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Slo-mo Jell-O

 

Please enjoy this entertaining film of jello being hit with a tennis racket. Thanks to a friend on Twitter for the link.

It’s getting hot in here

It’s real hot here today. So hot that I’m actually grateful for rompers (there’s something I never thought I would type) because my impulse purchase before I left for California is about to become a staple of my wardrobe. I’ve never spent more than a few months in a hot climate so I still want to run outside whenever the weather is “nice” (read: not cloudy or damp) and air conditioning is just too darn cold. Well, when it’s a relatively reasonable 90 degrees (32 for my celsius friends) anyway. This time last year I had just returned from 3.5 months in Southeast Asia and that was when I came to truly appreciate air conditioning. May in Eastern Cambodia was the hottest I have ever been in my entire life. I spent one night with a Cambodian family in Kratie and was so hot that if I wasn’t laying awake gasping for breath, I was dreaming about ripping all my clothes off and running the mile through the trees into the river. Seattle raises some real weather wimps, I know.

I traveled throughout Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on that trip – mostly alone but sometimes with delightful visitors from home. Whenever I arrived in a new place alone, there would inevitably come the moment when the foreignness of it all would overwhelm me and I would feel a deep, very American urge to find an air conditioned grocery store. The traditional open-air markets were one of my favorite parts about traveling in Southeast Asia and I would often get up early to beat the other tourists and travelers and wander through the stalls admiring fruits and vegetables I had never seen before. But nothing beats the comfort of packaged food with clearly labeled prices and the sweet relief of icy cold air blowing in your face.

But you know what else grocery stores carried that the traditional markets didn’t? You guessed it.

These gems were found in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon), Vietnam and since I was only three weeks into my trip at that point, I restrained myself and only bought one box to carry home in the bottom of my bloated backpack.

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These I found in Vientiane, Laos the night I arrived when I was feeling particularly homesick and overwhelmed. You’ll note that many of the packaged mixes I found in Southeast Asia were actually agar, not gelatin. Agar is plant-based whereas gelatin is…not. But I’m not sure why it would be more popular in the region – something to research another day.

These pre-made treats were spotted in the Bangkok, Thailand airport and I wish I’d tried all the flavors. Apparently at that point in my trip 34 baht (about $1 USD) seemed too expensive for an airport treat.

Nutrijell sounds almost healthy! I found these in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and am super impressed by the effort to fortify such an unhealthy food with vitamins. Good effort.

More of some familiar brands in Thailand. I’m especially intrigued by the coffee flavor.

This is something folks may have come across state-side if you frequent Asian groceries:

A “grass-jelly” drink that I tried at the largest market in Thailand.

And I also came across it in a Chiang Mai, Thailand night market.

Speaking of sugary, slightly tacky foods, boy do I miss it being socially appropriate to put sweetened condensed milk in everything.

 

 

 

Expertise (both jiggly and non-jiggly)

I’ve been thinking a lot about expertise lately. I started a two-year graduate program last fall (which certainly contributed to the blog’s neglect) in a field which I have no prior experience in. To say I have felt a little out of my depth would be an understatement. At first, everything felt foreign. The vocabulary, the methodologies, the measure of success. It was hard to not defer to my more experienced peers in group work or classroom discussions on matters that I assumed I was unqualified to have informed opinions about, let alone tackle myself.

I mean, would you try to talk gelatin with someone who has an instructional YouTube video with over a million hits?

 

I didn’t think so.

Or could you possibly dream of being as cool and hip as the Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn who not only has an amazing blog but also a real-life published book about gelatin?

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Photo Credit: The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn

Nope. Not gonna happen.

So, what to do. You can get really down on yourself and wonder what you’ve been doing with your life – all that time wasted when you could have been perfecting the seven-layer rainbow mold! – or, you can just keep doing your own thing and not worry so much about where everyone else is at.

If you’re anything like me, trying something new is both terrifying and exhilarating. But instead of enjoying the thrill of not exactly knowing it all, it can be paralyzing. The perfectionist in me is loud and real pushy and sometimes she keeps me from even starting something because I’m not absolutely certain that it will work out. Or if it will be up to my stratospheric standards.

I’ve made some pretty ugly jello molds in my time. In fact, last summer I made a simple layered dish for my birthday party but I was out of practice and the first layer melted a bit and it set a little fuzzy and by the way the fridge shelf was uneven so the layers weren’t perfect and OH, THE HUMANITY. I was literally reduced to tears (which is just how some of us cope, nothing wrong with that) and didn’t even want to serve it to my dear friends and family who could not care less what the damn thing looked like. And you know what? I served it anyway and everyone ate it and loved it and I lived to see another day and to make another jello mold.

 

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And next time I’ll do a little better (probably) and have a little more grace (hopefully) and try to just enjoy it a whole lot more because if you don’t get some genuine joy out of what you do then what the hell are you doing it for?

 

Eat, Pray, Mold

This is from one of my 1930’s Jell-O pamphlet sand is actually a great step-by-step illustration of how to “release” a mold.

However, please note that the full body apron/medical scrubs shown in the photo are not necessary.

And, we’re back.

Well, friends. I went and turned my life upside down a bit so there hasn’t been much time for jello blogging. But I’ve been missing it and, I can assure you, I haven’t stopped making jello so I have quite the backlog of gelation-related adventures to share.

I’ll kick things off with a improvised little number that I brought to my dear friend (and oft mentioned jello-photographer) Paige’s house for a barbecue this weekend.

I just moved to California for the summer and, after spending two days cleaning and unpacking in my 400 sqft one-bedroom home for the next few months, I went hunting for jello. The local Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry gelatin (perhaps their only shortcoming) and Whole Foods only has the unflavored stuff (so fancy). I found a Safeway a few miles away and my partner and I raced the setting sun on our bicycles to pick up a few boxes. He’s a very patient man.

Our kitchen was still a bit of a mess and I didn’t want to make an entire mold so I literally just made half a box (6 tablespoons) of raspberry jello with 1.5 cups of hot water in a glass mixing bowl. I then added California’s finest blueberries while it was still liquid so it formed a nice even layer on the bottom. I actually made this the morning of the barbecue and was able to unmold it later in the afternoon because it was a small amount that firmed up quickly. Glass molds are actually pretty tricky because the thick glass doesn’t conduct heat the nice, even way that metal does so you have to be a bit more patient and give the glass time to warm up. It wasn’t a perfect unmolding but the blueberry garnish covered up the few small flaws and it actually turned out to be quite pretty.

Jello at a party is always a novelty (and usually a hit) and this one would only have been improved with a side of whipped cream. Next time.

 

Manna from Heaven

I can’t recall where I found this recipe but it’s a perfect example of an old-school jello mold. I served it at one of my monthly dinner parties and was a nice addition to the other dishes. It’s a small recipe which (hopefully) means no leftovers as this one is decidely less tasty the day after.

I’d also like to take a minute here to remind you, dear readers, that jello is most often served as a side salad – not dessert. Any questions?

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Heavenly Salad

1, 3 oz. package of lime Jell-O

1 cup boiling water

1, 3 oz. package of cream cheese

1, 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple (drained!)

3/4 cup chopped nuts (i.e. pecans, walnuts)

1/2 cup whipping cream or Cool-Whip (usually my go-to)

Still the jello into the boiling water until dissolved. Refrigerate until it’s slightly thickened (remember to check back frequently!).

While the jello is in the fridge, mix the cream cheese (slightly softened) with the drained pineapple and nuts. When the jello is ready, fold this mixture in and then fold in the whipped cream last. Pour into your serving dish or jello mold and refrigerate overnight.

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Guaranteed to impress.

Happy molding!

Nutella Jello (yes, really)

I’ve mentioned her before, but my jello-blog idol has a great cookbook called “Hello, Jell-O!” which is chock-full of awesome recipes.

They’re tried and true recipes that she’s put together after extensive experimentation so I’ve never been disappointed.

I tried this recipe for one of my monthly dinner parties and made not only a larger mold for sharing but also a few individual molds to celebrate a few birthdays in the group.

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

I usually eat my Nutella with a spoon straight from the jar but made an exception for this recipe (which calls for strawberries but I subbed in raspberries instead).

Berries & Nutella

Adapted from Victoria Belanger’s Hello, Jell-O!

First Layer

1 tablespoon (or 1 envelope) Knox Unflavored Gelatin

1/4 cup cold water

1 cup boiling water

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

A few cups of fruit (e.g. sliced strawberries, raspberries)

Second Layer

2 tablespoons (2 envelopes) Knox Unflavored Gelatin

1/2 cup cold water

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 1/2 cups Nutella

1/2 cup fruit (e.g. sliced strawberries, raspberries)

Start with the first layer. Soak the gelatin in the cold water for a few minutes and then dissolve in the boiling water. Add the sugar and vanilla and stir until dissolved. Refrigerate until it’s thickened up a bit (like a gel) while you arrange the fruit in the mold. Spoon in the gelatin and refrigerate until hardened but still sticky to the touch – keep an eye on it because it only takes a few minutes to go from too soft to too firm. And boy is it disappointing when THAT happens.

While that’s in the fridge, work on the second layer. Soak the gelatin in the cold water and again dissolve in the boiling water. Whisk in the Nutella and chill until it’s thickened like a gel. Stir in the fruit and spoon onto the (still sticky) first layer in the mold. Refrigerate until quite firm (at least four hours but ideally overnight). Unmold and enjoy.

Layering jello is tricky and even those of us (an admittedly small group) who make jello frequently still manage to fudge it up occasionally. The most important thing is to frequently check the layers – once they’ve crossed the line to too firm there’s really no going back. And if one layer is too firm then it won’t bond with the next layer and you’ll end up with a hot mess when you try to unmold it.

As always, so photogenic.

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

Photo Credit: Paige Pauli

If you’re a Nutella fan, you’ll love this recipe. Trust me.

Happy Molding!