Rag & Bone and The BEST crispy baked tofu

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The last lines of one of Yeats’ last poems. The Circus Animals’ Desertion is a beautiful and sad poem written by an old man regretting his lack of inspiration and imagination. He’s tired, and he claims to have nothing left to say. Old-old-old-old-old and raving.

You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother. Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. If there is any ology left of any description, that has not been worn to rags in this house, all I can say is, I hope I shall never hear its name.

Mrs. Gradgrind, on her deathbed, regretting that she has raised her two children with only facts and no imagination.

I can’t remember which reminded me of the other, but for some reason these two works are so beautifully melded in my mind at the moment. I just finished re-reading Hard Times, which I might not have read since middle school. (There’s so much about it that’s deliciously Dickensian, and so much that, I have to admit, I don’t love. For some reason I thought it was one of his earliest works, but it is not.)

In Yeats’ poem, his imagination is represented by circus animals. These inventions and spirits and characters of his creation through most of his life, “Winter and summer till old age began, My circus animals were all on show,” And for Louisa, the circus is a forbidden place of wonder and mystery–a break from the relentless grind of facts…

“He had reached the neutral ground upon the outskirts of the town, which was neither town nor country, and yet was either spoiled, when his ears were invaded by the sound of music.  The clashing and banging band attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion, was in full bray…Phenomenon almost incredible though distinctly seen, what did he then behold but his own metallurgical Louisa, peeping with all her might through a hole in a deal board, and his own mathematical Thomas abasing himself on the ground to catch but a hoof of the graceful equestrian Tyrolean flower-act!

‘In the name of wonder, idleness, and folly!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, leading each away by a hand; ‘what do you do here?’

‘Wanted to see what it was like,’ returned Louisa, shortly.

Louisa has an unmanageable mind, as she describes it, she can’t help but wonder and imagine, and see cities in the fire.

‘Have you gone to sleep, Loo?’

‘No, Tom.  I am looking at the fire.’

‘You seem to find more to look at in it than ever I could find,’ said Tom.  ‘Another of the advantages, I suppose, of being a girl. … Except that it is a fire,’ said Tom, ‘it looks to me as stupid and blank as everything else looks.  What do you see in it?  Not a circus?’

‘I don’t see anything in it, Tom, particularly.  But since I have been looking at it, I have been wondering about you and me, grown up.’

‘Wondering again!’ said Tom.

‘I have such unmanageable thoughts,’ returned his sister, ‘that they will wonder.’

But after a lifetime of being discouraged to register anything but facts, her thoughts come out twisted and malformed. She’s tired and frustrated with herself, with everything. She talks about the garden she should have in her heart, “‘How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? …What have you done with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here?’ Said louisa as she touched her heart.” 

Yeats has spent a lifetime in the circus of his imaginings, so that the creatures he’s dreamed up become more than real to him. They take all of his love. But now he’s tired, too. Mythology, allegory, dreams, have all left him. He’s lost his ladder, and now lies where all the ladders start, in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

It’s strange to me to think about what Louisa would have been like if she’d been allowed to let her restless imagination loose, and if she’d been born a boy–if she’d built the city in the fire into something as full of life and light and as real as Yeats’ circus. It’s strange to think about Yeats YEATS feeling tired and discouraged and lacking in imagination. And of course the world he creates to describe his lack of imagination is the most frighteningly beautiful and inspired lament to loss of beauty and inspiration I can imagine. Because he may have lost the mythology and the lofty imagery, but he hasn’t lost the love or the language, he’s just brought them down to earth. He’s using them to make the ordinary beautiful–rags, bones, broken bottles. And things as extraordinarily ordinary as aging, as remembering. He must be satisfied with his heart.

Here’s Belle and Sebastian with My Wandering Days are Over.

Left the town with the circus boy
The circus boy got lonely
It's summer, and it's sisters song's 
Been written for the lonely

The circus boy is feeling melancholy

This is THE BEST crispy baked tofu in THE WORLD! It’s madly adaptable. I always make it when I make my version of vegetable fried rice, which is a thing Isaac loves. But if you want to just make it like chicken nuggets, you could add a little garlic salt, omit the sesame oil, and dip in bar b que or whatever sauce you like. Also, you can make a sauce to toss these in. I’ve done tamari, honey and chili, but you can go crazy!

There are a couple of things that make this good and easy. One that makes it good is freezing and thawing two times. One time makes it a bit crumbly, but two times makes it not the spongey mess that is normal tofu, and helps it to absorb the marinade. The other is the use of a container to coat the tofu. I do this for pretty much anything I make that’s coated these days. I don’t have patience or counter space for a bowl for flour a bowl for egg a bowl for crumbs kind of production. One big container with a lid (tupperware or otherwise) is all you need. Just don’t shake too vigorously or the tofu will break. And finally this could absolutely be vegan. I add mayonnaise as a sneaky way to make the marinade stick to the tofu, but vegan mayonnaise (or no mayonnaise at all) would probably work just as well. And I add about half an egg because I use the other half for the aforementioned stir fried rice, but I’ve made it without any egg and it’s still good.

Best crispy baked tofu

1 block extra-firm tofu

1/4 cup tamari
1 T (+/-) sesame oil
2 T Mayonnaise
1 t sesame seeds
shake chili flakes
dash of white wine vinegar

Shake of corn strarch
1/2 egg
About 1 cup bread or cracker crumbs. I usually do a mix of crackers and bread–whatever is going stale or not getting eaten fast enough. If you use crispy crackers like saltines, the tofu will be lighter and crispier. More bread or a more substantial cracker will make the tofu more substantial, more crunchy than crispy.

Oil to coat the tray.

When you bring the tofu home from the store, pop it in the freezer. If you’re a think-ahead type, you can take it out of the freezer days before you plan to make this, let it thaw, then put it in the freezer again and then the day you eat this, let it thaw again. If you’re not a plan-ahead type. (I am not) you bring it out the morning of the day you’re going to make this. You put it in a bath of hot water till it’s sort of thawed–an hour or so. You put it back in the freezer till it’s sort of frozen, you put it back in its bath of hot water till it’s thawed, and then you proceed.

Drain the water from the tofu. Give it a squeeze to get rid of some of the excess, but not so hard you crush it. Wrap it in a tea towel and put it between two plates with something heavy on top. Leave until most of the water is drained.

Cut the tofu into pieces about 1 1/2 inches by 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch. Put them in a container with a lid that has about 1 or 2 inches to spare on top of the tofu.

Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a cup or small pitcher, stirring to combine well.

Pour the sauce over the tofu. Put the lid on and give the container a shake or many shakes to spread the sauce over all the tofu. If it looks a little light you can always shake in a bit more tamari, or add more sesame seeds. Leave the container for 1/2 an hour? an hour? shaking from time to time.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425. You can add a shake of corn starch to the tofu (maybe 1 T?) cover and shake the container to coat. Pour in about half an egg (I use the rest for the fried rice we usually eat this with). Cover the container and shake to coat. Add the bread/cracker crumbs, shake to coat.

Pour enough oil to coat the tray. I use quite a bit. In a sense, we’re oven-frying the tofu. So it’s not just a light coating of oil, it’s enough that when you add the tofu and stir it around it’s coated on all sides. Do just that (add the tofu and stir it around so it’s coated on all sides)

Cook, shifting the tofu around occasionally, until the tofu is crispy and starting to brown, about 25 – 30 minutes.

1 thought on “Rag & Bone and The BEST crispy baked tofu

  1. Yeats’ circus got me remembering Robb Johnson’s Monkey Stories. (Warning: contains upsetting imagery.)

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