Archive for March, 2010


Well, after I wrote about jello “salads” a couple of weeks ago, I received quite a few comment and e-mails on the subject.  (Check them out by clicking on Comments below.) It was so fun to learn that jello salads are very common right here in New England!  And I found your responses to enticingly appetizing, that you, dear readers, are supplying the content for this week’s blog!

I’m going to start by quoting my friend Fran’s e-mail about jello salads in her family. I have had the pleasure of trying both the ground glass cake and the salad with the mayo sauce at Fran’s house!  Thanks, Fran, for giving me permission to quote your yummy e-mail!  And, following Fran’s thoughts, you’ll find four recipes for jello salads that my friend Karen passed along from her family recipe archives!  So, bon appetit!  And when you try any of the recipes, I would love to hear your reviews!!

“Jello salad is definitely not an exclusively Midwestern thing.  My mother made a variety of gelatin salads (we called them jello molds) right in Holyoke .  Friday night dinner was always special (the beginning of the Sabbath) and we usually had homemade chicken soup, brisket or pot roast, potato, vegetable and, yes, jello mold, made in a ring mold and “unmolded” onto a nice serving plate.  It was usually two colors and had some combination of canned fruit, raisins, nuts in it.  To make it, you had to do one color (that was usually the one with the addeds in it) and let it get almost “jelled” before carefully pouring the second color, cooled somewhat so it wouldn’t melt the first color and merge with it, on top.  Colors and addeds varied – sometimes raisins and walnuts, sometimes canned fruit (never fresh pineapple or the jello wouldn’t jell). Often she would use the juice from the canned fruit in place of some of the water to make the jello.  Early on, my mother used something called Ko-jel because there was controversy over whether regular jello was kosher – eventually it was determined that the chemical changes in the ingredients that happened in the making of the jello were profound enough that jello was ok.  But, I digress.

For holidays, there was sometimes a special jello mold.  My mother had one for fourth of July that was red, white and blue.  The red was strawberry jello with strawberries in it, the white was lemon jello that she would let partially set and then beat into a froth, adding Dream Whip (we’re talking mid fifties here), so it was fairly white in color.  I don’t remember any addeds in that layer, but maybe canned crushed pineapple.  The blue layer, of course, was blueberry jello with blueberries added.  She made it in a large cylindrical shaped bowl and unmolded into carefully onto a fancy serving plate.

Tom’s family (Lexington, MA) always had and still has gelatin salad for all holidays – usually a ring mold of red and green (especially for Christmas) jello with canned fruit cocktail and, often, added maraschino cherries.  They serve it with a dressing made of equal parts of mayonnaise and marshmallow fluff – yes you read it right, and while it is not my cup of tea, it’s not quite as disgusting as it sounds.  I had a friend who had all his mother’s recipe cards that he gave me since he was never going to use them, and there were at least half a dozen for varieties of jello salads – I looked for them last night, but, alas, think I may have thrown them out in a fit of cleaning several years ago.

A special dessert my mother made (and I have made a few times – even once for Edward’s birthday!) was not a jello salad, but jello figured importantly in it.  She called it “stained glass cake” and we (my brother and I) called it ground glass cake.  You line a spring form (bottom and sides) with soft ladyfingers.  Then you make several separate colors of jello (usually three in a colorful combination so maybe red, orange and lime), using slightly less water than required so it is a little firmer, each in a flat container like a layer cake pan or an 8 inch square brownie pan.  Once those are set, you make lemon jello, and, when it is partially set, whip it into a froth and beat in some form of whipped cream stuff – she used Dream Whip (we’re still in the mid 50’s here) and I have used Cool Whip, or, for a rich, “elegant” version, real whipped cream.  Then you cut the firm colored jello into small cubes and carefully fold all the colors into the whipped white stuff, pour it into the lined spring form and refrigerate until it is well set.  Then, when you cut it, you have something that looks like stained (or ground) glass.”

Now, the recipes from Karen.  I particularly like the mayo-horseradish combo in the first one!!  I think this is the one I will make first. Enjoy!

Coronado Salad Ring

1 pkg. lime jello & 1 pkg. lemon jello, 2 c. hot water, 10 oz. small curd cottage cheese, 1 #2 can crushed pineapple, well-drained, 2/3 c chopped walnuts, 1 cup heavy cream, 1 c mayonnaise, 1T horseradish

Dissolve the jello in the hot water.  Add remaining ingredients in the order given.  Place in a wet ring mold and refrigerate until firm.  When ready to serve, unmold onto a platter.  Fill center with fresh strawberries.  Serves 8.

Kay’s Salad

1 6-oz pkg. raspberry jello, 2 c boiling water, 4T cold water, 1/2 c. orange juice

Make the jello with these ingredients and let set until relatively thick. Then add:

1 can whole cranberry sauce, 3 oz. canned crushed pineapple (drained), 1 small can mandarin oranges, walnuts (no amount specified in recipe.)

Strawberry Banana Jello Salad

6 oz. pkg. strawberry jello,6 oz. can frozen orange juice, 1 lb. package frozen strawberries, 1 can pineapple in juice (chunks or crushed), 2-3 bananas

Drain pineapple and add enough water to the liquid to make 2 cups.  Bring to a boil and dissolve jello in the hot liquid. Add frozen orange juice and mix until dissolved.  Add frozen strawberries – mixture will start to thicken as strawberries thaw.  Add pineapple and cut up bananas.  Refrigerate to set.


Hug the Center

I walked the mini-labyrinth at the Center last weekend during our sesshin.  I’d walked it before, but I hadn’t spent very long doing it.  It was more just to try it out and see what it felt like.  But on Sunday, I walked it for real.  Very slowly, the way I do walking meditation.

As I stepped onto the path, I wasn’t thinking about anything, really.  I was just focused on following the path. That took some concentration, because it’s a small labyrinth and the path is only about nine inches wide.  Immediately I had to give up worrying about going outside the lines.  There was no way – not being a contortionist – that I could walk this thing and not step on or over the lines, unless I wanted to take micro-baby steps.  And that seemed not to be the point to me this time.

So, I followed the labyrinth’s curved road, winding first closer to and then out away from the middle as I went, until, after a while, I found myself on the short straight stretch that led right into the labyrinth’s center.  It felt nice, somehow, to be walking along a straight path, after  the circuitous route I’d just followed.  And when I stepped onto that circle in the middle, I felt calm, as if I’d reached the very center of existence, of my being.

It felt so soothing and peaceful there.  I stood there, eyes closed, hands one atop the other at my solar plexus, resting in that sense of being grounded and rooted and exactly at the destination toward which I had been heading all my life, often without knowing I was headed there, often without real direction.  And now that I found myself there, although I knew I had to reverse my steps, I stood there stock still, as if rooted to the spot.  I didn’t want to leave.

A real quandary.  I couldn’t physically stay on that safe, sustaining spot forever. But I sure as heck did not want to walk back along that path, the one I’d had to travel to get to where I am now.  Funny, as I was wending my way along toward the labyrinth’s center, I had felt uplifted, knowing that I was moving ahead and feeling the forward momentum in each step.  But now that I was there, one reason I didn’t want to step out of that seemingly charmed circle was that I was going to have to tread that path again.

It’s all metaphorical, of course.  In order to get to that center where I now found myself, I had taken a road that was far from straight.  So many twists and turns, some of which led me closer to the labyrinth’s core- sometimes tantalizingly close – and then further away from it.  Standing there within that core, I gazed at the winding path surrounding me.  I noticed the stretch at the back, furthest away from the center. It was a long stretch.  It seemed that it would be really painful to have to walk along all those curves again on my way out of the labyrinth.

Then it occurred to me that this was a necessary step. For as I’d traveled toward the center, I had not been at all aware of the distinct parts of the path or the larger picture.  I was just moving ahead.  It was only now, as I stood at the center, that I could look out from there and begin to get a larger view and take in all the legs in my life’s journey so far.  It was not a particularly pretty picture, because my focus fell most heavily on the legs furthest from where I now stood.  Man, no way I wanted to go there again.

But now, I realized, I was being presented with an opportunity.  A chance to metaphorically retrace my steps, to revisit my life’s moments and respond to the unpleasant ones in new ways.  In essence, I was being offered the chance to reverse my path and thereby transform my life.  And that seemed like a good thing.  Even so, I had to stand there a couple more minutes before I was ready to go back and take a good look at where I’d been, to immerse myself in it once more and learn from it.

Walking backwards along the circuits, I once again felt hopeful, because  no matter how far away from the center I walked, sometimes with my back totally to it, it was only a few minutes before I once again could see it before me, and found myself moving closer to it.  That long, back stretch was tough, but even there, in my peripheral vision, I could see the center. That felt good.  Funny that I hadn’t noticed that on my way in…

And when I once more found myself at the labyrinth’s opening, facing outward, having made my way back along my life’s path, I took two more tiny steps, so that my feet were half on the labyrinth, half on the floor, and paused. At some point, I thought, I will leave this life, just as I was now poised to leave the labyrinth and my symbolic life.  I can leave this life having walked my path unaware and ending up just wherever I ended up.  Or I can leave it with the awareness that comes from having mentally retraced that path and learned from it, so that next time my own personal labyrinth can somehow – don’t know how it’s possible, but I hope it is! – be made up of a road that manages to always hug the center.

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Is It a Midwestern Thing?

I’ve lived in Massachusetts since 1984, but really, I’m a Midwestern girl: I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a large city 90 miles west of Chicago.  Growing up there meant lots of cornfields (outside the city, and at the end of my street), mostly flatlands, lightning bugs, and… jello salads.

Jello salads. That may sound like kind of an oxymoron to those of you who think salad equals lettuce and tomatoes and other savory foods, rather than ingredients more closely resembling dessert.  Maybe they’d be more accurately called jello sidedishes, since we would eat them as an accompaniment to our main meal.

Whatever you want to call them, the jello salads we had in my househould were sometimes, but not always molded in pans with textured bottoms,  often red in color, and always included some kind of fruit, but they were not simply jello and fruit.  Oh, no!  My most favorite jello salad (and my kids’, too) is made from black cherry jello, canned bing cherries, each of which you stuff with a tiny bit of cream cheese, sliced pecans and… sliced green pimento-stuffed olives.  Mmmm!  The perfect mix of sweet and salty.

I know this may sound utterly revolting to you, but it is utterly divine!  It is so divine and such a comfort food for me that when I was pregnant with my daughter Emily, I suddenly developed a craving for this very salad.  During that pregnancy I craved red fruits in general, especially raspberries and cherries. And Emily herself is a big fan of both.  And of the bing cherry jello salad in particular. My mother, who was the source of all our jello salads, was such a good granny that she flew to Milwaukee to obtain the canned cherries, which were not available in our local stores.  (Well, maybe you could say she was visiting my sister in Milwaukee and picked up the cherries while she was there, but the other explanation makes for a better story…)  I any case, my craving was satisfied, and Emily was born perhaps already having acquired a taste for jello salads, even though she was born right here in Massachusetts.

But that is not the salad she requested a couple of weeks ago.  No, for some reason she got it into her head that she wanted the salad with the cherry jello (do you see a pattern here?), apple chunks, chopped celery, and pecans.  So, I set about making it.  You see, it was all up to me, because my mom passed away a year ago in August, so now we are on our own in terms of jello salads.  Luckily, I had in my pantry the secret ingredient for this salad, a secret ingredient which I actually retrieved from my mom’s house after her death: red hots.  You got it, those tiny disk-shaped cinnamon-flavored candies.  (And no need to worry that they might have gone bad in the past year and a half.  Those things would be good in the year 3010!)

And the procedure is not as you might imagine – you don’t just add the red hots to the jello with the fruit. They wouldn’t be a secret ingredient if you did that!!  No, you melt the red hots in some water first, and use that as part of the liquid to make the jello.

I know that by this point you are definitely craving this salad, right?  Of course, you are!  So, I will show you a picture of the ingredients and then give you the recipe!


To make this yummy salad at home:

Melt 1/4 cup red hots in 1/2 cup water over low heat until dissolved.

Dissolve a 3-oz package cherry jello in 1 cup boiling water and the melted red hots liquid.  Pour into a jello mold or bowl and chill until partly set.

Stir in 2 cups peeled & chopped apples (macintosh are nice!), 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I like to slice them sideways.  That’s what Mom always did!)

Chill until firm!  Enjoy!

The finished “salad” looks like this:


One of the fun parts of the completed salad is the way the apples take on the strange, artificial red color and artificial cinnamon flavor.

I hope you will try this and like it.  But I’m also interested: are jello salads like this one just a Midwestern thing, or do people in others parts of the country make them, too?  I’ve never met anyone out here who makes them, but maybe you have!  Or maybe you’ve encountered them in other parts of the country.  If you have, please post a comment.  Even a recipe.  I would love that.  Because we only have 2 jello salads in our repertoire.  Good ones, it’s true, but it is always nice to explore new options, so please do write in!

(And yes, for those of you who know that we’re vegetarian, I will say it: we make an exception for jello!)

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The Return of Zen Beetle

It all started a week or so ago. Emily’s friend Renee went into our upstairs bathroom.  Em and I were downstairs.  Suddenly Renee comes walking very briskly down the stairs, and her words precede her: “There’s a very scary bug in your bathroom!!!”  A moment later I see her outstretched hand holding out a loosely-bunched tissue, a tight-lipped – and dare I say desperate? – look on her face.  Em and I exchanged glances, and I took the tissue from Renee.  Not knowing what to expect – and hoping against hope it was not one of those big furry spiders – I held my breath and slowly pulled back one edge of the tissue to reveal… Zen Beetle!!!!   (Those of you who don’t know about Zen Beetle can ready the back story in my earlier blog:  ”Oh,” I said to Renee with a smile, “It’s just Zen Beetle!”   “Terrifying,” Renee replied.  Emily nodded with a frown. I stepped outside and put Zen Beetle in the bushes in front of our porch.

Technically, I learned, Zen Beetle is a leaf-footed bug.  Here are a couple of photos of other leaf-footed bugs:

leaf-footed-bug_3unknown leaf-footed bug

And so you might have thought that was the last we’d see of ZB.  But then, yesterday, I happened to walk into the same upstairs bathroom and noticed that our cat Toupie was staring intently at something on the edge of the door molding.  I leaned over and saw… you guessed it.  ”Oh, hi, Zen Beetle!” I cooed. I was pleased to see him again. Toupie was even more thrilled.  She even uttered the really scary “I see some prey” chatter that she and her sister do when they catch sight of a flying bug or bird. But ZB was high up and Toupie wasn’t in danger of reaching him, so I said my goodbyes and walked out.

Cut to a couple of hours later.  I was in the kitchen when Emily came down the stairs, looking somehow both indignant and spooked.  ”Guess what was in the shower??” she demanded.  ”I don’t know,” I said. (You see, by then, I’d totally forgotten about ZB.)  ”Zen Beetle!!!” she exclaimed.  ”Oh, how nice!” I replied.  ”NO!  It was terrifying! I reached down to pick up the shampoo bottle and something was on the top of it, and I thought it was some hair, but it was a BUG!  It was awful!”  I shared my opinion that Zen Beetle was kind of cute, but she wasn’t having any of it.  ”TERRIFYING!  How would you feel if he was in the shower with you? What if he crawled on your leg?”  ”Where is he now?” I inquired.  A scowl. “Who knows.” Like a good mom, I made a tour of the shower and its environs, but saw no sign of ZB.

But that’s not the end of the story.  This morning, after Emily had taken her shower, I went into the bathroom to find that the lid to our toilet paper holder was on the floor, way across the room.  I knelt down to pick it up, and what did I find atop it, but… ZB!  I asked Emily what had happened.  Same story, more or less:  Zen beetle had tried to share the shower with her.  She’d grabbed the lid to scoop him up, and then left him on the bathroom floor.  ”Terrifying!” she repeated, shaking her head. I took a good look at Zen Beetle as I carried the lid outside and set him atop the mulch out front.  I really do think he’s pretty darn cute, but I can see that not everyone would share my view.  And that’s when it occurred to me that Zen Beetle was trying to teach us something.

One of my favorite Buddhist teachings on emptiness centers around a glass of water.  Or what we humans in this realm, the desire realm, see as a glass of water.  The teaching goes this way:  if you were able to have beings from 3 realms – a human, a hungry ghost, and a Buddha – in the same room and they were all looking at the same vessel full of liquid, a human would see a glass of water, the hungry ghost would see a vessel full of pus and blood, while the Buddha would see a vessel full of ambrosia.  And for each that would be their reality, their valid perception.  How is that possible?  To make a very long story short, because of our karma: the reality each of us sees depends on our karmic ripening at the moment, and our karmic ripening depends on our past actions.

What does that have to do with Zen Beetle?  To be sure, Emily, Toupie and I are all living in the desire realm, but even so, the world each of us sees depends on our karma.  And that makes it possible for the three of us to all see ZB, but to see him in different ways.  I see him as a cute little Buddhist  bug, Toupie sees him as enticing prey, and Emily sees him as a terrifying invader of her privacy.  One bug, three views, and each valid, from a Buddhist perspective.

As I considered these three very different views, all firmly held and all expressed within a short timespan, the Buddhist teaching of the glass of water popped into my mind.  And my own view of Zen Beetle expanded a bit.  It now seemed to me that he had come to serve, through his very presence, as a live teaching on emptiness. And so, given the events of these past few days, I’ve decided to rename our insect visitor.  From now on, he will be Zen Master Beetle.

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