Today I’ve got two lunches that represent both ends of the bento spectrum: one is fast and simple, the other is time-consuming decorative food art. My usual preference is for the fast and easy bento made through speedy prep techniques and leftovers, but once or twice a year I go the extra mile for a holiday lunch. Think of it like a birthday cake: even if you make cake regularly, you probably don’t put as much effort into decorating each unless it’s for a special occasion.
I realize that by posting one of my rare ornate lunches right after recent bento articles in the New York Times and the Globe and Mail I’m at risk of falling into a fussy stereotype. Maybe I should reread Need for Speed: A Mommy’s Lunch Manifesto? Anyway, I cut myself a break when I remember the wide variety of real-life special occasion bentos I saw at my son’s old Japanese immersion preschool and read about other parents’ lunchtime adventures on the Lunch in a Box online community forum.
I have to admit that although I get a feeling of accomplishment once I finish an elaborate creation like the one above, I do feel time pressure while I’m making it and wonder, “Why bother?” Am I a bad attitude mom? Guilty as charged! The simpler lunch below was made quickly with the leftovers from the fancier one above, and is much more my pace for an average school day.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Fried shrimp (recipe forthcoming), steamed broccoli with vinaigrette dressing, round onigiri rice balls (stuffed with Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste and decorated with strips of nori seaweed), wrapped triangle cheese, grapes, and kiwifruit.
Morning prep time: 15 minutes, using frozen rice and fried shrimp left over from the shrimp rolls the day before. In the morning I assembled the rice balls, nuked a couple florets of broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and peeled/sliced the kiwifruit. (Read on for the full post. with details on the fish-shaped sushi lunch..) Read the rest of this entry »
September 9th, 2009 | Categories: bento, decorative, fish or seafood, for kids, onigiri or sushi, rice | Print This Post | Email this post | 434 Comments »
My apologies to everyone for dropping off the face of the earth lately — it’s been a weird time and I’ve been going through something of a crisis. (Arg.) Time to get back on the bento ball! Lots of updates today; with Ichiban Kan closing its online store and opening a new San Bruno retail location in the Tanforan Mall, a kiwifruit recipe contest that I’ll be judging with a US$2,500 grand prize, a recent Lunch 2.0 round table blogger discussion I moderated, a new bento cookbook that’s out, and more.
1. Ichiban Kan closes online store
First off, I’m sad to say that Ichiban Kan recently closed its online store, although its retail stores in the SF Bay Area remain open. They were a good US source of cheap bento gear (like US$1!), and I’m sad to see them go. Products seemed to fly off the shelves, so there’s hope that they’ll be back — check their blog for updates. Fingers crossed that they change their business model and reopen the online store, maybe at increased prices to remain viable. I mean, cheap is good and all, but not if it drives them out of business!
In any event, Ichiban Kan has opened a new retail store in the Tanforan Mall in San Bruno, CA, so if you’re nearby you might want to check that out (1150 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066, tel: 650-244-9920). For additional sources, check out my list of online stores for bento gear, as well as the Bento Store Locator with Google Maps and reader feedback for retail sources near you. (Read on for details of a recipe contest with $2,500 prize, a Lunch 2.0 round table that I moderated, a new bento cookbook, and the upcoming BlogHer ‘09 panel on food blogging.)
July 17th, 2009 | Categories: Amorette, Laptop Lunchbox, admin, giveaway | Print This Post | Email this post | 398 Comments »
Bento lunches are starting to attract a lot of mainstream attention outside of Japan, with bentos appearing more often in the popular media, new bento books and classes, panels at anime and blogging conferences, new and active bento forums, and an explosion of bento blogs. Great news, right?
On a concerning note, I’ve started hearing from talented bento bloggers who have been approached by authors putting together bento books compiling photos and recipes by people in the bento community, but offering little to no compensation for their contributions. Now, it can be flattering and exciting to get attention like this for the first time, and being published does give you exposure and opens doors. But make sure you don’t underestimate your own worth when entering negotiations! Remember that you’re providing something of value that the book “author” and publisher will be making money from, so make sure you’re properly compensated and legally protected with a detailed contract. Don’t be exploited and regret it later — go in with your eyes open and make your own decisions about what you find acceptable.
A prominent bento blogger, whose work has appeared in numerous books and magazines, recently approached me about this issue and offers the following advice so others can benefit from her experiences. She wishes to remain anonymous so as to not alienate publishers she works with, but I know and respect her work. (Read on for her tips and mine on protecting your work online, tracking where your posts and photos are being used, and how to file effective legal complaints.)
May 8th, 2009 | Categories: admin, tips | Print This Post | Email this post | 43 Comments »
Today’s lunch uses sausages with a back story. A couple of weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to learn how to butcher roosters from an expert: Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. You might remember Hank from the Food Blog Awards — his excellent hunting and food blog was also recently nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. I drove up to Sacramento to join him, Elise from Simply Recipes, and Garrett from Vanilla Garlic for an educational afternoon of primal food prep in which one of the roosters got away. I didn’t take anything home with me that day, but the following weekend Hank and girlfriend Holly generously sent me home from a Greek party with sausages he’d made from the same birds — a rare treat.
If you’re interested, see Hank’s full write-up of our rooster excursion, my rooster photos on Flickr (yes, I look demented in my close-up), Elise’s rooster photos on Flickr, and Garrett’s write-up of the rooster afternoon and subsequent Greek party. All contain graphic images, so the meat-squeamish may want to pass.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Rooster sausage (see Hank’s sausage recipe) and sauteed onions with balsamic vinegar, ketchup (Bug’s request), broiled asparagus, blueberries, and a wrapped cheese under the asparagus. We were struck by how dark the rooster meat and sausages were (”running-around meat” is I think how Hank described it).
Morning prep time: 6 minutes, using leftover sausage and sauteed onions from dinner the night before, and leftover asparagus. In the morning I assembled the sandwich, and cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces. Actually, I packed this lunch for my four-year-old a day earlier and dutifully brought it along to preschool, only to be reminded that that was the day of their monthly school lunch where parent volunteers cook a hot lunch for all of the children. D’oh! Many other parents had forgotten as well, and the kids were having a great time telling everyone carrying a bento that they should have their parents take it home and bring it the next day. So that’s just what I did. (Read on for full lunch details.) Read the rest of this entry »
May 1st, 2009 | Categories: for kids, poultry, sandwich case, sandwich or wrap | Print This Post | Email this post | 746 Comments »
How long does it usually take you to prep and pack a single bento lunch? Unless it’s a special occasion like Valentine’s Day or Children’s Day, I usually avoid decorative food and go for the speed bento, taking about 10-15 minutes max. Prep and organizational techniques from my speedy lunch-packing tips help me quickly prep and pack leftovers, frozen foods, and simple dishes like steamed or sauteed vegetables. I try not to cook more than one dish from scratch in the morning when I’m making lunch, even if they’re speedy packed lunch recipes. How about you?
How much time does it usually take you to pack a lunch?
- Less than 15 minutes (50%, 380 Votes)
- 16-30 minutes (37%, 284 Votes)
- 31-45 minutes (7%, 57 Votes)
- 46-60 minutes (3%, 21 Votes)
- Over an hour (2%, 19 Votes)
Total Voters: 761
- Need for speed: A mommy’s lunch manifesto
- Poll results: What containers do you pack lunches in? (poll closed)
- Poll results: Where are your lunches eaten? (poll closed)
- Poll results: Why do you pack bentos? (poll closed)
- Poll results: When do you pack lunch? (poll closed)
- Poll results: Who do you pack lunch for? (poll closed)
- Bento FAQ and Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and reviews