A moment of reflection

23 Oct

It’s frightening to realize, we are nearing the bottom half of the month of October – in 2013.  Although my blogs haven’t been updated diligently, I carry a photographic journal of the bentos I pack for my girls – the oldest in first grade this September, and the little one, on her second round of Pre-K.

What has changed since the chaos of the last entry?

Not much – except for the fact, momentarily, I became complacent… and then a mudslide… allowed myself to lean on the photographic crutch of my iphone photo album of hundreds of pictures of bento, with no accompanying text.

Yet, I know I look back, and know that I carry the same principles… but I haven’t tended to my medium of dealing with my own personal struggles.  Yes, dear reader, my blog – it is an outlet for me to memorialize a day’s lunch in physical form – I’m forgoing the physical hugs, kisses, hand holding, the after school play-dates, dance lessons, cooking time…. for my role as co-breadwinner and career woman, capable of holding her end of the bargain.  My blog, it is a tangible composition of working mother’s guilt, woven through the daily, weekly and seasonal planning of food in the hopes, one day, perhaps my girls will realize, I hold them so dear to my heart….

I digress.

I have many updated bentos I haven’t uploaded, as well as food experiences.  Between my noodle bonanza and now, I’ve had a trip to Japan to visit family (with shameless eating!!), as well as the routine of my beloved bento production for the girls, I will find that sliver of dedicated time to etch my culinary accomplishments and dedication into this little corner of cyberspace!

Below is the girls’ first day of American school bento… the request was, “Mama, I want okra with the shoyu and katsuobushi topping, and edamame.

Mama complied!

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Let there be noodles!

17 Jan

The girls’ school offers a hot lunch sponsored by a student’s family, once a week. The little one joined her sister this fall at the school, and I realized there was a hot lunch slot available around the time of their birthdays.

I mulled and pondered… What did I need to do? What am I expected to do?

One day, my older daughter turned to me and said, “Mama, it’s not fair. You NEVER come read a book on my birthday at school, and you NEVER do hot lunch.”

That statement sealed the deal for me.
I signed up on the hot lunch volunteer list, and started brainstorming.

“What do you want for lunch?” I asked her.

Men men! (noodles)!” They both piped up.

I asked the school what I needed to do to prepare the lunch. They gave me ideas… “We usually cook 12 pounds of pasta… Probably about 100 students will participate…”

I started panicking. What could I possibly make for a hundred kids?!

Udon or soba noodles in soup would be a challenge, since the noodles are not tasty if over cooked, and the soup may be the X-factor. I could almost see myself doling out a tub of soup, while trying to catch slippery noodles out of a pot to try to portion out… A hundred times.

I then thought about rice bowls… I could steam a hundred servings of rice. I then make various toppings that each student could customize their rice bowl with… Seasoned turkey soboro, egg, peas, vegetables… I then realized I only can possibly make eleven servings of rice in the rice cooker(s) I would have access to. I even asked the local Japanese restaurant to provide me a quote for the steamed rice… But the thought of making all the toppings was dizzying.

I then realized, yakisoba would probably be the best option. I could make it with ground turkey, vegetables, and make my own yakisoba sauce to ensure I kept control over the ingredients.

I went on a shopping binge at the local Japanese food stores, snapping up bags of the fresh yakisoba noodle packs – each one containing three servings. Thirty three packages of noodles later, (some were on sale too!) I purchased seven pounds of cabbage, ten pounds of carrots, six pounds of onions, eight pounds of ground turkey, a bottle of ketchup, two bottles of Bulldog brand Worcestshire sauce and a pilfered bottle of my husband’s HP sauce, we were ready.

The night before the lunch, I peeled the carrots, and hand-sliced them into 1/4 inch matchsticks (yes, each and every one…) until 3 am. The onions and cabbage were also sliced, thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.

The next day, my car perfumed with the strong smell of onions, I took my goodies to the school. A concerned friend, worried for my sanity!, helped me for an hour, and produced a food processor to cut up four pounds or celery.

Once set up in the school’s commercial kitchen, I started browning the turkey, seasoning with salt, white pepper and soy sauce. In a separate pan, I sautéed the onions slices, and added the carrots, the cabbage, and then the celery, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Once the turkey was done, I set it aside, and continued cooking the vegetables. When the onions were softened, and the cabbage edges were starting to become translucent, I set them aside.

A added ketchup, HP sauce and Worcestshire sauce in a 2:2:1 ratio, mixing everything together with a whisk. Some soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil were also added, just to add depth. These were about 1/2 cup each, but again this was for 100 kids!!

Into another pan, I lightly oiled, and added the noodles. The pan was large enough to fit three squares of the fresh noodles, so I started cooking them, following the instruction on the packets. I added a bit of water to soften.

Midway, the school staff reassured me, due to some student absences, we could probably make less than the original hundred count so we ended up cooking only twenty packets, or sixty servings.

I somehow managed to get most of the lunch ready, and squeezed into the classroom (for both!) to read “Guess How Much I love You” to each respective class.

Lunch was successful. I received many kind compliments, and the best part was that every bite was either eaten, or taken home!

Here are some pictures of that day.

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Reflection on 2012, welcome 2013

17 Jan

Dear reader – it is hard to believe 2012 swept through and out so quickly. The latter half of the year sped up so fast, especially once Superstorm Sandy blew through the metro-NY area, ravaging the local area. Then the holidays commenced, after a salvaged Halloween, with Thanksgiving starting the year end holiday chaos.
My role as co-class mother at Japanese school certainly did not help with my time allocation and management…

Yet, for a brief moment in 2012, time stood still as the report of the horrific Sandy Hook school shootings came to me, as I was rushing from work to the company holiday gathering.

Uncontrollable tears welled. My heart ached as the news reporters, at time, crying themselves, spoke of the innocent lives lost.

Twenty innocent, hopeful, inspirational spirits were viciously taken – with their six teachers trying to shield and protect them. A mother, whose love of a son couldn’t possibly foresee the horrific and tragic outcome of her hobby collection… As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking of these innocent children – the ages of my oldest daughter, being mowed down by the violent and senseless act of a troubled man. I wanted to scream, “what have you done?”….knowing millions of voices would be piercing the same thick blanket of pain, disbelief and horror in the same manner, with no end result.

I do not pretend to understand the indescribable pain and suffering these families and friends are feeling. I do not know what it is like to bury a child, and I pray that I never will.

Perhaps those of us left behind in this world are given an assignment, a legacy, to inject hope, positivity, humanity, humility into a society rapidly losing ground to a world focussed on instant and material self-gratification, the numbing of our emotions, our sensibilities?

I have seen a beloved friend grieve the loss of her soulmate on 9/11. She grieved for many years, and although she has found happiness, I know that day will always remain in her heart. This incident brought me back to the emotions brought upon watching my girlfriend’s heart broken journey. My heart goes out to those affected…

May 2013 bring positive healing to a wounded and grieving world.

Hurricane Stew

29 Oct

With Sandy bearing down upon the east coast, I’ve been keeping my mind off of the weather reports by keeping busy in the kitchen.

For Irene, it was a white-bean, turkey, kale stew. For Sandy, I made a red lentil-kale-root vegetable (turnips, carrots, onion, potatoes, garlic) celery stew in the slow cooker.

Despite the whistling wind batting the trees in the yard, the hearty, fragrant, rich smell permeates throughout the house as we anxiously watch the impending approach of the storm.

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Dinner splurge

16 Oct

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On occasion, I’ll sneak out to the local Japanese food store, Shin Nara Foods, and pick up a chirashi sushi which can be conveniently split into two generous servings for the girls.

Their favorite is ikura or salmon roe – little orange bubbles of flavor popping in their mouths.

Comfort is a bowl away

16 Oct

After watching a mouth-watering episode of their favorite cartoon, Anpanman featuring a character flying in a ramen-bowl, the girls asked in unison, “We want men-men!”

Didn’t have ramen, but a bowl of udon in soup, topped with turkey soboro, blanched hakusai or Napa cabbage, sugar snap peas, blanched carrots, narutomaki and cooked egg will just have to do!!

A weekend classic for the girls of the household…

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Fall bentos, school year 2013!

16 Oct

I do not know where the last few months have gone. Between the dizzying daily routine of work, followed by the relentless wheel of routines, I found myself shocked to be mired in the middle of October.

I have been packing bentos for both girls these days – with little time for decompressing or downtime. A few evening were spent on the laptop at the kitchen table, battling the desperate attempts of my cat Spencer, to settle down in my lap as I feverishly tapped away at keyboards and calculators.

This year, both girls are at the same school, and often have an opportunity to eat together.

The little one loves onigiri, while the older one prefers raw vegetable slices and sticks.

Edamame is a definite hit with the older one – the empty pods in a neat pile, while the little one sends her beans intact.

Quinoa has joined the repertoire – I gently wash, and simmer the grains in a stock – vegetable, chicken, dashi, or in some cases, roasted red pepper and tomato soup!

Raw cauliflower and turnip slices, pickled in soy sauce, rice vinegar and ginger are often requested.

A dear friend’s husband caught porgy – and I found creative ways to cook the delicious fish – grilled, baked, porgy fish cakes, porgy omelette, porgy chowder… The porgy fish cakes do make appearances in the girls’ bento.

Grilled chicken wingettes and drumettes are always a hit, as well as turkey meatballies – the poultry always sourced from our beloved Makinajian Farms. I have packed them simply seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice, while other times, with a sweet-savory ketchup/HP sauce/Worcestershire sauce glaze with the meatballs, or a teriyaki glaze for the wingettes.

Below are just a few samplings of recent bentos… And more to come!

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(porgy fish cakes!) … and I technical glitch where I can’t seem to figure out how to rotate this photo!!

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