Hello. My name is Terra, and I’m a procrastinator.
It’s a problem I’ve had as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who’d wait until after supper to start on a school project that was due the next day. I still remember one horrible night when I was in fourth grade, when I was supposed to make a dish that represented my ethnic heritage to bring to school and share with my classmates. Since I’m several generations away from my immigrant ancestors, the only thing my mother could think of was petit-fours as a nod to my French ancestry, and she left me to try to make some from scratch from a recipe. I’d never made cake or frosting from scratch before, so I was up ridiculously late for a ten-year-old. I was exhausted the next day at school, and the petit-fours turned out awful. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after that, but there were late-night paper-writing sessions and study all-nighters right through my school years.
Brandied Cherry Ring brought out all the old procrastinating instincts. Sometimes I procrastinate because I have a bit of a perfectionist streak. Sometimes I procrastinate because I dread doing something. This was mostly the latter case. Mainly it was the cherries; as regular readers of NJoJ may recall, I don’t really like cherries. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the brandy, either. We only keep it around for cooking; I never drink the stuff.
This recipe bears an uncanny resemblance to Cherry Chiffon, except that the liquid from the canned cherries goes into the Jell-O, and instead of Cool Whip the creamy part of the bavarian layer is Dream Whip. Then, of course, there’s the brandy. There isn’t a lot of it in the recipe, just a third of a cup that gets “heated” and poured over the cherries, which then sit for “about 30 minutes”. Something about the smell of the brandy was disturbing. It was less a “Proustian memory” and more of what’s commonly referred to these days as a “trigger”-
[ ] …
And I’m back. I just went to YouTube to put on a Fallout playlist because Pandora keeps stopping dead in the middle of a song, and I got sidetracked catching up on Jenna Marbles, and then I decided to treat myself to a viewing of the Mint Royale “Blue Song” video, but I’m finally back, swinging along to “Jingle Jangle Jingle” and hopefully ready to carry on with the Jell-O.
After soaking the cherries, the brandy/cherry liquid gets added to the watered-down canned cherry juice. The end result is about one and two-thirds cups room-temperature liquid, which gets added to a double batch of hot cherry Jell-O. This, I think, is where the recipe kind of goes wrong, making a double batch instead of two single batches. The recipe says to thicken the Jell-O, add the cherries to half of it, put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in a six-cup ring mold, and chill it until set but not firm. I put the Jell-O/cherry mixture in the mold in the fridge, but meanwhile I had the other half of the Jell-O still thickening over an ice-water bath that I had to work with before it got too much thicker. I added half a prepared batch of Dream Whip to that, and thickened it some more over the bath to kill some time, until it got quite viscous and I knew I had to add it to the mold whether the cherry layer was firm or not.
Well, the cherry layer wasn’t, quite, as you can see in the photo. It looks like the cherries stopped the bavarian layer from sinking all the way to the bottom of the mold. I think it would have come out more neatly if I’d made the layers as separate batches, which is how Cherry Chiffon was done.
I do like the added depth of color from the cherry juice, and the slight blending of the layers looks cool. Since I had an extra cup of Dream Whip, I took the opportunity to practice my piping-bag skill. The decoration makes this mold look kind of like a crown, but while I was doing this there was a faint aroma of “cheap dive bar” coming off of the mold that contrasted weirdly with the look of the thing.
When Bryan and I finally got around to tasting this after dinner, it proved to be not as bad as I was expecting. The texture of the canned cherries was unfortunate, as always, but the flavor wasn’t too bad. The brandy was almost undetectable, except that it was there in the cherries like a hazy, distant memory.
Bryan’s assessment: “Meh.”
Okay, my bad. This should have been posted a few weeks ago. I started a draft early, thinking that when the day came I’d be able to hit “publish”, tweet out the URL, and I’d be all set. I never finished the draft, though, because I got seriously derailed by an office move, the holidays, and…
I spent the first couple of weeks of 2017 in London, England in observance of my 50th birthday – because, as I came to realize, staying home in Cambridge just would not have been appropriately grim. The trip was a real mixed bag. The weather was kind of awful, as is traditional in London in January, but not so awful that we were sorry we missed a snowstorm and frigid temperatures back home. We stayed in Whitechapel and enjoyed exploring London’s East End and beyond, seeking out historic sites and good food, but spending the bulk of each day wearing my coat made me feel like an exile. We walked around a lot, enough that I found it tiring, but the flat where we were staying felt close and dreary, and Bryan went out for walks after I was done for the day because he wanted to spend as little time there as possible. The trip ended in a dispute with the owner of the flat over the towels, which had inexplicably discolored in the course of normal use and cost us an extra £50 and any positive feelings we might have had for the place.
We got home late on the night of January 16, and I’ve been catching up on a bunch of things – work, the DVR, the news, sleep – since then. Actually, I haven’t had to spend much time catching up on the news, because I had my iPad with me and access to social media, so I got to hear all about then-PEOTUS’s peccadilloes in the run-up to the inauguration. It was on my birthday that the intelligence reports with “salacious details” hit the news, and far too often that big orange face was on the front pages of the newspapers we saw people reading while riding the tube. This did not exactly fill me with pride as an American.
Inauguration day ended up being sadder than I’d expected, not as bad as the day after the election, but still a rough day. I couldn’t stomach watching the ceremony or our new POTUS’s address, but I read a transcript of the address. It really was dark. Someone should have yelled out “Lighten up, Francis!” at some point, because the whole thing was a total drag for just about everyone except Trump, who was clearly meant to be the hero of the piece. Sad.
Casting about for mitigating humor, I enjoyed the silliness of that obviously staged photo he tweeted with the claim that it showed him writing his inauguration speech. What tipped me off to the sheer bogosity of the thing: nobody gets stuck into a heavy writing job in formal business wear. Someone could at least have told him to take off his jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves. I myself typically write in pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. Maybe if he’d written the speech in, say, silk pajamas, it wouldn’t have been so grim. (*wink* Yes, I know he didn’t actually write it himself.)
Then I was briefly cheered by attending the Boston Women’s March the day after the inauguration. As we know now, attendance was far larger than organizers had anticipated, and strains on Boston’s public transit system made it challenging to get together with the people we were supposed to be meeting, but that was a good problem to have. I was proud to be part of what turned out to be a truly “yuge” worldwide protest, and heartened and humbled by, and deeply grateful for, all the support we had from outside the U.S.
We’d barely had time to catch our breath when our rickety car headed down the next long, steep slope on the political roller-coaster. It’s been such a long couple of weeks since the inauguration. MIT is one place that I would guess has been disproportionately affected by the immigration ban, and even my colleagues who aren’t from the seven named countries are feeling anxious. I’ve never been so deeply ashamed of the government that purports to represent me. It’s not a good feeling.
So it’s been a little difficult to focus on Jell-O lately. It seems so trivial – but I know that staying focused on current events can only lead to burnout. We all need a break once in a while.
I remember Pastel Candied Fruit Peel relatively well, probably because the candy recipes are more interesting to make. I kind of wish I’d decided to make it again, because it turned out to be time-consuming and I think it would have been soothing to do. The fruit peel came from three large grapefruits (the book specifies that they should be “free from blemishes”) which had to be juiced and boiled for 15 minutes before the pulp and pith were removed.
I cut the peel into strips, boiled them for another 15 minutes, and then cooked them in a Jell-O-and-sugar syrup seasoned with cinnamon and cloves for 50 minutes. (The recipe says to use any flavor of Jell-O. I don’t remember what I used. I think it was probably lemon.) At that point, the syrup had gotten quite thick, and I had to work very quickly, tossing the sticky peels in dry sugar a few at a time. The syrup cooled quickly and formed strings as I worked my way through the peels. It was a pain to work with, but at the same time it was the sort of work that requires focused, almost meditative, concentration, which is so good for the mind and spirit.
This was another one that made the kitchen smell like a Cracker Barrel, not a terrible thing. I guess it kind of tasted like a Cracker Barrel, too, which is always a little strange. There’s something about the flavorings of Jell-O gelatin that makes the flavors of spices taste unbalanced. Still, Bryan and I agreed that it only rated one “nasty”; that is, it was among the least offensive recipes in the book.
So you know, I’m actually caught up on the cooking part of the blog. I’d left myself a free week after my vacation, so now I’m just a little behind on the writing, but I’m shooting to get caught up this weekend. You’d think this writing jazz was hard or something…
I hope your hiking shoes are all broken in by now, because we’re going to be spending a good bit of time treading down Memory Lane from now, past the holidays, and on through my birthday in January. (I have big plans for the Big Five-Oh that shall be revealed in due course, but they don’t have a lot to do with Jell-O.)
I do vaguely remember Ported Cherry Dessert, because it requires actual port wine, and I happened to have a bottle of it on hand, courtesy of an actual Portuguese person.
At the time that I was working on the original iteration of the Project, the Lab in which I work was heavily involved in the first phase of the MIT Portugal Program, collaborating with researchers in Portugal and participating in the supervision of the work of Portuguese doctoral candidates. For a few years, at any given time there would be at least one or two Portuguese students in the Lab for a semester or more at a time, enjoying our particular version of “the MIT experience”, and we would regularly host Portuguese faculty for shorter periods. One of them gave me this bottle of port. It’s nothing special, but a decent wine, and I appreciated that A– thought of me (a mere administrative assistant), so I felt mildly guilty for using it in a Jell-O dish.
The MIT Portugal Program has shifted focus somewhat in the second phase, and apart from one research project that was pending for years, our involvement now is minimal. However, MIT is generally a pretty “international” environment, and we still have a lot of non-U.S.-Americans in the Lab, which has made the election more engaging as we Americans have to think about it carefully when we talk with them about it. As it turns out, the outcome been rough on all of us.
I went to bed around 10:30 on the night of Election Day, as things were starting to look bad for Clinton, so I wasn’t shocked at the result when I tuned into NPR the next morning. What I hadn’t been expecting was the deep sense of shame that I felt. Along with the recent Trump news stories (the Access Hollywood recording and assault accusations, his refusal to release his tax returns with all sorts of lame excuses, his campaign rhetoric) I had been paying attention to the reports of how he’s been doing business for decades (e.g., abusing the legal system to avoid paying contractors), having my memory refreshed of his romps through the tabloid news, and learning about his upbringing and how he has treated his family. I came to the conclusion that Donald Trump is a terrible person, so bad that he’d be implausible as a movie villain; selfish, petty, narcissistic, vulgar; incurious and anti-intellectual; opportunistic and unethical. And we just elected him to be President of the United States. I thought we were better than that. Silly me.
On Wednesday, I felt as though I should be apologizing to our international students and staff, to at least try to assure them that there are people in this country who aren’t represented by the Trump candidacy. They said that they felt badly for us being stuck with him for at least four years. They also said that they suddenly feel much less welcome in the U.S. We have a few Muslims on staff, and they’re understandably nervous. One of our researchers is gay, and he’s concerned about the possibility of advances for the LGBTQ community being rolled back. Of course, we female types are worried about what this means for reproductive rights. Everyone is wondering what might happen to research funding under a Trump administration, especially considering that a lot of our research concerns sustainability.
I’m heartsick at the outcome of this election, sad that it’s left people feeling anxious and afraid, ashamed that Trump’s is the image we’re going to be projecting to the rest of the world. I haven’t been out demonstrating, but I’m mulling over ways to constructively oppose the coming administration. It’s hard to know what to do right now, since there’s a lot of uncertainty around what to expect (Trump has flip-flopped and waffled so much, both during the campaign and since winning the election), but I have a few ideas, and NJOJ will definitely be in on the protest action.
This being a Jell-O blog, my plan is to keep it a little light, and positive. One symbolic (and admittedly silly) gesture I will be making is to eschew the use of orange Jell-O for the rest of the Project. I’ve already gone though the calendar, picked out the Virgin and Reboot recipes with orange Jell-O in them, and identified substitutes. For Memory Lane and Reposts, I’m thinking contributions to relevant charities would be a good way to go – Planned Parenthood for sure, and I’m trying to decide on one that provides assistance to refugees. There are some really good ones, and it’s a tough choice. I’ll be providing sidebar links. Stay tuned!
Meanwhile – Ported Cherry Dessert. Another thing I remember is something I indicated in my notes, an ongoing dissatisfaction with frozen fruit. I wonder if it was better in the mid-20th century, or if my standards are just too high.
The Birds Eye Quick Thaw Sweet Cherries specified in the recipe were no longer available when I made this, nor were there any plain old frozen cherries (I’m wondering now why it’s so hard to find processed cherries at all). I found myself wishing that I’d deviated from the recipe in other ways. The gelatin and hot liquid (lemon juice, cherry juice, and wine amounting to one cup) were mixed in a blender, and then ice was blended in. I think this was supposed to be another quick-set recipe, because the next step is to put the gelatin into dessert glasses, garnish with sour cream and whole cherries, and then chill it. The problem with doing it in that order, I found, was that the sour cream and cherries sank into the gelatin (as you can see in the “á la Freak Mountain” photo), which wasn’t set up enough to support them. I really should have chilled this until firm, and then added the garnish.
Even so, this one wasn’t so bad. The “two nasties” rating was something of a compromise that partly reflected my dissatisfaction with the frozen fruit and also reflected the fact that Bryan didn’t care much for the flavor, although I did. Wine jellies usually seem to go well, and this one might almost be worth a redo with fresh fruit and a little reordering of the preparation steps. It’s always nice to do a recipe that doesn’t leave you scratching your head and wondering why…
So I’ve been undergoing that exercise in masochism otherwise known as trying to stay informed and engaged in the U.S. electoral process. In practice, all that means is that I’m letting myself get more anxious than necessary and falling behind in some more enjoyable and less stressful pursuits. Here’s me trying to get caught up.
As I hinted at in Cherry Chiffon, for my pre-savory “free week”, I decided to try out a couple of recipes from Junk Food. This is a book that defies description. It was published in 1980, and is a collection of photos, essays and artwork that characterize American food from the Great Depression through the 1970s. Bryan picked it up in the mid-1980s, and I read it a lot while we were living in Fandom House. When Bryan and I split up, I missed this book so much that he tracked down another copy for me. Now that we’re back together, we can’t bring ourselves to part with either copy, which is a shame for all of you out there, because the chances of this book getting reprinted are less than nil. Acquiring the rights for all the disparate items in the book would be (and was, back in the day) a publishing nightmare.
There are so many great pieces of writing, from “The 24-Hour Breakfast” by Robin Green (in which the author eats breakfast in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tijuana, and Disneyland in one 24-hour span and then, like, writes about it), to “A Mac with the Colonel” by Ira Simmons (in which the real Colonel Sanders critiques McDonald’s food), to “The Glutton’s Guide to Eating Out” by Paul Zimmerman (a sort of instructional treatise on all-you-can-eat buffets). There’s one piece, “Real and Delicious Junk Food Recipes You’ll Save and Enjoy” by Salvatore Boroso and John Farago, that we always found amusing, but we never quite had the nerve or motivation to try any of the recipes – until a couple of weeks ago.
Wanting to get the leftover cherries over and done with, I started with the Oreo Soup. My first task was to scrape the “stuf” out of a package of Double Stuf Oreos. I set the Pandora app to play my Galaxy News Radio channel, and while I listened to old jazz, early R&B, and American standards, I methodically separated the stuf from the chocolate wafers. It was a pleasantly meditative exercise, and I swear I felt thoroughly blissed out by the time I was done. I highly recommend this activity as a way to de-stress – but maybe not too often…
The stuf got whizzed in the Cuisinart, and rather than the “maelstrom” mentioned in the recipe, it seemed to quickly get flung out to the sides of the beaker and to just cling there out of reach of the blades. I wonder if that’s because Oreo filling is no longer made with lard, as it would have been when this recipe was created. Anyway. I added the sour cream, which blended with and thinned the stuf so quickly that I was sparing with the cherry juice. It didn’t seem to take much to get the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream, but the color was still very pale. Oh well.
The recipe just says to add the drained cherries to the soup; it doesn’t specify leaving them whole or processing them into the soup, so I decided to just go ahead and purée them. I think that was the right call.
I forgot to add the sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Oh well. Oreo Soup wasn’t bad, but the flavor and texture of the stuf really dominated, and again I wondered if the lard-free composition of modern stuf isn’t at least partly to blame here. I think in the future if I ever feel the need to separate a package of Oreos into its component parts, I’ll find a different excuse.
Now that I had a bowl of chocolate wafers, I could move on to Almond Joy Creme Pie. The cookies are the main ingredient of the simple crumb crust; the addition of melted butter and several minutes in a hot oven got that step out of the way.
There are a few different parts to the filling in Almond Joy Creme Pie. One is instant chocolate pudding made with chocolate milk (in our “of Jewish heritage” household, via Fox’s U-Bet) and chocolate liqueur. Another is Almond Joys with the almonds removed that are then puréed in the food processor and thinned with a non-specific quantity of chocolate liqueur. The last is Cool Whip (leftover from Cherry Chiffon in this case).
The filling ingredients get folded together and placed in the chocolate wafer crust. The almonds from the candy bars were supposed to be saved for garnish, but I didn’t think they looked very decorative so I ground them into the Almond Joy purée and used slivered almonds for garnish instead. The pie then sits in the fridge for several hours to firm up.
The recipe calls for an 8-inch pie plate, but I used a 9-inch plate, and a smaller one would have been too small, so I really lucked out there.
After a full day of chilling, the pie was firm enough to hold a slice, but just barely. I suspect that the culprit is the chocolate liqueur, which I ended up using rather liberally in the Almond Joy purée. Bryan didn’t think the alcohol was very noticeable, but I did. In fact, Bryan really liked this one, and over the four evenings it took us to consume the whole pie, he was always eager for dessert (which is seldom the case when we’re working through a Jell-O recipe).
With the first slice of Almond Joy Creme Pie, it hit me – this is stoner food. Now, I’m not going to lie and say I never inhaled, but my experience with marijuana is limited to a few attempts, years apart, when I was much younger, and I don’t think I’ve ever really been stoned. Nevertheless, I can imagine having the munchies and devouring this pie.
I was originally going to make this post all about marijuana and junk food, figuring that there had to be a clear connection between these things. I did some research, and found that, despite the stereotype of stoners inhaling Doritos or Taco Bell, when people get stoned and get the munchies, they’ll eat pretty much whatever is on hand – so if there’s junk food in the cupboard they’ll eat junk food, but if there’s more healthful food around, they’ll eat that. I found a number of different lists of “the most epic foods to eat when you’re baked”, and they were all quite different.
(No one is saying to eat Jell-O when you’re stoned, though I can image that might fun…)
Apparently food manufacturers are getting bolder about marketing to stoners. For example, the ads suggesting Taco Bell is good “late night” food are aimed at people who might be “partying”. Other ads featuring people acting like doofuses (like recent Burger King and Sonic campaigns) are thought to be depicting stoners. The expectation is that as more states legalize marijuana (as Massachusetts is, I hope, about to do) companies will be increasingly open about selling to this market. Already there’s a weed-themed sub chain, Cheba Hut, out west. However, Screaming Yellow Zonkers aside, there isn’t much junk food being produced specifically for stoners.
Still, given when the book Junk Food was produced, it would not surprise me if recipes like Oreo Soup and Almond Joy Creme Pie (as well as others like Milky Way Mousse and Crepes Jambon Drunken Mammy) were intended to be enjoyed by people under the influence. With a little over five weeks until the election, I understand the impulse.
Been doing some shopping…
So, here I am again, getting ready to embark on another Jell-O journey – or, rather, to continue the one I started five years ago. As I begin this again, it’s strange how much about blogging has changed in that time. For starters, CMSs have become more complex, and getting this thing up and running and working the way I want is trickier than I recall of the first time around. Further, to be a proper blogger now, there has to be more social media tie-in; for instance, among other things, I may have to become a semi-serious user of Twitter.
Luckily, I’m not starting all over with the Jell-O. I will be reposting the original posts that I was able to retrieve via the Wayback Machine. Recipes I’ve already made that turned out to be really nasty will be relegated to Memory Lane, meaning I’ll write about them from my notes and from memory, but I will not be making the recipes again. (Salmon Dill Mousse does not bear repeating, believe me.) The less offensive recipes for which I don’t have posts will be Recipe Reboots. Untried recipes are, of course, Virgin Recipes.
I still have my molds, and knowledge won by hard experience. I know to have a stash of ice in the freezer for quick setting over an ice bath, and to spray molds with nonstick cooking spray to make unmolding easier. I know that sugar-free Jell-O dissolves less easily than the regular kind, and that saving the calories isn’t really worth it.
I have a better idea of my limits. Keeping this up will be hard. Not doing it may be harder.
To set the tone, here’s a video I like I lot. Feel free to Pony if you’ve got the moves…