Monday, August 31, 2009

good stuff

Sometimes you just have to have a post about other people's cool stuff!
So let's start off with Hello Kitty bento inspiration...enough to have you drooling and ooohing through autumn!
Sanrio hosted their 3rd annual bento contest...check out the winners and runners up here. So incredibly awesome!!!

And speaking of Hello Kitty...people are always asking me where to buy bento items locally, especially Hello Kitty. Usually I direct them to the craft store, party store, or educational toy store and tell them to cross their fingers that it's been restocked recently. Last year I reviewed our local Korean market Asinayo, and the other day Maia and I found that they have started stocking a few Hello Kitty bentos in addition to wooden Hello Kitty and Shinkansen chopsticks. Woohoo! They also have Hello kitty plates and mugs, Thomas the Tank Engine training chopsticks, Peter Rabbit spoons, crocheted fruit holders, Hello Kitty socks and various other knick knacks, and plenty of edible goodies to make a trip there worthwhile (and more expensive! LOL).

Maia immediately pointed and lunged at everything from her sling, totally suckering me in to spending $18 on a new pink picnic bento. Me, buying pink! What is this world coming to??

The bottom tier has two subdivided subdividers, LOL, making four compartments on the bottom if you need them, or two, or one. Very versatile. It really is pretty darned cute. And Maia would not stop playing with it all day long!

Now, seeing as Halloween is only 2 months off (it's our favourite holiday), I usually turn to PETA's vegan candy list for assistance. Otherwise I read read read ingredients and do my best. But Cuny Queen's awesome vegan blog has got me in a tizzy. I am going to email all the companies in question, because as it turns out, many of the candies I previously thought to be vegan, may actually contain cochineal or carmine disguised as "artificial color". ARRRRGGGGHHH!!!! I don't want me or my kids eating crushed bugs thank you very much.
Anyhow, I haven't checked Snopes yet, but I will be contacting Willy Wonka among others to verify this info.

To end this post on a happier note, I recently came across this review of Saisai Lunch on Just Bento, the first vegan bento book I've ever seen. (I know there's Vegan Lunch Box, which is good and all, but it's not really bento because she usually uses a larger Laptop Lunchbox presentation.) The only problems are a) it's not been translated into English yet, and b) it's only available via Amazon Japan, but here's the link anyway! I'm hoping I'll get a copy some day!

Now I'm off to figure out what to do for Ryan's first bento of the school year. I've been slacking!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

cookbook challenge, week 10

Can you believe I've been doing this cookbook challenge for 10 weeks?! Still going strong.
This week's recipes from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings are...

A very basic Cheese
Quesadilla recipe.
I think I would
personally like to grill
these, or at least spray
the pan with a little oil
to brown the corn
tortillas slightly. But the
author prefers the fat-free
dry saute method, so that's what I did. On the right I used his suggestion of salsa for a filling. On the left I made my own with spinach. For both I used Daiya vegan cheese. Everybody ate them, but I think I can improve these. The Daiya made these.

Another extremely easy
recipe was Simply Spinach.
It's really more of a method
than a recipe, telling how to
wilt spinach in a pan with a
little water, adding salt to
the layers for seasoning.
I was fine, but I prefer
blanching because dare I
say it's even easier! I ate this for breakfast (yeah, I'm weird) alongside a BBQ Sunshine Burger with vegan pepper jack cheese, onion & ketchup on a wheat bun.

My final recipe for the week was another simple one, but wow was it a good one. I thought, "it's just melon. Why would I want to mess with it? It's perfect as it is!" Given that I had fresh local organic watermelon AND cantaloupe from our CSA, I had no excuse but to try this...
The flavours of this Melon Salad with Lime and Mint were bliss. The tiniest dressing of lime juice, maple syrup & salt, and the fresh mint leaves. Whoa. Fantastic. Everybody lurved it.
Until next weekend!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

backlog weekend

We've been so busy enjoying the last week of summer vacation and getting ready for school to start that I haven't overloaded the blog with my usual plethora of kids pics. Fear not! LOL You can ignore this post and wait until monday for me to post something useful again. Ha ha.

First up, Ryan at the
Lego store for Lego
Club meeting. He built
some really cool stuff
this time. It's actually a
good deal: $15 gets you
an hour of building time
with 19 other kids split
into 4 groups, a cool
t-shirt (my husband's wardrobe is 99% Magic t-shirts, Ryan's is creeping up to 20% Lego t-shirts), a coupon if you want to buy anything, and a big grab bag of random Lego bricks to take home.

Maia knows how to say
"water bottle" quite
clearly, so it wasn't much
of a stretch for her to learn
one of her brothers' fave
pasttimes, "water battle".
Nate had a turn with the
hose, but Ryan was ready
with a repurposed chalk
board shield, LOL.

Oh, did I ever mention I
grew Turkish eggplant this
summer? They were doing
great...I had like 10 of them
on 1 plant growing nicely...
until Mr. Woodchuck decided
they were just right for
harvesting. He left me ONE. And he even left a few marks in that one. He completely devoured my cilantro plant. Grrrr...

With 4 kids it's hard to
keep up with all that
goes on. Maia took her
first steps over a week
ago! She's only managed
3 consecutive steps so
far; she's quite cautious.

The boys' weekend stand
consisted of homemade
chocolate chip cookies,
watermelon slices, and
berry iced tea. The boys
all really loved the apple
juice sweetened iced tea.
Ryan said, "if I ever have
a tea party, that's what
I'll serve." AJ is the only
one who likes hot tea, and
he prefers Japanese green
They used a "Cookies" sign and bubbles to try to lure in customers driving by.

Maia's appetite for solid food has been steadily increasing. She usually shares what I have, along with a plate of finger food for her to eat herself.
And of course the farm
is providing plenty, despite
the lack of tomatoes.

Volunteers spend a lot of
time making the farm a
beautiful place to spend

Friday, August 28, 2009

Spiderman giveaway winner!

Through high-tech hat application software, a winner has been determined...

...Amy! Congratulations!!
I'll be contacting you shortly for your shipping info.

Here's what Amy said she'd pack for lunch:
"We are part of a homeschool co-op so my don't need a packed lunch every day but at least once a week they do need one. At least half the time the kids want pb&j. It's easy for me at least. I just got my copy of Vegan Lunchbox Around the World so I might make something from there if I'm feeling adventurous next week before our first co-op day."

Have fun packing lunch for one of your beautiful six kiddos!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Last Day!

If you want a chance to win a new Spiderman lunch set, today is the last day to enter my giveaway! I'll be closing the contest at 6pm and letting Nate will choose a winner from a hat. I'll post the winning entry tomorrow morning!

I'm now on the last days of summer vacation countdown before school starts here. 6 days for Ryan. 7 days for AJ. 19 days for Nate. (And about 384 for Maia! LOL)

It's always fun to get a little something new to surprise your child(ren) during the fall. So I ordered a few new bento items to excite the kiddos:Spongebob nestable containers were a great deal for us. The yellow 450ml size will work well for Ryan, who became hooked on Spongebob while we were in Florida this spring. He can use the blue 280ml size if he is bringing a Thermos of soup, ravioli, or ma po tofu. The orange 180ml size will be great for Nate's preschool snack, plus he loves the color orange. And the pink 100ml size is perfect for little Maia to carry a snack in.While Ryan will probably choose to use his lunchbox, I couldn't resist the set that included the Spongebob lunch bag. Then I chose some new food picks: letters (I probably should have ordered 2 sets to spell Maia's name and certain words, but they were a bit steep for plastic toothpicks), chicks & ducks, pandas, ocean animals (including a starfish, a la Patrick from Spongebob).
Should keep lunch prep and consumption lots o' fun!

But what if you're on a really tight budget? Or maybe you don't want your lunch decorated with colorful kawaii characters? Or maybe you like to pack larger lunches like salads that have a lot of air space? Then you can still create a beautiful lunch bento-style in a simple reusable plastic leftover container like the kind you find at the supermarket. Look for a variety in the plastic wrap, foil, waxed paper aisle, or in the cooking supplies aisle if there is one. Also check the $1 bins and lunchbox areas of stores like Target for good deals. Sometimes party stores, bed & bath stores, or Wal-Mart type mega-stores will also carry cheap lunch items. Craft stores and educational toy stores usually stock a few bento style items, often from Sanrio. And if you have a local asian market, check it out, you might be surprised.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stocking the pantry

Actually we don't have a
pantry, just a few over-
stuffed cabinets and Elfa
racks over the basement
door. A pantry is one item
on a very long home
renovation list that I
may never see. But while
I impatiently wait for our
clutch of green tomatoes to
slowly ripen, I turn my attention towards evaluating and restocking the pantry items I'll want for packed lunches next week.

- canned & jarred items: beans for hummus, salads, burritos, soups...refried beans for dips...pasta sauce & canned tomatoes for stuffed pastas, pizza, lasagna, soups, sauces...olives, pickles, and other finger foods...sauces & condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, maple syrup, agave nectar, salad cremes...furikake, toasted sesame seeds, dried seaweeds.

- stocks, broth, bouillon...not just for soups, but for flavouring rice & pasta dishes, a homemade sauce, or sauteed vegetables.

- crackers & pretzels...though I had intended to be ambitious and learn to make my own crackers over the summer I never got to it. But I haven't bought any crackers in months either. I like the new Mary's Gone Crackers, but I don't want to buy anything too "weird" for the beginning of the school year, so I'll have a look at what's on sale and has no bad oils. Pretzels nuggets, sticks, & puzzle shapes are fun snacks & gap fillers.

- nuts & seeds...for trailmix, gap fillers, salad toppings, yogurt toppings, asian noodle toppings, cooking in rice, baking in breads & muffins. Of course I can only send nut-products with Ryan, since preschool is nut-free. But the kids love peanuts, almonds, cashews, & sunflower seeds.

- shapes are a favourite, and I often buy those mac & cheese boxes, toss the cheese packet, cook the pasta, and add my own healthier sauce.

- yourself some money and check out your local asian market or online retailer for an array of different noodle styles.

- rice...sticky, brown, sushi, basmati, wild, arborio, or forbidden black, there are hundreds of rice varieties available to liven up lunch and keep your grocery bill low. You don't have to have a rice cooker, but if you want one, pick one up cheap at an asian market or buy one online. They really make cooking rice a cinch. There are whole cookbooks dedicated to rice cooker recipes, or search online for thousands of ideas.

- flour & other grains...wheat flour and bread aren't your only options. Try something new like shelf-stable pre-cooked polenta, make your own oatmeal bars for a fraction of the cost of those storebought cereal bars, try a few gluten-free recipes, use millet or barley in place of rice or oats for a new taste & texture.

- other baking ingredients...make sure to have the basics on hand such as sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices

- treats...I don't like to add too much fruit or lots of sweet foods to lunches, but it can be fun once in a while; things like mini gel cups, tiny dark chocolates, refined shaped crackers, sweet cereals, Luna bars, fruit leather, fruit shapes, dried fruit, cookies, baked chips, Veggie Booty, Tings, etc. can be added in small amounts on special days or to complete a themed lunch.

- drinks...while water is great, a bottle of lemonade or Vruit juice can be a nice kids also love vanilla rice milk and chocolate almond milk--adding some coconut milk is a nice creamy addition too. I'm going to try not to resort to drink boxes as much this year; even though we recycle them at home, schools do not. While the kids all have Sigg water bottles, I've bought a few new cheaper BPA-free plastic ones made by Eastar that are short and slim for fitting in a lunchbox, perfect alongside a bento box.

I'm sure I'm forgetting things. Help me add to this list so everyone can benefit!

And if you want to challenge yourself during the first few weeks back at school, check out my newest "Chopped" style challenge at Bento: Impossible.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

cookbook challenge, week 9

Despite the tomato drought at our CSA, I scored at the grocery store's discounted produce trolley. I bought a dozen mostly organic local tomatoes for a couple bucks, so this week 2 of my 3 recipes from Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings are tomato recipes.

Although very simple, this recipe entitled Celebrating Tomatoes! is likely my husband's favourite in the entire cookbook. I'm guessing it's the salt, pepper, & tons of sugar that he really likes so much. I could only bring myself to add HALF the sugar in the recipe, and I still found it to be very sweet. But he kept insisting it was perfect, and wanted to steal all the leftovers the next day.

Tomato Salad with
Provolone and Fresh

was much more
to my liking. I didn't
have any smoky vegan
cheese to replace the
provolone, so I just used
whatever I had, which was
vegan monterey jack style. The fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar were lovely, and the fact that one of our green farm tomatoes had ripened into a yellow tomato made it that much better.

Unfortunately I took the
photo of Red Cabbage
Sake and Green
late at night, when
I went back for seconds. I
was happy I used the whole
head of purple cabbage from
the farm for this, because
despite the recipe's mundane
appearance, this was really good! Cabbage paired with sake is just magical I guess.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spiderman lunchset giveaway!

It's been quite a while since I've had a giveaway, so to help you get ready for the school year, here is a Spiderman lunch set! Finding girl themed bentos is easy, but if your boys don't like cars or bears you're often out of luck.

Here's the prize: a sandwich keeper, sparkly stickers, paper muffin cups, fork & spoon. The sandwich keeper did not come with outer packaging, and the fork & spoon were part of a multi-pack but have never been used.

- The plastic sandwich keeper fits a traditional sandwich perfectly, or it can be used as a bento to arrange foods neatly inside. The lid is not leak-proof, but it stays on well. If you want the image on the top to stay looking new, handwash.
- Stickers are a fun treat for kids. They can also be used to decorate a lunch note, or used with a toothpick to create a unique bento or cupcake decoration.
- Muffin or cupcake cups are handy to separate food items in a bento. Use paper ones to hold dry foods like nuts, dried fruit, grapes, mini pitas or shaped sandwiches, cookies or crackers, etc.
- A small fork & spoon set are easy to fit inside a lunchbox or furoshiki. Handwash or place in a small items basket in the top rack of a dishwasher if you must.

So here's the hoop...Answer one of the following questions in comments to be entered to win! That's it! (You will be required to provide a name & address for shipping purposes if you win.)

Question: What will you likely pack for your child's first lunch this school year?
(If you don't have kids in school, homeschool, if this is for an adult, for a gift, or if you just don't like the first question: What is your favourite sandwich?)

I will pick a winner on Thursday, Aug. 27th by random-boy-hat-#-generator, hahaha.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

freezer stash prep

School is fast approaching. Only two weeks to go here until elementary school starts, and slightly less than a month until preschool begins. Time to start building up the freezer stash for lunches!!

I envy those with a chest
freezer, but for now our
normal one will have to do.
There are lots of items one
can make ahead and freeze
to make packing lunches in
the morning quicker.

One of the boys' favourites
are mini muffins. They can
be made in a gazillion different
flavours, the kids can help
prepare them, they're easy,
and they freeze and thaw very
well. I've got banana done, and
today we made apple cherry. I
generally save half a dozen in a freezer bag--the best
looking ones--and let the kids & husband attack the rest!

Other things to think about having on hand in the freezer for lunches: burritos &/or burrito filling, gyoza wrappers, dumplings, edamame, veggie burgers (homemade or storebought), mini waffles, frozen veggies (nuke in water or add to pasta), rice.

If you need some extra inspiration to get you excited for fall bento creating, check out this link I just found for some awesome bento art.

So enjoy the rest of your summer, and get those bentos and lunch boxes ready!

Muffin tin picnic below...

Row 1: peanuts & almonds,
raisins & dried apricots, Veggie
Booty, local watermelon.

Row 2: orange slices, flat
pretzels, smoked Tofurky,
baby carrots & bell pepper

Row 3: mini apple cherry
muffins, soy cheese,
cucumber slices, vegetable

Monday, August 17, 2009

weekend left over

My husband has returned this morning from his trip (and was immediately enlisted to play Pikmin 2 by the boys...before a much needed nap). So it feels like a long weekend around here...or maybe a one day Monday weekend with jet lag??

Some benefits to having one
less adult to feed: eating WHEN
I want (often after the kids
are asleep), eating WHAT I
want (he's not a big tempeh
fan), and eating HOW MUCH
I want. The last one isn't
necessarily a good thing. I
should save more for the next
day's meals, but sometimes it's my only reprieve while solo parenting and I just get carried away. So here we have my giant dinner of kale with creamy sauce, bbq tempeh, and ratatouille.

The kids TRY to be helpful.
Maia really wanted to help
unload the dishes from the
dishwasher, which has been
a favourite pasttime of each
child at this age. Only problem
here was...these were dirty
dishes she decided to unload,
and wear!

Maia and Nate spent a lot
of time with their new
Aquadoodle from their
aunt Barbara. Maia had to
be sitting ON it though,
which drove Nate crazy.

The swing often serves as
babysitter outside when the
boys are playing in their pool,
having a lemonade stand, or
I need to take brush back to
the compost.

Nate got a new birthday
book from his friend born
the day after him, sent
all the way from British
Columbia. A Seal In The Family was read
immediately, a very
cute based-on-true story!

Time for another stand...
It was AJ's turn to make the
poster. He called the stand
"Yum! Yum!" and they
served strawberry lemonade,
chips & kiwi mango salsa, and
zucchini brownies. It was super
hot out, so business was a
little slower than the last time;
I think everyone was hiding
inside with the a/c on or out at
the pool or beach.

There is one tree that partially
shades the sidewalk, so we
always set up the table there.
Still, they were quite hot and
each drank an entire bottle of
water during the hour+ they
were out. But they weren't deterred, and are planning another stand for next weekend!