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.
Originally posted August 26, 2009
Ah, well, as you can see, the unmolding was a success. I still wish I had some proper gelatin molds, because I think this would have looked better in the shape of a fluted mini-tower. I’m already getting tired of the bundt pattern. The flamingos lend it a classy touch, though – food styling by Archie McPhee.
I’ve always been intrigued by this sort of dessert. There’s something so appealing – I’d almost go as far as to say “sexy” – about its light, creamy appearance, and I always imagine it’s going to taste like a cool, sweet cloud. I don’t think I’ve ever had a traditional Bavarian, but this version is not particularly light. As I said yesterday, I like the lemon/almond flavor, and I would say that it does taste light, but there’s a heaviness, not a richness so much as plain old weight, about the Cool Whip. As I ate it, I got the sense that possibly it was reconstituting itself into a lump of vegetable fats and high-fructose corn syrup in my stomach. The canned peaches weren’t nearly as bad as I was expecting, but I wish they had asserted their flavor more, because peaches and cream is such a delightful combination. I also wish I’d been able to dice them finer, but their texture didn’t lend itself to that. I would’ve ended up with mush if I’d tried.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad. It reminded me of the ambrosia salad (some of you may know this as five-cup salad) that my grandmother used to make for holidays. Ambrosia salad consists simply of sour cream, flaked coconut, crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges, and miniature marshmallows, which must be white, because with the colored ones it’s just disgusting. It can be garnished with maraschino cherries, but I don’t like maraschino cherries. I still like ambrosia salad, but I’m just about the only one I know who does. I’ve tried making it for parties, and I usually end up eating it myself for days afterward because everybody else turns his nose up at it. Anyway, the marshmallows act as a binding agent, and their texture once they’ve soaked up the moisture from the sour cream and fruit is what is recalled by the Bavarian. Take that as you will.
Not everyone was so keen. Here’s a candid snapshot of Bryan eating his Bavarois de Pêche du Mont Phénomène. This was the expression on his face for most of the time he was eating it. I had to promise him that if he finished that dish I wouldn’t make him eat any more. I may have to bring the rest to work. That could be good for a laugh…