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Let's talk bento!

I started getting interested in bento several years ago when we made the switch to organic/local/non-processed food and fully committed to a more sustainable lifestyle. What originally got me interested was the elimination of packaging and waste, but the more I learned about it, the more fascinated I was.

I've been doing bento-style lunches for work for quite awhile, but I've just been using a conglomeration of containers we already had on hand (mostly Rubbermaid Foodsavers meant for storing leftovers).  Well, I do have a Fit & Fresh, which I love, but it's more for salads or sometimes sandwiches, since it's meant to keep the food cool and the lids aren't tight enough to prevent leaks if you have a soup/stew in it. (The other thing I've noticed is that the bread on sandwiches gets a little dry in it if you make your lunch the night before, which I do.)

I don't do the bento art/decoration thing (though I LOVE looking at  pictures of people who do!) because I'm too lazy, but I do like to have some sense of order or presentation. Presentation is, after all, what makes bento so fun. I realize it seems silly to get this excited about packing a lunch, but that's why bento is the raddest invention of all-time, because it magically turns what could be a rather unappealing assortment of random stuff out of your fridge and cupboards into the highlight of the work day.

Recently, however, I decided to step up my bento game in three ways:

  1. Go ahead and splurge on the two bento systems I've been lusting after for a few years now. The two systems I got are the Ms. Bento and the Laptop Lunch. I originally had the Mr. Bento on my list even though it had the four containers, which is just too much food for me. But then they came out with the Ms. Bento last year, which has three, smaller-portioned containers, so I was really glad to put that on my list instead. And the Laptop Lunches people recently came out with the 2.0 version, which includes space for a small water bottle and an insulated case for the whole system, so I'm glad I waited to get mine. The reason I wanted two systems is that I like the tiffin-style for more liquid types of foods like soups and stews, and the Mr./Ms. Bento systems are particularly designed for keeping foods hot/cold. I frequently take my lunch to a park near the office, and don't want to have to mess around with heating up my food, packing it back up and then going to lunch. (You can put soups/stews in one of the covered containers of the Laptop Lunch, but it won't still be hot when it's time to eat.) The Laptop Lunch is more similar to conventional bento-ware, it lends itself better to things like sandwiches and wraps than the tiffin style does. Plus, I like the pretty colors. :) I figured with the variety and flexibity of the two systems, I'd be more likely to stay with it.
  2. Try to incorporate some new recipes/influences in my evening cooking, the leftovers of which are generally the main part of my bento lunch the next day. Since I'm eating alone on weeknights, it's very easy to do fall into a pattern of cooking something very simple and quick that doesn't really generate leftovers (ex. scrambled egg sandwich, or cheese and crackers). And since we stay away from processed foods, it's a bigger challenge throwing together something for lunch the next day. I've managed it, but as part of my new plan, I've decided I'm going to keep this in mind when I'm ordering groceries, so that I include extra quantities of stuff like carrots and eggs that can round out a bento box nicely.
  3. Start taking pictures of my bento as an incentive to do it every day I'm in the office (M, Tu, Th) and to keep it fun.

I call my new lunch plan "Bento 2.0, baby!"

So as part of #3 of Bento 2.0, baby!, here's today's bento:

clockwise from the right:

  • leftover soup  Sal made Saturday night -- base made of the last of the tomatoes from the garden combined with chicken stock and cream, with fresh carrots, celery, onion, garlic potatoes from the garden, and chicken (this could've easily been a vegetarian soup with the chicken left out and the chicken stock swapped for vegetable stock -- very yummy and highly recommended)
  • ciabatta, also made by Sal -- one of the (many) nice things about having a Real Live Chef in the house who teaches baking and pastry is that your freezer is always stocked with delicious handmade artisan breads; there were also slices of cheese, which melted from the heat* so you can't see them
  • grapes from the last of the week's Organics 2 U bin (new delivery tonight, woot woot!) and a small bit of lemon cheesecake, another nice thing about having a Real Live Chef in the house who teaches baking and pastry :)

*The nice thing about the Mr./Ms. Bento is that it's designed to keep the bottom container hot, which in turn warms the middle container while the top container is just a little cooler than room temp. I wanted warm bread and softened cheese for my lunch, so I refrigerated the bread and cheese in their container overnight, thinking that by the time I was ready for lunch, the differential between the hot soup container and cold middle container would be just right. Turns out, it ended up quite a bit warmer so the cheese melted together before it cooled. It still made a nice snack with the bread, which was nice and warm, but I think next time, I won't put cheese in that middle container unless I intend for it to be melted.

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