No, I’m not dead yet….just kinda swept away in other things. I will be posting again soon.
Archive for July, 2009
Part one: Our Pal the Pasty
When I told a friend of mine that I was looking into doing a project where I explored the history of packed lunches, the first thing out of her mouth was something like “You gonna make Cornish Pasties?” I told her yes, but what I was really thinking was “gaaaahhhh paste?” Yeah, mind like a steel trap and all that. My thoughts must have been clearly reflected on my face because my friend took pity on me and explained a bit about what a pasty was.
Associated with Cornwall (on the west coast of England), pasties are hand pies filled with mixed veggies and meat that are crimped along the edge. Basic construction includes adding filler to a round piece of dough and then crimping the opn edges together to seal it up. The pictures I’ve seen show both putting the filling directly in the middle and folding the two edges to meet in the center, or just adding filling on one side and folding it in half.
According to what I’ve read, pasties were a favorite of miners because they were filling, and could be eaten just by holding the crimped crust. The crust could then be thrown away after being handled by dirty hands and instead fed to the ghosts that haunted the dark tunnels and shafts. Also, pasties are traditionally large this way it could be spread over two meals. Initials of the pasty’s owner were often put on one side of the pasty so that leftovers could easily be identified by the owner. Some pasties even contained one savory and one sweet end so that you could have both your main meal and a dessert.
Pasties are one of the oldest forms of cook and carry food, so it would seem logical that some form of these would be found in early American packed lunches. Regardless, I figured that making them would be a fun way to start my project. Damn, I should really learn to stop listening to myself…
Next time – Part Two: “Tastes like Failure”
Since I was able to use a bunch of dinner leftovers for this bento, I decided to use my saved time to get a bit more creative. In the past when I have colored my molded eggs, I either dyed the whole thing or went at it with food coloring and Q-tip. This time I decided to class things up by using gel food coloring (the kind I use when I make my cakes) and a paintbrush.
As you can see, the results were mixed:
Next time i am hoping to keep things a bit more dry. The color really ran and bled at first. Also, the egg was too smooth for the luster dust. I had to pool it in the the indentations were the car windows are supposed to be. Then it dried well, so I am very happy with the shine it gives. So, while the running colors are annoying, the biggest problem is that I spent 10 mins painting a hard boiled egg that I am going to chop down in less than two.
Ah, the things we bento-fans go through for our lunch art!
Note: I called this bento “Contact” because the Phish song was going through my head the whole time I made this.
After perfectly roasting a chicken breast in my toaster oven, I was shocked to discover that The Boy had barley left any pitiful scraps for me. I really had to pick the bones clean to get enough for my bento. As an act of revenge, I finished off the broccoli rabe. Considering how much I love the stuff (and he is still trying to grow a taste for this green), I guess I’ll stop hiding his car keys in my box of tampons.
roasted chicken breast
yellow pear tomato
pastina with ramano, parsley, and ground pepper
I’d like to take a minute to talk about broccoli rabe (also known as rappini). If you haven’t tried it before and enjoy bitter greens, I’d like to encourage you to hunt some of this stuff down. I grew up eating rabe either by itself or mixed in with pasta. You can blanch it for 5 mins or so before sauteing in oil and garlic to reduce the bitterness, but I never bother to do that. Instead, I just wash it, trim the stems, and then throw it in a covered pan with olive oil and garlic. Since I don’t bother to dry the rabe, that clinging water will steam and cook the rabe so long as you use a nice heavy pot and cover it. I know that I’m not giving that much info here, but a quick google search ought to help you find a bunch of recipes. My only warning is that rabe has become trendy over the years. When I was a kid, my mother used to buy gorgeous large bunches of it for $1.25 at the Italian grocers in the North End. Now you can find it at your local supermarket, but that bunch (which can often be kinda yicky and wilty) will cost you $2.99. For you local readers in search of rabe, try Market Basket. Their rabe is always in pretty good condition.
Today I am featuring a guest blog from my friend, lovingly referred to as “The Letter L.” Enjoy her poppin’ fresh flava!
The other night I came home from work equal parts cranky and hungry. Now, my dinnertime cranky to hungry ratio is often the sole determining factor in my evening food choice. If I’m hungry but not particularly cranky, I can often be found snacking on baby carrots while assembling a nutritionally balanced and visually appealing culinary masterpiece. If I’m cranky but not hungry…well, sometimes dinner needs to be a shot of Jack and a nap.
But, as I said, I was equal parts cranky and hungry. That calls for something tasty that doesn’t really take effort. An egg sandwich, I decided, with egg and spinach and feta cheese. And I had just the bread to put it on: Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats. I highly recommend Deli Flats. They are delicious, come in several good-for-you varieties, and are a mere 100 calories. I like them for burgers and sandwiches, and I hear tell that your devoted blogger likes them toasted for breakfast.
Furthermore, Deli Flats were on-sale at Shaw’s about a week ago, so I knew I had grabbed a pack to stash. I put the egg on nice and low, washed a handful of baby spinach, and turned my attention to rooting out the bread from my pantry. I located the bag and undid the twist tie, only to find something that stopped me cold.
There. was. a. bite. missing. Someone, somewhere had already taken a bite from my precious bread. Not only had they removed the bread from the bag and taken a bite, they put the violated piece back in the bag! My eyes darted around, looking for evidence of a hidden camera, a bread-eating intruder, or, maybe, a sign that one of my roommates had finally cracked. No dice.
And that was how M found me, looking accusingly at the kitchen walls. I explained my crisis between huffs of incredulous laughter. M shook her head and motioned for me to hand the bag over.
‘There’s your problem,” she said. She pointed to the corner of the package, where a large orange sticker proclaimed “TRY ME!”
“Someone thought this was a free sample?” I scoffed, “They just grabbed it from the shelf, took a bite, and put it back?”
Clearly, there was no alternative. Scrutiny of the bite mark told me the culprit was an adult, so I couldn’t write it off as kids being adorably literal. Both M and I tried to come up with scenarios where an adult, presumably an adult capable of grocery shopping, would take a TRY ME sticker as an invitation. “Try me? Heck yeah, I will! Free bread! Shaw’s ROCKS!”
As our scenarios started sounding somehow both more ridiculous and more plausible, I decided to return the bread. I didn’t care much about a refund; I certainly got $3.00 worth of amusement. I just wanted to see the manager’s face…and, of course, do my part to make sure these misleading stickers are not used again. M volunteered as a sidekick. Her duties, she explained, would be to laugh. Also, if a fracas broke out at the Customer Service desk, she envisioned herself throwing a punch and shouting “Pepperidge Farm Remembers, BITCH!”
And so, the next night, M and I met at the grocery store. I put on a bright smile as I approached a teenaged employee. Apparently, my smile wasn’t enough reassurance, because when I asked to see the manager, the color drained from his face. He dutifully paged the on-call manager and started shifting from foot to foot. Another employee tried to step in, but he mumbled, “She, uh, said…umm, ah, she wanted to, uh, speak with the, uh, manager.”
“Oh, I don’t mind showing you,” I enthused. The kid looked marginally less miserable. By the time I had explained and produced the evidence, he was grinning. The manager approached, looking harassed, and I explained again.
“So I guess someone took the TRY ME sticker literally,” I finished. M, the kid, and I were grinning, and I was all but doing jazz hands to signal my wacky conclusion. The manager didn’t even crack a smile. She just squinted at my bread. Tough crowd.
She instructed the kid to refund my money, which was nice enough of her. After one last frown at the bread, she muttered, “You think you’ve seen everything…” and stalked off. The kid passed me some paperwork to sign. Yes, I actually had to sign and date an official document because someone bit my bread. I informed the kid I’d let him fill in the “Reason for Return” section. He handed over my $3.00 and a long receipt, which meant more trees died because someone was dumb enough to take a bite out of bread.
In any case, I got my money back and a good story to tell. All is right with the world. I am writing here as a cautionary tale to you loyal readers, however. When you are shopping for your delicious bentos and other lunchtime treats, take an extra moment to do a sticker check. The bread you save might be your own.
This is an older pic that I have leftover from last week. Since I had spent the weekend before I made this bento helping my mother after her knee injury, she made sure to send me home with food. I mean think about, what self-respecting Italian American mother wouldn’t do such a thing? The best part is that if I time it right, I get not only her food, but food from events and people at her Sons of Italy Lodge. Now before you shake you head in disappointment over me stealing food from the mouths of sweet ol’ Italian women, I suggest you taste the stuff first. Once you make it through you third stuffed artichoke and pass out on the couch in ecstasy…you will understand. Or die from overeating, whichever comes first.
fresh mozzarella and tomatoes (thanks Mommy!)
salami sandwich with “Lazy Girl’s Focaccia”
sixlets candy (another food obsession my mother supports)
“Lazy Girl’s Focaccia” is something my sister and I made for our first dinner party at our very first apartment. I wanted to be able to serve something warm and yummy, but I was limited with a kitchen the size of a port-o-potty. Using a mixture of pure brilliant laziness, we bought some pre-made pizza dough at the market and the rest is history. If you have time to let the dough rise, you are better off because you get a lighter final product, but it works just fine if you don’t. Stretch or roll the dough out and place it on a baking sheet greased with olive oil. Then dot (or poke) the top of the bread with your fingers. At this point, you can allow it to rise if you have the time. Otherwise just skip ahead and brush with olive oil and add coarse salt and your desired herbs. You can also put thin sliced tomatoes or onions on the top if you are so inclined.
Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown. Then cut, serve, and wait for people to be super impressed with your baking prowess. Hey, I won’t tell if you don’t.
This bento shows what I can do on a weeknight if I take an hour to do some extra cooking. Mind you, this isn’t an hour of cooking, it just takes the meat some time to cook and there are a million other things you could be doing at that time (like chatting with your friend about the new Torchwood). This hour included all prep, cooking, and clean-up. So really, it wasn’t a huge time commitment:
Italian Potato Salad
Cucumbers with rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes
boneless ribs with spicy and sweet dry rub
So the two things that required cooking were the potato salad and the boneless ribs. I hope to post the recipe for the potato salad next week, so I won’t get into too much detail now, but it just requires some chopping and quick boiling. As for the ribs, I made a quick dry rub with granulated brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, lemon pepper, celery salt, and something called Texas Gunpowder (which is just ground jalapeno). This made a nice rub that was salty, sweet, and spicy all at the same time. I then cooked the ribs in my toaster oven so that I wouldn’t have to wait for the larger oven to heat up. Easy as can be.
For those looking for more about my historical lunch project, I was able to find this great little exhibit at the Smithsonian called Taking America to Lunch. This will give you all a brief overview of the kinda things I’ve been looking at. Now I just need to scour ebay for some better boxes and tins.
I wanted to make this bento as quickly as possible. The Boy was watching Primeval and cheap dino-cgi action waits for no woman. It was either make lunch speedy, or miss out on watching my future dinosaur pet Rex make cute little chirpy noises while he flies around, waiting to become important to the plot again. Either way, OMG Squish-face!
The resulting bento was this:
The only cooking required was allowing my shumai (bento stash freezer staple ahoy!), to steam away while I contemplated if anyone was going to loose a limb, eye, pound of flesh, or all of the above in the show. Then that guy jumped into a pool…totally saw that one coming.
pork and shrimp shumai
tomato and fresh mozzarella
low sodium soy sauce for veggies
Thanks to a recommendation on Bookmooch, I found myself working my way through A Girl of the Limberlost. I say “working through” because the main character was just so perfect that there were many times I was tempted to through the book into my office’s 4 ft tall industrial shredder. Problem is that I am one of those people who has a hard time giving up a book once I’ve started reading it. But rather than get into my lukewarm feelings about the book, I am going to talk about the one part I really liked: the description of Elnora’s lunchbox. Think of nice leather turn-of-the-century number, with small ceramic containers to hold things like custard and preserved strawberries as well as shaved ham and egg sandwiches. I was in love. So in love in fact that I immediately headed off to google to find what I could find.
Half an hour later, and I still had no luck finding a lunchbox like the one inspired in the book, but I did remember the lunch pail that I bought for a doll I had when I was younger. Though the period for this doll was 20 or so years later than Elnora’s story, at least it was something that I could mimick at home to satisfy me while I did some serious research on the history of packed lunches in America. Here is what I came up with:
And yes, those are watercress tea sandwiches!
My plan is to do more research and produce some more accurate lunches in between my usual bentos. I hope to bring things a little closer to home with this project because deep down inside, I have a real love of American History. Also, I have some colonial period recipe books that could use a little love.
I got back from the funeral, went to bed, went to work, and was so happy to be back to my usual routine of sleeping, eating, dreaming of bentos, and terrorizing The Boy. Heck, I was in such a good mood that I even made Hamburger Helper for dinner (never had it before, but had refused to make it for The Boy because I had decided a long time ago that it was gross). Just as I was about to sit myself down to a dinner of yummy salad and questionable brown salty goo endorsed by what kinda looks like if one of Mickey Mouse’s gloves was dropped into radioactive chemicals, I got a call from my mother.
Smal’s Mom – I need to go to the hospital.
Smal – WHAT?!
Smal’s Mom – It’s so bad, I need to go to the hospital.
*phone cuts out*
Smal – Um Mom?
At this point I called everyone in my home town that I knew, trying to remember phone numbers in high school in an attempt to find someone who could go to the house and check on my mother. Finally, I gave up and called the town fire department.
Basically, my mother had hurt her knee and was heading back to the house so that her friend could drive her to the hospital. Thanks to the cell phone dead zone she hit, I was convinced she was dead. She arrived home to find two police cruisers waiting in the driveway for her. According to her report, after she sent them away the first time, they came back again to make sure her friend got her and to help her get into the car. I brought them hot fresh bagels in the morning to thank them for their help. Really, they didn’t have to go back that second time, and mom without bringing food.
This does mean that I will be spending the weekend looking after her and banging my head on the desk while I wait for her 7+ year old computer to load Facebook. Bento blogs will just have to wait again.
I can tell you what is coming up though. I have decided to mix my love for American History and boxed lunches into one fun mini-project. I’ll give you a hint though: I was inspired after reading Girl of the Limberlost.