{Brown Bag Blues} homemade seitan to the rescue

There are the blues when you have no money.  There are the blues when the political party you can’t stand wins the election.  There are the blues when your children grow up and leave you behind.  I’ve had all those blues.  But right now, I have the brown bag blues (with apologies to Gil Scott Heron).

I never know what to eat for lunch at work. I am so uninspired. For a long time I just bought salads, but they were expensive, $7 or $8 a day, and came in disposable plastic containers that made me feel guilty even though I recycled them. Then I tried bringing leftovers, but when I did that, I had to cook when I got home since the leftovers were already gone, bringing on the I-don’t-know-what-to-make-for-dinner blues.  Also, if I bring things to work that are too delicious, I start thinking about eating around 10:30 and have a hard time concentrating on work instead of the delicious thing I brought for lunch.   I don’t like sandwiches or canned soups or frozen dinners, no matter how organic.  I have no willpower, so if I bring something sweet like granola bars, I eat the whole box in two days. What I would really like is to go home and have my mother make me lunch but, alas, she is not available, having passed away in 1999.

I need bland, basic, repeating, predictable food, not fattening, but not so boring that I get tempted to go to the cafeteria downstairs and eat a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of macaroni salad.  I am way past that stage of life; I need to stay sober.

At work there is a toaster, a microwave, a can opener, a refrigerator with no freezer, and a sink further down the hall in the big lunch room.  Even though I am not particularly a neat freak, I dislike doing dishes at work. It just doesn’t feel hygienic in that underequipped communal kitchen space with that dubious sponge, so I find myself avoiding lunches that require much clean up. No tuna fish and mayonnaise, no elaborate chopped salads that require tossing and dressing on the job.

Unappetizing sink at work

So what to bring to eat?  Boring.

This week I decided to focus on ramping up my lunches instead of just eating corn tortillas with peanut butter, my totally uninteresting default lunch.   I went shopping with the following thoughts in mind:  I want food that isn’t messy, isn’t too exciting so I won’t be tempted to overeat, isn’t too fattening, doesn’t require me to lug lots of leaky containers from home to work every day, doesn’t cost too much, isn’t toxic, and doesn’t involve doing major amounts of dishes in the puny little sink down the hall where people I don’t know leave their disgusting coffee cups to soak. (In spite of my aversion, I do wash the plastic fork, knife and spoon that I swiped from the cafeteria in October, I am trying to make the Guinness World Record for the longest running use of a single set of disposable plastic ware.)

This is what I bought at the grocery store:  blueberries, apples, bananas, pears. Five small sweet potatoes that can be microwaved and eaten directly from their skin with my plastic spoon.  A microwavable bag of pre-washed green beans, although I worry about microwaving plastic bags, even the ones that say they are microwavable. Canned vegetarian low-fat refried beans for those nights I have to work late and need to eat dinner at my desk (sad, I know, such is the life of a government lawyer during legislative season).  Canned butter beans for the same reason and because I like butter beans.  Corn tortillas (don’t forget that they must be passable corn tortillas and not nasty northeastern tortillas) and hot sauce to go with my canned beans.  Peeled baby carrots and hummus.  A jar of peanut butter just in case.  Some small cans of fruit in “extra lite” syrup instead of candy bars or granola bars because I do have moments of weakness in which I have to have something sweet or else some seriously bad legal work will result.  A box of matzo, because nothing can kill the appetite like a piece of matzo.  Some compostable paper plates and bowls made in the USA, not China.

Work snacks: note to self, don’t eat the entire container of hummus at one sitting

I also have a standard office snack that I keep on hand.  I discovered several years ago that you can microwave popcorn in a brown bag with the end folded over and shut with two staples .  The staples should be more than three inches apart.  The staples don’t spark and it works well, so I keep some brown bags and popcorn in my office food cabinet for emergency use.  It makes seriously uninteresting popcorn, since there is no oil, but you can add a little parmesan cheese for flavor. I don’t bother, since flavor makes me want to eat more.  I try to stay away from tantalizing.

And, as a special treat, in order to shake off the brown bag blues, I am making soy sauce drenched seitan this weekend and dividing it into lunch-sized portions to bring in with me each day in a microwavable glass storage container that I will wash when I come home at night.  My coworker, Tana, turned me on to homemade seitan, so I have made a couple of batches since then and have decided that it is currently the oomph that I need in my brown bag in order to avoid running down to the cafeteria for supplemental, expensive, bad-for-me food.  Everything else I will drag in on Monday and replenish as needed the following week.

For now, seitan is the anti-depressant, even though it kind of looks like poop.  It can be wrapped in a tortilla, if necessary, but is fine plain too, straight out of its glass two-cup container.  It will not do for the gluten-intolerant, but for me, it is great.  And, as a bonus, my husband likes it. In fact, he ate seitan with barbecue sauce and sipped a small glass of scotch during the football play-offs this year instead of eating chicken wings and beer like his fellow football bros.  I was impressed.

If anyone has any suggestions for what I should eat for lunch when I get tired of seitan, please let me know.

This is Tana’s seitan recipe, which is a great ingredient in stir fry.  Four ounces of seitan is only 114 calories so it is good for my diet too!


1 cup wheat gluten
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon dried, minced onion

– Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a measuring cup, combine ¾ cup water or vegetable broth with two tablespoons of soy sauce.

– Stir liquids into dry ingredients, form into a ball.

– Knead on board 15 times. Allow it to rest 5 minutes.  Knead another 15 times.  Form it as best you can into a rubbery slab about ¾ inch high.  Cut into 2 inch slices.

a two inch slice

– Bring a medium pot of vegetable broth with a quarter cup of soy sauce to a boil.  Add one sliced onion and as much chopped garlic as you like to the broth.

– Gently simmer seitan slices in the broth for one hour.  Slices will increase in size.

Vegetable broth with soy sauce, garlic & onion

STORAGE: Store in the pot liquid for up to a week in the refrigerator or drain and pan fry or stir fry or bake with whatever you want.

a pile of seitan, waiting to be sauteed

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Tammy says:

    Wow. I enjoyed this. I would have never thought to make seitan. I don’t even know where one buys wheat gluten.

    1. Dianna says:

      well this is horrific but it is available at Walmart. I buy it my food co-op.

  2. Yummmm love homemade seitan!!

  3. Kayla says:

    Four Seasons has vital wheat gluten. Hannaford also sells it in the nature’s place section.

    1. Dianna says:

      Good to know, Hannaford and Four Sesasons are much better local options than Walmart. Thanks.

  4. Pirate Jeni says:

    I’m not a fan of seitan, myself. Wheat and I are not really great friends. I’m actually still paying for the pizza I had yesterday. I really didn’t know it was that easy to make though.. so yippee for new brain wrinkles!

    However, my office sink? it’s the clone of yours… I keep a plate, silverware and napkins at my desk. If I”m going to eat anything that is messy, I bring the plate and silveware home to wash but mostly, I give them a solid rinse and scrub in my hand and move on.

    1. Dianna says:

      I have a lunch bag, not actually a brown bag, and stick containers and things in it and drag it home at the end of the day to wash. I really don’t like taking dishes home every day, thus the compostable paper plates that our cafeteria recycling bin will accept. I rarely use plates, mostly just when I have to microwave beans and tortillas for an inelegant dinner so I don’t bother bringing in dishes. A pack of 45 paper plates will probably last all year, so I don’t sweat it.

  5. Alexis says:

    Many good sentences in this post, but my two favorite are: “I try to stay away from tantalizing” and “For now, seitan is the anti-depressant, even though it kind of looks like poop”.
    For an alternative to seitan, how about cold Japanese noodles? You can dump just about anything in with them, or just salt and sesame oil. I’m glad to know how simple seitan is to make and will give it a try soon!

    1. Dianna says:

      Cold Japanese noodles are good, but I am a carb addict so I try to avoid noodles and breads because I like them a lot. Seitan, while I like it, is easy to stop eating. You don’t just say, oh goody, a pile of seitan. You approach it slowly and cautiously then try it and say, this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. That is what I am looking for in lunch.

      1. colleen says:

        Try making steamed seitan, it’s really gd. Boiled seitan is totally repulsive to me. Or tofu fishsticks. Yum Yum !! You can check out Vegan Dad, or many other sites. And it is still simple to make and doesn’t take any extra time.

  6. Hello! I have nominated your blog for not one, not two, not even three, but 4 awards!! Enjoy!

    1. Dianna says:

      wow, thank you. I will let everyone know!

      1. You’re very welcome! Thank you for the great posts! 🙂

  7. colleen says:

    Go on-line and check out Vegan Dad. He has many good recipes for steamed Seitan. All kinds of sausages, polish,brats,Italian,breakfast, etc. Plus there are many more sites for steamed Seitan, making lunch meat, meatloaf, chicken parties, etc. Plus spicy black bean burgers are great.,using garbonzo beans for burgers, and even tofu fishsticks. All are yummy.

    1. Dianna says:

      steamed seitan does sound more attractive, I will check it out. Thank you.

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