The good, the unkind, and the inedible - FamilyEducation

The good, the unkind, and the inedible

November 15,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

The problem with whirlwind quick weekends away that involve long car trips and kids is, simply, that they are pretty exhausting. At the other end, of course, when you are back home again, is the new week beating down your door. And all those Sunday chores are still waiting: baking to get you through the school week, those Friday folders waiting to be emptied, and laundry, of course. We raced back early on Sunday so Scott and T. could go to a Y-Princess meeting and it was nice to have a large part of the day left to tackle the Sunday chores. I tossed a load of laundry into the washer, made myself a cup of tea, and even had time to assemble a recipe I'd discovered over a week ago, when I'd found myself dreaming up some unidentified comfort-food dish: stew-like, with cooked carrots (my favorite comfort vegetable), and a hearty feel to it. I found by chance this seitan roast recipe here, and altered it a bit to suit what we had on hand. There's something about a recipe involving carrots, potatoes, and seasoned seitan that for a vegetarian shouts out comfort and home and Sunday dinner. I discovered seitan not long ago, and since then I've spent a lot of time wondering why I didn't find out about it sooner. Seitan has a chewier consistency than tofu, and it's perfect in stir-fry dishes, and also as a good meat substitute for stews and heartier dishes. Now that the weather has gotten cooler, I've been looking around for seitan-friendly crockpot recipes. I have several decent slow-cooker recipes for tofu dishes, but I'm not a huge fan of tofu cooked in the crockpot. It works, but I don't love the consistency tofu gets after it's been simmering for several hours. Anyway, I layered small potatoes and carrots and onions and followed the other instructions for mixing the seitan (this was the first time I'd mixed it from scratch). I did tweak the recipe, but only as far as the seasonings went. It all looked so very promising, and I turned the crockpot on, feeling excited about the prospect of dinner. Then L. and I went to the playground, so he could ride his scooter around and pull himself out of the downward spiral he'd been sucked into the moment we stepped foot in the door. The transition back home after a trip away is hard for him; he is explosive, touchy--tired, but restless and out-of-sorts. Scott and I are increasingly discovering how important some form of exercise is for L.--regularly, but also at moments like that, even if it just involves tree-climbing, or a short scooter ride. T.'s monthly Y-Princess meetings are also a great chance for me to get some one-on-one time with L., and I was looking forward to this. We had the playground almost to ourselves, except for one mom, her friend, and their respective kids. L. was a being a little crazy, after hours spent pent-up in the minivan, and he was climbing around all the play structures in all the "wrong" ways (up the slide, and on top of the monkey bars, etc. Still, all was going fine, and we had a great 30 minutes or so until L. took his shoes off so he could shinny up the basketball goal pole. He loves climbing poles, and he's pretty good at it. A little boy, who had been following L. around for some time and trying to get his attention, promptly sat down in the mulch and took his shoes off, too. His mom, who had been chatting with the friend, snapped to attention. "Zachary! Put your shoes on THIS INSTANT." The little boy looked at L., and then at me, and then at his mom. "But HE has his shoes off," he said, in protest. "I don't care what HIS mom thinks is okay, you put your shoes on THIS INSTANT." And then she hauled him off the playground, scolding him for getting his socks wet and being influenced by other people's bad behavior. Even though I know the whole situation was ridiculous, I felt very small at that moment, and also very tired, in the face of that mom's implied judgment of my parenting. L. was ready to leave anyway, so we did. At least, I thought, there'd be that seitan roast waiting for us. I wish I could write here that the roast was the perfect end to a long, tiring day; that it was wonderful, and made up for that playground mom's comment, and the tone in her voice, but I just can't. The roast just never looked right. When I optimistically served it up to Scott at dinner he sawed a forkful off, popped it in his mouth, and chewed thoughtfully. "Well?" I asked. He hesitated. I could tell he was searching for a polite comment. "It's really...chewy," he said. And it was, but in all the wrong ways. It was horrible, like some sort of flavorless rubber something. Even pouring vegetarian worcestershire sauce over the top didn't help. We couldn't even talk about how inedible it was because L. was so grossed out by the sight of our dinner that he banned all discussion of it until he left the table. When he was gone, I speared the seitan and held it up, where it drooped off my fork like melted glue. I don't know what I did wrong, or what happened. It was a colossal dinner fail, to the extreme. Sometimes they happen. Sometimes people are unkind. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and move on.