There are days when living in New York feels like having found a spot to curl up on in an pearl-laden oyster shell. Those days I walk around the city feeling love and magnanimity towards everyone I pass: surly cab drivers honking at dithering cars, delivery guys on teetering bicycles who insist on driving against traffic, corn-rowed women working at the check-out line in my grocery store who break into a smile when I thank them. The sun shines just so on the tops of buildings and being alive in Manhattan feels like a privilege.
But then there are days when the trudge to work is twice as long than the day before. The unrelenting noise makes my eyeballs twitch. The people on the sidewalk in front of me are too slow, the line at the grocery store makes me crazy, and it's all I can do to keep myself from locking myself in my bathroom and plugging my ears up for some peace and quiet (though of course that won't be happening any time soon, due to the recent cockroach sighting and subsequent moratorium on bathroom stays longer than 85 seconds. You'd be amazed at how fast a face can be washed, toned, and moisturized while simultaneously making room for a thorough brushing of the teeth.).
On days like those, I eat cereal for dinner. I make rude gestures when my cell phone rings. I think all sorts of woeful and self-indulgent thoughts about (the abysmal state of) my writing, my (sometimes screwy and complicated) relationships with the people I love, and my (totally unknown) purpose in life. To make myself feel better, I curl up on my couch and dream about a life in which Jon Stewart is my best friend, obliging me with constant amusement and tales of mockery.
I'm not giving up that dream, but I have found a different antidote to my current malaise, and it comes in the form of exotic fruit juice and powdered pigs knuckles. Jell-O, yup. Sam of Becks & Posh proposed that the theme for this month's Sugar High Friday be anything made with minimal or no processed sugar. Amongst my mountains of newspaper clippings, there was nothing fitting this description that inspired me. But being the lucky owner of Sally Schneider's A New Way to Cook proved serendipitous.
Sally has you dissolve powdered gelatin in some unsweetened fruit juice (go to a fancy food store and you can go nuts choosing what kind - sour cherry? papaya? Japanese plum?) both cold and heated, which you then mix together and chill. You can make different batches of juice and layer them over each other (waiting until each layer is set before starting a new one). If you're creative with colors and the thickness of layers, you've got yourself a batch of desserts that are stunningly simple and visually arresting (or the other way around).
In my attempt at minimalism, I made a bottom layer of pomegranate Jell-O and a top layer of guava. The guava layer had a creamier texture, while the pomegranate jelly had the trademark wobble that gives Jell-O its lasting power among the young and young at heart (who hasn't stared happily into a bowl of Jell-O cubes as they jiggle and sway to their own beat?). The flavors were clear and delicious and the eating is pure pleasure. You can nibble your way carefully through one layer and then another, or you can sink your spoon through the quivering Jell-O and bring up a curved slice of bicolored joy.
As any child knows, the best thing about Jell-O is squelching it in your mouth, letting the coolness slide down your throat. And now as an adult I know that it can make even a dismal week a little bit better.
2 cups fresh or good-quality bottled fruit juice or puree
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) powdered gelatin
2-3 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice (optional)
Sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fructose to taste (optional)
1. Pour 1/2 cup fo the fruit juice into a medium glass bowl or measuring cup and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let stand for 1 minute.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the remaining 1 1/2 cups fruit juice to a boil. Stir into the gelatin mixture until dissolved. Add the lemon juice and sweetener to taste, if desired (I left both out). Pour into individual bowls or into one bowl. Let cool, then refrigerate for several hours, until set.