Saturday, March 22, 2008

Different Shimp for Different ... Folks

TheBoy's parents took us to a wonderful Chinese restaurant the day I arrived in California. The atmosphere was lovely, but the food was better. The four of us (TheBoy and I + two parents) shared three meals and that left us with plenty of leftovers -- perfect for bento.

So, that's what we did. The next day's bentos consisted of all three meals: two-flavor shrimp ("aromatic," which tasted kind of like buttered popcorn and "savory," which was more of a barbecue flavor), spicy broccoli (vegetarian and amazing), and the final entree, chicken chow mein (not remarkable, but packed with perfectly sauteed veggies).

What really worked for me was the versatility of each meal: a few pieces of the excellent broccoli worked as a filler for The veggie-hating Boy, while the same greenery filled a large portion of my box. Similarly, he got a huge helping of the shrimp, while I only wanted a teaser (though I did snag one of two of his "savory" shrimp when we sat down to eat). We used the leftover brown rice as a good carb complement and I gave TheBoy the remaining chicken from the chow mein leftovers and only took the greens for myself (he's a growing boy who needs his protein!)

As an added protein for me, I rolled up two slices of deli turkey and included them in one small compartment. I rounded out our boxes with cherry tomatoes as fillers and color-complements and then snuck in some cookies: his in the tiny area at the top of his box, which I can only assume is for secret cookies. I wrapped my cookies in plastic wrap and stuck them on top of my meal -- the lid sits a centimeter or two above the main food compartments, so I just took advantage of that space.

TheBoy was really pleased with how everything turned out -- he loved how compact everything was and how much space is saved by his "brick of food."
Because we had a long drive, the whole bento package shown here has a third, smaller box that contains a snack for us. Look for the next update to detail that snack (he liked it so much that I made a clone of it for one of TheBoy's long shoot days).

FYI: this bento experience comes, chronologically before the Laguna Beach bentos, but that one had such pretty scenery that I had to post it first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On a Slightly Unrelated Note...

One of my courses is on American cinematic representations of immigration and the immigrant experience. This "movie class" -- one day of movie watching, one day of movie discussing -- requires that we write the occasional reflective journal based on course materials and how they have affected us as people.
So, of course, I wrote about how one of the materials we read, an excerpt from Ella Shohat and Robert Stam's collaboration, Unthinking Eurocentrism, affects my views on the kitchen and colonialism. I hope you enjoy my highly pretentious writing and a pleasant little break from my glut of pictures.

Here goes:
I love writing and I love to take photographs. The best way for me to combine these two hobbies is to blog – adorning my online habitat with handy quips and poorly composed photographs. Self-deprecation aside, one of the things about which I blog is food, especially when combined with images of the same.

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam also enjoy writing, maybe they even fancy photography. Of course, our potentially similar hobbies are not the topic of this reflection; what they have written about, though, in their Unthinking Eurocentrism, is. Shohat and Stam's keen observations picked up that, though cinema and photography are often coupled with other monumental historical movements, the least talked about pairing couples pho
tography, both still and moving, with colonialism. I have found, through reading their text for this class, that I have been unwittingly a party to a newer, slightly less sinister brand of colonization: that of the kitchen.

Shohat and Stam's assertion that the eye of the camera is the eye of imperialism is really striking to me. Before reading this selection, I had only considered the classic issue of the camera focusing through the male gaze – never through issues of who holds the camera and, thus, power. My epicurean photography has, in a way, held an imperial sway over my kitchen, and, by extension, me. While making an interesting meal, I photograph every step of the preparation. I clean up as I go, stall my chopping to focus neat pictures, and even go so far as to pose my ingredients, commercial-style, to display my recipe components. My use of the camera has forced me into a sort of filmic entrapment, where I must obey the camera's desire for light and exhibit my advances into cooking exoticism.

The most frequent subjects of my camera's eye are my novel forays into cooking. From my tiny, adorable Japanese lunchboxes to my curried winter squash soup, it is most often the foreign foods that highlight my memory card. That I mostly impose my camera eye onto foreign subjects agree with Shohat and Stam's position that the camera typically takes it
s cues from the Western view.

Reading this excerpt makes me feel as though I need to be wary in my kitchen and not merely photograph the compelling “oddities” of the Orient, but also the, to me, mundane foods of my traditional Pennsylvania Dutch, as Western as possible upbringing. Because of Shohat and Stam, my next blog post is more likely to share focus between my famously simple Dutchy dumplings, and not only that amazing sushi that I had last weekend.

Hahaha! You thought there wouldn't be a picture! Gotcha!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bento Break

Now that I have finally, dolefully, returned from my spring break trip to Southern California... blogging resumes!

On only my first full day in California, TheBoy and I took a trip to Little Tokyo, deep in the heart of Los Angeles. While there, we visited our favorite pastry shop, Beard Papa's, bought and drank a bottle of delicious, tangy Calpis water (Calpico in the U.S.), and indulged in a bento-shopping extravaganza.

While I won't show off all my new items today (because I haven't photographed them to my satisfaction), I can't resist posting a few action shots: TheBoy enjoying his brand new box's first outing -- to Laguna Beach, no less.
His box and mine are both very similar from that day: leftover burritos (prepared by REAL Mexicans at Ricardo's in Laguna Niguel). His burrito was stuffed with some yucky, pork carnitas while mine had some tasty roast chicken with rice and beans. Both of our boxes contained salad in varying amounts: his, with the larger space (870ml), held a small salad garnished with chopped orange peppers, while mine (650ml) only held a small pittance of lettuce -- mostly to provide a pleasant bed for leftover salsa and guacamole from Ricardo's. It also made for a yummy, little burrito/taco salad when I mixed the salsa-laden lettuce into the untidy burrito.
TheBoy's box also had some salsa/guac kept tidy through a reusable, silicon baking cup. We both had sliced strawberries and whole blueberries (picked up in inexpensive bulk at Costco, courtesy of TheMom) and temporarily abducted TheMom's silverware for ease of eating the fruits and salads. If we had them, we could have used either toothpicks or decorative bento picks, instead of flatware, but chose the simpler, free method of borrowing from his mom.

We both really enjoyed our lunches and I think the experience has given TheBoy an even better reason to love bento.. aside from its cuteness and tidiness, it's cheap. Instead of succumbing to our hunger in one of Laguna Beach's many overpriced eateries, we chowed down on delicious, hearty leftovers in our convenient boxes. We ate without consulting a menu or waiting in line and we chose our own location -- didn't have to deal with a rude, restaurant hostess or crappy booth.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Italian Vegetable Soup

When I first moved into my new apartment (first apartment), I thought "man, I'm gonna cook every day and it's gonna be awesome." One full semester later, I had cooked hardly anything fantastic and was feeling pretty down about it.
Flash forward to this semester (last semester in college!), and I'm cooking every day and loving it. Somedays, admittedly, "cooking" means throwing some broccoli into boxed mac and cheese, but most days I make something yummy -- or eat leftover yummies.

One of my favorite concoctions this semester has been a wonderful Italian Vegetable Soup. I found the recipe here at one of the food blogs I read. (I highly recommend her blog, though the recipes tend to be a little beyond my budget for spices and fancy things.. like cheese rinds). I really enjoyed the challenge of a multi-day cooking adventure and I really loved the resulting gallon of soup that graced my fridge, freezer, and roommate's bellies for the next few weeks.

In order to afford this soup, I made just a few adjustments to the original recipe. First, I halved the recipe (good thing, too because my pots are not very big). Then, I omitted the sage leaves. And that's it. Overall, this soup took about two days to cook (probably about 5 hours total work with plenty of "oh man, I could've done those at the same time"s). Costing about $10US to purchase broth, veggies and beans, I'd say that this soup yields a lot of awesome for a very small price.
I also appreciate how healthy this soup is: lots of protein from the beans and tons of vegetable nutrition from the veggies. Lots of variety, too -- your basic celery and carrots complemented by onions, cabbage, Swiss red chard, and Cannellini beans (among other things).

I love shortcuts. It makes me really happy to be able to multi-task or find a simpler way of doing something that could be challenging. On of the things I did in this recipe to make everything just a little easier was that, instead of using long carrots, I used the pre-peeled baby carrots that I buy for snacking. I like baby carrots because, unlike their adult friends, I don't have to waste time peeling them and possibly wasting a lot of carrot material.

Speaking of Swiss red chard... WOW! Who knew that a funny-looking relative of the beet would taste so good and yield so many nutrients? Outside of soup, it tastes absolutely fantastic sauteed in butter with garlic and served over rice. The way I did mine was I chopped the hard, crunchy stem out of the leaves and, after chopping the stem into bite size pieces, sauteed it for about three minutes before throwing in the torn up leaves and cooking the whole thing for about two more minutes. Everything was perfectly edible when done this way -- instead of soggy leaves and too-hard stem. You should treat the stem and leaves as if they were different vegetables.

One downside of this fantastic veggie is that it does not keep well in the fridge -- use it within two or three days of buying it or else it wilts and gets ugly (and probably tastes bad, too).

Even my roommate, who hates vegetables, got into the Swiss red chard that I fed her.
Do you have any serving/feasting ideas for chard? It's my new favorite vegetable and I'd love to get more mileage out of it.

Breakfast Bento 1

Usually, I will make bento posts during the week and save food posts for the weekend, but since I have a backlog, I'll start with the closest bento and work my way forward.

Assembly Time: about 10 minutes with pre-made pancakes and onigiri, cooking sausages during preparation.

This bento was my first breakfast bento. In it you see all the hallmarks of a delicious, balanced breakfast -- plus some snack onigiri stuffed with red bean paste and covered in sesame seeds.

I made the pancakes the night before using the recipe in my lovely Betty Crocker Cookbook and fried up some breakfast sausage while loading up the box in the morning. To cook the sausages, I put them in a small frying pan with about a 1/2 inch of water and I let the boiling water cook the sausages until they change color and are grey throughout (I cut them with kitchen scissors). After they're all cooked, I drain the water and let them brown in the same frying pan. This way, I make sure that my meat is cooked all the way through without burning the outside.

The little white-lidded container has a combination of raw honey and frozen berries with which to top the pancakes. Great idea, but the honey didn't go quite as far as cheap, synthetic maple syrup and my pancakes went a little dry, so I might go with regular syrup in the future.

The dark spots surrounding all the food is a combination of raisins and sweetened dried cranberries. They provide an excellent extra to the meal and I pack them around all the bento ingredients to keep them from shifting in transport.

This is one of my favorite bentos to make. With preparation the previous night, I had some delicious, share-able pancakes and an enviable lunch. The pancakes were a little dry (though I think that was my failed cooking) and would have been better if they were piping hot off the stove, but they were convenient to eat without a fork by picking them up and dipping in the honey/berry concoction.