Archive for January, 2008
Because I like shortcuts and can get bento gear cheaply in San Francisco, I’m tough on my equipment and push the envelope when caring for it. I experiment with putting everything in the dishwasher for speed even when the care instructions say not to. As a result I’ve lost or damaged some equipment, but I’ve also figured out what can take a little more abuse than the manufacturer recommends.
Dishwashers are uncommon in Japan (I didn’t have one until my last year there), so a lot of bento boxes and accessories are made with hand washing in mind. If you have time and the inclination, hand washing all of your bento gear with regular dish soap will make it last the longest, but I wanted to put together bento care guidelines for people either looking for a shortcut or wanting to know what the Japanese care instructions say. At the end of this post I’ve included translations of common Japanese-language care instructions if you’re trying to decode what’s in your cupboard.
Do you have a clever bento care or cleaning tip? Share it with us in comments! (Click here for the full post…)
Published by Biggie on January 22nd, 2008 tagged Laptop Lunchbox, bento, equipment, food jar, sandwich case, thermal lunch jar, tips, tutorial or how to | 54 Comments »
My series on simple garnishes for bento lunches continues with kiwi fruit. Kiwi fruit is high in vitamin C and can be found in both green and gold (more yellow and citrus-tasting than green). I usually cut kiwi into large cubes, but a reader suggested I try slicing one in half and sending along a spoon. This is appealing because when I cut kiwi into wedges, the fruit often turns a little translucent and softens in transit — keeping it mostly whole helps it retain its original character.
A simply cut kiwi is already visually interesting, but I got a kick out of this style when I ran across it in a Japanese bento cookbook. It took about one minute to cut, which is not unreasonable in the morning if you’re looking to change things up a bit. Add it to your repertoire with apple rabbits and decorative banana wedges! (Click here for the how-to…)
Published by Biggie on January 17th, 2008 tagged glutenfree, lactose free, tips, tutorial or how to, vegetarian | 29 Comments »
Packing a bento lunch doesn’t mean you’re stuck with rice, rice, rice all the time. While it’s true that Japanese-language bento cookbooks feature a lot of rice, they also show fun variations like pastas, sandwiches, stews, and salads. And hey, it’s your lunch — pack what you want, artificial rules be darned (it’s not like the Lunch Police are going to issue you a ticket). Baked pastas like lasagna, ziti, and pasta frittata (recipe here) are particularly well suited to bento lunches as they’re boldly flavored and have less of a texture issue that some people object to in plain pasta dishes eaten at room temperature.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Turkey lasagna with spinach, steamed zucchini with Korean barbecue sauce, grape tomatoes and a decorative banana wedge (how-to here). My friend Jennifer made the fantastic lasagna and brought it over for dinner one night. It’s chock full of vegetables and Bug inhaled an adult portion of it at dinner (I think he’s gearing up for another growth spurt, judging from his appetite).
Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover lasagna. I packed up the lasagna when cleaning up from dinner two nights before, so in the morning all I needed to do was quickly cook the zucchini (courgette) in my microwave mini steamer and slice the banana (dipping it in acidulated water to prevent browning).
Packing: I microwaved the subcontainer with lasagna in the morning to take the chill off, and put the delicate zucchini in a hard plastic food cup shaped either like a cow or a car, depending on how you look at it. Because I don’t spend much time creating beautiful food art, I tend to rely on bento accessories and the color/shape/texture of the food itself to make lunches appealing. It’s much faster for a lazy mom like myself. I am looking forward to checking out the new Face Food book on bento food art once it ships, though — a little bit of bento p*rn never hurt anyone! The lunch itself is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-container removed.
Verdict: Thumbs up. Bug ate everything in this lunch at preschool except the banana (which he ate afterwards as a snack). The way he tore through this lasagna at dinner, I wasn’t surprised to find it scraped clean from his bento box! (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch and specialty plastic wrap…)
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Published by Biggie on January 16th, 2008 tagged bento, equipment, for kids, meat, pasta or noodles, phyllo or pancake or other, sandwich case | 32 Comments »
It was rainy and cool last week in San Francisco, so I put warm soups in my son’s packed lunches to ward off the chill. I used a 560ml thermal bento set (similar sets sold here) that’s too big for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines, so I left out one of the set’s two 160ml side dish containers and used the remaining space to pack a damp oshibori hand towel. When I use this set for my own lunches, I also like to pack fresh rice in the thermal lunch jar, keeping it warm and soft until I’m ready to eat. You can achieve the same effect by using a small side container and a thermal food jar, commonly available from stores like Target or Walmart without the shipping. The humbling part about these lunches is that Bug ate only about half of each at preschool, though. They’re not all home runs, folks!
Contents of preschooler lunch: Kiwi fruit and oden with its broth. Oden is a Japanese simmered dish popular in the winter, with different kinds of fish cakes and vegetables. Here I’ve included fish cake stuffed with gobo (burdock root), hanpen, pink and orange-colored fish cake, and renkon lotus root. At dinner our oden also had hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, daikon radish, different kinds of fish cakes, tofu skins stuffed with mochi, and konbu seaweed tied in little knots.
Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover oden. I packed the side dish container with oden when cleaning up from dinner the night before, so in the morning all I had to do was slice the kiwi and heat the oden broth in the microwave. While I did that I preheated the thermal food jar with hot tap water.
Cooking: Oden is a really easy dish to make — basically just make the broth, throw in the fish cakes and whatever vegetables you have on hand, and simmer. Voila! When I lived in Japan, I remember going into convenience stores in the winter and hand-picking out oden from a big simmering pot at the front of the store. Very much comfort food, and delicious with a small squeeze of karashi hot mustard on the side to flavor the fish cakes. Just Hungry has a nice recipe and blog post about oden here.
Packing: I used a 560ml thermal bento set that I picked up at Ichiban Kan a while back. (Note to San Francisco locals: The Ichiban Kan stores sometimes stock these thermal bento sets for $20 - $25, and Kamei has two Zojirushi-brand sets behind the counter for $33. Store info at the SF local shopping guide.) I left one side dish container out, and instead packed the small container of kiwi and a spoon/fork utensil side inside of the bag. I got a set of three small side containers that nest inside each other and a package of 12 animal picks at Daiso dollar store in Daly City for US$1.50 each. Daiso has branches internationally, although evidently some of the Japanese moms at my son’s preschool are boycotting Daiso, saying it’s run by Soka Gakkai. Hmm.
Verdict: Disappointing. Bug ate all of the soup, kiwi and gobo-stuffed fishcake at preschool, but passed on everything else in the oden despite having enthusiastically eaten it at dinner. He even requested that I pack the renkon in his bento (singing the Bento Box song), but didn’t eat it when it was in his lunch. Argh. I should probably do more “Leftover Remakes” where I make a new dish using the leftovers, instead of just packing everything up as is. (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch…)
Published by Biggie on January 15th, 2008 tagged bento, fish or seafood, food jar, for kids, lactose free, pasta or noodles, poultry, soup or stew | 14 Comments »
I don’t have anything against making children’s food cute as long as it doesn’t take me much time or effort (yeah, I’m lazy!). Like making little rabbits out of apple slices, this simple garnish that I found in a Japanese bento book is fast and makes a slice of fruit look interesting. Use it to pack a bite of banana in your bento lunch without worrying about a whole banana getting mushy in your bag. Of course, if you’ve got one of those Banana Guard gadgets popular in Japan, you don’t have to worry about a whole banana getting mushy, but this is a cheap, fun alternative. I’d say this could help coax picky eaters into eating banana, but I think bananas are already an easy sell. Am I wrong? (Click here for the full tutorial…)