Archive for August, 2008
A few quick updates on bento news around the community.
1. Bento photo contest at Not Exactly Bento
The Not Exactly Bento blog is running a Bento Photo Contest for the best picture of a bento you’ve made. Bentos can be either recent or older, but no character or kyaraben food art bentos. Each person can submit up to two entries. There are two bento sets available as prizes, and readers will vote on the best photos. Deadline is August 22, so pretty soon. (I keep an updated list of current lunch-packing contests and blog events at my Lunch Blog Events page; this has been on there for a little while.)
2. Vegan Lunchbox posting again
Jennifer McCann over at award-winning Vegan Lunchbox is posting regularly to her blog again after a hiatus to home-school her son. She’s the author of the book Vegan Lunch Box: 130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!, which has vegan packed lunch ideas and recipes that would also work for bento-style lunches. Her original book was picked up by a larger publisher, reworked, and re-released last week. Congratulations, Jennifer!
3. La Carmina to write “Cooking Cute” bento book
Speaking of books, author and blogger La Carmina signed a deal with Penguin USA to write a book about kyara-ben tentatively titled “Cooking Cute” (release date TBA). As far as I know, the book has no relation to the well-known Cooking Cute bento blog — I do wonder if this is going to pose a problem or market confusion. Hope Ngoc didn’t plan on writing a book with the same name as her blog…
4. Lunch in a Box in Stars & Stripes
I was surprised when reader Missy let me know that the U.S. military newspaper Stars & Stripes had run an article last week spotlighting Lunch in a Box on page 2 of all of their August 8, 2008 editions worldwide. What a pleasant surprise! So a big welcome to new readers around the world — glad to have you here, and be sure to have a look at the Bento FAQ. Thanks Missy! (See the Press and Awards page for more press and notable web mentions.)
5. Request from Tampa Bay Area journalist
I got an e-mail from a Tampa Bay Area newspaper journalist looking to interview a local mom who makes bento lunches for her children. If you fit the description and would like to be interviewed for a newspaper article, please e-mail me at lunchinabox (AT] gmail (DOT} com and I’ll put you in touch. Cheers!
Published by Biggie on August 14th, 2008 tagged admin | 13 Comments »
I freaked out in anticipation of a photo shoot with Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn blog for last month’s photo tour of my bento kitchen, and did a sweeping overhaul of my cabinets, refrigerator and pantry before they came. In part one of my Kitchen Reorganization Series, I showed how I reorganized my scary spice pantry. Here’s part two: my main kitchen pantries. Once upon a time these cabinets were organized, but all that remained was a general skeleton of sections where different types of foods went. It was time to get to work before the cameras arrived! (UPDATE: The series continues with the reorganization of my refrigerator and freezer and the remaining cabinets and garbage containers for the prep area.)
Organization had gone downhill and turned into the disaster area that you see above. The problems were that I often forgot what was in the back of the cabinet, and I needed to get out a stepladder to root around in shelves up high. I did have a single pull-out pantry basket with baking ingredients like cornstarch and baking powder, but this was just a drop in the bucket. This kitchen cabinet needed some serious culling and organization. (Click on any photo for a larger, annotated view.)
Again, enter pantry baskets. To rehash, here’s why pantry baskets work for me:
- Storing related things together in baskets means that you can just pull a single basket down from a high shelf instead of pulling out a stepladder to root around.
- Because I pull out entire baskets more regularly, I’m more familiar with what’s in the pantry and will be less likely to re-buy something I already have (I do this from time to time. D’oh!). Any food inventory system should save you money in the long run.
Published by Biggie on August 13th, 2008 tagged bento, organize, tips | 27 Comments »
A little food presentation game that I play sometimes is to buy a fruit or vegetable in an unusual color, and pack it next to a contrasting item in a bento lunch. I’ve done this with orange cauliflower and broccoli, gold kiwi and blueberries, purple potatoes and peas, and today with golden and red raspberries. My three-year-old son and I spotted the golden raspberries in the market the other week, and couldn’t resist picking some up to taste side-by-side with regular red raspberries. Bug and I tried out both kinds together, and found the golden raspberries to be slightly more tart than the red, but not unpleasantly so. It was a nice, subtle flavor contrast with the same texture as the red version. Explore your markets with an eye open for unusual colors; they can add natural fun to a lunch!
I find that Bug enjoys these little food experiments that we do together — it’s okay if he doesn’t like something, but I want him to think about why he doesn’t like it and try to explain it to me. He’s now able to explain if it’s the taste, texture or smell of something that bothers him, which in turn helps me formulate new approaches to incorporating a variety of foods into his diet. He’s not a picky eater, though, so the battle is half won already. (Knock on wood!)
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Steamed broccoli with Goddess dressing, spinach and cheese spanakopita triangles (frozen from Costco, reviewed earlier), dried apricots, red and golden raspberries (Driscoll’s brand, but the exact variety wasn’t indicated), cheese triangle, dried blueberries and Rainier cherries.
Morning prep time: 17 minutes, mostly inactive prep time waiting for the frozen spanakopita to cook in the convection toaster oven and cool down on a little cooling rack afterwards so it didn’t turn soggy in the box. I turned on the toaster oven’s convection function to further speed up the bake time as convection is more even and slightly faster than conventional baking, and the toaster oven is more energy-efficient than our wall ovens. (Read on for packing details and an elephant rice ball lunch.)
Published by Biggie on August 11th, 2008 tagged bento, dumplings or buns, for kids, onigiri or sushi, phyllo or pancake or other, rice, vegetarian | 22 Comments »
I’ve been doing a little work on the site lately, and revamped my About page to include comment guidelines and some additional sections at the bottom. It includes a link to the new Press and Awards page that highlights some of the more notable press and web mentions of Lunch in a Box. Recent mentions include articles in Cincinnati Weekly and the Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA newspaper via Inside SoCal), and posts on Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn and Ohdeedoh. Welcome new readers! There are other mainstream media articles on bento lunches in the works for the back-to-school season; I’ll update the Press page with new articles as they appear.
Shopping: Rainbow Grocery stocks bento boxes!
I was interested to see that Rainbow Grocery co-op in San Francisco has started carrying bento boxes! Prices are actually not outrageous, which is my usual peeve about this large natural foods store. The staff didn’t even blink when I asked where their bento boxes were, and pointed me right to them.
In the housewares section in the front corner, they now stock the Leaflet Tight bento boxes (650ml and 800ml), Laptop Lunchboxes in a variety of colors, thermal drink and food jars from Laptop Lunch, 2-tier stainless ToGo Ware tiffin tins, ESMA Clip & Close containers that can be used as bento boxes (a small square, and a long 1.1-liter rectangle with removable sub-containers), and a 750ml Pyrex rectangle made of tempered glass that would work as a bento box. I’ve added the store and my feedback to the Bento Store Locator (BSL) with Google Maps, where readers can also add their own feedback and listings for bento stores around the world. Thanks to my friend Cherie for the heads-up.
- Tempered glass bento boxes
- Metal bento boxes
- Bento FAQ
- San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
Published by Biggie on August 8th, 2008 tagged Laptop Lunchbox, SF Bay Area local, admin, bento, food jar | 18 Comments »
Somehow I’ve managed to slide by this long without writing a FAQ (frequently asked questions document), but as bento-style lunches become more popular I see a lot of new folks with questions like the ones below. So I finally wrote a full bento FAQ page here to answer them; please have a look to let me know if I’ve missed anything major and I’ll add it!
- What is “bento”? Is it the style of packing? Is it the box? Is it the food?
- What’s the benefit of packing a bento-style lunch? Is it healthier?
- What should I put in it? Aren’t bento lunches filled with Japanese food?
- Are there packing rules? How do I pack a bento lunch?
- Doesn’t it take a long time to make a bento lunch? How can I speed things up?
- Wait, I thought bento lunches looked like paintings made out of food. Where’s the food art?
- When do you make a bento lunch? Can I make it the night before?
- Do you eat them hot, cold, or at room temperature?
- Isn’t room temperature food dangerous?
- I don’t want to microwave or pack food in plastic containers. What are my options?
- Do you have suggestions for kids’ lunches? What about picky eaters?
- What do I need to buy to start?
- What size bento box should I get?
- Where can I buy bento boxes and accessories?
- Help! I can’t read the care instructions on this Japanese bento box!
- Can you recommend some good cookbooks or websites for lunch ideas?
- What do you think of this particular [bento box, packaged food, or kitchen gadget]?
- Who are you, anyway?
- Nice photos! What kind of camera do you use?
- My question isn’t answered here!