Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very Bento Christmas or What I did on my Holiday

Actually, my Holiday is just beginning since I don't go back to work until next Monday. But I won't be making lunches during my week off. I had a great Christmas this year and received a few gifts that will hopefully get me out of my bento rut. I got some mini cookie cutters, plus large ones, some food dividers, and a book about Japanese Garnishes. I also got a little creative and made some new food pics:

I got the idea for these food pics from this blog. I can't find the original post, and since I don't know Japanese, I can't search for it. I think that they actually sell ribbon or tape that is designed to be used as flags, but I improvised with some $1-bin ribbon from Michael's Crafts, double stick tape, and colorful food pics. I made a bunch of them, so they should feature prominently in my future lunches.

On Sunday my cousins and I ventured to New York to visit the Museum of Art and Design which recently moved to a new (larger) building in Columbus Circle. We also hit Kinokuniya, a Japanese bookstore located across from Bryant Park (near the NY Public Library). If you are traveling to NY, I highly reccomend this store. Not only are there books in Japanese, but there is nearly an entire floor of Manga, an entire floor of books in English about Japanese things, Magazines, Gifts, Movies.... In other words, so much great stuff!! They are a bit pricey so I couldn't afford the giant plush Totoro that I wanted, but I still walked away with some great finds:

A Miffy Classmates Bento Box. Ordinarily this would be out of my price range ($13) but I couldn't resist.

They had a pretty large selection of cookbooks in Japanese including a few shelves of bento-related books. Obviously it is silly of me to buy a book that I can't read, but I chose one which had a lot of pictures. Just like with the blog I mentioned above, I can get plenty of ideas by just looking at the pictures (although sometimes I have no idea what the ingredients are).

Since I couldn't afford the giant Totoro plush (or any of the great Totoro products they had), I splurged on this little Catbus Magnet.

So I was really pleased with Kinokuniya, and I wonder what other gems are hiding in New York which I have been missing. Any reccomendations?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Heart (Love) Bento

Heart (Love) Bento
Originally uploaded by JB Doodles

Today's bento features some heart shaped Onigiri. The two white hearts are filled with vegetarian "chick'n", and the two brown and white hearts are rice mixed with fake "burger" and ketchup. Also included are some fake breaded "chik'n" strips left over from dinner the night before, and a sweet omelet. I make Tamagoyaki (omelet) with almost every bento I create. They are fast, easy, and taste super yummy. I have developed a less traditional recipe which I particularly enjoy. I mix a tsp of corn starch, a tbs of milk, and a tsp of honey with a beaten egg. I have a tamagoyaki rectangle pan which makes the process fairly easy. Whenever I see omelets in Japanese cookbooks or at fancy restaurants, it is always very evenly cooked and yellow, yet I have never seen sufficient instructions to help me create this. I generally have some brown spots from cooking it too long in spots. This is, in my opinion, my best attempt yet. Does anyone out there have any tips for a perfect Tamagoyaki?

Overall, this bento was fairly successful. I made the ingredients the night before, but didn't form the Onigiri hearts until the morning which meant waking up early to put the bento together (definitely a feat for a night person). They taste much better when made fresh. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tons of Veggies Bento

Veggie Bento
Originally uploaded by JB Doodles

This bento is basically just veggies. It includes green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and part of an ear of corn. In the back are Morningstar Farms Buffalo Wings and some scallions which were made all curly for fun. In front of the corn is a small Hello Kitty hard candy. So, this bento isn't too creative in either the recipe or cuteness department, but all the veggies makes it look pretty nice.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Bento LOL Cat

I can't resist these kitties:

more animals

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Simpsons Bento and Recipe for "Indian Blintz"

This bento was created for the LiveJournal Bento Challenge "Under the Sea." Once again I chose to go pretty simple. Using wax paper I cut the fish shape out of a piece of veggie cheese (see Tutorial on using wax paper here). Under the fish is what I call an "Indian Blintz." It is a cross between a blintz and a samosa.

are an Easter tradition in my family and consist of a crepe filled with a potato and cheese mixture, folded up square, and fried in butter and onions. Learning to make crepes can be tricky, but once you have the technique down, you can whip them up pretty quickly. In this variation I filled my crepe with mashed potatoes which were seasoned with a generous amount of garam masala (a super yummy Indian spice mix). I folded it up and baked it for a few minutes so it retains it shape. I whipped up a simple spicy sauce (not pictured) out of ketchup, cumin, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Usually bento lunches are served room temperature, but I warmed the blintz up because I had access to a microwave.

Adorning this blintz are some Morningstar Farms Chick Nuggets and Mini Corn Dogs, as well as some fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. Underneath the tomatoes a small Burger King Hot Mustard cup for the nuggets and dogs is hidden.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Chick Lunch

Chick Lunch
Originally uploaded by JB Doodles

The theme of today's lunch is Chicks! I chose this because of the LiveJournal Bento Challenge "Winged Creatures." Now, I know that chicks don't fly, but they do have wings!

On the right side of the large box is a salad with tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil on skewers sitting on top. The chick sauce container has balsamic vinaigrette in it. The left side has Morningstar Farms fake buffalo wings (Wingettes) with cute bone picks. An omelet with fresh basil, and a Trader Joe's Vegetable Bird's Nest. The Vegetable Bird's Nest and Chick sauce container were my inspiration for creating a chick bento. I used veggie cheddar "cheese" for the chick (roughly cut by hand). I added a nori eye and an orange beak made of orange Soy Sushi Wrapper.

The smaller box on the top right contains a whole wheat mini-bagel with tofutti fake cream cheese, a Trader Joe's fruit leather, and a bag of Bear Cookies. The small closed container (top middle) has some salted cashews.

As is usual, my first priority is making myself a healthy balanced lunch. I then add the character or theme later. Often the lunch I make doesn't mesh well with cuteness, but I think this one works pretty well. The salad and whole wheat bagels are good and healthy. The egg, wingettes, and Veggie Birds Nests are moderately healthy and the cookies are just plain bad.

FYI Sometimes out of habit I call Morningstar Farms Buffalo Wings "Wingettes." I didn't correct myself today in order to explain. It is a nickname and I will probably slip and write that again in the future. They are my absolute favorite food (well, maybe a close second to ravioli) and they will often feature prominently in my lunches.

Happy Lunch!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I am looking for a bit of feedback on the content of this blog and this site. It has been evolving since its inception a little while back. My lunches have gotten better (in my opinion of course) and I feel that I have a bit more to offer the bento community now. My question is, what are my readers (all six of you) looking for? More Charaben tutorials? More recipes? Maybe you only like to look at pictures, and want me to stop blabbering on about what is in the box!

I feel that sites like Lunch in a Box and Just Bento have covered a great deal of information and are fantastic resources. I don't want to step on their toes, I want to provide additional information. So any suggestions would be great! I would also like to hear any suggestions about site layout. Is it too crowded? Not enough supplemental information on the sidebars?

Thanks in advance!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pikachu Bento

Pikachu Bento
Originally uploaded by JB Doodles

Today's bento is Pikachu themed. He is made from a scrambled egg, with nori details. The rosy cheeks are ketchup. Underneath him is my first attempt at vegetable fried rice. It is fairly easy, but I find my version bland. I used pre-cooked Trader Joe's brown rice, scallions, asparagus, carrots, peppers, and soy sauce. This is also my first attempt at fresh spring rolls. I thinly sliced pepper, scallion, cucumber, carrot, and cabbage. I then rolled them in rice paper sheets. Under the dog divider is peanut dipping sauce. Edamame and tomatoes included as accents.

I think Pikachu came out fairly cute, but I wish I got the egg more scrambled because the white spots detract from the image.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Unicorn Bento

Unicorn Bento
Originally uploaded by JB Doodles

I had a very hard time photographing this bento. Too much light washed out the details on the unicorn. She was supposed to be the "Last Unicorn" character, but that isn't obvious. Also included is Trader Joe's vegetable bird nests (which I overcooked a bit), some brown rice with ginger and wasabi, and some tamagoyaki, and an airplane cookie.

The unicorn is daikon radish which I cut out with a small knife. I used a picture that I downloaded of the Last Unicorn as a guide. Her eye is nori. I had a hard time keeping the pieces together; I used Mayo to hold them in place, but they were a mess by the time I ate lunch.

I visited A Dong grocery in West Haven CT recently. For Connecticut Bento-ists, this place is a must. It doesn't sell bento boxes, but it has rice molds, lacquer ware, rice cookers, utensils, etc. There is also a great selection of food. I bought a tamagoyaki pan and a bunch of fun cookies and candies, including the airplane cookies featured here.

Does anyone know of good Connecticut stores that may sell bento boxes, or other rare food items?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Recipe - Spinach Bites

8/13/08 Bento
Originally uploaded by HazelCreevy

This bento features some home-made spinach bites. They are really filling and super yummy. The pickle, veggies, and chocolate were thrown in there to fill the bento, but the spinach bites were definitely enough food.

Recipe: Spinach Bites

2 Cups fresh spinach, chopped coarsely
1 egg, beaten
1 tbs cornstarch
oil for frying

Mix the egg, spinach, and cornstarch in a large bowl. slowly add flour until the mixture thickens. Note: the mixture will still be sloppy, don't add enough flour to make it doughy. Using two spoons, roll spoonfuls in breadcrumbs. Pan fry until the mixture is brown on both sides.
A few notes: Until the mixture meets the heat, it will be sloppy. You may want to put them in the freezer for a few minutes to make them easier to handle. As soon as you put them in the pan, the egg will thicken up and they will be easy to flip. Simpler variation: Instead of coating the bites with breadcrumbs, you can simply stir the breadcrumbs into the mixture, and just drop spoonfuls into the pan.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Twilight - Bella Bento

Since I began making bento boxes, I have scoured the net looking for how-to and tip blogs. I found a few great ones Lunch in a Box, Vegan Lunch Box, Just Bento, to name a few. The one thing that I haven't found a lot of is charaben tutorials or instructions. So, I winged it based on the few that I found. Today, I decided to show the step-by-step process of making my charaben.

First, I decided on a theme. Twilight! I love the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. I recently finished reading Breaking Dawn which was fantastic in my opinion. The image for Bella (the main character in the series) is based on the Japanese translation of Twilight which features illustrations. I googled the images and found one I liked.

The key to character bento is planning. I first decided on the food, leftovers! I knew that I was making fake chicken (by quorn), mashed potatoes, corn, and stuffing for dinner. I decided that the mashed potatoes would be a good background because it is similar to rice in that it is white and you can mold it. Whilst I was cooking dinner, I prepared Bella. I first traced the image onto wax paper, cut it out, and cut my media (cheese, tofurkey, nori) around these shapes.

I then assembled the parts on wax paper

The hardest part was Bella's facial features. I decided to again trace her eyes, nose, and mouth onto wax paper and, after laying it on top of nori, used an exacto knife to cut the intricate details. It seemed to work well, although I think I will invest in a pair of tweezers to dedicate to food use. They would have helped in placing the small pieces. I then put Bella in the freezer. I ate dinner, watched Jeopardy and waited for the leftovers to cool. I then filled my bento with the food, and put the frozen (and therefore stuck together) Bella on top.

I decided I needed more, so I added a wolf howling at the moon to represent Jacob. I cut the nori using the same technique described above.

For some finishing touches, I added an Apple cookie decorated with a nori apple, some chocolate, and a Morningstar Farms veggie breakfast sausage. I also added some red flower re-usable ice cubes and a red toothpick to add a bit of color.

So, in conclusion, I LOVE Twilight, I hope my step-by-step helps those who are interested in charaben, and this is longest blog post EVER.

Happy Lunch!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

LOL Cat Bento

more cat pictures

I absolutely adore lolcats. I couldn't resist sharing this one :-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Italian Leftover Yoshi Bento

Yoshi Bento
Originally uploaded by HazelCreevy

Tonight I made some fresh pesto with Lemon basin from our garden (minus the pine nuts b/c I am allergic) for dinner. In addition to the fettuccini, I made tomato, mozzarella, and polenta drenched in balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I got the idea to use polenta because of the recent post on Lunch in a Box. I had never thought of polenta for my charaben...duh. The only character I could think of that was remotely Italian was Super Mario Brothers (sad considering I am part Italian). Since I felt that Mario himself was too complex, I chose Yoshi. I looked up some images online and drew a few sketches. I then created this bento with our leftovers from dinner. Yoshi and the mushroom guy are made from mozzarella, tomato, and my green "imitation kamaboko" that tastes like dry air. I'm glad that I found something (the polenta) that I can mold and shape other than rice. I am not a big fan of rice, and it is a real staple in bento boxes.

What else can I mold and shape for charaben? Mashed potatoes?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kuromi Bento

Kuromi Bento
Originally uploaded by HazelCreevy

She looks both cute and badass at the same time. She is sitting on some Microwavable Minute Rice (yuck, I don't recommend it) and some Pete's Tofu 2 Go which is full of awesome deliciousness.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Face Food - Book Review

This weekend I received a copy of Face Food - The visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes by Christopher D Salyers from my cousin (Thanks Sarah!). I had heard a lot about this book, but had never actually seen a copy. The format of the book is a simple picture book with pics of some of the most creative charaben (Character Bento Boxes) that I have ever seen. I was pleased to see that many of the contributors are regulars on the Flickr Bento Boxes photo pool. The book also includes interviews with the artists and a how-to section. The answers to one question in particular floored me. "How much time do you spend creating bentos?" (paraphrased). The artists featured in this book spend hours creating charaben each morning. Although I understand that creating bentos is like any art in that it can relieve stress, you enjoy the process, and you often become so immersed in it, that time slips away, I am amazed because I couldn't imagine waking up that early! My bentos are always made the night before, and it is often in conjunction with cooking dinner.

Overall I highly recommend this book. I have already read it cover-to-cover twice, and can be seen randomly picking it up for a quick glance as I walk by about every hour of the day. I do have a small criticism though. I would love a much larger book (in size and number of pages), with large glossy photos and maybe photos of the artists in their kitchen, or in the midst of creating or eating their bentos. Maybe that will be Face Food 2.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Panda Bento

Panda Bento
Originally uploaded by HazelCreevy

The spring rolls pictured here were an experiment for me. I had spring roll wrappers and Thai marinated tofu from Trader Joe's, and I wanted to make some Thai spring rolls. Using what I had in the fridge, I threw them together and they actually came out amazing! I don't usually have any luck with experimental recipes (but I keep trying). So, here is the recipe:

Jessica's Thai Spring Rolls

1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onions
1 clove chopped garlic
1 tbs chopped fresh lemon basil
1 cup sauerkraut
1 tbs chopped pickled ginger
1 tbs olive oil

Mix the above ingredients. Place approximately 1 tbs of veggie mixture on spring roll wrapper. Lay some thinly sliced Thai marinated tofu on top. Wrap up and fry in olive oil. Serve with Thai peanut dipping sauce.

I still can't believe they came out good, but my boyfriend agrees. I think the marinated tofu is the important part, and the veggies are negotiable.

Click the picture for my Flickr page with details on the other bento ingredients.