Dear Oven Manufacturer

Dear LG, Whirlpool, GE, Samsung, Frigidaire, and anyone else who makes quality ovens and might listen to me;

I’m a lousy cook. At least, that’s what my family tells me. I’m pretty sure they’re not too far off base on this one because I have burnt numerous dinners (I’ve even set oven mitts on fire) and under cooked many more. I burn rice every single time I make it. I can take the simplest meal, like meatloaf, and completely ruin it. I once caused a baked potato to explode. I blame my oven…mostly. Some days it’s 50 degrees hotter than it’s supposed to be and other days it’s 100 degrees cooler than it should be. It seems to have two settings—nuke and chill. It makes an already struggling chef like myself crazy.

I used to be a decent baker, but now my 15 year old oven has become so unreliable even my once world renowned cupcakes fall flat. (Okay, maybe they’re not world renowned, but they were always something of a hit when I would make them for my husband and his co-workers.) It’s become a running joke with my family and friends—how will Heather screw up dinner tonight? Because despite my failings, I keep trying. And trying. And trying some more. I’ve tried and failed so much that I’ve started a blog about my cooking mishaps (and occasional triumphs) called The Bad Mommy Cooks. Currently, I get over 1000 views a month—people curious to see if I will fail and how comedic it will be. I’m sure they enjoy the witty banter between me and the family, but I think that lately, they’re laughing at me, not with me.

Well, I’m not sure I want to be the butt of the joke anymore. I want to succeed! I want to cook dinners that will have my family begging for seconds (rather than secretly feeding the dog under the table). The easiest way to do that would be to get a new oven, right? WRONG! You see, I haven’t shared one important detail with you, dear oven manufacturer. My husband cooks, too. And he does it well. However, 99.9% of his recipes seem to circumvent use of the oven. He grills and uses the cook top and somehow manages miraculous meals. He does not agree that we need a new oven. I’m suspicious of his motives. Is he just a cheapskate, or is he afraid I will overtake him as the family’s best cook if we get a new oven? Is he trembling in his boots that it will be revealed that I am not the failure, my oven is?

Since he holds those purse strings tight (Do you know of Dickens’ Scrooge? My hubby makes him look like a philanthropist), my only hope is you, dear oven manufacturer. I need YOU to make my oven dreams come true and help me prove to my blog followers that I CAN COOK! It’s not skills I lack..it’s simply the right tools! If I can make a decent dinner with YOUR oven, ANYONE can! Publicity for you, a chance at redemption for me—a WIN WIN situation for us both. So what do you say, dear oven manufacturer? Can you throw a girl a lifeline and send me a brand new oven to blog about? A story of triumph, overcoming the odds stacked against me—and I’ll owe it all to you, dear oven manufacturer. I’ll make you prouder than the mom of the class valedictorian, I promise.

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The Bad Mommy Cooks—Michigan

This is how the conversation went after we pulled Michigan out of the hat.

Hubs: What food are we having for Michigan?

Me: Well I researched it, and it turns out Pasties are big in Michigan.

Hubs: (with incredulous look on his face) I’m pretty sure you’ve got that wrong. I don’t think you can eat Pasties. (Far off look in his eyes) Well, maybe you can. Hmmmm, I wonder if I can take that to Shark Tank…

Me: (annoyed) I looked it up. They eat Pasties in Michigan. It’s like a huge deal there, too.

Child #1 (who apparently knows wayyyy too much): I’m almost positive you’re wrong about that.

Child #2: What are pasties?

Hubs: Never mind!

In a huff I pull the Pinterest recipe up on my phone and wave it in their faces.

Me: See???? The state food is a Pasty!

Turns out I was pronouncing the food incorrectly, hence the confusion. It’s not pronounced Pay-sty (rhyming with tasty), as in little things that cover a stripper. It’s pronounced Paah-sty (rhyming with nasty) and Michiganians love them. Or so I’m told. I’ve never been to Michigan, although swimming in any of the Great Lakes is on my bucket list, so I’d like to go to Michigan some day.

Pasties are basically little hand-held meat pies. They are Cornish (UK) in origin (although there seems to be a bit of debate in England about this), and were originally made for miners to take for their lunch. They were packed with nutrition and because the miners’ hands would get dirty, they could eat the middle and dispose of the pastry. Apparently in earlier times, the pastry wasn’t eaten and just thrown away all the time. Yes, I’m as appalled as you are. To me, the pastry is the best part. Anyhoo, when settlers from Cornwall reached the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, they brought the Pasty with them. From what I’ve read, the Pasty is a big thing there…they have festivals dedicated to it. I’m a fan of a good festival, but usually wine and food on a stick is more my thing than meat in a pie.

There seems to be an endless array of ways to stuff the pasties as well. You can use chipped beef, pork, venison, ground beef, etc. The vegetables vary as well, but almost all the recipes I found had potatoes. And rutabagas. I’ve never had a rutabaga and I wouldn’t have a clue where to find them, so I just skipped that part. Shhhh, don’t tell hubs. He gets upset when I don’t follow recipes to a T. It’s so annoying. I mean, that’s how recipes evolve, right? Everyone making their own changes to an existing recipe. Besides, my great grandmother never used a recipe. Everything was guesswork with her and her food was always delicious.

In addition to packing the pastry with the meat, most of the recipes included the instructions for making the actually pastry crust. I cheated and had hubby pick up some Pillsbury pie crust:

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Hey listen…I wasn’t even sure if anyone was going to like the pasties. If I screwed up the crust, we might have gone hungry. At least I knew I could rely on Pillsbury and the crust would be edible.

We mixed ground beef, ground pork, diced onions, diced potatoes, garlic powder, and salt and pepper in a bowl:

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The original recipe apparently made enough for 6 smaller Pasties, but I decided not to try to cut the all ready made crust into smaller pieces because it seemed kind of fragile to begin with. Instead, I filled the two pie crusts and folded the top over, brushing it with melted butter.

 

As you may be able to see, some seeped out. There was a lot of meat and potatoes stuffed in there. I would recommend using just 1lb of meat (I used a pound and a half), and only two potatoes instead of the 4 I used.

The next part I was very excited about. I may have mentioned a time or two (or a hundred) about how much I hate my oven. It’s unreliable and makes cooking an even more miserable experience than it needs to be. Well, I just got this awesome Cuisinart toaster oven air fryer that may just be the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve used it to toast aforementioned sliced bread and bake chicken parm in the SAME machine. Wings and mozzarella sticks! Frozen pizza and calamari! It’s seriously my favorite toy right now. It also has a convection oven built in, so I was anxious to try that when making the Pasties.

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I had to adjust the cooking time a little because things cook faster in a convection oven. The outside was browning a little quicker than I would have liked (since the pasties were so stuffed, I wasn’t sure the meat in the middle was cooked through. Like I said, if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t stuff them as much). The finished product looked pretty similar to the Pinterest pictures:

 

Taste-wise, it didn’t have much flavor to it. I would suggest doctoring the meat with some additional spices as well. It was however, very filling and perfect for a cold, rainy winter night. It reminded me a lot of the Swanson chicken pot pies we used to get when we were kids. With beef and pork instead of chicken, obviously. And of course, the crust was always the best part.

 

Beat the Flu

It’s cold and flu season, peeps! A school nurse’s favorite time of the year! It’s a time when everyone is coughing and sneezing all over each other, spreading lovely little germies everywhere. It’s dozens of kids (and teachers) out of school for weeks, making it difficult for those who are at school and work to get anything done. It’s a time where many other people drag themselves to work not feeling well because they can’t get coverage, or they fear retribution from their bosses. Those same people may be sending their kids to school…clearly too ill to make it through the day, but spreading the germs all the same. It’s the time of year when my office is swamped from the moment I arrive to the moment I leave at the end of the day, forcing me to hold my bladder and eat my lunch standing up. It’s the time of year I get panicked phone calls from parents asking “is there’s something going around?” (FYI, there’s ALWAYS something going around.) It’s the time of year when teachers call my office phone, losing their minds because someone IS COUGHING AND WON’T STOP AND OMG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!

Let’s relax everyone. It’s the flu. Yes, you might get it. Yes, I might get it, too. Yes, it’s terrible and miserable. Yes, the flu sucks. Yes, people DO die from the flu. MOST of those people have depressed immune systems or die from a secondary illness. Yes, sometimes healthy people die from the flu. You want to know WHY you’ve read about so many healthy people dying this year? Because it’s RARE, so when it does happen, it becomes NEWS.

But I get it…you still don’t want the flu. Hell, I don’t want the flu. Although, I haven’t had the flu in over twenty years. Seventeen years working in the school system, I’ve built up a pretty damn good immune system. That’s what happens when you’re constantly coughed on, puked on, sneezed on, vomited on, and in one extreme case…pooped on. So how do I prevent the flu, you ask? Well, I wouldn’t recommend building up a tolerance like mine because it involves eating at your desk while trying to get your salad out of the way of the nearest puker. There’s a lot of misinformation going around the internet (who doesn’t love the fact that half the things you read on the internet are completely false????), so it makes it difficult to figure out what really might help and what is just wishful thinking. I’ll help you out by breaking it down for you as best as I can:

  1. If you have a fever or your kid has a fever…STAY HOME! That means, don’t go to work or school. Don’t go to the grocery store. Don’t go out to eat. I’ve seen a lot of people this year with flu-like symptoms and NO fever as well. If you really feel crappy, do yourself a favor (and everyone else), take a day off to make sure you’re not coming down with anything more serious.
  2. Don’t be gross. If you have a cold, cover your nose when you sneeze or cough. If you have boogers dripping down your face, be classy and use a tissue, not your hand or your sleeve. This prevents the spread of illness and also prevents people from giving you dirty looks.
  3. Try to avoid a lot of contact with other people’s hands. You seriously don’t know where those hands have been and what’s on them.
  4. Do your research on the flu shot. I am not advocating the flu shot, nor am I discouraging it. I’m just saying, actually RESEARCH it…don’t just take someone else’s word for it. And bear in mind, if you do get the shot, it does not guarantee that you won’t get the flu. The flu shot is about 10% effective this year, which sometimes happens because the vaccine is made with the past flu viruses that the vaccine manufacturers think is going to be a problem for the upcoming flu season.
  5. You cannot get the flu by going outside with a wet head or wearing shorts when it’s 32 degrees out. Germs cause illnesses, not the air temperature. (This one is mostly for my mother-in-law who argues with me about this all the time. According to her, wet heads caused the black plague, too.)
  6. You can help stave the flu by staying as healthy as you can during flu season—this means, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise. Yes, go outside for a few minutes everyday, even if it’s cold. The sunshine works wonders.
  7. Do not stick antibiotic cream up your nose. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently there’s this “Way to prevent the flu” circulating that states nurses are telling their patients to line their nostrils with antibiotic ointment to “trap” flu germs. A couple things wrong with this: First off…the flu is a VIRUS. Antibiotics treat BACTERIA. Secondly, the flu is spread by droplet transmission. You can still get the flu via your mouth or on your hands. Thirdly, no nurse would tell you to do this.
  8. Which leads me to THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO PREVENT THE FLU (and strep, and stomach viruses, and colds, ringworm, and a host of other icky things): WASH YOUR HANDS. Yes, really. That’s the most effective way. No, do not buy stock in hand sanitizer. That’s not washing your hands (and hand sanitizer overuse can actually make it more difficult for you to ward off illness over time). Use soap, warm water, and sing the ABC song. If you only take one thing away from this blog, let it be this.

 

Good luck and stay healthy, my friends!

The Bad Mommy Cooks—Wyoming

We’re back in the swing of things! Well, at least we’re back in the swing of our state cuisine tour.

This week’s pick was Wyoming. From my research I discovered that Wyomingians (Wyomingites?) love wild game. It seems a lot of the Western/Northern states do—this isn’t the first time bison or elk has been suggested as our state food. Which I’m sure is because it is in abundance in those states. New Jersey? Not so much.

Hence the dilemma we found ourselves in last weekend after pulling Wyoming out of the hat (confession…it’s not actually a hat…it’s an e.l.f. make-up bag). Sure we’d like to try elk, but where were we going to get it from? I scoured the internet for companies that sold elk steak and I found a couple of places (one from Jackson Hole, Wyoming in fact). The problem was, the elk steaks were not only crazy expensive ($80 on one site!), the shipping costs were astronomical. One company wouldn’t even ship the order unless you ordered at least $50 worth of products. Not that we wouldn’t normally eat $50 worth of steak…but we had no idea if we were even going to like the elk—we didn’t want to get too much of it and it went to waste, you know?

I found one place that the steaks were a decent price…$25 for 4 minuscule pieces, but the shipping costs were more than twice that! I almost gave up at that point until I noticed that place was in New Jersey. Further research revealed that it had a retail store that was only about an hour away in Boonton.

It was a rainy, miserable afternoon. I had just spent most of the day cleaning and all I wanted to do was take a nap. But the place closed in an hour and a half and wouldn’t be open the next day. It was now or never. I sucked it up and we took a ride. An hour there. An hour back. In a torrential downpour. Risking life and limb. To get elk.

The whole time we were driving there, I was a little nervous about the elk, to be honest with you. I was nervous about the bison, too, when we had it. I don’t know why. In my head, I can eat beef, chicken and pork. Even though most of the other meats resemble and taste like beef, chicken, or pork, I still expect them to taste completely foreign to me. Trying something new is difficult. I probably would be okay with eating an “exotic” meat if I didn’t know it wasn’t beef, chicken, or pork to begin with.

FYI, if you’re in the New Jersey area and you’re looking for “exotic meats”, this place (Fossil Farms) has a ton of crazy things for a small store, elk, bison, kangaroo, camel, to name a few. And in various forms as well: steaks, jerkys, burgers… They also have a selection of healthy pet foods and since our dog is currently on a raw diet for his skin allergies, I picked up some elk meat for him too (much to hubby’s dismay—he’s convinced the dog eats better than he does…totally not true).

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The dog loved his elk, by the way. Still, not enough to convince me that I would love the elk. The dog has been known to eat his own regurgitated meals, you know?

So, Hubby made the elk last night. Why are you surprised? Did you think was going to cook it at $25 a pound???? No way he was going to let me have the chance to completely wreck this meal. These are the pre-cooked steaks (with my hand as a comparison):

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This meal needed to be treated with care. It would be very easy to ruin it and then we would have no elk and we’d have to drive two hours for more.

Hubby found some hoity-toity, fancy-schmancy elk medallion with blackberry port reduction recipe. He also sauteed Brussel sprouts and made garlic-rosemary oven-roasted potatoes. Here he is, hard at work:

There really isn’t much to say about the cooking process. Nothing got burnt or undercooked. No smoke alarms went off and no curtains were lit on fire. I know you’re disappointed, but that’s what happens when hubby cooks.

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Looks great, right? It was very good—especially his blackberry sauce. The meat did taste a lot like London broil (while in the back of my head I knew it wasn’t London broil and was ind of wishing that it was London broil so I could enjoy the damn meat without thinking I was eating something weird). It wasn’t chewy or gamey like I expected at all. It did have a little bit of a odd flavor to it, but I can’t put my finger on what it was (maybe it was the blackberry port wine reduction—maybe elk isn’t that fancy and shouldn’t have such hoity toity sauces on the side).

Would we try elk again? Maybe. Probably. But only after I get a hunk of cow steak and mix it in so I don’t know which is which.

Failing Parenthood

I’ve failed at many things in my life, some major, some very minor and negligible. Even when I’ve failed at something that really doesn’t matter in the long run (burning dinner, for example), I feel a profound sense of inadequacy. Then I try to take a positive spin on it—determined to learn something from it or make the failure meaningful in some way (Like writing a blog about my cooking misadventures).

But every once in awhile, I feel so inadequate about my failures that there doesn’t seem to be any way to spin it. Like right now. I’m listening to my preteen sob her heart out and there’s nothing I can do or say to make it better. I’ve failed as a parent and there’s no worse feeling than that.

My preteen is crying because she’s disappointed and crushed and fearful all at once. She suffered from severe anxiety (still does) last year and had a difficult time in school. A difficult time getting work done, despite the fact that she is a creative and intelligent child. She had a hard time getting up in the morning, getting and staying motivated. She would run away from her problems instead of facing them, making them worse in the long run. She had difficulty coping with stress, dealing with organization, and making friends. She lacked confidence and a drive to succeed. We tried to help as much as we could, but it was frustrating and emotional for us—our oldest child never went through anything like that and we felt powerless to help her. We listened, we yelled, we sent her to therapy, we put her on medication, we hugged her, we cried with her. We did what we could, but maybe it wasn’t enough.

But despite all that, despite the obstacles that she had to overcome, she started off this school year as a new person. Her true friends rallied around her and helped her pull it together. She was confident and she smiled again. She sang in the shower and danced in her room. She was involved in school clubs and getting her work done. We cheered to ourselves, so proud of her and the mature girl she had become. We were stupid enough to think that the anxiety was just a phase, that the hard part of parenting her was in the past.

And then, just like that, she fell apart this week. All of her past fears came together this week in a perfect cocktail that sent her over the edge—a missing assignment, a bad grade, a falling out with a friend, bullies. She refused to go to school. She wouldn’t face her fears—instead, her defense mechanism was to bury her head in the sand until it went away.  And regardless of the fact that we tried to help again…tried to listen, tried to boost her spirits and make her feel better, we couldn’t do it. We failed…I failed.

I’m her mother. I was a 12 year old girl once, too, with all the feelings and insecurities she is going through now. I didn’t feel smart enough or pretty enough or skinny enough or enough of anything at her age. I felt stressed and overwhelmed. I dealt with bullies and isolation. I thought my life was the worst ever and I fell apart too. But I didn’t run from my problems. I pushed through as best as I could. And I survived.

I should be able to help her pick up the pieces. I should be able to make it better, simply because I was her thirty years ago and I made it through middle school—a little scarred, but in one piece.

And yet, I still can’t. I can’t make it better and take away the hurt as much as I want to. She has to discover her self worth and her strengths herself. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, it’s not going to change that. I can’t shield her from the misery of middle school, the pain of becoming a teen. And that is my biggest failure as a mother, one that I can’t change or put a positive spin on no matter what.

 

We’re Not Getting Each Other Anything for Valentine’s Day…and Why I’m Okay With It.

Hubby announced today that I shouldn’t expect a gift tomorrow on Valentine’s Day, which is no surprise to me. I actually started writing this blog before he even said that—this blog is my gift to him. This Valentine’s Day we will be married twenty years, eight months, and one week. We will be together for twenty-six Valentine’s Days. After that amount of time (and actually wayyyyy before this point), you start to realize that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a Hallmark holiday that you don’t really need to be part of—Valentine’s Day isn’t a holiday meant for you anymore.

Because after twenty-something odd years…I don’t need a card to tell me you love me. You tell me you love me when you go to the grocery store and actually put the groceries away before I get home. I don’t need a box of chocolates to tell me I’m yours…you tell me that when you chase me around the kitchen table trying grab my butt. I don’t need a dozen roses to make me feel special…you make me feel special when you let me nap on you, even when you have to get up to go pee. I don’t need jewelry to know you care…I know you care when you drive two hours to replace a Christmas ornament that the dog broke. I don’t need a lobster dinner to feel amorous…oh, who am I kidding…I do need the lobster dinner. I just don’t need it at a restaurant ON Valentine’s Day with every other couple on the planet. I don’t need to post every grand gesture on social media for all the world to see—and I don’t have the expectation that you’ll even make some grand gesture just because the calendar says you should.

Valentine’s Day is every day when you’re with the right person. I realize that statement may make you want to throw up in your mouth a little, but hear me out. It’s not mushy, over the top, make other people want to vomit sort of gestures. It’s all the little things that make living with a person (who snores like a truck driver and farts in his sleep) worthwhile. It’s getting up with the kids on Sunday morning so that the other person can sleep in. It’s scraping the snow off her car so she doesn’t have to do it before she rushes out the door to work. It’s knowing she had a bad day and bringing her wine. It’s knowing he had a bad day and bringing him donuts even though you totally shouldn’t do that because he’s been meaning to cut back on his donut consumption but you know the donut will make him smile and damn it…you want him to smile. It’s sitting with the sun in your face at a restaurant because you have sunglasses and he doesn’t, and you know he’ll get a headache with the glare. It’s dragging yourself off the couch at 11:30 at night to go pick up your teen from a friend’s house because your wife is too tired to function (and has been in her pajamas since 8:00). It’s ignoring the dirty dishes in the sink that you just cleaned because you don’t want to start a fight over something stupid. It’s folding his clothes even though he’s a big boy and he can do it himself. It’s lunch delivered to your job on a random Thursday afternoon. It’s cupcakes baked for his entire work shift, just because. It’s not about spending exorbitant amounts of money on materialistic things, it’s about the little things. I don’t want him to tell me he loves me on Valentine’s Day with an empty gesture—I want him to show me the other 364 days a year with the little things. Sure, that’s not what they do in books and movies—in books and movies, it’s grand gestures that get the girl.

Guess what? Romance in books and movies is not real. People base their romantic expectations on movie boyfriends that always turn out perfect in the end, and it sets you up for disappointment in your actual life. That kind of relationship not only isn’t real, it’s not sustainable. Sure, being jetted off to Paris for the weekend can make a girl swoon, but is it realistic? Do you really want that? Wouldn’t you rather he get up with a crying baby in the night? How romantic would that be? Maybe he got you diamond earrings for Christmas, but wouldn’t a foot rub really hit the spot? Or maybe you got two dozen roses and an acapella quartet delivered to your work for Valentine’s Day, but wouldn’t you prefer a guy who gets your oil changed without you begging? Now that makes me swoon.

The Bad Mommy Cooks—Utah

I bet you’ve been sitting home thinking “Wait a minute…wasn’t the Bad Mommy cooking around the country or something? Whatever happened to that?” I’m sorry…we’ve been on hiatus with not only our state tour, but cooking as well. Life has just gotten in the way a lot lately, but rest assured, we’re planning to pick it up for the next couple weeks. Yes, I hear you all letting out a collective sigh of relief. I mean, how are you even functioning without knowing what state food we’re cooking this week???

This week’s state is Utah. Yeah. I googled Utah’s state foods and apparently the poor souls who live in Utah are seriously missing out on life. Sure, it’s breathtakingly beautiful there, but the only foods Utah is known for are either Jello or condiments. I’m serious. Google it. Their top foods include honey and fry dip. They might be vegetarians too because I saw no mention of any meat products whatsoever. I’m very sad for them. Food is life, you know?

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Anyway, I decided to make the Jello. I mean, it’s would be almost impossible for me to mess this up, right? After all, I don’t even need to use that evil oven of mine. The only way I could screw this up would be if I truly was The Worst Cook Ever.

Guess what? I’m The Worst Cook Ever. Well, sort of. How can you screw up Jello, is what you’re screaming at your phone, aren’t you? You didn’t even have to actually COOK anything!!!! Okay, in all fairness, I may have been so enthused about a simple recipe that I failed in the most basic of ways. How? Read on.

I decided that I really don’t care for Jello in its purest form, so I made Jello jigglers for the kids and Jello shots for the adults. I knew Jello shots had a different liquid to mix ratio because I’ve made them before, so I googled how to make them and prepped them without a problem:

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For the jigglers, I did realize that I would have to use LESS water than you would use for normal Jello. I googled THAT recipe and the Kraft Jello Jigglers recipe was loading onto my phone when my daughter pointed out that the recipe was on the side of the box. THIS is where I made my fatal mistake. Had I just continued on to the Kraft site, none of this would have happened.

Have you ever tried to read the side of a Jello box before? The writing is in like 6 point font. My eyes are too old for that crap. So I squinted as I followed the directions (I thought). Turns out I missed a crucial detail.

I boiled the water:

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I added the boiling water to the Jello mix:

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I poured it into my square baker:

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Anyone notice all my Pampered Chef products? (Look how clean that scraper came, even after having all that red dye number 40 on it!) Maybe Pampered Chef should sponsor me. I give them a ton of free advertising on my blog…and sometimes I even cook well with those products. At least hubby does…

So I chilled the shots and the jigglers for well over four hours. The shots came out great. Although, I would highly recommend plastic shot cups so you can squeeze the shot into your mouth—this was a last minute thing so I had to work with what I had on hand. The jigglers, not so much. You see, the 6 point font had blurred my vision and I didn’t realize I was supposed to use TWO boxes of jello instead of one. Which, if you think about it, is kind of ridiculous because the directions are on a SINGLE box. But whatever. Maybe I need reading glasses. At any rate, what we got was just plain Jello—which apparently isn’t meant to be eaten with your fingers:

 

Okay…so maybe I’ll make an eye doctor appointment for next week…so I don’t disappoint my kids for the next state’s recipes.