Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mini-Lunches: The Sequel

When I started on my bento fixation, my first box was this little doozy shown in these photos: a slightly too-small-for-a-meal, absolutely adorable green frog bento. For a few months, I used this box almost every day and had very few problems -- except that I returned home ravenous and craving unhealthy food or, worse, that I would end up purchasing snacks out of vending machines on campus. Because I started bento-ing to save money and to be healthier, having a too-small box was just not working out. So, now this box is relegated to shorter days and to extremely long days on which I take two boxes. Those days are the worst!

In this lunch you see a combination of simple veggie-fried rice. The Roommate and I make this pretty frequently using just some frozen mixed veggies (or leftover fresh ones), a single scrambled egg, leftover rice, and some spices -- mostly just soy sauce, sometimes sesame oil, and lots of olive oil. This is a nice, easy way to use up day-old rice and to give a small vegetable kick to my roommate's otherwise bland lunches and my usually veggie-rich, but rice-light meals. The sauce bottle (a fishie!) contains some low-sodium soy sauce to add a little extra to the rice ... nothing fancy.

Beyond the divider, I just rolled up some deli meat (ham, in this case) and topped it with a slice of super-processed American cheese that I quickly cut into cute shapes using my tiny cookie cutters. A great way to add some quick, cute dairy (yay for calcium!)

In the lower layer, I have some peeled, organic baby carrots, a disposable tiny metallic muffin paper full of delicious red pepper hummus and some amazingly fantastic frozen green grapes. Now, there's a problem between me and grapes. I love 'em.. can't get enough of 'em. I freeze them because they're extra tasty out of the freezer. Unfortunately, lunch has taught me that they're not quite as tasty a few hours out of the freezer, which isn't to say that they taste bad.. just not the frozen, delightful treat I'd prefer. To counteract their drippy, warming tendencies, I stuffed a small amount of paper towel under the grapes -- a perfect solution. Though my grapes were still pretty soggy by the time I ate them (easily four or five hours after packing), they stayed delicious and didn't drown my carrots, thanks to the paper towel.

Overall, this made a great meal -- perfectly balanced for me with a good amount of protein, carbs, and plenty of fruits and veggies. I get most of my fruit intake during lunch, so it's especially important that I rethink (read: ignore) standard Japanese bento guidelines that frown upon a lot of fruit.

This was a very good light lunch and I got a lot of compliments on the cute cheese. Definitely a repeat, if I can keep the grapes out of my belly long enough to wait for lunch again!


Some days, I'm not going to be on campus for very long -- Tuesdays can be as short as four hours in class. For these days, I make "mini-lunches" that pack a pleasant, filling punch without the relative bulk of a guideline-size lunch. As a woman of short-average height, my recommended bento size is about 600-650ml. These lunches, then, are less. The pink box holds only 475ml while the green one, unfortunately not labeled for size, holds a little more.

For this first mini-lunch, I took some leftover rice from the previous night's dinner and put it into a reusable silicone baking cup. The ugly brownish spot on the top is my attempt to make a heart shape out of chili powder. As you can see, I failed ... but it was still tasty. The little blue sauce container holds some low sodium soy sauce, but the rice was so tightly packed that I had to half empty the silicone cup in order to spread the soy sauce evenly. If I choose to do this in the future, I might pack less rice into the cup, or I might simply leave that part of the meal to last so that I could spread out the rice in the bottom of the bento box.

The small metal container holds tulip-shaped slices of alternating cheddar and monterey jack cheese and the heart on top is a folded slice of deli turkey. This made a great snack, especially alongside the carb-heavy rice.

Nestled in among the grapes rests an ugly pink blob: a gift from my mother, "the Easter bunny." She gave me jelly beans in a jelly bean-shaped container that just so happens to fit perfectly in this bento. So, I re-appropriated it. In this meal, it contains a mixture of roasted peanuts and soynuts, the perfect salty snack to make up for my low-sodium soy sauce. Yay for sodium! I really love the jelly bean container idea... not only is it simple, but, for me, it was free and, for others, it's as easy as the clearance rack after the holiday. It kept the dry nuts from getting soggy in the moist environment of this bento and provided a cute conversation piece at work, where I devoured this meal.

Verdict: Definitely a repeat! So simple, even with the "elaborate" shapes.. just a mini-cookie cutter and I had adorable, bento size slices of cheese and meat.