You know what’s really nice for dinner? Cereal! A glass of water, an apple, maybe some carrots. I could happily eat this every night. The prospect of the time savings alone fills me with glee. Or actually, with a mournful longing. I know it might sound a little desolate, and is probably not too far afield, in terms of pragmatism, from giving up on traditional conviviality and drinking Soylent on vegan couches with a self-documenting tech tribe from the Bay Area, but… doesn’t it sound pretty good? If you let yourself embrace it? Get one of those turbo-cereals with all the protein in it, and you have all the major food groups covered. But my desire for cereal every night has been likened to living in a van down by the river (and frankly, if the river keeps the milk cold, I’m down with that), so, bleah, here’s another attempt to accommodate this whole hot-meal-around-a-table craze that’s being going on for a couple thousand years: Motherfucking Tofu Meatballs.
Tofu because, despite family members’ professed interest in eating meatballs, there comes a point in every person’s life when the question must be asked: “Do I want to fill a bowl with various ground meats and a raw egg and some other stuff and just plunge my hands into it?” I tried to think of a set of circumstances where the answer was yes. I could not.
But I researched meatballs anyway (yes! I researched meatballs, via Bon Appetit), and the list of eight no-nos included using a spoon to mix the meat (you’d crush it – this is ground meat we are talking about, but you’d crush it), rolling the balls all the same size (God forbid), and rolling the balls with dry hands – you should use wet hands – which actually I think every teenage boy can get on board with. Also, they caution, “Eggs are not a source of moisture!”
Also forefront in my mind during this time when I was pretending to consider making meatballs was a day a few years ago when I was practically skipping up a side street in Providence, RI, heading toward a coffee shop in the bright sunshine, channeling the energy level of Margo Thomas in the opening credits of That Girl but looking like a very haggard and Cubist version of Kate Winslet in the scene from Titanic where she’s hanging on to a floating door in the frigid ocean. I was like, “Man! This day is great! Look at that mattress on the sidewalk! I’m going to jog around it!” and then a white van pulled up about a quarter block ahead of me and the driver got out, groused around in the back, and dumped a huge silver chafing dish full of meatballs and “gravy” into the street and roared away. This was not far from the Mexican restaurant from whose window my husband and I had recently watched a… is that a cat? No – THAT’S A HUGE RAT! carry what appeared to be an entire burrito into a sewer grate. Meatballs are why they get so big, yo.
Tofu meatballs are something I watched a college friend’s father make on a couple of occasions, and when he made them, they were delicious. They involve essentially the same things as meatballs, and you can tuck some diced mushrooms in there for umami, and while they do involve an egg as a binder (not a source of moisture!) so they’re not vegan, it’s less of a massacre.
I get the whole thing going, and don’t forget the part where you put a block of tofu between two heavy plates to squeeze out the extra water. At a certain point, these also require “moist hands” for ball rolling, but put it out of your mind. Everything works out, the pasta is cooking, the kids are playing. The last thing to do is simmer the tofu balls in pasta sauce and then everybody can eat. Just as I do that, the mostly potty trained 2-year-old comes into the kitchen and shouts, “Mom! I have a huge poop!”
My task here is to determine if this is ex post facto or a request to use the commode. That is complicated by him making a run for the cellar. The 5 year old decides to get involved, and to start scolding her brother, which leads to some freestyle screaming on his part, followed by the three of us cramming ourselves into a half bath while he treats the toilet like a pommel horse and the 5-year-old repeatedly says, “Mom! Watch this!” and then stares dead-eyed into the middle distance while singing a song she learned at school, correcting herself many, many times as she trips over a tricky lyric.
Fifteen minutes later, with hands I’ve washed 18 times, I return to the stove. The tofu balls have disintegrated. No amount of eggs will bind those suckers back together. What is in the pan does not make a convincing meatless Bolognese, because it is whitish, like I scraped the cliffs of Dover into a saucepan. The kids ask for macaroni and cheese. The answer is no. For the next 20 minutes, while they complain and I respond with silence, I use chopsticks and a teaspoon to shove the tofu stuff inside tubes of ziti, and then line the ziti up on plates like I’m making edible ammunition belts and cover the whole thing with Parmesan cheese. The children do not really eat it, and neither do I. The texture is such that if you bite into the ziti, the tofu mixture comes exploding out but then loses momentum and takes up residence on the roof of your mouth. It is mimicking the action of vomiting and then stalling, and the mix would be useful if you were trying to wall off your mouth from your alimentary canal, which is essentially the reaction of any sensible person to the things I cook. But there is a solution to this, and it is cereal. Cereal cereal cereal. Cereal!