Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plan B

First day of school. Done this many times. You'd think I'd know better.
What do the boys want for lunch?? Sushi. I knew that two weeks ago. Fine. I ALWAYS have such ingredients on hand.
Or do I...AJ and Ryan's lunches: rolled smoked Tofurky slice; carrot; rice triangle; 2 peanut butter cookies; striped apple slices; sesame tofu; steamed asparagus.
As you can see, this is NOT sushi. It's rather difficult to make sushi when you have one half strip of nori left, no cucumber, and a brown avocado (it looked good from the outside!). But the sushi rice was ready and cooled, so I whipped out the onigiri shapers and made rice triangles. And extra triangles and rice balls to freeze. Because you never know when you might need to resort to plan B!

As if a change in plans wasn't enough...Ryan's angst about the first day of school (though he said he was very excited) translated into incessant whining about EVERYTHING. AJ was waiting patiently by the door for me to pack his lunch, but I still needed to zip outside to snap a few photos of their bentos.
I asked AJ to move. I reached for the doorknob.
And then came another wounded seal cry from the floor as Ryan complained with renewed fervor about not being about to tie his shoelaces right.
I turned.
And it happened.
His bento slid right off the board I was carrying it on and upside down onto the kitchen floor.
In 5 minutes they needed to be at school. So I did what I had to do...
I scooped up the food from the floor and stuffed it back into the bento. It looked clean enough. Ten second rule, right??? And it still looked nice. Whew. Quick, take a couple of pictures, shove it in the lunchbox with a cold pack and a drink. And get them the heck out the door asap.

So here they are, refusing to crack smiles, waiting to go in to school on their first days of 1st and 2nd grade.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

bento & recipes

It's the last day of the Loving Local blogathon. While I could whinge on for weeks about local food, I will soon be shifting my focus to school lunches starting this tuesday! But here are a few fab lunch ideas for both adults and kids...

I enjoy
at the
and our
our CSA
us with
in the
fall, I
rely on

at the
Framingham Farmer's Market for unique asian vegetables through the hotter summer months, grown a few towns north.

This bento lunch included: rice (kept separate until serving to prevent sogginess), spicy asian eggplant, spicy baked tofu, and my bok choy joy.

Spicy Asian Eggplant

3-6 long asian eggplant
2 T. peanut oil or canola oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. grated ginger
1 T. shoyu (soy sauce)
1 tsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. cooking sherry
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cut ends off eggplant.
Slice lengthwise, then
in 1/2 inch segments.
Heat oil in a saucepan
with garlic, ginger & hot
sauce. Cook 20 seconds
over medium heat, add
eggplant, stir. Add the
rest of the ingredients.
Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking about 10 minutes or until eggplant is very tender.

Some asian eggplant will be thin and smaller, others larger. This recipe assumes you'll be cooking no more than 2-3 cups chopped eggplant.

I often wish there was a local producer of tofu, tempeh & miso in the area. What a wonderful addition to an asian stall at the farmer's market that would be! But many stores carry asian produce & grocery items. I often visit our local asian market Asinayo when the farmer's market is not in season.

The farmer's market in our
town has been adding about
one new vendor each year it
seems, a good sign! There is much to choose from, and it's nice to hang out on the village green after shopping to enjoy some fresh kettle corn or bread still warm from baking.

I picked up some corn from the Hanson's Farm stall, bok choy from Hmong Farms, and bread from Great Harvest Bread Co. The corn was super delicious. We tried the silver variety for a change, which was supposedly not the "sweet" kind, but it still tasted sweet to us!

With plenty of tomatoes still pouring in from Stearns Farm CSA, I made a tomato-laden lunch which included a leftover tomato dish from the night before. When we take home some of the "seconds" tomatoes from the farm, it's handy to have a dish to accommodate some of the squishier fruits.

This lunch included: raspberries (Stearns Farm CSA), salad of lettuce, tomato & chives (Stearns Farm CSA) w/dressing in a side container, breaded baked heirloom tomatoes (tomatoes & herbs from Stearns Farm CSA), corn on the cob rounds (Hanson's Farm), orange cherry tomatoes (Stearns Farm CSA).

Breaded Baked Tomatoes

3-4 large tomatoes, sliced
1 tsp. kosher salt
spray olive oil (or something to grease the baking pan)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 T. buttery stick (cold!), cut into bits
1/2 tsp. sugar
3 cloves garlic, chopped

First slice the tomatoes and
place them in a colander over
a bowl to drain. Sprinkle on
the salt and toss, then leave to
sit for 10-15 minutes (in the
refrigerator if necessary to
keep the fruit flies away!).

Spray a glass baking dish
with olive oil, then layer the

In a medium bowl, mix the
remaining ingredients and
pour or spoon over the
tomatoes. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until the
breadcrumb topping
is lightly browned.
Allow to cool a bit
before serving.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cooking with Kale

Summer is kale season. I take that back, it's ALWAYS kale season. But there are a lot more people growing it in the summer, even though it's one of the cold-hardiest veggies around. We even got kale FROM THE FIELDS in our winter vegetable share last winter! But with so much kale, you need an arsenal of recipes to keep it interesting.

I've created many
permutations of my
kale sunflower patties.
I even used kholrabi
leaves & stems in place
of kale earlier this season,
and added some quinoa
and chick pea flours to
boost protein content
while keeping them
gluten-free. I also switch
the variety of nuts & seeds
around with whatever I have handy, often using walnuts or almonds instead of sunflower seeds. This is a great family-friendly way to use a host of local produce at once.

So here's today's version...and it got raves from the kids, which is always important!

Kale Pecan Patties

3-4 large kale leaves
1 cup pecans
1 large potato, peeled
3 large carrots, peeled
3 sage leaves, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. olive oil
1 T. shoyu (naturally brewed soy sauce)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, add the kale leaves (stems removed) and the pecans. Process until no large pieces remain. Peel and roughly chop the potato and carrots. Add remaining ingredients. Process til relatively smooth.

Spray a metal baking
sheet with olive oil.
Spoon a big blob of the
pattie mixture into your
palm and make a
circular flatish shape,
then plop it onto the
baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, flip with spatula, then bake 20 more minutes. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
Makes about 10 patties.

Another fave (and I forget to get a picture) is kale potato soup. It's rather like my potato leek soup, but the leeks are not necessary, which can be handy for earlier in the season when leeks aren't yet big enough for harvest.

Kale Potato Soup

2 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
6 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
a few grinds pepper
4-6 large kale leaves, roughly chopped
3-4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup plain almond milk or rice milk

Cook onions in olive oil over med-low hear until quite soft.
Add potatoes, kale, stock, salt & pepper. Cook about 30 minutes or until potatoes and kale are very soft.
Allow to cool somewhat, add milk, then puree soup in a food processor until just smooth.
Serve & add more salt & pepper to taste.

And here's another idea (though I won't share my recipe because it's just not healthy enough, LOL! No need to enable eating battered fried foods...but once in a while, yummmmm. Though I don't know which was less healthy, the food or the sauce I made to dip it in!)

Beer battered tempura
kale! I also made onion
rings while I was at it.
And I used an entire bottle
of locally brewed Harpoon
beer. Pwin!

But for healthier snack fare,
don't forget about good old
kale crisps--quick and easy. Or kale pesto to add to pasta, bread, sauteed veggies, etc. Still nervous to try kale with your family? How about steaming it and pureeing it into a red sauce for pasta or pizza or layering in a lasagna.

Summer is a great time to give kale a try. There are many varieties. Our CSA added a third type this summer, lacinata, otherwise known as "dinosaur kale". Supporting your local farmer's by buying directly from farms or at farmer's markets is a great way to help the local economy. But you may also donate to the Federation of Mass Farmers Markets directly via PayPal. Just visit this link to their website for more information.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CSA fluff

I have posted quite a few times about our awesome CSA, recently in July here and here, in 2009 here and here. and a full review in 2008 here. In 2008 I also chronicled every
weekly pickup, listing what
we received with photos,
and including ideas to use
various items, such as this
post about greens.

But Stearns Farm CSA
never ceases to amaze me,
producing such huge
variety on its few acres
of land. Certainly the Loving Local blogathon deserves one more photo fluff post about our favourite local farm!

I don't
is the
I'm just
not a
to the
flower garden and pick flowers during the summer for 25 cents per bloom, or $1 per sunflower. You can even purchase weekly flower shares for yourself or as a gift. It is just as important to the environment to purchase organically grown flowers as well as food. And there are many edible varieties of flowers, which can be used to brighten any meal, like I did in my Harry Potter bento here using red & yellow nasturtium petals and blue cornflower.
Here are some more beautiful photos around the farm...

The resident bee population is kept very busy!

Monday, August 23, 2010


The 2010 growing season has seen an avalanche of tomatoes. I no longer take August for granted after last year's late blight disaster. Late blight is an infectious disease worstened by cool, wet weather. Last year it devastated many tomato and potato crops across the northeastern United States. UMassAmherst has some helpful info and updates if you'd like to learn more about late blight.

But after a wet spring, New
England has experienced lots
of dry heat this year, perfect
for ripening a bumper crop
of delicious juicy fruits. We
have been fortunate to
receive many pounds of
tomatoes every week from
Stearns Farm CSA, and are
currently enjoying picking
4 quarts per week of a variety
of cherry tomatoes!

It is no secret that tomatoes
are my favourite food. Eaten
raw, transformed into sauce,
or added to a plethora of
dishes, tomatoes add flavour
in any season. I have been
busy making different types
of sauce, and freezing chopped
tomatoes to use in soups and
over pastas during the
autumn and winter.

I think my all-time fave
recipe is my tomato salad.
But I'll add tomatoes to just
about anything...sliced or
chopped on pizza, baked atop
a tofu quiche, covering a
corn thin slathered with
homemade hummus, baked
with breadcrumbs, stuffed
with tiny pasta & onions, on
a tart, sun-dried and added
to pesto...the list goes on.

And sauce! Even if you just
cook down a basic red sauce,
you can add to it later. Some
of my favourite additions are
MORE chopped fresh heirloom
tomatoes, fresh herbs, sauteed
onions, roasted garlic, red
wine & portobello mushrooms.
Oh the possibilities!

So check out your local farm,
farmer's market, or grocer. Get yourself a variety of different ripe tomatoes. And get cooking! There are so many flavours, shapes & colours of tomatoes to enjoy. Check out other blogger posts about local flavours during the Loving Local blogathon! Or become a fan of their Facebook page here. Another great resource is the Mass Farmer's Markets Facebook page, or their website here, which can help you find your closest farmer's market, in addition to local product information and recipes!

Here are some of the tomato plants around Stearns Farm as I picked a couple of quarts two days ago...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Local Meals on the Go

Since I am sure there will be some new readers to my blog this week, I will postpone the inevitable odes to tomatoes, and focus on this blog's usual content: bento lunches.

I normally use many local
ingredients in our meals,
whether they be from our
CSA, the farmer's market,
or things I have foraged along
trails and yards myself. But
this week is special. I am
participating in the Loving
Local: Celebrating the Flavors
of Massachusetts

So without further ado, I will get right on with what I do best here...showing off fun and healthy meals on the go!

The first bento is intended for an adult in both its size and choice of ingredients...
This two-tier bento includes: sauteed rainbow swiss chard w/garlic (from Stearns Farm CSA), Alton Brown's Cold Fashioned Potato Salad (w/local red potatoes also from Stearns Farm), a trio of colourful tomatoes (from Stearns Farm CSA), concord grapes (foraged from along the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail), and broiled eggplant w/Italian parsley (again from Stearns Farm) seasoned w/balsamic vinegar, olive oil, black pepper & kosher salt.

My third child was extremely excited to have pesto in his bento. It's his favourite pasta topping, and he'd just as soon use it as a dip...
This 270ml bento was packed with a yummy dinner for a just-turned-four year old: cucumber slices (from Stearns Farm), tomato & pesto sandwiches on old fashioned white bread from Great Harvest Bread Co. purchased at the Framingham Farmer's Market (w/heirloom tomatoes and pesto made with basil, purslane & garlic from Stearns Farm), watermelon (from Stearns Farm).

As you can see, he's yumming it up!

Summer vacation is drawing to a close--remember to include local, healthy produce in your childrens' packed school lunches. And please support any efforts made by schools to bring local whole foods to the cafeterias!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What Kids Like

Making a bento lunch for a child may satisfy a parents desire for a healthy lunch. But it also serves the purpose of hopefully making that child crack a smile when he opens up that healthy lunch away from home.

Often as parents creating lunches, we think about what our children like, and even what their peers like, when deciding on a theme for the day's lunch.

With less than a month to go until most schools are back in session, I've started thinking about what to make during those first days and weeks. There are various sources I draw inspiration from, but mostly I just look around at what my children like to do, what they like to play with, & what they enjoy for entertainment.

Two year old Maia will be taking a lunch to preschool 2 days per week starting in September. Aside from the very obvious Hello Kitty bentos that will inundate this blog, I've been mulling over what other things she likes. Swinging, ice cream, Littlest Pet Shop, Team UmiZoomi, the beach, the farm, slides, her blue bear and Jessie dolls, pirates, pink hats, boots, pickles. That's probably enough to get me through Thanksgiving!

Nate will only need a small snack 4 mornings per week, so I probably won't go the bento route often for him this schoolyear.

But both AJ and Ryan will be eating in the school cafeteria at the same time this year. This will be AJ's first year bringing a lunch, and he is very excited. I foresee a more laid back approach for Ryan, but definitely some Bakugan, Toy Story, ZhuZhuPets, Pikmin, Pokemon, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., Monopoly, math, pizza, and the inevitable SpongeBob Squarepants.
Something that might be fun during the first few weeks is to create bentos around the theme of "What I did over summer vacation", such as: camping, croquet, letterboxing, Harry Potter, banana splits, Lego, pool, karate, mini golf, etc.

I haven't purchased any new bento boxes or equipment, so I will rely on my creativity and the kids' requests to guide me. How do you decide on your bento theme for the day? Do you plan ahead or wing it? What are your kids' back to school must-make themes?