Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Bento of Delights

Jan's bento for today includes (left) fruits, pickles, and wasabi peas mixed with M&M's; (right) a baked spring roll, a couple of sushi rice balls, shrimp quick-fried in hot chili oil on skewers, placed on a bed of lacinato kale seared in sesame oil, with a soy bunny and a plum sauce container stuffed in the sides.

I love these little crab and lobster skewers:

They were marketed as "cocktail spears" but they screamed BENTO to me!! The lobsters and crabs have kyoot widdle eyeballs!!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Baked Spring Rolls: The Movie!

Well today I made baked spring rolls and I also made a little movie about the process. I was trying to avoid uploading 12 separate photos of my process. The spring rolls are awesome! Except I could not find fresh plums so I made the plum sauce with prunes. It turned out well, with a nice creamy consistency. But would for sure have been better if I'd had nice juicy plums.

Here's my movie:

For the filling I had chopped cabbage, carrot, and green onion, diced up firm tofu, and ginger. I fried all this in a tiny amount of sesame oil.

And then I was able to send some home with these two angels:

My son Brian and his girlfriend Carly, who headed back to Madison just an hour ago.

I also gave Carly a bento box filled with road snacks!! They have great Asian groceries in Madison...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting along with Sushi Rice

I've made some progress in my quest for good sticky shapeable sushi rice technique. At first I almost gave up: I would get it too dry, too wet, not properly cooked, you name it.

There was a moment of decision in the grocery store: buy a 10-pound bag of Tokyo Rose short grain rice and just keep experimenting until I get it, or give up?

At this personal Rubicon, I crossed into Rome and dragged home the giant amount of rice.

As of yesterday (knock on wood), I think I have become able to tell when the rice is 'ready' for each stage of its progress: when it has been rinsed enough, when it has soaked enough, when it's cooked, steamed, and most important: when it has enough of the tasty rice vinegar liquid added back to make it just right for shaping. This is a huge victory for me!! there have been numerous defeats and some rice has fallen by the wayside...

My favorite way to bring rice in my bento lunches is just these small plain shapes with no stuffing inside: little cylinders and little spheres. A little sesame on top maybe and furikake to shake over at the last minute.

I got a whole pan of little shapes out of one cup of rice, and was able to serve them to my younger son and his lovely girlfriend who showed up unexpectedly from Wisconsin for a weekend visit. I also thawed some gyoza for them (note to self: don't freeze gyoza all in a lump and you won't have to cry trying to get them apart when they're thawing), made soba noodles with sauce, Wasabi Roasted Vegetables*, meatballs dipped in hoisin, and gunpowder bancha tea. My younger son is a Japanophile from way back and so getting to serve him some of my new bento-directed creations was a long-anticipated pleasure. (He taught himself conversational Japanese to an impressive degree and has been there twice for extended visits! I loved showing him my bento stuff and especially Avie's crab hotdog cutter!)

Wasabi Roasted Vegetables

Heat oven to 425.
Rinse and cut a pound or pound and a half of any vegetables into bite-size pieces: I used carrots, spring onions, and asparagus; anything will work though and green beans and zucchini would be terrific.
In a cup, whisk together 1-2 TB water, 1 TB soy sauce, 1 TB sesame oil and your estimated tasty amount of wasabi powder - I used about 3/4 TSP.
Arrange veggies on a cookie sheet, pour wasabi mixture over to coat evenly.
Roast in oven for about 12 minutes, longer if your vegetable pieces are large.

These would travel in bento really well and they were super-tasty, sweet, with just a hint of wasabi-ness.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Yummy Cream Cookies from Avie

These little bear cookies were so good! They had a chocolate cream filling, and each little bear-shaped cookie was stamped with a picture of a bear doing something different: dancing, eating honey, all they were so fun I hated to eat them except for the nomminess. Thanks Avie!

This bento was an idea I got from Honey She's Twisted: to make anything more nutritious, just add spinach or greens. I had this lovely lacinato kale, and some leftover basmati rice, so I just stirfried some green onion and ginger in sesame oil, threw in the chopped kale for a few minutes, threw in the rice and some soy sauce, then made the little cave in the middle of the wok and cooked up two eggs in the cave, then mixed it all together.

It was dynamite! Great tip Honey. I'll be doing this a lot. I love greens like spinach and kale and chard, but sometimes a great pile of them on a plate is daunting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bentos of Spring

This one I threw together really fast using the wild rice cranberry bread I got on Sunday in my Co-op foray and just a bunch of raw things. It was great for the day: sunny, warm, t-shirt weather as we say here in the frozen north. The only cooked thing is the baby zucchini I quick-fried and stuffed in next to the peanut butter sandwich.

This bento was an island in a hectic day of meetings. Meetings! Wouldn't the working world be a better place without them? If someone enacted a ban on meetings, what would we miss? Not the sad little 'bars' that no one really wants but almost everyone will eat if they are set out on a plastic tray. Not the terrible coffee. And we could use all that time for bento!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Bento Changed my Dinner Habits

Before I got into making bento lunches, I never really thought about the colors of food. Oh I must have noticed them sometimes but now I am obsessed with color and texture. This dinner started out as the square of egg casserole and a ?? about what else to add. It ended up with beautiful green kale sauteed in sesame oil, cherry tomatoes, a baby zucchini I threw in the skillet after the kale and made just barely tender, cute little olives, and two lovely radishes. Woot.

Benefits of bento just keep on coming! This morning before work I am going to ride a horse and walk the dogs. It's finally getting warm enough so that these activities don't sound like torture!

Happy Wednesday to you!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

YAY!! Avie's Treat Box Arrived!! NomNom Nom

A magical mystery package arrived yesterday and it was filled with delights! I won Avie's bento giveaway by whining about my birthday, which made me feel guilty later but what a lovely outcome. This gorgeous collection of nommy and fragrant treats will give us great joyluck and happiness:

We haz little candies:

We haz little cakes:

We haz this little dude who appears to be wearing a cookpot on his head:

And we haz bubble tea in several varieties:

A device for turning a hot dog into a crab (I think):

which I cannot wait to try.

What a barrel of fun!! Avie, I've said it before and I'll say it again; You are Simply the Best!

Now I need to pay it forward and have a giveaway myself! And by the way, do you think Tina Turner has such great legs because she eats bento?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Morning Bento Factory

Today's bentos show the results of a terrific Co-op shopping trip yesterday morning early.

Our co-op gets crowded at times so I try to sneak in before the mob of organic moms and Birkenstock dads and vitamin-chomping robust seniors and super-articulate kids flood the aisles (how many stereotypes can I get in before 8 a.m.?). Seriously, yesterday one little toddler said to his mother: "If I behave cooperatively all the way home, what will I get?" He could not have been talking for more than 6 months and he can use 6-syllable words? His mom said, "We have already had this conversation." And he then shut up. Miracle.

Anyway my biggest score was the curry lentil stuff that is the anchor of today's lunch. You literally just pour boiling water over it and you have your curry lentil dish. This would be such great horse-camping food. It tastes fantastic.

So I made some fresh sweet basmati rice this morning to go with it, and then realized I couldn't give Jan both lentils and rice - too carby for him - so I am the only rice bento today.

Otherwise we have snappy little green Castelvetano olives (never heard of them but they are dynamite), teensy organic tangerines that just made me think BENTO when I spotted them, ribbon-cut raw carrots, gorgeous radishes that are so cool and sweet, strawberries that were on sale but still not cheap, cheese, Jan gets half a hard-boiled egg, I get walnuts, Pocky in our lids thanks to Avie who pointed out this handy substitute for chopsticks!

Happy Monday to everyone!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello Salad!!

Hello Kitty bento is great for a salad on a warm spring morning. I was surprised today when I went to let the dogs out - it wasn't cold!! Nobody will be in class today - we always have mass absences on these first few nice days. The students will drag heavy furniture out onto their rental lawns and drink beverages while waving at passers-by. No thoughts of calculus or chemistry will be allowed!

Today I also have put peach nectar in the little "Scribble Pig!" thermos. It says in French: "Scribble on an aluminum thermos!" Very self-referential and even....existential I think.

The only thing even remotely Asian about this bento is the rice vinegar in the salad dressing; otherwise it's just a big ole American salad for a warm spring day.

Weekend incoming!! Hope it's great for you!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday Throw-Together Bento

I wasn't even going to make a bento for today - short work day, department heads meeting this afternoon cancelled WOO HOO one less morose discussion of budget cuts! But I threw this together thinking I might get hungry...must take care of baby.

It has: an Easter egg filled with nuts and mints, pink grapefruit sections, hard boiled egg, umeboshi onigiri, Thai coleslaw, and a chocolate in the lid. Lookit my new penguin bento belt:

How cheerful is that???

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kitty Bento Packing

I seem to be addicted to sending Jan's lunches in Hello Kitty these days. One of the co-workers said he would not be willing to carry this kyoot pink lunch box around the halls of our employment, "unless maybe it was black".

Is there a black version of Hello Kitty??

Anyway one thing I love about this single-space container with its domed face lid, is that you can really pack a lot of oddly assorted shapes into it and it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Today Jan has a bratwurst in a bun, cajun smoked cheese slices, celery and carrot strips, a nice big green onion, a container of ketchup, two frozen brownie bites, and another container of wasabi peas.

It's supposed to reach 50+ degrees here today and sunny - so I am going to try to sneak in a ride before I go to work. One of the joys of living in a harsh seasonal climate is watching everyone including myself go bonkers when the weather gets nice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Leftovers Bento

Jan got Easter leftovers yesterday. On the right: grilled brats, Thai coleslaw, asparagus and strawberry salad; on the left, 7-layer salad, olives, and a mixture of jelly beans and wasabi peas.

Today he is getting:

Hello Kitty with chicken-bacon salad, good bread our neighbors brought to dinner Sunday, fresh veggies, a dill pickle, a few Triscuits in the rosemary flavor Jan likes, and a marshmallow bunny.

I'm still debating whether to top off our bentos with cupcakes. OK debate over, cupcakes are in.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Krazy Easter Kupkakes

NQBR (not quite bento-related) but I enjoyed making these cupcakes based on Bakerella's recipe and instructions. The cupcake recipe itself turned out really well: a nice straightforward chocolate cake made with baking cocoa. And the buttercream frosting was nice on the not too sweet chocolate. Then of course loading the tops with extra candies etc. was a blast.

Hope everyone got their fill of marshmallow Peeps and other good things to celebrate spring! I also gave the dogs a bath this morning (Easter dog bath, old pagan custom?) and they smell like lavendar for the moment.

Here you see young Rufus has moved his nylabone chewing operation into Gabey's sunny spot, and poor Gabe has parked himself behind Rufus in futile protest. Life is so unfair. But seconds after this photo was taken, someone moved Rufus's hiney right out of there and Gabe moved up into his accustomed position.

Proving that all things come to those who wait.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Kitty Bento!

Hello Kitty Bento did not get Jan killed yesterday so she is going back today. Actually Kitty helped solve a few work-related problems during Jan's lunch yesterday as in "What Would Kitty Say?" (WWKS). So I am optimistic she will become part of Jan's IT team if she keeps on task.

Jan has: (from right) Cornmeal crusted chicken, daikon chickies and bunbuns, a sauce container for the Thai salad roll (buried), lots of raw veggies, a plastic Easter egg filled with egg salad, and two Peep bunbuns. I had meant to include the feathery green onion but decided it would make everything including the marshmallow bunnies smell like onion by lunchtime - it was a strong little dude. So onion is not going to work today.

Hey it's Easter weekend so everybody eat Peeps and Cadbury eggs, get a sugar high, and go bento shopping!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Hello Sailor!" Kitty goes with Jan today

At the risk of getting Jan teased by his co-workers at lunch, I am sending Hello Kitty bento with him today.

My 'concept' was right for this bento space and I could not make myself force it into any other box. I wanted to have a black bean and soy meat burrito resting in amongst fresh veggies, a sour cream alien, and a marshmallow peep on top. I can't wait to hear the reaction - from Jan OR his lunch friends. This could be the last time Kitty goes to ITSS lunch room.

My own bento is in rabbit usagi:

Edamame and Uncle Paul's bread; grape tomatoes, home-grown mung bean sprouts, egg salad, fresh kale and a few kalamata olives.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mmmm Leftover Chinese Takeout!!

Is there anything better?

1. It's free! You already paid for it anyway.

2. It got better overnight! The flavors sang little songs to each other all night long in your fridge.

3. It has no calories!

Jan's bento has some of his "Happy Family" entree, some of my pork egg foo yung, some fried rice that I actually made fresh this morning so that I could add some protein (the egg) and ginger, my special delight invention: SuperEasy Thai Salad (recipe below), a marshmallow peep, and a Korean cookie.

SuperEasy Thai Salad:

packaged coleslaw mix
Fresh cilantro, rinsed, dried, and chopped fine
green onion chopped
olive oil
fresh lime juice

Combine and enjoy! The cilantro and lime really give this salad a nice Thai kick and you can make it in 3 minutes or less. If you are a hot pepper person, adding one of these would really send it over the moon. I use a lot of cilantro, almost one part coleslaw mix, one part cilantro. It's very healthful and so good.

And: because I will probably never have 24 yellow roses in my kitchen again, here's a photo of the roses I gave the Mortar Board students on Monday:

This was so much fun and the students really responded well: all the class would burst into applause for the tapped one. I walked miles though -- from one end of the campus to the other all day long -- and my feet were really sore afterwards. Next year the students will do their own tapping in the way they see fit - I kinda hope it does not involve me walking 46 miles with an armload of roses.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thai Salad Rolls for Monday

We got some really pretty fresh cilantro at the Co-op yesterday so i decided the time had come to make Thai salad rolls for the first time ever. I'd found the wraps some time back and I was pretty scared about them; they had the consistency of plastic, and a basket-weave pattern on them. I thought they might be wonky to work with but: they were really cooperative! The soak time in hot water is crucial; too long and they turn to a little squiggle of wet mess, too short and they crack. But it was easy to tell when they were 'just right'. I filled them with a mixture of carrot, cucumber, green onion, cilantro, and rice noodles plus a sauce of soy, Sambal Oelek (red pepper sauce), hoisin, peanut butter, and fresh lime juice. The rest of the sauce goes for dipping after you make the rolls.

My bento for today has two salad rolls and a sauce container, cherry tomatoes, pink grapefruit, baby cheese and a brownie bite.

Jan has:

One salad roll (they are high in carbs), veggies, and cottage cheese with edamame; then a salad with bacon crumbles and kalamata olives, more veggies, and a corner of lemon cake.

Big day at work today as we are 'tapping' the new student members of Mortar Board; I have to go all their classes dressed in an academic gown, hand them a yellow rose and a scroll, and pronounce a magic spell over them to make them Mortar Board people. 22 class visits, 22 magic spells; the logistics are mind-boggling. I will need my bento to survive!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Hel-LOH KITTEH!" Part 2

NQBR (not quite bento-related!) but I couldn't resist posting this photo of my horse John with Orangey the barn cat. Orangey just showed up one day and he has had an adventurous career - he got lured into a crate, hauled off the vet and neutered; he got lured into a crate again and vetted for a cold or something, he got a fleece blankie made for him by my friend Kathy, he disappears for days on end and then suddenly he's back, and he loves certain horses.

This picture is from Saturday morning early when the barn was quiet, that is before the onslaught of young girls who make it a zoo on weekends. I made myself a Saturday bento so that when I came home all hungry from horsey fun, I would not just grab random food items:

There's a piece of roast chicken, two gyoza, carrots, snow peas, and radish; then sweet pickles, a babybel cheese, nuts, and a brownie bite. It was grand.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bento for my Baby Boy!!

My oldest baby boy came home for a surprise visit Friday! He practically gave me a heart attack showing up at my work office with no advance warning and having spread disinformation "No I can't come home this break - too busy!". I flashed through so many emotions seeing his beloved self appear around the corner: shock, fear (has he quit med school or something?!), joy, worry (I have work to do), on & on the emotional roller coaster that is loving someone absolutely and having a hostage to Fortune.

I made him a snack bento to take back to St. Louis:

This means that my 'healing of nature' bento is gone south temporarily - I'll maybe retrieve it.

But like all true fanatics, I tried to convert my son to the bento obsession. I told him to bring it to the lab with him, "just put rice in one layer and carrots in the other; you'll be glad you did! No plastic bags, no mess, great food."

I wonder if he will. I'm guessing, probably not. But I could be wrong.

He and Gabey (dog in above photo) are best friends and champion nap takers-together. So both dudes had a great visit involving some z's. Good times.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday Snack Bento; Jan Gets None

Today Jan has to eat his bento from yesterday because he went out to lunch with his group of lunch buddies yesterday. I hope his crackers aren't stale after sitting in the fridge at work all night.

My bento in the extraterrestrial ghost rabbit box from China is just a snack because I have a short day today. It's a good size snack though!

Mini-corn muffins, egg salad, a radish wall between them; carrots, walnuts, and grapes.

Our employer offers us $60 to fill out an online "Wellness Assessment" every year (and I'm sure they hope we'll be horrified into getting weller and using less health insurance). I was glad to see that the general addition of bento into our diet has resulted in more raw vegetables and fruit consumed, less meat, some weight loss from last year same time, and a complete lack of desire to share my inmost thoughts with some faceless 'wellness' corporation. "Do you experience anxiety in the workplace?" I ain't sayin.

But $60 will buy about 4 bento boxes!!!!!! No I'm quitting that; I have plenty. Famous last words.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Hello Kitty! bento arrived from China yesterday. I had to order two of these because my dog Rufus is giving one to a friend's cat as a gift. I had been uncertain about Kitty's size and thought it might be tiny, but as you see it is pretty big (it's next to my standard size bento box for comparison in the picture above). And the lid or Kitty's face domes up so there's even extra room.

"Hello Kitty" is a strange phenomenon; raging fad from Japan that has lasted for years and finally become a mass production commodity in the U.S. You can now buy Hello Kitty pajamas at Target. What does it mean? The strange little expressionless cat face stares back at us from a mysterious distance.

Kitty has: egg salad, raw veggies, grapes, babybel cheese, a brownie bite, and a slice of raisin toast.

Jan's bento is similar:

but also has salami-cheese rollups and the Ak-Mak crackers he likes, along with some wasabi peas for crunch.

We got an extra 6 inches of snow yesterday and that's no April Fool. I hope winter is almost finished with us; we are getting cranky.