Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Anime Fun!! "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds"

It doesn't usually take me 20 years to see a movie but with this one, it did.

OK I am little behind the cultural trends. "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds" was released by Studio Ghibli in 1984, based on a manga series that ran from 1982-1990. I got it from NetFlix with special features including a history of Studio Ghibli that was...not terribly exciting, except that it showed how many cigarettes Japanese men can smoke in a day - the overflowing ashtrays, the guys talking with cigarettes dangling from their lower lip, it was apparently a very smoky era for the anime movie.

Nausicaa is a great role model for girls, except for the fact that she appears to have given up wearing underwear.

She talks to trees and animals, she is utterly fearless, she collects botanical samples, she hates violence, she flies a glider with the skill of Luke Skywalker, and she saves the world.

The creature with the multiple eyes up above is called an Om, and when angered its eyes glow blood-red. The Oms on the march in this movie are visually stunning, as indeed is everything else about it. It is old-style drawn animation and has a peaceful beauty about it that digital animation lacks.

Set in a post-nuclear world like so many other films, this one shows a fragile culture kept non-toxic by the gracious winds which sweep in from the sea, and by a forest of trees who are hard at work cleansing the earth of toxins. The forest is misunderstood and feared by everyone except Nausicaa, who finally discovers its secret and thereby the key to saving human civilization.

There's a sad quality to the film: Nausicaa is battling against the inherent violence and aggression of humanity, and she almost loses the fight. We get a sense that another time, it might have gone differently, and we would all drown in a toxic sea of hatred and environmental poisons of our own creation.

Very pretty movie though and the award-winning sound track of ghostly themes and haunting songs is lovely too.

Studio Ghibli (pronounced zhee-blee, as they carefully explain, because "Gibbly sounds like a noise your stomach makes!") also produced many other blockbuster anime films in the 1990's including "My Neighbor Totoro", "Princess Mononoke", and more.

Years ago my younger son went through an anime phase and "Princess Mononoke" came and went through our lives but I paid no attention. What was I thinking? I missed a great chance to connect over Japanese films and lady heroes.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May you have many anime days.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hello Kitty Hello Sandwich!

It seems that packing a bento in a single-section container has its own challenges, more difficult than the two level containers with dividers. I'm slowly figuring out that if you really pack i.e. place everything right up against something else, the food arrives at noon in better condition - not shaken up and falling apart.

Here I made Jan a sandwich out of kalamata olive flat omelet, lunch meat, and cheese; then I stuffed a fresh sweet pepper with green olives and stashed that in the lower level. Granny Smith apple with peanut butter in the center, a pack of mystery snacks from the Asian grocery, sugar snap peas, mustard Kitty, and a small white chocolate pudding topped with chocolate chips. I put wooden picks through the sandwich layers to hold them together in transit.

My goal was to have the pudding arrive upright and sandwich still holding together and: Mission Accomplished.

Here's a photo of the types of picks I use. Jan is particularly amused by the somewhat phallic koala bear. The long slender ones are great for sandwich integrity.

These are all either from EBay sellers or J-List and are quite inexpensive.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bento Invades Dinner!!

Help! Bento is taking over my life.

Here you see yesterday's dinner, which I decided to put in the sectional flat bento boxes I haven't otherwise used much. I got home from work early and started making small amounts of: steamed broccoli splashed with mirin, winter Delicata squash with a bit of rice vinegar, sticky rice cylinders, shrimp quick-fried in hot chili oil, shoyu tamago, and (packaged, microwaved) yakisoba.

It was really a fun supper. Unfortunately we watched the news while eating it, which I hate doing because nothing ruins a good meal faster than world news.

Here's Jan's lunch from 2 days ago:

The top container has folded flat omelet, sugar snap peas, and cold sesame soba noodles; the lower container has a mini-pepper stuffed with feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, grapes, and a tiny white chocolate pudding with a gummy octopus attacking it. Apparently the octopus was outmatched, because some ingredient in the (sugar-free fat-free) pudding began dissolving the poor guy before lunch time arrived.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BLT Bento

This year my friend Laura and I attended the Harvest Festival in our town. We wandered around the food booth until we came to a beautiful family: mother with blond braid down to her waist, holding a beautiful blond apple-cheeked baby; 3 other blond children all radiantly eating dried apricots, and quiet blond dad. These were the owners of a local dairy that was selling cheeses and hog shares.

Laura and I are both increasingly worried about our contaminated food supply, so we circled back to the family again and read their hog share pamphlet. Finally we broke down and reserved a hog share (40 pounds of assorted chops, steaks, bacon, roast, ham, etc.) each.

The pamphlet described blissfully happy hogs, who wander in sunny pastures all day long and dine on whey "The Perfect Food for Hogs" left over from the cheese-making process. It was a little strange to think of our hog, so happy in the autumn sun, blissfully not knowing about his upcoming trip to the butcher in St. Cloud and eventual fate in our freezers. I named our hog "Socrates", after John Stuart Mill's claim that:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.

Philosophers debate whether the pleasures of a pig are equal in value to the pleasures of a human, and Mill says no. Our hog Socrates might have disagreed.

Anyway even though it sounds weird, this little hog-share venture has so far paid off in the best-tasting bacon in the universe. So I made BLT's for our bentos on Monday.

I do have mixed feelings about meat eating. I've spent several years being a vegetarian off and on throughout my life. Currently I think there's a place in the moral universe for humanely raised meat animals. A short life on a farm eating whey among pretty children in sunny pastures might be life enough. I don't know...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bento with Carrot-Tangerine Salad

This bento for my husband was a little high in carbs on the right-hand side: sticky rice, curried black beans and lentils, octo-dogs, pickled sweet peppers, jello-jigler in cup and gummy octopus...so I wanted something for the left side that would be light and veggie-nourishing.

I invented this super good salad:

Carrot-Tangerine-Coconut Coleslaw with Blood-Orange Infused Olive Oil Dressing

The name is almost longer than the recipe!!

Grate two raw carrots. Peel, seed, and chop one medium tangerine. Toss together with a generous sprinkling of grated coconut. Drizzle with the olive oil and if you don't have the blood-orange infused kind, which I stumbled upon in Madison, just use plain olive oil and a squeeze of orange or lime juice. Toss together and refrigerate for a bit. Pack into bento and go!

This was so good; the coconut balanced the sharpness of the blood orange flavor and the tangerine, and altogether it was a very awakening lunch side dish.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bento of my SuperEasy Noodle Sauce

I have been reading a lot of noodle recipes and cookbooks lately, and it seems there is a very easy, common, basic noodle sauce that everyone can make in about 30 seconds which tastes glorious. It is the common denominator at the bottom of many fancier more elaborate noodle sauces.

Here's how it goes:


Cook up your soba according to package directions, as much as you like. (Or use some other noodle of preference.) Soba often come bundled in individual servings wrapped in a paper band.

When soba is cooked, pour it into a colander to drain. Do not rinse the saucepan you cooked it in!

Instead, while it's warm and your stove burner is still hot, put the pot back on the burner and pour in (assuming one serving of noodles):

1/8 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup mirin
1 Tablespoon sesame oil

Let this warm and stir it a bit to blend. Then return the noodles to the same pan still with no extra heat under it, and toss the noodles in the blended sauce ingredients. Voila! It tastes divine. And how easy does it get??!

You can then add: chopped green onion, fresh snow peas, cooked shrimp, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, cooked chicken, cooked omelet sliced, radishes, spinach, anything!!!

In today's bento I had the basic soba with sauce plus I threw in some frozen peas for the last few cooking seconds, added some green onion and sliced 1-egg omelet, and loved it!

Plus there was spinach salad with blood-orange infused olive oil and pomegranate seeds. Yummy lunch with a 6.5 on the NHAB "Not Hungry Again Bento" Scale.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Strawberry Chocolates from Germany

This bento for Jan included sticky rice, curry, beets, shoyu tamago somewhat beaten up in the peeling process, carrots, tomato, dill pickle slices, and (Ta-Da!!) strawberry chocolates from Germany.

These were an impulse purchase at the checkout line in the ritzier grocery store in my neighborhood, a store I try to avoid because:

(a) it is frequented by senior citizens who drive around randomly in the parking lot with murder on their minds;

(b) It is pricey;

(c) I am worried about it because the owners invested so heavily in becoming 'upscale' on their last remodel that I smell fear on the managers who walk around smiling and greeting customers.

BUT they do have some good stuff and I highly recommend these Casali Schoko-Erdbeeren which are "extra-fruchtig mit Erdbeerstuckchen: "Extra-fruity with little pieces of strawberry". Claim confirmed! They have real lumps of strawberry inside.

German candy especially chocolate is so good. In fact (random story alert!):

I hosted a German exchange student, high school level, once for a month. On his first night in my house this young man emerged from his room bearing a big bag of mixed candies: chocolates, gummies, mints, etc. He handed it to me proudly saying,

"My mother sends this to you - she says candy in the U.S. is terrible!"

This was my first little inkling that our guest was going to be very honest.

His honesty continued throughout the visit.

"This soup is very bad! I'll have my mother send you some recipes." His way of saying these things was so frank and so innocent that it was impossible to get mad.

"You aren't such the housekeeper, are you?"

"Didn't you sleep well? You look all...beaten up."

I was making a little video about my horse, and he was allowed to use my computer and viewed it.

"Your movie is so emotion, it makes me want to vomit!" That was just about over the line, but even that didn't cause me to explode at him. That required this comment:

"Your son is very...irritable."

Friday, November 6, 2009

The bento of enormous dessert

Part of it is my creative photo angling, but part is due to the sheer size of my chocolate pudding here. I was thrilled to see it made it to lunch without becoming indissolubly bonded to the paper cupcake cup I put it in. This is diet pudding - no fat, only the milk calories you make it with, and it tastes amazingly good. 15 minutes later, I want to eat more pudding, but that could just be me.

This lunch also had a cheese omelette burrito in a whole wheat tortilla wrap, apple slices, and carrot coins. It was good! I realize I have an interior score contest going, for the bentos that get me to dinner without getting hungry. This was one.

So on an NHAB (Not Hungry Again Bento) scale of 1-10 ranging from "I felt like I had not eaten yet" to "I wasn't even hungry at 6 p.m.", this one gets a NHAB SCORE of: 7.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Dogs' Fortune!!

When we get Chinese take-out, the dogs get the fortune cookies. I always read them their fortune and this one was highly appropriate.

They do like to chew power cords.