Virgin Recipe: Rainbow Parfait

two tall parfait glasses with layered lemon and grape Jell-O

Rainbow Parfait

Today we’re looking at another “Especially for Junior Cooks” recipe.

However, this post isn’t going to be as carefree as it ought to be. I took a “staycation” last week, with the ambition of doing some serious house cleaning, but got brought up short on that by a couple of things. One was that what I really needed was a bit of a rest, and after a couple of rooms I realized I wasn’t going to get it if I kept on doing all that work by myself. Another was that last week the news was pretty much one gut punch after another, which made the need for some self-care even more pressing.

Early in the week, unexpected caffeine withdrawal headaches (it’s sad, it turns out I’m more of an addict than I realized) were compounded by the president’s belligerent rhetoric directed at North Korea, which gave us Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers bad Cold War flashbacks. I started thinking along the lines of “who cares if the bathroom is perfectly clean if we’re all going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway?” So I shifted my focus to playing Fallout New Vegas (for practice), working with my trainer at the gym to test my one-rep maxes on the major lifts (to keep my Strength stat up), and practicing guitar (to get my Charisma stat a bit higher). All of those activities had the added bonus of taking my mind off of the news and me physically away from social media.

On Saturday we went to a party down the shore at the home of the founder of my lab at MIT. I left my phone stowed in a duffle bag all day while I drank wine, watched egrets doing their thing in the marsh, and chatted with the good folks from the lab. It was very nice while it lasted – and then late in the evening I pulled out my phone to show someone pictures of my past Halloween costumes, and after that made the mistake of looking at Twitter, where I read about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA and the incident where one of their number drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring nineteen more.

This makes it a little difficult to feel light-hearted about a Jell-O project when Jell-O is, arguably, part of the so-called “white culture” being championed by the so-called “alt right” (Bill Cosby notwithstanding, and he’s certainly not someone I would choose as a shining example of African American culture, either). It’s difficult to feel light-hearted in general right now. I’ve been wanting to make a statement about how the white guys with the tiki torches don’t represent me, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding self-righteous. They really don’t, though. As a melanin-challenged person, I don’t feel as though “my culture” is under threat, and I recognize what a privilege that is. Anyway, my view of U.S. culture is rather different from theirs, incorporating as it does the essential influences of all those groups the neo-Nazis believe to be inferior. The U.S. has never been a homogeneous culture. Thank goodness.

But I did make some Jell-O on Sunday, so let’s get back to the fittingly named Rainbow Parfait. This recipe is deceptively simple-sounding, consisting of two flavors of Jell-O (lemon and raspberry) that are layered in tall glasses for maximum visual impact. I’m out of raspberry (all red flavors, actually), and since we were time-constrained by that party I decided to skip the usual Saturday visit to Stop’n’Shop and use another flavor that I already had on hand. This time, it was grape, because purple is yellow’s complementary color, and I figured the contrast would be reasonably, erm, psychedelic and in the spirit of the original recipe. (The book was, after all, published in the early 1970s when the counterculture had pretty much gone mainstream.)

The problem with this recipe is that the timing is all wonky. You’re supposed to make two separate batches of Jell-O at the same time (okay so far), and then you thicken them a bit. Fine. But then you’re suppose to add a layer of one flavor of thickened Jell-O to the glasses, chill that layer until it’s fairly firm, then add the next layer, chill, and so forth. The problem with this is, as I’ve found, that once the Jell-O starts setting up, it’s just going to keep getting thicker, and these directions just sound kind of silly. Instead, I chilled the lemon and grape Jell-O until they were pretty thick but not set, quickly layered them in the glasses, and then put them in the fridge to chill until firm.

mostly-eaten Rainbow Parfait

Rainbow Parfait sparkling in the bottom of the glass

I think the original idea in the recipe was that you’d end up with quite flat and distinct layers of color. Doing it my way, with the Jell-O soft and sort of mounding, the layers blend a little where the two flavors of Jell-O meet and they’re not perfectly level. This gives the dish a sort of tie-dye effect that I quite like.

For eating, this was probably one of the least weird recipes I’ve done. Of course, it’s really just two-flavor Jell-O, and if you’re okay with Jell-O, it’s fine (though I would have liked a squirt of Redi-Whip on top). The best part was the visual appeal, which definitely added to the pleasure of eating it.

It looked especially nice once I’d spooned some of it out of the glass. The flavor specificity of the recipe is unnecessary – this would work well with any combination of light-colored and dark-colored Jell-O flavors. In fact, I think the purple of the grape flavor was a little too dark, and I kind of wish I’d gotten a little more adventurous with the flavors, for example using peach and Berry Blue. It could be fun to use this layering technique to make Cubed Gelatin for a kind of hippie-dippie effect. If the opportunity presents itself I’ll have to try it.

And you know what, finishing this up is actually making me feel a little better. Ah, the magic of Jell-O…

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