Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Return of the Emo-Octodogs

Jan's bento for today features some of my pride-and-joy gyoza, and also the return of the octodog - that terrifying Japanese snack consisting of a hot dog with facial features and eight legs. I made one face smiling and the other threatening an axe murder. This is good. Life should include both aspects don't you think?

In addition I carved a hard-boiled egg into a 'design', and included a chickie pick with cajun smoked cheese cubes. Then there's a rice salad with kalamata olives and sweet peppers, and a brownie bite to add the sweet conclusion. What a mixed up lunch. It's snowing and sleeting as I write, and that's mixed up too since it is supposed to be spring I think...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Sunshine Bento

I see Blogger has decided this image should appear sideways. Can't figure out what to do about that so...

Yesterday the sun came out fiercely for awhile, and even though it was still frakkin cold (BSG technical term here), some students around campus wore a touch of summer. I saw: young lady in flip flops and a down jacket; young lady in Ugg boots, shorts, and a full length wool coat; young man barefoot and in shorts, with goose bumps and slightly blue knees.

This is a time honored ritual in northern Minnesota: Welcome Spring! We are uncomfortable in these summer duds but we are bull headed and dang it we are wearing them regardless.

My sideways bento has: gyoza which I made myself!, umeboshi onigiri, broccoli, home-made yogurt with also home-made cranberry topping yumty yum, and a nice big orange in the sunshine. In bento lid: a Fig Newton. Good times for a Monday!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Karaoke Recovery Gyoza

Last night we went to a birthday party at which extremely loud karaoke singing was the big event, or the only event really, because no conversation was remotely possible.

Now karaoke. Who invented it and What Were They Thinking? Did it seem like a good idea to invite people to massacre other people's favorite songs? I guess it was marketable anyway since karaoke shortly conquered the world.

At last night's event, the 'funniest thing' was this: if you don't know the song, just squawk the lyrics in loud 'funny' voice as the words light up. I came home with my ears ringing and regretting the conversations I could maybe have had. Call me an old grumpus, but I had awful karaoke nightmares all night long.

So this morning to recover I made gyoza for the first time. I had bought some 'pot sticker wraps' last week, hoping they would work in the little gyoza squeezer I named "Jaws". Sure enough they were perfect. I chopped up Savoy cabbage, pork roast leftovers, ginger, and green onion; added a splash of mirin and one of soy sauce; pepper and a tad of corn starch.

I made a 'sealing paint' of one tablespoon corn starch, one tablespoon water. Then I went to work making little pillows of goodness! What fun. Here's is my pile of gyoza fresh from Jaws:

By sheer luck, I had almost exactly the right amount of filling for this pack of wraps. Since this will never happen to me again as long as I live, I took a picture:

I froze half and cooked up the other half for today's lunch or dinner. Really I just wanted to cook them & see how they tasted! They are terrific.

As you can see I got carried away frying them and some are too dark. These will be the first to go!

Success; I almost can't hear the ghastly karaoke caterwauling any more. When the song "YMCA" came up, everyone sang and danced. The host of the party had a philosophical moment: "Isn't this an interesting statement about human nature? The stupidest song is the one that makes everyone happy". That song does have some strange power over people, myself included.

Happy weekend everyone!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Pad Thai with Substitutions

At 5 this morning I decided to make Pad Thai for Jan's bento. Here's my thought process lying in bed in the dark:

"What goes into pad thai? I have some noodles, shrimp, chili sauce, blah blah...I bet I could make that this morning! I'll get a recipe on the internet!"

Looking up a recipe I had to realize what I did not have on hand, so my 'pad thai' is pretty unorthodox. No rice noodles, substitute soba. No fresh coriander, sub in fresh cilantro. No tamarind, but apparently this is a common plight for cooks because I got about 100 hits searching for "don't have tamarind?" Lime juice with brown sugar is the standard fallback.

Anyhoo it was fun to make and too easy so I think I might have come across a nonstandard recipe with shortcuts. Oh well! It smells great.

Jan also has: a salad, some cucumber slices with ume plum vinegar, and King Peep in all his glory. TGIF bento babes!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bento Cowgirl

Jan's bento this a.m. is wrapped in my favorite 'furoshiki' which is really just a bandanna he gave me for my birthday a few years ago; it depicts a typical session of me riding one of my nice quiet horses. :)

His bento is:

Carrot-lime slaw (yummm), egg salad cup, grape tomatoes, and Savoy cabbage sauteed with sesame oil, a green onion, and some shreds of red pickled ginger; then hoisin sesame pork, a nice fresh umeboshi onigiri made late last night, chocolate oatmeal bite and marshmallow Peep.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MexiBento and Furoshiki

Jan gets: soy'meat' burrito roll slices with cream cheese, black beans, cottage cheese, and salsa; salad from last night's dinner salad with a little olive oil container and a slice of lime to squeeze over it, baked tortilla strips.

Today's bento being in the larger container which has no 'belt', I used a furoshiki to tie it together - so the pretty cloth is actually doing a functional job instead of being just decorative! Two jobs because it is holding a Cadbury cream egg also!!

This furoshiki (is that singular or plural??) came with instructions; Japanese people use these pretty cloth squares for gift wrap, lunch wrap, other presentation modes, shopping bags, purses, book bags, everything. And they are reused, gifted along, they live a life of their own. How much better than our endless throwaways and plastic bags! How did our culture get on this wasteful path?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bento Masculine or Feminine?

On another bento board I was reading a post by a young woman who is starting to make bento for her male room-mate; she wanted ideas for 'masculine' foods. Are there such things? I think I know what she meant, and that one post was the reason I added skillet chili fries to Jan's bento this morning.

He has: MachoMan quiche, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and a super masculine pumped up daikon chickie on top; chili fries with jalapenos (UNGH!!), orange sections with little heart-shaped grapes on top just like ripped biceps; Pocky (hey I've seen boys eat it!) in the lid.

I have much the same except in my case it is: lovely lite quiche, veggies and olives with a kyoot widdle daikon chickie on top, oranges, grapes, and a bright red marshmallow Peep.

So I think we are OK with the gender boundaries. Phew, that was close.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Coloring

I'm pretty happy with how colorful Jan's bento is today, partially thanks to the violent-red marshmallow Peep - heavens I love these things! I think they are filled with secret vitamins. I'm glad they are just seasonal though. If I could eat them all the time I would come to resemble one.

Jan is getting: gyoza and pork roast, broccoli, grapes, a little whaley full of soy/mirin sauce for the gyoza, cherry tomato and sweet pepper 'flowers', and Mr. Peep in all his glory surrounded by Easter colored M&M's.

Happy Monday and Happy Bento!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ethnic Mixup Bento

I woke up this morning after confused dreams about my Southern childhood, with a craving for some of those foods like corn bread and fried chicken. The result is this bento for Jan which has gyoza, sweet peppers stuffed with nice mustardy egg salad like my mother used to make it, asparagus and strawberries, Pocky in the lid, and mini corn muffins on the side.

A big tradition was the summer 'family reunion', and everyone brought their best cooking to this event. How I miss those incredible afternoons, where the only danger was that someone's coconut cake frosting would melt in the Florida heat, or Uncle someone would fall off the porch drunk. Those were the days.

My bento for today is just like his:

except no Pocky because this bento box doesn't have a lid compartment. :(

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Popular Misery" and Stuffed Cabbage

Among the bento blogs that I tour around and view, FrenchBento is one of my favorites for inducing a feeling of miserable inferiority. Just kidding; actually she has some fabulous ideas and the way she describes them often has a touch of humor that I enjoy.

It seems that on Sunday she made little bento packets of stuffed cabbage wrapped around with kitchen twine. They are so cute, and they are indeed the kind of thing that I can imagine making, and having them turn out to be just ghastly looking monstrosities.

Here's her photo of the bento with stuffed cabbage leaves:

She gives a quick description of how she made them, and if you use the Google translator you get this:

"Also in the broth, place the cabbage, a large carrot, an onion pique of cloves, a large piece of black radish turnip failing, and popular misery.
J'ai laissé cuire à petits bouillons pendant une heure. I left to cook small bubbles for an hour. "

I love it! That's how I often feel when trying out a new recipe. That lady packs a beautiful bento too.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My First Carrot Kinpira

I love carrots in any form so I've been wanting to try carrot kinpira, a traditional bento 'filler', for several weeks now. The obstacle was "matchstick-size carrot pieces". Well finally this morning at 5 a.m. I decided to face the matchsticking. It is indeed time-consuming. I wonder if there's a 'matchstick-carrot' setting on any food processor I could afford?!

But from there, it was so easy: tiny amount of sesame oil, stir fry about 4 minutes, tiny splash of soy sauce, sprinkle of sugar if you like (I left that out), fry a little more and done. I think these are going to be really good.

Jan also has: Savoy cabbage stir fried with a splash of mirin and red pepper flakes, skewers of bratwurst leftover from barbecue Sunday evening and cherry tomatoes; crispy corn cakes, cheese, apple slices with fairy sprinkles, and a brownie bite.

I have:

Egg salad with jalapeno, sesame sushi rolls, sweet pepper slices with a bottle of ume plum vinegar; kinpira, apple slices with fairy sprinkles, and a brownie bite.

I got the apple-sprinkles idea from Maisie's Bento, a blog by a mom who makes the cutest little lunches for her daughter Maisie.

I had briefly contemplated a St. Patrick's Day bento but...imagination failed me. I bet there are some amazing ones out there though; I'm going to search for them later today.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Musubi Monday!

Spam musubi! Legendary fast food of Hawaii, eaten by President Obama, available at convenience stores on Oahu; ever since I heard of it I have been jonesing to make it and eat it.

I was out of nori; there's supposed to be a pretty nori ribbon around the middle of each one so, fail there. But I think these are going to be interesting.

Jan and I have a thing for Spam. It's not so much the taste; but there's something cute about it. We have visited the Spam museum in Austin MN. We have lusted for jalapeno Spam and found it hard to locate. We own Spam t-shirts. So this snack is Destiny for me.

There are variations in musubi recipes; some call for browning the Spam in soy sauce and brown sugar; some call for sprinkling furikake over the rice; some or most really have the Spam in the middle and rice on the outside. I chose to brown the Spam with nothing on a nonstick fry pan, no furikake, and two Spam layers around the sushi rice.

Getting the other lid off the Spam can was the hardest part:

You can see how I struggled. I ended up using a kitchen shears; the can opener just couldn't get a purchase. You use the can for a mold, and wetting it on the inside makes the musubi slide right out once done.

Here's Jan's bento of the day:

He has: Spam musubi, egg salad cup, sweet pepper rings around cherry tomatoes, a sweet pepper stuffed with Cajun smoked gouda cheese, and a rollup of Savoy cabbage around dill pickles spread with mustard; asparagus with olive oil and spice marinade, and a brownie bite.

The pickle thing struck me as 'brilliant':

All morning the mustard and the Savoy leaf will have a little flavor conversation.

Here's my bento for today:

Very similar except mine is a strawberry and asparagus salad: my favorite spring salad hands down. Lightly steamed asparagus, really almost underdone, with salt, olive oil, a sprinkle of black pepper and strawberries. Simple and perfect. It just hollers spring at me whenever I taste it. I squeeze the lime over it just before eating; if you add lemon or lime juice earlier, it can cause the asparagus to yellow (still tastes fine but isn't as pretty).

Happy spring and Happy Spam!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stars Under My Lid!!

I was ridiculously happy to pack these little carrot stars into the lid of my bento on Friday. I sprinkled a little salt over them and they were a wonderful treat alongside the other things: two onigiri, some furikake (this one has just black sesame seeds and some kind of puffy salt particles, and is very yum), veggies, two dates, walnuts, a babybel cheese, a soy hard boiled egg which had apparently been through mortal combat and just barely survived, and a brownie bite.

We get eggs from our Food Farm and they are so fresh - they've usually been laid the day before or even that very day, and by happy hens who have a hen playground and dine on organic vegetables, kind of living in Hen Heaven.

The down side of fresh eggs is they really aren't the best to hard boil. Even when I wait until the end of the week to boil up some eggs for bento, they can still be the dickens to peel. They taste great though.

Jan's bento had chili from the night before, basmati rice (so fragrant! I love basmati), skewers of celery and little cubes of cajun smoked gouda cheese, sugar snap peas, a few M&M's and a brownie bite. I am always trying to keep his carbs low for the diabetes so this chili had very few kidney beans, and a lot of meat - not my style of cooking ordinarily.

You can see both these bentos are short on veggies. It's interesting that's the thing I leave to last and Oh! can't fit it in. I need to readjust my priorities! I'm thinking these are too protein heavy. I dunno - I am still working on the classical bento formula: "Traditionally, bento includes a wide variety of both textures and flavors, split in a 4:3:2:1 ratio (rice, side dish, vegetables, dessert)".

My own substitute would be: 4 parts dessert, 3 parts fruit, 2 parts rice, one part protein. Probably not a good idea!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Sadness of Bento

Some bento boxes have a somewhat sad inscription on them. I think these are recent or trendy ones rather than 'classic' bento boxes which were simply functional and cute.

Goodbye flowers! The two birds want to fly together, "That we may experience a good journey!"

There is something poignant and lonely about some bento ideas. For example, imagine the competition among Japanese school children whose moms are doing character bento for their little ones. Not that this one is representative of a school lunch bento but:

It can get crazy artistic, and then someone eats it. Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote a book entitled Tragic Sense of Life. One of its ideas is that we are creatures who seek out permanence, but who are in fact temporary. Bento seems to be a great statement about the solution: create something beautiful that gets eaten up, enjoyed, that has to permanently say "Goodbye!" but also lives in its moment perfectly, eternally, beautifully. This is a new idea for me: food as a way of seeking beautiful immortality in the present moment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting my Bento Groove

This week for the first time I feel like a bento-making machine. I think I have finally gotten the bento concept into my soul, or at least my version of the bento concept: variety, aiming for the protein-grain-vegetable balance, color, cuteness and gizmos like picks and stuff, and delighting Jan with something that says love.

So I have not been so much standing in the kitchen at 6 a.m. racking my brain, as ticking over different ideas and thinking yes or no, nice thought but not today, and then YES.

This bento had ham and egg roll-ups, Savoy cabbage stir-fried in sesame oil and 2 cheese hearts on top, two of my best rice balls ever! with furikake container, skewers of sausage and shrimp seared in hot chili oil, sugar snap peas and a couple of cherry tomatoes. Oh and Pocky in the lid, thanks to Avie's BentoMovie Network which told me Pocky fits in bento lids - to quote my favorite movie of all time Princess Bride, "Brilliant!!"

Today's bento has some of the same things:

More of my pride-n-joy rice balls, cherry tomatoes, pork cutlet from last night's dinner, monkey with ketchup, furikake shaker (Jan has discovered he loves furikake, at least this one which is sesame, nori, and spices), hard-boiled egg with salami hearts and mixed chili pepper on top, a couple of random celery chunks, and a brownie bite wrapped in foil.

Bento has changed my way of grocery shopping too; I look for small things, color, shape, pick potential, and cuteness. This has to be good!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bento Shopping Snack

Saturday we had many weary shopping-type errands, and I am not a very hardy shopper so I packed us a snack bento:

I was thrilled to discover that an English muffin fits perfectly ( with just a little smooshing!) into each layer of this Chinese bento box which has two little ghost-looking creature-heads on it and says


beside them. I fried tofu slices in some sesame oil and put a thin layer of Dijon mustard on each muffin side, plus lettuce. It was terrific! We needed them after being overwhelmed by the entire wall of flip flops which had appeared in Target:

There were two young ladies trying them on furiously, and one said to the other,

"I go through a pair of flip flops in a month".

Does she run marathons in them?

But O how I wish I had a 6-year old daughter who could wear these!

Can't you just see these, standing at the bus stop, all of life ahead of them, ready for mud puddles and spring?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bubble Tea: Rhymes with 'Catastrophe'

You can't always get what you want. Someone should write a song about that.

Lots of interest in bubble tea lately in the blogosphere, and I decided to try my hand at getting some ingredients and making it at home. Does it look refreshing and tasty?

It was blech, bleaach, ptooey, awful.

1. "Yer doin it wrong." Yes, I made a bad mistake while cooking the giant tapioca. Can't add tapioca to cold water and bring it up to a boil, then forget to stir. You will produce a giant evil looking gelatinous mass.

2. "Caveat Emptor". Ordering online is a fun adventure but you should expect the occasional bad choice or random substitution by someone in a warehouse in California who just wants to get off work dammit and go home.

3. "Better living through chemistry" doesn't always hold. Specifically, mango flavored powder whose ingredient list reads like your brother's Christmas chemistry set lo those many years ago is going to disappoint you.

4. My husband is a saint: He drank it all and struggled with getting the glob colonies to travel up the straw, almost to the point of turning his head inside out, and then said, "it's not really all THAT bad".

The good news? It went down the drain without a struggle. The bad news? I have 4 3/4 pounds of giant black tapioca pearls in my refrigerator, and about 2 pounds of methyl-ethyl-cellulose mango substitute in the pantry. Partay!!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bento of Cute Overload

Jan's bento is as kyoot as I could make it this morning. He has: jalapeno egg salad, tabouli salad made with kashi and soybeans, keftedes, grapes, triscuits and a Babybel cheese, wasabi peas, and a Korean cake/cookie from Madison.

To kyoot it up I added little animal picks in the grapes, a teensy dill pickle on a blue plastic lamb fork, and (my current pride & joy!) little monkey face sauce containers with ketchup and Kewpie mayonnaise for the keftedes. Inside each monkey is a teensy spatula for spreading the sauce! Can you top that??!! (I KNOW Avie can...)

When I started making Jan bento lunches, they were all for the Zojirushi Mr. Bento and my purpose was to keep him from going to the candy machine at work or running out of energy, while also staying within the diabetes nutritional guidelines.

OK I think that is working - but can we also reach his cute threshold? Mr. Bento is very 'masculine' in a way: sleek aluminum, uniform diameter round containers. The crazy merriment that is bento at its best, is hard to work into Mr. Bento. So this week I am on the cute mission. Octo-dogs incoming!!

Here's my own lunch, in the black sheep shopping bento that I adore:

Same stuff but more grapes for the fruit-bat in my soul.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Thai Restaurant Bento!

How good is this?

1. New Thai restaurant within walking distance of my house.

2. Food and atmosphere are both super. Spring salad rolls - oh my were these terrific.

3. Proprietor is giving FREE Thai cooking classes every Sunday, and a new series of 4 classes starts this Sunday - we are going to be there! You get to eat what you cook. This Sunday it's sauces and basic herbs.

4. Our waiter introduced himself and shook hands after the meal, and said he'd be looking for us again now that he knows Jan likes his food super-hot.

5. We had leftover green curry beef for our bentos this morning.

6. We had dessert of fresh cut mango and sticky coconut rice that was so good it could almost make you cry.

Also in the bentos today are cheese and parsley microwave omelettes from JustBento's recipe file. These cooked up just as described but when rolled in paper towel to set, they did stick. I'd use the plastic wrap next time. We also have salad with baby greens, grapes, and sakura flowers of cheese, a little stick of smoked mozzarella 9Jan liked yesterday) and Jolly Jelly to cheer us up through the budget crisis that's raging on my campus.

Oh and Jan expressed a desire to take Mr. Panda Bento to work so he will. For the picture I put crazy teeth on him or maybe he's just been eating bamboo...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Double Trouble Bento

Two different bentos: mine is the panda and Jan gets the pretty butterflies, just for a change from industrial Mr. Bento.

There is: fried rice, sesame and hot-oil fried red cabbage, quail eggs, veggies, daikon butterflies and their outlines, steak strips, a chunk of smoked mozzarella,
soy bottles, and a cake or cookie for me (love the sweets!).

I love these little animal picks:

A sweetness comes from having many different bento boxes and possibilities. I love the idea of lunch made beautiful and environmentally sound and nutritious...in a panda bento!! Life is good indeed.

Happy Koi Bento!

I love this fishy but I can see he has one drawback: no inner lids, so this yogurt might prove to have been a mistake. Cold sesame udon, shoyu tamago, red chard with daikon butterfly; home-made yogurt (yay!) with cranberry topping, cookie-cake from Asian grocery in Madison. Picture me trying to get this to the car, to campus, and to my office without tilting it even the tiniest bit. A challenge.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Monday's Child is Fair of Face..."

Remember that old poem? Monday's bento is kind of simple:

Jalapeno egg salad, honey tangerine sections (yum), Uncle Paul's bread (double yum) and sugar snap peas. Added: Pocky sticks and a tiny lichi cookie from the Asian grocery in Madison.

Uncle Paul's Bread comes from a local bakery called Positively 3rd Street. I love everything they make: they are true old-fashioned hippies with the munchies, and the last item in all their ingredient lists is "love".

This weekend I made my own yogurt!!

One of the reasons I got interested in bento was to reduce the amount of plastic I send to landfills. Our university's food service went over to the dark side adopting a fast food station-model a few years ago, and the result is tray after tray of waste plastic, styrofoam, and paper dumped into the trash all day long. Even bringing lunch from home seems to produce little wads of plastic wrap -- unless it is bento: Yay for bento!!

But now I am looking at all aspects of my life for more plastic to eliminate: have gone to bar shampoo, so no more shampoo & conditioner bottles. Have gone to glass bottle milk so drag the bottles back every week and feel good-old-fashioned. And now! Yogurt, a staple food in my life, but how bout those plastic tubs it comes in? So I tried making my own and it worked!!

I used these directions. It required buying a candy thermometer and an electric heating pad, both of which can be used for other things like...candy and heat I guess. It was really easy except for one thing: the auto shut-off safety feature which heating pads all have now, to keep us from heating ourselves to death.

This meant I had to manually switch the &%$# thing back on every hour for 7 hours. So much for my little scheme of making yogurt while I sleep at night. Oh well. I'll be looking in thrift stores for one of the old death-trap heating pads now.