Monday, November 28, 2011

Gobble, Gobble!: #61

A few weeks ago I was invited to help a group of Girl Scouts make bentos of their very own. Since it was so close to the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought turkeys would be a fun and easy shape to make. Plus, the colorful turkey tail allowed the girls to mix and match from a variety of vegetables and fruits.

Above you can see my "demo" bento. Since I was working with 24 young Girl Scouts, plus a sibling or two and my own sweetPea, I wanted to be prepared. In order to expedite the process, the leader and I washed, sliced, and chopped the vegetables in advance. In the bento above are red and yellow bell peppers, carrots, red grapes, broccoli, and a whole wheat bread and cheese sandwich. The turkey's eyes are made from nori, its beak is cheese, and its waddle is a little piece of red bell pepper.

The girls could choose from peanut butter or cheese to fill their sandwiches. They took the basic instructions and ran with it, which is really what bento is all about. I really loved spending time with them and seeing their creative lunches.

Here are a few I was able to photograph before the girls began departing:

sweetPea wanted me to photograph her bento separately. She was pretty proud of the very first bento she constructed on her own. She took hers and the one I made for lunch on consecutive days. She said they held up well, but the one I made came back with the sandwich untouched. Apparently it got a little soggy after sitting for a few days. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bunnicula: #60

For our Mother-Daughter book club this month, the choice was Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery. It's a very cute story and a quick read. In fact, she had me read it to her twice. I wouldn't consider it scary and P is fairly sensitive to that kind of thing. Bunnicula is a bunny who was found in a movie theater during the screening of Dracula. He was taken home by a family with two boys, a cat, and a dog. Soon the family notices that their vegetables are mysteriously turning white. What follows is an entertaining story centering on the cat attempting to convince the dog of the bunny's vampire status and to warn the human members of the family.

Needless to say, it was an appropriate Halloween read. This bento is made up of a cheese sandwich in the shape of Bunnicula. He is a white bunny with black markings (strangely in the shape of a cap) on his back. The cape is made of nori and the photo makes it look more wrinkly than it really was. He has a red Craisin eye and several drained vegetables in front of him made out of cucumbers. Behind him are some broccoli pieces that he has yet to drain. Underneath the cucumbers are red grapes that he has yet to find.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Little Jack-o-lanterns: #59

The three pumpkins are made out of rice and roasted butternuts squash with a little cinnamon and brown sugar. Their features are nori with raisin stems. In the back section are purple grapes, Babybel cheese, yellow tomato slices, and cucumber slices cut into pumpkin shapes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Soccer: #58

Today's after school activity is soccer. She has a provolone cheese sandwich with nori details. For some reason, the nori kept wanting to curl up on me. I saw another soccer bento here and I think the way she put hers together would probably be easier. I used a clipart soccer ball as my inspiration.

Also included are roasted green beans from our CSA, a cherry tomato from our garden, and a zucchini coconut chocolate chip mini muffin.

During the days she stays longer after school I add a separate snack. It's usually a banana with the word "SNACK" written on the peel so she doesn't forget and eat it for lunch. She did that one day and was quite irritated with herself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gathering Nuts:57

We've been enjoying watching the squirrels in our yard gathering nuts for autumn. We have a chestnut tree that they particularly seem to like. The nuts have a thick, very prickly, exterior that pop open after a few days revealing the meat inside. It keeps them distracted enough to keep them out of the bird feeder.

This little bread and cheese squirrel is gathering a particularly oversized acorn. He's standing in a field of dried cranberries, orange carrot leaves, and homemade brown peach leather leaves. Also included is a muffin cup filled with homemade pear sauce and two zucchini coconut chocolate chip mini muffins.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chess Bento:56

As a first grader, sweetPea has the option of participating in several extracurriculars this year. Chess Club meets once a week for an hour after school. I'd like to say that she's learning lots of strategy, but mostly I think she's just having fun playing chess.

The chess board is a cheese sandwich topped with white cheddar and nori squares and orange cheddar chess pieces. Also included are some early fall cucumbers, broccoli, and the very last of the peaches for the season (sigh).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beet Hummus Bento: #55

This bento contains Red Beet and White Bean Hummus, blue corn chips, a chocolate chip coconut zucchini mini muffin, yellow tomatoes, carrot sticks, and a small red apple. This isn't a particularly "cute" bento, but it's colorful and packs a lot of nutritional punch.

I know I've mentioned it many times, but I'm not a big beet fan. Plain roasted beets bring back memories of canned lunchroom beets slopped on my tray in childhood. They make me gag, to be honest. However, when we became CSA members years ago, I was determined to find uses for them that were palatable to me. Plus, they're packed with lots of good nutrition. This hummus combines the protein power of white beens with the added folate and antioxidants of beets. It's pretty darned tasty.

The apple is a cute little Rome that is pure white inside. sweetPea had fun picking this variety last Sunday. She called them her "prize apples". The little yellow tomatoes came from a friend's garden. And you might notice a bit of frost on the muffin. Often when I make baked goods, I'll make small versions and freeze them for use in a bento. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Apple Picking: #54

Today's bento includes a garden salad leftover from a Labor Day picnic, tiny cheese sandwiches in the shapes of apples, and an individual apple pie. I also included dressing for the salad and milk.

Early September never used to remind me of apples, but for the last few years we've been picking apples at an orchard called Hidden Hollow. They do use a small amount of spray early in the season, but it's the most natural apple orchard I've seen in the area. They have what seems like an infinite variety of apple trees and a lot of them have already started ripening. We were able to pick over a bushel of apples in very short order.

The first dishes I made with all those apples were two beautiful apple pies for our family's Labor Day picnic. While those were cooking, I put together miniature apple pies for sweetPea's lunches. All I did was put a small amount of crust in the bottom of some silicon cupcake containers, cut some of the apples from the pie filling into smaller pieces, and top with streussel. I then baked them for about half the time of the full-sized pies.

I only made three as a test, but I think I'll make more and freeze them to pop into her lunch for a special treat now and then. I also think I should have cut an apple shape out of crust for the top of the little pies. Anyway, I think they turned out awfully cute.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shikai Maki Sushi Bento: #53

Since I first saw this beautiful bento, I've wanted to try to make shikai maki. I had some leftover rice from making the ladybugs earlier in the week and I thought the rich red jewel tones from the beets would work well here. 

My first attempt was a disaster, but sweetPea was generous enough to eat it for dinner last night. I tried to add cucumber to the roll like in the bento zen blog example, but I couldn't figure out how to make it work. This roll, where I've only used rice and tofu, turned out much better. I've also included some sliced cucumbers, cherries, and a mini zucchini coconut chocolate chip muffin. 

Here's a view from above. sweetPea especially liked that the tofu makes a diamond in the center. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ladybug Garden: #52

Last Sunday I taught my first ever bento making class. I was nervous, but it was great fun getting together with a group of women (and one 10yo) to discuss making healthy lunches in creative ways. The bento above was the inspiration (because no way was I walking into a room to show people how to make something I'd not tried myself).

I thought it would be fun to show variations on a theme. In other words, you can make the same thing out of many different food items. We started with some simple ladybugs on a log (celery with strawberry cream cheese and dried cranberries), then moved on to onigiri.

The two rice ladybugs are dyed with beets. The red one is made with pureed beets. The purple one is made with beet dye. I simply poured some boiling water over shredded beets and let it steep for 60 seconds. Then I poured off the water and added a bit of baking soda. That turned it a lovely lavender.

Then we made a babybel cheese ladybug and squished everything together so it wouldn't move around. We packed in steamed broccoli, cherries, cherry tomatoes, carrot flowers, and purple podded pole beans. I even took it upon myself to create a ladybug out of a cherry tomato, some nori and cream cheese (for spackling the nori in place).

It turned out okay, but my poor tomato ladybug was a little sad.

Here are some of the creations made by the rest of the class. It was really fun to see how they all turned out. (I was hurrying, so unfortunately some of the photos turned out blurry.)

Purple Podded Pole Beans: #51

This bento was so simple, I almost didn't bother to post it. But I wanted to showcase my beautiful purple podded pole beans that we grew in our garden this year. I love these beans. They're really gorgeous on the vine and very tasty. When you cook them, they turn green just like any other pole bean.

Luckily sweetPea likes to eat them raw as well as cooked. She took this lunch with some ranch dressing for dipping.

Leftover Bento: #50

I am behind in posting. I wish I'd had a more fantabulous bento to show for the 50th bento, but I figure I'll do better on number 100. Anyway, it gives me an excuse to talk about the Thermos Food Jar. (Note: I am not affiliated with this product in any way. I have received nothing from the company. I just think it works well.)

I didn't do the best job in planning out lunches this week and it shows. Usually when I make the grocery list, I start by writing the days of the week and listing the dinners I'll make every night. Then on the back, I'll sketch my bento ideas for the week. I'll usually just have maybe 3 ideas or so and then I'll fill in with whatever strikes my fancy. Only then will I start adding the ingredients to my list.

This bento was actually consumed on Thursday 8/25. The night before we had roasted broccoli and Spanish Style Quinoa. She was willing to eat her broccoli cold, but she wanted the quinoa in her "heater". In the morning, I put some very hot water into the Thermos and let it set while we ate breakfast. Then I heated up her quinoa, poured the water out of the Thermos and put the quinoa inside. At her request, I sprinkled cheese on top. Then for lunch, her quinoa was still toasty warm and the cheese was melted.

You can also use the food jar as a "cooler", too. Then you simply add iced water first.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

sweetPea's Choice: #49

I usually plan several bentos before we do the grocery shopping, but I also leave room for making up some as I go along. Today, I was particularly uninspired so I simply asked what she wanted for lunch. "Hmmm. Carrots. Cherries. Cheese and crackers. And cut the carrots into flowers."

That was pretty good actually. I mean, cheese and crackers aren't exactly a paragon of nutritional virtue, but she didn't ask for potato chips and HoHos either, you know?

So I pull out the fresh bag of carrots to choose one for peeling. Lo and behold, we got an extra special bonus prize. In the bottom of the bag of ordinary Kroger organic carrots, I saw a beautifully bright yellow carrot. I looked at the package to make sure it wasn't some kind of "special" bag, but it didn't indicate that we were getting anything special. We had to taste it. Pea proclaimed that it was harder, but extra sweet.

I made a bed of yellow and orange carrot sticks with carrot flowers on top. Then I threw in some cherries. I added some Wheat Thin crackers and cut butterflies into the BabyBel cheese. Voila!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Birthday Bento: #48

Yesterday was sweetPea's sixth birthday. She wanted to stay home from school today to play with her new toys. I didn't let her do that, but I did send her with a special birthday bento as a consolation prize. In this bento she has carrot sticks, broccoli, cherries, and watermelon balls.

The cupcake is a cheese sandwich covered with provolone and cheddar cupcake cutout. I used cream cheese to get the sprinkles (yes, real sugar sprinkles) and the tomato "cherry" to stick. I didn't have any cookie cutters to use for this one, so I borrowed the idea from a post on Bentology and hand cut out the shapes. It was actually pretty easy. A paring knife and a pair of kitchen sheers made short work of it. 

The Bounty of Summer: #47

For her second day of school, I used the smaller box. She has a big Tomato Bread Salad with the olives picked out and with fresh mozzarella chunks added. I love kalamata olives, but she just hasn't developed a taste for them. She also has some lovely cherries (on sale from Whole Foods) and my attempt at Peach Fruit Leather, which turned out more like peach crisps. I think I over cooked them, but they're still really tasty. To the basic recipe, I added some ginger and cinnamon. The house smelled divine while they were drying.

She ate almost all of this one. A few pieces of the salad came home, but everything else was eaten.

First Day of First Grade: #46

This was actually her first FULL day of first grade. She had three half days, then Thursday she went for a full day. It's her school's way of easing the transition from the lazy days of summer to the hectic school year.

Clockwise from top, she had steamed broccoli and tomatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe balls, carrot sticks and a Babybel cheese with the number one cut out, and mahogany rice with a red rice and nori ladybug. The ladybug is colored red with beets.

Unfortunately a fair amount of this lunch came back. I packed her an especially large one because she was so concerned about not having enough food. Last year they had fruits and vegetables sitting out for the kids to snack on throughout the day. In the grades they no longer have that option. I still think she would have eaten more, but one of the older children baked chocolate chip muffins and sweetPea ate two of them. I think it's great that the kids can cook in school, but broccoli just can't compete with chocolate chip muffins.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Unicorn: #45

For her last day of summer camp, sweetPea gets a very special lunch made in the shape of her current favorite mythical animal - the unicorn. It is a cheese and bread sandwich adorned with a radish flower necklace. She also has brocooli, carrots, and a ginger cookie that I broke into quarters so it would fit into the box. I included some ranch dressing and pineapple juice in separate containers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ice Cream & Cookies: #44

sweetPea has some super tasty salads in her lunch today. We have had late August temperatures for about the last week so I've been loathe to do much cooking, especially later in the afternoon. I put together a plethora of salads that we can eat on for this week.

Counterclockwise from bottom-left: purple cabbage cole slaw, Wheat Berry Waldorf Salad (without walnuts), blueberries, Big Soft Ginger Cookies, a BabyBel cheese, and in the center is a piece of broccoli. They are decorated with little bitty cheese ice cream cones. I saw it somewhere the interwebs, but they're really easy to make. The cones are just a piece of cheddar cheese that I cross-hatched with a tooth pick. I wish I'd gotten a closeup, because they really do look like little tiny cones. The ice cream is simply provolone cheese.

The Verdict: Surprisingly, she ate almost every bite of this lunch. There were a few wheat berries left, but that's about it. It looked like too much food after I made it, but she must have been hungry. They're pretty active in summer camp.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Fun: #43

The bottom section holds blue rice with chive "seaweed" and cheddar and provolone fish. The top section has a rocky cantaloupe beach with a BabyBel beach ball. I also sprinkled around some blueberries for color. Mr. Pea saw those and asked if they were tar balls from the Gulf oil spill. I included a cute watermelon umbrella that I got at Joanne's Crafts for half price.

This blue rice turned out much better than my last disastrous attempt. The trick is to cook the rice first and then add the cabbage water. (If you're new here, you can easily make blue coloring by steeping chopped red cabbage leaves for a few moments, strain it, and then add a little baking soda. Voila. Blue.)

Ha! I just now realized that my beach ball looks more like a peppermint. Oh, well. Now I have an idea for next Christmas.

The Verdict: She ate everything but the rice. She said it tasted gross. Maybe I'll try using beet juice with a touch of baking soda next time for a blue color. I've not tried that, but I'd imagine the result would be the same. Plus she likes beet risotto so I'd think the flavor of beets would be more palatable to her.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"It's Not Easy Being Green": #42

Yesterday the girl came home from summer camp with a tadpole so today I sent her in with some frogs. My husband saw me making this bento and said, "Boy. That's a a lot of green." It reminded me of Kermit the Frog's song, "It's Not Easy Being Green," so I had my title.

She has broccoli, kiwi lily pads with carrot lilies, rice frogs colored with pureed peas, dried cranberries, and a two little strawberries. The frog details are made from nori and provolone cheese. I also sent her with ranch dressing to for dipping the broccoli and iced water with a squirt of lime.

The last time I turned rice green, I simply mashed peas around and stirred them into the rice. That resulted in weird green clumps that didn't look terribly appetizing. Consequently, sweetPea refused to eat it. This time I pureed the peas with some water and then stirred it into the rice. The result was a much more consistent color and (hopefully) a more appetizing lunch. She was very happy to take this so I'm hoping she'll be happy to eat it. Stay tuned.

The Verdict: At school she ate one frog, all the cranberries and strawberries, all the carrots, a few pieces of broccoli and one piece of kiwi. She said the kiwi was sour. She ate the other frog after school for snack.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Strawberries & Pineapples: #41

Today is the first day of a week-long summer camp held at sweetPea's school. They have a fairly normal, albeit relaxed, school day during the morning and then they have time for water play after lunch. The camp focuses on science. I hear that today the kids will be bringing home a new pet - a little tadpole. I guess I'll have to do a frog bento at some point. :)

We still have lots of strawberries ripening in our garden. In this bento, I made a strawberry & pineapple fruit salad. The only thing extra I added to the fruit was a sprinkling of sugar to allow the strawberries to macerate. In the right side are little strawberry and pineapple shaped provolone cheese sandwiches and a few baby carrots. I also included iced water with a squeeze of lime for her to drink.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Canoe: #40

Last Monday was Memorial Day. Since Mr. Pea was off work, we decided to fill our day with special adventures. Since part of the day would be spent canoeing, I made sweetPea a special bento for her very first canoe trip. In this bento are a cream cheese and strawberry balsamic jam on a croissant with a cheddar cheese canoe with provolone paddles. She also has strawberries and snap peas from our own garden and some Pirate's Booty.

What's that? Stawberry balsamic jam? Yes. I canned some of the best jam I've ever made on Saturday using strawberries from our front yard patch. Apparently, just a smidge of balsamic vinegar makes strawberry jam absolutely sing. 

Here are some of the beautiful berries from our garden and the finished jam. 

I also packed lunch for the adults. My bento contains egg salad on a croissant, pasta salad, and strawberries and snap peas from our garden. 

After a 7 mile canoe trip, lunch was a welcome respite. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures on the trip itself. I was afraid to take along my camera, although I think it would have been fine. I didn't want to chance dunking my camera in the water. I kind of regret it now, considering how many picture worthy moments we had. We saw a big fish chasing a little fish, loads of turtles sunning themselves on rocks, a mama mallard with her little baby mallards, a snake playing in the riffles, a dog wearing a doggy life jacket swimming alongside another canoe. 

sweetPea sat in the center while Mr. Pea and I did most of the paddling. We had plenty of moments of rest because the river was still fairly high and running at a lazy pace. It was nice to set down the paddles and just listen to the birds talk to one another and watch the sun sparkle on the water. It was a record day for heat, but on the river it was quite comfortable. 

No canoe trip could be complete without at least one round of "Row, row, row your boat." Apparently Pea thinks the song ends with "Like a spider dream". Ha!!

After the canoe trip, we had lunch in the shade near a dam in the Blue River (which looks pretty green, by the way). 

Our day wasn't over at this point. Next we went to Marengo Cave and took the Crystal Palace tour. It was a nice cool walk after a hot day on the river. There are loads of stalactites and stalagmites, culminating in the Crystal Palace room itself. I'll be honest - it's hard to take pictures in a cave, but here's the best I could do.

After the tour, we had the option of panning for gemstones (for a small fee, of course). 

We were pretty worn out by this time, so we headed home. sweetPea said it was the best day she'd ever had. She asked me yesterday when we're going canoeing again. :)

Summer of the Sun

I'm behind in posting again. We've been enjoying our summer and staying very active. Last week, my daughter decided we needed a new holiday. She dubbed it "Summer of the Sun". She made cards for us all and we made cards for her. She wore her yellow sun dress. 

What does this have to do with food? Well, like her mama, she has realized that no holiday is complete without some special food. She created her own recipe to celebrate her holiday. 

Voila! We have Sun Dip. 

In case you can't read that, I'll translate: 

8 Strawberries
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup of brown sugar

Yes, it's pretty darned sweet, but I let her do it. She even illustrated it, for heaven's sake. Plus, I remember how much fun I had when my grandmother let me make my very own recipe. I called it "Noodles". I think I was probably 4 years old. I used flour, brown sugar and either water or milk. I mushed it into a dough, cut it into pieces and baked it. I was so proud! I still remember putting a few pieces next to my grandfather's plate and him just munching them up like they were the best things he'd ever eaten. 

I think sweetPea was just as proud of her holiday and her special dessert. She served her dip with blackberries, clementine sections and cantaloupe. She prepared all of it but the cantaloupe. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Busy Bumblebee: #39

Today is sweetPea's last day as a kindergartener. Since they're doing a Walk-A-Thon for a good portion of the day, I wanted her to have lots of goodies to give her energy. I packed a busy bumblebee made from provolone, cheddar and nori. She also has honey roasted chickpeas, strawberries, blackberries, and a Clementine flower. I packed milk separately.

My bento making will slow down for the summer, but it won't stop. We have lots of adventures planned and I'm sure we'll need lots of snacks and food to take along.

Butterflies: #38

I think this one was from Monday. She had provolone and cheddar butterflies, roasted chickpeas, a Clementine & blackberry flower, and a strawberry. I told her to use the spinach tortilla to wrap up the cheese, but she just ate the cheese off the top and left the tortilla.

Hungry Caterpillar: #37

I'm a little behind in posting. This was from last week. She had a hungry caterpillar made from provolone cheese and a spinach tortilla, Honey Roasted Chickpeas, blackberries, and a Carrot Apple Coconut muffin. I also sent milk. She ate it all except for the lettuce. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another Simple Bento: #36

This is another example of how a simple lunch can be prepared quickly and still look lovely. In the box are a provolone cheese sandwich on a croissant, sliced kiwis, Coconut Apple Carrot mini muffins, and some crunchy Honey Roasted Chickpeas. I added a chive flower just to make it pretty. I think sweetPea will appreciate that surprise at lunchtime.

I got the idea of adding a little flower from the BentoBird blog. Her bentos are very elegant and lovely. They're not charaben and seem to be geared more for an adult, but I think I'd love to sit down to a lunch as beautiful as hers. (Yes, I have bento envy. Leave me alone.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Simple Bento: #35

Have you noticed that the day after I make a more complicated bento, I tend to make a really easy one? That's no accident. I try to spread out the charaben so I don't get burned out making them. However, simple doesn't have to mean boring or non-tasty. This lunch is a good example of a delicious, nutritious box that was a snap to assemble.

I've been following a food blog called for the last few months. She does more typical blogs, but she also posts videos of her making food with her kids. These aren't amateur-looking videos either. Someone has obviously put some time and energy into making these look really nice. That's neither here nor there. The really cool part is that sweetPea watched the video on Avocado Herb Dip with me.

Pea has gotten a lot more adventurous in her eating lately (yay bento!), but she's still pretty dependent on ranch dressing for her veggies. I'm not as fond of that idea as she is. I've tried to interest her in guacamole or any kind of avocado-based dish for a while, but she turns it down. Last night I was preparing an avocado for dinner. She said, "Oh! Are you making that dip we saw?" Actually I hadn't planned on it, but hearing her enthusiasm I figured we'd give it a try. She was so excited! She ran outside and cut the herbs herself. She chose cilantro and chives. We put everything into the food processor, and voila! She ate dip for dinner with carrots, broccoli and corn chips. I was happy to have her do it.

So today's lunch includes Avocado Herb Dip with carrots and broccoli, strawberries and blackberries, and a Carrot Apple Coconut Muffin.