Ketogenic Finger Food

As I commented in Wake Up Calls and Why I’m Going to Smack You, I was diagnosed with prediabetes in June. People can choose lots of different ways to deal with this, depending on taste, medical needs and so on. I chose the diet route and went on a ketogenic diet.

In June, my a1c was 6.0. Last week, when I got it tested, I found that six months of pretty dedicated focus (I cheated twice – once at the beach and ate some watermelon, and once on a cruise where I ate ¼ c. of vanilla ice cream) I’m down to 5.7, which is borderline to normal.

The problem?

You have to cook, and you have to plan your meals in advance a lot. You can’t figure on just picking up something to eat just any time. You need to plan and know what you’re going to eat.

Now, I have a hobby making bento, which is good. I can pack a decent meal in a small container with no real big deal. The thing is, I don’t have as good a habit of making ketogenic finger food as I could.

In pondering how to make a ketogenic bento tasty and interesting, I was pondering some mini sweet peppers in the grocery store today and thinking that I’d made up some chicken salad. Then got to thinking, “Hey, those stuffed with chicken salad would be doggone tasty and keto-friendly, too!”

I could give a recipe, but honestly, I pretty much wing it with chicken salad. I shred some cooked chicken, salt and pepper it, toss in some shredded onion and celery then use Duke’s mayonnaise because that’s the only real stuff on the market that’s not all sugar-laden and nasty. I mix in enough that all the ingredients bind nicely.

Ideally, you should let this sit overnight in the fridge, so the flavors will marry, but I didn’t for this.

If you like sweet peppers and you like chicken salad, this is great ketogenic finger food.

Bento, I’m Sorry I’ve Cheated on You

bentoimsorry1

I haven’t been eating properly lately. I’ve been buying my lunch at work, and have even been buying muffins for breakfast in the morning. The foolishness of this came to a head the other day when I felt a blood sugar drop in the late morning from a combination of too much sugar and too much coffee. I haven’t had that happen in years, and it was disturbing to have it happen in front of a class that I had to muscle through before I could stop and do something about it. Better to eat the high-protein breakfast and not be an idiot, right?

Not to mention the fact that it’s a lot more expensive than packing my own lunch. So, I took a serious look at my bad eating habits and decided I’m going to clean up my act for health’s sake, right?

I’m totally not. It wasn’t that I almost fainted in front of a class. Nope. The thing that pulled me up short was doing the books and being honest with myself about how much I was spending. I’d rather spend that money on books or something. It was just that lately I’ve been to damn lazy to make bento for myself.

I have some new bento boxes that I’m using now. They’re by Bentgo, and honestly? They’re enormous! My usual bento is like this 600ml job. The lower section of this lunchbox is that large!

But in a way, I’m okay with that as well. Remember when I was talking about buying muffins for breakfast because we were going in too early to have a proper breakfast at home?

I can totally make a breakfast bento in the upper half, then our usual lunch bento in the lower half. ‘Sall good.

I got to thinking about these boxes, though, and what kind of lunches I could make in them that wouldn’t be far too large, and realized that the smart thing to do would be to have the top portion reserved for carbs-n-protein and then pack the bottom with fruit and veggies. I like fresh veggies a lot, so this would be a fun way to make some lunches. I’ll be posting some of the ones I make as I come up with stuff.

The thing is, I feel like a bit of a fraud talking about making bento and stuff – how healthy it is. How much cheaper it is. How nice they are. ‘Sall true, mind, but…

I’m leaving my full time office job. Now, I work as hard for Figart Consulting as I ever do in an office. You work harder for yourself. It’s a thing. Anyone who is self-employed will back me on that one.

But the work flow is very different. You might be up and working at six in the morning (that’s my favorite time to write), but you’ll take a break around ten to putter around the house, talk to yourself about what you want to do next, then get back to work doing something else for a few hours. Oh, it adds up, and cumulatively, you work more hours, but they’re paced differently. You don’t have as many interruptions, and you likely have a million times more privacy. You get more done. That really adds up.

So, when I am sitting here writing about bento, I’m doing it as a work from home kinda gal (well, at least starting next week). I can make those bento on a fifteen minute break from working. Can’t do that from an office!

And for anyone who is asking me why in the world I’d start thinking more about making bento when I’ve got my mind on working from home? It’s twofold.

The first is that my husband still works from an office. If I send a bento in with him, he’s not buying lunch unless it’s a necessary socialization thing occasionally, himself. The savings add up there, too. Not to mention, I’d just as soon he eats healthily.

The other reason is that when you work from home, you work close to a fully-stocked kitchen. Buddy, you want to have a nice, healthy lunch to grab out of the fridge. You want that healthy lunch to be easiest thing to do when you’re hungry. You might be able to talk yourself out of “wasting” money on the muffin, but you don’t have that argument available from your house. At least I don’t. I’m a good cook. I want the bar to the healthy option as low as possible, or I totally will make that apple crumble in the toaster oven, ya know?

Do you have ways that you try to make it easy to eat the way you feel best eating? What do you do?

Does Cooking in Advance Save You Money?

My primary motivation for prepping freezer to crock pot meals is not to save money. Please don’t faint.

I do it to save time during the week.

It does save money. It saves a lot of money.

I did not do much in the way of freezer to crock pot cooking this November and December. In looking at my budget book, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on groceries. Yes, yes, it was the holidays. Yes we cooked things we don’t ordinarily. Yes, we ate out more. But when I looked at what we spent on food for December 2013, I cringed. Even with the inflation factor, I’ve fed four adults and two kids on less, and my household only has three adult appetites at present.

The problem was two-fold. I didn’t make bento as often as I ordinarily do, so we bought lunches more than we should have. I also did not have any freezer meals ready. We were busy, so that meant more expensive convenience food items and more eating out.

You see that picture? That’s going to make about 20 dinners – meals for weeknights and some leftovers for various lunches. Let’s say five meals person per crockpot full. I spent $200 on the food. This wasn’t cheating by shopping from a semi-stocked home pantry. That sucker was bare. I even had to restock my spices.

Friends, when I do the math, I find it comes out to $2 a meal for people who are not light eaters. Please understand that I’m not claiming I’m feeding the family on $200/month. We’ll spend another $150 or so on food for breakfast, lunches and weekends if we’re not feeling excessively frugal.

That’s still significantly less than I spent on food for December! So yes, doing the prep-ahead thing saves money like you would simply not believe until you do it.

I would also like to point out the picture on the right. My artist husband likes to draw illustrations on the family calendar. He is gently needling me for pointing out that bento are really just food in a box.

I suppose I should have said meals in a box. Doughnut holes are breakfast, right?

Waffling on the LunchBlox

Okay, so bento are becoming more of a thing in the US as we move away from brown bagging it.* To that end, Rubbermaid has come out with some containers called LunchBlox. The one to the right is the sandwich version, but they made a salad-style one and another that’s flat and meant to fit into tall insulated lunch bags.

I do like the idea and think it’s cool that they’re being made. I’m all about bringing your own lunch to work or school, reducing waste with reusable containers and all that smack. And hey, bento is my hobby, so of course portable meal containers are going to be of interest to me.

I’m also not going to buy it.

I’ve been eyeing these damn things for months, contemplating getting one. What finally decided me was a comment I made when I was examining the little containers (stop laughing at me, it’s no worse than stamp collecting) on shopping trip yesterday. I was examining one, and my husband asked me when I was going to stop doing this every week or so and buy the darn thing.

“I want one. Thing is, if I buy it, I’ll use it twice, then go back to my usual bento box. They don’t fit in my laptop tote and wouldn’t fit in a purse, either.”

They have a volume capacity of nearly twice my usual bento –4.5 c to the 2.5c capacity of the bento. (1135ml to 591ml). Sure, if you’re going to have a sandwich for lunch, you’re going to want that. Bread is fluffy and isn’t well suited to the small-capacity bento boxes I use. Salad? Yep, lettuce takes up a lot of room.

But for me, part of the whole appeal of bento is that it is a small, filling meal that doesn’t take up much space. It’s not even necessarily a fascination with Japanese food. I mean, I love rice and all, and onigiri are delicious, but the example of a bento I’m using here is actually has two muffin tin Shepherd’s Pies. The tiers stack on top of each other and are about six inches by three inches when wrapped up to be tossed into a tote or purse.

So, while I applaud the idea that the bento concept is becoming popular in the US, I am still going to be using my more compact containers.

* I can’t recall ever putting a lunch in a brown bag unless we were on a field trip. It was considered wasteful when lunch boxes served perfectly well. Was that more of a thing than I knew?

No Wonder I Love Bento

It’s no wonder I love bento.

To the left was my lunch box when I was in 7th and 8th grades. I don’t remember if I asked or it or if my mom, knowing my tastes, just got it for me.

I loved this lunch box so very much. You could put a sandwich in it that wouldn’t be all squished at lunchtime, and there were these little containers you could put other food in — a salad (which I often did. I like salads), cut up fruit in the little container, but best of all, you could freeze a drink in the cup and have it be cold with slushy bits come lunchtime, even in an un-airconditioned Virginia June.

But I also loved it because it was a little gadgety. All the pieces fit into the box perfectly, and the tops seals so the food wouldn’t mix. I was a picky little heathen as a youngster, and would have found the food mixing in my bento of my middle age horrifying.

I was once pondering with my husband whether or not I would have made bento had I known about them when I was a teenager. I think, in the 1970s orange Tupperware goodness of my youth, I have an answer.

I would have made bento. I would have adored making them, been proud of them and found them just as much of a respite in the middle of a difficult day as I do now. In fact, I can recall those neatly-organized lunches and the pleasure I found in them quite clearly.

Truly, it’s no wonder I started making bento as soon as I encountered the concept.

Back to School Bento, Bento Back to Basics

These bento boxes were the family lunches yesterday, as my son went back to school for his senior year.

The rolls weren’t really sushi, but tiny onigiri rolls. Tasty as onigiri always are, but bite-sized. I suppose at some point this year, I’ll make a bento-friendly maki roll, but this wasn’t it.

The yellow box has hot dog octopi as the meat, per my son’s request. The other boxes have chicken bits cooked in garlic and wine.

Then, I filled in the corners with various raw veggies and fruits I knew the family would like.

Is this a particularly special bento? Nope. Just lunch, though hopefully moderately attractive and appetizing when one opens the box.

And that’s the point.

A friend of mine bought his daughter a bento box recently. His wife (also a friend, though we’ve not met in RL yet) was looking for bento recipes, which kind of prompted this post.

Bento recipes are fine, but to make bento, you don’t really need recipes so much as you need to have a bit of a philosophy about how to make the food.

So, here my personal bento principles. (If you like them, awesome. If not… I’m not cooking for you, and you’re dealing with your food, not mine).

  1. 4:3:2:1

    Like everything else, this is a basic guideline. My usual bento meal is about four parts carb (rice, bread or pasta), three parts protein (most often meat or eggs, but sometimes beans), three parts veggies (usually raw, unless I’m making a leftover bento) and one part sweet (this means fruit).

  2. Fresh is best

    Most of my bento use fresh veggies, preferably in season. Yes, I know apple season hasn’t started yet. But fresh veggies taste so very good, don’t they?

  3. Lots of color from the food, itself.

    I like a colorful bento, but I like the colors to come from the food. Bright red peppers, sweet yellow tomatoes, lush green broccoli… I’ve heard it said the more colorful your meal the more nutritionally balanced. I have no idea, but bright color contrasts make it easier to do the next step.

  4. Arrange it to look nice.

    Yes, the elaborate bento that are animals and rock stars and video game characters are awesome. I don’t generally go further than octopus hot dogs and apple bunnies, myself. But I do give a little (very little) thought to presentation. It doesn’t have to be much. Just try to think a little about symmetry, color contrast, and shape. If you do this, usually something will suggest itself to you as you arrange your food.

  5. It must taste good at room temperature.

    Ideally, one does not refrigerate or reheat bento. It behoves one, then, to go heavy on the salt and spices. There’s a reason traditionally-made Japanese bento are very salty! Salt is a natural preservative. However, cold chicken is tasty, especially if strongly flavored. Onigiri (rice balls) tend to be an acquired taste, but are all the better for a strongly-flavored bit of tasty morsel at the center. Pasta? You’ll want to use a little oil and flavoring to make something pasta salad-ish. You can’t go wrong with raw fruits and veggies. If you’re worried about food safety, Maki over at Just Bento has a great article about bento food safety.

  6. It should be food you like.

    I love onigiri and lots of other Japanese food. You may not. In that case, just don’t make bento with rice balls. It’s no big deal. Do you like burritos? A burrito is a great basis for a bento, and a big family favorite at my house. What about wrap sandwiches? If you make a wrap rolled tightly enough, you can cut it into slices kind of like maki sushi rolls, which fit great into any box you’d use for a bento box. (And no, you don’t have to get the Japanese boxes!) Any casserole type dish you’re fond of can be baked in a muffin tin, which also fit well in most bento-sized boxes – meatloaf, mini quiche, or a mini shepherd’s pie, they all do well in bento.

     

The point is, though, that making miniature lunch boxes, which by the way, if packed right really are filling, don’t have to be complex. Nevertheless, they can be a lot of fun!

If You’re Very Busy


“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

I don’t sit in meditation at all. I’m sure it’s worthwhile, but it’s not my thing.

This saying is about more than meditation, though. It’s about taking care of yourself when you’re busy. Due to some extraordinary good fortune, I’m busy. Really busy. Grateful that I’m busy, but busy nonetheless.

You might think that in these very busy times, the little grace notes I so treasure in life would fall by the wayside in favor of stripped-down practicality. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

I never need little grace notes in life so much as when I’m flat-out working. This bento is one of those things. Sure, I could pack a sandwich with some fruit, and it’d be a fine lunch. It’s just that opening the top on something attractive and tasty as a break in the middle of the day does so much for my morale and focus that I really need to take that extra time for myself to pack something nice.

It’s times like these that bubble baths and candles become important. I listen to more music during such time. I’m more likely to read before bed. (And be careful to go to bed on time!) A silk scarf, pearls, self-manicures, and olive oil treatments for my hair become important – not because of how they make me look, but how they make me feel.

Back to Bento

I’m going to be working in a commercial office regularly for the first time in five years or so and one of the things I’m thinking about is lunch. Oh, stop looking at me like that. People do eat lunch at the office every day, whether it’s a sandwich bought somewhere or something brought from home.

My inner Scrooge simply cannot cope with buying lunch every day, so it’s going to be a brought lunch. And that means bento!

The bento to the left is just made in one of those cheap flat 750ml Glad containers. It’s a chicken drumstick (a very common bento meat for me as it’s cheap, easy to cook up and goes well in a bento), broccoli, grape tomatoes, fried rice left over from dinner that night, Cucumbers to separate the meat and rice, some green peppers, a yellow pepper, and some blueberries. I like the way it looks, but I think that particular bento, being assembled from leftovers and prepped-ahead food, might have taken me all of ten minutes to put together.

So, it’s a healthy enough lunch. My husband, who has worked with some of the people I am going to be working with, has commented that his bento were sometimes commented upon, and it might be that people will be interested to learn that I was the one making them. Could be.

Me, while I do make bento partially to satisfy my inner Scrooge, it’s also a morale thing. It feels good to open up a pretty lunch and have this little capsule of specialness during the day. It’s more or less why I make them. They’re like having tea with the silver teapot or using the good china for dinner.

Why I Love Bento

I’ve been working very hard the past six weeks or so. Now, I’m cool with working hard, but sometimes you need something to lift your spirits. I’m finding that Bento are great to give me a little charge during the day to keep me going for the afternoon.

Now, I don’t make anything all that special. Half the time, my bento are repurposed leftovers. Another quarter of the time, it’s a chicken drumstick, some carb (rice or pasta) and some fruit and veggies. The thing is, when I make them, even though I’m often putting them in some sort of flat plastic container, I’m still paying some attention to color and layout.

Opening one of those babies up in the middle of what you know is going to be a long day? It’s really pretty comforting. It’s just lunch, but by Golly, it’s a pretty lunch and that little capsule of attractiveness does a lot to make my lunch break something restorative.

I begin to understand why my guys are so happy to get them. It’s not that the food is amazing or anything, nor is it that they can’t make their own lunch. They can. But opening up a tasty and attractive box can be very comforting in the middle of a long day.

Gladware Bento

My husband just had a medical checkup and the doctor says not only is he in fantastic health, he is healthier than he was ten years ago.  Being a very kindly and appreciative partner, this is being credited to the fact I make bento for his lunches.  Now, you know how I laugh at the whole And It’s GOOD for You, Too! attitude towards hobbies, but I found that cute.
Gladware BentoSo, today’s magic, immortality-granting bento is pasta, chicken drumstick and some veggies. No fruit, because I’ve been lazy and haven’t been shopping.

But that thing about not having been shopping?  That’s  something that has a  lot to do with how I approach the whole bento aesthetic.

Sure, you can have the perfect containers, and make the perfect recipes and make some perfectly beautiful food art.  I’ve done some cute food art myself — piggie onigiri, seascapes and all kinds of stuff.  It’s fun.

But even non-perfect can be kinda cool, if you put a little thought into presentation.  Again, I used Gladware containers to make these bento.  In addition, a lot of the bento included leftovers.    Yes, I paid attention to color and presentation, but these meals were not planned.  They were put together with what I have on hand.  Yes, I regularly have fresh veggies on hand, but so should anyone if they can swing it.

I’ve been presenting these to show that while yes, the cute Japanese boxes are fun, and making Japanese food for your bento is also fun (Onigiri are awesome), Gladware and Western-style food works just fine.  If you want to make bento, you’re really only limited by your imagination, not your pocketbook.

I’m not the only one who seems to have given up on the cute little boxes without having given up on bento, though.  Many people on the Lunchinabox forums have bemoaned the expense of the well-sealed, sturdy, microwavable bento-specific box and are turning to Rubbermaid, Tupperware and especially Lock-n-lock boxes.  They’re not as pretty, but they’re sturdier and cheaper.