In Association with
Week 7: Finding InspirationKawaii bento Club's Summer School is well under way, and this week I'll be adding my contribution. Finding inspiration for creating bento is something that all occasional bento makers and dedicated bento hobbyists alike can find tricky. Even if you aren't making 'character' lunches, it's easy to get stuck packing the same meal day in day out. Especially with fussy eaters to cater for and a limited budget for lunch items.
Personally, I take my lunch ingredients from the same salad tray and cupboard essentials I buy for all my other meals in the week. I purposely try not to go out of my way to buy 'special' foods unless I find something on offer or have a very particular idea of making something out of, well, something! That way I'm sure that my hobby doesn't put strain on my household budget.
There are ways to overcome using the same bits and pieces in your bento each day, without buying in special ingredients that cost the earth. One of these tricks is to put aside small portions from the previous night's dinner for the following day's bento. That works a treat. Another way to add variety is to alternate between different stock base ingredients. For instance, rice, pasta, couscous, garden salad and bread.
The next thing to consider is how you'll make your selected ingredients appealing. I have two methods for making this important decision! One is to draw upon ideas from my week's experiences with the children, and another is to lay out my food on the chopping board and look for shapes that are already part of the meal, which might be used to create a character.
A good example of one of my past bentos that drew on the week's experiences was the Egyptian bento I made in preparation for my daughter's Egyptian party at school.
Another example is the Dojo Pride bento I made for my children to celebrate our new found love of Karate training.
As for finding inspiration from the shapes already present in food in your cupboards, how about this caterpillar bento I made from a hot dog roll that looked suitably bug-like. With a bit of thought I worked out that cucumber could be used to make segments out of the bread and it was made in no time at all!
Which brings me to the first assignment for this week. I'd like you to have a go at planning your bentos in the same way I do, and that's by drawing on special things I see in the week and experiences I have in daily life. If you;re making lunch for children this can be especially appealing. It captures a shared memory in their lunch.
The first week of Bento Summer School encouraged you to start a journal in one of several forms. Beginning today, use that journal to note down one or more things from each day of the next week which you found special.
Some examples are:
"On Monday evening there was the prettiest sunset."
"On Tuesday morning I/we saw a woodpecker."
"On Wednesday afternoon we stopped for ice cream."
Here's a page from my diary where I have doodled the designs that later became my Rockabilly and Sisters bentos.
Once you have a few special ideas from the week, pick a day that you;re going to make a bento from one of them and decide beforehand what ingredients you have available to put into it. Once you;re ready to put the bento together, cut, slice, chop and rinse everything then lay all the bits out on a chopping board so that you can see what you have available. That way, once you're in the creative stage you don't have to stop and rummage around for things in cupboards or start cooking something that will take a long time and start to frustrate you.
I'll give you an example of how I might create a bento that was inspired by one of the above sample ideas. If I chose the 'ice cream' day, I'd be thinking I could make the top of the ice cream with a small cup of cottage cheese, with some toasted sesame seeds to make sprinkles on the top half. I would nestle the little tub at the top of my lunch box and surround it with vegetable sticks of cucumber, celery and carrot that will make a colourful background, hold the cup in place tightly and be great for dipping! For the bottom section I need to make a 'cone', so I'd fist put a bed of salad in to raise up the level to the cottage cheese 'ice cream' then cut a wedge of toasted garlic bread into a cone shape to pop on top. I could score the bread with a tooth pick to make it look waffle-y. Ta-da! I have an ice cream themed bento and it's healthy and yummy.
For the final touch, I'd make some cute facial features to put on the cottage cheese. A pair of little eyes can be made by cutting two circles of sliced cheese with the end of a straw. Use the end of a toothpick to dot in two tiny circles of black food clouring. You can hand cut a smile out of sliced cheese too, or use a piece of nori (seaweed sheets) cut out with some small scissors.
Submitting your assignment
Once you've had a go at creating your week-inspired bento submit it for teacher's comments and advice. Upload a picture, a description of ingredients and an explanation of what inspired you to make it to a Kawaii bento Club lens, your own online blog or any alternative such as a Flickr account, then post the url to your creation in the comments section below along with your email address. I'll get back to you!