July 20, 2014

Read All About It

You know, I've gotten myself into a situation. 

A very, very bad situation. 

A situation where, I'm bored, but I'm too tired to do anything.

It's not good. 

The trouble is, all the normal remedies for this situation, are just not working for me right now. And it's really hard to explain this to people. Not just hard, but really hard, because I don't want to upset them, everytime someone makes a suggestion, or asks what I'm doing, if I give a fully extended trueful answer, I'll upset them.

And the worse thing? I can't read.

Okay, I can read, but I'm finding it super hard. I just can't concentrate. And some days, I don't even want to read. It just doesn't interest me. Which is highly sad. Or it is for me anyway.

Right now I'm just finding it so hard.

It's not that I don't want to read, I do. I just can't.

When I get into a good book that I like (like the Savants series), when I can get into it, I can read for hours. But I'm just finding it SO HARD to get into it.

And I don't even think that I'm reading the paragraphs/sentences in the right order. I'm jumping around all over the place. And I have this habit of skipping stuff. I may read that someone starts chopping onions, then have to go back a page till I find the bit where they go into the kitchen.

When I've had a break from a book, sometimes I need to reread a chapter or two so I can re-orientate myself with where the book is up to. Which means it takes me even longer to read a book. We're going round in circles here!

For a very very very long time, I was the girl who liked reading. You, know, the one who read a lot. I've even spent summers volunteering in the library. When I'm in town and I need somewhere to wait around for a while, I'd go to the library. You know, like the sad lonely person that I am so not. (You don't believe me, do you?) My aunt once commented to Mom that I "read so fast", she was amazed at how quickly the pages where turning. And now that person who's always reading is just not me.

I've got to force myself to read, and I'm trying to do it every day. "Don't worry- it's just Chemo Brain". Yeah, well, that doesn't help me much. In September, I'm starting back at college, and, hello, I'm doing English Lit. You know, that subject where you have to read a lot of books. I mean, it's not just novels, I'm doing Shakespeare!!!!! If I can't cope with modern language, well how am I supposed to be able to cope with something notoriously hard? Please, I'm open to suggestions!

I have 6 weeks to learn how to read again. Nothing like a good, ominous deadline, is there?

I'm forcing myself to read everyday (if I can). But what do I want to read? To be honest- nothing. Has anyone got any suggestions? Because I go to the library, and I just don't want to pick anything of the shelf! So, please, comment and leave a suggestion!!!  

The One with All The Eyes Bento

Yeah, that's right. Still on the Friends kick. 

My Dad is very disappointed with me. I'm going to draw eyes on grapes? He told me that I was an idiot (I think the word he used was 'thick'). He thinks that I don't know that?

The eyes started off for Wednesday breakfast, when I ate some turtles.

Its an ode to turtle my pet cardboard tortoise. You'll meet him someday-but not today. I know, I'm a tease :P 

I would love to claim responsibility for coming up with these kiwi turtles, cause they are JUST SO CUTE, but I am no where near clever enough to come up with this idea. I copied it from the blog Meet the Dubiens which is full of amazing bento pics. 

Now, I know what you're saying. My turtles aren't in a box. I know I'm an idiot, but I must admit, I have noticed. They are actually on my plate, my plate which has been sitting wrapped in the cupboard for months because there hadn't been anything special enough to put on it. Now there has been. 

Okay Ana, now you've waffled on about your special plate, get on with explaining WHY your turtles are not in a box. Well, apart from the fact that I didn't need a lunchbox today, and they look so much better on a plate on a blue background than they would in my pink lunchbox, I was experimenting with a creative food plate. Basically, the cuteness factor of the bento on a plate. Usually made by experienced bento-ers on the days when their children are on 'vacation'. Plus, I think my turtles may have turned into a load if kiwi slices and grape bits by the time I got them to school/college/wherever. Kiwi shapes in the lunchbox, kiwi turtles on the plate (I just can't stop mentioning the plate!) 

Talking about the plate, who's going to place bets on how long it is before I break it? Possibly a good job they are only 60p!

My Turtles are made up of one kiwi split into 4 lenghways, and 6 grapes. (7 if you count the one that I dropped on the floor- and that my Dad stepped in. In socks.) You can't see it very well, but two of the turtles have blue glittery eyes, and two have purple glittery eyes. I should have definitely stuck with the purple, the eyes show up so much better!

Dad is aghast that I actually went ahead and drew eyes on grapes. I think he was hoping I'd realize how ridicoulous it is and that I wouldn't do it. He doesn't even want to see the pictures. And how did you disappoint your father? Drugs? No. Alchol? No. Bad grades? No. I drew eyes on grapes.

All eyes (and other facial features) were drawn on with writting icing. You are supposed to do it with food safe markers, however, I don't have any, and apart from online, I don't know where you can get them. Which is kind of an obstacle, you know? And so I used writing icing that I found in the supermarket. However, I found them to be unpleasantly sweet, and so I may have to invest in some markers. I ended up wiping as much of the icing of as I could before I ate my lunch.

I've got a Quorn (TM) sausage roll (or, as we generally call it, a quasage roll), some grapes, some cucumbers sliced with my new crinkle cutter, and a Mini Milk chocolate bar. 

Oh. And I put eyes on the outside to. 

1. TIME I put this bento together in advert brakes (while watching the last ever How I Met Your Mother. Sad face.) so I was using up time where I'd otherwise be doing nothing. One star. 

3. RECORDING Yeah, well, its two days after Friday, so that's not bad. Plus, I was going to do this yesterday, however, Dad and brother went out to watch the football, and Mom was out for coffee, and so I made the most of the situation be monopolizing the TV and watching Friends. So I had good intentions. Two stars. 

4. BALANCE We almost lost a star here. I had every intention to cut out some cheese flowers, however, when I opened the cheese, it had gone weird, and I wasn't giving it the benefit of the doubt. So for a while it looked like we would be without calcium today. But then I remembered that the Mini Milks had 30% of your calcium. It may be chocolate, but it still counts! 3 stars. (Oh my, we are getting high!)

6. PACKAGING Okay, this one is HARD for me. Never do well on it! So, the sausage roll and the Mini Milk came individually wrapped. Because that's just how they come. Plus, I had a Fruit Shoot. Down to 2 stars. 

7. CUTENESS I didn't like the icing, so I wiped it off. Plus, it was not as neat and crisp as it had been when I first did it. I mean, it didn't even last until I took a picture, never mind the next day! But then the student nurse said it looked good (I think it was the crinkle cuts), so thats good. Plus, I made an effort to decorate the outside. How about we stay neutral?

8. PLANNING Okay guys, if you're having cucumber for lunch Thursday, and in your lunchbox Friday, and so you cut enough for two meals, that's totally good planning, right? So up to 3 stars again. 

9. EATING Yeah, this was way too much food for me. Like, way too much. Probably only needed half the sausage roll. So down to 2 stars again. 

And so we end on 2 stars. Which is way better than one star- right? 

July 16, 2014

It Always Rains in Cumbria

"IT ALWAYS RAINS IN CUMBRIA" said a girl as she got off the Glasgow Central - London Euston Train at Oxenholm on her way back from the T Festival. Except she put a exclamation in front of it. Really? What did she expect? Cause she just said it- it always rains in Cumbria.

When most teenage girls go shopping somewhere other than their hometown to spend their birthday money with their friends, they would go to the Trafford Centre. Or Liverpool One. Or Cheshire Oaks. Or wherever it is they go. Other girls my age are going out shopping for Uni stuff. Like a frying pan and a scourer. They don't go to Cumbria.

Hi there! Here I am! The girl who dragged her two best friends all the way to Windermere (in Cumbria (where it rains a lot)) to go shopping. Yeah, I know. I subjected my friends to a downpour, and a two hours on a train, and changing at Oxenholm, and pushing me in a wheelchair, just so I could go to ONE shop.

Ever been to Lakeland? If no, well, Lakeland is a kitchenware and home ware store. It sells really cool stuff. Like really cool. You go in and you could make a list as tall as you of what you would want in your dream kitchen. It's also the only store where you and your friends can have fun trying on rubber gloves. Yeah. Its that kind of store. And although there are stores all over the country (except Manchester), the one in Windermere is the original, flagship store, and is worthy of a day out.

To be honest, quite a lot of what Lakeland sells is expensive, but, a bit like John Lewis, 99% of the time, it's the best, and most innovative. Its a treat to go there, and buy a slightly overpriced item.

And we didn't just go to Lakeland, we did go to Booths two for lunch. I had the Mushroom Pilaf, which was served with chips/wedges/potatoes, cauliflower and red cabbage. It really didn't need the potato product (I had wedges, should of gone with chips, the outsides were a bit tough for my cutlery skills), and I was to scared to try the red cabbage (I know I don't like the jarred stuff, anyone know if I like the fresh stuff?). It was really really nice though. Dad-can-you-help-me-do-this-at-home kind of good, full of mushrooms and sultanas kind of good. Apparently the lasagna was nice too.

You wanna see what I bought with my birthday money. I know you do! (Well, I'll pretend you do).

One thing I have learn from today's post? The squares of material that I've used for backgrounds a few times now? They need ironing. And sorry for the two tone one above, I couldn't get my big sheet of card downstairs, and I didn't wanna take a knife upstairs.

Okay. Total impulse buy people. But it was on sale. It was under £2. AND ITS CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!! Like I said, AND ITS CUTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When Mom saw it, she was jubilant. Something to do with them getting their infant school milk in bottles exactly like this. Dad then rained on her thunder by pointing out that their milk bottles had foil tops and were a half pint, not 250ml. Yes, my Dad is pedantic enough to point out 34ml difference. Is it rekindling beautiful for anyone else? Or just my parents? 

BBC Children in Need is coming up soon guys! Yeah, like in November. But as always, it's best to be prepared!!! Plus, it looks conveniently like a Micky Mouse (or Minnie). And Mom says if I'm desperate I can turn the shapes upside down and call them cars. It's multi-functional people!!! And if your wondering what this strange silicone contraption is, you put it in your frying pan and it makes pancakes/eggs in a Pudsey shape. So-expect a Pudsey bento coming in... a long time. (But it's best to be prepared, right?) Plus, £1 went to Children in Need because I bought this.  

Forget it says Cbeebies. Forget all about that fact. I'm kind of a messy baker. Messier than those children you see on that program I told you to forget about. Hopefully, next time I spill flour, I can just shake it off the mat into the bin, instead of Mom having to change the tablecloth. Was pink the right color? We spent a lot of time debating this. 

I have bought tools for the great bento project! It includes a (very scary) garnish knife, a wavy cutter (my main reason for buying it), a flower cutter (my second main reason for buying it), a melon baller and a julienne peeler. So, expect some pretty veg from now on!

Silicone mini loaf pans. Also on sale. They are to make mini loafs. Okay, the end ones look a bit misshapen, but we are working at straightening them out as we speak. 

Another color dilemma. This was mainly brought so my brother would stop going on at me about using his. Plus, its not white, so hopefully I wont have to worry about staining it as much. Although I am still going to keep it away from Moms play dough making. 

I wasn't going to get this, because I didn't think it was BPA free, but it is BPA free, so I bought it. It's a reusable juice box. Which. Is. Just. So. Cool. It means I can take juice out without having to worry about tainting my water bottle or damaging the environment. This does come directly after Dad bought me 24 Fruit Shoot's though. (They were on offer!) And, you can buy parts to replace the straw. But not in the UK yet. 

My friend made the woman in the shop laugh by pointing out that I was spending my 18th birthday money by buying a juice box. She is soooo mean. (Just kidding.) (Maybe). 

This is the watertight beaker that I got, before I realised that the Juice in the Box was BPA free (it really should have mentioned that in the Lakeland catalogue), and never thought to put back. I'm sure that it will still come in useful though. Maybe I could take a smoothie to college?

And finally, Zipzicles. The coolest thing on the planet. They allow you to make your own ice pops. Which is kinda cool. And if your careful with them, you can reuse them. Mom says they are fiddly to wash, but doable. (Yes, I've already made 5 Zipzicles) And they are really really cool. They come in a pack of twelve. It would be kind of good if you could get them in bigger pack sizes, as 12 is approximately one batch. And if your not reusing them... BUT THEY ARE SO COOL. 

Oh, and a word for the wise about getting soaked on Oxenholm station? If you crouch under the platform sign in an attempt to avoid the soaking, it doesn't work. Trust me, one of my friends tried it. 

July 06, 2014

The One With The New York Bento

Can you tell I've been watching Friends recently?

Okay, so the last bento post I talked about what my aims were with this bento making thing. So this time I better talk about what a bento actually is. Thinking about it, I should have probably done it the other way round, but no ones perfect, right?

The bento started in the Edo Period (1603-1867) (according to Wikipedia) as a travellers meal. In the Meiji Period (1868-1912) train stations started to sell bentos, and children took them to school as a school meal was not provided. After World War II, the use of bentos declined as a bento was one way of highlighting the gap in social status (a bit like why we wear school uniform), however, they gained popularity again in the 80's. This is when the plastic bento box came into play, and bentos are now a common sight in Japanese schools. 

A bento is defined as a single portion meal (traditionally consisting of rice and side dishes) served cold, either homemade or takeout, served in a box. Makers of bento put a lot of thought, energy and time into their bentos for their children or spouse (or themselves). 

Bentos are a growing trend in America, where different types of food are compartmentalised, and the main goal is often to make the food look as appetising as possible. The traditional Japanese ideas behind bentos have been adapted to suit the western diet in these 'American bentos', while still being appealing to look at and containing a wide variety of foods. 

I have chosen to follow the 'American' style of bento mostly because I have always been taught that you can't have rice in your lunchbox. Its a health and safety nightmare. Its a bacterias favourite place to thrive. Its just a no no. If your not going to have rice fresh, it should be stone cold from the fridge, or used in a fried rice dish. Or in a pudding. But rice in a lunchbox? We just don't go there. Also, due to it just being me, I can't keep a range of okazu (side dishes) in the fridge to include in my bento. They would go off before I finished them. 

I can however, make my lunch look pretty. 

Okay, this one wasn't so pretty. We may say it was cute, but not quite pretty. I wasn't feeling well. Give me a break, please? 

I know what you're thinking, whats it got to do with New York. Now, are you sitting comfortably?

  • A mini bagel with pepperoni and (vegan) cream cheese. Kind of what I imagine that you can get in a New York deli. 
  • Olives (pimento stuffed- its what we had in the cupboard), the perfect accompaniment to a sophisticated martini. 
  • Chopped up apple - well, New York is the Big Apple after all. 
Now do you get the (admittedly strained) connections? Yeah, just use you're imagination. 

So, how did I do. I'm going for blue stars today. 

3. RECORDING Well, if it wasn't for me being so late posting last weeks bento, I would have recorded this bento yesterday, just one day after it was made. So, one blue star. 

4. BALANCE Okay, no calcium source, HOWEVER, the (real) cream cheese I was planning to use had been used by someone else (although I did pay for it) and so I couldn't. That wasn't my fault, and so I'm not going to let it affect my stars. 

6. PACKAGING This is where I loose a star. I used the olives from a 'snack pack' because the ones in the jar looked a bit unappetizing, so I decided I'll save those for cooking with. The apples came ready cut in a bag, because Dad had bought some and they were in the fridge. 

8. PLANNING I have had this one planned for about a month now, so, gimmie a star. 

Well, that leaves me with one blue star, how long do we reckon before I get more than one? 

July 05, 2014

The First Bento

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? I mean, my first post on this blog was about soap. Ya-ha. Soap. I am really that sad!

And so my bento journey has to start somewhere. I mean, it probably started a while ago when I was looking for veggie lunchbox ideas on the Internet, or over the last year when I paged through lunchbox pages on Pinterest because I was having lunch box withdrawal syndrome. Yeah, I know- you thought I couldn't get any sadder than the soap post. Well, I hate to disappoint!

I'm trying to start work on the Look Wider programme, which is part of the Senior Section of Girlguiding UK. Which should really be easier to explain. The Look Wider programme is split into 8 Octants such as Creativity, Fit for Life and Community Action. Each Octant is split into 3 phases. The idea is that it challenges you to try new things and develop a whole range of useful skills.

For the second phase of the Creativity Octant I've decided that I'm going to concentrate on creating bento Boxes for my lunch. Why? Yeah, I don't know either. Well, I do kind of. I really, really like looking at other peoples bento boxes, so why not make my own? Plus, it solves the problem of the aforementioned lunch box withdrawal syndrome. It's fun, and I have to make a lunch box anyway, so why not make it count? Because I'm doing this for Phase 2, I have to spend roughly 20 hours making bento. Yeah, I know. Thatta a lot of bento.

Is it a challenge for me? Well, if I had half a cheese sandwich, a handful of grapes, a few almonds and emptied out a pre-cut apple bag EVERY DAY for however long it took for that to become 20 hours worth, then probably not. Well, definitely not. But if I take the time to do it properly - well then, yeah, it's gonna be a challenge. Because;

1. TIME Yeah, this ones a biggie. Some things a la bento take the same amount of time to do as it would to do the non bento equivalent, for example, it possibly takes as long to cut a sandwich with a cutter as it does to use a knife, but other things, like making apples into bunnies, takes longer. Right now, I kinda have a lot of time on my hands, but when I go back to college, it will be a different kettle of fish entirely. I will be busy. And I will be tired. I may not/probably won't want to take the time to make a bento every night. Why spend time and energy when I could just throw a packet of breakfast biscuits in my bag and call it lunch? (Yes, I have done that in the past. A balanced diet I know). I foresee that it will be challenging to spend the required amount of time making my bento boxes.

2. LEFTOVERS One of the most simple ways to increase the 'cuteness' factor of a bento box is to cut out shapes out of the foods your serving. (Like the cheese clovers below). However, your unlikely to see the pieces that the shapes were cut out of. These are the leftovers of 'scraps'. These can't be sent to the landfill- we're trying to be 'green' over here people! And there is no point buying food if your just going to waste it, and so these leftovers must be used!!! So I'll have to be clever and think about creative ways to use leftovers.

3. RECORDING As part of the challenge, I am going to record every bento box that I make on this blog. Yeah, get ready for a lot of bentos people. Apart from everything else, it will probably be more of a challenge just REMEMBERING to take a photo of my bentos. For example, it was only when I started writing this post that I realised, it may be a good idea in future to take a picture of my ingredients and equipment before I start, and include that in my posts. Also, just because I have the pictures doesn't automatically make them appear on my blog. Sometimes it takes a while. For example, I actually made this bento over a week ago.

4. BALANCE We all know how important a healthy balanced diet is, and this applies to bentos too! I'm not sure if it's easier or harder to have a balanced diet in a bento box, but I'm sure I'll find out. There are arguments for both sides. Each box must contain a COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATE for slow release energy and a 'fullness' factor, two portions of FRUITS and/or VEGETABLES because they are full of good for you stuff, and because there my favourite bit, a high(ish) PROTEIN source, because otherwise people get annoyed at you (yes, I do know why its important. I'm just tired of the lectures) and a decent source of CALCIUM which is probably the most challenging bit for me. That and the protein.

5. BOXABILITY Is a challenge. Like, really a challenge. You need to have a box big enough so that it fits your lunch in, but it can't be too big, or else your food will move about and you will end up with a mess come lunchtime. Also, preferably, it needs to be one box, although you can use mini boxes/mini bottles, silicone/paper cups and separates within that box, as well as using tiered boxes. Although, we will draw the line at drinks. If I include milk, a smoothie etc, then that goes in a separate container. I am not having my sandwiches floating in liquid. Unless that's an Oreo sandwich in milk.

6. PACKAGING Or more importantly, the lack of packaging. We should be trying to go waste free in these bentos. No little packaged things. However, some things, like hummus and cheese, I normally get in single/duo serving containers because I'm the only one who eats them, and so it would be a waste otherwise. Also, if I put a yogurt tube in my box, well, that will be in a tube, obviously. However, the challenge will be to use the least amount possible.

7. CUTENESS My bento needs to look appealing- the whole point is to make children (who are younger than me) eat up all there lunch. However, who doesn't want to eat cute food? I mean, that question doesn't even need asking. So I can't just chuck any old thing in a box, I have to make it look nice.

8. PLANNING This is another of those 'lets be green'. I need to plan what I'm going to have. And not just 5 minutes before I start making my lunch, I need to plan a few days to a week in advance. Yeah, its a faff, but its important. If I need carrots, for example, I need to put them on the shopping list before my parents go shopping at the weekend. Also, I need to make sure that I use everything up before the best before date. So if I want to use Quorn pepperoni one day, I need to use it the next day to. So I need to make sure that I do the challenging thing of planning. And actually sticking to this plan where ever possible.

9. EATING There is no point making a lovely looking lunch if I don't eat it all. If I'm not eating it all, I'm making too much. However, to incorporate all the components of a balanced bento, sometimes it makes a lot. So I need to work on the balance.

The bento boxes will start slow, as I'm not at college at the moment. Although college broke up yesterday anyway. Your just going to get my once weekly packed lunches from when I go for treatment.

And so here it is, the first bento:

A hummus and spinach (and carrot to add color) wrap, rolled up and cut into roughly 1" pieces. Carrot sticks and a cut up tomato to make up the rest of the two points, and topped off with clover shapes cut out of a Tofutti cheddar slice.

The colours are vastly muted. For example, the cheddar slices are actually orange.

So, how did I do?

2. LEFTOVERS The rest of the cheese slice I cut out I used in my dinner that night to top my rice. So a gold star for me.

3. RECORDING Well, this is a week late, so maybe loose that gold star.

4. BALANCE The cheese slice doesn't contain any calcium. When I made this lunch, I thought that it did. So we will stay neutral on the gold star point.

6. PACKAGING The hummus I get in duo serving containers, because it means that less gets wasted. Which is a plus. The Tofutti slices only come in individually wrapped slices. One, I'd let go, but two? That will have to be a minus star.

7.  CUTENESS Well, the student nurse said it was cure. Back to neutral

9. EATING I ate almost all of it. My Dad was worried there wouldn't be enough, but there was a lot packed in there. So I will regain that gold star.

So, after all that, I finish with one gold star. Not bad for a first attempt. What do you think?