Sunday, August 26, 2007

Comfort Food is Brown ("Fried Chicken" Seitan)

My oldest 'Sprout' left for school today. As in, away from home for HIGH school!

This is what's happening:
Little Miss Sports Sprout was awarded this really amazing scholarship!
She'd heard about this great school. Private high school. Excellent academics, great sports teams, National Merit scholars, insane tuition. More than I bring HOME every month.

But they did have a few scholarships and quite skeptically (on my part) we'd applied. Way back in March. And hadn't heard anything. Not even a condescending letter laughing in our hopeful faces! J. Sprout really wanted to attend this particular school and I hated to dash her dreams, regardless of how impossibly far-fetched I thought they were.

Even though we wished, hoped, prayed, and crossed our fingers just as hard as we possibly could, the realist (OK, pessimist) in me naturally assumed there wasn't a snowball's chance know....

On the other hand... pessimistic as I am, I have a few grains of faith too. I always tell my kids "Be careful what you ask God for, 'cause you just might get it." Believe me, it's happened too many times to be a fluke.
Amazingly enough, a couple weeks ago the school's administrators called and said they'd had someone drop out, and MY Sprout was next in line for eligibility. Well, heck, "next in line" ain't so great for party invitations, but for an elite, private school scholarship? I'm not complaining! Needless to say, she's thrilled out of her gym shorts!

The up side? J Sprout gets to attend an exclusive foo-foo private College-Preparatory high-school! The downside? It's two hours away. The upside? It's paid for. The downside? It's two hours away. The upside? Ugh. You get my point.

Of course I was thrilled and so very proud beyond words, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, first-rate education, awesome sports program, blah-blah-blah. But because of distance she gets to board in the school's dorm. Wow. Yep, they have dorms just like those in college. And yep, she'll be home every weekend... but still...

Well, I mulled it over for a while, checked references, called parents and staff and made a nuisance of myself, but in the end, I think this is such an amazing opportunity for her. So I resigned myself to trying something new and far out of my comfort zone... having my J. Sprout away from home (during the week anyway).
We spent the next few days deliriously packing and buying brightly colored girly stuff for her room and scrambling to get paperwork and sports physicals and everything done. How fun!

But the reality of it hit me today at Registration and Orientation. And it wasn't so easy.
What sort of Mother was I? Dropping my BABY off to live with a bunch of other teenage girls. In a big ivy-covered building? With some other woman playing "Mom" and checking up on her and enforcing rules and telling her to turn her music down... Who's going to make sure she gets to bed on time? Who's going to make sure she does her homework? Does she look too young to you? Sure, she can drive, she can travel to foreign countries, she can fix computers and repair fences. She can take care of herself... but can she be away from her Mommy?

Really. Who's going to read her stories? Who's going to tuck her in? Who's going to bake her cookies? (OK, maybe I don't do all those things any more - but I still wish she'd let me!)

Obviously the staff take care of these things, and obviously she will be OK and obviously she's not in Mongolia or anything - we can send off care packages - which my Middle Sprout thinks will be great fun. (In fact, I think Middle Sprout is enjoying this a little TOO much - no one to boss her around or argue with...) .

Sigh. It's still very hard for me.

So I came home and did what I always do when I'm in a funk. Whipped up something crispy and tasty and fried... and brown. Comfort food. The best comfort food is brown. Gravy. Chocolate. Tea. Toast. Or in this case, crispy-fried seitan strips, home-fried potatoes and garden green beans slightly overcooked and drenched in Earth Balance to be exact. (OK, the beans weren't brown.)

Analyze this however you want. Send me to therapy. Yes, I know darn well that eating because you're in a blue funky mood is not a good idea. And just so you know - I don't turn to my secret cookie stash every time I'm sad. But sometimes it helps a lot...

OK. Enough moping.
I have a recipe for you here:

For the seitan strips I used some chicken-type that I'd made and frozen earlier. Use store bought if you want. I use a recipe loosely based on one from The PPK website, but with lots of my own changes in it.

"Chicken-y" Seitan

1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
2 Tbsp. garbanzo flour
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp sage

1 1/4 cup very cold chicken-flavor vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp white wine
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Simmering Broth
10 cups vegetarian chicken broth (I buy vegetarian chicken bullion and mix with water)
1/2 cup soy sauce

In a large bowl, mix together Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, garbanzo flour, dry spices and herbs and nutritional yeast.

In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients: broth, wine, soy sauce, tomato paste, garlic, lemon zest.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine, knead dough for about 10 minutes until a spongy, elastic dough is formed.

Let dough rest for a couple of minutes and prepare your broth, but don't start boiling it.
Roll your dough into a log shape about 8 inches long and cut into 3 equal sized pieces.
I usually stretch the dough as thin as I can and wrap it back on itself into a log several times - I like this rolled texture and it makes it seem a little more "chicken-y".
Place the pieces in the broth.
It is important that the water/broth be very cold when you add the dough, it helps with the texture and ensures that it doesn't fall apart.
Partially cover the pot (leave a little space for steam to escape) and bring ALMOST to a boil.
When the water has ALMOST BUT NOT QUITE come to a boil set the heat to low and gently simmer for an hour, turning the pieces every now and again.
Now you've got gluten. Let it cool in the simmering broth overnight and use or freeze in the broth.

So after doing all of the above, I am never in the mood to actually eat the seitan, so I freeze it for later.

I cut it into strips tonight and dipped it in 1.) cornstarch, then 2.) Veganaise diluted with a little soymilk then 3.) in pretty highly seasoned breadcrumbs.

And fried, fried, fried to my heart's content.

OK, one might argue that literally, fried food is not good for my heart. Maybe not.
But somehow my heart feels a little better tonight.


Vegan_Noodle said...

Awww, that's so understandable that you wouldn't want to let your sprout go! Comfort food always helps. But you are an awesome mom for doing it, it sounds like a great opportunity for her. Congrats to her getting in!!

Anonymous said...

I totally understand comfort food. All of mine is brown or tan (think pasta).

I'm so happy for your sprout. I know that it's difficult for you but like you said, it's a great opportunity for her.

I can't wait to see the fun care packages you put together.

Kumudha said...


I love seitan. I recently ate seitan in a restuarant. I'm yet to try it at home.

Amy said...

I went to one of those boarding schools in high school and it was a GREAT experience! My friendships and memories are stronger from there than from college (and the first year of college is a breeze after boarding school!). Congrats to her.

I've been craving fried chicken. I was going to try Peta's recipe since my previous seitan experiences have been nasty. We'll see.

vko said...

Oh Tofu Mom- I think you should have the comfort food guilt-free because you are letting your Sprout go off to school which of course is the best thing you could do for her- what a great opportunity.

The weekend will be here sooner than you think- congratulations on getting in J Sprout!

the pleasantly plump vegan said...

i know how you'll miss yr girl but congrats to you guys anyway! thats impressive!!!

The Veggie Cookster said...

Aw, I'm sorry to hear you'll be missing your oldest Sprout. :( I think it's a fantastic opportunity for her though... many kudos to her!! She'll appreciate her mom even *more* when she comes home each weekend!!! :)

Anonymous said...

im so happy for your daughther! what a great oportunity.

its very understandable that you wouldn't want to let your daughther go!

thanks for the recipe!

Julia said...

Wow! What a great opportunity. I think it shows strength that you are willing to let go a little when it's the best thing for her. That's going to be hard for me!

Veg-a-Nut said...

What a great opportunity for your J.sprout. If I was a teenager again I would love it! I am sure she will do fine, you have done a great job in building a super relationship and values in your sprouts. Hang in there, mom!

Michelle said...

That's so exciting, she's going to have a great time! I would love to go to a school like that, just think of this as prep for when she finally has to move out.