One of the most important things to my grandmother, aside from food, was family. She was the pivotal person in our family and she held us all together. It is because of her that I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a number of aunts, uncles and cousins (not all blood relatives) as I was growing up and because of her that it took me until I was eight to realize that not everyone had a Zambian uncle, a Venezuelan aunt and a Japanese cousin. The running joke in our family was that everyone in the world had lived at my grandparents’ house at one time or another.
This was a tradition that started with my grandparents’ children my mother and uncles. My grandmother’s sister had two daughters and the families used to travel together. When you get my mother, uncles and their cousins together, they can recall trips to Nova Scotia and Cape Cod, hours spent in the car playing car games and stories featuring my grandfather being stern and them giggling. As they got older, my mother remained close to the two daughters, R. and J. Everyone got married and had children and stayed close. That was my generation.
We are all within a few years of each other. There’s J’s daughters, A. and M. and R’s daughter, E. In order, A is the oldest, then me, then M. (who is a year younger than I am) and finally, E. (four months younger than M.). As we grew up, M, E and I became close. These are the cousins of whom I speak when I talk about the enchanted freezer, Thanksgiving in NYC, and especially Camp Grandma. As we’ve grown and our lives have progressed, we’ve stayed close. Not as close as when we were children but close enough that I consider them more than cousins, more like sisters. We’ve all lived together, traveled together, argued and made up together and witnessed marriages, moves and babies. Especially the babies.
This weekend, the next generation got to meet. We, the second generation, managed to give birth to the third generation in almost the exact same timeline as our mothers. E. went first with A., then I had G., then E. had her second, M. and finally, M. had her first, N. Again, almost the same age-spacing as us.
When we all get together, we do, naturally eat. But if it’s a big family gathering we tend to order Chinese food (hey, we’re Jewish!) or, if it’s summer, steam lobsters. Since it’s cold and snowy here, we went with Chinese food. But I still needed to cook something. What to make to celebrate this amazing, third generation meeting? A fancy but easy (since a lot of time was spent with child-wrangling) dessert. A take on a trifle.
Now, to be fair, this photo was taken this morning, after we’d eaten a good deal of the trifle. There was just so much going on last night that I didn’t get the chance to get a full photo. But you get the idea. If any of you have seen the Friends Episode with the trifle, I will be quick to assure you that this one is easier to make and does not contain meat. In fact, this one is so easy that I don’t really have a recipe. But I’ll give you the guide.
Cake (you can make from scratch, make from a mix or buy pre-made)
Pudding (you can make custard or pudding from scratch, make from a mix or buy pre-made)
Whipped cream (you can make with heavy cream, sugar and vanilla, use cool-whip or a whole lot of canned whipped cream)
Extras: candies (crushed peanut butter cups, chocolate candies, peppermint candies, mini-chocolate chips, etc), fruit, liquor (Godiva chocolate, kahlua, etc)
Bake cakes and then let them cool. Once cool, cut each cake in half horizontally so that you have four thin, round cakes (not two half circles).
Make pudding or custard.
Make whipped cream (to make whipped cream pour one small container of heavy cream into a bowl and whip with an electric mixer (or by hand but that’s work) until it thickens. Add a few teaspoons of confectioner’s sugar and a few drops of vanilla to taste. Whip until whip cream consistency.
(It’s helpful if you own a trifle dish- one of my cousins bought me mine. See? It’s good to have cousins!- if you don’t own one, just use a tall, deep bowl or dish)
Place a layer of cake on the bottom. Spread custard/pudding to coat. Add a layer of cream. Cover with cake and repeat until you reach the top, finishing with a cream layer.
If you’re adding candies or nuts for texture, place these after the cream layer. Sprinkle on the final layer to make a pretty final touch.
If you’re using liquor you can stir a few spoonfuls into the pudding/custard and/or brush the cake layers with it before you add the pudding/custard layer.
Chocolate cake, chocolate pudding with Chocolate liquor mixed in (a few spoonfuls, just enough to flavor, not so much as to overpower), crushed peanut butter cups
Chocolate cake, chocolate pudding with kahlua mixed in, crushed toffee bars (Heath or Score)
Vanilla cake, vanilla pudding, sliced strawberries, thinly sliced almonds
Vanilla cake, vanilla pudding, crushed peppermint candies
Chocolate cake, vanilla cake, chocolate pudding, vanilla pudding, mini-chocolate chips (This is the one in the photo)
(Basically, if you can think of it, you can do it. The basic idea is the same- you want tastes that go well together and this is a great way to experiment since it’ll be pretty (if you have the trifle dish) and almost always delicious.)