Saturday, December 11, 2010

Awkward Mom vs Jello

Awkward Mom is asked to bring a dish to a holiday party.....silly host., I am fairly certain that we have not discussed my prowess in the kitchen. This is because it does not exist. Nope, no prowess here. I am not being modest either. I freely own up to the myriad of superpowers that I wield on a daily basis. (The fact that I can not think of one right now does not deter me, I have many.) However, I have not been blessed in the culinary arts. At all. I periodically attempt to increase my skills in this area, but prowess continues to elude me. A saner person might not aim for prowess right off the bat, they might seek adequate tries, bang-up jobs, or bully attempts. (Apparently, my imaginary saner person is Theodore Roosevelt...) Anyway, Awkward Mom has never really been one for sane approaches.

The Awkward family has been invited to a holiday party and asked to bring a dessert. For someone whose idea of making cookies is to assist the Pillsbury Doughboy in the process, this request is daunting. But I have convinced myself that I am up to the challenge! I have also been asked to make something without dairy, gluten, nuts, or eggs. Umm...ok, I can do this. Further interrogation of the host results in the gentle suggestion that I make some Jello. I am momentarily heartbroken. Jello? Really? How am I ever going to develop any kitchen prowess (can't stop saying it!) if I am relegated to making the children's dessert? But no matter. I will do it and it will be the greatest Jello dessert in the history of Jello desserts! Famous last words...

A quick check of (oh yea, check it out, I will wait) immediately relieves me of the illusion that this is going to be easy or in any way great. There are hundreds of recipes on here, each more daunting then the last. Cherry Royale. Banana Pineapple Passion. Chocolate Elegance. Citrus Sensation. I click on something called Cool 'N Easy Pie to get lost in a labyrinth of molds and cooling times. Florida Sunshine Salad loses me with its abundance of Miracle Whip. Watergate Salad is confusing and not as political as I thought it would be. I am fascinated by Cosmo Bites and Mojito Granita until I remember my audience. I am debating between a Hidden Treasure Cake and a Holiday Ribbon Mold when a quick look in my pantry reminds me that I have no Jello mold. A quick look into my soul alerts me to the fact that there is no way I am gonna be able to "cut a 1 inch wide, 1 inch deep tunnel inside the center of the cake, avoid cutting all the way through the cake." I am tempted by the line "remove and save cutout for snack," but we all know the Hidden Treasure Cake just is beyond me.

However, the routing around in the pantry does unearth a set of cookie cutters given to me by my friend, the eternal optimist. They are all the letters in the alphabet, previously the sole belongings of Super Toddler, banished to the back of the pantry after he started cheating on them with the fridge magnet letters. This generates an idea; the cookie cutters, that is. Not Super Toddler's fickle nature. Why not make a sheet of Jello and cut out the letters for Merry Christmas? The directions for making plain, regular Jello are right there on the side of the box and even I understand all of them. How hard can it be to cut out letters and spell a festive phrase? More famous last words...

I am boiling water (even I can do that) when Super Toddler appears in the kitchen and demands to help. He pulls a chair over and climbs on up. Super Toddler enjoys helping in the kitchen. He is usually helping his father, who does possess kitchen prowess, but he seems quite content to muddle along with me as I search the cabinets for mixing bowls and spoons. I suppose you are all wondering why Awkward Dad isn't making our dessert, given the nature of his culinary superpowers. I could tell you that it is because I want to defeat my fears of food, that I want to prove to myself and the world that I am able and strong and just as talented as any of those crafty moms I am so jealous of. I could wax poetic about the joy of climbing a mountain just for the exhilaration of looking back and seeing how far you have come. You know, the mountain being my fear of cooking and the journey of Jello being what I am looking back on...or something. These are great reasons. They are not the reasons. The reason is that he is at work.

OK, where was I? Right, I am boiling water, and doing a fine job of it too! The fact that it is my 2 year old son who coolly opens the drawer next to his chair and pulls out the spoons I am scouring the kitchen for is not something upon which I wish to dwell. Let's just say that we find the needed items by the time the water has boiled. We mix the Jello powder and water easily, if a tad energetically, and soon we have vibrant reds and greens in our bowls. And on the counter. On the floor. On Super Baby, who has somehow teleported in here. And all over Super Toddler's hair, the chair he pulled over here, the knife block, the coffee maker, and my shirt. I resolve to deal with that later, as I seek and find 3 Pyrex containers of varying sizes and depths. Super Toddler and I set them out and debate our options. We ultimately decide to pour the red into the biggest container, and we separate the green into the two smaller ones. Super Toddler has a heavy hand and one ends up quite a bit deeper than the other one, but no matter. It will all work out, right? It's just Jello. I have got to stop with these last words....

We cool the Jello for the required three hours, giving me time to clean up the kitchen and get the boys in bed for naps. Neither of these things happen, but 3 hours is enough time to do that in. Just thought I would mention it. We pull out our Jello sheets, set them on the counter, and admire their jewel-like brightness. They are beautiful, glinting in the afternoon sun, but we are not done with them yet. Oh no. I intend for them to produce a masterpiece that will increase my self-esteem, demonstrate my skills as a mother, and maybe even produce a gasp or two when it is revealed at the party. Best get to it then.

Super Baby is doing figure eights around my legs and Super Toddler is demanding a Jello Z, but I attempt to tune them out and cut out the first letter, an innocent enough M. I place the cutter on the Jello, push down, and pull it back up...empty. Hmm...I can see the cut M, nestled in its Jello womb, seemingly unwilling to break free of the nest and be the lead actor in my statement dessert. In actuality, it is just stuck to the bottom of the pan, something I discover when I attempt to pry it out with a knife. I tear it in half, as I completely butcher the surrounding Jello in a misguided removal process. My terribly thin, reedy M stands alone on the plate and nearly reduces me to tears. I consult for some advice, and am soon back in the saddle, ducking the bottom of the Pyrex dishes in hot water.

The removal of the red R and Y go rather well. The H ends up with some stringy parts, but the I is near perfection. The T is fine, but the middle of the A refuses to come out, resulting in a letter that looks like a triangle. I have nearly half the red Jello left, but I move on to the green Jello. I want some contrast in my dessert, you see. I push the E into the green and immediately notice a problem. Remember how Super Toddler was rather generous with one of the green trays? Well, said tray just ate my E cookie cutter. Yep, the green surface of the Jello has engulfed and devoured the whole thing. I am left with no alternative but to dive in after it. I fish out an E much thicker than any of my current letters. I place it on the plate anyway, but seriously, once it is in direct comparison to the other letters, it looks like it is on steroids.

I will not be bested by thick Jello. I will not. I grab the other tray and attempt to cut out another E, only to have it fall apart in the removal process. The same thing happens with the R and the C. I am running out of good sized green Jello, so I am extremely careful with the Ss. They turn out nicely. However, the M has to come from the thick Jello, I simply have no choice. Fine. A little variety never hurt anyone, right? For balance, or maybe just to distract from my odd sized green letters, I cut Ho Ho Ho out of the abundance of red Jello. I spell out my opus on a plate and stare at it. It is hideous. It is boring. It looks like nothing on It is a plate of odd shaped Jello letters. What in the world was I thinking?

I start to cry. Super Toddler and Super Baby are feasting on Jello remains and throwing letters at each other. They completely ignore me and offer no assistance. A quick dig through the pantry reveals 3 more boxes of Jello; cherry, lime, and raspberry. I decide my Jello letters need a base to sit on. Clearly, I can't use the same flavors/colors, so Raspberry becomes my only option and it is only 4 ounces. Oh well. I steal the red Pyrex dish from the super boys and wash it, while the water is boiling. No time for 3 hour cooling spells now, so I return to and discover that you can use half boiling water and half ice water to speed the cooling time to 90 minutes. Amazing. Super Toddler gets his chair and we assemble the raspberry base, pop it into the fridge, and go watch Pingu.

90 minutes later, I remove my Raspberry beauty and adorn it with my letters. It still looks hideous, but it no longer looks boring. It looks like something Martha Stewart's hillbilly cousin might make and think is the height of class. I am out of time, ideas, and mixing bowls. It will have to do. I snap on the top, gather the boys, and head to the party. Where my hideous Jello letter "cake" is a huge hit with the kids, reminding me of these very important lessons. "The manner of giving is worth more than the gift"(Pierre Corneille). "We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers" (Seneca). "When your audience thinks that the pinnacle of culinary greatness is the fruit snack, you have nothing to worry about" (Awkward Mom).

Awkward Mom would like to assure you that if you invite her to your next holiday party, she will ask Awkward Dad to make a pie.

The Aftermath...

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