Entries in bento box - fit 'n fresh (6)


this is like the great lentil miasma of aught three

You have to really enjoy drinking tea to order it in two pound batches. The school recently chose a new local organic tea supplier, and Sal had the opportunity to buy from their ginormous selection. The only catch was that they sell it in two pound batches, so whatever we picked had to be something we'd really want to drink. A lot.

Since Sal was opting for a black tea, I decided to choose an herbal. Apple-cinnamon tea sweetened with a bit of honey is one of my favoritest things in the fall and winter (second only to orange-spice tea), which means I go through it like crazy, so that seemed like the logical choice for ordering two pounds. While we waited for the order to arrive, I entertained lovely-cozy apple-cinnamon tinged fantasies of curling up in the library with a book, of our quiet Saturday mornings with the NPR lineup in the background and rainy gray outside the window, of day-long writing binges fueled soley by cup after cup of hot tea and a plate of something freshly baked by Sal.

Be careful what you wish for.

Because despite being double-bagged in heavyweight plastic, it turns out that two pounds of apple-cinnamon tea smells strong enough to give you a headache if you're within ten feet of it, and will probably knock you out cold after more than fifteen minutes of exposure. I had to shut it up in the kitchen cupboard before bed the night Sal brought it home to get a relief from the intensity.

Or so I thought. I woke up that morning -- UPSTAIRS AND ON THE OPPOSITE END OF THE HOUSE -- to that smell, and not in a good, "oh, what a lovely, cozy way to wake up" kind of way but more like a "ye gods and little fishes the smell is so strong that it's moved past any semblance of apple or cinnamon and moved into cologne of Hades territory". Down the stairs, the smell intensified. Open the door to the side of the house where the kitchen is, and it was like being punched in the face by a meth-addled Johnny Appleseed.

It was The Lentil Incident all over again.

When I got home from work that night, the smell had taken on a physical presence, infusing every room in the house. Opening all the windows couldn't air it out fast enough and the only way to get relief was to take the tea out of the cupboard (still in its double bags!) and set it out on the porch until we could transfer it to a more impenetrable container. Just the sight of the bag through the back door window gave me a headache.

The tea o'doom has since been divided amongst sturdy, sealed containers and no longer threatens nostrils within a one mile vicinty. Dividing it into smaller quanities seems to have cut its potency to more tolerable levels, eliciting something akin to the lovely-cozy apple-cinnamon fantasies I'd originally entertained. Cranked up to 11, but at least that's still within human survival limits.

The irony in all this? Sal's been so stuffed up with hayfever that he can't smell any of it.

lunch, Origami Squares

  • teryaki chicken meatballs
  • green beans and caramelized onions (both from the garden, woot woot!)
  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • cubed egg (as in, an egg molded into the shape of a cube, because my husband is delightful and sweet and got me an egg cuber for an anniversary present; he also got me "All the President's Men for an anniversary present, but that has nothing to do with bento, so)

lunch (last Thursday), Fit 'n Fresh

  • red leaf lettuce green beans, sunflower seeds
  • carrots, cucumbers, fresh peas
  • tomatoes (from the garden!)
  • boiled egg
  • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Bento: ranch dressing to top what became a hella big salad

and then we said "open", and everyone went bananas

Whew! We have officially survived the week of All The Things and are now on Day 2 of our Winterfest Vacation, aka Two Glorious Weeks (And A Few Days) Of Not Working Dammit.

The week of crazydom was not without its fun, however. Friday was the long-awaited holiday party at my office, and you will perhaps be a little surprised that a company party could be described as "long-awaited", and in some years past, I would agree with you, but this year...oh this year, I have a story to tell.

Way back in August, the Executive Team decided to "go big" for the end of the year party in recognition of everyone's hard work. We upped the party planning committee's budget for food, drinks, and decorations. We also decided to do swag bags, since our company has never really had products with our name and logo on them before. The swag bags would include a reusable shopping bag, a really nice insulated steel coffee tumbler, an insulated steel 1 liter thermos, chocolate bars with our logo imprinted, and polo-style shirts with our logo embroidered.

But that was only the start.

We usually have a raffle drawing every year for prizes (usually gift cards), but we wanted the prizes to be really big this year and for everyone to go home with something great. We couldn't send everyone home with a big screen tv or anything, but we could make the raffle prizes pretty spectacular and then surprise everyone who didn't win with something awesome, too. And when I say "spectacular", I mean it: 2 iPod Touches, an XBox Kinect (w/an NCAA Football game and the Michael Jackson Experience game), 2 Kindle Fires, 2 16x zoom cameras, an HP laptop, an iPad, 2 Kitchenaid Professional stand mixers, and a 50" plasma screen TV. For the remainder, the committee was given a list for shopping for the surprise gifts so they would know what we meant when we said "awesome": cameras, iPod nanos, Garmins, Kindle Touches, Wiis, Keurig coffee makers, cookware sets, and a food processor. (The Executive Team was in charge of the big gifts, so that even the committee didn't know what they were.)

So the committee has been on a series of shopping sprees for everything on their list for the last two months, increasingly running out of room as our storage unit. Space became even more of a problem for the raffle items, since we couldn't even let the committee members see those. At the end of the Executive Retreat on Tuesday, we assembled all the swag bags, then had to cram them all amongst our cars' trunks. But it was coming together and we were downright gleeful about what was about to come at the end of the week.

The committee worked their tails off all week getting the conference room decorated for the party (last year was the first time we did it at the office, and they made it look really terrific; this year, they outdid themselves). Wednesday, the committee and the Executive Team wrapped the surprise gifts, hiding things inside other boxes so nothing could be guessed. We stacked them all up along the far wall of the conference room, and I'm pretty sure that when everyone filed in at the start of the party, they assumed the prettily-wrapped stack of boxes were just for decoration to hide the IT station that runs the projector and sound system in the conference room. Little did they know....

The raffle gifts were set up on tables at the front but covered with cloths when everyone came in, with the swag bags all lined up underneath the tables. Once everyone was seated, we welcomed them to the party, took care of housekeeping (party schedule, turn off cell phones, etc.), then showed them the contents of the swag bag that they would be getting at the end of the party. We then announced how the raffle would work -- everyone got a ticket, which they would place in a bag in front of whatever item they wanted to try to win, and we would draw from that bag for that item.

And then the fun began. We slowly revealed each item. The iPod Touches were first and got a surprised gasp, and it just kept escalating. By the time we got to the iPad, the room was a constant buzz, and when we showed the TV, everyone flipped out.

After everyone had a chance to mingle and put in their tickets, it was time to eat, followed by a fun Mad Libs style game at each table. And then it was time for the main event.

The raffle items were a huge, huge hit. As terrific as the raffle was, however, the best was yet to come. "But wait! There's more!" we said. Pointing to the pile of boxes in the back that most everyone assumed were just for show, we told them that the they were in fact not for show, and that we would draw all the tickets of those who hadn't won, and when their name was called, to go pick one out of the pile. There were only two rules: don't shake any of the boxes, and don't open them until we tell you to.

Getting through the remainder of the names took awhile, and I think everyone assumed that whatever was in the boxes would be something okay, but nothing nearly as great as the raffle items. Maybe another swag item, or a set of knives, something like that. Nonetheless, everyone was still having fun.

Once everyone had their items, we gave them the go to open their boxes, and the next two minutes were the best two minutes of chaos pretty much ever. You know what it's like when kids are allowed to just go berzerk on Christmas morning and open packages all at once, and it's just a flurry of patterned paper and exclamations and noise and excitement? Now imagine that in a room full of adults who weren't expecting it at all, and who had enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine and beer, and you will have an inkling of what it was like for that two minutes.

It didn't matter that they weren't all iPads or stand mixers. They were nice gifts that no one was expecting and in many cases, wouldn't necessarily buy for themselves but really wanted. We encouraged people to trade if they got something that wasn't as useful, and by the time everyone left, I think they all ended up with something they were glad for. I tried to talk to as many as I could to find out if they had fun and to hear their individual story about whatever gift they got. For several, it was going to make a difference for an otherwise tough holiday -- a Wii for kids who wanted one but wouldn't have gotten one otherwise, or an avid reader who was struggling with sight issues but couldn't justify a Kindle, or a new set of cookpans to replace the mismatched set that were older than I am. A laptop that would make it possible to work from home, an iPod nano for someone who wanted but didn't own an iAnything (exact quote), a camera for someone who could now take nice pictures of the new grandbaby.

There's nothing I love more than giving gifts, except perhaps giving them to someone who really needed that little boost of magic and hope and joy. I've been blessed with some really wonderful gifts in my life, but nothing is ever quite as fulfilling as being able to do that for someone else. And Friday afternoon was some of the most fun I've had in quite some time.

Best. Company Party. Ever.


As you can imagine, the week was so busy that I'm behind on posting bentos, so there's some catching up to be done here:

Tuesday's lunch, Paris slimline:

  • shrimp sauteed with garlic, toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • kale sauteed with garlic and caramelized onions (wow, lots of garlic today)
  • brown rice
  • sunflower seeds
  • carrot sticks and steamed broccoli
  • satsuma sections

Wednesday's lunch, Lunchbot Duo:

  • boiled egg,
  • shrimp sauteed with garlic, toasted sesame seeds for garnish
  • garlic butter dipping sauce in the little cup
  • kale sauteed with garlic and caramelized onions
  • brown rice underneath everything
  • apple slices
  • carrots and celery
  • sunflower seeds

Thursday's lunch, Fit 'n Fresh:

  • romaine lettuce
  • boiled egg
  • carrots, celery, radishes
  • apple slices, mandarin
  • sesame seeds

seen on a local store sign: mace-free holiday shopping

It's a whirlwind here at Hall House while we power through these last days before our (GLORIOUS) winter vacation begins. The culprits: work, as always, and our usual hectic schedule, piled on with extra-curricular activities. Last weekend, for example, Sal was at the school shooting their new commercial, yet more evidence that I am right and he will be a celebrity chef someday. Right? He would totally blow all those other posers out of the water. Not that he would ever seek the limelight, of course, but with that laugh and that face and that gift for both baking and teaching, the limelight seems to find him regardless.

I've been recovering from an unfortunate tumble down some stairs, which has been a bit of a setback in getting done what needs to get done, but I haven't let it slow me down much. Which is a good thing, because there wasn't much room in our jam-packed schedule for any slowing down. In addition to powering through to vacation, and some important activities, there is also readying ourselves for the Smiley-Hall Family Christmas, an epic annual event that is not for amateurs.

Although we don't technically participate in holiday gift-giving, we do have a gift-giving responsibility as part of the Smiley-Hall Family Christmas. To wit: handmade gifts and stocking stuffers all around. And of course presents for the Fabulous Miss M, because obviously. And as a family, we are seriously badass at the homemade gift thing.

Which meant venturing forth this weekend into the bustling masses at the exact time of year we generally try to avoid them. Thankfully, the local shops -- while bustling -- weren't so teeming with humanity that we were tempted to contemplate homicide. Like the shopping ninjas that we are, we managed to get all of Miss M's gifts*, supplies that we didn't already have on hand for the various planned homemade gifts, stocking stuffers, AND groceries for a kick-ass spaghetti and meatballs dinner Saturday night.

*(Sadly, the WAY AWESOME Grammy and Nonna's Toys, where we have gotten every birthday and Christmas gift for Miss M since she was born, will be closing after the first of the year so that Grammy and Nonna can move nearer to their grandkids. If anyone's interested in taking over a really successful and beloved neighborhood toy store, I'm sure they'd love to hear from you...)

Yesterday was spent in the kitchen, each of us working on some of our homemade gifts. There seriously must be some kind of productivity drug in our water recently, because we are crossing things off our to do lists at a ridiculous pace. NOT COMPLAINING BY THE WAY. This week is going to be insanely challenging due to everything ever landing on this one week on the calendar (NO SERIOUSLY I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING), but if we can actually survive to the end of the week, then it's easy peasy for the rest of 2011.

lunch, pink Natural Lunch:

  • hard boiled eggs
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • satsuma
  • sunflower seeds

lunch (from last Tuesday), Fit 'n Fresh:

  • red and green leaf lettuce
  • beets, carrots, celery, radishes
  • egg, cashews, apple slices
  • simple vinaigrette of oil and apple balsamic on the side

lunch reminder of family fun at the farm

Enjoying veggies and the last egg from last week's share and it's got me in mind of the terrific day we had at the farm on Sunday. (More about that -- including pictures! -- below.)

lunch, Fit 'n Fresh:

  • salad greens: red oak leaf lettuce, red leaf butter lettuce, romaine lettuce
  • snap pea pods, carrots, broccoli; Jarlsberg and smoked gouda cheeses
  • more of the mini pound cake Sally made and blueberries from our bushes

Sunday was Kids' Day at Wealth Underground (our CSA) so I invited Sister, Guy, and the Fabulous Miss M to come up for some fun at the farm. We hadn't seen them since Sally's birthday -- far too long! -- so it was nice to get to see each other. And of course to get a refill of Miss M loves and cuddles! We had lunch when they arrived and did some catching up, then headed to the farm.

I know I've mentioned before how much I love the drive out there, but it bears repeating. It's just a few miles from the house, but any time we go north past the bridge, it's like driving backwards in time a little bit. Usually I'm driving from work, so it's a longer trip, but no matter how long my work day is on Tuesdays, I know I have that drive waiting for me at the end of the day, and I know that there's peace waiting for me at the end of the road. I was so excited to share that with our little family.

We were the first to arrive so we got to visit with both Chris and Nolan at length. We got to see the chickens and geese, feed the goats, meet the turkeys (that will be our Thanksgiving birds), and pet the rabbits. We learned that the geese have separated into two cliques and they get into rumbles like any respectable rival gangs should -- they're the Sharks and the Jets of geese! And even though we were conflicting with Miss M's normal afternoon nap, she was a real trooper, content to catnap in mom's arms for a bit while we visited. 

Another sharemember family soon arrived so they joined us as we began the garden part of the activities. Chris and Nolan led us through the old wood door that acts as the gateway to the planting area of the farm. We got to pick and taste flowers, try out our sour faces with some sorrel (which has featured in previous weeks' shares), munch on a bit of dill, water some plant starts, duck through the hothouse to check on the progress of the tomatoes and peppers, climb the sod mountain, and pick (and eat, of course!) pea pods and broccoli. Along the way, we met Eric and Katherine, who also work at the farm.
























We were then given the solemn duty of scooping a handful of compost and choosing our favorite plant to feed. Miss M decided we should feed the peas, so we did as ordered. She got a little boost from Dad to reach them.





Our tour ended with the awarding of "garden badges" in recognition of our mad farm skillz in the form of comfrey leaves, which stick to your shirt like magic! (Well, magic to an almost-three-year-old, anyway.)

Oh what a lovely day we had! We talked sustainability and small farming and kids becoming vegetarian when they realize where chicken really comes from and plans for future plantings and childhood memories. We met a rooster named Milton Freewater and delighted in a trampoline repurposed into a turkey pen (coop? enclosure?). And oh my, all the wonderful things that are yet to come in our shares! The weather was perfectly Oregon -- clear and comfortable -- and everything about the day was the stuff of good memories with family. Miss M had lots of fun and the adults had a pretty terrific time, too. As we settled into the car for the ride back to our house, Miss M declared from the backseat, "That was way fun!"

Yes, yes it was.


one of the few times a salad is better than chocolate

In the time since bento 2.0 baby! began, I've had some lunches that, I'm a tad embarrassed to admit, I couldn't wait to go to work for in order to eat them. And today is one of those lunches. Because I have to tell you, I was all atwitter about it when I went to bed last night, and have been looking forward to it all morning. YES ALRIGHT I AM A DORK IT'S NOT LIKE THAT'S ANY KIND OF SECRET DON'T JUDGE ME OKAY.

It was that glorious head of green leaf lettuce in the bin Monday that got me thinking about how to make the best use of it. And with the other veggies and stuff we had on hand, I decided a chef salad was in order. It's one of my favorite meals in the summer, and when I was a kid, was a special treat when it got hot outside.

Ever since then, chef salads are one of my comfort foods and I usually don't vary it from those salads of yore for that reason. With the exception of green leaf lettuce in place of iceberg, today's lunch includes everything we would've had on our chef salads in those days, right down to the Thousand Island dressing. We don't even buy dressing anymore, but I had to buy a small bottle for this meal because it's just not a chef salad without Thousand Island.

Fit 'n Fresh box:

  • green leaf lettuce with julienned carrots and cucumbers cut into pieces
  • black forest ham and oven-roasted turkey, cut into pieces; silicone cup has hard-boiled egg pieces and crammed into the small space next to it is shredded co-jack cheese
  • mushrooms, radishes, and peas, with tomato in the silicone cup
  • Thousand Island dressing in the container with the red lid

Yes, even salad can be yummy

Meeting Sister tonight for pizza and girl talk (YAY), and we have some lettuce in the fridge to eat up, so I figured I should probably have a good salad for lunch today. Not very pretty as I didn't have a lot of time last night/today to put it together, but I'm okay with that. Still delicious and pleasant-looking (certainly moreso in person). And you can see my Fit 'n Fresh, which is technically my first bento box, and which sees way more action in the warmer months. (The built-in ice pack divider thing is awesome.)

clockwise from top:

  • simple salad of red leaf lettuce, carrots, and celery with maple-smoked cheddar grated on top
  • two more of those mini blueberry muffins I made earlier this week and five(!) kishus -- it's like eating M&M's, if M&M's were juicy and healthy ;)
  • the last of the dyed molded eggs -- This is the heart-shaped one, which I made the other night when I made the star egg for yesterday's, but the yolk went all wonky. I molded it anyway and it came out funky, but kind of a happy accident so I turned the "wrong" side up. I probably won't really do dyed eggs much now that I've gotten it out of my system -- they take extra time and it kind of goes against my unprocessed, all-natural, organic food philosophy to make it a regular thing. I may do it occasionally for fun, but mostly I just like doing the molding part. Also in this container: cut-up whole wheat naan, more maple-smoked cheddar, a little salt container (for the egg) and a dressing container of a simple balsamic (extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bit of salt, shaken well to emulsify)

Tomorrow we're headed to Seattle BY TRAIN to visit the lovely Cat for a couple of days, since Sal has MLK day off. It'll be the first time I've been on a train in 20 years, my last train ride having been a night train from Pisa to Paris. We've wanted to take the train forever, and I'm really looking forward to not having to sit in a car for 3+ hours, being able to read and take story notes in my little journal. I'm even toying with taking a little travel bento, but we'll see if I actually get that organized or not. Regardless, SO VERY EXCITED OMG.