I spend very little time in our kitchen, as my wife will attest, and when I’m in there it is usually to feed our dogs, or to grab an ice cream sandwich from the freezer or a breakfast bar off of the counter. Once in a while I will open up a can of soup or boil a pot of water for pasta – and I am also the person who makes the grilled cheese sandwiches around here. And on occasion, I will wash a few dishes. But mostly the kitchen is Kathy’s domain. She knows what she’s doing in there- and she also knows where everything is, down to the last little ladle, while for me the room feels a bit exotic and unfamiliar, as though I were trespassing in a nuclear physics lab. (The metaphor is an apt one, because in the kitchen I always feel like I’m one simple mishap away from burning our house down if not blowing up the whole block. . . or if not causing calamity on that sort of scale, I always feel like I’m about to spill something or drop and break something. A lot of bad things can happen in one’s kitchen!)
In preparation for my family’s arrival for a Christmas gathering on New Year’s Day, my wife came up with the novel idea of having Trifle for dessert. I still remember the very first time I ever had Trifle or even saw it: it was at the home of Kathy’s dear Carthage friend Leslie – and as I looked at that specially-shaped glass bowl and all of the colorful layers of deliciousness, I knew that we had to try our hand at making a Trifle. . . especially since we had been given a Trifle bowl for our wedding that was gathering dust in the basement, right next to our two fondue pots. We did try making a Trifle a few years back when we had the cast of the Carthage opera workshop over to our house for a big closing night celebration. The trife was a hit, but then again this was for a bunch of poor college students who deeply appreciate anything not from the college cafeteria or a vending machine. This time around, however, it would be made for a very discerning and disciminating crowd. . . my family.
The Trifle had ot be prepared the night before so it could set in the refrigerator, so in the midst of getting the house itself ready plus two casseroles for brunch and countless other matters, the Trifle was on a long list of urgent matters, and it turned out to be largely my responsibility to put the thing together- and my amateurish status in the kitchen was readily apparent at every turn. I was peppering Kathy with questions at every turn, from whether or not one big box of instant pudding is really the equivalent of two small boxes … or whether or not sugar free/ fat free pudding will work the same as regular…. or if whipped cream is really an adequate substitute for cream that has been whipped … or how small the fragments of crushed Nilla wafers should be…. etc. Judging from the frequency and fervency of my questions, you would have thought I was trying to deliver a baby or pilot an airplane instead of making dessert.
Hesitancy aside, all went well, the trifle came together nicely, but then we realized that there was absolutely no room for it in either of our refrigerators. So we did the only thing we could do. . . we took our beautiful banana/vanilla trifle out to the garage and placed it carefully on the roof of my car. (Kathy told me to keep it off of the garage floor, I suppose in case any forest creatures blundered into our garage looking for a lovely dessert.) I was haunted by the thought of running an errand in my car and forgetting about the trifle until I was halfway down the driveway and the trifle would spill all over the windshield and freeze in place, thanks to the bitter cold. (What an image!) I’ve been responsible for some rather awesome messes but that one would have been one for the record books. Fortunately, my car went nowhere and neither did the trifle. . . and it survived to be (at least for me) the crowning achievement of our big Christmas dinner. In fact, I can’t think of a less apt name of said dessert than “trifle” – because this was the biggest of big deals for me.
pictured above: I almost posted a photo of us in mid- preparation, with the counter completely covered in bowls, pudding boxes, confectioner’s sugar, etc. but opted instead for the finished product. Just don’t look too closely at the unevenness of the layers. (I’m tempted to say that the unevenness is an artistic statement of some kind.) What counts is that it was delicious.