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The true joy of cooking

Our newsroom Christmas covered-dish dinner is something we look forward to all year long. Everyone has a signature dish.

Everyone except me.

“What do I bring?” I asked Food Editor Esther, our benevolent newsroom celebration czar. “I don’t know what to bring. Tell me what to bring.” I thrust the holiday cookbook at her. “Here, tell me what to make.”

“Oh, I know!” Esther flipped immediately to the page she wanted, because it’s her cookbook and of course she knows the exact page each recipe is on.

Esther has it together in a way of which I can only dream. “I made this for a tea party the other day.”

Of course she did. I’m going to grow up someday and write cookbooks and host tea parties. Just watch.

I eyed the recipe. It had five ingredients. Surely, even I couldn’t ruin a recipe for Jell-O salad with only five ingredients.

… yeah.

“How do you know if the cranberries are done?” I asked.

“They pop.”

It’s good to learn new things. So, armed with the simple, no-miss recipe, I called the Long Suffering Husband with a request for cranberries.

“Where are they?” he said dubiously. “The canned food aisle?”

“These need to be fresh,” I said. “Look in the produce section.”

“Fresh cranberries … ” He sounded worried. We were approaching uncharted kitchen territory, and he’s seen what happens when I’m outside my kitchen comfort zone.

He came home without the cranberries and claimed he couldn’t find any. That’s awfully suspicious. It’s December. There are fresh cranberries everywhere. Needless to say, it took barely any effort to procure some for myself. See if I send the LSH off to find “exotic” foodstuffs anymore.

Did you know cranberries pop? Actually pop as in they jump up and explode as if they are trying to throw themselves out of the boiling water? They do.

I screamed and fended the little red devils off with my slotted spoon, beating them into submission.

There was a pregnant silence from the living room. “Is everything OK in there?” the LSH called.

“Yes.” I deflected another cranberry back into the pot. “They’re just popping.”

” … popping?”

“They are supposed to pop.” I whacked the cranberries to show them who was boss and they settled down. I poured in the sugar, stirred, then threw in a box of cherry Jell-O and some walnuts and tossed it in a bowl.

Minus the popping, it was surprisingly easy. So easy I thought about adding the salad to the holiday menu at my parents’ house if it went over well with the guinea pigs … er, newsroom. I put it in the refrigerator to set, then went to bed.

I woke up to a Jell-O nightmare.

It had not solidified into gelatin overnight. It was stuck in some strangely thick viscous stage, despite eight solid hours of refrigeration. Maybe I should have drained the cranberries. Or used a bigger box of Jell-O. I tipped the bowl to one side, then the other. The contents sloshed back and forth.

It looked like blood and blood clots. It looked horrible. It looked like the newsroom wasn’t going to eat it in a million years.

It looked like I was stopping at the bakery on the way to work and buying a cake.

(Wallace-Minger, a resident of Weirton, is community editor of The Weirton Daily Times.)

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