Halloween Jell-O: Bleeding Heart

Well, so much for getting better about not procrastinating…

Something weird happened in the making of the Bleeding Heart – suddenly it seemed to take on a deeper, less light-hearted meaning than I’d intended. While all of this was underway, a friend was preparing to leave town to be with her family and her gravely ill mother. (Her mother passed away last weekend.) Another friend is herself gravely ill. Meanwhile, somewhat more removed but still sad were a pair of deaths that touched two communities of which I’m a part, MIT and WBUR (our local public radio station, of which I am a “listener/member”). One, of course, was Tom Magliozzi of “Car Talk” fame, MIT class of 1958 and a native of Nerdvana. The other was Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, wife of Tom Ashbrook (the host of WBUR’s “On Point” program, who had shortly before announced that he was taking a leave of absence to care for his sick wife) and also an associate dean of graduate education at MIT.

Mind you, I’m probably less afraid of death than is considered normal in U.S. American culture. However, I really hate the feeling of inadequacy in the face of other people’s grief. It feels like whatever you say or do won’t be enough, or won’t be right, so you get all self-conscious (and then start down a guilt-spiral because it’s not supposed to be about you), and you try to be extra careful but wind up saying something bone-headed* anyway. Or maybe that’s just me. But I doubt it.

Anyhow, in some goofy way, that Jell-O heart seemed to symbolize the sadness I’ve been feeling because people I care about are sad. That just made it more difficult to write about, not to mention editing the video, which does not show that angle at all.

So, the Bleeding Heart. As I mention in the video, this was essentially a bavarian, a cream dessert thickened with gelatin. Of course, in the context of The New Joys of Jell-O, the cream is often Cool Whip, and that’s what I used here.

For me, by now this is a rather simple process of preparing and thickening a batch of Jell-O (raspberry this time) over an ice-water bath, and then folding in the Cool Whip. Conventional wisdom states that red Jell-O and Cool Whip make a good color for flesh or internal organs, but to my eye the combination results in a pink that’s reminiscent of an inflatable sex doll. Anyone who’s ever taken a high school biology class or peered into the meat case at the butcher’s section of a grocery store knows that internal organs have more of a maroon or purple cast to them, so I added a bit of blue and green food coloring to my bavarian cream to at least tone down the pink.

pushing raspberries through a small sieve with a spoon

Pushing raspberries through a sieve to get the seeds out, a laborious process

The bleeding part was supposed to be in the form of a raspberry sauce that I made by straining (to get the seeds out) about a cup and a half of red raspberries and simmering them with enough sugar to take the edge off of their tartness, which turned out of be quite a bit of sugar. My plan had been to freeze the sauce, place it in the middle of the bavarian cream, and let the sauce melt in the fridge as the Jell-O got firm (per Chef Heston’s technique with his absinthe jellies), so that the heart would “bleed” when it was cut.  Well, I say “sauce”, but what I ended up with was more of a raspberry jam. It did turn out to be a pretty nice “blood” color, and I won’t lie, it was delicious, but it was more like congealed blood. Also, it didn’t freeze, which was something I did not expect.

Raspberry sauce in saucepan over a cold water bath

The “blood” sauce after cooking – looks good, so who knew it would end up as jam?

The anatomically-correct heart mold I used includes some veiny details, and I had ambitions of filling them in with a darker, non-creamy Jell-O, like the vein details I added to my Hand of Glory. However, unlike the hand mold, the heart mold has steeply sloping sides and is made of a smooth plastic that’s particularly slick when lubed up with nonstick spray, so the end result was a sort of diseased-looking heart.

Another thing that didn’t go quite right was that I misjudged the structural integrity of the bavarian cream in relation to the density of the raspberry component. In other words, the raspberry part was just a little too heavy for the bavarian part, and soon after the unmolding the heart developed cracks. Along with the random-ish splotches of dark Jell-O on the surface of the heart, the effect was a bit distressing, especially considering that the host of the Halloween party at which this debuted has been having real issues with the health of his own real heart. On the other hand, “gross” and “Halloween” go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so despite the things that didn’t go quite right, the Bleeding Heart was suitable for the occasion.

Heart Jell-O showing cracks

The finished heart, with growing cracks and fissures

Now, I need to get my tuchis in gear and start making more Jell-Os. I have to confess, I ended up with a lot of leftover Halloween candy (the current crop of students showed what I consider to be an abnormal degree of restraint in the face of the treat-filled plastic pumpkin on my desk) that Bryan and I have, shamefully, been working on, so I haven’t really been up for doing anything else, dessert-wise. I may have to continue to draw on Reposts and Memory Lane for another week or two, but I still think my next “live” Jell-O will be one of the scary ones, so stay tuned!

* It happens to the best of us. One instance that really stands out in my mind is from the funeral of my paternal grandmother in 1990. The priest who was conducting the funeral Mass knew the family, and perhaps it was that familiarity that led him, in the course of the eulogy, to delve into slightly stale popular culture: “On the television show ‘Twin Peaks’, there’s a character called the Log Lady. Kay [my grandmother] should be called the Rock Lady, because her faith was as solid as a rock.” That was weird on a number of levels, not least because my grandparents weren’t big TV watchers and almost certainly would not have watched, let alone liked, “Twin Peaks”. I’m no expert, but I suspect that such WTF moments are best avoided on these occasions.

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