Desserts – State by State: Utah

As we celebrate our sixth year in the Foreign Service, three of which have been spent abroad, I’ve come to realize the extent to which this lifestyle requires enormous wells of creativity and resourcefulness. Particularly for spouses, it seems that a typical work life, to which many of us were previously accustomed–complete with forty-hour work weeks, 401Ks, promotions and other quintessential career markers–is the exception, not the rule. Creating a consistent and fulfilling career path can be daunting–so daunting, in fact, that it has taken me three years abroad to develop the tenacity and ingenuity to tackle it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these qualities were cultivating and fortifying all the while as I tackled seemingly miniscule, albeit invaluable tasks.

Most of these tasks have involved food–because any US expat knows that when abroad, in order to satisfy Mexican food cravings (and you must), nine times out of ten one must create it from scratch. So over these three years abroad, I have learned to create–not just tortillas and salsa, but bread, yogurt, pesto, tomato paste, chicken stock and ice cream among other items. And I’ve learned to use what I have available to get what I need. No buttermilk? A little milk and lemon juice will suffice. Cream cheese has disappeared from the shelves (again)? Not to worry, marscapone or even a bit of labneh (god bless you, local Lebanese grocer) will do the trick. Just this week I realized I was out of whipping cream and out of time for a grocery run, but instead of ditching my culinary plans altogether, I tried my hand at creating my own cream by whipping butter back into milk. It failed, and I ditched said plans, but I gave myself a little internal pat on the back for taking a resourceful approach to the problem. I’ve found the key to enabling a resourceful day-to-day life is making sure you have a supply of quality ‘mediums’ on hand to allow you to easily and quickly create your masterpiece. For my kitchen this includes staples like flour, vinegar, corn starch, butter, yeast and gelatin, the latter of which allowed me to create Utah’s beloved sweet treat. Yes, I probably could have purchased Jell-O online, but somehow it tastes a bit sweeter knowing I’ve made it myself.

As for creating that career path, this blog is one of the ‘mediums’ I intend to use to get me there. As a result, big changes are in store for this little space in webland. Stay tuned.

State by State Desserts: Utah – Jell-O

Rank: Fantastic: Thank you, Utah, for sharing this dessert with the rest of us!*

Yield: 1 eight inch square casserole dish

Ease of Preparation: Easy


  • 4 cups juice (use your favorite flavor, but avoid pineapple, as it prevents the gelatin from setting)
  • 4 Tbs gelatin (4 packets)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (add more to taste if necessary)
  • Chopped fruit, drained and patted dry with a paper towel (again, avoid pineapple. My go-to is mango)
  • Whipped cream (optional)

Pour juice into a medium saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over the juice and then whisk so that no clumps remain. Place pot over medium heat and stir until gelatin has dissolved, making sure not to let the juice boil. Once the gelatin has dissolved (you will no longer see tiny grains on the sides of the pot), take the pot off the heat and whisk in sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, taste and add more if necessary. Pour into an 8 inch square dish (or other clear serving dish or bowl) and place in the refrigerator. After an hour and a half, take out and stir in the fruit. Allowing the dessert to chill and thicken slightly prevents the fruit from either floating to the top or sinking to the bottom. Place back in the refrigerator and let chill for three more hours or overnight. Garnish with homemade whipped cream.

Classy jell-o calls for classy displays.

*Although technically not a smack-ya-mama delicious dessert (come on, it’s JELLO), I’m granting Utah my highest ranking because of its symbolic and sentimental properties.  Also, everyone should know how to make it in a pinch, if for no other reason than it makes shots go down easier.


Up all night gettin’ crafty

One thing I wish I had done more of when we were in China was photograph our home. Not that there was much to see, but since this lifestyle lends itself to a vast array of living quarters, I think it would be fun to capture those spaces and how our things look in them. In China I didn’t have a sewing machine, and the decorations for sale were mostly…well, not my style. So I didn’t spend too much time trying to transform our ecru landscape (even the couches!) into something homey. Here we almost have the opposite problem. Like most Foreign Service houses, the walls are white, but everything else is brown…dark, dreary brown (even the couches!). Armed with a sewing machine this time around, I decided to put my new found crafting skills to good use by making covers for the dining room chairs. I agonized over which fabric to buy (How will that pair with the artwork? I’m actually not too attached to the artwork so will the fabric go well with whatever we find to replace it? It looks great on the computer screen but will it look the same in real life? Why can’t the mail come faster so that all of these life-altering questions are but a moot point…who has time to wait for swatches?!?).

Agonized, I tell you.

After days of back and forth, I took the safe route and went with a thick natural canvas (aka: white). I haven’t yet decided if this was a genius move because I’ll be able to bleach them when necessary or a rookie mom mistake because they’ll inevitably become filthy no matter how often I clean them. So far they’ve managed to maintain their brilliance which hopefully means I will be deemed a crafting Einstein when it’s all said and done. One move I know I will not live to regret was putting a layer of iron-on vinyl on top of the kiddo’s chair cover. Maybe I’m not a genius, but even I know that life is all around easier when you don’t have to scrub.

I decided not to compile a tutorial mainly because I am quite green at this and need a tutorial myself, but in case you are interested in making your own covers, check out my Pinterest creative board for links to tutorials and inspiration photos.

Before and After
Before and After
I might feel just a teensy proud that I successfully created an inverted pleat. Also that I now know what an inverted pleat is.
I might feel just a teensy bit proud that I successfully created an inverted pleat. Also that I now know what an inverted pleat is.


Baby blanket for a toddler

Nearly two years ago I embarked on the most difficult project I’ve accomplished to date. No, not having a child, silly, but making and finishing a quilt!

Quilt close up
Quilt close up

I kid, I kid, but seriously this was time consuming. As soon as I found out I was having a girl (week 20), I ordered fabric and found a pattern. However, I didn’t have a sewing machine yet so I pieced the quilt top by hand. It took for-eh-ver. My memory fails me as to when I finished that portion–either right before the baby arrived (week 41) or just after. Then while we were in DC for language training, I purchased a machine and in my free time (i.e. times when baby was asleep and I had enough energy to stay awake and be productive, so like three times) began quilting the layers together. And a few days before Christmas I finally finished! It isn’t perfect (if you ever come over, please just don’t try to fold it…the corners will never ever match up) and I absolutely would have done things differently (the thing is mostly white…I definitely had no children when I chose the colors), but I learned so much and hope to make one again soon (this isn’t a pregnancy announcement, just a general desire to make a quilt).

Baby quilt with accompanying baby gear in background
Baby quilt with accompanying baby gear in background
Baby quilt with accompanying baby head in foreground
Baby quilt with accompanying baby head in foreground