Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bento #37... Finally eating my leafy green vegetables.

I haven't been working much. More than I should be still, but I don't need to pack lunches. And when I'm at home I usually just grab something out of the fridge and munch. That's not exactly a brilliant habit, but it could be worse. At least now my fridge is full of healthy stuff. However, I believe I'm going to start making bentos, or at least bento-esque meals, even on days I don't work.

I haven't even cooked the sunchokes yet. I decided that I wasn't allowed to until I ate all my spinach. I have a hard time doing that, even though of all leafy green things, spinach is one of the most bearable for me. I finally decided to cook it. It was easier than I thought, not quite nasty, and that big tupperware I had full of it cooked down to nearly nothing. It was great. It doesn't matter if it's not my favorite when it can be eaten in six big forkfuls, right?

So I put said spinach into a bento. As far as bentos go, this was... ok, but I tried, and I managed to put it together in just a few minutes. Spinach cooks really fast.

I also put sweet potatoes in this lunch. Another not-my-favorite food. I'm experimenting with different ways to cook them though. This one wasn't too bad. I microwaved it until it was tender, diced it, and then tossed it around in some garlic and olive oil in a sautee pan. Not too bad. On top of the spinach are some swedish meatballs. Honestly, it's probably time to toss that bag. It's old. They weren't all that tasty.

And then there's the layer where I can't really go wrong. The bottom has strawberries, grapes, and orange sweet pepper strips. Along with that #*(& lettuce. Which I did eat, by the by. The dressing I've been using is the balsamic vinaigrette spritzer stuff. I forget who makes it. I just spritz it into one of my little dressing bottles and drip it on during lunch. It's almost tasty.

My fridge is once again overflowing with produce, although that never stopped from last week. I don't work for the next three days, so I'm planning on breaking everything down to fast usable bits. I was slow ordering my basket last week and the closest option was in Lehi. Totally worth it. My basket this week had: strawberries, mangoes, a coconut, lots of bananas, forelle pears, cantaloupe, tomatoes, asparagus, lettuce (#%^$), broccoli, and baby gold potatoes. I'm kind of excited to roast the coconut. Aside from the obvious eating it thing, I want to use the shells in the style of Monty Python. Maybe the next time I go to a department staff meeting. Those people need some excitement in their lives.

Friday, February 25, 2011

#36... Leftover Panda. And playing trucker.

One of my older brothers drives a semi. He is also the brother who I turn to when I'm having issues with cars, dishonest businesses, or both. My pretty new 05 Nissan Frontier has a horrible drinking problem. It's been going through 2 quarts of oil a week. Which is pretty ridiculous for an engine with less than 30,000 miles on it. And the dealership had been ignoring my issues for a few weeks. So... I let my brother go on them. He called and talked to the manager who had sold me the truck. He left a nasty message for whoever was in charge. He threatened taking it to the state, because it shouldn't have passed emissions the way it was running. He threatened to let my mechanic dad loose on them... it went on for a while. And then he called the service manager, who told him to just bring in the truck. Obviously should have gone there first...

On the day in question, my brother had just made it to Salt Lake with a load of drywall from California. We met at the dealership, where we passed off my poor sick truck. The service manager apologized for the run-around we had been getting. Apparently the owner of the dealership had died a few weeks prior. So... maybe I could understand that. My admittedly less-than-sensitive brother managed to stop himself from saying, "I haven't heard that excuse before." If I'm lucky, I'll see my truck in a week. It needs a top end rebuild.

Anywho. After we left my truck, I got my first ride in a semi. It's a cozy little thing. Bunk nestled right in behind the seats. He had a couple of shelves built over one end for his bags and some snacks. I rode on the bunk because it was too much of a bother to move the cooler from the passenger seat.

So I played trucker for a while. I went with my brother to drop off his drywall. I even helped him fold his tarps and untie his load. I ate some lunchables, which are apparently his trucker snack of choice. I went with him to pick up his next load at the steel yard. It was an eye-opening experience. Mostly in that I realized that I had no desire to be a trucker. I had thought it would be an acceptable fallback if ever I lost my job. Now I know better. It's not that fun.

Once that was all said and done, we went to Panda Express. Which is where this not so bad looking lunch comes from. Because they give you a massive amount of food.

This is leftover black pepper chicken with the onions and junk pulled out of it. It's not that I don't like onions. I just don't like the way they cook them... Over the leftover mixed chow mein and rice I added broccoli, and some awesome broccoli stem shapes. It should have been all broccoli, but I had a major duh moment this morning... While dumping the water out of the container I had microwaved the veggies in, I wasn't holding the lid on tight and so managed to also dump most of the broccoli out. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The bottom container has strawberries, bell pepper strips, and grapes. I suppose I have to count the lettuce as well, since I actually ate it. I found a raspberry vinaigrette that makes it bearable...

I realized today that I've hardly touched my produce from last week. I need to work on that, considering I pick up another day after tomorrow. So I need to start cooking. I should probably skip a week, but I don't know that I can do that. I'd feel like I was missing Christmas or something. Although I would get to sleep in on a Saturday... I haven't done that in a couple of months...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bento #35 ... I didn't eat it. Somebody did.

I totally worked on Presidents' Day. That's right. I work for the government. Every other department in the city was shut down for the day. And I had to work. I don't really mind. The way my schedule is, I get random days off all of the time.

I almost didn't pack a lunch today. I looked at my watch and realized I had only 15 minutes before I had to be at work and it takes at least 5 to get there. I hadn't prepped any of my foods from my bountiful basket yet. And I had no idea what I had in the fridge. But then I thought... A Challenge! 10 minutes with no planning? It will be amazing!

It wasn't exactly that. But it was balanced, looked edible, and from what I was told, tasted pretty darn good.

The hot layer was the remains of a Parmesan herb chicken I had made in the crock pot. I'm glad I found it today. Two more days and it might have been iffy. It also had broccoli and under those things, the last of a pot of brown rice.

The other layer was strawberries, grapes, and orange bell pepper strips. And those lettuce leaves that I will probably never end up eating. Maybe I'll try next time. I'll pack a tiny bottle of dressing, rip up the two leaves, and eat them. Maybe. ... maybe.

Something I've been enjoying a lot lately is checking out all the fresh foods in my lunches. The frozen veggies that used to get chucked in there are long gone. And these taste so much better!

... I suppose you're wondering why I didn't actually get to eat my lunch today... At about 1:00, we decided it was lunch time. I announced, as I have been lately, that I brought my lunch, and would be eating in the office as per usual. And the friends were having none of that. I was told that if I came with them, they'd pay for my lunch. I decided it would be rude to turn them down. I gave my lunch to the poor intern who never brings lunch and didn't want to go out. He ate the hot layer. I'm currently eating the fruit.

PS. Basket this week. Because I know you all want to know... Strawberries, bananas, forelle pears, cantaloupe, apples, mangoes, yams, spinach, cabbage, yellow squash, carrots, and Jerusalem artichokes. It was a pretty good basket considering the deep freeze in Mexico last week. And the Jerusalem artichokes are intriguing. They'll likely be showing up in my lunches the rest of this week... or at least, the two more days this week I'll need to pack lunches...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bento #34... and a short story involving me doing something dumb.

It snowed today. Not a whole lot. Maybe an inch. And it was wet, sticky snow.

I got off work about an hour ago. We had just had a dress rehearsal for a dance concert. It had gone well. And one of my employees and I decided to do a zombie run across the parking lot while our cars were warming up. Yeah. I am that kind of a boss.

You're probably wondering... what on earth is a zombie run? Well. If you have an android phone, you can download an app called 'Zombie, Run'. This app, using your gps, triangulates where you are, and you tell it where you want to end up. The app then generates a map of the area you are in. With zombies on it. And you run. If one of the zombies gets you, you lose. Obviously. And if you get to your destination in one piece, a nice big 'survival!' pops up.

So we ran across the parking lot twice. Giggling madly the entire way. And then we decided that it was much too cold to do it again. So we said our goodbyes and hopped into our warm vehicles.

My vehicle is a new to me. It's a 2005 Nissan Frontier. With a sunroof. I was so very amazed when I saw this truck. Not many trucks have sunroofs after all. I'm still learning things about my sunroof. This one should have been obvious.

I pulled out of the parking lot, and at the first light, decided it would be a good idea to open the sunroof. So I pushed the button. And then I looked up. Just in time to get a face full of snow. And I was too surprised to do anything about it! So I just sat there as more snow fell on my head, and then down my back, and onto my headrest... The inside of my truck was suddenly its own winter wonderland. And I just felt kind of dumb.

I spent the rest of the drive home with the window down, grabbing handfuls of snow and dropping them out onto the road. It was cold.

Anywho. Lunch! Or dinner. Or a bit of both.

First off, I would like you to take note of the pretty, frilly little lettuce leaves I dressed it up with. I have to admit... Although I'm not really a fan of green leafy things, it does add a touch of class to a bento...

Nestled snuggly in the top tier are six loverly mushroom risotto cakes. I have to admit. I made risotto just so I could make cakes. All I've heard over the past however-long-I've-been-following-bento-blogs is how good risotto cakes are for bento. Easy to eat. Really yummy. Possibly better than fresh risotto... So I decided I had to make my own. And as luck would have it, there were mushrooms in my basket last week. I do not find making risotto enjoyable. As a matter of fact, I earned a small blister for my risotto making efforts. I made it with brown rice, so it took a bit longer... Anyway. The risotto turned out lovely. I ate a small bowl of it. And the rest went into the fridge for risotto cakes. Turns out, people are right. Risotto cakes are a really good reason to make risotto. I took small spoonfuls, plopped them into a small amount of hot cooking oil for a few minutes per side. And there they are. Mushroomy, ricey, cheesy, crispy pillows of goodness.

Also in there... some fresh steamed broccoli, which seems to be the only way I'll eat it... I've tried all sorts of awesome broccoli recipes. I can't seem to handle the green stuff any way except steamed. At least I'm eating it, I guess. And in the bottom there are grapes, cantaloupe, and strawberries.

The thermos contains some of my homemade tomato basil soup. The thermos is a copco, and I'm not so sure about it. I filled it with steaming hot water while I was heating up the soup. It sat for maybe 5 minutes with the water. And I'm fairly certain I got the soup all sorts of hot, too. But when I went to eat it two hours later, it was stone cold. Why reserve judgement? I think it's supposed to sit for 10 minutes with hot water in it, but I was in a hurry. And I didn't actually test the soup temperature before I put it in. I will need a retest before I make a conclusion.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

#33 - Speed Bento!

I've spent my day being rather productive. And then kind of unproductive. I think it evens out. I got up at the crack of dawn this morning to pick up my produce basket. It was a good one this week. I love walking in to the pickup site and seeing all the gorgeous colors in the baskets... This week I received: cantaloupe, strawberries, apples, blood oranges, bananas, lemons, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, orange peppers, mushrooms, and carrots.

I think the best part is going grocery shopping right afterwards. I always walk through the produce just to check prices of the things I got that day. And the total usually comes out somewhere between $40 and $50 dollars.

I spent the day breaking down produce to make it easier to use. The spinach is ready for a salad and the lettuce is ready to line my bentos. The broccoli, which I have yet to enjoy fresh for some reason, is ready to steam. My apple container is full. And my fridge is just stuffed.

I've also been cooking. I had to make banana bread to make room for the new ones. Had to. There was no choice. I put chocolate chips in it. Then there's the pepper and zucchini stir fry to use up the rest of last weeks' veggies.

I'm really enjoying the fresh produce. I have to take it for lunches or I'll never get through it before it turns, so I'm eating healthier. I'm snacking on fruits and veggies instead of snacks. I'm being introduced to new foods. And I'm learning how to cook new things. Dinner tomorrow, for instance, will likely be spinach pesto and pasta. Or mushroom risotto. I dunno. They both sound really good.

Best part though... I'm losing weight. As of this morning, I'm down to 177.4 from 184.2 a few weeks ago. I can imagine that when I start keeping with my running regime, it will come off even easier.

What? Start running? I know. I should have been running all along. But A. It's cold and I'm a wimp, and B. I've been working overtime the past couple of weeks. The next two weeks will slow down. And I'll behave myself and get to the rec center. They have an indoor track. And I work for the city, so I get in free. :)

Anywho. The reason you are all here. This is a bento I packed in only 5 minutes! I'm so proud!

It contains: A bear egg, turkey rosettes, cucumber and celery, grapes, apple, pomello, and cantaloupe. There's no carb because I had just made and eaten a bunch of sushi before packing this. I figured I was good there. I'm rather proud of the apple baran. That's just the way the apple slices wanted to lie and I thought it would be a great separator for the fruits.

I had the box open at work later that night and an employee came in and saw the cantaloupe starts... He loudly exclaimed, "They come in shapes now!?" And then I had to explain the food cutter thing. He though it was pretty cool. Which I appreciate.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A few lunches from bygone times...

So I'm cleaning out the picture backlog on my phone, and I found a few pictures of lunches that I never got around to posting. I'm doing it now. So I can get them off my phone...

Potstickers, summer squash, mandarins, cottage cheese, kiwi, and mini sweet peppers

Leftover rosemary pulled pork, rice, veggies, mandarin orange, celery heart, kiwi, pepper, and a mini cadbury egg

More pulled pork, microwave roasted potato on ... spinach I think, diced tomato, kiwi, strawberry, huge grapes, and kumquats. I remember wanting to try kumquats... and I'm pretty sure I've never had the desire to buy them again. Mostly because the price is ridiculous around here...

Potstickers, summer squash, huge grapes, cucumber flowers, sweet mini pepper, strawberries, and a kumquat

And a closeup. So I can show off one of my few cute lunches...

Stuffed Pepper Bento

I was motivated today. Totally. I was at work by 6:30, done by 9:30, and had no idea what to do with the rest of my day. I know what I should have been doing... but that's beside the point. So I did dishes. And I found a tomato soup recipe. Which turned out the first homemade tomato basil soup I've actually enjoyed! I ate the entire batch. I figure since it was just veggies and homemade chicken stock, it was healthy enough that I don't have to have guilt. I'm making a bigger batch on Friday. I still have a whole bunch of tomatoes to use up.

As the soup was cooking, I went through my fridge to start breaking down all the produce in there. I sliced a cantaloupe and now have a container of precut cute shapes. I broke down a pommello. I de-stemmed a bag of grapes. Cut up a bunch of celery. Did some more apples... The fridge looks much more user friendly now. I've still got some fruit to work my way through... more apples, oranges, grapefruit, lemon... but I feel well on my way now. And it made packing my bento this evening SO MUCH EASIER! I just pulled out a stack of containers and picked some things out of each of them. And... ta da! Lunch! Not only a lunch, but it looks like I tried!

The larger container holds a halved stuffed red pepper. I received a couple of gorgeous peppers last weekend, courtesy of Bountiful Baskets. I thought about cutting them up into lunch friendly bits and pieces, but I have lots of mini sweet peppers. Why would I need a big one? So I stuffed them with leftover rice and a crumbled tomato basil chicken sausage. And topped them with sharp cheddar.

... You know... I might lose more weight if I'd stop smothering all my fresh veggies with cheese... The stars I topped the halves with are cut out of provolone.

The smaller container has a fish hard boiled egg which does not look all that fishy, turkey rosettes, cucumber, pommello, cantaloupe stars with scraps underneath, strawberries, grapes, and some cute apple shapes. Oh. And a baby carrot gap stuffer.

Somebody pat me on the back! I did good! Not only is it cute, but it only took about 15 minutes to put it together!

Anywho. I feel the need to share this soup recipe that I told you about. Because I'm picky about my tomato soup, and I found this one to be delectable. I tweaked it from the recipe found here

Roasted Tomato Soup

6-8 tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 more tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 stalks of celery, finely chopped ... really finely chopped.
1 carrot, diced
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves, crumbled
3 cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toss tomato halves with olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 350 for about 15 minutes or until slightly caramelized. Peel them. Or not. Whatever.

2. Heat olive oil in a large-ish pot on the stove. Toss in onion, celery, and carrot. Saute until onion is transparent. Dump in tomatoes and basil. Add a bit of water if needed. Let simmer for 15 minutes or so.

3. Either use an immersion blender or blend in batches. Carefully. Hot things in blenders are scary.

4. Dump back into pot and add stock. Simmer until it reaches a consistency that makes you happy.

5. Eat it. I added a bit of skim milk to mine. I bet sour cream would be yummy. Or cheddar. Or whatever it is people usually put into tomato soup.

Note. The celery strings do not blend away. So unless you like the texture of the strings, really finely chop. I put most of my first batch through a sieve so I didn't have a huge amount of texture. I'm not doing that next time. But you can if you want, I suppose...

And now... I'm off to eat a baked potato for dinner... smothered with cheese...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Not exactly healthy bentos...

True. One of the points of bento is the healthy aspect. But come on! I had leftover spaghetti noodles. And I refuse to pack tomato base sauces in my bentos. I don't want to ruin them with that tomatoey mark of shame. So... I made a cheese sauce. Give me a little credit... I used skim milk. ;)

These two bentos are pretty much the same. I'm going to see if I can convince my boss to eat one of them. If not, he gets a sandwich from my fridge stash and I have lunch for Tuesday as well.

The strawberry box, under that layer of cheese sauce, more cheese and turkey smokies, is about half spaghetti noodles and half California mix veggies. Everybody likes cheese on their cauliflower and broccoli, right? The bottom of the strawberry box has... wait for it... strawberries! Also a heart shaped egg, grapes in the empty places, and for desert, a pear that I sauteed in butter and then added sugar and cinnamon. It's incredibly sweet. We'll see if I actually eat it. Because I can only do so much sweet at one time. The little hearts at the bottom are apple cutouts. I had this brilliant idea this morning while I was cutting up apples to snack on that I should just precut shapes, dip them in lemon juice, and then they'll just be there when I need to cute-ify something. I don't know how well that's going to work, but I guess I'll find out.
The black box also contains cheese sauce with spaghetti and veggies, but I had this brilliant idea to put the sauce in the middle of the layer instead of on the top. I don't know why that's brilliant, but that's what I'm sticking with. And then I topped it with more sharp cheddar.

The bottom has an egg trying to masquerade as a bunny, but it didn't quite fill the mold enough to pass. There are pastrami rosettes, tomatoes, a sweet mini pepper, strawberries, grapes, and an apple teddy. I hid a tiny chocolate frog under the lid of the box for desert.

My refrigerator is overflowing with produce goodness. Oranges, apples, cantaloupes, tomatoes... so much more. Remember the co-op? I picked up again on Saturday. And I've figured out why I'm having issues eating it all. It's not that I can't do it. It's that I'm dead lazy. And when i get home at night, I don't want to work for my food. Therefore, I have decided to prep things so they are just ready to eat or put into bentos. I need to unpack my tupperware so I can keep it all separated and fresh and junk. The cantaloupe will be sliced into ready to eat cute shapes. The celery will be peanut butter ready. The tomatoes... well. Mostly I really need to find a tomato soup recipe that I like...

Here's to eating healthy on the cheap!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two more meals...

Yet another long day tomorrow... I'm in at 6:30am and likely won't leave until 10pm tomorrow night. We're loading in for a Ririe-Woodbury dance company show. Most of our light hang was done today. I'd like to point out that I managed to rehang 3 lighting electrics in less than an hour. Go me. Tomorrow we'll finish the hang, focus, gel the lights, lay the marley dance floor, and load in a few props. It doesn't sound too bad... not like it will take 14 hours. But you never know. So I'm going in prepared.

Why yes! This picture is horribly lit. Thanks for noticing. ...Once upon a time I was really really worried about taking gorgeous pictures with great lighting... but now I think that until I get into the habit of posting regularly, I'll be lucky to have pictures at all.

Anywho. Another pasta salad. This one with orzo pasta and tiny diced chunks of cucumber, tomato, pepper, and carrot. The grape thing makes another appearance, this time holding a Lawry's Herb and Garlic marinade. There's a small cup of fruit salad... or at least the pineapple and strawberries I picked out of a fruit salad, an egg attempting to be shaped like a flower, a couple of turkey rosettes, and grapes to fill in the empty spots.

And for dinner...

Wild rice, spaghetti squash, some asparagus, a garlic chicken sausage, and what? More spaghetti squash? Yeah... this box was bigger than I thought it was. And since I don't like mixing hot and cold layers, I had to stick something else meant to be warm in it. And I was tired and feeling uninspired... so I went back to something I had ready to go... My 'cold' box has mini sweet pepper slices and more fruit salad.

I keep looking back over my pictures and thinking it would have been so easy to make these lunches cute. Faces on the sausages and eggs... Flower cutouts on the pasta... Furikake shapes on the rice or the squash... Why don't I ever think of these things while I'm in the kitchen?

On the other hand. I still haven't gotten the hang of making fast lunches. If I were to start worrying about faces and cutouts, the only thing I would do at home is make food. That's it. There would be no time for anything else... Maybe after a few more months of practice going fast, I will start worrying about going cute.