Thursday, January 8, 2015

In Heaven There Are No Jell-O Shots

The other day I needed to make a salad to take to a funeral dinner, so I did what any modern kitchen wizard would do.

I Googled it.

Usually I just take my go-to specialty for any gathering: orange sherbert/Jell-O salad. I even keep a supply of orange Jell-O and mandarin oranges in the cupboard in case of emergency.

The key ingredient, of course, is the pint of orange sherbert. That's just not something I'm willing to sacrifice freezer space for long term. And no one wants long-term orange sherbert, trust me. For some unfathomable reason, pints of orange sherbert can be very hard to find... especially when I am in dire need. This always makes me wonder: Is everyone else making this salad, too?

Do people actually eat orange sherbert by itself? Or is it like Cool Whip (the final ingredient), relegated forever to a supporting role?

As my wondering grows exponentially, eventually I arrive at: Do grocery stores on either coast even stock Jell-O and pints of sherbert?

We in the Midwest do love our Jell-O. Jell-O and sherbert seem to go hand in hand, at least when it comes to salads. Would I want to live in a world without Jell-O? Or sherbert?

This orange salad is a tradition in my husband's family. His grandmother used to make it for him and, as he was the only boy-child in the family, his mother and sisters followed suit. I'm more than happy to join the enablers because it is an easy, easy recipe. One that I have only screwed up a couple of times.

I have even been entrusted with the special bowl that Grandma always served it in. Or not. That's the problem with family recipes. There's a certain amount of built-in ambiguity – or as the hubby calls it “revisionist history.” Everyone remembers a different bowl and/or salad. (But if either sister is reading this: You are right. Your sister is wrong.)

While I happily make the salad, I draw the line at using The Bowl. Despite years of marriage, I carry outsider guilt. What if I break The Bowl?

Some family members think The Bowl was used for the other salad – a strawberry concoction that (may or may not have) had a pretzel crust and layer of cream cheese. Then again, either of the salads (orange or strawberry) may (or may not have) been made in a ring mold.

Of course it's not just my husband's family who perpetuate the whole recipe/serving dish family tradition.

My grandma always made what (I swear) she called “Heavenly Hash,” although if you Google it, you'll need to look for “Waldorf Salad.” Her version featured Cool Whip, mini-marshmallows, apple chunks, pecans, and swearing whilst halving the red grapes to remove the seeds. And it was always – always – served in a white milk-glass bowl.

My mom always made Four-Layer Dessert for funerals and other functions. She usually made chocolate (topped with chocolate curls) or coconut (with toasted coconut), but she was also known to make the occasional banana version (with real banana slices) if she was feeling wild and crazy.

My first memory of this dessert was a pistachio version made for a 4-H meeting, back when we always had color-coordinated refreshments served on glass snack trays. The punch (usually featuring sherbert) was served in matching glass cups, ladled out of an honest-to-God (glass) punch bowl.

The hub's family calls this dessert Texas Special, and it is almost exclusively chocolate. Not that I'm complaining. Everything tastes better when someone else make it.

I, myself, am a complete and total failure when it comes to making this dessert. I am unable (no matter how many tips my sisters-in-law give me) to successfully make the crust. However, I do double up on the cream cheese/Cool Whip/powdered sugar layer to compensate. In my humble opinion, this layer should be designated a salad in its own right and served in the Holy Grail.

But I digress.

My Google search for “funeral salads” was both surprisingly successful (apparently “funeral salads” is a popular search term), and dishearteningly un-varied. I am currently taking a class in nutrition, so I am victim of a nagging little voice that poo-poos all the traditional funerial salads: mayonaise, Cool Whip, mini-marshmallows, Jell-O... ewww! All of these are comfort-food – and thus funeral-salad – staples.

The problem is that in a pot-luck setting, everyone has their own speciality. I could have tried to branch out to broccoli salad, but someone always brings one of those. I could have tried pasta salad – ditto. Don't even think about pea-salad or macaroni salad, the market is covered. And potato salad straddles that fine line between side dish and salad. Better to commit a mortal sin than to annoy the church kitchen ladies.

Then there are my own personal food rules: no mixing veggies and fruit. Or veggies and Jell-O, if I can help it. God forbid you combine veggies and Cool Whip. Lime Jell-O deserves its own special ring in Hell. And, although I like raisins in theory (and by themselves), please keep them out of my salad. I will eat them in a broccoli salad provided it includes bacon, but I won't be happy about it.

While we're at it, the only Jell-O I want at my funeral dinner is Jell-O shots.

Let's just make this easy on every one and order pizza.

And beer.

And let's do it before I die.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Random Running Ramblings

One of the things I like about running is that it gives me an excuse to let my mind wander. Not that I really need an excuse. My mind is pretty free-range all the time. It's just that I don't even try to rein it in while I'm running. For example, I had my own “Ugly Sweater Run” through West Branch on New Year's Eve day, because I totally spaced off the start time of the official “Ugly Sweater Run” in Coralville (the downside to a free-range mind). My train of thought while running, ran like this:

Warm up, .25 mi. brisk walk: HOLY CRAP! The wind is blowing right through this ugly sweater! It is surprisingly not warm. This may not be the best idea I've ever had.

Sullivan St., distance run 0-.3 mi.: Hmmm, wonder which is crazier: my crush on Billy Joel – who is right now preparing for a concert in sunny, warm Orlando – or that I'm running 3 miles wearing an ugly sweater in 22 degree Iowa instead of sitting stage-side?

Base of Orange Street Hill, .31 mi., elevation 730.27 ft.: The best part about starting a run with the Orange Street Hill is that it's all down-hill from here. Heh, heh, heh.

Apex of OSH, .56 mi., elevation 785.23 ft.: Oxygen deprivation sure makes me giddy. Whew! The really best part about running up Orange Street Hill is that it heats you up. This ugly sweater is surprisingly warm!

Descent OSH, first stage, .56-.67 mi., elevation 785.23 to 743.04 ft.: Controlled descent. Don't fall now. Controlled descent, don't fall now. Controlleddescentdon'tfallnow.

Descent OSH, second stage, .67-.96 mi., elevation 743.04 to 708.87 ft.: Wonder how many layers I need on my ears to keep them warm?

Mile 1: Wow! After Sunday's six-mile run, this is gonna be cake!

North Fourth St., 1.17 mi.: Speaking of cake, am I burning enough calories for two pieces?

Orange Street Hill Part 2, 1.26 -1.34 mi., elevation 737.37 to 749.88: The best part about OSH Deux is... oh crap. There is no best part to this hill. I hate this friggin' hill.

OSH2, 1.34-1.42 mi., elevation 737.37 to 749 ft.: You know, I could have told the kids I was going for a run, hitched a ride to the bar, slammed a couple beers, hitched a ride home, and no one would be any the wiser. Why didn't I think of this...

Apex of OSH2, elevation 780.45 ft.:...UNTIL NOW!?

North Sixth St., 1.5 mi., elevation 769.9 ft.: DO NOT spit into the wind. Any wind. Controlled descent, controlleddescent, controlleddescent!

North Sixth and Main St., 1.68 mi., elevation 723.96 ft.: Look out for traffic crossing Maaaaaaiiiinnn StreeeeCRAP! The sun's in my eyes! I can't see! Stupidcarsgetoutamyway!

Main St., 1.68-1.93 mi., elevation 711.37 ft.: Ahhhh. The flat part of town. And windy. Windy part of town. Good thing this ugly sweater is warm.

Main St., 2 mi., elevation 710.93 ft.: But it isn't moisture-wicking. Holy Crap! I have sweat-cicles between my.... I have one big, flat, chest-cicle!

Main St., 2.04 mi. @ 718.43 ft.: This end of Main Street is...

2.16 mi. @ 744.55 ft.:...nothing but...

2.23 mi. @ 735.44 little hill...

2.3 mi. @ 752.98 ft.:...after another.

2.43 mi. @ 719.85 ft.: “Iowa is flat” my ass.

Main and Pedersen St., 2.58 mi., elevation 721.27 ft.: Where did this traffic come from? Gotta cross, gottacross, can't stop, can'tstop and... GOFASTSPRINT! SPRINT!

Pedersen St., 2.6 mi., elevation 727.08 ft.: That *gasp* might not have been the *gasp* smartest move since there is ….

Pedersen St., 2.66 mi., elevation 739.76 ft.: last *gasp* friggin' hill. At least I don't have to run up Hilltop Drive (short side elevation change 24.57 ft. in 88 yards).

Pedersen St., 2.81 mi.: Wonder how much snot these gloves can absorb?

Pedersen and Orange St., 2.84 mi.: Almost done and my hands are sweating. At least I hope that's sweat.

Orange and Greenview, 3.02 mi.: If you can sprint to the end, you didn't run hard enough. I think I caaaaaannnnnnnn'T SPRINT, can'tsprint, CAN'T. SPRINT. No sprinting, Sir! After six miles Sunday, these three were awful.

Greenview and Sullivan St., 3.1 mi.: And breath! Phew! Time? What?! I knew I shoulda used the Billy Joel playlist!

Breath. Just. Breath.

Cool down, .25 mi. stagger: Running today?




Tomorrow? Hill Top Drive.