holding our breath, and a recipe: peach basil sorbet

“Can we have the peach ice cream?” my son asked, looking up at me with his deep blue eyes. It was after dinner, and the kids were bathed and in their pajamas. They were being extra sweet. Maybe they could sense the stress their father and I were under.

Or maybe they’ve just learned how to get what they want.

I had forgotten about the peach ice cream, which wasn’t ice cream at all but was instead peach basil sorbet. The kids didn’t seem to notice the difference, or if they did, they didn’t care. To my children, the melon-colored sorbet was cold and sweet and a perfect ending to their evening.

I had made the sorbet last Sunday, while my husband was visiting his father, something he’s done nearly every weekend for the past six months. Sam’s dad – my father-in-law, known as Papa to our children – was hospitalized back in December after back surgery to repair a fractured vertebrae sustained in a fall. The initial hospitalization was fraught with complications, and as a result, he’s never walked since.

My father-in-law has not been home since that hospitalization in mid-December. Like my own father, he’s been in a nursing facility for the last several months. Unlike my father, there was a hope – an expectation, actually — that my father-in-law would get better, that he would walk again, or at least get used to using a wheelchair and be able to return home.

peach basil sorbet | the merry gourmet

My husband and I never imagined that, in our early 40s, our lives would revolve around our ailing fathers and visits to nursing homes. Each weekend, though, we alternate who visits which father when, fitting these visits into our lives almost seamlessly. In addition to working full time and parenting our two children, we’ve added those extra glass balls to the ones we already juggle, hoping to keep them all in the air for just a while longer.

Of course, there are so many others in our position: adult children becoming caregivers for ailing parents. I see it daily, in fact, in my oncology practice.

While Sam was gone, I felt like I needed to be productive. Instead of writing (the words just weren’t coming that morning) or cleaning the playroom (a never-ending task that always winds up on my to do list, but inevitably at the bottom), I opted for chopping peaches, fragrant and yielding under my fingers, and making basil simple syrup with the last of the fresh basil leaves. Soon after, the ice cream machine was whirring, churning the peach juice mixture into a fluffy, frozen dessert.

peach basil sorbet | the merry gourmet

We had the sorbet for dessert that night, a refreshing chaser after a dinner of burgers from the grill and fresh corn on the cob. I stored the sealed glass container of sorbet in the freezer, nestled up next to the blackened bananas (frozen solid, awaiting their future as the starring role in a loaf of banana bread) and the frozen rounds of Trader Joe’s steel cut oatmeal (my favorite weekday breakfast).

And then I forgot about it. Life got in the way, as it has a tendency to do.

My father-in-law was placed on Hospice on Wednesday. His steady, but slow decline has taken a nosedive in the past few weeks. His prospects for recovery, once small, have now become nonexistent. We’re talking to our children about death and dying, and I’ve ordered my son his first tie and dress slacks, to wear at his first funeral. I’m answering questions like, “What does dying feel like, Mommy?” from my 9-year old daughter.

We’re moving toward an ending, and it feels like we’re just holding our breath until it happens.

peach basil sorbet | the merry gourmet

Yield: About 2 quarts.

Peach Basil Sorbet

If you have an ice cream maker and a freezer, this is one of the simplest warm weather desserts. The only ingredients are peaches, basil, sugar, and a bit of lemon juice. Easy peasy.


2 cups water
2 cups sugar
8 fresh basil leaves
2 pounds fresh peaches (approximately 3 or 4), pitted and chopped
Juice of 1 lemon


Make basil simple syrup:

In a small saucepan, stir water and sugar together. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn off heat. Add basil leaves, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain the basil leaves out of the syrup and let cool before using.

Make sorbet:

In a blender, combine 1-1/4 cups simple syrup (reserving leftover simple syrup for another use), chopped peaches, and lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the peach mixture into a bowl. Chill for an hour, then process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer sorbet to an airtight container and freeze for at least 3 hours.

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26 Responses to “holding our breath, and a recipe: peach basil sorbet”

  1. 1
    Nutmeg Nanny — July 12, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

    Losing a loved one is rough. We all know the pain and the desire to make them better. I’m sorry you and your family are going through this. Lots of love, prayers and good thoughts are being sent your way.

  2. 2
    Rachel — July 12, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

    Geez, MJ, what a crazy mess you’ve been through lately. Your parents are blessed to have you in their lives as are your children. You are all in my thoughts and prayers through this difficult time.

  3. 3
    Katie — July 12, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

    Oh MJ… sending so much love and prayers your way. Brighter days are ahead for you and your family. You just need to get past all these thunderstorms.

  4. 4
    Wendi @ Bon Appetit Hon — July 12, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

    Even having been through the journey of losing a parent, I don’t have the words to comfort you and your family. I am so sorry that you are going through this. If you want a shoulder to vent, cry, laugh on….let me know. Sometimes life just sucks.

  5. 5

    MJ, you’ve had more than your fair share of heartbreak this year. If I could, I’d give you a big hug and make you dinner. You know it’s what we do, as food people. It is our way to feel and our way to comfort. My love is with your family as you say goodbye.

  6. 6
    Macaroni Mama — July 12, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

    Cutting up peaches is equivalent to me doing the laundry and loading the dishwasher and feeling like I accomplished something out of an entire day. Basically, I live in the moment . . . and wait. Love you and Sam <3

  7. 7
    Winnie — July 12, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

    Sending love, and wishing you peace, MJ.

  8. 8
    Amy — July 12, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

    Oh sweetie … what a year for y’all. And what a great example you both are of how to honor your parents. Your children will be blessed in so many ways from your strong commitment to being present, especially through the rough times. Hugs to y’all! xoxoxo

  9. 9
    Nancie McDermott — July 13, 2013 @ 12:06 am

    The words and pictures and recipes you share here are precious to me. You give so much to many people of which I am one, when you post here. Thank you for it all. It is peach basil sorbet for the spirit. I hope you will feel surrounded by love while you walk this path with your family.

  10. 10

    Sending you lots of love and hugs MJ. Your and Sam’s dad are so luck to have you around. XO

  11. 11
    Cathy — July 13, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    MJ, what a long slog. I’m so sorry for all you and your family are coping with now. At the same time, I think of how fortunate your children are – to have YOU there to comfort and console, and to explain these very adult concepts. Sending white light and love, Cathy

  12. 12

    Chopping and sautéing always relax me. I’m sorry your family is going through such a difficult time.

  13. 13
    Jessica L. — July 13, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    Oh MJ. My heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine the stress and pain you’re going through. I truly hope things start to get better soon.

  14. 14
    cherie — July 13, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Amazing how such a crushing thing can become a part of your everyday lives.

    Prayers for your whole family

  15. 15
    Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — July 14, 2013 @ 10:48 am

    My heart goes out to you and the family, MJ. It’s just too much to go through for the last few months and you all are so strong. Sending you much needed hugs.

  16. 16

    I am so sorry to hear about your father in law. We are also dealing with the challenges that come with aging parents… both my father in law and my grandmother have been through a lot these last few weeks. For the rest of us, it’s been all calendars and scheduling and making sure that things are in order to make things as easy as possible for them.

    Sometimes we just need to do things for ourselves… like making a tasty dessert. Something to distract us from all this.

    Stay well, my friend. And I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

  17. 17
    Carol Sacks — July 14, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

    I marvel at your strength and grace. Take care of yourself.

  18. 18
    Kathryn — July 15, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    I’m so sorry, my thoughts are with you and your family xx

  19. 19
    Paula — July 15, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

    Christopher Reeve is quoted as saying *A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.*
    You and your husband are heroes to your parents, your children and to your friends. As exhausting and emotionally draining these times are for you, may the two of you continue to persevere with abiding love and patience for though your fathers may not be able to communicate it to you they know that they are deeply loved and cared for by both of you.

  20. 20
    B C Pitcher — July 16, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

    Just wanted to thank you for your beautiful grace while life is swirling in sad directions you had not intended to go.

    Your emails with these wonderful recipes woven into the fabric of some very tough “real life” stories are so comforting and help bring life into a clearer focus.

    You are high on my list of people I admire. I wish I could help ease your burden. It’s been a nearly 10 years since we lost my father-in-law, my husband’s grandfather, my mother and my father in the space of 2-1/2 years. In that time we also lost 3 close friends, 2 to cancer at less than 50 years old. Looking back, the main thing I remember is not how horrible the pain was, but how many instances of amazingly generous from love friends & family surrounded us. Remembering that doesn’t diminish the loss, but it sure makes it easier to face new days with new trials to know how much love surrounds us.

    Your abundant love and honesty give much hope to many readers. Just wanted to thank you.

  21. 21
    Di — July 17, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    Breathe, please. The following quote is one of many I go to when I am especially disouraged……

    Courage doesn’t always ROAR. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow” – Mary Anne Radmacher

  22. 22
    Elizabeth — July 18, 2013 @ 3:39 pm

    Oh MJ, this is just heartbreaking. Loss is always so much harder when kids are involved. So many tough questions that just aren’t easily answered. I’m keeping your family in my thoughts and hoping for the best. So sorry I won’t be seeing you next weekend, but it’s clear you’re needed where you are.

  23. 23
    Meagan — July 18, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

    I am so, so sorry for the difficulty that your family is currently experiencing, MJ. Watching parents age is so tough, and there is no manual, no easy way to experience it and not feel like you’re just stumbling through the process. You and your family and your father-in-law are in my thoughts and prayers. Sending you hugs and warm thoughts…

  24. 24

    I am sorry for so much going on in your life but I admire you and your husbands strength. May you guys continue to stay strong. Sending you lots of positive thoughts.

  25. 25
    Nutmeg Nanny — July 22, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

    Sending lots of good thoughts to you and your family at this time. On a lighter note, this sorbet looks just delightful!

  26. 26
    Jaime — August 2, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    Such sad but poignant words. My husband and I are going through a similar situation with his father. Waiting for an inevitably sad ending is the hardest thing. My thoughts are with you and your family.

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