Nostalgic Kitchen Experiments Vol. 1

The ~Magic~ of Nostalgia

©1997 MGR Publishing & Promotions Inc. Toronto Canada

©1997 MGR Publishing & Promotions Inc. Toronto Canada

In the days before internet, my mother was an avid collector of cookbooks. You could build a fort out of the stacks of Canadian Living magazines we kept in our basement. But I specifically remember being fascinated by this one aggressively '90s cookbook called, "The Magic of Jell-o"

I would open the book to the polar bear-themed igloo cake (that, as an adult, I now realize is strikingly complicated for the "kids treat" section) and stare at it, trying to will it into existence before me.

We never got to try that cake, but some of the easier recipes do stand out from my childhood. Mixing cookie crumbs or chocolate chips into instant pudding, or making Jello powder-coated marshmallows — called "Squisharoos" in the book. Recently, my mother unearthed this ancient artifact of yesteryear and – like every Boomer offloading their clutter to their kids – gave it to me. I've been excited to make something from this magical book of my childhood as an adult, and I finally got the time to do it.

Pie in the Sky

I wanted to choose one of the more involved recipes (ya know, to make it worth the mess). I don't have an electric mixer, so that limited a few of my choices. Looking around, I had almost everything I needed to make the Peanut Butter and Grape Jello Pie recipe – although I would have to buy Cool Whip for the first time in my life. Did you know they sell it frozen, and no where near the dairy section? Well, I did not. I also substituted Raspberry for Grape since that's what I had on hand, and because everyone knows that everything Grape-flavored just tastes like medicine.

It looked a bit wobbly when I left it to set in the fridge overnight, but it came out looking nearly picture perfect.

The peanut butter base is actually pretty delicious and I like how the pink mousse topping looks exactly like unicorn vomit. It tastes a bit like a sugar-coated PB&J sandwich... in a good way.

And since most the recipes in the book are based on these few simple twists to the regular Jello making process, I'm definitely going to push the boundaries of how far I can take these Jello experiments.

If you like the way this looks, its ridiculously easy to make.


Recipe

1/2 cup — Smooth Peanut Butter (or crunchy if you're into that sorta thing)

1 cup — Milk (I use 2%, but you just do you)

2.5 cups — Cool Whip

3/4 cup — boiling water
1 pkg — Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix

1 pkg — Jiggly Grape Jelly Powder (or your favorite flavor, unless it's lime)

1 — 9" graham cracker crust

2 cups — ice cubes

 

STIR milk gradually into peanut butter in medium bowl until smooth. Add pudding mix. Beat with whisk until smooth. Gently stir in 1 cup of whipped topping.
SPOON mixture into crust. Refrigerate.
DISSOLVE jelly powder in boiling water. Add ice cubes until slightly thickened (about 3 - 5 minutes). Whisk in remaining whipped topping. Chill until slightly thickened (about 30 minutes).
SPOON jelly mixture over peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate overnight.

This Halloween-themed long-post is 100% real

Today I learned the city in which I was born – London, Ontario – is considered the serial killer capital of the world:

DUN DUN DUN!!

DUN DUN DUN!!

I know many Milwaukee friends of mine would challenge this. There are two notorious killers from Milwaukee and more to be said of the serial killers from elsewhere in Wisconsin, which does make the state a touch on the murdery side.

But this pales in comparison to the small Ontario town between 1959 and 1984. During that time, London had a population of 200,000 people and as many as SIX serial killers, more per capita than everywhere else on the planet. They had nicknames such as the Mad Slasher, Chambermaid Slayer, and Balcony Killer. More than 30 people were victims of serial killings during those 25 years, and some of the murderers were never caught.

And now I live in Chicago — home of America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, during the 1893 World's Fair — and as Devil in the White City readers will know, who also had a Toronto connection. Maybe it's just the time of year, but this has got me feeling quite spOoOoOky!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Improv: Flying While Winging It

I had my share of childhood classes: ballet, jazz, vocal lessons, tap dancing, gymnastics and theater camp. I tried out for the high-school play, but ended up spending most of my time behind the curtain making sets, designing props, and directing lighting as a stage manager. Forgetting all about the stage in college, I went on to grow-up into a creative adult and eventually became an art director.

Then in 2015 I had the most fun I've ever had with my pants on at Comedy Sportz in Milwaukee. After moving to Chicago, I continued taking classes at the iO Theater and can't wait to move into Level 3 this March. I love improv because it has so much to offer to the creative process. As an art director and a Type-A person, I am used to being prepared. But in improv it is impossible to be prepared. There are no rules and the only way to survive is to be in the moment and trust your stage partners have your back.

Here are three lessons from improv that have made me a better art director:

Don't Think

There's no curtain in improv. You're already on stage and the lights are on. The audience gives you a suggestion. No time to think, just say the first thing that comes into your head.

I've found this tactic most helpful in a brainstorming session when we have 8 concepts and are reaching for those last few nuggets of gold in the backs of our brains. Sometimes just saying the dumbest thing out loud can move it out of the way and gives my brain room for a great idea. Often I've found the silliest thing I blurted out in a brainstorm session inspires the truest insight.

Active Listening

On stage, you have to listen (and watch) your partner to keep the reality alive. If they establish it is night time in our scene, I'll break out my pretend flashlight and jump at every little sound.

I find myself using this skill often when presenting. The group will often give visual cues while I present and by actively paying attention, I can adjust the presentation to suit the audience. By assessing comprehension, I can slow down my presentation at critical moments, or choose breeze through that boring section on the migration habits of African and European swallows.

Mistakes are Gifts

There are no mistakes, because even mistakes can become part of the scene and often enhance it. If it's established we are on a boat and I forget and walk off the edge, I haven't made a mistake, I've just uncovered my superpower!

This is just great advice for life in general. At it's core, it's optimistic; Every cloud has a silver lining and every challenge is an opportunity. Keeping this attitude while working with challenging clients opens up windows when they close doors. When budgets get cut and ads get smaller, keeping a positive attitude can help you realize it works better as an out of home than it ever did as a :30 spot, anyway.

Improv helps me improve the way I connect to creative partners, clients, and ideas. It is good to practice thinking on my feet and being on stage gets me comfortable with being uncomfortable. I still love to make meticulous to-do lists, but when the client throws the plans out the window, I'm ready to wing it and still soar.

A Student Again and Always

After living in Milwaukee for 5 years, I realized how much I missed city life. Little things like public transportation on rails and being able to get a donut after 8pm. I even missed the smell of the city. A mix of hot concrete, lake pollution, and the stress of 2 million busy people. 

So I signed up for the Chicago Portfolio School, something I never thought I'd do again. With five years of school, a BFA, and three years of agency experience, I began our first quarter in April. Every project was sharpies and paper only, meaning no hiding behind my glitzy Photoshop and Illustrator techniques.

Just pure, raw ideas.

Every week I'd pin up my 20 black-and-white sharpie comps along with the 10 other students in class. I learned very quickly to let go of my ego. Some weeks produced winners, some didn't. But it didn't matter because it was about quantity, dropping my bad habits, and hunting down that great concept.

Just a few of the winners from Q1

In agency life, we rarely get the time to play around with so many concepts. But as a student again, I had to keep reminding myself that there is no client to please, no budget to stay under, and no account managers asking to push the date up from Friday to Wednesday. As a student, my only limit is myself. And least surprisingly, there is always so much to learn. From the teachers, from my classmates, and from this beautiful, smelly city.

Elfie Selfie on a Santa Rampage

I’m not an athletic person and I’d rather perform a one-man show to an audience of a thousand strangers than bike 20 miles. I also hate being cold — which is hilarious to hear coming from a Canadian. If I could, I’d hibernate through winter under a feather-down comforter and a cup of hot chocolate. So when my dad asked me to join him on a 20 mile “Santa Rampage” bike ride though Milwaukee on December 6th, it puts me way out of my comfort zone. So I said yes. Under one condition: That we would dress up as a family.

Most people dress as Santa for the ride. We decided Dad would be “Underwear Santa,” my mom would be Mrs. Claus, and I would be an Elf. It was only after this demand that I found out this bike ride was from bar to bar. Drunk Santa’s on bikes? I’m starting to warm up to this bike ride. It’s 9:00 am on Saturday morning, overcast, and hovering right around freezing. We meet the Santas at Cafe Hollander, which is coincidently my favorite place for brunch, and we down a beer for breakfast — as a family. We meet up with a few friends of my parents, and get pedaling to the first stop: Lakefront Brewery.

It is COLD. At least we are biking with the wind, however it is all uphill. My legs burn from pedaling and my fingers burn from cold. I had not considered how the child’s Elf costume I had wore might stand up against the elements. While I’m glad that it’s not raining, I am not glad that we were following my dad when he took a wrong turn. But a wrong turn usually means a good story, and this one turns us right into a fire truck. Obviously amused by our costumes, they ask what we are doing. I explain we are headed to Lakefront Brewery with the rest of the Santas and invite them to join us.

Wrongs turns lead to good stories. And firefighters.

By the time we reach the brewery, the Firefighters have beat us there. I have snot running down my nose and I’ve forgotten how to walk properly, but the free beer token feels like a gift from Santa. As more Santas show up, I realize that I should have been more creative in my idea for our costumes. Beer in hand, I decide to ask for a picture with every crazy costume I can find. Before we leave, I take an Elfie Selfie.

Elfie Selfie

With the free beer fuel up and feeling returning to my toes, we hop back on our bikes and head to the next stop: Great Lakes Distillery. Now the sun is shining, but it isn’t much warmer. Most of this leg of the ride is – you guessed it – uphill. I’m sore but not incapacitated yet. And the friendly strangers we meet on the way help keep my spirits up (and the thought of spirits at the distillery). Nearly every one we pass gives us a wave, some yell Merry Christmas! We yell it back. Some of the jollier Santas give out a Ho Ho Ho! At the distillery, we have some of the finest Bloody Marys in Wisconsin and eat salty kinda-burnt popcorn. Sitting at the table with my parents, I see a familiar looking Santa. It’s my former client Kevin Hardman, Marketing Manager for Bublr Bikes (Milwaukee’s new bike share program that I helped brand and launch). I grab a quick pic with him for Twitter and away we go.

The next stop was Kochanski’s the Polish pub not far from the distillery. But Mrs. Claus had to get back to the North Pole to start decorating and baking, so we started the long leg home. Somehow, this was also uphill, because apparently everything in Milwaukee is uphill. And now we are facing the wind. It’s a full 10 mile bike ride back, this time, no stops. We hopped on a bike path, which I thought was a good idea until I realized that 1) it’s along the river, and it’s colder along the river with no buildings shielding the wind; and 2) there are no stop lights on the bike path, no reprieve. I wouldn’t want to stop even if there were, because the wind off the river is ripping right through the elf felt. I have to hold on to my hat more than once.

Back at Hollander by 3:00, we order a real brunch. Obviously we all pick the warmest things on the menu: coffee and Hot Mess Skillets. We look like the North Pole just went through hell as we chow down. Back at home, I’m doing fine until about 5pm when the pain is so bad I can’t even get up to get the Ibuprofen. I hobble to the bathroom and down two pills. I then curl up on the couch with a heating pad, hot chocolate, and Netflix. Finally, something in my comfort zone.

By the time we reach the brewery, the Firefighters have beat us there. I have snot running down my nose and I’ve forgotten how to walk properly, but the free beer token feels like a gift from Santa. As more Santas show up, I realize that I should have been more creative in my idea for our costumes. Beer in hand, I decide to ask for a picture with every crazy costume I can find. Before we leave, I take an Elfie Selfie.

With the free beer fuel up and feeling returning to my toes, we hop back on our bikes and head to the next stop: Great Lakes Distillery. Now the sun is shining, but it isn’t much warmer. Most of this leg of the ride is – you guessed it – uphill. I’m sore but not incapacitated yet. And the friendly strangers we meet on the way help keep my spirits up (and the thought of spirits at the distillery). Nearly every one we pass gives us a wave, some yell Merry Christmas! We yell it back. Some of the jollier Santas give out a Ho Ho Ho! At the distillery, we have some of the finest Bloody Marys in Wisconsin and eat salty kinda-burnt popcorn. Sitting at the table with my parents, I see a familiar looking Santa. It’s my former client Kevin Hardman, Marketing Manager for Bublr Bikes (Milwaukee’s new bike share program that I helped name and launch). I grab a quick pic with him for Twitter and away we go.

The next stop was Kochanski’s the Polish pub not far from the distillery. But Mrs. Claus had to get back to the North Pole to start decorating and baking, so we started the long leg home. Somehow, this was also uphill, because apparently everything in Milwaukee is uphill. And now we are facing the wind. It’s a full 10 mile bike ride back, this time, no stops. We hopped on a bike path, which I thought was a good idea until I realized that 1) it’s along the river, and it’s colder along the river with no buildings shielding the wind; and 2) there are no stop lights on the bike path, no reprieve. I wouldn’t want to stop even if there were, because the wind off the river is ripping right through the elf felt. I have to hold on to my hat more than once.

Back at Hollander by 3:00, we order a real brunch. Obviously we all pick the warmest things on the menu: coffee and Hot Mess Skillets. We look like the North Pole just went through hell as we chow down. Back at home, I’m doing fine until about 5pm when the pain is so bad I can’t even get up to get the Ibuprofen. I hobble to the bathroom and down two pills. I then curl up on the couch with a heating pad, hot chocolate, and Netflix. Finally, something in my comfort zone.