'Rainbow' Jell-O said you cared
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You know something is amiss when you get all nostalgic for the rainbow Jell-O.
There was a time when showing up for a Little League potluck with a bucket of fast-food chicken was like admitting you don't have your act together enough to cook for your family. How embarrassing.
These days, showing up at a party with a multistep home-made dish is like admitting you have too much time on your hands. How embarrassing.
There are few parties now that are without the telltale Costco food: the vat of lasagna, the plastic jug of mini-muffin brownies, the lawn-and-garden size bag of tortilla chips. For office parties, it's understood that everybody is busy with work and family and is too tired to make fancy dishes and then MacGyver a way to heat it up at their desk or in the lunchroom toaster oven.
But even home parties, birthdays, and the heralded Super Bowl festivities are now not "What are you going to cook?" but "What are you going to buy?"
People share insider secrets about where to buy the best mac salad by the gallon or barrel of cooked rice. You know your life is hectic if you don't even have time to cook rice!
Which makes the rainbow Jell-O era seem all the more distant and lost.
In gatherings of yesteryear, rainbow Jell-O was a mark of a great party. Not the three-layer Jell-O with the despised lime, favorite strawberry and mysterious milky white slab in between the green and red.
The true rainbow Jell-O, with tiny ribbons of colors, including purple and blue - colors not even found in the old-style Jell-O but somehow conjured up by somebody's gelatin-talented mother.
Each micro-layer of stained-glass color was separated from the next by a thin sheet of white, something that required a can of condensed milk and an ocean of patience. Each layer of flavor had to be poured carefully when the previous layer had firmly set.
This was no modern-day hospital-style soft-serve Jell-O in a cup. This was old school Jell-O, Jell-O that stood up on its own and could be cut with a serrated knife for maximum aesthetic impact.
Jell-O like that required fortitude and focus. It took discipline. It took hours that we just don't have anymore. You can't multitask rainbow Jell-O.
Certainly there's a Kirkland version of rainbow Jell-O or some facsimile, something that comes on a sheet the size of an oil drip pan and tastes as bland as the old fashioned one. Oh sure, the old-style home style rainbow Jell-O didn't have much flavor.
But that wasn't the point. It was about going through all the trouble to make something for a casual party that was trouble to make.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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