feat. Bonus Jell-O: Watergate Salad
Well, this was another of those weeks that feel almost eternal. I don’t even remember last weekend, it seems like such a long time ago. Leftover pecans and Whipped Cream Mayonnaise were the only evidence that I could find that the weekend after Thanksgiving actually happened. Wait, what? Was Thanksgiving really only a week and a half ago?
Today I finally tossed that Whipped Cream Mayonnaise, and I was happy to have the pecans because I used them in another Jell-O recipe. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a quick look at today’s regularly scheduled Jell-O.
Number five on the New Joys of Jell-O countdown is our final recipe from Especially for Junior Cooks, Dream Parfait. There isn’t a lot to say about this one. It’s strawberry Jell-O layered in a tall dessert glass with prepared Dream Whip. That’s it. Make the Jell-O per the directions on the box, chill until it’s thick and jiggly but not quite set, and layer it in glasses with Dream Whip.
I started this one after getting back from the gym this afternoon. I made the Jell-O right away, before changing out of my workout clothes, and popped it in the fridge, figuring I’d come back later, make the Dream Whip, and finish chilling the gelatin over an ice water bath. I ended up leaving the Jell-O in the refrigerator for about two hours, and was surprised to find it nearly set (contrary to the directions on the box, which say it takes four hours). I’m not complaining, as that saved me a bit of bother rather late on a Sunday afternoon. My only other observation is that while this is quite easy to make, it’s a little less so from a food styling perspective. I wish I had put the Dream Whip in a piping bag, because it was difficult to just spoon it in to get neat-looking layers.
It tasted fine. It’s strawberry Jell-O and cream – of course it did.
I wasn’t planning on doing an extra recipe this weekend, but then on Friday, while I was reading all the news about Michael Flynn’s plea deal, I ran across a tweet that Kraft Foods had posted the night before:
Watergate Salad? On a day when a major event in this generation’s “Stupid Watergate” was unfolding? What kind of weird coincidence was that? So of course I had to make it.
But first I had to know – why was it called Watergate Salad? I figured there was a fair chance that it had been on the menu at the Watergate Hotel in the early 1970s (strange as it sounds, such things could be had at restaurants in the 1970s), but when I looked it up, I discovered that the “salad” had been developed in 1975, the year Jell-O pistachio pudding mix was introduced. (So “a tradition for many generations” might be a slight exaggeration, unless they’re referring to fruit flies.) Originally, it was dubbed Pistachio Pineapple Delight, until consumers started asking for the recipe as Watergate Salad. There are a few different rumors circulating about the origin of the name, but nothing that anyone can substantiate. My guess is that it started as sarcasm and quickly caught on. I can respect that.
Watergate Salad is clearly a close relative of ambrosia salad. It consists of five simple ingredients (Jell-O pistachio instant pudding mix, crushed pineapple, chopped pecans, miniature marshmallows, and Cool Whip) that just all get tumped together, mixed, and chilled. You don’t even have to make the pudding mix into pudding; it just goes in dry. (The recipe is on the pudding box if you want to try it.) It takes about five minutes to prepare, if you use pre-chopped nuts.
Bryan and I had it with brunch this morning, as suggested by one of the rumored origin stories. It tasted a lot like ambrosia salad, although it was a lot sweeter than my grandmother’s version. It turns out I was right about sour cream versus Cool Whip. Also, it could use more fruit. When I went to the gym a few hours later, I was thirsty all through my workout and had to keep taking hits from my water bottle. My trainer and I are switching to Sunday sessions, so it’s a good thing I only have a few more of these Jell-O recipes to go.
I could probably eat more of it (though at the moment I have a mild bellyache from the Dream Parfait), but Bryan really wants me to bring the leftovers to the Lab for the students to try. I’m getting too old for this…
Wine Gelatin Dessert appears in the first chapter, “Nice Easy Things to Do with Jell-O”, and it’s lucky I had a simple one this weekend, because it’s about all I’ve had time or energy for.
True to the title, this recipe includes wine, which is also lucky, because as this weekend grinds to a close, I’m glad to have a chance to use the leftovers. The Crusher pinot noir is a Napa Valley wine, 2015 vintage, and it drinks like the $14 bottle from the hipster liquor store that it is – pleasant-enough plonk, gets the job done. Judging by the website, I might be a little too old to properly appreciate it, but the way I’m feeling right now, possibly the only libation I could properly appreciate would be, say, a fifth of bourbon, but hey, I got shit to do.
The attacks in London and the Trump administration’s shameful response were the capper on what has been kind of a lousy week for me. We’re still having our little plumbing problem – comatose water heater – and we’re expecting a visit from Plumber #2 tomorrow, since Plumber #1’s second visit, on Friday, failed to yield results. I also have a Plumber #3 on reserve, in case Plumber #2 strikes out. Next step is replacing the pricey unit, which was installed only seven years ago. (Let this be a lesson to you, kids: Don’t buy a tankless water heater that’s widely used overseas but scarcely even heard of in your home country.) Meanwhile, I’m getting a hot shower every other day, at the gym, and Bryan’s just taking cold showers. We boil water to wash dishes. It’s a drag.
And speaking of drag, our little feline drama has been dragging on. After talking to the vet some more and watching a few episodes of My Cat from Hell, we decided to try “territory switching”, shutting Sam in the bedroom and letting Ida have the run of downstairs. Since we did that Friday evening, Ida has gotten to the point where she doesn’t keep trying to hide, and we opened the door to the bedroom late this afternoon. We’ll see what happens when Sam emerges. I’m hoping I can get this post finished before the shit hits the fan. This is a lot more stressful than it might sound to someone who’s not a “pet person”.
So I’m making Jell-O with wine, and drinking wine. Wine Gelatin Dessert is a simple matter of making the Jell-O as usual, with a little extra sugar, and using a half cup of wine with a quarter cup of cold water for the cold liquid part. The recipe calls for “any red flavor”, so I selected the last box of black cherry from my stash, which was only about a year past its use-by date. (Maybe I should have saved it for the apocalypse that’s surely coming?)
The Jell-O kind of smells like a wino when you first add the diluted wine to the hot liquid, but as I expected, the wine actually enhanced the final product. I think it would have been better if the wine had been drier, but the pinot noir was tart enough to balance the sweetness of the Jell-O. Bryan said it made the Jell-O taste “less artificial”, and he liked the way the mold jiggled. I did make the mistake of using molds that were too big, making it pretty much impossible to center the jelly on the plates. I garnished it with Cool Whip that was left over from last week’s Strawberry Bavarian Pie (and even reviewed my go-to instructional video for Cool Whip dollops), but I don’t think the topping goes all that well with wine-fortified Jell-O. Still – waste not, want not, right?
So, I’ve been trying to take advantage of a long holiday weekend that has turned out to be far too short. On Saturday I finally got an electric guitar, a Squier (budget-range Fender) stratocaster, and a cool little practice amplifier that has a USB port (for digital recording, hopefully) and a bunch of built-in effects to keep me happily distorted until I’m ready to start shopping for pedals. I have a strap and some lesson books on order, so I’m on my way, though I tend to think that probably I’ll end up being to the guitar what Inspector Clouseau was to the violin. But we’ll see.
Meanwhile, our cat Ida has been slowly recovering from what appears to have been some sort of mental breakdown a few weeks ago, during which she decided that she hated our other cat, Sam (her offspring), and took up residence on top of the kitchen cabinets. Feeding her up there was fine, but she perceived coming down to use the litter box as a journey fraught with peril, and this was not a situation that we could allow to continue. On Friday evening we got her down and set up in the bedroom, where she seems to be gradually getting back to normal, but we still don’t know what happened. Even the vet seems mystified so far.
Just to add to the fun (and freak out the cats some more), a little while ago we had a plumber here trying to deal with our weird European tankless furnace/water-heater “combi” unit because the hot water suddenly cut out yesterday. The plumbing issues always seem to crop up on long holiday weekends, so that they’ll be as expensive as possible. $300 so far, and we still have no hot water.
So I’ve been a bit less focused on the Jell-O this week, but I did make a Strawberry Bavarian Pie for you.
To be honest, this wasn’t very interesting, just another Cool Whip bavarian, with frozen strawberries mixed in. The recipe calls for a nine-inch pie shell, but again I decided to go with a chocolate crumb crust because that makes this dessert a little more of a treat. As you can see, I attempted to use leftover Cool Whip to garnish the pie, and I’m way off my dollop game.
It occurs to me that despite everything else I had going on this weekend, I was still able to prepare this dessert, so in a way it was fulfilling the function for which it was intended. On some level, I was emulating the housewives for whom these recipes were created, women who were busy taking care of their families and felt that a nice dessert was part of a good family dinner (anyone else remember back in the day when it was usual and expected that families would eat dinner together?) but didn’t necessarily have time for something fancier. Actually, Strawberry Bavarian Pie would have been kind of a special dessert after supper when I was a kid.
Bryan and I tasted this after the plumber left, and for us it wasn’t so special. I told Bryan about how the recipe calls for an addition of a tablespoon of sugar to the gelatin, which I think might have been meant to balance out tartness in the strawberries. We both thought it was odd, given how sweet Cool Whip is, but then it occurred to us that Cool Whip might not have been quite as sweet back in the day. Looking at the history of high fructose corn syrup, it’s likely that these Jell-O and Cool Whip “no-bake pies” were developed before HFCS was widely adopted as a sweetener in mass-produced food products. (That might help explain why, much as kids my age were junk-food junkies back in the 1970s, few of us were obese.) We mulled over how it might be possible to find out what the ingredients in Cool Whip would have been in 1974, thinking that perhaps it would be possible to find vintage tubs on eBay or something like that. I didn’t find any vintage tubs, but I did fall down a rabbit hole of vintage Cool Whip commercials going back to 1966, when Cool Whip first hit the market, including the “Tucker Inn” series, which any child of the 1970s will remember. This one is especially relevant:
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.
This week, in Recipes for the Post-Apocalypse….
Just kidding. Kind of. You may notice in the photo that the two boxes of cherry Jell-O look different. The one in the back was pulled from my stash, and the one in front was purchased yesterday. I had never thought about the shelf-life of Jell-O before, so out of curiosity, I examined the older box, and discovered a use-by date: October 29, 2011.
Would it really be dangerous to use a packet of Jell-O five years after its ostensible expiry? I turned to Mr. Google. I was not the first person to have this question, and among the answers the consensus seems to be that powdered Jell-O can last indefinitely when stored in a cool, dry place. It isn’t so much that the contents go bad, but if the packaging breaks down and moisture gets in, mold can grow and make the gelatin unsafe to eat.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve been playing some of the games in the Fallout franchise. The game world is an alternate-history United States, many decades after a nuclear war with China that occurs in 2077. One of the tasks the player-character performs is collecting food that can be used to restore health points, and along with the meat of various creatures that the player has to kill in the Wasteland, there are a lot of 21st-century leftovers lying around, somehow still safe to eat (if slightly radioactive). So now I’m wondering – where’s all the Jell-O? If Nuka Cola, Cram (tinned meat) and potato crisps are still edible 200 years on, there should be some Jell-O (or maybe “Gel-Oh!”) out there for the scavenging.
Well, I’m better at making Jell-O than I am at playing those games (I enjoy them, but I suck at them, and I cheat a bit because I don’t want to have to die a million times to see how the stories go), so – Cherry Chiffon.
Armed with my new knowledge of the shelf-life of Jell-O, I opened the old packet, and recognized some clumping as a sign that moisture had gotten in. (Freak Mountain is barely climate-controlled.) Into the bin it went. Luckily, I’d bought a few new packages of the cherry flavor, because the recipe calls for two, one for each layer.
The first layer is just cherry Jell-O with canned dark sweet cherries (one 8.75-oz. can) suspended in it. It turned out that my options at the supermarket for canned cherries were limited to the brand and size I bought; at 15 ounces, I have some leftovers. I’m not sure what to do with them, because I don’t really care for canned cherries, much as I’ve never liked maraschino cherries. One interesting thing about being a grownup is that you develop the ability to, well, be a grownup about eating things that you don’t care for, as long as they’re in small quantities, but six ounces of canned cherries are more of a challenge.
I may attempt this recipe for Oreo Soup from one of my absolute favorite books, a sort of anthology/art/coffee table book called Junk Food. Stay tuned….
The second layer is a simple bavarian of cherry Jell-O and 4.5 ounces of Cool Whip. Since the smallest available container of Cool Whip is eight ounces, I have some of that left over, which is handy, because if I make the Oreo Soup, I can use the leftover Oreo wafers and Cool Whip for Almond Joy Creme Pie, which appears a couple of pages after Oreo Soup in Junk Food. It just never ends, does it?
Something I was really iffy about when making Cherry Chiffon was the order of the layering. It seemed to me a bad idea have the gelatin layer on top. In my experience, the bavarians tend to be softer and less dense than the straight gelatin, so not exactly the best base for a Jell-O mold. Still, I went ahead with the recipe per the instructions, figuring that if the bavarian layer collapsed under the weight of the gelatin layer, I’d at least get to bitch about it on the internet.
I went about unmolding the Cherry Chiffon expecting the worst. What I ended up with was – a perfectly firm Jell-O mold. The bavarian layer turned out much firmer than I’d expected. The layers even seemed to be adhering to each other. I had thought that even if the bavarian layer held up, the gelatin layer might slide off, a distinct possibility given how slant-wise the layers came out. (We live in a crooked little house; nothing at Freak Mountain is level.)
Cherry Chiffon is far from the worst Jell-O I’ve made so far, but I don’t exactly love it. The Pepto-pink color of the bavarian layer is off-putting, as is the cough-drop cherry flavor. The canned cherries aren’t all that bad, but taste-wise they’re overwhelmed by the artificial cherry flavor of the Jell-O, and their texture is kind of icky.
I wish I could say I won’t be making this again, but there’s a Strawberry Chiffon variant coming up later on in the calendar. At least there’s no such thing as canned strawberries.
With this one, I felt like I was finally doing something right – until I learned that today is National Ice Cream Day.
Fresh Strawberry Pie is the sort of no-bake dessert that uplifted the spirits of 1970s moms. Central air conditioning was less common in homes then than it is now, so summertime cuisine was heavy on things we think of as picnic or cookout food – salads instead of cooked vegetables or hot pasta dishes, potato chips instead of mashed or French fried potatoes, meats cooked outside on the grill (by Dad, usually), and of course no-bake desserts. Anything to avoid heating up the kitchen, which I understand completely because Freak Mountain has no air conditioning of any sort.
The crust can be either a regular pie shell or a crumb crust, and when temperatures are in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celcius) as they’ve been this weekend, bashing up some cookies and mixing them with melted butter is a damn good option. I was going to make a chocolate crumb crust using Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and Nilla Wafers per Mother Wonderful’s Cheesecake and Other Goodies (my go-to cheesecake recipe book for the last 25 years) but while we were in the supermarket I gave in to the temptation to try a crust made with Oreos instead, because that seemed like it would be more true to the Project somehow. It turned out really well. The main problem was that I only needed two thirds of the package of Oreos for the crust, leaving a third of a package of Oreos for, well, lunch. Okay, I didn’t eat all of them, and I ate them with the leftover strawberries, so that cancels out some of the calories, right?
Heat like we’ve been having this weekend seemed like it might make the Jell-O part a little trickier. The pie filling goes in two parts, a Cool Whip bavarian made with half of the Jell-O that goes on top of the crust, and then the remainder of the Jell-O combined with fresh strawberries which goes into the middle of the pie. I used the ice water bath technique to thicken the bavarian part (another reason this recipe is nice to do in hot weather) but it wouldn’t thicken up to the “mounding” stage for some reason. I thought maybe it had to do with the heat, since the ice was melting quickly in the water. Should I have used more ice? Salted the water? Anyway, it didn’t work as described in the recipe, but it worked well enough. One odd addition to this part of the recipe is red food coloring. The recipe calls for a few drops, so I added four. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever. Now I’m getting chills thinking of all the kids of my generation who unwittingly ingested an unnecessary dose of Red Dye #2 with this.
The Jell-O/strawberry part (thickened over a fresh ice water bath) went just the way it was supposed to and ended up floating nicely on the bavarian in the center of the pie.
I seem to be developing the habit of going to the gym to lift before tasting my Jell-O creations so that I come at them hungry. That probably wasn’t necessary with this recipe, but it certainly didn’t hurt (especially after all those Oreos I ate yesterday). The bavarian part firmed up more in the refrigerator overnight, so I was able to get a fairly clean slice. Since I had leftover Cool Whip, I decided to garnish my slice with one of those famous Cool Whip dollops – and discovered that it was softer than Cool Whip should be. Aha! Maybe the bavarian’s refusal to set up completely wasn’t my fault after all.
For eating, this is reasonably pleasant. I think I’ve remarked before that strawberry is one of the less offensive artificial flavors, and it goes well with cream, even fake cream. The real strawberries make the whole thing more refreshing. My main quibble is that the Oreo crust is too sweet, but that’s totally my fault. (And Bryan remarked that it seems silly to complain that the cookie crust of your Jell-O pie is too sweet.) I would go for the wafer cookie crust if I was going to make this again. To be honest, that’s unlikely, given how nutritionally questionable this is, but I do think we’ll end up eating all of this particular pie.
That said, this relatively nice one was certainly welcome at the end of what turned out to be another crazy week. I’m starting to feel leery even of NPR (and I’ve been an NPR junkie for 30 years), and I’m doing whatever I can to keep my spirits up. The Project is helping, and so is the gym. (Lifting is a meditative activity for me because of the focus I need to bring to it.) We’ve been loading up on the British comedies, and I’ve been mainlining Loose Tapestries, ELO and early Pink Floyd, staying hopped up on whimsy. The 1970s are making more and more sense to me…
Well, so much for getting better about not procrastinating…
Something weird happened in the making of the Bleeding Heart – suddenly it seemed to take on a deeper, less light-hearted meaning than I’d intended. While all of this was underway, a friend was preparing to leave town to be with her family and her gravely ill mother. (Her mother passed away last weekend.) Another friend is herself gravely ill. Meanwhile, somewhat more removed but still sad were a pair of deaths that touched two communities of which I’m a part, MIT and WBUR (our local public radio station, of which I am a “listener/member”). One, of course, was Tom Magliozzi of “Car Talk” fame, MIT class of 1958 and a native of Nerdvana. The other was Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook, wife of Tom Ashbrook (the host of WBUR’s “On Point” program, who had shortly before announced that he was taking a leave of absence to care for his sick wife) and also an associate dean of graduate education at MIT.
Mind you, I’m probably less afraid of death than is considered normal in U.S. American culture. However, I really hate the feeling of inadequacy in the face of other people’s grief. It feels like whatever you say or do won’t be enough, or won’t be right, so you get all self-conscious (and then start down a guilt-spiral because it’s not supposed to be about you), and you try to be extra careful but wind up saying something bone-headed* anyway. Or maybe that’s just me. But I doubt it.
Anyhow, in some goofy way, that Jell-O heart seemed to symbolize the sadness I’ve been feeling because people I care about are sad. That just made it more difficult to write about, not to mention editing the video, which does not show that angle at all.
So, the Bleeding Heart. As I mention in the video, this was essentially a bavarian, a cream dessert thickened with gelatin. Of course, in the context of The New Joys of Jell-O, the cream is often Cool Whip, and that’s what I used here.
For me, by now this is a rather simple process of preparing and thickening a batch of Jell-O (raspberry this time) over an ice-water bath, and then folding in the Cool Whip. Conventional wisdom states that red Jell-O and Cool Whip make a good color for flesh or internal organs, but to my eye the combination results in a pink that’s reminiscent of an inflatable sex doll. Anyone who’s ever taken a high school biology class or peered into the meat case at the butcher’s section of a grocery store knows that internal organs have more of a maroon or purple cast to them, so I added a bit of blue and green food coloring to my bavarian cream to at least tone down the pink.
The bleeding part was supposed to be in the form of a raspberry sauce that I made by straining (to get the seeds out) about a cup and a half of red raspberries and simmering them with enough sugar to take the edge off of their tartness, which turned out of be quite a bit of sugar. My plan had been to freeze the sauce, place it in the middle of the bavarian cream, and let the sauce melt in the fridge as the Jell-O got firm (per Chef Heston’s technique with his absinthe jellies), so that the heart would “bleed” when it was cut. Well, I say “sauce”, but what I ended up with was more of a raspberry jam. It did turn out to be a pretty nice “blood” color, and I won’t lie, it was delicious, but it was more like congealed blood. Also, it didn’t freeze, which was something I did not expect.
The anatomically-correct heart mold I used includes some veiny details, and I had ambitions of filling them in with a darker, non-creamy Jell-O, like the vein details I added to my Hand of Glory. However, unlike the hand mold, the heart mold has steeply sloping sides and is made of a smooth plastic that’s particularly slick when lubed up with nonstick spray, so the end result was a sort of diseased-looking heart.
Another thing that didn’t go quite right was that I misjudged the structural integrity of the bavarian cream in relation to the density of the raspberry component. In other words, the raspberry part was just a little too heavy for the bavarian part, and soon after the unmolding the heart developed cracks. Along with the random-ish splotches of dark Jell-O on the surface of the heart, the effect was a bit distressing, especially considering that the host of the Halloween party at which this debuted has been having real issues with the health of his own real heart. On the other hand, “gross” and “Halloween” go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so despite the things that didn’t go quite right, the Bleeding Heart was suitable for the occasion.
Now, I need to get my tuchis in gear and start making more Jell-Os. I have to confess, I ended up with a lot of leftover Halloween candy (the current crop of students showed what I consider to be an abnormal degree of restraint in the face of the treat-filled plastic pumpkin on my desk) that Bryan and I have, shamefully, been working on, so I haven’t really been up for doing anything else, dessert-wise. I may have to continue to draw on Reposts and Memory Lane for another week or two, but I still think my next “live” Jell-O will be one of the scary ones, so stay tuned!
* It happens to the best of us. One instance that really stands out in my mind is from the funeral of my paternal grandmother in 1990. The priest who was conducting the funeral Mass knew the family, and perhaps it was that familiarity that led him, in the course of the eulogy, to delve into slightly stale popular culture: “On the television show ‘Twin Peaks’, there’s a character called the Log Lady. Kay [my grandmother] should be called the Rock Lady, because her faith was as solid as a rock.” That was weird on a number of levels, not least because my grandparents weren’t big TV watchers and almost certainly would not have watched, let alone liked, “Twin Peaks”. I’m no expert, but I suspect that such WTF moments are best avoided on these occasions.