Saturday, August 21, 2010

Entering the obento world...the obsession begins!

In a few weeks Justin will start attending a 'Mother's Day Out' program three mornings a week at an Episcopal church on Okinawa. We're so excited for the opportunity for him to have some social time with new friends, and I (Julie) will have a few hours to work at the church and study Japanese. He needs to take a lunch, so a couple weeks ago, I started thinking about what that means for our morning preparations, food shopping list, and things like that. Then I thought about getting him a lunch box and realized I had no idea where we would find one... and I had never seen one here that resembled what kids in America use. Then I put my brain back on and remembered we live in Japan and children here use obento (Japanese lunch box).
A bento box is a small container, usually plastic, where lunch is prepared in a most intricate fashion. I have steered clear of them so far because the ones I have seen look so amazing I was sure that Japanese mothers must spend hours preparing them for their children every day, and while I love my children to death, I'm just not 'that kind of mom'.... ;) But, thanks to the wonderful internet, I started doing some research and through some fabulous blogs about bento making, I learned that it's not so difficult, and maybe even I could prepare a bento lunch for my son.... because I have no choice... this is what we do in Japan. :)
So, one of the first things I did was purchase a cookbook about bento boxes for children:
Kawaii means cute in Japanese... and these bento boxes are amazing! But, what I really like about the cookbook is that it has very easy recipes and simple instructions for some of the artistic food designs... I don't think I'll try too many of those, but they are so fun to look at!

So, the next step is to start purchasing bento gear. Apparently bento boxes have become extremely popular all around the world, so there are many internet sites where you can find TONS of bento gear for quite a variety of prices. Thankfully, we live in Japan (!) and are privy to something WONDERFUL called 100 yen stores... kind of like dollar stores in the states, but WAY better. So our 100 yen stores have great bento gear, and you're not spending a fortune on it. So, here's what I bought... and let me tell you, there are many more things out there... I felt like I was really holding back!

These are the bento boxes I got for myself and Brian... oh yeah, this is not just for Justin anymore, it's a family affair! Ours are two-tiered, and we got chopstick cases to match.

These are Justin's .... I'm sure just the first of many... kawaii!!!
This is the bag that Justin's bento box will go in when he goes to school:
And Justin's utensils and case... of course they have cute matching chopsticks, but we'll save those for maybe next year... ;)

Now we get to the fun stuff... even though I think the boxes are pretty fantastic just as they are. It's important for the various food in a bento not to touch each other, so you can get cute little containers for your different food items. There are TONS of things you can get to make shapes, faces, etc. to try to get your kids to eat different foods. I'm sure it also sometimes becomes a competition of who has the coolest looking food, but we're not anywhere near that yet. Here's what we are starting out with:
Then there are little plastic sheets that also serve as dividers:
Oh, and these fun little 'picks' for finger foods:
You can get really detailed with the food in your bento... must be at least 5 colors; equal portions of carbs, protein, veggies; only a certain number of calories, and many others... but right now, I'm just happy if it's filled with food that Justin will eat. :)

So, today I decided to start practicing. I got out all my stuff and made Justin's lunch, but when he saw me making it, he wanted to eat it right away. Since part of my experiment is to see what the food I make will taste like when it's room temperature at lunch time, we had to come up with a compromise, so he was served breakfast in a bento.... just for today. :)

He did pretty well with breakfast, but thankfully lunch came soon. Justin was extremely excited to eat his lunch. He was with me when I purchased our bento gear and has been talking about 'taking lunches to my new school' ever since. Here's his reaction when he opened his obento today:
My first bento!!! Not a great picture, but it's rice, grapes, cucumber, and hotdog...some of Justin's favorite foods, and I'm thrilled that they stayed in their containers and places.
And the most important part... Justin had tons of fun eating it... maybe a little too much fun. He was kind of distracted by the whole novelty of the event, but he'll get used to it. How cool is it that he will get used to eating lunch like this?
Anyway, we are having fun with our new adventure and my new obsession. Oh, and this is what Noah did during our Saturday experiment:
I'm sure there will be more stories about our bento box adventures. If you want to know more about it, go to It's a great sight with TONS of information. Happy bento making! :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Japanese Rice Cooker

I remember that we got a small rice cooker/vegetable steamer for our wedding (almost 8 years ago!) and I thought, "what is that for? Why do you need something special to cook rice in?" Isn't funny how things change?
Soon after that we moved to Guam, where most people have rice for every meal... and most people have rice cookers. So we bought a simple rice cooker and used it every now and then. A simple rice cooker means it just has one button... you put the rice and water in it, push the button, and 20-30 minutes later, you have cooked rice.
When we moved to the Philippines, we started to eat rice even more than we had in Guam. We still had a simple rice cooker, but we started to notice that all our friends from Japan and Korea brought rice cookers with them to the Philippines... and they weren't just 'one-button' rice cookers... they were fancy with lots of buttons. We knew that rice and how it is cooked was very important to our friends, but we still didn't understand why it was important to bring a rice cooker, when you could buy them in the Philippines.
Well, now we live in Japan, and eat even more rice than we did in the Philippines....and as we began to set up our home here, we noticed that stores have MANY rice cookers for sale... multiple aisles are given for rice cookers, ranging in price from $50 - $800!!! We asked some Japanese friends to explain what is so special about these rice cookers.... and then we decided we needed one for our family. We were going to save up for one for Christmas, but Julie's parents surprised us by giving us money for a rice cooker for our birthdays! Thanks Mom and Dad!

So, a couple weeks ago we went with our Japanese friends to buy our rice cooker. We needed help navigating the more than 30 rice cookers available in just one store! And here is our beautiful rice cooker:
Now, you will notice there is a menu... we have many options now for how we want our rice cooked, including settings for white rice, quick cook white rice, sushi rice, rice with other ingredients, rice porridge, super sticky rice, brown rice, and cake... that's right! You can make a cake in your rice cooker!!! It also has a timer, so I can put my rice and water in the cooker any time during the day, and set the time for 6:00 pm... my rice will be ready precisely at 6:00! It will also keep rice warm and ready to eat for at least 12 hours... so you can cook rice in the morning and eat fresh rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... isn't that wonderful? ;)
Our parents already thought we were a little weird when we last visited their homes and ask that they have lots of rice on hand for our 'Asian' son who LOVES rice and asks to eat it very often. We also asked (well, probably demanded) that they stay away from any instant or microwaveable rice because "it's not real, and Justin wouldn't like it!" Well, we've reached a new level now in our love of rice... time will only tell if we become 'rice snobs' and start to really notice differences in rice like our Japanese and Korean friends. But for now, we're just loving our new rice cooker.. and I really do think the rice tastes better! ;) Oishi des!

Kuya Justin

So when we talk with people these days, one of the most common questions we hear is, "How is Justin doing?" We are happy to report that he LOVES being a kuya (tagalog word for older brother).
At first he just stared at him....

Then he decided it was fun to sit next to him and laugh at the cute noises he makes.

Then he decided it's okay to hold him sometimes... and give him kisses every night at bedtime. :)

And sometimes they just like to hang out together.

He LOVES helping Daddy give Noah baths.

And most of all, he loves the funny things Noah does. :)

Brian probably won't be happy about me posting this, but Justin did something pretty funny a couple weeks ago that made me realize how much his life has changed since Noah entered the picture... When I went to pick him up from the nursery at church one Sunday, the nursery workers were laughing and laughing... they told me he had been playing with a baby doll, pretending to 'feed' it... the same way he sees Mommy feed Noah! So his father quickly made a strict rule about emphasizing Justin only feeds Noah with a bottle... and Justin has adapted his language accordingly, but we'll see if there are any more funny stories from the church nursery. ;)

Justin has also become a LOT more verbal in the last couple months... he's always been pretty verbal, but now we hear complete sentences more regularly. :) As Justin hears new words, he likes to insert them into his vocabulary quite frequently until he learns something else that takes its place. One of his latest words is 'little'.... he adds the word 'little' in front of everything... my little car, my little truck, I hurt my little knee, etc. But one of my favorites is when I'm with Noah and he hears me say, "Uh oh." Justin then says, "Mommy, did Noah spit up? Just a little?" "Yes." "Oh, okay." ;D

Both our boys are growing so quickly... now that we have a little baby in the house, Justin seems huge! But when he's around all his older friends at church, I'm reminded that he is still two years old, but he's loving life sooooo much... we are quite blessed!