Yes, it has been an awfully long time since I last posted. I won’t try to excuse this, but merely by way of explanation let me just say that life has been happening. Shortly after the Pi Day post, I had to pack up my home office and move everything downstairs (along with almost everything else on the second floor of Freak Mountain) to make way for the removal of the wall-to-wall carpeting that we’d hated since the first time we saw the house, and its replacement with much nicer (and more environmentally friendly) bamboo flooring. We were in exile at a nearby Fairfield Inn for the better part of a week, which turned out to be more stressful than one might expect. After that, I painted my office, which had been an insipid peach-pink and dotted here and there with what I’m guessing were baby-food stains, and replaced almost all the old random furniture. Henceforth, I have spent a great deal of time reading in my new IKEA club chair.
Of course, by now everyone knows about our legendary Winter 2015 Snowpocalypse, and that also took its toll. And then when springtime finally arrived, our friend V. finally succumbed to her advanced cancer at the Memorial Day weekend. So I’ve been feeling a little beat down is what I’m trying to say here.
Since it was at V.’s July 4th party last year that I allowed myself to be talked into rebooting this blog, I decided that the holiday would be as good a time as any to pick up the thread I dropped last March. Patriotic Mold was on the schedule for this weekend, and it seemed like a nice, relatively simple one with which to start again – a basic layered Jell-O, with strawberry gelatin and frozen strawberries (I used Welch’s – not recommended), lemon Jell-O diluted to almost-white paleness with vanilla ice cream, and Berry Blue Jell-O with frozen blueberries. One good thing about doing this in 2015, as opposed to 1974, is that we have the Berry Blue flavor/color now. Since it didn’t exist back in the day, the recipe says to use lemon Jell-O and mashed blueberries to achieve the blue layer, though it seems to me what what you’d end up with would be a weird dark green. The book also suggests trying the black cherry or Concord grape flavors for the blue layer, but I think that would make it too dark. As it was, with the Berry Blue, my blue layer was a deep indigo, like the darkest possible wash of blue jeans.
The recipe calls for Patriotic Mold to be a single large ring mold. Been there, done that, had my heart broken when the layers slid apart in transit. Instead, I used a three-cup mold and four 1.25-cup molds, since my rainbow mold last year seemed to work out so much better in smaller molds. My plan was to bring the larger mold to a party in the afternoon, leaving us with just a few smaller molds to consume on our own. As it turned out, even the three-cup mold was no match for our winter-ravaged roadways. Bryan and I ate some of it at home, and it wasn’t bad, although the frozen strawberries were pale and flavorless, and I was a little put off by the texture of the blueberries. (Bryan thought they were fine.)
The sad state of my larger mold sadly reflected my feeling about the holiday. Although I love my country, I’ve never been what you would call a flag-waving patriot, and the recent race-motivated murders in South Carolina have left me feeling less sanguine about unity in these United States. I was sickened and saddened by the killing, and troubled by the subsequent rehashing of our old fight over the Confederate battle flag, what it stands for and whether it’s appropriate to continue displaying it.
As a Yankee born and bred, I confess I don’t understand why some southerners stubbornly hang on to that flag, insisting that “southern heritage” has nothing to do with slavery or racism. At the recommendation of someone I know who was raised in South Carolina, I read Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. In it, Horwitz relates his experiences with Civil War re-enactors, and his visits to historic sites around the south and the people that he meets there. I was hoping that the book would shed a little light on the southern mindset; going on this journey with Horwitz, I wound up having a better understanding of how southerners arrive at a particular mindset, but I still don’t get why. Neither did Horwitz. What’s particularly worrying is the fact that the events described in the book took place twenty years ago, but they sound like they could have happened two weeks ago. I worry about what will happen if we can’t find a way beyond this impasse.
P.S. On the positive side, I was greatly cheered by the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. Since it was legalized here in 2004, Massachusetts has utterly failed to go to hell in a hand basket. I expect that will be true of the rest of the country, at least as far as marriage goes.
Originally posted November 1, 2009
The Hand of Glory is the dried and pickled hand of a man who has been hanged, often specified as being the left (Latin: sinister) hand, or, if the man were hanged for murder, the hand that “did the deed.”
According to old European beliefs, a candle made of the fat from a malefactor who died on the gallows, lighted, and placed (as if in a candlestick) in the Hand of Glory, which comes from the same man as the fat in the candle; this would have rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented.
— from the Wikipedia entry for Hand of Glory
Ah, October, probably my favorite month of the year. The foliage is colorful, the days are getting shorter but are not yet too short, the air is becoming crisp enough that I can start pulling out all the sweaters I’m finally starting to miss after schvitzing all summer, and it’s capped off by a great holiday, Halloween. I love Halloween because it’s all about confronting our fears (of death, primarily) by making fun of them. There are no heavy religious overtones to the holiday, relatively little family pressure, and no gift-giving obligations. It’s a chance to indulge the inner drama geek I barely realized I had until a few years ago, the one time of year when I can justify spending more than a utilitarian amount of time on hair, makeup and clothes.
Hand of Glory is not in The New Joys of Jell-O, but it’s the coolest thing I’ve done with Jell-O to date. During the original Project, my friend K–* loaned me her hand-shaped gelatin mold and asked me to use it to make a Jell-O for the Halloween party that she and her husband F– (a researcher at the Lab) were giving, as they do every year, for Lab folk and other friends. At that point, I had already done enough fruit-suspended-in-Jell-O that I was grateful for the opportunity to get a little creative with it.
There are a few different body-part molds out there — the hand, the heart, and the ever-popular brain mold. A pretty common way to use them is to combine Jell-O with a creamy substance to create a flesh-like or just plain creepy color. For instance, I’ve been advised that combining red Jell-O and Cool Whip gives a reasonably authentic internal-organ appearance to a heart mold.
I wanted to take it further than that.
I wanted to make a corpse hand, and I wanted it to have some detail, so first I needed to make some dark blue veins. I started with half of a packet of berry blue Jell-O dissolved in a half cup of boiling water, to which I added four drops of blue food coloring, one drop of red, and one drop of green, and then a little ice to cool/thicken it. My notes indicate that I didn’t think the color was dark enough, nor the gelatin thick enough, but piping this into the bottom of the lubed hand mold, following the veins on the back of my own left hand as a pattern, actually worked out pretty well. For good measure, I also added dark-blue fingernails**.
Next was the flesh of the hand. I didn’t mean for this to look like the hand of a fresh corpse, so pink was right out. I added the other half of the packet of berry blue to a three-ounce package of peach Jell-O, using the usual amount of water. I cooled this until it was thickened enough to mix in six or seven ounces of Cool Whip that I’d flavored with a little almond extract, and added a drop of green food coloring. This pleased me greatly.
I thought that the “mitt” part on which the hand sits should suggest congealed blood, so I did up a batch of raspberry Jell-O with frozen berries. I can’t remember whether it was just raspberries or a mix of raspberries and strawberries (kind of looks like a mix to me), but either way it looked awesome and just filled the mold.
Having learned from my mistakes on Ginger Peach Dessert, I took more care this time and my Hand of Glory came out of the mold as well as I could have hoped.
It looked a little plain in that baking pan, though. As they say, the Devil is in the details, and this being Halloween, more details were definitely called for. I added the dirt of the grave (Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, ground up in the food processor with a little melted butter, aka crumb crust) and some gummy worms to complete my little culinary tableau. As I said, the coolest thing to date.
The Jell-O Hand of Glory was a hit at the Halloween party, mainly as a table decoration, although people ate the gummy worms and the crumb crust “dirt”. Of course, Bryan and I sampled the Hand part, and actually it was pretty good. The flavors blended together well, and I thought it was fun to eat, though clearly I am less squeamish than a lot of people.
I should mention, too, that my costume turned out surpassingly well. I dressed as a 1950s housewife, and I got a lot of double-takes because people genuinely didn’t recognize me at first. (The blonde wig was a particularly good disguise back when I was 100% brunette.) Several people asked if I was supposed to be Betty from “Mad Men”, but I hadn’t started watching the show then. I just loved the idea of turning up as June Cleaver with a corpse hand in a baking pan. That’s how I roll.
* K– isn’t a huge Jell-O aficianado, but she is from Minneapolis. ‘Nuff said.
** Legend has it that fingernails continue to grow after you die. Not true. It’s the skin receding that gives the illusion of fingernails growing on a corpse. I just thought you’d like to know that.