Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bento on a rainy afternoon...

Another bento today, this time featuring my bigger Glass Lock box that I found at Kroger. The seal on these boxes is incredibly tight. No risk of leaks here! And they're microwave and dishwasher safe. (Not that I have a dishwasher, but that's neither here nor there, grumble grumble...)

Once again, it's a bento-o-leftovers and stuff from my fridge/pantry!

 It's raining at school, so no eating outside today. And again, I apologize for the picture. Inside lighting + cell phone = not so great picture.

More after the break...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall in the Orient Bento

Note: I'm just now getting around to posting this bento lunch from last Thursday. I had the pictures on my phone, but had serious upload issues! Finally had to resort to ol' Facebook. Oh well! Next time I'll be sure to bring my camera!


- Oriental chicken, pineapple and brown rice, plus a cheddar pumpkin with sesame seed details on a bed of spinach and radicchio in the bottom tier
- Steamed baby carrots and broccoli on a bed of purple lettuce, plus an attempt at an herbal tea egg (a Chinese recipe that usually calls for black tea) in the top tier
- Blackberries and red grapes in the bowl (brought in a small canning jar)

I'd say this is a pretty balanced and healthy bento, wouldn't you? Fruits and veggies, grain, protein, and even a little dairy. Not bad, self, not bad.

Everything in this bento was either made from leftovers or pulled straight from my fridge with the exception of the tea egg. I saw a recipe for easy tea eggs on Just Bento and had to try it, but didn't have any black tea! So, I decided to us the last of my dwindling supply of Wild Sweet Orange herbal tea from Tazo instead. (We used to sell it at Starbucks, but no more!) I thought the orange would compliment the soy sauce better than the other teas I have. Unfortunately, when I cracked the shell, I didn't break through the membrane that separates the shell from the egg itself, so I didn't wind up with the pretty marble-y look that you see at Just Bento. Oh well! Maybe next time. I still want to try it with black tea, so I'll probably get some from work this weekend. (Hooray for free coffee and tea!)

As far as the cheddar cheese pumpkin goes, this is probably the "cutesy-est" I'll ever get with any of my bentos! I just don't have the time to go all out with these things, but I saw an inexpensive set of Hallween mini cookie cutters at Kroger and immediately thought, "Bento!" Couldn't resist. The minis are the perfect size for bentos, and I'd love to find different shapes for different holidays/seasons. Eventually, when Wyatt goes off to school (tear!) I want to make bentos for him as well, so I don't feel so bad about buying little things along the way. Plus, they make mini cookies, which means I can eat more of said cookies and not feel guilty. =)

I decided to sit outside and eat lunch. Campus is beginning to (finally) look a little bit like fall.

Hope you're enjoying lunch as much as I am!

- Mother Nature Mom

PS - I apologize for the photo quality. I was only equipped with my phone!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life with an 8-month-old + slow cooker recipe

It's Tuesday again, but for once I'm not in school! I'm currently sitting on my couch, listening to the men in my life snore as they both take a nap. Gotta love Fall Break! Wyatt looks especially cute today in his Halloween onesie that a friend of Kenny's bought for him. I'm so glad, too, considering I looked high and low for a cute Halloween shirt/outfit and couldn't find one in his size! He may be 8 months old, but he's wearing mostly 12 month clothes, and I've definitely noticed a gap in sizes while shopping for his fall/winter wardrobe. Newborn-9 months? Check. 18-24 months? Check. 9-18 months? Yeah, not so much.

I'm extremely tired today, due mostly to the fact that Wyatt kept waking up last night. His top two front teeth are coming in (finally!) and it's definitely upsetting him. Add on top of that the fact that every time he wakes up, he decides to sit Indian style in his crib and bang his head on the wooden rail until I go in and either pick him up or lay him back down. (Kids can be so weird...) The crib bumper isn't tall enough to cover the space between the mattress and the top of the rail, so it looks as if we'll have to lower the mattress again. (And by "we" I totally mean "Kenny.") He's really come a long way developmentally in the last week or so; it's amazing to watch. He can now crawl backwards a good ways, go from sitting Indian style to being on his tummy and back again, and he even stood up using the couch for support for a few seconds yesterday! And then he fell and bumped his head on his bouncy chair and commenced to wailing, but that's neither here nor there... He's finally getting the hang of crawling forward, something he did for the first time two days ago on his 8-month birthday...

Am I a proud momma? You bet I am.

Anyway, as happy as I am watching my little man grow, he's wearing me out! And so even on my day off, I decided to bring out the slow cooker.

I've been on an Asian kick for awhile now in case you didn't notice, so when I searched yesterday for meal ideas, this recipe for slow cooker oriental chicken immediately caught my eye. Even better, I already had all of the ingredients!

I decided to stick pretty close to the recipe this time, only adding a teaspoon of orange peel. I also used chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken. (I didn't grow up eating a lot of dark meat, so I tend to shy away from it in my cooking. Plus, white meat is healthier.) The original also calls for sliced almonds as a garnish, which I forgot to buy at the grocery store. Not a major component, so I didn't worry about it.

3 chicken breasts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (could also use olive oil, or similar)
1/3 c soy sauce (I used lite)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp orange peel

Coat the bottom of a pan with the oil and brown the chicken. Mix together the rest of your ingredients while chicken cooks. Then place chicken in the bottom of slow cooker and pour mixture over chicken. Cook on high for one hour, then low for 4-5 hours.

Several of the reviewers at complained of not having enough sauce to accompany the chicken, and they turned out to be right. Like many of them, I mixed the juice from a can of pineapple with a little cornstarch and added this about 30 minutes before mealtime. I added the pineapple, too, just to warm it up a bit. I steamed broccoli and baby carrots and made brown rice. Delicious! And still enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow and Thursday's bento...

Now I'm off to do the dishes. One requirement for our next house - must have a dishwasher!

- Mother Nature Mom

Friday, October 8, 2010

Easy upcycling - jars of all sizes

I'm a little bit of a pack rat, but for once, it seems to be a good thing.

I've been saving jars lately. Large jars, small jars... doesn't matter. I figure that I'll eventually find a use for them.

I started saving baby food jars because of my mom. And before we go any further, yes, we've been getting jarred baby food, but fear not! I'm still a homemade baby food-making machine! We're able to get a certain allotment of baby food every couple of months through the WIC program, and I'd hate to let it go to waste. We leave the jarred stuff with the grandparents and sitter and use the homemade stuff at home... but anyway...

My mom used to sew a lot when I was little, and she kept her extra buttons, pins, and other sewing notions in old baby food jars. When we started getting jarred baby food, I instantly remembered playing with the little jars and rattling them around and whatnot. So, I decided to hang on to all of our jars. I don't sew, but I knew I'd find a use for them eventually. I also have a bunch of small 4 oz canning jars that were left over from my baby shower. (They were filled with M&Ms and used as party favors.) I also began to keep the big jars that Wyatt's applesauce comes in. At this point, Kenny's rolling his eyes and sighing as he lines up the jars next to the sink to wash them. But trust me, jars - no matter the size - are one of the easiest things to upcycle!

Small jars are great for holding a vast array of little items that tend to get lost. Paper clips, stamps, thumbtacks, bobby pins, small nails, washers, nuts and bolts, and hair ties can all be kept nice and neat and in one place. Dried herbs and spices can also be kept in smaller labeled jars. I've been using small jars as a sidecar to hold small pieces of fruit or sauce in my bento lunches.

Large jars can hold flour, rice, and other grains in your kitchen pantry. Pack a jar with plastic silverware and napkins to take on a picnic, then use the jars as drinking glasses. Pour used cooking oil into a large jar instead of down the drain (which is a no-no anyway.) Keep it until it's full and take it out with the rest of your household garbage. A large jar full of potpourri with a doily tied to opening in place of the lid makes a pretty addition to a coffee table. Layer dry ingredients for homemade cookies in a jar and give as a gift. And of course, large mason jars make great glasses for sweet tea down here in the South. =)

It's easy to acquire jars even if you're not purchasing baby food. Hang on to your spaghetti sauce and pickle jars. You never know what use you'll find for them!

-Mother Nature Mom

PS - Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section. I have more jars than I do ideas!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For the love of BENTO!

I have no problem admitting that I am a bit of a Japanophile. I've liked anime and manga for quite some time, appreciate the ritual and care taken when donning a kimono, and adore the tiny little nuggets of goodness known as sushi. I don't know as much about Japanese culture as I'd like, but recently I have taken on the task of learning about and making bento lunches.

A bento, for the sake of this blog, is the Japanese version of a homemade lunch. While we Americans might throw a sandwich and some chips into a brown paper bag or pack a salad-filled Rubbermaid container into a lunch bag or box, the people of Japan have brought lunch time to another level. Bentos are aesthetically pleasing, healthy lunches that run the gambit of streamlined and simple to elaborate and time consuming edible works of art.

This elaborate bento features Sailor Pluto from my favorite manga/anime, Sailor Moon. (I first saw a bento lunch while watching Sailor Moon, though I didn't know it at the time.) This amazing creation is completely edible. Pretty insane, right? This type of bento, known as charaben, which means "character bento" or "cute bento," is impractical for most of us, though it is fun to look at! Charaben has become a very popular hobby in Japan, and photos of these bentos can be found all over the internet. Sadly, most of these bentos feature instructions in Japanese only, leaving us English-speaking types to simply sit and stare at the craftsmanship. Other types of bentos include makunouchi bento (elaborate, formal meals served at the table in beautiful lacquered boxes) and kouraku bento (picnic style bento meant for more than one person), but the most common bento is simple and practical. I'm liking it already.

I've had a couple of dry runs with bento lunches, and while there are tons of recipes from Just Bento and its sister site Just Hungry that I'm dying to try (both Japanese and otherwise), the easiest, least time-consuming, and cost-efficient way for me to enjoy this little piece of Japanese culture is to bring...


(My apologies for the slightly out-of-focus-ness of this picture, but I think it still serves it's purpose.)

What you see here is a lunch made entirely of leftovers and fruit/veggies taken from the fridge. Super easy. Raw spinach leaves, leftover cooked baby carrots, and a tiny honeycrisp apple make up the top tier while leftover tikka masala chicken and parmesan and broccoli pasta make up the bottom tier. A little piece of homemade (though not in my home - I bought it at Possum Hollow!) Amish friendship cake fit into the bowl part of my bento, and I included a sidecar of blackberries to round everything out. (It's actually a small canning jar. I've also been keeping baby food jars for the same purpose. I love finding new uses for things!) Again, does it get any easier than this? I don't think so!

Bento-ing fits into my meal schedule very well. I usually make something in the slow cooker for Monday and Wednesday, take leftovers to school in my bento on Tuesday and Thursday, and there's still enough food leftover for us to eat for dinner on my school nights, too! Does it get a little repetitive? Yes, but that's where I get to play around with the fruits and veggies that accompany the main dish. And fruits and veggies really are a big part of having a healthy bento. You could fit pizza bagel bites, chips, and cookies into a bento, but it wouldn't really be a bento in the true sense of the word.

You don't have to invest in a cute-sy bento like I did. (But come on, can you blame me? Look at it!) I've seen containers at my local Kroger that would make great bento boxes, and they're pretty inexpensive at that. Just remember that the box needs to have a good seal so that liquid won't leak out. (Or, for something like soup, you could simply pack your dry items in a bento and put the soup into a thermos.) Of course, if you really want to get into the spirit of bento-ing, there are lots of online sites that ship to the US. I purchased my bento box from Bento&co in Kyoto, Japan. Other sites include Japan Centre and J-List. All of these sites have great products for affordable prices. I can't speak for shipping costs for the other sites, but shipping was only $4 from Bento&co using the cheapest plan, and it arrived in less than a week!

Also note the size of my bento. It's sitting next to a medium-sized coffee cup (or grande-sized, if you want to use Starbucks terms.) I will admit that I was expecting it to be a little bit bigger when I ordered it, but I quickly found that it's the perfect size for me. It really helps control my portion sizes, and forces me to pack the food in tightly, which keeps the food from shifting about and causing leaks. This particular bento only has a leak-proof lid between the bowl and upper tier, so I usually put rice or pasta in the bottom tier.

So there you have it! Bringing a bento lunch is fun, healthy, and can help you save a bit of money. All very good things in my book. I hope to make a more Japanese-esque bento in the near future; I was able to find several Japanese ingredients at a nearby Korean supermarket! (Go figure, right?)

Happy eating!

- Mother Nature Mom