and them really widens. We reckoned that these people, these serious types, tend to think they have some semblance of control over life, and it may be that their lives have confirmed this hypothesis enough times that they now have unwavering faith in their ability to master the universe (lucky them?).
Or maybe there’s trauma lurking too close to laugh at. Been there. Eventually, if you take it seriously, levity returns (and if you’re mourning your withered funny bone, take heart, bones mend, even the funny ones).
It is terribly human to assert a sense of order on this madness—a matter of survival, however differently we each approach it—but somehow, save in our darkest moments, my mother and I manage to have some fun with it and when we can’t, we profoundly appreciate those who can, those writers and comedians and cartoonists (Roz Chast is my absolute hero and this cartoon is my everything) who reach deep into our guts for a laugh we thought was lost. (Poets might be the exception here, and I think that’s because writing poetry, however seriously, is to laugh into the void, an act of defiance.) And while I do not believe that contentment or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it is equivalent to mere laughter or fun-having—isn’t it though, at least in part? Laughter is a form of joy, and joy, as Mary Oliver wrote (and I quote obnoxiously often), is not meant to be a crumb.
None of this has anything to do with today’s recipe, except that cooking is, for me, another way of having fun and finding joy, of laughing at myself (cooking is ever humbling) and yes, of asserting a sense of order on my tiny, silly little life. Dessert in particular, being neither nutritional nor necessary, is just my kind of frivolity.
Citron Givré (literally “frozen lemon” in English) has been the celebration dessert in my family since before I was born, as the splattered pages of my mother’s cookbook attests (French Country Favorites by Cynthia Scheer, 1973), and I always find a chuckle burbling up when I top the lemons with their jaunty little caps; absurd, delicious, comforting. I made this recipe in celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, but don’t wait for some grand occasion. Make it tonight. Make it for someone who makes you laugh, one tiny speck delighting another tiny speck in this hilariously serious business of living.
Citron Givré (no-churn lemon ice cream)
Citron Givré is a no-churn ice cream recipe—just heavy cream, lemons, and sugar—that is served in the hollowed-out lemons left over from juicing. I’ve seen similar dishes referred to in French as sorbet, in English as sherbet, and in Italian as gelato (I’m thinking specifically of this recent post from one of my favorite cooks, Pasquale Sciarappa). The recipe below is pretty much verbatim from my mother’s time-honored 1973 cookbook by Cynthia Scheer called French Country Favorites, with just a few added tips of my own. Scheer calls these lemons “the Eskimo Pies of the Côte d’Azur,”—ah, the seventies.
The last time I made citron givré, I whipped a little cream with Angostura bitters and last summer’s dewberry sauce and dolloped it on each serving plate in order to secure the lemons from sliding around en route to the table. The whipped cream is not necessary if you want to serve the lemons in bowls or ramekins, nor is the dewberry sauce I drizzled on the plate. But you get the idea—garnish with fluffy things or fruity sauces, fold in some pistachios, top with jam, or serve the as is—bright, cold, and creamy.
6 large lemons (I avoid Meyer lemons since they are thin-skinned and tricky to hollow out and fill)
2 c half and half (light cream)
1 c sugar
1 1/2 T lemon zest
- Cut off tops of lemons; cleanly scoop out all the pulp and juice, reserving it. (My mother and I zest or microplane the lemon bottoms to flatten them out, and save the zest for the cream.)
- Strain pulp, pressing out juice.
- Carefully trim the bottoms of lemons so they stand upright. Any sherbet that doesn’t fit into the lemons can be frozen in a container to serve for second helpings.
- Position the hollowed-out lemons without their tops in an upright position on a high-sided baking tray or casserole dish and freeze until ready to fill.
- Measure 1/2 cup of the juice (use the remaining in other dishes).
- Stir half-and-half and sugar in a bowl until sugar dissolves, then mix in lemon peel and the 1/2 cup lemon juice.
- Freeze mixture in a loaf pan until firm, 2 to 3 hours.
- Remove from freezer, break up with a spoon, then beat with a mixer until fluffy.
- Mound the sherbet (ice cream, sorbet, gelato, whatever) into the hollowed-out frozen lemons. Place filled lemons in the freezer in an upright position and freeze again until firm (about an hour).
- Serve with the lemon caps perched atop the sherbet (and garnish as you like).
- If you are serving the lemons on a plate (as opposed to ramekins or small bowls), I recommend dolloping some whipped cream on the plate first and nestling the lemons into the dollop. This will prevent them from sliding around the plate on their way to the table.
- Use a large metal spoon to scoop the pulp out of the lemons, it’s easier than you might think.
- Don’t worry if the frozen cream seems too stiff to beat when you remove it from the freezer. After a few minutes at room temperature, the mixture fluffs up nicely in a stand mixer.