Sunday, June 28, 2009

I won the Lottery (cherries anyway)


3 3-stemmed cherries in one little batch of these delicious Queen Annes!

I am sure there is a truck full of money somewhere, just driving around,looking for my address. Soon to be unbelievably rich my friends! Dozens of bentos for everyone! I'll fly everyone to Minneapolis and we can dine at Sakura, the best Japanese restaurant in the cities. Then we'll go online and order the kyootest bentos we can find.

Or heck, let's just all fly to Tokyo and shop in person!!

I can dream...

Meanwhile here's my Friday bento of enormous spinach:

I stir-fried a huge amount of sesame spinach and thought we'd have leftovers for dinner. But by cramming, I managed to fit it all in my bento. It became like a spinach brick. I used the partition to compress it and this got all the water out too, a big plus. Just one little problem, which was, that it all came out at once on my desk at work when I went to eat it. Splop. Hello spinach on my papers!

It was good though. This bento also had pinto bean salad, my last pandan cake, sugar snap peas and a fresh apricot.

What lies ahead for the week??! Making porketta roast in the crockpot today. I think porketta roast is a regional meat; it is rolled out, heavily spiced, then rolled up and tied before sale at supermarkets.

When we first moved to the midwest, we had not heard of it, and in a supermarket we saw "Porketta! Great midnight snack!' and we laughed thinking of people eating pork at midnight, gnawing away like Pleistocene cavemen. Well years later, it's true; great midnight snack. Addictive.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bean Salad Bento

FrenchBento made a pinto bean salad that gave me this idea, although typically, hers was fancy with roasted and ground hazelnuts and various other things. I took away just the idea that pinto beans would make a nice salad base; I added chopped carrot, green onion, olive oil and lemon juice. It was really nice on a hot day at work. It's resting on a bed of baby greens from my very first farm-share box of the summer!! Woo hoo; organic veggies commence.

Next to it is a chicken andouille sausage which I quick-fried for a few minutes, and then added champagne-dill mustard mixed with a little water to simmer for a bit. This was really great! I love mustard and we want to visit the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum some day - it isn't very far away. And: I just like the idea of there being a mustard museum.

In the other half is a fresh organic apricot, some cherry tomatoes, a babybel cheddar, two heart shaped jello jigglers, and a Vietnamese black coffee candy which was dynamite.

Every year I plant a few flowers around in the yard and see what manages not to die. This year the chicken planter really took off:

My gardening is very random. Hope your summer is going well and your flowers are all blooming!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

2 Summer Bentos of Leftovers!

Jan's bento has the leftover shrimp ceviche from Sunday dinner, along with two rice balls, a fresh apricot sliced, a heart shaped jello jiggler made with no-cal jello, and underneath the juggler is a chocolate in foil.

The shrimp ceviche was a first for me and it was super! it's a cross between a salad and a seafood cocktail, and the spin is supposed to be that the seafood is not actually cooked but just marinates in lime (or other citrus) juice for several hours in the fridge. Not being very brave about raw, I used cooked shrimp and cut the marinating time. Next time I want to try scallops as well.

There are many different ceviches, as many as the Caribbean islands they come from; some add tomato juice and make them almost soupy, some use a fresh tomato sauce, some entirely leave out tomato. Other ingredients are: cucumber, cilantro, a little olive oil, serrano chiles, crispy sweet banana pepper, daikon or white radish, salt and pepper, halved grape tomatoes. Yum, what a cool and low-fat summer dish!

My bento also had leftovers:

A salad with baby greens and blue cheese crumbles, sesame rice balls, apricot, tomatoes and broccoli. This bento had too little protein and I was hungry in two hours. I went rummaging around my office for Anything Edible and found a 2 year old package of pistachios which a student had brought me from a Greece trip. Well, they were still pretty darn good!!

Hail to leftovers!! I find I am planning on them now and making extra - makes the mornings much easier.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

過ぎる Hello Kitteh Overload?!

Is there such a thing as too much Hello Kitty junk? What are the symptoms? Because I should be manifesting them right about now.

These pretty bird stamps:

...were on my package from:

...which contained:


I cannot wait to cute-overload this HK bento with a little HK sauce container and place it in the HK carry bag and wig out. My co-workers would be so jealous if they only knew how cute and cool this is! Alas they just think I have entered into some senile second childhood and they smirk. The lummoxes; all guys. But they have asked me to make gyoza for a brunch they're having! So I guess I am somewhat cool or maybe just a tool.

Anyway the set of HK boxes is so cute, and I am tempted to say right out that the biggest one is for dessert...but maybe I'll try to sneak that one by.

The Ebay seller for these desirable items is 'HongKong Outlet' which has a special Hello Kitty store and is very terrific to deal with - cheery polite messages and fast reasonable shipping, automatic combined shipping, just a pleasure and great prices.

And just for fun: our college dean resigned after settting the college in some turmoil, and her secretary posted this sign on the dean's door:

...which I think shows moxie. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Getting the Proportions Right

I think I am getting a little better at the proportions of bento lunches. My tendency is to make the protein and sweet parts too large, short changing the vegetable/fruit and carb/rice parts. In this one I think I almost got it 4-3-2-1 just right!

And maybe this one too:

Two little workday bentos for summer. The cherries are fantastic this year! Hope everyone is enjoying the fruit abundance of the season.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Delights! Rhubarb Riot NQBR

Not Quite Bento Related:

The rhubarb has been incredible this summer; it tastes like heaven. Today I made a rhubarb custard cake, very easy and super tasty:

Rhubarb Custard Cake

1 package yellow cake mix
4 cups fresh rhubarb chopped in small pieces
1 pint whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp cinnamon

350 oven. Prepare the cake as package directs except also add vanilla. and pour into greased 13x9 pan. Sprinkle rhubarb on top of batter. Mix sugar and cinnamon, pour on top of rhubarb. Finally, pour the cream over all.

Bake for 55-60 minutes. Let cool and then refrigerate. This cool puddingy cake will disappear out of the pan! We put whipped cream on top because it wasn't fattening enough yet har har.

I had dinner with my next door neighbors on their deck, and we had fun complaining about our university (she works there too). Good times! while her little grandson 6 months old scooted around in his wheelie-bob and scared my dogs. Gabe and Rufus could just about take the baby, but they were unnerved when the baby became a babyscooter.

Now they are recovering from the shock to their nerves:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

This Little Bento... the "black sheep shopping trip" bento box, was so nice. It was satisfying but still I was able to go work out at the gym about 45 minutes after I ate it. It had two of my black sesame ume onigiri with sugar snap peas tucked around them, sesame kale, part of a chicken andouille sausage, home grown spicy sprouts, cherry tomatoes and a babybel cheese.

No dessert though, and I was feelin the need. I'm going to have to invent the 3-layer bento box with dedicated dessert compartment. Or maybe I could become less of a greedy sweet tooth!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mr. Bento's Babe Again Today!

It is a miso soup day so Mr. Bento to the rescue! There's no better way to bring soup to work. I got this beee-yootiful miso that I was so craving yesterday, so today my wish is granted.

I not only started teaching summer class yesterday but I also started an exercise class on campus at noon. This exercise class now! I knew I was in trouble when a nice lady asked me if I'd ever been to this class before, and when I said No, she proceeded to give me extensive advice about how to avoid injuring myself.

These people are hard core. It is called "Cardio Blast" and it requires stepping up on little plastic platforms, hopping over them, skipping around trying not to crash into the lady behind you, etc. then performing acrobatics on a big plastic ball like a trained seal, then privately dying inside.

So after this ordeal I was needing miso soup. What is it about miso that is so wonderful and comforting? It always brings a glow to my life.

In Mr. Bento besides soup I have: fried rice with cilantro, a veggie cup with spicy sprouts, cucumber-ginger tsukemono, a coupel tomatoes and a couple of olives, and a pandan cake.

These green Vietnamese Twinkies are so good! They are actually far better than Twinkies: very slim cream layer, a little crust of sugar on the outside, a flavor like pineapple and coconut combined. Pandan is a weird looking fruit I had never heard of before; I got these in Madison and wish I'd bought a case. How many exercise classes would that represent?!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Message from a Bento Box

Several of my bento boxes have little speeches on them, and today's bento is an example:

This somewhat co-dependent sounding message made me wonder: Who is talking here?

How would the Japanese schoolchild, for whom this box was probably intended, interpret the speaker of this message?

Would it be Mom, offering to bring things? A generic 'friend' being helpful and solicitous? The offer invites someone to "write and tell me", so we can infer they are at some distance. It is also odd because -- who writes when they can pick up a cell phone?

Today I am bringing one of my umeboshi filled onigiri, mushroom cookies, grapes, peach, 2 blackberries, some sugar snap peas and a sliced up white radish. Kind of weird but I am facing a weird day: my summer class starts this morning (Philosophy of Religion! one of my favorites) and I have a meeting with an administrator who is going to ask me a big favor, and I want to say no, but am not good at that, not at all. So, grrr, a little nerve-wracked. I should ask my bento-person to bring me some courage.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inarizushi or...??

5 a.m. this morning found me making my first attempt at inarizushi, those little pillows of goodness which have fascinated me since I first saw them on someone's bento blog.

I had purchased 'fried tofu pouches' in Madison WI at Brian's graduation, and froze them. Now they were thawed and ready. First I read a bunch of recipes on the internet and developed a sort of average idea from all the variations, mostly in sauce ingredients.

The tofu pockets first get rinsed in boiling water to wash the oil off, then poached in a flavoring sauce of soy, mirin, sugar, salt, broth, etc. Here is where a lot of differences come in.

Then they are drained and dried, then stuffed with sushi rice and whatever else you like.

So first off, my tofu pouches were more like blocks, so I think I bought the wrong thing. They had to be cut open with a knife, whereas the recipes all say "gently press open with your fingers", and there would have been no way to "fold over the end like an envelope after filling"; these brickies would just have broken.

However! I had fun toasting black sesame seeds for the first time - they pop like crazy!! and I also used my onigiri press for the first time.

This works really swell, especially if you remember to dip it in water between uses. I made some really honkin onigiri, each one having an ume plum in its middle; maybe they are too fat really - you might need a nap after eating one of these for lunch.

Black sesame tastes great but does present that dental hazard: the smile of black spots! That would really liven up my office hours. "Hello!" (big smile)-- Student leaves in a hurry...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hello Salad Kitty!

This salad bento features home-grown sprouts, carrot flowers, white radish bundled into the carrot flower cutout rings, a babybel cheese with the flower cutout, walnuts, plum vinegar bunny, cucumber pickle, sesame tofu, and Andy the Axe-Murderer (hard boiled egg).

I don't know why making a simple friendly egg face always gets me this type of scary result.

This furoshiki with little rabbits frolicking or staring at the moon is my favorite. Why do rabbits frolic in the moonlight on so many Japanese art works? Is there a rabbit mythology?

There's a "moon viewing festival" in Japan and there's a rabbit on the moon:


The festival of 'O-tsukimi' is the moon viewing festival based on the Japanese Folk Tale of 'The rabbit in the Moon'. From this Folk Tale the Japanese people have believed since long ago, that rabbits lived on the moon. Even today in Japan, the moon is pictured with the scene of a rabbit or rabbits making mochi (pounded rice cakes).

During this time the moon has a special name 'Chuushuu-no-meigetsu' which in English means 'the picturesque moon of mid-autumn'. This moon occurs during July, August and September in Japan on the lunar calendar. During the months of September and October, the weather in Japan is clear with few clouds and the moon is all the more beautiful, perfect for 'Otsukimi'.

The Japanese people celebrate 'O-tsukimi' by making 'Moon viewing rice balls' and collecting 'Aki-no-nan' which are the typical flowering grasses of autumn. These are bush clover, pampas grass, arrowroot, fringed pink, patrinia palmata, agueweed and Chinese bellflower. After the rice balls are made, and the 'Aki-no-nan' collected, they are offered to the gods to pray for a good harvest on their crops for a year.

The story of 'The rabbit in the Moon' is a story about the Old-Man-of-the-Moon who one day looked down into a big forest on Earth and saw three friends sitting together around a fire. These three were a rabbit, a monkey and a fox. On deciding to find out which of the three is the kindest, he goes down to Earth and changes himself into a beggar. He asks the three friends to help him and that he is very hungry, on hearing this they all run of to find him some food. The monkey brought back a lot of fruit to the man and the fox brought back a big fish. However, the rabbit is unable to find any food for the man, and so asks the monkey to gather some firewood and the fox to build a big fire with the wood. Once the fire was burning very brightly, the rabbit explained to the beggar that he didn't have anything to give him, so he will put himself in the fire and when he is cooked the beggar could eat him. Just before the rabbit jumped into the fire the beggar turned back into the Old-Man-of-the-Moon and told the rabbit that he was very kind, and that he shouldn't do anything to harm himself. Because he decides that the rabbit is the kindest of the three, he takes him back to the moon to live with him.

That is why the Japanese people believe that if they look carefully at the moon when it is shining brightly, they can see the rabbit there, where the old man put him so very long ago."

(This info comes from Latrobe University Australia's website, from what looks to be a student project on Japanese folk tales. Thanks Elisha Brooks and yay for student mythology projects!!)

So maybe these little bunnies are celebrating Otsukimi!

Or maybe they're just happy that It's Friday!! YAAAAY!!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hasty Bento for a Thursday

Jan's bento for today had to be fast, because we were up late at his birthday dinner and watching "Flatliners" to celebrate. How appropriate for his X0'th birthday, to watch a movie about people visiting the afterlife! That didn't occur to me until this morning...

Anyway I had wanted to make inari zushi but that is going to have to wait. (I bought some ready made tofu pockets in Madison and froze them; we'll see how they do after freezing.)

Anyway one of my favorite hurry-up bentos involves tortilla wraps in whatever way. today they have cream cheese, soy vegetarian "taco filling" which is amazingly good, and spicy sprouts. I stuffed little sugar snap peas in amongst the pinwheels, and added a container of hot chili sauce.

I also made him some white peach and lime salsa which smells heavenly, and put in some celery for dipping. Peanut butter pretzels with a few recreational wasabi peas, in the lid of bear bento and he is ready for the day!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Which Bento Boxes are Microwave Safe?

OnceUponAnEquine wondered about bentos and the microwave.

All these bento boxes are microwave safe to 140 degrees centigrade, which seems to be a common threshold -- that applies to the container and not the lid. Most lids are not recommended for microwaving; Hello Kitty in the picture has an inner seal around the edge of the lid that shouldn't be heated, some of the other lids have inlay, painted designs, or a lacquery finish that shouldn't go into the micro.

So my bento for today:

has a non-microwaveable outer and inner lid but can otherwise be heated. I love this little blue bento! It has a lift-out divided compartment for small amounts of something wet; today I put ginger jam and honey chestnuts in that, and yogurt beside it. The big section has chili hot beans, jasmine rice, tofu stripes, and miso zucchini.

The top of this box has the most wonderful little slogan:


This applies to many life situations, such as academia, where I work, and where the BS factor often suits this slogan; or happiness, which sometimes just floats up around us that much...the little seal and fishies are slightly 3-D and the texture of this box is satiny.

Finally here is a photo of my 2 exhausted poochies, after their morning constitutional today:

Poor Gabey is trying to hold onto his favorite chair, but Rufus is trying to butt him out; very typical.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June is Spa Month at Casa Mia

So I have declared June to be a month of health and exercise and right eating, in which bentos will play a major role. It's spa month! I'm going to start every day with a juice of the raw things pictured above: carrots, a small apple, fresh ginger, a small lemon, and some rhubarb. this is very tasty - I'm always surprised how much sweetness that one little apple contributes.

Then I have a few other "include" resolutions, such as dark green leafy vegetables as in today's bento:

Kale sauteed in sesame oil, a chicken andouille sausage with dill pickle sections on lobster skewers, some neat hot sauce in the little container, cute mochi, pink grapefruit, and wasabi peas.

Sriracha hot chili sauce is my latest craving; I wake up thinking about it. It's great on greens, chips, meat, celery, eggs, you name it. Not firy hot, and very flavorful.

And then there's:

My new exercise coach Jillian... 30 Days of Shred! At the end she says 'You have just been shredded". Jillian is just sinister enough to be intimidating, as in "Don't you dare think about taking a break!" I love it. There are 3 levels and I will probably content myself with level 1 for quite a time; it is enough.

Also plan to take the dogs for a one hour walk 4 days a week. Plan already being implemented; doggies exhausted the rest of the day.

Daily bento, some cooking experiments, and drink lots of water.

So that's my June Spa Month plan. Hope I stick to it.