Friday, September 23, 2011

Sho Totoro

Fall makes me think of Totoro, mainly because of the association with acorns.  It is definitely acorn season right now and A-chan enjoyed picking up a lot of them on our walk in the Botanical Gardens yesterday.   The river that the trail runs beside is extremely low and showed us how much we needed the rain that has been falling the past few days.  We could see all the trash on the riverbed that is normally hidden by the rushing water.  It made us both very sad.

In the bento: Pink rice with black sesame seeds, stirfry with tofu, baby corn, broccoli, zucchini and orange bell pepper, grapes, apples, baby tomatoes and a carrot acorn.

Sho Totoro and the soot sprites are made from provolone cheese and nori.  I did a really quick version of the little Totoro so he's looking a little bit strange but A-chan loved him all the same :)

One of the yo-yo balloons that A-chan won at the JapanFest game is barely visible in the background.  She won four of them and unbelievably they are all still in existence!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Huge flower onigiri

Good morning!  It's still raining today, how awesome is that?  The rain has been absent from our lives for quite some time so it's a relief to get two days worth.  Except that all I want to do is curl up with a book and some coffee and forget about working :)

This huge flower onigiri is the reason behind the pink rice that A-chan requested.  She wanted a pink flower onigiri bento!  Our new rice cooker's first job was a huge batch of pink rice.  And do I mean huge!  We're probably still going to be eating pink rice next week.

In the bento:  Pink rice onigiri with provolone cheese petals and carrot center, baby corn spears, apple bunny, a small bunch of grapes, fried tofu, steamed green beans and a pick of baby tomatoes.

The humongous flower onigiri mold is in the background.  It's all sleek and shiny and I love it!  However, the metal tends to get a bit hot when it's full of freshly cooked rice.  I ended up having to get out my oven mitt to finish the onigiri.  

The size of the onigiri also means that there is no way for A-chan to eat it by hand so she uses a fork.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Quick Dinner

Today the wonders of time-lapse photography will show the making of my quick and simple Curry Rice dinner bento from yesterday.  You are seeing pink rice because that is what A-chan requested, please do not adjust your screen.


Lettuce as a divider

Curry plopped on top of the rice

Eggroll angled in the back of the bento

Next a small bunch of grapes

Hiding edamame and baby tomatoes underneath

Edamame pick and halved baby tomato are pretty!

The final bento with a simple flower put in last.

In the bento:  Pink rice, vegetarian Japanese curry with tofu, carrots, onion and potatoes, a small bunch of grapes, edamame on a pick,baby tomato and a Japchae and chili pepper eggroll.

There are more edamame and baby tomatoes hidden underneath the eggroll and grapes.  The flower was cut from jalapeno cheese and I used a halved edamame for leaves and black sesame seeds for some contrast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's a lightsaber!

There are only a few phrases that a bento-making mom dreads to hear.  Among them are, "I dropped my bento", "What is the cat doing on the counter?" and the most horrible of all, "What is that supposed to be?"  Guess which one was said this morning?  Sigh.  Yes, it was the last one.  Once I explained that it was a boy with a lightsaber A-chan could suddenly see it.  "Oh, now I see.  It's Anakin!" She exclaimed.  What is the most dreaded phrase that you guys fear?

In the bento: Frozen blueberries in a container, soy sauce tofu chunks, a baby corn spear, baby tomatoes, dill pickle slices, miniature pancakes (there are three more under the boy's face) and a carrot lightsaber.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Bridie Day

 Today's bento is extremely simple, but still cute and fun.  There are a few things missing in the color department due to the fact that I never made it to the grocery store this weekend.  However, we went to JapanFest instead - so much better than the store!  In the background is the lovely bento loot that I bought:  The green crab furoshiki, the pink flower furoshiki and those elegant flower picks!

In the bento: A bunch of Mac n cheese, a bunch of grapes, some steamed broccoli, 3 vegetarian Forfar Bridies (the shy one is hiding behind the smiling ones).  Because of my allergy to bananas I'm afraid that bananas in our house tend to be rather boring.  This one is outside the box :)

JapanFest was a wonderful experience that we can't wait to repeat next year.  We arrived at 10 am to watch the Sumo wrestling which A-chan still claims was her favorite part of the day.  The traditional Japanese dancing was a pleasure to watch and also gave me a few pointers to work on in my own dance.
A-chan concentrating at the Children's Calligraphy Workshop
 I was impressed with the detail and preparation that went into the Children's Calligraphy Workshop.  The kids learned not only the way to draw the modern Kanji for 'friends' but also the history of the kanji.
A-chan and Ichigo 
 We couldn't resist taking a picture in front of the huge lucky kitty!  The pink osanpo, instantly named 'Ichigo' was A-chan's happiest purchase of the day and continues to be well-loved even at home.
Our lunch: Udon noodles, dango and dorayaki
 Finding Vegetarian food for lunch was a bit of a challenge.  I had planned to make bentos but my rice cooker chose that morning to die leaving me devastated and bento-less.  We enjoyed our noodles and desserts very much, though!  Another aspect that we thoroughly enjoyed were the festival games.  A-chan and I both went Yo-yo balloon fishing and she was rather delighted that she was very good at it while I...frankly stunk at it.  She also got a huge kick out of the fact that even though she lost the ring toss game they still gave her some cotton candy.  As we watched the anime 'KamiChu' last night, A-chan exclaimed with great pleasure over the scene where kids were given cotton candy at a temple festival.
Playing ring toss 
We also learned about flower arranging, listened to a rock concert, watched a kendo match, enjoyed the large scale calligraphy demonstration, learned about the history of mecha anime and fell in love with the koi at the koi show.  It was so much fun that we didn't leave until it ended at 6!

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Fruit Bento and a Thank you Bento

 These fruit bentos are starting to grow on me.  Last Friday I was worried that I had given A-chan too much fruit for Pizza day but she ate every bit of it.  So today I filled up the box worry-free!  Unfortunately I didn't have much variety of color in fruit so it's a little heavy on the red.  The little watermelon divider I stuck in just for fun.

In the bento: Strawberry slices, apple plum pieces, orange slices and provolone cheese flowers.

Sasha has been sick all week.  Not only is she our smallest kitty, she is also quite feisty.   So much so, in fact that even with her wrapped up in a towel and scruffed I wasn't able to give her the medicine.  There was medicine on me, on A-chan, the chair, the table, the towel, the floor and even the ceiling - but none inside the cat.  A friend of mine who happens to work at our vet office took pity on me and has gone above and beyond the call of duty to come over every day and give Sasha her meds.  It's amazing to watch - it takes her 5 seconds and it goes where it's supposed to!  To thank her for using her lunch hour to make up for my cat medicine ineptitude, I made her a bento yesterday.

For the box I used a brilliant idea from Sherimiya of Happy Little Bento and recycled a fruit container!  I lined the bottom with two layers of basket wrap and then topped that off with a layer of lettuce leaves before packing in the food.  That was mainly to prevent anything from dripping through the holes in the bottom.

In the bento:  A huge slice of orange, edamame on a bamboo pick, two onigiri with beni shuga on top, persian cucumber slices, carrot flowers, beef gyoza, baby corn spears, a container of edamame and a bamboo pick of black olives.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flower Garden

 I wanted to make a flower garden bento using some of my Japanese vegetable cutters this morning.  Some of them are huge and don't get used very often because it is difficult to find veggies that are large enough.  Luckily we picked up some Japanese carrots and purple yams at Super H Mart over the weekend.

In the bento: The fruit section contains apple plum slices, orange slices, strawberry slices and lots of pieces of baby corn including some on a leaf pick.  The other side has a fake-tsukune patty with a circle of bread behind, steamed broccoli, carrot flowers, cheese flowers, a purple yam flower and hiding between the broccoli and carrots is a Mac and Cheese ball.

The Tsukune patty is decorated with mayo in a traditional henna flower pattern.  Sesame seeds decorate the carrot and purple yam flowers and to make my pink-obsessed girl happy there is a pink flower divider.  Not shown are a soy sauce bottle and a ketchup container.

Below was my lunch bento yesterday.  I promised myself Indian food after going to a Bollywood dance class the night before.  I love Indian food, the spicier the better!  Since I knew that this feast wasn't going to be shared with A-chan I spiked up the heat to a level 20.  So yummy :)

In my bento:  Naan (frozen, from Trader Joe's), a miniature orange pepper with raita inside, persian cucumber spears, chana masala in the blue cup, veggie biryani and tofu musallam.

I adapted the tofu musallam from a recipe for Murgh Musallam which is 'Whole chicken baked in Aluminum Foil' from a cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Three kittens

 Three little kittens said, "Meow?" in cute little voices which knocked their little whiskers all askew.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  :)

Notice all the strange looking, weirdly shaped carrot pieces in the fried rice?  Well, maybe you can't.  But they are very obvious to me because I know that they are there, lol.  That is what I do with all the oddly shaped leftover pieces from the decorative carrot cutouts.  All the flowers, hearts, letters, etc. leave a heck of a lot of pieces that get scooped into a container and stored in the freezer to use in things like fried rice.  That way I don't have to chop up a lot of veggies for my fried rice, all the work is already done!

In the bento: Veggie fried rice with scrambled tofu, green peas, carrots and baby corn.  On the side are several orange wedges, some Persian cucumber slices, baby corn spears, apple plum slices, a frozen cherry and a strawberry.

The kitten faces are made from Provolone cheese and soy turkey.  The details are nori eyes, mouth and stripes.  The whiskers are made from somen noodles.

I don't often post my bentos but I've decided to try and do that more often.  Mine are usually not as cute as A-chan's and are generally very bland to the eye in comparison :)  This one was actually my dinner last night.

In my bento: Sushi rice covered with scrambled tofu, sriracha, two orange slices, three persian cucumber slices, a Mac and Cheese ball (from Trader Joe's) and a cheese flower.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Proof is with the Sumo

Aha!  I have it!  Proof that my bentos do indeed stand the test of time and are remembered once they have been devoured.   Yes, my daughter asked me to make her another Sumo bento with a sweet potato bun!  Here is a link to the one I made last January:   Apparently it really made an impression on her!  One day when she is twenty-five she will ask me, "Why do I get really hungry whenever someone mentions sumo wrestling?"

This guy is a little different from the first one and his topknot kind of gets lost in the lettuce.  I have my fingers crossed that we can go see the Sumo demo at JapanFest in Atlanta this weekend.  A-chan would be ecstatic!  There will be traditional dance demonstrations, archery and tons more so I am hoping, hoping, hoping :)  Also, a certain vendor who is rumored to be selling dango will be getting a lot of my cash if it turns out to be true.  For I truly love dango.

In the bento:  A sweet potato bao made into a sumo, strawberry slices, corn croquette, a container of green peas with some carrot flowers, two bamboo picks with sauteed tofu and one solitary blackberry.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fishy Inari zushi

On Friday A-chan had requested a fish decoration in her bento.  That had been school pizza day so I asked if we could postpone the fish until Monday.  As we were grocery shopping last night she reminded me about the fish.  Let me tell you that I was horrified when I discovered that I had no fish shaped cutters.  Oh sure, I have a large cookie cutter that would have been perfect for a sandwich...if I'd remembered to buy bread.  After a while I finally decided to try making a fish with Inari zushi.  A-chan seemed delighted with it even if I think it's a little...fishy.  

In the bento:  Inari zushi filled with sushi rice, steamed broccoli, a container of simmered kabocha, one huge strawberry and one normal sized strawberry, some blackberries, a slice of lemon and three carrot 'bubbles'.

The fish scales and eye were cut from provolone cheese and nori.  His tail was cut out of an inari pocket with my food scissors and there is more rice hidden underneath it.  The inari pockets and kabocha were simmered in the same pot with water, soy sauce, mirin and a tiny bit of brown sugar.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Just the fruit, ma'am

 A-chan's school is doing a Pizza on Fridays fundraiser so she didn't need a bento for lunch today.  At first this made me a little bit sad, but then I thought it was a perfect excuse to make a fruit bento!  I am adamant about my fresh fruit fetish and try to have every meal accompanied by some type of fruit. She probably won't eat all of this bento with her pizza, but any fruit is better than none.  Today was also a great chance to try a bit of fruit subterfuge by adding in a golden kiwi which we've never tried before. Hers looked so luscious that I am going to make me one for lunch too!  Who needs savory - I've got fruit!

In the bento:  Lots of peach slices, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi, and golden kiwi hidden in the far back.

It's a bit embarrassing to admit that I was positively giddy over the fact that I got to use my new Bento & Co. box today!  The kitty on the lid is soooo cute.  Ostensibly this one is mine...but I don't mind sharing it with A-chan.  I'm very happy with the box.  The slim lines and elegant no-nonsense styling make it a perfect frame for yumminess.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Just a little mouse

There is just a little mouse in A-chan's bento today.  I was very happy that she could recognize it this morning!  I'm getting in gear for fall bentos this weekend.  The anticipation of pumpkin season is killing me, I can't wait :) Pumpkin pie, pumpkin jelly, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin decorations, candy corn...Ahhhh, it's all good.

In the bento: Potato hash in the green container, raspberries, a pick of edamame, three lemon slices, veggie sausage links and mini pancakes.

The mouse face and ears were cut out using two sizes of biscuit cutters and I applied strawberry icing to make the details.  The leftover bits of pancake and a few more whole ones are hidden underneath the lettuce.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Switching gears

Today's bento is completely different from what I had in mind.  But the bread that I was going to use to make sandwiches turned out to be moldy and required a total switching of gears.  My freezer stash saved the day again, yay!  The two onigiri were frozen as were the fried tofu sticks and the broccoli which made for a panic-free morning.

In the bento: Small dill pickles, carrot flowers, raspberries, two flower shaped onigiri with carrot flower centers, two fried tofu sticks and a piece of steamed broccoli.

To reheat the onigiri for the bento I took them from the freezer and placed them on a microwave safe plate.  Next I sprinkled them with a little bit of water and microwaved them for one minute.  The fried tofu sticks were already deep fried before storing them in the freezer.  To reheat them I put them  into a 400 degree oven straight from the freezer and cook for 7 minutes.  Reheating them in the oven takes longer than the microwave but preserves the lovely crunchy texture.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hearts and Smiles

We had a fantastic time at DragonCon this past weekend! It was a blast and I had so much fun teaching the Bento panel - thank you so much to everyone who came! Now that the convention is over I'm finding out how completely exhausted I am. It always seems difficult to get back in the groove after vacation and this morning proved to be no exception. So I kept today's bento nice and simple. There is one thing completely missing from it, though. Do you know what it is?

In the bento: One huge potato and cheese pierogie, a container of shredded cheese, steamed broccoli, cherry tomato wedges, baby carrots, black olives on picks and a vegetarian tsukune with a mayo heart for decoration.

The pierogie's facial detail was punched from nori and 'glued' on with a tiny bit of mayo. Not shown are a soy sauce bottle and container of ketchup. I was amazed that I could make a bento this morning without having been here for 5 days and not having gone to the grocery store!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guest Post by Bou Shin!

I am going out of town today so there is no bento this morning. However, there is this lovely Guest Post by Bou Shin of Shin's Vegan Lovin' who was one of the winners of my contest! She gives tons of great tips for bentoing - Thank you, Bou Shin! (I can't figure out how to turn off the underline and I have to run or I'll be late so I apologize for the massive underlining!)

15 Tips For Building A Better Bento

I'm going to let you in on a little secret - you don't need to order or buy anything from Japan to have a fantastic bento lunch! What you need to do is to decide what type of box you want and for whom.

If it's for you then it might be Tupperware - or if it's for a child it might be a Hello Kitty lunchbox that's perfect for their appetite. If you're anything like me - you're going to just buy the Hello Kitty lunchbox for yourself.

1. Identify what shape, size and type of bento that you want. If you get stuck then you can easily look up a bento size-locator and figure it out. For example, your average adult would need a 600-700 ml box, plus or minus any other factors.

Factors: If you're physically active or inactive - gender and appetite also play a role into this. Another factor is if you're into kyaraben (as I am) meaning that a smaller bento is needed for calorie-density.

2. Find a suitable box. Go to your local supermarket to look at the Tupperware and occasional Lock & Lock boxes. These are especially good if you want smaller servings and you want to look more like an adult and less like a five-year old eating from a Superman Lunchbox. Make sure that whatever you get has a nice secure top (it's okay if it doesn't, we'll solve that later).

3. If you can't find it - make it! Don't fret - you have the technology and the capability to build a better, stronger and faster bento, or at least one that's nice and sturdy. All you need is a good instructable, mineral oil, and non-toxic wood and glue to pull it together.

If you're still worried about finding the right box for you then you could try to search for some lovely French (or any other) Lacquer boxes.

4. Buy or make elastic bands. Instead of breaking out the superglue - you can easily stick a thick band of elastic onto fabric to go across the width of the box. Just leave it off until you've cleaned it and filled it.

5. Hand wash your bento box thoroughly. This way you can ensure that it doesn't get warped or damaged and it can still be used to carry your lunch correctly. Don't use too many scented products so that your box doesn't smell or taste like soap. Wood bentos need the least amount of water and cleaning time.

Additional Building Tips:If you order from any place online, be sure to try to get a scale size as well as using the millilter measure as explained on #1. There's a chance that your box could be big enough to feed a whole family or, more likely, small enough for a toddler.

Sanitary and Aesthetic Tips

1. Separate your food. For example, you could be eating a nice meal of rice and ume with a piece of jalapeno-pineapple-durian cake that you really don't want to touch anything. You can easily use muffin tins or something similar to those plastic eggs that you see in stores.

2. Want to make your bento cuter with food picks? Adding plastic picks that have little faces or stickers make a bento a lot brighter. You can make these yourself in the same way mentioned or you can check out your local craft store for mini-picks such as the ones mentioned by Martha Stewart.

3. Looking for chopsticks - but can't find nice ones that aren't wood or healthy for the environment? You can easily make your own with a or you can search for some with AllThingsForSale.

4. Keep sanitary wipes with you for yourself as well as your bento to prevent any nasty odors. Another way to help prevent this is to line your bento box with something entirely edible and fresh like thick Romaine lettuce leaves.

5. Find a bento strap for utensils or make one. Don't leave them in the bento box for sanitary reasons.

Additional Holder Tips: Be sure not to overcrowd your bento or to place your utensils inside of the box. Also be sure to look around the craft store for anything that can be used in a bento.

Food Tips

1. Whether or not you have little ones running around, it's best to make a large batch of your favorite food into small bits, cook it and freeze it until you're ready to prepare lunch.

2. When cooking, you don't need to have a large amount of white rice as seen in many Japanese bentos, it's best for fresh fruits and vegetables to be the majority of your meal, proteins being second. If you do happen to use a lot of white rice - I suggest mixing it with brown or black rice for a health boost.

3. Make sure that whatever you use in your bento box isn't too oily or too water-filled. The water can be drained and taken care of very easily but the oil won't be fully drained and can still seep into the bottom of your box even with protection.

4. As mentioned before - it's best to stay with local fresh fruits and vegetables (organic is even better!). The reason is not only for health - it's also for bento balance. If you put a lot of vegetables in whatever empty space you have, there is a lot less likely of a chance for your food to spill around in some gross mess.

5. Have fun with it and experiment - you don't have to stick to one type of bento or one type of food that goes into it everyday. You can use it to lose weight or to gain weight. Your bento essentially reflects you - so I hope that you'll enjoy it.

- Bou Shin of Shin's Vegan Lovin'