Accept Your Failures Regarding Jello Or Otherwise

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They call it molded meals. It’s a form of fruit salad. It can be savory or sweet. Some of the recipes include mayonnaise. Jello was a thing. A very fashionable, opulent food thing in the Victorian era. Jello had a mid-twentieth-century revival when the Jell-O company changed their advertisements from black and white, to color lithographs. Jello is color. Today, the only place I can think of that serves Jello is the hospital. And then there’s Bill Cosby. But to my delight, there are others like me. I found them on the internet. There is an underground jello sculpting community.

My interest in jello was triggered when I saw a vintage photo of a beautiful tower in “Better Homes and Gardens, New Cookbook, 1981.”  Bold hues, structural shapes vs. organic forms, and the endless foods you can suspend within jello were so inspiring. I immediately saw jello as an art form. My mind was overwhelmed by possibilities – a jello longboard with a little jello person on it; an elaborate English jello garden; one large jello flower; a jello dolphin jumping out of blue jello water and a layered, pastel jello Easter egg with embedded fruit, were just some of my concepts.

Before I share my jello journey, I need to address gelatin. It’s gross and it’s not vegetarian. In light of this roadblock, my first step was to find an alternative. You can buy vegan jello online. It’s made of seaweed and plant starches. Get that and rest easy.

I thought about purchasing fancy, vintage molds on eBay. Instead, mainly in the interest of submitting my column somewhat on time, I used Tupperware. I completed the first layer and included strawberries. I was so excited! I yearned to continue but layered rainbow jello takes time to set. With this, I discovered jello challenged my patience.

Day by day, layer by layer, I realized something was amiss. It wasn’t getting hard. I posted about the jello problem on Instagram. A very wise man named Jimmy O’Brien responded with this, “I think the issue here is you have to cook the fruit first. Some fresh fruit doesn’t allow jello to set properly because it has proteases, which break down the proteins in jello. Cooking the fruit will break this enzyme down.” Many recipes in the New Cookbook used canned fruit. This aligned with Jimmy’s information. Also, I feel the vegan jello is a loose player in this game.

When I finally released my jello sculptures from the molds, I was overcome with grief.

I followed the book. I put the groundwork in place. Yet after all of my time, my passion, and my investment, I failed. Coping with failure is so hard (unlike my jello). It’s a hit to our ego. It makes a mess. It’s guilt. It’s all the time you feel you’ve wasted. It’s watching in slow motion, your shortcomings toppling over onto the open door of your dishwasher. And you saw it coming, but you couldn’t stop it from falling apart.

It’s starting over.

The next morning, lying in bed at 5 a.m. after a night of sleep, I ordered more vegan jello on my phone. Is it really a failure if you learn from it?

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Next time I will use less water per packet. I feel higher density will help correct the problem.

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tagged in art, jello