Thursday, December 10, 2015

Aunt Shirley's Orange Jello "Salad"

Oof. It has been awhile and I'm truly sorry. I have been baking, and I have been writing, but the two haven't come together on this blog in quite some time. But I'm still here!

The holiday season is upon us and I! Am! Stoked! For some reason, I'm feeling extra festive this year -- I've got a jolly lil spring in my step, for better or worse. My roommates and I purchased a real, live tree! I'm gorging myself on holiday beverages from Starbucks! I'm sending over 70 handmade holiday cards! Could it be that I'm... procrastinating other projects? Oh, that's certainly part of it, but basically, the holiday spirit is IN me, and yes, it's nearly sexual.

I have many Christmas memories, and most involve visiting my grandparents in Chicago, which we did every year until they passed away. There was the year Santa gave me rollerblades, and I lost my goddamn mind -- the next several years were spent choreographing rollerblade routines to Shania Twain's B-side hit, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under" in the garage, a song with a message I knew but didn't really KNOW, ya know? But not all Christmas memories are jolly -- like the one year in high school my mom's "big gift" to me was a blender, so that I could "make healthier choices for breakfast." :( :( :(

Another Christmas tradition the Schmidts had in common with many suburban Minneapolis families was the downtown Dayton's* 8th floor Christmas display. *For most of my childhood, it was Dayton's. Then, Marshall Fields. And by the time it was Macy's, we didn't go anymore.

Who remembers this??

Dayton's really knew how to put together a department store floor of pure magic. Every year, a different story would be told with elaborate props, animatronic figures, sound and music... it was a delight. They did Beauty and the Beast, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, other very memorable tales that I just can't remember right now... And maybe I'm only remembering it this way because I was a kid who didn't understand money, but I'm pretty sure it was free? How is that even possible? We'd wait in line with other families in strollers and coats before slowly snaking our way through the display, older kids pushing through the crowd to read the accompanying story placards aloud. There were probably at least 20 scenes to the story, each one intricately designed and aptly fantastical (sometimes terrifying -- I don't know that I've ever needed to see an animatronic Voldemort thrusting at me). And when you reached the end of the story, what was waiting for you (besides a gift shop, obviously)? SANTA. That's right, this whole enchanting scenario ended with 1-on-1, let's-get-down-to-business conversation with the big guy himself, where you could address your Christmas wants and get a picture, too.

I was 8 years old in this picture. God help me.

As if this night wasn't already the best thing to ever happen... you could wrap up your whole familial night-on-the-town with a HOLIDAY PARADE, right through the center of downtown, a real festival of lights called the Holidazzle. If your parents loved you, you wouldn't watch from the street, where it was often below zero and a frozen tundra nightmare. If your parents cared about you at all, you would watch the parade from above the riff-raff, like royalty, in the skyways. Skyways are what Minnesotans use to avoid exposure and frostbite when trying to simply move between buildings in the wintertime. They connect buildings downtown, about three floors up, and make it possible for you to seamlessly move across the whole neighborhood without ever going outside. Fun! Necessary! Winter is a scary time!

I've heard since Macy's moved in, the 8th floor holiday display isn't as magical. I think I'll skip it, lest it tarnish my good memories (of fighting with my sister over Santa's lap-space and being sweaty in snowpants).

Another tradition on the Schmidt side of the family is my aunt Shirley's orange jello, present for every family function, and eaten primarily by me. I made it for my friends-giving this year and it delicious, and again, eaten primarily by me. But it's so tasty! And jello is ALWAYS fun. Give this simple recipe a try the next time you need to attend a particularly Midwestern potluck -- it will always be welcome there, and probably called "salad."

Aunt Shirley's Orange Jello "Salad"

1 large box of orange-flavored gelatin
2 cups orange sherbet (just now learned there isn't another "r" in that word!)
Boiling water
2 cans of mandarin oranges, drained

Boil water according to the directions on the Jello box.
Whisk the gelatin powder and hot water together until well-mixed.
Add the sherbet and stir quickly until melted/fully combined.
Pour this mixture into whatever container you want the jello to live in. I used a traditional bundt pan, but I don't know that I'd recommend it. If you have a jello mold, that's obviously going to be your best and most fun bet.
Let sit for a few minutes until the mixture begins to solidify. Then, add the mandarin oranges and stir to ensure equal distribution.
Refrigerate for 4+ hours.
Some throw a whipped topping on there -- I don't. I don't think it needs it. This jello is delicious and I would eat it every day if I could.

Happy baking!

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