As you might have heard, starting at the end of January, winter decided to come down on the Boston area with a vengeance. So, in accord with our Hipster Overlords here in Cantabridgia, I decided to be all ironic and make Florida Seacoast Salad.
I had been putting off making a scary Jell-O for far too long, and on the face of it this sounded like a relatively simple one. The Jell-O part is just diced shrimp suspended in lemon Jell-O that’s been tarted up with vinegar, salt and pepper. (There should be some garlic salt in there as well, but garlic salt is, I guess, too “white trash” an ingredient for Bryan to keep stocked in the kitchen – and I neglected to add it to my shopping list.) The rest is salad greens, chopped up citrus fruit, avocado, chopped scallions, and artichoke hearts marinated in Good Seasons salad dressing.
That last part, the artichoke, was a real trip down memory lane. First off all, when I saw “Bird’s Eye Deluxe Artichoke Hearts” on the list of ingredients, I was sure they couldn’t exist anymore. As someone with a part-Italian spouse, I couldn’t imagine artichoke hearts coming in any other format than in a jar packed in marinade. Imagine my surprise when we found the nine-ounce packages, exactly as required, in the frozen vegetables section of our local Star Market.
Then there was the Good Seasons dressing. For those of you unfamiliar with this food product, it’s a packet of powdered seasonings that you add to oil, water and vinegar to make salad dressing (as opposed to being lazy and just buying a bottle). When it was being heavily promoted in the 1970s and 1980s, you were supposed to buy a cruet that you could use to prepare your dressing, and although I’m not sure where one gets those cruets now*, the packet still has directions that tell you to add the ingredients up to this or that line on the cruet. Luckily, the directions also include amounts in case you don’t happen to have a cruet. I had a peanut butter jar. Peanut butter jars are not watertight, and I knew that because I shake soapy water in them when I wash them, but still, thanks to the lingering memory of the ads showing how much fun it was to make the salad dressing by shaking it up in the cruet, I couldn’t resist shaking the dressing in the peanut butter jar, with predictable results. Only after wiping up the oily droplets did it occur to me that I could have used a whisk.
See if you can spot Bryan Cranston in this vintage Good Seasons ad:
Otherwise, preparation involved a bunch of peeling and chopping of fruits and vegetables that had been stored in the refrigerator – not a process I would recommend to someone who, like me, suffers from Reynaud’s disease and is in the midst of one of the coldest and snowiest winters in recorded history. I’m not kidding around about the cold. In the downstairs zone, which includes the kitchen, our heating system has been struggling to maintain a temperature around 60°F/15°C as outside temperatures drop. No one can say I don’t suffer for my art.
Finally, it turned out that the dread was largely unwarranted. Both Bryan and I were surprised to find that Florida Seacoast Salad is not bad. The shrimp in Jell-O was almost okay, if only the Jell-O had been less sweet and/or more tart, and the rest of it was, well, a salad with Italian dressing. It ended up being our lunch, although I won’t lie, we didn’t eat the whole bowl of it, and a good amount of it got fed to the garbage disposal. A donation has been made to Action Against Hunger to get food that will not go to waste to people who really need it.
For a more in-depth analysis of Florida Seacoast Salad, I invite you to check out the video:
* A quick google shows that they’re available from Amazon and at Walmart, or if you want a vintage one you’re sure to get lucky on eBay.
Originally posted October 11, 2009
Okay, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t really remember this one, and the notes I took are scant. It’s one of those simple recipes from the first chapter of the book, where you’re supposed to be just getting the hang of Jell-O, but reading the recipe is one of those “what the hell” moments. It’s lime Jell-O flavored with with crème de menthe, of all things, whipped up in a blender to give it that frothy look.
This was my second venture into the “lime Jell-O and mint” flavor palate, the first being Minted Pineapple Relish (to be reposted in the not-too-distant future). There are a few such recipes in the book, which is puzzling because it’s really not a good combination of flavors. In my notes, I speculated about whether this was supposed to evoke the flavor of mojitos. I’m not a big fan of rum, so I haven’t downed a lot of mojitos in my time, but I don’t recall them tasting like this. (And I can’t imagine Ernest Hemingway, a famous mojito drinker, approving of this dessert.)
Unsurprisingly, I determined that the combination of lime Jell-O and mint is better without the addition of pineapple, although the aftertaste was still not pleasant. It started out vaguely refreshing, and gradually turned into a sort of burning on the tongue. Nevertheless, I gave it two nasties.
Doing this as a Memory Lane post feels like a bit of a cheat, but it doesn’t seem like something worth repeating. Besides, as I’m pushing fifty, I’m starting to appreciate that life is just too short to spent extra time making and eating mint-enhanced lime Jell-O.
That said, turning forty-eight last month gave me an idea. I’ve been following a blog called Fit is a Feminist Issue that was started by two Canadian philosophy professors who, as they were approaching fifty, decided that they were going to make a goal of being their fittest ever by their fiftieth birthdays (which were last summer/fall) and blog about it along the way. Since they did the fitness thing, I’m thinking that I will make my fiftieth birthday the outside limit for getting through The New Joys of Jell-O. That way, no matter what, in January 2017 I’ll have something to celebrate.
Since it’s the dead of winter, and we’re expecting even more snow over the next few days, I guess I’ll continue with the sunny citrus theme.
A Proustian Moment
I re-made this on December 13 (i.e., 12/13/14) for a Winter Solstice party given by R– and V–. The Winter Solstice party is a tradition in our extended social circle that, I’m proud to say, was started by A– and me back in 1987, in our tiny apartment in a metro-west Boston suburb. It ballooned significantly the following year when we did it at Fandom House, attracting guests from as far away as NYC and the Washington, DC area. In the Fandom House years, I insisted upon making gingerbread cookies and popcorn/cranberry garlands to decorate our Solstice Tree (efforts in which my housemates participated with a bare minimum of enthusiasm; now that I’m older and wiser, I don’t blame them) and for food we seeded the party with vegetarian chili (made as spicy as A– could stand, so pretty damn hot), chips and dip (classic sour cream and onion soup mix), crudités, pizelle cookies and Nutella. Guests would bring their own contributions of food and drink, and then when provisions started running low, around midnight, R– would turn up after an evening working at his delivery business, Vidigo (a non-web-based forerunner of Kozmo.com) with the end-of-day chicken and biscuits leftovers from the Porter Square Popeye’s, and everyone would feast and drink some more. Several hours later, the cold light of morning would shine on the party guests who had spent the night, scattered across our floors, and we’d send A– out for Dunkin Donuts and coffee.
So, fueled by these memories, I expected that a Winter Solstice party would be a good place to trot out a Jell-O recipe, and I set out to make Lemon Chiffon Pie.
There are good things and bad things about this recipe, mainly good things. The best part, as with Orange Snow, is that it involves real, fresh ingredients, and grating and juicing a lemon are such pleasant, fragrant activities, and I know that the lemon will make the recipe taste that much nicer. Also, there is a custard component to the recipe, and preparing it requires attention and focus that make this into something of a meditative activity – Zen and the Art of Lemon Chiffon Pie. But that brings us to the bad part, the cooking of the eggs. Three slightly beaten egg yolks, a cup of water, and a quarter cup of sugar are cooked in a saucepan over low heat, and if this mixture is cooked too hot or too fast it becomes a sort of sweet egg-drop soup, which isn’t good for anything. The thing is, the book says to cook the mixture until it just comes to a boil, and I learned the hard way (again, as I did five years ago) that letting it come to a boil is overcooking it. I had to throw out a batch and start again – and this time I crossed out that part in the recipe.
Another thing I like about Lemon Chiffon Pie is that the “chiffon” part involves beaten egg whites. In general, I really like working with beaten egg whites, and again, getting them right takes a bit of attention and skill. This time I beat them up just a tad too stiff, making it difficult to incorporate them into the chilled custard/Jell-O mixture. However, since I’d made the mistake of making this on the day, instead of the night before, I had to just go with it.
Actually, it didn’t turn out too badly. After heaping the lemony egg mixture into a pre-baked pie crust (store brand, not as good as the name brand crust I used years ago) there was still a good amount left, and I put that into a couple of dessert glasses and popped all of it into the fridge to chill and firm up. Before going to the party we sampled the extra lemon filling, and it was pretty good, so I felt much better about bringing the pie to the party.
This may come as a shock to some of you, but a lot has changed in the last 25-30 years. Back in the day, food just got placed on the table and devoured. When we arrived at the party a couple of months ago, we were handed a notecard and asked to list all the ingredients of what we’d brought, and then I knew that Lemon Chiffon Pie was sunk. It looked and tasted delicious on its own, but a label proclaiming Jell-O as an ingredient, well, I figured that was the dessert equivalent of the bell and tin cup of the leper. About half of it got eaten before we left, which was a better outcome than I was expecting, and I did catch someone sampling it who admitted to liking it.
I’ll spare you – this time – from my rant about the current widespread persnicketiness about food. For now, let me just say that it shouldn’t be so difficult to enjoy something so fluffy and lemony.