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bento#46 Totoro with cherry blossoms April 30, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in bento blog (all), bento blog - ghibli (totoro, etc...).
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After making three Castle Crashers related bento in a row, I needed to take a break. I do adore the characters from the game, but every bento is a challenge for me. I struggle, get frustrated and learn (from big mistakes, usually) while making them. Those three bento definitely were not an easy challenge. So, again, it was time for Totoro for me.

Bento #46: Totoro with Cherry Blossoms
Created and eaten on: 4/29/2009

My boyfriend and I went to Brooklyn Botanic Garden last weekend. We know the Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival) is this weekend, but after going to the festival last year, we decided to stay away from the festival crowd as much as possible. (He did a couple comics about it last year.)
It was around 80-something degrees in NYC last Sunday. It was hot!! Some cherry blossoms had already bloomed, and there were a lot of people there, but it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to pick a spot under a fully bloomed cherry blossom tree and sat down and enjoyed the petals falling on us like snow.
In Japan, many people bring a big bento when they go see cherry blossoms. So I thought of making bento to bring it to the garden, but I didn’t have time… I really wanted to make a spring themed bento before it was too late, so I decided to make “Totoro and his friends with cherry blossoms” bento.

I’ve seen Totoro made with Inari-zushi before, and I wanted to try it. Inari-zushi is rice (sweetened or sometimes sushi rice) wrapped in fried bean curd. I LOVE it. I love it so much that I even named my cat “Inari.” When I was thinking what else to put in the bento, I thought the Nekobus (Catbus) would be perfect to be made with Inari-zushi because of its shape and color. I had meatballs from the other night, which could be Makkurokurosuke, and I could always make a quail egg to make mini-Totoro as usual. But then I realized there weren’t enough rice. So I decided to make the medium-Totoro with rice, and two small rice balls.

The night before, I stuffed rice into an Inari-zushi skin, and shifted the skin a bit so the white rice part would look like Totoro’s stomach, and wrapped it in plastic wrap.

By the way, I put a lot of rice in to make the Totoro shape. A regular Inari-zushi isn't stuffed this much.

I stuffed rice into a new skin, cut another skin into the shape of the Nekobus’ face, and wrapped them in plastic wrap so they wouldn’t dry out.

Inari Nekobus! The color was just perfect. I'm very proud of myself with this one. 😀

I made the body of medium-Totoro with ground black sesame seed and plain rice. (see “how to make Totoro with rice”)

I wanted to try a different recipe for renkon (lotus root), so I powdered sliced renkon with corn starch, cooked it in oil, and sprinkle it with “aonori” (dried chopped seaweed) and salt.

For the cherry blossom petals, I peeled the pink part of kamaboko (fish cake), cut out oval shapes using a cutter, and cut ” V ” on the one end to make petals. I wanted petals in a different color too, so I soaked kamaboko petals in red cabbage juice mixed with vinegar over night. (see “how to dye eggs naturally,” it uses the same method) I also sliced radish and cut out a flower shape using a cutter and put it in the cabbage juice as an experiment.

I already had almost everything made the night before, so in the morning I only had to concentrate on placing each food in the bento and putting details on each character.

The following morning, I put renkon in the bento box, put Totoro and the Nekobus first, and I put Makkurokurosuke meatballs, medium-Totoro, and mini-Totoro in. For the two small rice balls, I mixed “yukari” (shiso leaf furikake seasoning) with rice, made flower shaped rice balls using a rice mold, and placed them in the bento box. After shifting the food around for a while, finally it started to look more like bento than scattered food pieces in a box.

I didn’t want to make it messier by putting broccoli in, so I boiled snowpeas, cut the tip of them using a diamond shaped cookie cutter, sprinkled them with salt, and stuck them between the food. I was very happy with the way they looked. 🙂 It was easy to make and arrange. Plus it looked cute, and served as a great edible divider. I still didn’t think there was enough green, so I wrapped string beans with bacon, pinned it with a toothpick, and cooked it. After it was cooked, I cut it in half, and put it in the bento.

Finally, I sliced and cut out fish cake and cheese for the eyes and mouth as usual. But for Totoro’s ears, nose, whiskers, Nekobus’ strips and whiskers, I used a new food. It’s konbu! Konbu is dried kelp, often boiled in water to make broth. But the one I used is sold as a snack, so it’s a lot thinner than the one used to make broth. It’s thin but very strong (almost like thin plastic sheet) and pretty durable against moisture compared to seaweed. The color isn’t as dark as seaweed, but I really liked how easy it was to cut with scissors.

Look at his whiskers made with konbu (dried kelp)! They stayed up!

After I put all the other little pieces for Totoro and Nekobus, I put black sesame seeds for the pupils (each one of them, with tweezers… I really need a smaller hole punch!), and placed petals all over the bento. Miraculously, all eyes, except one, stayed intact all the way to work.

Putting eyes on characters is a tedious task, but it's like breathing life into them.

Even though 70 % of the bento was done the night before, the fact that I didn’t finish the sketch night before cost me time while arranging food in the bento box.

I think snowpeas made a big difference in this bento. Most food doesn’t usually have sharp edges, so green spikes totally stood out. I wish I had made more cherry petals though. Maybe I’ll make a spring themed bento again before all the cherry blossoms are gone. 🙂

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.

my bento tools April 28, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in bento blog (all).

I was asked to provide some pictures of my bento for an Italian magazine, and they also asked me for photos of my tools. I’ve been meaning to take pictures of my tools, so I’m glad that he asked me. (Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it :P)

I bought some of them at a store, online, and my friends gave me some hole punchers for Christmas, but I don’t use them all the time. I was so busy making bento, sometimes I’ll realize later “I should’ve used that one to do this!” or “I totally forgot I had this!”. I probably should organize them better.

Anyway, the tools I can’t make bento without are…

Hole punch – This is a true lifesaver. Before I got this, all pupils on the characters looked so deformed that they looked like they were crying. I can also cut out small ” c ” shaped seaweed with this.

Exact (Xacto) knife – I use this to cut out small piecse of seaweed or food. Seaweed art (cutting seaweed just like a drawing or photo) is pretty popular in the Japanese kyaraben world. They usually put seaweed on cheese because it’ll easily stick to cheese, and is less likely to curl up or get wrinkly when the seaweed is placed on the cheese firmly. I tried making seaweed art for the “Shadow of the Colossus grilled cheese sandwich” and “Professor Layton bento.” It’s actually not as hard as it looks, but you have to be very patient to do this. Seaweed art is definitely not something you want to try in the morning when you’re making bento in a rush. (Don’t ever do it. It’s very dangerous!)

Scissors – Just ordinary scissors, but I use them only in the kitchen.

College tweezers (the one that’s long and skinny with curved head) – I usually use this to apply seaweed on characters’ faces. But since it’s very long and skinny, it can go into the hard to reach places like the surface of the face of the Big Daddy in my “BioShock bento.”

Single blade razor – This is great for cutting a short straight line. The tip of a regular knife is usually curved, and you always have to make sure the food (egg sheet, cheese, etc…) is actually cut and separated. But with this, you just have to push it down. The blade is much thinner than a regular knife, so you don’t have to worry about breaking tiny veggie pieces apart.

Fruit knife – A smaller knife is definitely more useful than a big knife in bento making.

Straw – It works like a hole puncher for solid food like cheese or veggies. Also you can just cut the tip after you use it to keep it sanitary.

Toothpicks – Toothpicks are a great multi-purpose tool. You can make a tiny hole with it, you can use it to shift food, you can apply chocolate (not for bento, but baking stuff) or mayonnaise on food, etc…

Plastic caps / strip of a plastic bottle – Cutting something circle with a knife is extremely difficult, and cookie cutters can be too big, so I use plastic caps of various products. I collect a lot of them and I just throw it away when it gets old.

*By the way, I wash blades (exacto knife, single blade razor, etc…), and disinfect the blade by holding it in a flame and wiping it with rubbing alcohol after each use.

And these tools aren’t absolutely necessary, but it’s very helpful to have…

Cookie cutters – I have many cookie cutters but I only use some of them to cut veggie and cheese. I usually use just part of the cookie cutters. For example, I’d use the tip of a star shaped cookie cutter to cut a ” ^ ” shape out of sliced carrot or cheese to make flowers or stars. (It only works for bigger pieces though.)

Various hole punchers – The ones with faces on them are made specifically for seaweed. It’s just a slightly easier to get seaweed out of it, but they’re basically the the same as the craft punchers.

Sauce / mayonnaise containers – I rarely use the sauce containers actually. I usually forget that I have them. 😛 It’s a shame, because they’re adorable.

Like I said, maybe I don’t use my tools as much as I should, but sometimes I get inspiration from my tools. If I really want to use a certain tool, I’ll think and see if I can make a bento using the tool. You can get tons of kyaraben products in Japan for very cheap, so I can’t wait until the next time I go. 🙂

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.

how to make Mokona sandwich April 26, 2009

Posted by AnnaTheRed in how-to (all), how-to - characters (Ghibli, video game, Wall-E).
Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve gotten a couple of requests for kyaraben now, and I greatly appreciate anyone taking time to write me. But the thing is, I can only make what my boyfriend likes for kyaraben. It’s not that I won’t, but I really can’t. I have to “get “what I make.
Some people think I’m creative, but I’m really not! I’m just good at copying stuff in a nerdy way. In order to transform 2-D art into bento, I have to understand what makes it “it”. But some of the requests I got were anime related, and I’ve watched those shows, so I decided to make an exception, and do a how-to.

This was a request by an 11 year-old girl I received quite some time ago. Mokona is a rabbit-like creatures from CLAMP’s sister series Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic, and Magic Knight Rayearth. The first thing I thought of was a Mokona rice ball, but she mentioned that can’t get Asian groceries where she lives, so I decided to make it with bread.

– white bread (I used two slices)
– ham
– seaweed OR crust OR blueberry skin OR chocolate (whatever you can get to make the eyes)
– ketchup OR tomato
– mayonnaise *optional
— strip of cut out plastic bottle (see “how to make Totoro peanut butter sandwich”)

Before you start, print out/draw/trace Mokona on a paper, and keep comparing your sandwich to the drawing. It really helps!

Even something like this helps a lot.

1. Use a strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut bread into a pear shape (2 pieces).

2. Use the strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut bread for the ears (2 pieces).

3. Use the strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut bread for the feet (2 pieces).

Tip: Keep comparing to your drawing/print out as you cut the ear and foot pieces.

4. Use the strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut ham slightly smaller than the ears (2 pieces) and put it on the ears. *You can put mayonnaise on the ham before putting it on bread, so it won’t shift around.

5. Use a plastic cap OR strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut ham slightly smaller than the feet (2 pieces) and put it on the feet. *You can put mayonnaise on the ham before putting it on bread, so it won’t shift around.

6. Using a plastic cap OR strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut bread out for the hands. Mold it with your hands if necessary.

It's easy to mold bread with your hands.

7. Put whatever you want between the body (I put ham). Then pinch the tip of the ear to make the bread flat, and put it between the body.

8. Cut a thin strip of seaweed with scissors for the eyes, OR use melted chocolate to draw the eyes.

– If you are too young to use a knife (ask adults in your house if you’re old enough to use a knife), use a plastic cap to cut out ham, and put ketchup on it for the gem on the forehead. (I forgot to take pictures of this. Sorry!)

– If you’re old enough to use a knife (again, ask adults in your house if you’re old enough to use a knife), cut a tip of tomato (preferably cherry tomato). Trim with scissors if necessary. (Make sure you wash the blade with dish soap and hot water before you use it! I have a pair of scissors that are only for the kitchen.)

– Punch a hole in seaweed with a hole puncher, then slide the hole puncher just a tiny little bit, and punch it again. (to make a ” c ” shape)

Punch it normally...

...and slide the puncher and punch it again...

...and it'll make a circle and a " c " shape.

Carefully place two " c " to make her mouth.

– OR cut ham with a butter knife to make her mouth.

I don’t know if you can call this a “how-to”, since there are lot of instructions like “cut like this”… I mainly used a strip of cut out plastic bottle to cut bread, but if you don’t have a plastic bottle handy, be creative and use stuff around you!
Also, I ended up using seaweed on my Mokona, but if you don’t have access to seaweed, look around and see which food you can use.

How to make Mokona sandwich on my flickr

For more pictures of my bento, visit Bento! set and Bento details! set on my flickr page.

If you have any questions about any of my how-to’s, please feel free to leave a comment or email me!