I tend to be a bit of an old-fashioned purist about “the holiday season”. I grew up in a time when Thanksgiving was its own holiday, and the run-up to Christmas kicked off when Santa appeared at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even though I lost interest in the parade a long time ago, I still feel like the holiday season has gotten stretched well beyond reasonable bounds (much like U.S. political campaigns), beginning as it does weeks before Halloween.
Well, apparently now that I’m becoming old and irrelevant I need to try not to get all hung up on how things were done “back in the day”. In the spirit of compromise (considering that the display of artificial pre-lighted trees went up in Sears a month ago) I’m firing up my “Holidazed” iTunes playlist and using Thanksgiving week to start on a series of mostly holiday-related Jell-O recipes, starting with Jellied Holiday Nog.
This is one that I do sort of remember, mainly because of the deceptive title. I’m not a big fan of eggnog, but I’ll drink it when it’s around, and when I got to this recipe, it seemed like there was a certain logic to gelling it. I mean, it’s so thick and creamy already, you almost expect it to happen naturally; it’s kind of like a drinkable pudding.
Sure enough, Jellied Holiday Nog starts with Jell-O vanilla pudding mix and lemon Jell-O – quite a lot of both – which doesn’t sound so bad. I used the sugar-free pudding mix; unless you’re dealing with serious health issues, I don’t recommend it, because that (as well as the sugar-free Jell-O gelatins I’ve tried) tends to develop intractable lumps during the cooking process.
The combined Jell-O and pudding get mixed with a rather outlandish quantity of Dream Whip and some flavorings, making a good eight cups of Jellied Holiday Nog, which is a lot. You’re supposed to serve it with Cranberry Orange Sauce, but for some reason I opted to leave my Jellied Holiday Nog naked except for a sprinkling of nutmeg. I was probably put off by the tapioca, which I’ve never liked because the texture makes me gag unless I eat it very carefully, and the payoff for eating tapioca just isn’t worth it.
Traditionally, eggnog doesn’t contain lemon (or any sort of citrus flavor) so it’s not surprising that I would find this too lemony.
The vanilla pudding flavor must have been pretty strong, too, because it reminded me of a dinner buffet at a restaurant in Clovis, New Mexico that I encountered while driving across the U.S. in April 1998. The buffet was traditional New Mexican, offering enchiladas with red sauce and enchiladas with green sauce, and for dessert there was a choice of “strawberry shortcake” (thawed frozen strawberries, individual-sized sponge cakes, and Cool Whip) or “banana pudding” (vanilla pudding with banana slices and Nilla wafers). I don’t know about that Cranberry Orange Sauce, but Jellied Holiday Nog could have used a side of Nilla wafers.
I gave the recipe one-to-two “nasties”, but I have absolutely no desire to make it again. That said, a major point in its favor is that it should be easy to halve in case anyone is curious to try it but doesn’t want to end up with eight cups of the stuff.
Given past failures in sharing Jell-O recipes on the holidays, I have no plans to make a Jell-O recipe for Thanksgiving – although I am mulling over taking the opportunity to make a cheese ball, something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a cheese ball in the wild, but cheese balls were among the images in my early “food porn” – the Hickory Farms holiday catalogs that started arriving in the mail in early November when I was a kid. I was intrigued by the cheese balls, and the petit-fours, tortes, and gift-box assortments, and I would just sit around poring over those catalogs. (I don’t know why we got them, because as far as I know my parents never ordered anything out of them.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it all.
I should probably get myself a snack now. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this honorable, warm and emotional holiday video:
Get your hiking boots on – we’re back to Memory Lane.
Once again, I have no specific memory of this recipe, similar as it is to a few other ginger-ale/orange Jell-O combos. I’ve never cared much for artificial orange flavor, and this election season has given me a downright aversion to that bright orange color. (Shouldn’t an alleged billionaire be able to afford a better grade of fake tan?)
Yes, I’m back to stressing about the election. This year, for the first time, my state is allowing early voting, and it started October 24. Last week (on Hillary Clinton’s birthday), I went and voted at lunchtime, and despite low expectations, I felt a lot better. I’d done what was in my power to do. I tweeted this photo with the message “Suck it, Trump!” The polls were showing Clinton with a solid lead, and it seemed as though a crisis had been averted.
Then last Friday Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah and part-time Eddie Munster impersonator) sent out his misleading tweet about the Comey memo, and we were back in the swamp. The more liberal-leaning media have characterized as “a nothingburger” the FBI’s decision to resume the Clinton email investigation with whatever might be found on Huma Abedin’s computer, and it’s hard to imagine something like this swaying a lot of undecided voters at this point, but polls are showing Clinton’s lead narrowing. Eager as I am at this point to see Election Day come and go, it’s hard to see how things are going to get better as of November 9. Either we end up with a Trump presidency (god forbid) or Clinton wins by a narrow margin and the people who are convinced that “the system is rigged” refuse to accept the election results – and even if no one attempts “a Second Amendment solution”, Republicans in the legislature will most likely continue the obstructionism they’ve been practicing under President Obama.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a time when I so badly wanted to just be sedated until it’s all over, and I’m getting a little desperate in my attempts to keep my spirits up. I just discovered the face-altering feature in Snapchat, and I’ve been cracking myself up taking selfies of me as a bat, a drag queen, a pug dog. Face swap with random photos on my phone is also a hoot, though Bryan really doesn’t like the one I did with his picture. I think he’s getting a little worried about me.
At least I’m still carrying on with the Jell-O.
Although I have no memory of Zesty Ginger-Fruit Salad, I do still have notes. It was number 53, just a few recipes before the original Project came to a screeching halt. I doubt this one was one of the last straws, though.
This was a pretty simple one, though apparently not as quick to make as I was expecting, just orange Jell-O made with ginger ale, and grapefruit and orange pieces. I was dubious that this Jell-O salad would be “zesty”, and indeed I wound up deeming it “fairly inoffensive”, a “breakfast Jell-O”. The grapefruit cut the sweetness of the Jell-O (always a good thing), but the orange pieces were too pithy. It got me thinking about online acquaintance* and loyal reader Jack, who lives in California and is fortunate to have a number of citrus trees on his property. This would have been so much better with fresh citrus.
This weekend I have a relatively pleasant Jell-O recipe to make. It’s good to have things to look forward to…
* I hope he’s okay with this qualification. I’ve never met him in person.
Well, here we are back on the increasingly cracked and weedy Memory Lane. I have no recollection of this one whatsoever, which is hardly surprising considering that I made it almost seven years ago. So much water under the bridge, and, to be honest, there’s so much going on in the here-and-now that my brain doesn’t have a lot of room for nostalgia these days.
So I’m working off of my old notes, which seem so uninformative now.
This is one of those not-awful savory recipes, vegetables suspended in Jell-O instead of fruit. It’s seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper, and I’m guessing that the amounts were adequate to counteract the sweetness of the Jell-O, because I didn’t remark that it was too sweet – though I did note that it “[wasn’t] Molded Tomato Relish, but definitely a WTF kind of thing”, so maybe it was still early enough in the Project that I didn’t quite know how to approach the savory ones.
The vegetables involved are onion (grated), cauliflower, and pimento, and it looks like this one is another where I made the mistake of asking Bryan to pick up ingredients for me. Like a lot of people our age, he only knew of pimentos as the red things that sometimes appear stuffed into green olives, and he didn’t realize that you could buy them on their own in jars, so he bought me a red bell pepper instead, and that’s what I ended up using. Appearance-wise, that was probably close enough, but I bet that using pickled pimentos would have helped to further mask the sweetness of the Jell-O. As with Garden Soufflé Salad, I found the cauliflower to have an odd texture in the gelatin, and it tasted weird, too. I thought this dish would be better with celery Jell-O.
The recipe suggests serving this with mayonnaise or French dressing if desired. No, I do not desire.
One thing I did like about Sequin Salad was the appearance, which is so often Jell-O’s strong suit. However, it did not look appetizing to Bryan, who saw it as primarily “pale beige” because he’s red-green colorblind. I’ve known this about him for almost as long as I’ve known him, and with image-filtering technology I can get some idea of how the world looks to him. I suspect that the filtered image here is more yellow-brown than it would look to Bryan. He can actually see some red, although he tends to have trouble with the Pepto-pinks (so Jell-Os like Cherry Chiffon probably don’t look that great, either) and depending on the brightness, greens appear to him as yellow, orange, or brown. When he was a kid, he was confused by the expression “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” because all the grass looked orange to him.
I guess I should be a little fairer to Bryan, considering that he’s getting even less enjoyment from the Jell-O than I am. Then again, this was his idea, so – nah…
It seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time on Memory Lane lately. It might be a function of the Big Five-Oh looming in the not-too-distant future, or it may be because I’m working my way through A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (which is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, read), or it may be because I’ve been spending so much time listening to my Galaxy News Radio channel and thinking about the evolution of American popular music, but I feel like I’m looking back a lot – not wistfully, but trying to get a better sense of my place on the continuum. For a long time I’ve had this notion that life is a puzzle that makes more sense as you find and slot in the pieces, and the past is a good place to go looking for puzzle pieces.
Last Sunday morning I found this tweet in my timeline:
The person Steve Martin was retweeting has apparently just discovered Martin’s old standup material, which is great (oh, to be able to hear “King Tut” for the first time again!), but it looks like he jumped to the conclusion that because it’s new to him, it must have been forgotten by everyone else. Mentioning Martin in his tweet really put the icing on this faux pas. Maybe he thought he was doing him a favor.
Jay seems to lack a sense of himself in relation to history. Perhaps, like a lot of young people today, he thinks that the past is irrelevant to him because things have changed so much, so fast. It didn’t occur to him that there’s a generation or two before him who remember Steve Martin’s earlier work and consider it hugely influential, even (as many replies to his tweet noted) legendary – and who may be among Martin’s 7.7 million Twitter followers. In this internet age, it would have been easy enough to discover the foundation of Martin’s enduring success (which certainly doesn’t indicate an “underrated” early career), but Jay’s reference point was himself, and he mistakenly thought that was sufficient.
But enough of this “get off of my lawn” stuff…
Where was I? Oh, yes, Honey Pecan Bavarian. I don’t remember this one at all. In fact, the photo I uploaded initially turned out to be not Honey Pecan Bavarian, which I only realized after reading the recipe for reference.
Going by my notes, I was psyched to make this one because it contains “REAL CREAM”, which I can imagine would have seemed like a huge relief after recipes involving Cool Whip, Dream Whip, and mayonnaise. The Jell-O is strawberry flavor, which apparently goes well with honey, although in hindsight I am dubious. I indicated that the honey flavor “is pretty strong”, so I guess you have to like honey if you’re going to make this one.
A tip for anyone who decides to try to make this – the recipe says to “stir carefully” when adding the cream to the thickened gelatin; I found that beating the cream into the gelatin worked better. However, careful stirring is probably the way to go with the pecans. Pecans? Yes, though I remarked that “nuts still don’t belong in Jell-O”.
The pieces remained intact when I served them, which is always a good feature in a Jell-O mold. Bryan didn’t like the smell, and I concurred, noting that “it does smell a little like ass”. He couldn’t finish his portion, and couldn’t explain why (which may not mean that much, really), but I didn’t think it was that bad.
Still, I’m just as glad I didn’t have to make this again. I may have forgotten it, but at least I wasn’t doomed to repeat it.
Every time I do a Memory Lane post, I have to hang my head in disappointment at how inadequate my notes are. For example, with Mardi Gras Mold, the recipe calls for “1 package (3 oz.) Jell-O Gelatin, any red flavor”. I neglected to note which red flavor I used, and it’s weird, now, how frustrating that is. I mean, that’s not an unimportant detail. The difference between strawberry, raspberry and cherry Jell-O is actually significant. No, really, it is.
I have a growing list of things that I would do if I had a time machine, and one of those things is going back to 2009 to give myself advice on doing this blog. Set up an editorial calendar and pace yourself! Take better notes! Add dates to your notes, for fuck’s sake! Come to think of it, if I could go back to 2009 and tell myself how to do this properly, I’d be well finished with it by now, and hopefully working on some other project. Of course, in that case, I wouldn’t be going back to 2009 to give myself advice, and, oh, damn those time travel paradoxes…
This is one of the sucky things about closing in on 50. I’ve been aware for quite a while that time speeds up as you get older, but it’s only now that I’m getting a sense of how little time I have left, and how little I’ve done with what I’ve had already. Now, sure, 50 isn’t all that old. It’s still safely within the zone of “middle age”. The problem is that most of the interesting stuff is meant to be done, or at least started, when you’re young, when you have peak energy and stamina, and joints that function silently without calling attention to themselves. According to The Life Script™, I’m supposed to be starting to bask in the glory of all that I’ve accomplished throughout my lifetime, receiving a chair or other token for career longevity, and having young grandchildren stay for sleepovers in my spacious suburban abode.
Well, I don’t have a house with spare bedrooms. I don’t have children (so no grandchildren). Thanks to a layoff and subsequent cross-country move, I’m not in MIT’s Quarter-Century Club (though I would be by now if things hadn’t gone a bit pear-shaped in 1998). I do have loads of memories and experiences – marriages, and travel, and getting to know some really excellent people. There’s still more, though, I know it.
I’m not sure what I did with my copy of The Life Script™. Most likely I left it behind at my father’s house when I moved out to go to college, along with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t care about. I’ve never missed it, particularly. I suspect that following it would have made me at least as miserable as it seemed to make my parents, especially since I’ve known from a young age that I want to live a less conventional life. It’s been an interesting 49-and-some years, but the “mid-life crisis” is a boring cliché for a reason. Everyone hits this point and thinks, “What’s next?” I don’t even have a blueprint for it, and letting things happen, as I’ve done all my life, seems rather counterintuitive at this stage. They say that the unexamined life is not worth living (hell, I’ve said it, and then gotten blamed for inspiring mayhem) but the examined life is certainly the longer, bumpier path.
(In case anyone’s wondering, the tone of this post is largely down to the music I’m listening to while I write, which is the soundtrack to the short-lived British TV series Snuff Box. Snuff Box is brilliant, but practically the definition of dark comedy, and the music lends itself to regrets.)
According to my notes, Mardi Gras Mold did not taste of regret. (No, that would be Jellied Prune Whip.) In fact, I indicated that it “seems not unpleasant”. My only specific memory of it is that it was the start of me getting over a lifelong dislike of maraschino cherries. The recipe calls for a third of a cup of the buggers, diced, and while it’s not exactly ham-and-egg-in-Jell-O, I’m sure I had to gird my loins for this one. In fact, at the top of my notes (from when I was just starting to make the recipe) is the comment “Not enough maraschino cherries – so what?” My very last comment was “I wish I’d had enough cherries…” So there you go, a little bit of proof that growth and change are possible as we get older.
As you can see from the photo, the top layer is straight red gelatin, and the bottom layer is a bavarian. In this case, the recipe gives the option of using either Dream Whip or whipped heavy cream. (I went with the Dream Whip. Why? I don’t know…) Suspended in the bavarian layer are the above mentioned diced maraschino cherries and a quarter-cup of slivered blanched almonds. My notes say that “something is missing…”, but also that “nuts do not belong in Jell-O”, which seems pretty obvious when you think about it.
Like many of these layered desserts, the layers did not adhere well, which I attributed to the fact that the bavarian layer seemed to contain a large proportion of Dream Whip. Bryan enjoyed playing with it, though, and the flavor wasn’t too bad, so we gave it two “nasties”.
As for why it’s called Mardi Gras Mold, I’m still wondering about that. At my age, it’s good to know that life still holds a few mysteries…
It’s kind of ironic that I’ve named this category of recipes “Memory Lane”, because often I have no memory of them at all. Scanning through my editorial calendar, it looks like I’ve front-loaded the blog with the more memorable items (whether this was intentional or not, I’ll leave the reader to guess), so from here on in you can count on Memory Lane to be cracked and increasingly overgrown by weeds.
It’s clear from the photo why I have no memory of Layered Parfait Mold. I’m pretty sure I’ve made a number of them like this, a jelly layer atop a bavarian layer. Back when I was rating the recipes, I gave this one two “nasties”, because it wasn’t as nice as I expected, and because I was dissatisfied with the Trader Joe’s frozen fruit medley that I used for the jelly layer. Frozen fruit is great in a gelatin dish insofar as it helps to cool the gelatin so that it thickens faster, but it’s difficult to find frozen fruit that has both flavor and a non-weird texture.
Reviewing the recipe, I see that I could have made this more interesting. Apparently I just went with strawberry for both layers, but the recipe calls for “any flavor” Jell-O. I can see now I should have mixed it up a bit. At least then the photo would have been more interesting, and I could have had a bavarian layer than wasn’t creepy pink. Naturally, that was the tastier layer. That was the part Bryan liked, probably because it had ice cream in it, and ice cream makes everything better.
In the last unmemorable Memory Lane piece, Quick Creme de Menthe Frappé, I announced that I would try to have all of the recipes completed and posted by my fiftieth birthday in January 2017. I don’t see that happening at this point. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of this Project, it’s the need to pace myself, and the main thing is to actually finish. As far as I’ve been able to discover, nobody else has been able to cook their way through this book, so that, when it happens, will be an accomplishment.
I’ll be honest with you – a major ongoing challenge has been maintaining enthusiasm for Jell-O. Other people who’ve done Jell-O blogs have claimed to love (or be obsessed with) Jell-O. They also tend to be housewives and/or Mormons. I’m way outside of both of those demographics, and while I clearly have Jell-O memories going way back, it’s not like it’s ever been my favorite thing.
It turns out that the key is having enthusiasm for the Project itself. It hit me a few weeks ago when Bryan and I were making one of our semi-regular visits to the Cambridge Antique Market, where we find a lot of our vintage cookbooks, jelly molds, and kitchenware. We ran across a shoebox full of old recipe booklets, many of them church- or school-produced things outside my area of interest, but one of them happened to be an early 1960s vintage copy of Joys of Jell-O, with just the sort of weird color food photography I adore. There was no price tag on it, so I checked with the woman who was overseeing the booths on the floor, and she told me that the shoebox was for sale as a lot, $25 for all of them. In that case, I told her, I would have to mull it over. I explained a little about the Project and why I was particularly keen to have the Jell-O book. I thanked her, and wandered off to look at other booths.
A few minutes later, I heard her call out, “Is the Jell-O Lady still here?” She had phoned the vendor and gotten him to agree to sell me the Jell-O book separately. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and weirdly thrilled to be publicly called out as “the Jell-O Lady”.
Can I be “the Jell-O Lady” for another couple of years? Yeah. I think I can.
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.
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?