Monthly Archives: April, 2016

Memory Lane: Jellied Charoset


Passover Jell-O? Oy gevalt!

During the original Project, for Passover I decided to try to make a Joy of Jell-O version of the seder plate classic charoset, but with plonk (I draw the line at Manieschewitz) and cherry Jell-O. It was successful enough that, since I didn’t have a photo, I made it again for the reboot:

1 3-oz. package cherry Jell-O
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 apple, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dissolve the Jell-O in 1 cup of boiling water. Add 1/4 cup cold water, and wine. Chill over an ice water bath until thickened. Fold in apple, nuts, and cinnamon. Pour into a lubed 3.5 cup mold and chill until set. Unmold, nosh with matzoh. Delish!

This time around, I used black cherry Jell-O, and while it’s not bad, I recommend sticking with the regular cherry flavor. Black cherry is a little too close to “cough syrup flavored” for my palate, but it does have a nice color, and it holds up well with the apples and wine. The Jellied Charoset is nice and chunky, more like stuff held together with Jell-O than stuff suspended in Jell-O, so more like real food. As I expected, it’s good on matzoh (aptly named “bread of affliction”) which needs all the help it can get.

Apart from my distaste for Manieschewitz wine (indeed, for sweet fortified wines generally), I think it’s important to use a dry red because the Jell-O is so sweet already. The tartness of a dryer wine, surprisingly, gives the Jell-O dish a more sophisticated flavor. Last time, it was Redtree pinot noir. This time, it’s a Beringer 2006 cabernet sauvignon that I happened to have lying around. I know almost nothing about wine, but Julia Child always said not to cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink, and that advice has served me well. Especially since I’m going to have to finish off that cab by myself. Bryan is a teetotaler, and when he cooks with wine it’s with bottles of “red” or “white” that he gets two for $14 at Whole Foods. I sampled the partially used “red” he has stashed in the fridge, and it left the inside of my mouth tasting like a hobo.

I am aware that Jell-O isn’t kosher for Passover, or at any other time. I used it because this is, after all, the New Joy of Jell-O Project, but the serious Passover celebrant could certainly use a kosher gelatin dessert, or an unflavored, plant-based gelling agent (Mr. Google informs me that such things are used in Asian cooking, so if you were looking for an excuse to visit H-Mart, here it is) with Kedem juice and your favorite Israeli wine.


Here’s your go-to if you’re in Minnesota and you get invited to a Passover potluck.

In case anyone’s wondering, I’m not actually Jewish. Bryan is Jewish-ish, descended from a long line of unobservant Jews on his father’s side. (His mother is Catholic.) He was sent to a Hebrew Sunday school for his religious education, and when his parents threw him a big bar mitzvah party, it was at Anthony’s Pier 4 (until a few years ago, a well-known seafood restaurant in Boston), and the main dish was chicken cordon bleu. My family is Catholic, but I never received a religious education and wound up an atheist.

When we were first thinking about getting married, we figured we would go with the Jewish tradition, since that was the only religion either of us had any real feeling for. For a while we attended shabbos services at Harvard Hillel, where even the female Reform rabbi felt that Bryan should go through a formal conversion “to affirm his commitment to the community”. We took remedial Judaism classes at a schul in Lexington, observed the High Holidays (fasting for Yom Kippur was no joke; I wound up with a pounding headache at some point around mid-afternoon), and more-or-less kept kosher for Passover one year. This is particularly challenging if you’re vegetarian and coming at it from the Ashkenazic tradition, which excludes rice, beans, pulses and maize in addition to the wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats that are prohibited in the Torah. (Ashkenazis were finally allowed by the Rabbinical Assembly to expand their options this year – about 25 years too late for us.) After all of that, we decided that it wasn’t really necessary to go through a formal conversion to be “Passover Jews”, and we were satisfied with being Jewish-ish. In the end, we got married in a civil ceremony performed by a Justice of the Peace who was a friend of Bryan’s father (the first time; the second time, it was Vegas and an Elvis impersonator. Not even kidding about this.)

I’ve never been to a proper seder. The closest I came was a Passover dinner with the family of an old boyfriend. They weren’t particularly observant, and I think they were intimidated by the prospect of explaining the seder to A–‘s shikseh live-in girlfriend. The main things I remember are how nasty the Manieschewitz was (A–‘s family were amused at my reaction) and that they didn’t have a lamb bone for the seder plate, so they used a Milkbone dog biscuit instead. Jellied Charoset doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

Never Mind the Jell-O, Here’s Irish Continental Breakfast!

I owe another tip of the hat to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The other night he had some fun with a statement by RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who declared that the U.S. presidential primaries have been fun, not hard at all, and it’s not like he’s pouring Baileys on his cereal or anything like that. When I heard that on the news clip, I thought, “Hm, that sounds like it might work, wish I’d thought of it….”, and it turned out that Colbert and/or his writers had the same thought. He pulled out a bowl, a spoon, a box of Lucky Charms, and a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream, and proceeded to chow down:

A short time later, he and guest Tom Hanks partook of Stephen’s “Irish continental breakfast” during their interview.

Adolescent-at-heart that I am, I was deeply intrigued – although, much as I respect Stephen Colbert, I thought  that there must be a better choice of cereal than Lucky Charms. While I get the whole “Irish” theme, I thought this would be better with a chocolate cereal, of which there is no shortage these days. I was thinking maybe Count Chocula cereal would do, though I could also go with classics like Cocoa Puffs or Cocoa Pebbles, or with chocolate Cheerioes, Oreo cookie cereal, chocolate Batman cereal…

OK, I think I just found the cause of our obesity epidemic. You’re welcome.


Magically delicious!

So our Saturday errands took us to a nearby Shaw’s supermarket, where they didn’t have Count Chocula (apparently it’s seasonal now,) but they did have chocolate Lucky Charms. There are chocolate Lucky Charms? Perfect! says I. We grabbed a box, a little later picked up a bottle of Baileys from a new liquor store in the neighborhood, and we were all set.

I’m here to tell you that Baileys on chocolate cereal totally works. Not only does the liqueur taste fine with the cereal, but the cereal makes the Baileys left in the bowl all chocolatey, so when you’ve finished off the cereal you can add a little vodka and some crushed ice, and you’ve got a chocolate mudslide. It was the perfect thing to eat while watching Time Traveling Bong.

I just need to ask a favor, readers. Please don’t tell my trainer about this. Any of it.

Bonus Video: Molded Potato Salad – Behind the Jell-O

I’ve been having so much fun fooling around with iMovie, I decided to make you guys a bonus video!


Virgin Recipe: Molded Potato Salad


If only all the Jell-O molds could turn out as well as this one…

Here we arrive at another exciting savory Jell-O recipe. No mystery about this one – it’s really just a potato salad given shape and hold by a packet of Jell-O.

I have surprisingly few grumbles about this one. The chief grumble is the stupid imprecision with which American recipes were, and are, written. Molded Potato Salad calls for four cups of cooked and diced potatoes, which sounds straightforward until you’re about to peel and cook the potatoes, and you realize that you don’t have a good idea of how many whole potatoes will make four cups diced. I had to guess, and, okay, five potatoes worked out to be about the right amount, but I kept thinking about how much simpler it would have been if I had just had to, say, measure out 500 grams of potatoes on our kitchen scale; then I wouldn’t have had to worry, right up until I was filling up the ring mold, whether I had cooked enough potatoes.


Selfie in my new vintage blouse. Bryan said I looked like I’d just stepped out of McCall’s.

Molded Potato Salad is essentially a bavarian made with mayonnaise instead of cream. That sounds pretty nasty, but it turned out to be not so bad. It unmolded beautifully, and even in the eating it wasn’t awful. Bryan would argue with this (he ate some, picking the potato and bacon bits out of the Jell-O/mayonnaise base) but the main problem was a lack of seasoning, which apart from the bacon came mainly in the form of a packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing powder whisked together with a few tablespoons of vinegar. Chopped celery and onion, maybe some chopped bell pepper, garlic salt and fresh-ground pepper would have been a huge improvement. Even so, this was far from the worst Jell-O recipe I’ve done so far, in either the original project or the reboot. With unflavored gelatin, some crunchy fresh veggies, and decent seasoning, this would be at least as good as a standard potato salad.

But really, the main point of this one, and the reason for the emphasis on not being afraid to suck, was to continue learning to make videos – in front of the camera, behind the camera, and the editing process on the computer. Also, I had the idea of trying out some vintage clothes. Shopping is another thing I’m not very good at, but I had a go in the vintage section at the Garment District, and had a little success. If nothing else, I realized that the trend of fuller sleeves in the 1970s means that I can be reasonably sure vintage blouses will fit over my muscular arms.

I’m not especially proud of the way the video turned out, but I’m posting it anyway. For me, at least, it’s been instructional. Some problems (the technical ones) can be solved by throwing a few ducats at them. Getting more comfortable in front of the camera is just going to take practice. That’s the thing about not being afraid to suck. If you persevere in spite of sucking, eventually you’ll find that you don’t suck anymore. So here’s hoping….

Bryan and I ate some of this for lunch, but certainly more than half went down the garbage disposal. A donation has been made to Action Against Hunger to atone for this waste of food.

How to Be a Twat(?)

Twat is the word people use to refer to someone who uses Twitter a lot, yes? No?

Whatever. In the spirit of being a perpetual newbie and not being afraid to suck, I’ve been trying to figure out Twitter. Like an idiot, I dismissed it when it was first starting to be a thing several years ago. I’d be having lunch with the other Olds in the Lab, and it would come up as a topic, and we’d just snort derisively about how it was mainly used by the Youngs to share with the world what they were having for breakfast.

Well, maybe Twitter started out that way, but it just turned ten years old, and it seems like about three quarters of all people are twats. Also, more job listings at MIT are asking for familiarity with social media, so I decided I couldn’t just ignore it any longer.

The thing is, I seem to have a Twitter block. I’m having trouble finding the way in, which is weird, because I started getting social online with the Confer chat program at UMass back in 1987, and since then have been on usenet, various online fora, and of course Facebook. Yet Twitter eludes me somehow.

A major challenge is time management. I’m working on keeping up with a Twitter feed, which is often very much an of-the-moment thing, without becoming one of those people who walk around staring at their phones. Terlit time is already spoken for by Facebook. I decided to throw money at the problem and bought the Twitter client Tweetbot, mobile and desktop. One nice feature is that Tweetbot syncs feeds across devices, so I don’t have to waste time scrolling past tweets I’ve already seen. I can always scan my feed when I have a couple of free minutes, wherever I am. That helps, but I still often feel late to the party, and I can’t shake the sense that ideally I would have a feed piped directly into my brain.

Of course, following a feed is just the first step. As far as participating goes, I understand that I’m supposed to be liking stuff, retweeting, replying, mentioning and so forth. I’m even pretty sure I know what those things mean. However, few people I know use Twitter, so I’m following a few celebrities (lots of famous twats out there!), strangers who seem to be aspiring comedians, a few tech sites, and @Nerdist – and I haven’t quite been able to figure out where I fit into all of this. So far it seems less social and more like being in a crowd of twats all vying for attention. My instinct in that sort of situation is to sit quietly in a corner – not really the point of Twitter.

When I do try to come out of my shell, Twitter makes me feel a little like a stalker. (Mr. Google says I’m not the only one.) I’ve replied to a few tweets by relatively approachable British comedians Noel Fielding and Robert Llewellyn – sane, respectful, hopefully witty things – and just thinking about it leaves me verging on an anxiety attack. (How many tweets until you’re a creep?) Actually, I’m like that with non-famous people, too, having been raised to believe that I’m best taken in small doses, but I can only imagine that being told to fuck off by someone whose work I admire would be pretty rough. I have to imagine it, because it’s never happened, but I still worry about it.

I had a little epiphany earlier this evening when I realized that I may have been conditioned by the privacy concerns of techie friends and acquaintances to be overly cautious with Twitter interactions. I need to bear in mind that if I can see a tweet, the twat probably doesn’t mind, or even expects, that complete strangers may respond to it. I’ve had a few strangers like or reply to my cautious tweets, and all I can think is how sweet it was of them to notice.

I follow Steve Martin (a hero of mine since I was 11 or 12, and a celebrity known to do his own tweeting) and I haven’t dared to tweet at him. I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!

Still, Wayne and Garth did get to hang out with Alice Cooper, and I am finding things to like in Twitter. 50 Nerds of Gray punctuates my feed with silliness, and it’s always fun when writer Roxane Gay live-tweets “Tiny House Hunters” (like she’s doing now while I try to finish this draft). I get news about my city, and what’s playing at a local art house cinema. I’ve learned that, for some reason, nerds dig “Gilmore Girls”, and that the show is returning to television. Okaaaaay then…

Maybe I’ll make it as a twat yet.

Virgin Recipe: Jellied Peach Melba


Jellied Peach Melba circa 1974

Yay, me! I got another virgin recipe out of the way!

First, this begs the question: What the hell is a real peach Melba, anyway? I confess I had to look it up, and it’s as old-fashioned as it sounds. It was invented in the late 19th century by chef Escoffier to honor an Australian opera singer, and consists of peaches, raspberries, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream. It turns out that the Jell-O version is true to the original, which is traditionally open to variation anyway.

I had a few tiny issues, but overall Jellied Peach Melba is easy-peasy to make. The main problem, if you want to call it that, is that there’s no longer a Bird’s Eye Quick Thaw line of frozen fruits, so I wound up getting the store brand frozen peaches (the only option), and some crunchy-granola-sounding brand of frozen raspberries. The bag of peaches was larger than what was called for in the recipe, but that turned out to be a good thing, because the recipe calls for a five-cup ring mold, and my ring mold is six cups. The extra peaches filled out the mold nicely.

Putting it together involved making a double batch of raspberry Jell-O, adding the frozen peaches and raspberries, and putting it in the ring mold to chill and set up overnight. The fabulous presentation includes scoops of vanilla ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s, natch) piled up in the middle of the Jell-O ring.

As it happens, I finished and tasted this after doing our income tax returns, an activity that’s guaranteed to tank my mood. In fact, TurboTax started me off by asking me how I felt about doing my taxes. I was feeling pretty good at the outset after having a productive morning. Two and a half hours and a good deal of shouting and swearing later, I was decidedly cranky. Bad news for the Jell-O result?


Funny, TurboTax didn’t check back in with me after the returns were finished….

Full credit to Kraft Foods and Jell-O, preparing and eating Jellied Peach Melba actually cheered me up quite a bit. The mold turned out without a hitch, and scooping out balls of ice cream is almost always a delight. For eating, this one isn’t bad at all. Cream almost always improves Jell-O, and the mold had enough fruit in it that it wasn’t like eating a dish full of jelly (for which one really needs to be in the right mood, or sick, or recovering from dental surgery).


Frankly, I think mine looks better than the image from the book.

I wish the fruit had been better. The peaches had a peach-like texture and weren’t mushy or slimy, but they had very little flavor. The raspberries just tasted wrong, but maybe that was because of the contrast with the artificial flavor of the Jell-O. I rarely find frozen fruit that’s satisfactory – most are good enough for protein smoothies, maybe, but few can stand on their own in a dessert.

Still, all things considered, not a bad one at all. I may even eat some of the leftovers before the Jell-O starts shrinking in the fridge.

And yes, we ate the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s during the “tasting”. You pretty much have to polish off all the ice cream after this dessert is served – another point in its favor.

I’m enjoying this while I can, because the next one up is one of the scary savory ones, involving a video and a donation to Action Against Hunger. I have some new ideas for the videos, so I’m actually looking forward to tackling it. Look for that in a couple of weeks…