Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How hot was it?

Kansas weather item
from early August, 2010
graphic from KSNT Channel 27

We are just back from a visit with family in Kansas. Boy oh boy, it was so hot! (you're supposed to say: How hot was it?)

It was so hot, I saw a squirrel run down a tree, hit the sidewalk and burst into flames.

It was soooo hot, even the Gila Monsters at the zoo were carrying canteens.

It was so hot:

  • all the corn on the stalks started popping and flying through the air.

  • I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking.

  • the birds had to pick up worms with potholders.

  • farmers were feeding their hens crushed ice so they wouldn't lay hard-boiled eggs.

  • the trees were whistling for the dogs.
  • Okay, one more: It has been so hot in Kansas this summer the devil has gone back to Hades, where it is cooler.

    And that is not taking into account the heat index, which factors humidity into the equation. Brutal summer!

    I love Kansas; I was born and raised there. But, I'm afraid I've become a sissy after living in Colorado for 22 years--I just can't stand the humidity anymore. So, to all you Kansans--you are a brave, strong and mighty people to endure such a summer. My hat's off to you! (but please, you should leave your hats on to stay shaded).

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Summertime Sandwich

    Grilled Veggies
    photo by

    Is your garden overflowing with veggies? Or, maybe you went a little nuts at the farmers' market and bought more than you know what to do with? Here's a quick and delicious way to use August's bounty, whether you've planned to have so many vegetables on your counter or not.

    I love to make this dinner sandwich this time of year. The recipe is from the excellent book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. A slice or two of prosciutto, ham or fried bacon can be added if you have reluctant vegetarians in the family.


    Summer squash (an assortment)
    Olive oil
    Salt and pepper

    Slice vegetables lengthwise into strips no thicker than ½ inch. Combine olive oil and spices (be generous with the herbs) and marinate vegetables, making sure all faces of the vegetable slices are covered. Then cook on grill until vegetables are partially blackened, you may want to use grill basket for onions and peppers.

    2 loaves French bread (16 to 18 inches)
    2 balls mozzarella (8 oz.)
    3 large tomatoes
    Basil leaves

    Cut loaves of bread lengthwise. Arrange bread on baking sheets and layer with slices of mozzarella first, grilled vegetables next, and slices of tomato last. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and place the baking sheets under a broiler until cheese in melted. Garnish with leaves of fresh basil. Cut in pieces to serve.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    The World of Bento

    photo from
    obento created by Yayoi Brown

    A few years ago, I was frustrated by the lunch bags available in the stores: they seemed cheaply made and easily damaged or destroyed, many (most?) were unsafe--why on earth would you put lead in a lunch box? And, by the time lunch rolled around, the bag had been squished and roughed up so much that the meal inside was completely unappetizing. To top it all off, it was wasteful, using a system of baggies and/or commercially prepared individual portions. I wanted something better for my kids' lunches.

    And, then I discovered bento boxes.

    WARNING: Bento collecting is very addictive. I, myself, managed to pull back from the brink of total consumption by these beautiful, adorable, funny, and crazy pieces of art! I hope this post doesn't send me back to the edge :-)

    In my last post, I tried to convey the meaning of obento (I do not claim to be an expert on this topic) and some most inspirational photos of this Japanese-style of lunch.

    Today, our topic turns to the bento box itself.

    There is a whole world of bento on the internet and the choices are nearly endless. You can find single layer, double or even triple layer bentos; bentos with chop sticks built into the top. Bentos which are traditional wood or stainless steel, bentos which are microwaveable. There are different styles of bentos for holidays and of course for men, women and kids. Every color and theme imaginable and all designed to enhance the lunch experience. Some bentos snap closed, some have thick elastic bands to wrap around. Some rely on pretty handkerchiefs tied artfully to keep them together; the chop sticks are then slipped under the knot. (see below)

    There is an abundance of websites selling bentos these days. Of course, Amazon and ebay sell them, and many other websites as well. JBox has a large assortment of bento boxes and accessories. I have ordered from them several times and have found them to be very reliable. You can buy very cute, inexpensive bentos here, such as this one:

    Or how about one for your lego-lover:

    Hello Kitty bentos are very popular:

    Do you remember the children's movie, Kiki's Delivery Service?

    Here is an elegant bento with kimono print:

    One with pretty flowers:

    And with bunnies:

    Don't forget the manly bentos:

    And a traditional New Years Eve Feast lacquer box:

    There are so many accessories, it is hard to know where to begin. Here are a few:

    Of course, you have to have the grass to separate foods:

    Here's another pretty way to separate foods:

    There are tiny sauce containers:

    And vegetable cutters:

    How about a wacky wiener cutter--this one will make a crab shape:

    Every self-respecting bento maker must have egg shapers...

    and rice ball makers:

    I have my doubts about the safety of these antibacterial sheets to keep your food safe:

    And after your bento is packed, you might want to consider wrapping it in a furoshiki or handkerchief. Here is a video from youtube showing how to wrap furoshiki around a laptop, a bento and then how to make it into a shoulder bag to carry purchases or other items. No lead in these beautiful cloths, for sure.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Obento Love

    Green Bird Bento
    photo by Nonochan

    At lunchtime tomorrow, men, women and children across Japan will open their obento boxes to see beautifully prepared lunch, much as their ancestors have done for centuries. The ancient art of obento lunches is an elegant expression of beauty, simplicity and love. In fact, a beautifully prepared children's Bento is synonymous with a mother's love in Japan. It is an invisible connection between mother and child, as the child goes out into the world.

    Obento (also called bento, but the "o" signifies honor and isn't is a lovely idea to honor one's lunch!) is made from bits of meat, vegetables and rice, combined in a visually appealing way. Rather than portions, there are "bites" of a variety of foods in the typical bento. The diversity of tastes as well as the beauty of the meal make for a satisfying lunch.

    John Maeda, from the Rhode Island School of Design, says the beauty of bentos and of all Japanese art and life is due to the limited resources of that island nation. Individuals always are seeking ways to make more with less (New York Times).

    Even an obento, produced by a stranger and purchased in a train station, has meaning. It is a way for each area to feature its own local foods and style and to welcome the visitor.

    It is easy to see why people become so poetic about this art form. I think this eloquent comment from a New York Times article says it best:

    An o-bento is an invitation. To the flavors of home, of its kitchen, and of its "o-kaasan" (Mom) or its "o-kamisan" (mistress of the inn or lodgings)and an extravagant invitation to the senses, to the few moments of private pleasure it conveys, to a treasure chest of flavorful morsels. You may indulge, but like Belgian chocolate, a little at a time.

    It is an invitation to the furtive glances of the other kids in the classroom, the other office ladies in the lunchroom, to the teacher who notices that his pupils are well-supplied and happy at home. For the male salariman, it is an "aisai bento" - often only prepared in those first months after marriage - that signals to his peers that he has made a good choice, and has a life partner who cares.

    In the "o-miyage" shops at every station, it is a focal point of local foodie pride,the "eki-ben" or "our station's favorite lunch box" that lends that distinctive pleasure, to the visiting traveler the novelty of having come all this way to have this simple but distinctive and nutritious locally-made dish, to the wayward city dwellers a reminder of the simpler life of home."

    In the next post, we will come down to earth and discuss some ways to make our American lunches more appealing through bentos. Until then, please enjoy these photos from one of my favorite bento artists, Nonochan. She makes these for her two children. Lucky kiddos!

    Sleeping Cat Bento

    Christmas Bento

    Little Hen Bento

    Lunchbox Time Again!

    strawberries, snap peas, rice cakes with peanut butter, carrots with ranch dip

    If the title of this post makes your groan, you can join a really, really big club. Packing a lunchbox for your kiddos' school (not to mention for yourself) can get boring FAST. In fact, just thinking about THE BIG Back-to-School Event (as it seems to have become) is enough to send chills up the spine of any parent!

    Enter Laptop Lunch Boxes, bento-style lunch boxes for kids (and grown-ups). I bought one for my daughter when she was in third grade and she used it through sixth. A tray, with five perfectly-fitted containers and eating utensils, sets inside a horizontal lunch box. A reusable plastic water bottle also is included. When zipped, it looks like a little laptop.

    Certainly, these lunch boxes are more expensive than what you can buy at a discount store, but they have several advantages. They can be packed so there is no waste; you don't need any plastic bags or wrappers. They are tough and designed to last a long time. The tray and containers are dishwasher safe, made of safe plastic and they are fun! They come in a variety of colors. The containers are microwave safe.

    The website has a bunch of great, healthy lunch ideas. You also can subscribe to their free e-newsletter and receive more lunch ideas.

    Here are a few more photos from their website, with foods I think my kiddos would actually eat:

    chilled asparagus, strawberries, pasta and carrots with dip

    Spring lettuce salad with dressing, cottage cheese and sesame melbas

    Deviled eggs with bacon, yogurt-covered raisins and dark chocolate bits, strawberries and grapes, cukes and carrots

    Cookie, half apple, almonds, grapefruit segments, turkey wrap, pretzels

    In the next post or two, I have treats for you! We'll be looking at bento boxes (Japanese-style lunch boxes), more lunch ideas and some pretty amazing food art, made especially for bento.

    Please note: I have not been paid to endorse this product. I only share it with you because I love it and thought you might, too!

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    More Real Pizza!

    Greek Pizza
    photo by
    Katharine J Moriarty

    In the last post, the topic was home-made pizza. Today, I'll offer some more quick ideas for toppings.

    My kiddos love American pizza, so I let 'em go for it. I buy a very good quality pizza sauce--there are several at the grocery, including organic. While pizza sauce is very easy to make, usually I don't have time on a weeknight.

    They love sausage, so I brown a batch of Italian sausage from Rocky Plains Meats. Topped with fresh mozzarella, this is their favorite pizza hands down.

    Another favorite around here is Mexican Pizza. Simply spread your favorite salsa on the pizza dough and sprinkle with shredded quesadilla cheese.

    Greek Pizza! Pictured above, this pizza is another favorite of mine. Stir together olive oil, a bit of dried oregano or chopped, fresh oregano if you've got it, and some pressed or minced garlic. Brush the mixture onto an unbaked pizza crust and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella. Overlap thinly sliced fresh tomatoes on top of the cheese and follow with thinly sliced red onion. Sprinkle with chopped kalamata olives and crumbled, feta cheese. When the pizza comes out of the oven, I like to sprinkle it generously with roughly chopped baby spinach leaves.

    Good stuff! Enjoy!