I’ll be the first to admit (and I’ve done so on this blog before!) that I am not a very good cook. I sometimes think I could give the folks on “Worst Chefs in America” a run for their money. But I should also say that this in no way stops me from trying...
Case in point: my Earth Day party.
Local TV series “Eye on the Bay” contacted us about filming one of our little parties for the show. After some discussion, my team thought that our Earth Day party would be a perfect fit. Soon we were planning some special touches to make the party even more memorable. Normally we don’t do food; I leave that to the experts. (And with good reason -- no one wants some poor child choking down a half-burnt grilled cheese sandwich, no matter what cute shape it’s been trimmed into!) But for some reason I got a flash of inspiration: instead of cake, let’s do three tiny treats representing earth, sea, and sky! Ahhh, brilliant me. I was feeling very puffed up, since I normally don’t even have any ideas for food beyond fun names for them. I’m just not a foodie!
So there I was, puffed up and full of my fabulous vision. For earth, I decided to do a chocolate pudding mixed with Cool Whip and topped with Oreo cookie crumbles, a gummy worm, and a lollipop flower. For sky, my husband Scott suggested fluffy “cloud” meringue cookies. (To his credit, Scott made a sample batch, but the yield was too small and the prep time was too long. Thankfully Trader Joe’s carries tubs of perfect little puffs, so we went with those.) And finally for sea we’d have blue Jell-O. I recalled an image I had seen years ago in a magazine: a fish bowl filled with light blue Jell-O and gummy fish. Perfect! The only issue was that I didn’t know how to make it... but how hard could mixing up some Jell-O and throwing in a gummy fish be?
What is it they say about pride goeth before the fall? Get ready to hear a very loud thump, y’all.
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I remembered that if you wanted to suspend something in Jell-O, and not have it sink to the bottom like a dead weight, you had to do the Jell-O in layers. I was planning on visiting my folks between my Friday and Sunday parties (the “Eye on the Bay” shoot was that Sunday), so I decided to make the Jell-O Thursday night. The first layer went off without a hitch. I had very cute bowl-shaped votive candle holders that were the perfect size for small, individual fish bowls. I filled them halfway Thursday night, and set them in the fridge to harden. The next morning I inserted one nice, plump gummy fish into each bowl, and added more Jell-O. All was good -- or so I thought.
The tragedy struck Saturday morning when I opened the fridge to grab milk for my morning tea. I found twelve bloated, white-rimmed, disintegrating fish staring back at me! It was like the biblical ten plagues -- you know the part where the river turns to blood and the fish all float to the surface, dead and disgusting? I had a mini fish apocalypse on my hands! This was not good -- I was leaving for my parents’ in an hour, and I had to do something fast. My first thought was that maybe I could get away with it, that maybe it was like that oxidation that happens with chocolate when it gets hot and then cold; it looks terrible, but still tastes good. I figured I’d better dump out one fish bowl and check it.
One flick of the spoon and I knew I was doomed. The toxic mess that spilled out onto my plate nearly caused me to gag up my morning tea. The fish was slimy and gross, and no kid in their right might would consume it.
Thankfully I had a few more boxes of Jell-O on hand, so I mixed up another batch to replace the putrefied ones. I figured that right before I served them at the party, I’d cut a slit in the top of the Jell-O and insert a gummy fish, maybe even having his head stick out, like Flipper used to do. The fish wouldn’t have time to go bad if the desserts were served immediately after their addition.
The funny thing was that two days before, my sister Freda posted a Facebook link to the exact photo of the Jell-O goldfish bowl that had inspired me in the first place. It was a Martha Stewart recipe, which should have been a red flag because nothing I’ve ever made of hers has been as simple as it seemed. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the recipe from the link, but after the carnage in my fridge I went back and searched for it. It was completely off the hook and used flat soda. And there, on the bottom, it instructed you to wait until you were going to serve the dish and insert the fish just before, and to make sure to serve it within six hours of doing so. So there it was! The smoking fish... or should that be “smoked fish?”
All in all, I’m pretty thankful for the way everything played out. If I hadn’t been going to my folks’, I wouldn’t have done the project early. If I hadn’t done the project early, I wouldn’t have had the time to rectify the situation. As it was, everything worked out just fine, as it always does. However, I will say that from now on, I’m definitely leaving the foodstuff to the experts!