I attended elementary school in the early heyday of the Lunchable, AKA the ultimate cafeteria lunchtime trade item. Tiny plastic cartons with dividers separating a stack of cheddar cheese, a stack of golden butter crackers, and some slimy pink lunchmeat (usually turkey or ham) were the Hidden Valley Elementary School fourth grader’s ticket to trading her way to an optimal lunch. It was the lunchbox equivalent of a royal flush.
My lunchbox, on the other hand (My Little Ponies from first through third grade, scrunchy brown bags with my name scrawled on them, so as to not look like such a baby from fourth grade onward), with its sprouted, meatless contents never got me far in the midday meal barter game. My mother, who had embraced the whole-foods-bulk-bin-health-food-co-op approach to food in the 1980s, packed my lunch with the kinds of life-affirming foods nutritional gurus like Drs. Weil and MacDougall would have given their stamp of approval: apple “purses” (whole apples, cored and filled with peanut butter and raisins), rice cakes, sliced vegetables (she tried to get me excited by calling them “crudité,” as if I cared about seeming chic and french while I ate my carrot sticks at recess), and today’s subject: eggless egg salad, a creamy blend of soft tofu, turmeric (for flavor and egg-like color), onions, celery, a little mayonnaise and fresh dill. She would pack it in a little Tupperware container, with crackers (obviously not Ritz–think brick-like, seeded, bran-heavy crackers) or on a sprouted whole wheat bagel.
While I craved the sort of schoolyard clout that came with having Lunchables in my lunch (other big ticket items: fluffy, crustless white bread and American cheese sandwiches, Oreos, and any sort of flavored chip or cheese puff), I secretly loved my hippie lunches. But the other kids teased me for eating tofu (then a relatively uncommon food in American households) and so I often took to eating them in the girls’ bathroom to avoid taunting. And despite my actual preferences, I asked my mother to pack me something a little more “normal” so as to spare me being called, “Tofu Girl” at lunchtime.
“That is a very stupid nickname and there is no way I’m giving you white bread and chips for lunch, Gabrielle,” she told me. Gabrielle, my full first name, was what she called me when she meant business. “Just ignore the teasing and eventually they’ll get bored and stop.”
I pushed back. “But nobody will ever trade with me if you keep giving me all this healthy stuff!”
“Good,” she replied. “I don’t want you eating their crappy food anyway.”
I sighed. Eggless egg salad it was, and thus began my first lesson on the wisdom of doing something that doesn’t look cool and doesn’t win me any popularity points, but is the right thing to do anyway. The next day I decided to start eating lunch in the cafeteria again, opting out of the lunchtime trade. And she was right: I ignored the teasing and it eventually it stopped.
So here’s to my mom, and all moms, who stood their ground, when it would have been so much easier to just give in to their whining children. They taught us to be strong, to be true to ourselves, and to eat our gross-looking lunches out in the open, despite the naysayers.
Eggless egg salad is one of my favorite quick vegetarian protein sources, even to this day. It starts with soft tofu (you could use medium or firm tofu, but it won’t have that egg-white-like texture, plus celery, shallot (you could use regular or green onions too), fresh dill, plus cayenne for spice, and turmeric for flavor and egg-like color.
You smush up the tofu so it looks like crumbled hard-boiled eggs. This part is fun.
Stir everything together, with a little mayonnaise and mustard to bind and flavor it, as well as a little salt and pepper.
Let it chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (this improves the texture).
Eat on a toasted bagel (or on lightly dressed greens, or with crackers or “crudité,” or by itself). Listen to your mom. Ignore the haters.
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