Archive for December, 2007
The year-end is a time for charity and awards in the food blog world, and Lunch in a Box is happy to donate a prize for Menu For Hope, now in its 4th year. Started by Pim of Chez Pim, Menu for Hope raises money for the United Nations World Food Programme, the world’s largest food aid agency (last year it raised almost US$63,000 for the program!). Specifically, this year’s donations will benefit the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. A full list of prizes is here at Chez Pim, and the Western U.S. regional prizes are all shown here at Rasa Malaysia. A mere US$10 gives you a shot at some pretty cool food-related prizes! Check them all out and see what appeals to you.
Bento lunch starter kit and tour of San Francisco’s Japantown by Lunch in a Box (prize code: UW18)
Pack your lunch in style with a complete bento set and personal tour of San Francisco’s Japantown. The kit consists of a hard-to-find large Lock & Lock bento lunch set with insulated carrying case (470ml subdivided box + 470ml box + drink container), molds to make shaped hard-boiled eggs and onigiri rice balls, matching blue fork and chopsticks with their own cases, silicone baking cups, reusable plastic food cups, food dividers, mini cutters, cute food picks and sauce containers, antibacterial lunch sheets, onigiri wrappers, and a microwave mini steamer for speedy food prep. And if you live in or will be visiting San Francisco, I’ll give you a personal bento tour of San Francisco’s Japantown, visiting specialty stores for bento gear, food, and cookbooks. Have your own Japanese speaker show you around and translate anything you have questions about! (Continue reading for detailed photos and donation instructions.)
Published by Biggie on December 10th, 2007 tagged admin | 29 Comments »
This year is coming to an end with some good news. I found out today that Lunch in a Box made the cut and is now one of the five finalists for “Best Food Blog - Theme“ and “Best Food Blog - Family/Kids“ categories in the respected 2007 Food Blog Awards! I’m thankful and tickled to have been nominated by readers, and then selected by an independent panel of judges for open voting (5 blogs in each of the 14 categories were chosen). Voting is now open and will last for five full days until 11:59 pm EST on Friday, December 14th. The winners of the vote will be announced on Monday, December 17th, 2007 (see complete rules here). I’m up against some heavy hitters in these categories (including The Daily Tiffin, where I’m a contributor), and am honored to be in such excellent company. On your mark, set, vote! Click to vote for “Best Food Blog - Theme“ and “Best Food Blog - Family/Kids“.
Belatedly, I also wanted to let everyone know that Lunch in a Box’s old LiveJournal site tied with Vegan Lunchbox for third place in the 2007 Bloggers’ Choice Awards for Best Food Blog, the only non-vegan blog in the top four. My sincere thanks to everyone who voted for me in the long campaign! You all rock. 2008 voting has already begun.
Published by Biggie on December 9th, 2007 tagged admin | 18 Comments »
Parents know that kids love to play with their food, which is one reason those unholy Lunchables are so popular. Take advantage of this inclination by finding ways to pack lunches they can assemble or garnish at lunchtime. Today’s lunch has a little container of furikake that my preschooler sprinkled on his rice, but there are endless ways to put a do-it-yourself spin on a packed lunch. Think Sloppy Joe sandwiches, veggie sticks dipped in dressing or hummus, zarusoba noodle nests with dipping sauce, French toast with spreads, tamales with salsa or crema, veggie nuggets with dipping sauce, etc. Use your imagination to make lunch fun!
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Korean barbecue leftovers comprise this dosirak (ë„ì‹œë½, or Korean box lunch). Bean sprout and spinach namul (Korean seasoned vegetables served as a side dish at a meal), grilled onions and red/yellow bell peppers, sauteed enoki mushrooms with butter and soy sauce, marinated beef cubes, rice, train-shaped Shinkansen pre-cut nori seaweed, and nori-flavored furikake rice sprinkles. The Shinkansen nori was fast and from a package, but you can make your own pre-cut decorative nori on the cheap with scrapbooking punches or scissors and store it in an airtight container with dessicant. (Click any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers except the enoki mushrooms. In the morning I quickly pan-fried the mushrooms in my mini frying pan with a bit of butter, salt, and pepper, then a dash of soy sauce at the end for flavor. Speed tip: when preparing enoki mushrooms, use a sharp knife to cut right through the thin plastic bag about an inch from the bottom to open the bag and trim the mushrooms at the same time.
Packing: The flavors of the lunch were complimentary, so I didn’t bother with any sort of food divider (edible or plastic). After pan-frying the mushrooms, I drained and briefly cooled them on a mini cooling rack for best food safety, then packed in the bento. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed.
Verdict: Surprisingly, this got only half eaten. Three-year-old Bug had totally devoured all of these same dishes two days earlier at dinner, so I thought he would eat this up. But when I picked him up at preschool I found that he’d eaten all of the rice and furikake but only a little of the rest. His teacher shed light on the subject, though — it turns out that when Bug sees one of his friends finish their lunch and get up to play, he puts the lid on his lunch right away and gets up to go play with them, no matter how much (or little) he’s eaten!!! Evidently the sensei (teacher) started noticing this recently and has tried to encourage him to finish his lunch.
Equipment: I tried out some new furikake rice seasoning dispensers that I picked up at (where else) Daiso in Daly City for US$1.50 (for the pair). JList sells the same furikake dispensers here (with international shipping). They’ve got loose twist caps with holes that line up to let you sprinkle fresh furikake on your rice just before eating. Furikake isn’t the only thing that could go in these, though; other loose dry flavorings like pepper flakes or grated Parmesan cheese would fit nicely. You could also recreate the shakers on the cheap by using small spice jars with perforated lids, or even just a regular wide-mouthed sauce container or small condiment cup.
- Shinkansen train-shaped pre-cut nori seaweed
- Links: Packing by color
- How to pack a bento lunch and use “gap fillers”
- Choosing the right size bento box
- Packed lunch food safety
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
Published by Biggie on December 6th, 2007 tagged bento, equipment, for kids, glutenfree, lactose free, meat, onigiri or sushi, rice | 20 Comments »
Bento lunches don’t have to include rice, in fact sandwiches are a popular item in children’s bento boxes in Japan as they’re easy for little hands to hold. You can use all kinds of breads to make interesting sandwich variations: mini bagels, English muffins, croissants, dinner rolls, sandwich bread cut into shapes, cocktail bread for teeny sandwiches, biscuits, regular bread roll-ups, or even focaccia or regular bread packed in a collapsible sandwich case. What’s your favorite sandwich bread to shake things up a little?
Contents of preschooler lunch: English muffin sandwich with herbed cream cheese on a lettuce garnish, crisp Fuyu persimmon slices, steamed broccoli, cherry tomato, hard-boiled quail egg shaped like a car, and diced mango.
Morning prep time: 12 minutes, using a molded quail egg from an earlier batch (stored in cold water in the fridge). In the morning I quickly made the sandwich (not toasted, as per Bug’s request), sliced the fruits and veggies, and steamed the broccoli in my microwave mini steamer. I shaped the quail egg with the yellow quail egg mold shown on the right: shell a hard-boiled egg while hot, quickly put it into the mold and close it up, then toss into a cold water bath for 10 minutes or so for it to take on its shape. If you don’t have an egg mold, you can use common ice cream sandwich molds to shape chicken eggs. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)
Packing: The mango went into a reusable plastic food cup to keep it contained, and a plastic food divider kept the sweet persimmon away from the savory broccoli (I cut the divider to size and reuse it after washing). I’ll cop a guilty plea for unnecessary garnish: I put the muffin sandwich halves on curly leaf lettuce for color contrast. If this were my lunch I would have thrown in a pre-filled sauce container with vinaigrette, and made a mini salad out of the lettuce after I’d eaten the sandwich. That, or put the lettuce inside of the sandwich itself and let it hang out of the sides for a similar visual effect. The lunch is packed in a three-tier 495ml bento box from Daiso (US$1.50) which unfortunately is a little tricky for little kids to put back together as the lids are not interchangeable. We practiced beforehand, but his teachers had to help him put this box back together. I may mark the lids and their corresponding tier with marker or nail polish to help Bug match them up by himself (self-sufficiency, hooray!).
Verdict: Too big. Bug ate both halves of the sandwich at preschool, but totally left the rest until afterwards. In the afternoon after playing he did eat everything but the persimmon slices, which had gotten a little warm from sitting too long and had stuck together. I should have left one half of the sandwich out, and just sent him to school with two tiers instead of three. (Click for details of the second lunch with curry packed with the “rice lid” method…)
Published by Biggie on December 4th, 2007 tagged bento, curry, eggs, equipment, for kids, lactose free, poultry, rice, sandwich or wrap, thermal lunch jar | 23 Comments »
I recently touched base with Ichiban Kan, a Japanese-style dollar store chain in the San Francisco Bay Area that carries inexpensive bento lunch gear, and they tell me that the launch of their online store has been delayed again. They’re currently looking at opening January 2008 at the earliest, but there’s no firm date, which may be part of the problem. I wish I had better news for people in the U.S. looking for specialty Japanese bento gear at dollar-store prices without shipping — maybe cross your fingers that a Daiso opens near you! Remember, too, that you can repurpose everyday items in a bento context by being creative.
As I wrote in the Bay Area bento gear shopping guide, Ichiban Kan is a good bargain store with a changing selection of matching bento boxes, insulated bento sets, bento accessories, collapsible sandwich cases, bento bags (kinchaku, insulated bags), egg molds (2 for US$1.50), rice molds, character bento goods (Cinnamoroll, Hello Kitty, Shinkansen, Pokemon), cute food cups, chopsticks and utensils with cases, etc. Most products are US$1 to $1.50 in the store. Last week the Japantown branch was out of egg molds and insulated bento sets, but they did have a new line of sleek, stackable black boxes with matching bento bands, chopsticks and case, two kinds of kinchaku lunch bags, etc. It’s a suitably masculine line that men won’t be embarrassed by. (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Ichiban Kan, I’m just a fan.)
A Round of Thanks:
I’m tickled to have been tagged with the “Be the Blog” award from JD at the humorous I Do Things So You Don’t Have To.
Award creator MeAndMyDrum describes what it means to “Be the Blog”:
[it] really sums up what a successful blogger does. And what I mean by successful is that they make it their own, stay with it, are interactive with their readers, and just plain have fun.
Well, thanks, JD! I’m having a great time doing my thing here — it somehow brings together things that I’m passionate about: family, food and cooking, Japanese, writing, and finding ways to make my life easier. Packing lunches shouldn’t have to be a depressing obligation with the same old foods every day, and a bento lunch doesn’t need to be filled with all Japanese food or time-consuming food art to be “authentic”.
I’m passing this on to my friend Cenk at Cafe Fernando, whose mouth-watering photos and recipes for baked goods and Turkish food just knock me out. His creations and blog itself are things of beauty, and I have him and a few of his friends to thank for turning me on to Turkish food when he lived in San Francisco. Cenk, you ARE the blog!
I’d also like to mention that the respected 2007 Food Blog Awards are now accepting nominations, and anyone can nominate their favorite food blogs here in 14 categories. Nominations end on December 5th, at which point the top five blogs in each category will be determined by a panel of judges and then opened up to public voting for a one week period. Thanks to Habeas Brulee and reader Anna for nominating this blog in some different categories!
- SF Bay Area shopping guide to bento gear
- Daiso opens in Mountain View after delay
- New Daiso stores in the Bay Area (and coupon for lead-free lunch gear)
- SF Bay Area guide to ethnic markets
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews