Archive for the ‘bento’ Category

New Books.

Can't wait to sew and cook my way through these.

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New Recipes
(Sweet Potato Crescent Rolls recipe from Land O’Lakes)

Delish! (And I've finally conquered my fear of yeast doughs).

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Cleaning out my childhood room.  Digging up old treasures.

Pretty Origami Papers.

Old toys, new life. (I loved that Happy Meal toy once - it's a mini-transformer!)

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A couple of bento.
(I finally convinced my parents to let me pack meals for them. The pear-ginger muffin is from Nigella Express).

Dad's lunch, Mom's snack.

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A new craft.
(From Megan Nicolay, via Threadbanger.  I’m SO sad that the hosts are all leaving that channel!)

Infinity t-shirt scarf (DIY'ed), vintage brooch (from my grandparents).

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LOTS of syllabus prep for my new job this Fall
(teaching Freshman Comp at Notre Dame).

I didn't end up using most of these.

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I’ve gone shopping a lot, too. Trying to update my wardrobe to be more teacher-appropriate. (My official hiring letter says that I’m an “Adjunct Assistant Professor” during the term of my appointment.  0.o  It’s just for the fall term, but the thought still kind of boggles my mind!)

Issue 1, and then the syllabus have taken up most of my time (and mental space) so far.  They’re done (finally!) but still, there’s SO much left to do (as always, the holiday seems way too short). I haven’t had much time for writing, hanging out with friends, re-learning to drive, or finishing the cleaning/repainting/redecorating of my room (it’s currently a complete disaster zone — not that it isn’t usually, but trust me, it’s much worse than usual at the moment).  Still, I’ve been so glad for the time to complete my own stuff (it’s the first summer I’ve had since junior high in which I haven’t had to report to some combination of work or class!).  I’ve been working my butt off morning to night, but the freedom to wake up at leisure, spend the whole day working on my projects, and take time off at a moment’s notice to fulfill family obligations or socialize without the constant fear of major ramifications is so precious. Who knows when I’ll have another summer like this?

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Four Bentos + An Experiment

I’ve built up a bit of a bento backlog in recent weeks, so I figured it’s high time that I unloaded it.

Valentine-y Bento (eaten 2/12/10):

Taller tier: Kiwi, carrot sticks, hard-boiled egg, strawberry gummies. Shorter tier: Mini onigiri (1 furikake, 1 w/ rou soong filling), pepperoni, edamame & corn, green olive, soy sauce in piggie. Sidecar is actually just yogurt and nuts that I ate with a banana for breakfast because I had a long day out of the house that day.

Homemade Dumpling Bento (eaten 2/19/10):

Taller tier: Boiled shanghai bok choy and pan-fried homemade pork & leek potstickers (I had a dumpling night with my housemates for Chinese New Year, for which I made a ton of fresh dumplings – these are some of the leftovers, which I froze). Shorter tier: Umbrella “cookies” (I thought they would be sweet when I bought them but actually they are mostly salty, like crackers with black sesame bits), lotus seed candy (also left over from CNY), pepperoni, rou soong stuffed onigiri, olives, dipping sauce in a small container. Sidecar: Sliced kiwifruit.

Yogurt chicken “nuggets” bento (eaten 3/5/10):

Taller tier: Spinach & pine nut salad (underneath everything else), baked “chicken nuggets” made using chicken breast and a variation on Pioneer Woman’s yogurt chicken recipe, strawberries. Shorter tier: mini onigiri (one w/ rou soong, the other with furikake), more strawberries, baby carrots, balsamic salad dressing in the small container.

Shrimp Salad Bento (eaten yesterday):

Main compartment: Real Simple’s shrimp, cucumber & white bean salad (with parsley instead of dill), lemon for squeezing.  Smaller compartments: Furikake mini onigiri, dried kiwifruit (best stuff ever!), sliced strawberries, olive oil for the salad. Notes: Something in this bento made me a little sick.  My stomach is still not great (I might skip lunch). I noticed while eating one of my onigiri that the middle of it had a weird freezerburnt texture, so I wonder if that was the culprit.   Don’t think it was my shrimp, cucumber or cannellini beans (I had a little of it the night before an, d it was fine and the salad sat in the fridge overnight), or my strawberries (ditto, though they are getting old-ish).  Definitely not the dried kiwi.  Maybe the lemon?  They are getting kind of old.

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Finally, an experiment: I tried to make chicken char siu a couple of weeks ago and it just did not come out the way I’d have liked it.  I think I had several issues going on: first of all, chicken just tastes like chicken, and it was very weird to have a chickeny taste going on for something supposed to be char siu like (I hadn’t realized how much I’d associated char siu with the taste of pork before, or that chicken can really have a strong taste!); secondly, the marinade wasn’t quite right — not sweet or thick enough, and the chicken didn’t get crispy enough on the outside.  I have looked at some other recipes since and think next time I would need to put hoisin and five spice in the marinade, brush on the honey thicker (or even add brown sugar on top), and broil it for much longer.  An open gas flame would also have helped, but I have an electric stove, so that’s not an option. As for the chicken-y taste, I guess that can’t be helped!  Next time if I really have a char siu craving I should make the real thing.

After I made the “char siu” I ate it in a big bowl of noodles with egg, boy choy, and scallions:

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My three most recent culinary re-contextualizations. That is to say, old foods in new contexts (or in the case of fennel, new foods in an old context).

First up, Sardines.
A sardine salad bento, that is:

This has to have been the best salad I have had in a very long time. Hands down.  Romaine lettuce with pine nuts, scallions, and a fat chopped sardine that had been packed in olive oil.  On the side: a hard boiled egg, a strawberry gummy, citrus-mustard dressing, and kiwi.  The combo of grapefruit juice-dijon mustard-balsamic-olive oil in the dressing with the salty fish and the crunchy greens, creamy nuts, and sharp scallions was phenomenal.  Unfortunately, I dropped my fork on the floor in the middle of eating this lunch, and could not get up to wash it, as I was in class at the time!  Not to be deterred, I managed to finish the salad using fingers and spoon.  A little messy/awkward, but effective.

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Second, Fennel.
Shrimp and Corn Chowder with Fennel from the February issue of Real Simple.

I’m not a giant fan of clam chowder; I like a bowl of the New England kind every once in a while, but can’t eat too much of it at once (it starts to taste gloopy and too milky and potato-ey after a while). But this shrimp chowder was amazing! The fennel added a really nice taste and texture that broke up the mealiness of your normal potato-potato-potato background, and the spritz of lemon juice at the end gave the soup a nice zing and woke up the chowder from its flat-tasting natural state.  Also, let’s face it – the texture of shrimp in a soup is just nicer than chewy old clams! The presentation of the soup was great, too.  Pink shrimp, green fennel, yellow corn, and lovely crispy bacon crumbled on top (I did not fry the leeks in the grease as suggested, because I didn’t want the whole soup to taste like smoked meat).  The bacon, in particular, made for the perfect finish — a little crunch and salt that contrasted the creamy soup and made the whole dish an awesome lunch. Admittedly, the soup was a little less fennel-y tasting the next day, which disappointed me a bit, but it was still very good — good enough to have multiple bowls at a sitting — and I will definitely make this again!

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Finally, Ginger.
In double chocolate cookies.

These cookies have a story behind them. I was having a friend over for tea on Saturday and, having promised her cookies, decided to try making Nigella’s Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies (I’ve seen the clip sooo many times on YouTube and have always wanted to try them, as the idea of freezing half the dough intrigues me). Unfortunately, when I went online to look for the recipe, I could only find it in metric measurements! I guess I could have converted, but I was a bit short on time, so instead I moseyed over to Real Simple (I am really growing to trust their recipes now) and looked up “Double Chocolate Cookies.” I ended up finding this recipe, which seemed almost the same as Nigella’s, except that it doesn’t have a packet of melted dark chocolate stirred into the batter, and it uses less chips. However, after getting out my ingredients, I found that I didn’t have enough chocolate chips (maybe only half as many as the recipe calls for), so I decided to substitute chopped up crystallized ginger in some of the cookies as an experiment, since I’d bought and enjoyed chocolate with ginger in it before. Turns out, it was a really great idea! I actually think I like these cookies more with ginger in them than I would have liked them with just more chocolate. They were gone in a snap, eaten by my guest, my roommates, and me (I baked only half the batch and froze the rest, but still — I had to smuggle the last cookie upstairs to get a photo of it before my third roommate got home and had a chance to eat it!) Changes I would make to this recipe next time: 1) The dough was a bit dry, so I added some milk, but I’d like to try Nigella’s idea of adding melted dark chocolate; I think it would help add some moisture and some richness to the cookies; 2) I would add more ginger, and slightly more chocolate chips, using only semisweet — milk seems too sweet for these cookies to me. 3) I would try to use a scoop instead of rolling the balls in my hand, and would make the cookies slightly smaller, as they took forever to bake in the 2″ size I used!

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Pizza “Brick” Bento

Why am I calling my pizza a “brick”?  Because that’s how my Pillsbury pizza dough turned out this time: fat rectangles with a lot of dough and crust, and not so much of anything else.  I made pizza last Thursday night for dinner because M & I were going to see a play and there was not much time to cook.  We like to get ready-made dough in a can and pop it in the oven with our own fixings; it’s hot and quick on an evening when we don’t have time to cook. I actually am not the biggest fan of Pillsbury dough in cans (I think they all kind of taste the same!) but it’s not too bad as far as readymade pizza doughs go; doesn’t taste like real pizza crust, but it’s nice in its own Pillsbury-bread kinda way. In the past we’ve had trouble with putting too much sauce on our pizza; this time, I purposely put a thinner layer of sauce on, but because I was in a hurry I did not bother to stretch out the dough after unrolling it.  I think I would’ve fared better to roll it a bit thinner.  And I should’ve put more toppings on. Two slices plus the salad in this lunch (eaten the next day, during a class that goes through the lunch hour) were not quite enough to fill me (I was just shy of satisfied).  It was tasty, though!

Clockwise from LH compartment: Mushroom, scallion, and pepperoni pizza, extra pepperoni, strawberry gummies, mustard-citrus dressing in the piggie, kiwifruit, spinach and tomato salad with pine nuts (spinach hidden beneath the tomatoes).

You’ll probably be seeing more bentos from me this semester.  I have a Friday class from 12:30 to 2 and a lot of people bring their lunch.  I do like eating hot food at home, but I’m also excited to start with lunch-packing again.

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Computer-Side Dinner Bento

On Tuesday, my roommate was not home for dinner, but made food ahead of time and left it for me in the refrigerator. I decided to take a working dinner at my computer. But since working dinners are always kind of lonely and miserable, I decided to cheer myself up by making a bento of what she’d left.

Impromptu Dinner Bento

In the main compartment is a sort of Krab loaf that she makes sometimes. Something like a delicious cross between a fritatta and a soufflé, eggy and light and studded throughout with peas, carrots and Krab sticks (the fake crab / surimi stuff). Nestled on top of salad greens, and drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar, it totally hit the spot. In the smaller compartment are an eggless fried rice (since there were so many eggs in the Krab loaf), and slices of Bartlett pear. This was way too much food for me. I was stuffed. I think I will have to reserve this box for sandwiches from now on, as packing too much food into it seems to be a perpetual problem for me whenever I use it. Maybe I could also use it for long trips or days when I won’t be able to come home straightaway for dinner. A small snack in one of the smaller compartments could help to tide me over between meals (though I’d actually prefer to have the snack in a separate container; I am weird like that). Thankfully, though, my roommate’s cooking is completely delish, so eating too much of it once in a while is never really a bad thing. Guess it worked out for me in the end. :)

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Pink Applesauce

Hard to tell from the photo, but that’s pink applesauce. Made using a variation of this recipe from Every Little Thing. (Main differences: I add a little sugar and lemon juice, and use an immersion blender after I pick the skins out, since I don’t have a food mill).

It’s fall! And freezing in South Bend already. I’ve heard tell that we’ve already had a little snow (though it was so light that I missed it). Apple and pear season, though. I’ve been taking advantage of that for sure. My roommate M and I have been buying fresh apple cider every week. And lovely ripe pears, when we can get them. A couple of weeks ago I figured out that making applesauce is actually really easy (I did burn one batch, but that was because I became engrossed in the paper I was working on and forgot about it). So it’s become my go-to snack. I love applesauce. Even more so when it is a pretty rosy color.

I know this blog has been really quiet recently. So this post is proof that — yes, I’m still alive. Still writing, and cooking, and — occasionally — baking, though not nearly as much as usual. I haven’t been crafting, though. (Or – it seems, blogging). I’m pretty wrapped up in preparing for the web site and blog launch of my magazine, and with working on my MFA thesis at the moment. But I’m on Fall Break, and reading this beautiful blog, which my friend and collaborator M linked me to (it is her cousin’s blog), made me want to post on mine.

Come to think of it, scratch that statement about not crafting. I did make a felt brooch to send to a friend for her birthday back in September. Unfortunately, I never got pictures of it before I hurried it out to the post office (I was late, as usual).

Meanwhile, my backlog of food photos has been piling up. Here are a few other edibles from recent months:

Exhibit A:

C's Birthday Cake
Slices of the (lemon-flavored) birthday cake I made for my roommate C, from September. I used Nigella Lawson’s Baby Bundts recipe, increased by 1.5x and made in a regular sized bundt pan. I love this cake – the first time I made it was for my mom’s birthday in January, and it’s absolutely heavenly. Sticky and springy, but moist, tender, and not too rich.

Exhibit B:

Toronto Bento E&J's Wedding
Travel Bento for the plane ride to Toronto in Sept, for my cousin E’s wedding. Ate it before I crossed the border and carefully wiped down the container so as not to run into problems with bringing vegetables (and sesame seeds) in. Cold soba pre-dressed with soy and sesame oil, sprinkled with green onion and sesame seeds. Lunchmeat ham. Carrots. Ginger hard candy. Apple gummies.

Exhibit C:

1st Lock n' Lock Bento
Inaugural Lock n’ Lock box Bento Lunch. Cooked lettuce and cannellini bean “salad” (sometimes I like to cook my salads – I’m weird like that), leftover Shepherd’s Pie, digestive biscuits split in half, two gummies, frozen raspberries. I’d asked my mom to pick up a slightly smaller divided box for me because they sell these at the H-Mart near my parents’ house (seemed easier than ordering online), but my mom misunderstood and bought me an 800mL box, which is — well, kind of huge. I did successfully pack a sandwich (plastic-wrapped), veggies, and snack in it the second time I used it, and was nice and full. But the lunch pictured here (even with salad – a notorious space hog!) was too much to eat in one sitting. Also, I discovered an annoying quirk to the box. The dividers are not tall enough to lie flush against the inside of the lid, so the liquid from my salad (which was pre-dressed) spilled onto the digestive biscuits during the 5 minute walk to my library carrell and made the cookies really GROSS and soggy. Surprisingly, the raspberry juices didn’t go anywhere because the nut cup I put them in DOES sit flush against the inside of the lid. You’d think that they’d make dividers that sat flush – otherwise, what is the point of dividing foods that will spill into one another anyway? At any rate, I’ve now learned a lesson about how to pack this box, which I’ve narrowed down to two main strategies: 1) protect the dry foods (works best when they are easy to wrap in plastic, like sandwiches or cookies). 2) limit wet foods, or quarantine when possible (use mini-containers with lids or nut cups); or simply use a sidecar. Ultimately, I have to say that I’m kind of disappointed with this box. The whole reason for wanting a Lock-n-Lock was to have a spill-proof container that had modular inner dividers so that I wouldn’t have to use multiple sidecars. But it turns out that the dividers don’t do a whole lot of dividing inside. I think I’m mostly going to be using it for sandwich meals in the future. :-p Guess the old Snapware + sidecar method wasn’t so bad, after all.

Onward! Tomorrow is for thesis writing and cake-baking (I’ve got a chocolate pear cake I want to make).

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Twin Bentos

Twin Bentos

I had a bit of a crazy weekend (spent most of it catching up on class reading, grocery shopping, baking, entertaining birthday party guests, and coding the layout for the LR web site — the latter of which activities has so far been a full bunkered-down, all-consuming kind of experience), on the tail end of an even crazier week. This morning during church I decided I was going to take a partial Sabbath to just resettle myself psychologically and spiritually, but after my guests left I ended up taking a full one — I was just too zonked to do any homework. Instead I napped, did laundry, cleaned the bathroom, put away the dishes from the party, and because I suddenly found myself with a creative itch and no desire to start on any sort of involved, long-term project, making a pair of bento lunches for my roommate M and me to eat tomorrow. It ended up being a very relaxing, absorbing activity — helped me unwind and focus a bit without the stress of a deadline (I was baking scones right up until the minute my first guest arrived earlier today and let me tell you that was not relaxing!) and gave me the chance to chat with another one of my roommates K who came down to watch me cook. I’m lucky that K is familiar with bento (being Japanese American), and is not at all phased by my extreeeme geekiness, and that, having lived with me for a while, M and C are more used to my making them, too. (I think my bento tend to highlight the obsessive side of my personality – something I’m not incredibly fond of discussing in public unless it’s in relation to books – plus the cuteness factor can make me feel self conscious sometimes hence the major reason – aside from the time and nutritional balance/taste factors – that I do not make kyaraben). M’s reaction to the surprise (her voice scaled up and she went, “ooooohhh!”) was awesome. So it was a worthy effort :).

I made the bentos mirror images of one another and used different shaped eggs in them, rather than making them identical in layout — just to mix it up a little:




Twin Bentos

Contents of each box: 1/2 a tomato-basil cream cheese and ham sandwich on wheat bread (w/ ham heart decoration); salad with lettuce, tomato, stuffed manzanilla olives, carrots, and cannellini beans; shaped hard-boiled egg; tiny container of balsamic vinegar and olive oil; packet of fish and almonds snack; two apple gummy candies.

I hope it’ll be enough food (the volume of the salad greens can be deceiving, I realize). And that the sandwiches will not get too soggy. I tried to dry the lettuce off as well as possible and removed the tomato seeds and most of the juice, but I checked on them a bit after putting them in the fridge and there is already a fair amount of condensation. If I had been wiser I would’ve wrapped each sandwich in plastic wrap before closing the lid. :-/ Oh well. I think M usually brings an apple and crackers with her along with whatever sandwich she takes to eat between classes, so hopefully she will be okay.

K asked me if I could marry her and make her lunches. I told her she’d have to check with my BF. ;-) Not sure he’s interested in sharing, heh.

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They carry produce that Americans normally won’t touch unless introduced to it as a “gourmet item.” And for cheap, too.

Case in point: fresh, tender watercress. For soup, or for yummy egg, cress and prosciutto sandwiches.

Egg, Cress, and Prosciutto Sandwich

Case in point: sweet, mellow golden kiwi. (2 for $1). For breakfast, or for a treat in a bento.

Airplane Bento - July 30, 2009

The bento, by the way, is an airplane meal from last Thursday, when I traveled to Kentucky for my uncle’s wedding. The sushi is a ready-made “shrimp california” maki roll from the HK Supermarket down the street (there’s actually 8 pieces, but you can only see 4 because I stacked them). Ginger candy lozenges and my favorite fish-and-almonds are in the plastic packets. The rest is pretty self-evident: carrot sticks, golden kiwi. It was too much for me on the plane (didn’t eat the carrot sticks), but by the time we got to the hotel, I was starving again, so I ate dinner a second time.

The wedding was beautiful. There was a bit of family drama, but fortunately nothing too crazy. I was asked to be a 3rd photographer, which was kind of a neat experience. I always take photos at weddings, but I’ve never actually officially been asked to help cover one before. I really enjoyed the challenge of shooting under changing lighting conditions (for example, the ceremony was outside, and I couldn’t believe how much difference it made in terms of the exposure I needed when the sun was shining directly overhead vs. when the same spot was partly hidden by clouds), and of trying to coordinate my position so that I stayed out of the primary (pro) photographer’s way, didn’t obstruct the other guests’ views, and yet moved around enough that I could shoot from different positions and angles than the other two photographers. I finally sort of found my stride more during the second day (when the big reception was held). I love taking pictures of small things at weddings – candles, flower arrangements, table settings – since I’m a very detail-oriented person and (confession time), having read a lot of wedding-photography related blogs (a secret guilty pleasure of mine), I know that the bride and groom often like it when the details are recorded since they’ve put so much time into preparing them. However, as I was compiling shots for the digital display at this weekend’s Saturday reception, I changed my mind and decided to cut any photos that weren’t of people. (It was late and I had a lot to post-process, my mom recommended against it, and anyway I didn’t think any of the guests would care about what Friday’s escort tags looked like!). But when I showed my uncle what I was doing, he picked up on the photos of candles and desserts and nametags right away, and requested that I put them back in. Apparently the other photographers had focused pretty much exclusively on people! (Something that admittedly surprised me, since if you look at a web site like The Knot, you’ll see that at the very least, photographers will be sure to include pictures of the dress and/or shoes, the rings, and the flowers/decorations). So I put the detail shots back in. And on Saturday, I stopped worrying about trying to get candids of every single guest, and allowed myself time to focus on the details instead. It ended up working out really well for me that way, as I’m still pretty inexperienced with portraits, and it allowed me to do a lot of my shooting under the natural light coming from the windows, since the swing band, the bar, and most of the decorations were ranged around the walls. It also allowed the other photographer (the pro wasn’t there that night, so there were two of us) to focus mainly on the action and the guests, and while I still backed him up, I was able to focus primarily on environmental textures – the curve of the trombone player’s bell, the glow of candles, the colors of the flowers, the twinkle of wine glasses, the varying shapes and opacities of the treats in the candy bar – a task with which I have a lot of practice, thanks to blogging! I’ve no photos that I’m ready to post at the moment, as I still have loads of post-processing to complete. But the experience was really great overall. I was honored to be asked to take part in my uncle’s wedding in such an intimate way, and I think I learned a lot in the bargain.

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Summer Bentos #3-5

Sorry for the barrage of bento posts.  It’s about all I have time to blog about these days.  Work has been pretty draining.  I didn’t even really have the energy to work on my thesis yesterday. :(

Wednesday’s Lunch:

Snapware container: Akai rice, sliced tongue, leftover spicy green beans, scrambled eggs with scallions, dried hibiscus flowers in the mini container; Sidecar: carrot sticks, fish and almonds snack

Thursday’s Lunch:

Snapware container: spinach salad topped with tomato slices and cold homemade won tons (made earlier this month and frozen); Larger sidecar: pear slices and fish and almonds snack; Smaller sidecar: soy-citrus-ginger dressing (grated fresh ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, splash of grapefruit juice)

(I didn’t bring lunch on Friday; decided to treat myself to a bought lunch for having gotten through my first full week of work – and anyway we get out of the office early on Fridays, so I didn’t have a lunch break).

Tomorrow’s Lunch:

Snapware container: another salad!  spinach and mint leaves, topped by hard boiled egg whites (yolks removed), precooked beets from Trader Joe’s, cucumber slices, nonfat feta, and grated carrot; Larger sidecar: dried hibiscus flowers, fish and almonds snack, mini bottle of dressing (grapeseed oil and rice vinegar); Smaller sidecar: nonfat greek yogurt to top the salad, with mint for garnish.

I have been trying to lose a little weight (I gained an alarming amount in the last 9 months – such that I now have a rather obvious potbelly).  My mom has theorized that at school, where I don’t buy a lot of meat (since it’s expensive), I fill up on carbs and full-fat dairy (in the form of cheese, mostly) instead of lean proteins when I am hungry late at night and need a snack.  So I’ve been trying to work more protein into my diet, and to eliminate excessive processed carbs and to stick to nonfat or lowfat dairy.  Hence the nonfat feta and yogurt, the large amount of egg whites and yogurt in the one meatless lunch, and the akai rice and soba noodles in my earlier bentos instead of white rice and somen.  Yes, I know that wonton wrappers are made with white flour.  But without the wrappers they’d just be meatballs, which, if you ask me, kinda misses the point.

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Summer Bento #2

Look who actually managed to post two days in a row, even if it’s just a bento picture post!

Snapware container: Leftover soba, tongue and tomato with black pepper on top, soy sauce, carrot sticks, cherries, packet of fish and almonds snack
Sidecar: Dried sweetened hibiscus flowers from Trader Joe’s

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I actually didn’t get to eat my lunch from today. They took all the interns out to lunch as part of orientation. So I ate my lunch for dinner when I got home instead. :)

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