Disclaimer: If zombies, threesomes or Jello salads make you squirm (and not in the good way), you may want to back out of this post immediately.
The book I’m discussing this week is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever read, romance or otherwise. It’s by Charlotte Stein, whose work I have long enjoyed, but curiously never written about here. In general, Stein’s work is on the wonky end of the romance spectrum. She often writes about self-effacing women and men with messy, complicated desires. It seems her books are mostly written from the first person perspective of the heroine, which normally drives me batty, but from her actually works for me, probably because her heroines are not given to long introspective monologues so much as they are quick jabs of humor, most often directed at themselves.
Reawakening is no different from Stein’s other works really. Except that it’s a ménage book. And it takes place during a zombie apocalypse. I’d read one other ménage by Stein, but at the end, it’s clear that one of the characters was a temporary foil to the hero and not going to be a permanent parts of their lives. In this book, the two heroes and the heroine are, as far as we know, the last unzombified humans on earth. If they all happen to be attracted to each other and down with communal boinking, well, at least that’s not the craziest thing that happens in the book. Not to say that a relationship with more than two people is crazy. It’s not. It’s just that in the ménage romances I’m most familiar with, the characters think they’re crazy for wanting what they want and that’s the extent of the romance plot. I was ecstatic to find something rather different happening here.
The great thing about this book is that even though the threesome live in relative safety on an island in the middle of a lake, they’re surrounded by zombies, nearly everyone else is either dead or a zombie and they might die any time, which makes the whole problem of how to break all of this to their parents a non-issue. There are still communication gaps, but at least they’re related to insecurities held by each character and not jealousy, which gets very worn once you’ve read more than one of this type of book.
The other facet of why I appreciated this book is that if you’ve watched or read any horror, the sexually active girl is almost guaranteed to get dead at some point, probably while wearing a bra and panties. Stein bats that idea around like a kitty with a woolen mouse filled with catnip. Of the three characters, June, Jaime and Blake, June has had the most personal experience defending herself against zombies. Over the course of the book, she conks one on the head with a door, another with a bottle of windshield washer fluid and shoots another zombie in the head without hesitating or flinching. She’s a badass. The guys may be able to run faster and lift more and have more useful long-term survival skills like operating a generator, but June is the one you want by your side when the monsters come calling. That’s not to say she’s not suffering from PTSD–they all are to some degree–but she’s managing pretty well with the new reality considering it never seemed like she was anything special before the zombies arrived. The title is also a play on her reawakening sexuality, which has been suppressed in a world where nakedness is dangerous and survival takes precedence over any need higher up Maslow’s chain.
Between the slight scariness that kept me on edge the whole book (even during the sexytimes, when I still couldn’t quite forget the threat of danger), the m/m/f loving and the self-deprecating voice of a formerly overweight heroine with confidence struggles, a lot of people might not pick this one up and that would be a mistake. While each of these things has annoyed me in the hands of lesser writers, Stein pulls the reader into this world where all the rules are gone and three people who love each other get to remake it in their image. It’s uplifting, in the end, leaving the reader hopeful that through their kindness, competence and love for each other, they can find other survivors and build up a world that’s maybe a little better than what existed before. I thought it was delightful.
Practically the first thing June eats once she has been rescued by the heroes is canned peaches, which seem like a total luxury to her. Makes sense since she’s been chased by zombies for the past two years. Luckily, it made it easy to know exactly what I would make if I could get through the book without freaking out. Because if canned peaches survive the zombie apocalypse, you just know that Jello does.
This recipe is totally zombie apocalypse friendly. The ingredients are all canned or otherwise securely packaged. It involves no fresh food at all. The water is all boiled and even the peach schnapps are pretty indestructible. Schnapps are basically flavored sugar water with 15% alcohol. It actually made me wonder why the heroine was sad about Budweiser. Hard alcohol lasts forever! Surely there was a liquor store to knock over somewhere. Though sad hero in the shower with a beer is a more likely picture than sad hero in the shower with a Fuzzy Navel, which is the only thing I can ever recall doing with peach schnapps besides this Jello and the ice cream I made a couple months ago.
This actually wasn’t my favorite thing I’ve ever made, but even for non-fans of Jello molds, both my husband and I ate it and thought it was okay. If you’re a huge Jello salad fan (and I know you’re out there), this is probably epic.
Lucky for me, someone else already did the heavy lifting on this recipe, which is why you’re getting blather instead of serious recipes tips. The one bit of advice I have is that Jello molds are readily available in American thrift stores if you don’t already own one or two or three. The aluminum ones are apparently better than the plastic ones, which makes sense because they’ll cool down faster. I got lucky and found the exact same mold the recipe writer was using, but any 9 cup mold will work. Otherwise you’ll have to do math. Plus the original recipe didn’t say anything about timing so I’ve adjusted it here to include how long the various layers need to be in the fridge. Definitely visit the above link as there are a number of excellent tips there that I am not reprinting here.
Plus, it’s seriously pretty, especially for post-zombie apocalypse food.
Peaches and Cream Jello Mold
lightly adapted from The Kitchn
Makes: 12-16 servings, depending on serving size
Time: 5-6 hours (hands on time: 30 minutes)
2 (3 oz) packages of peach flavored Jello
3 1/2 cups boiling water, divided
1 1/4 cups cold water, divided
3/4 cup peach schnapps (or substitute cold water for non-alcoholic version)
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (15 oz) can sliced peaches in syrup (mine was 29 ounces in juice, which I don’t recommend)
2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1. In a medium bowl, stir 2 cups boiling water into both packages of peach gelatin for 2 minutes until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Stir in 3/4 cups cold water and 3/4 cup peach schnapps. Refrigerate until gelatin thickens to the consistency of raw eggs, about 30-45 minutes.
2. Drain peaches well and arrange them in a formation in the bottom of the mold. Reserve the syrup from the can. Spoon the thickened peach gelatin into the mold over the arranged peach slices. Refrigerate until the gelatin is set but not firm (gelatin should stick the fingers when touched), about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, sprinkle 2 packages of unflavored gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water and allow the gelatin to absorb the water. Stir in 1 1/2 cups boiling water for 2 minutes until gelatin is fully dissolved. Stir in sweetened condensed milk and peach syrup until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate mixture until slightly thickened (about 30-45 minutes–can be done while the bottom layer firms) then gently spoon into the mold over the peach gelatin layer. Refrigerate overnight or until firm, about 4 hours.
4. To unmold your Jello mold, fill a sink or basin with warm water. Dip the mold just to the rim in the warm water for about 10 seconds. Lift from water, hold upright, and shake slightly to loosen the gelatin from mold. Place a cold, moistened plate over the top of the mold and invert the plate and mold together. Carefully lift the mold, if gelatin does not release dip the mold in warm water and try again.