Friday, October 28, 2011


The last few weeks have been really stressful and I think it shows the most in our mornings.  Out-of-state meetings, multi-day out-of-town funerals, crazy work schedules and extra homework on top of dark skies until 8am have made things feel even more nuts than usual.  I still try to be creative with the lunches because it's a nice chance to show Monstro that I care even when things are unpleasant.

Initially this lunch was going to be a jack-o-lantern sandwich much like Sherimiya's but I got distracted by some pumpkin spice cream cheese at the store.  YUM!  To adapt, I made a sandwich on baguette (Monstro's favorite bread.  I think he just likes saying the name) with the cream cheese, mini chocolate chips, raisins and super thin apple slices.  He loved it!  He wanted another one for snack, for dinner and for breakfast the next day!  I gave the sandwich a little cat face using string cheese whiskers, red grape mouth and apple eyes and nose.  On the side he had some grapes and the side car had the rest of the string cheese and some tomato wedges from Gramma's garden.

Since the next lunch was pretty boring I'll just post it here.  Monstro wanted left over chili so that part was easy.  He also wanted ANOTHER one of those sandwiches (what have I done?!).  I gave him a nice full thermos of hot chili and wrapped it in a piece of Insul-Brite to help keep it warm.  Then I gave him his precious sandwich and a side of cocoa roasted almonds.  Apples, raisins, "pumpkin concentrate" and the tomato in chili counts as a real meal right?!
I have a feeling we'll be seeing these sandwiches until the cream cheese runs out.  And, if you've never tried the cocoa roast almonds you should!  They're a healthier form of crack!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Attack of the Mummy

I saw a really cute mummy pizza over at Happy Little Bento and wanted to pack one for Monstro.  I LOVE the way it turned out and he was really happy to find pizza in his lunch!

I used english muffins, sauce that I had frozen previously, green pepper from Gramma's garden and string cheese.  I lightly toasted the muffins then gave them a little coat of sauce.  I peeled the string cheese and broke it into the lengths I needed to fit the muffin (smaller ends got eaten or used to "wrap" the top of the head) and gave him green pepper eyeballs.  After arranging the strips of cheese I put them back in the toaster oven until the cheese started to brown and look all old n dirty (yumm, old dirty cheese lunch!).  He hasn't been eating much so I gave him just a bit of carrots and green pepper strips on the side.

I generally like to use the same types of foods in my own lunch that I do in his.  It makes it easier to plan and cuts down on time in the morning.  So, I have string cheese pizza too but without the mummy faces.  I used leftover bits of carrot and green pepper to top my salad and made a divider out of the foil I baked the pizzas on to help keep the salad and pizza separate.  I took a Honeycrisp apple too for a little snack.

  I've got psuedo-plans for a full body zombie bento but haven't worked out the details.  Hopefully it's as awesome in the box as it is in my mind!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gah! Put that chainsaw down!!!

When I saw the severed finger lunch on Adventures In Bentomaking I knew I'd need to make those fingers soon.  I feel like this is a pretty easy way to "up the ante" on Halloween lunches.  And, for a hot dog it was pretty darn yummy!

This is the Monstro version of the work/road-trip meals I posted on Facebook Wednesday.  He's got "yakisoba" made from wheat spaghetti, broccoli and shredded carrot coated in Mark Bittman's sauce recipe.  I added quite a bit of sriracha instead of the Tabasco he calls for because we like it spicy.  I topped it with "zombie spines" (that's what we call green onions) and 2 severed fingers.  The fingers didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped- I cut too deep in the knuckles and since I don't have a tear-drop cutter my nails are little boxy.  But, they looked pretty good, I think, and the teriyaki-esque sauce they're cooked in adds a lot of flavor.  I didn't feel like they really needed to simmer for 20 minutes either.  Mine took on a good color and were flavorful after only 12-15min.  I also gave a sidecar of fruit cocktail with a little pear jack-o-lantern on top.  I guess the noodles were the talk of the lunch table and he was really excited about the spiciness!

Pikko (from AiBento) let me know that you can make up a large batch of fingers and just keep them refrigerated in the cooking liquid for later.  I can confirm it as well because that's exactly what I did.  This meal also keeps really well as a whole.  I packed my 3 trip boxes just after this one at around 8:30am and put them in the fridge until it was time to leave at 2:45.  We didn't even open them up to eat until around 6pm and they were still delicious!

I think I might have to make some toes next!  Maybe with pepper skin on the toenails for a nice pedi!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Zombies ate my lunch...

I've been wanting to ramp up the Halloween-ness of Monstro's lunches for the last week or so.  They were starting to get a lil boring so I decided to break out the felafel from the freezer and use them as a base for something a little more fun. 
Like this guy:
Isn't he just the cutest thing?!  Like I said, he's a frozen felafel patty that I re-heated from my stash.  There are 2 more stacked under him too.  I used red bell pepper for the brains and the dripping blood.  The eyeballs and teeth are white cheddar cheese held on with mayo.  The pupils and mouth are nori held on with sriracha.  His hair sprout is a piece of green onion slit thinly and soaked in ice water to curl the ends then tucked into a small cut in the top of the patty.  I wish the detail had turned out better in the picture because the brain is really cool looking!  It was textured almost like the stiff side of velcro and was flecked green and red.  Rad!

For the rest of his lunch he has what we've decided are carrot fingernails, yellow peppers and a side car of fruit cocktail with some extra fresh pear tossed in.  Apparently the cheese was terribly offensive to him (even though he LOVES this cheese) and he refused to eat anything that it had touched.  :-(

Since Monstro was on Fall Break this week and we'll be out of town for a funeral, tomorrow's post will be the last until Tuesday.  Have a great weekend enjoying tasty, fun food!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pizza AND Cookie?!

Oh Monstro is a lucky kid today! 
Last week he asked for us to pick up a pizza cookbook at the library for him.  The Dad found one and Monstro promised he'd make us pizza.  We ended up with "french bread" pizzas (it was really a giant Italian loaf) and they were delicious!  We used sauce I put up in the freezer, shredded cheese, a sprinkling of oregano and some pineapple bits.  Since the Dad doesn't like tomato we put some tiny orange tomatoes on our half.  We had quite a bit of pizza left so into the lunch it went!

He's got 2 squares of pizza, with some avocado strips tucked in at the bottom, a spider filled with yellow pepper hearts and carrot flowers plus a red pepper ring on top.  I tightened the gaps with broccoli and gave him a no-bake cookie for a special treat.  I was hoping he'd eat it last but I was clearly mistaken...  Everything was gone except the broccoli so *surprise* cookies trump broccoli!
I'm trying to convince the Dad to "guest post" while I'm gone this week.  I've got a meeting in Chicago and he'll be on lunch duty!  I can't wait to see what he comes up with! 

What are your suggestions for Dad-packed lunches?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Multi-tasking with a uni-tasker

I'm firmly with Alton Brown in the anti-uni-tasker camp.  Okay, that's not really true - I'm easily seduced by kitchen gadgets.  But I try!!  I try to avoid buying things that only perform 1 function.  Back in the days of Ichiban's online store I got a cute little gyoza crimper.  I used it once for gyoza and it's been in a drawer ever since.  I found out I prefer actually folding the gyoza instead of just making it look like I folded it!

Then I saw someone with "faux-za".  I was meandering through flickr for inspiration and saw sandwiches sealed with a gyoza crimper.  Such simple genius!

For Monstro's Friday lunch I wanted something a little cuter than what lunches have been for a bit.  I made smiling dumpling sammies!  They're just turkey inside a piece of bread smashed with the crimper.  Then I used a punch to make the faces from nori and stuck them on with tiny dabs of honey.  I cut some carrot bears and layered them over 1/2 of a lemon cucumber from our garden (probably the last with the chill that's been coming on) and snugged everything up with broccoli and yellow and red peppers.  He was being extra cute in the morning so I gave him a little treat too.  We have small cups of coconut and peach gel from Saraga (my favorite Asian market here).  You just peel off the lid and squeeze it into your mouth so they're really good for lunch desserts.

This box is a find I am really happy with.  They had them at Marsh during Back To School a few years ago for $1.50/ea.  It has a clear lid with a smiley face that clicks on with the latches.  "Clicky lid" boxes are my fave!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Make-ahead bento

I had to be at work SUPER early Thursday morning.  Well, early for me.  I imagine it's a pretty normal work time for most people but that's the blessing/curse of working retail!  Since I didn't want to give up even one minute of possible sleep in the morning I made our lunches the night before. 

Mine was full of delicious left overs and some fresh produce.  Monstro's relied on some stashed items and yummy fresh veggies.

I found some really cool bell peppers at the farmers market Wednesday morning.  They hadn't fully turned red yet but were well on the way so they had all sorts of red, green and purple striations.  AWESOME!  That's one of my favorite parts of bento - having a way to really showcase the beautiful NATURAL colors of food.

Monstro's pre-packed lunch has spider lasagna that I made and froze a while ago.  He's topped with a little mushroom and held in place by broccoli.  There are slices of yellow peppers along the bottom and the fun striped peppers laid out over some more broccoli.  On the side he's got a pumpkin pie ghost - also put up a while ago. 

I was worried that this would be too small for him but he said it was plenty.  He also made sure to let me know that the left over broccoli was only left because one of his classmates touched it.  Silly kids.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Monstro LOOOOVES spicy food.  It always makes me chuckle because it shocks so many people.  Once at the grocery he asked for a sample of jalapeno popper and the woman was like "Oh, you wouldn't like that, it's spicy!"  Of course he threw it back and wanted more!

So today's lunch has a few nice n spicy bits.  His bat shaped quesadillas are stuffed with pickled jalapeno (2 of them!!), colby cheese and shredded chicken.  Then he has some apple bunnies, grapes, cucumbers and pickled beets.  The pickled beets have a mysterious, tiny purple pepper we picked up at the farmers market.  Then there's homemade chocolate pudding on the side.  I don't know which he loves more - spicy or chocolatey!

I had the same quesadilla for breakfast and it was so good!  I'm pretty sure that we gave Monstro fire-breathing DNA!  We're both big fans of all things hot and I'm glad we can share with the little one!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kiddo made

This morning Monstro made his own lunch.  Well, part of it anyway.  He made his own sandwich and I packed up the rest.  I let him make his own sandwich for the first time a few months ago and you would've thought it was the raddest thing ever!  He wanted to eat sandwiches for every meal.  He insisted on making sandwiches for me and dad.  I think he even claimed to be "the world's best sandwich maker" and started calling his creations "famous."  I guess when you're 6 everything is cooler!

So, in the Hello Kitty sandwich bag he has a whole wheat, turkey and colby sandwich.  On the left he has pickled beets and wavy-cut cucumber.  The tiny box has homemade chocolate pudding with homemade whipped cream.  The bottom box has raisins, spicy pumpkin seeds and a couple of sweet chili Quakes.

My lunch is packed in my trusty LunchBots Eco.  Again, I was surprised how well things stayed separated.  I'm getting to be more and more of a fan of this box the more I use it. 

I've got a whole wheat, turkey, colby and cucumber sandwich plus cucumber (left from making Monstro's lunch), pickled beets and some left over asparagus.  I stuck a few "spooky" picks in to help keep the bread from sliding into my cucumbers and getting all wet.

The beets... even if you think you don't like beets (I did) you should try this recipe!  It's AMAZING!  I mean, it's Martha Stewart so how can you go wrong?  Plus, it's fast and delicious.  Monstro asks for them if I go too long between batches and he even wanted them as part of his birthday party buffet 2yrs ago.  And it's really fun to see what sorts of patterns have grown inside the beets when you slice them.  Buy the beets with the greens attached.  They taste like what you probably want spinach to taste like even though it never does!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I just wanted to say that I totally realize that several pictures are posted "sideways."  I've tried fixing them and contacted blogger for a solution but so far no luck.  So, for now, I'm really sorry but I guess we'll all have to read like we haven't had our v-8 or something!

Fleshless Friday?!?

We don't always hit up the "Meatless Monday" but we try to eat vegetarian meals a few times a week.  On Friday Monstro and I had vegan lunches!

At the Asian market I picked up a rather large tub of yellow curry paste.  It's amazing!  It's pretty darn spicy but it's also massively flavorful!  I've used it more than a dozen times and have 1/2 of the container left - not bad for $5.

This batch had red potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and chickpeas.  I wanted to add some sliced broccoli stems but was afraid it would make the whole dish taste like broccoli.  Have you tried something similar?  How'd you like it?

Monstro has the curry over brown basmati rice.  In the other container there are 2 scoops of butternut squash with cinnamon and a spider cup of grapes topped with 2 tiny yellow pear tomatoes from our "garden."

For myself we have more rice and curry in my LunchBots Eco and on the side I have a scoop of butternut squash with cinnamon, grapes and 2 apple slices.  I felt like the curry looked a little too "bleh" so I topped it with a few red pepper slices and some green onions.  Surprisingly, even with the liquid-y curry the box didn't leak.  I was pretty careful with it but I've had it leak in the past so I was VERY happy that I didn't have to clean curry sauce out of my lunch bag!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Using a stash

When you read other bento sites, especially ones where speed is a priority, there is much talk of building a "stash" of bento foods (in Japanese it's called "johbisai").  I love the idea but I'm not so good with the planning... I tend to be a little fickle.  This year I've been much better about putting away some items to use for later.  I have a few bags of mini felafel patties, some tiny store-bought egg tarts,  home-made red sauce, zucchini bread, whole wheat bread, tiny lasagnas and now some adorable pies made from fresh pumpkins!  I don't think my freezer has ever been so full!

I also like the more short-term stashes.  AKA leftovers!  Wednesday I roasted butternut and it's hanging out in the fridge just waiting to be scooped into a lunch.  Tonight I made a double batch of veggie curry so we could have it for lunch tomorrow too.

Today is a stash lunch.  I brought a little zucchini lasagna out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight.  In the morning I warmed it in the toaster oven with a little dollop of extra sauce on top to help keep it from drying out too much.  I threw some of that squash in the toaster oven at the same time to bake in the cinnamon flavor since I already had the oven going.  While the spiders were warming I carved a creepy ghosty face from a yellow pepper so I could top the lasagna with a splash of color (it was a nice lid too so that nothing got sauced on accident!).  Add in some sliced cucumber, broccoli and grapes on picks for a nice rounded lunch.   I let Monstro have a small piece of fresh pumpkin pie too.  He LOVES pumpkin pie!!

 I initially tried to pack this in the LunchBots Eco but it's just too big.  I couldn't find enough smaller items to hold the cups in place.

To make the tiny lasagna I used frozen cubes of red sauce (heated in the microwave), slices of zucchini browned in a skillet, no boil noodles and a little shredded cheese.  I just broke the noodles small enough to fit in the spiders and layered everything like normal.  Then I baked them in the toaster oven before relegating them to the freezer for a couple of weeks.  They weren't part of a bigger meal though.  I put them together one afternoon when I pried myself away from Facebook and now here they are! :D

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank you super sale!

I ran to the grocery on my way home from work last night and they had red, yellow and orange bell peppers on sale for $1/ea!  Colored peppers are one of my favorite additions to a bento because they're tasty, non-juicy and you can do so many things with them!  The problem is that they're usually out of my budget.  I bought several and have already used most of them.  I'm probably the only person in the world who gets that excited about produce!

Wednesday is a late school day for Monstro.  For some reason school starts an hour later so I had time to roast the butternut squash we picked at Hilltop during our big harvesting adventure.  Monstro will eat any kind of roasted squash as long as it has cinnamon sprinkled on top!

We've got a piece of sauteed pollack on top of leftover spicy raisin couscous.  The spider is stuffed with roasted butternut and cinnamon.  I tucked a mushroom (puffshroom or doomshroom as he likes to call them) and broccoli all around to help hold things in place and then cut stars from fall-color pepper cheeks to arrange on top.  He's been begging for lunch desserts for the last few weeks so I added 3 Junior Mints in the top tier.

Tomorrow will finally be the spider cups used for "stash" items - lasagna!


I've been talking about it all over Facebook - PepperMilk is going to be part of a local bento workshop/presentation with The Green Nursery.  I'm super excited for the opportunity and want to make it as valuable for everyone as possible!  So... when you read this please take a moment to comment on this post or over on Facebook and let me know what things you would want to know about bento!  Even if you're not coming to the workshop I'd still love your feedback.  I can answer any questions here AND if it's covered in the presentation you know it'll show up here too!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2 Quick Cuties and a High-Speed Bento

I was really lucky this week and didn't have to work until the afternoon on most days.  I love it when that happens because I don't have to plan my lunches quite so well ahead of time and can just let it happen in the morning.  But, on Friday my morning meeting went later than I thought and I had to rush to prepare my own meal before heading off to work.  Luckily, I had plenty of things ready from Monstro's lunch so it was fast to put together.  But first, the cute stuff!

Thursday's lunch was small but it was an all-request lunch.  Monstro was VERY particular about the mushroom that went into his lunch and spent quite a bit of time searching through the bin at the grocery to find the perfect one!  He's got a little coffin sandwich made of ginger-carrot zucchini bread with white corn tortilla "RIP" on top and peanut butter inside.  The letters are stuck on with the tiniest bit of peanut butter.  I was really surprised at how well the bread held up in the freezer.  It's been in there for almost 2 weeks and it was still delicious!  He's got a spider filled with roasted sweet corn, that oh-so-special mushroom, carrots, broccoli and red pepper strips (left over after the piranha lunch).  This was really fast to put together and the longest thing was cutting the zucchini bread into the coffin shape.  The "Happy Halloween" pick is from a Target cupcake set last year and the box is a pirate sandwich box from the Dollar Bin at Target.

Friday's lunch was also really fast.  That's the good thing about fish for bento.  You can cook a small filet of fish in about 5min and have it in the box ready to go!  The coucous is also great because it cooks fast, is versatile and you can keep a big batch on hand to add to lunches all week long.  In the top tier Monstro had cajun catfish with white corn tortilla "BOO", spicy whole-wheat couscous with raisins (veggie chicken broth, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, pepper and cumin), a little broccoli tree and 1/2 lemon cucumber from our garden.  The bottom tier has broccoli to hold in the spiders in place.  One spider has about 1/4 of a tomato from Hilltop and the other is roasted sweet corn.  We LOVE roasted corn and it's a good pre-prepped staple for bento.  I usually roast 3-4 ears in the husks and then once they're cool I put them in the fridge sealed a ziplock.  (I'm not sure why this photo is sideways.  I've uploaded it 3 times - guess you'll have to tip your monitor!)

Finally, a not-too-pretty but fast and yummy lunch for myself.  This was after my late-running meeting.  I filled the bottom 3/4 of my LunchBots Eco with spicy couscous then topped it with a really simply seasoned pollack filet (salt, pepper and ground ginger).  On the side, I added a piece of broccoli and red pepper strips that hadn't fit into Monstro's box earlier, the other half of his lemon cucumber, 1/4 of the tomato I had cut for him and a prune plum I found hanging out by the microwave.  Everything was already in the box waiting when the fish came out of the pan.  I popped it onto the couscous to help absorb any juices (and steam) and I was on my way!

Enjoy your weekend!  I can't wait for Monday so I can use our new froggie bento box!