Friday, July 8, 2011

Exploring Happy Meals, Part 1

In Japan, lunch is an art.  You can make your own bento-style lunch for yourself (and your friends) with the same artistic flourishes.
While the Japanese term "bento" roughly translates to "box lunch" in English, this is not your average packed lunch. The goal with bento is to assemble a meal that is just as appealing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds. It's not uncommon for Japanese mothers to prepare an elaborate boxed lunch, playfully and creatively decorated, to entice their children to eat all of their food when they're at school. If you're sick of bringing a sloppy sandwich to work or you'd like your kids to look forward to opening their lunch box, there's a lot to be learned from the bento tradition.

Step 1:  Divide the meal proportionally—

When preparing bento, there are two ways to divide the food. You can stick to a 4:3:2:1 ratio (4 parts of rice, 3 parts of the side dish, 2 parts of vegetables, and 1 part of a serving of pickled vegetables or a dessert) or you can make a 1:1 ratio (1 part rice, 1 part side dishes, where the side dishes themselves contain a 1:2 ratio of meat to vegetables). You can follow one of these traditional layouts, or you can vary the ratio and substitute more familiar ingredients. The objective is to have a nutritionally diverse yet balanced meal.

Step 2:  Obtain a bento box which is divided into compartments reflecting the proper bento ratio

You may be able to find a bento box in an Asian food store or online. Keep in mind that in Japan, food portions are smaller than in the West. (This might be a good thing if you're trying to control your portion sizes, or it might be an inconvenience). If you can't find a bento box anywhere, you can improvise by using a square container and dividing the food creatively (e.g. with a dividing wall of baby carrots or saltine crackers). Muffin and cupcake cups also make great compartments.

Step 3:  Choose brightly colored food items—

The bolder and more solid the color, the greater the visual impact of your bento and the more nutritional benefits are conferred (at least when it comes to brightly colored vegetables). White rice, whole hard-boiled eggs, and cheese can add a nice contrast to your bento, especially when paired with bright orange, green, and red foods.

Step 4:  Pack the foods tightly in order, especially if your bento box does not have built-in compartments—

(This will keep the food from shifting around)

Rice (or other starch) is nearly have the meal; food items that are awkward in terms of shape or arrangement (e.g. a piece of chicken or a large dumpling) might have to go in first; food items that are flexible, such as potato salad or cut vegetables go in any large remaining spaces; small and sturdy items, like cherry tomatoes or small pudding containers, should fill in the gaps and accent the bento.

Step 5:  Create striking patterns and shapes with the food items and/or seasonings by using stencils—

(You can also decorate your bento according to a theme.  You can paint using food coloring mixed with cream cheese, butter, sour cream, or frosting.)

Keep the edges neatly defined.  Contrasting colors, textures and shapes should be placed next to each other, but similar ones should be separated.  Don’t let clashing flavors mingle (e.g. don’t put fried rice next to a pastry).

Make animal faces or other shapes with the food.  Two slices from a hard-boiled egg with a dot of paprika in the middle of the yolk can make a great pair of eyes.
Sprinkle seasonings and add garnish to emphasize the center of a section of food.
Cut fruit, vegetables, and cheese into shapes like stars, hearts, and diamonds with cookie cutters.

Put sauces or loose snacks into quirky containers. Small refillable sauce bottles made especially for bento can be purchased online.

Use your own creative ideas to spice of your lunch life. 
Make your own bento box.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Artistically the best

Is it true that a picture can actually say a thousand words?

In my case, it probably wouldn’t be true.  Most of my art includes paint and numbers.  My art probably says a hundred numbers, in numerical order!

At any rate, art is a fantastic way to pass the time and relieve some steam.

My best friend…
Ha, can you recognize this person?

Draw portraits of your best friend here—even and especially if you’re not an artist.  – The Happy Book

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

‘Take me out to the ball game; take me out to the crowd’

I am a fan of baseball.  It’s a great American sport; a sport that screams summer and patriotism.  After USC’s victory win, for the second year in a row, how can anybody around town not love baseball?

Well, you’re in luck.  The college season for baseball may be over but that doesn’t mean summer’s winding down. 

The Blowfish play tonight against the Florence Red wolves:

Location/Venue—Capital City Stadium

Address—301 South Assembly Street, Columbia, SC 29201

Time—7:05 pm

Admission—Field Level Reserved Box Seats $7; General Admission (adults) $6; General Admission (kids, students, seniors, military with IDs) $5



Discount Beverage Night! $1.00 12oz suds and soda 6-8pm

Be a passionate fan for a day.  Attend a comic book convention, a pickle festival, a dog show – any place filled with people who find joy in a shared thing.  Post pictures and souvenirs here.  – The Happy Book

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reminiscing through literature…so to speak

I love all kinds of books.  I can’t remember very many times when we would take afternoon trips to the library, but I can remember a few.  I cherish those moments.  Opening up old books, flipping through the pages, smelling the years, and wondering who else has touched this same book.  Opening up new books, feeling the delicate glossy cover and thinking ‘I’m probably the first person to hold this’.  Books are a huge part of my life.  I read them for pleasure and purpose.  It is a great means of escaping.  I can’t tell you how I became a reader or why.  I can only recommend some of my favorites!

 Where the Wild Things Are—the book tells the story of Max, who one evening plays around his home making "mischief" in a wolf costume. As punishment, his mother sends him to bed without supper. In his room, a mysterious, wild forest and sea grows out of his imagination, and Max sails to the land of the Wild Things. The Wild Things are fearsome-looking monsters, but Max conquers them by "staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once", and he is made "the king of all wild things", dancing with the monsters in a "wild rumpus". However, he soon finds himself lonely and homesick and returns home to his bedroom where he finds his supper waiting for him still hot.

Harriet the Spy—Eleven year old Harriet M. Welsch is an aspiring writer who lives in the Upper East Side of New York City. A precocious and enthusiastic girl, Harriet enjoys writing and she aspires to become a spy. Her best friends are Sport, who lives with his father, and Janie, who wants to be scientist. Most afternoons she follows her spy route and secretly observes her classmates, neighbors, and friends.
Harriet's routine life becomes chaotic when her parents attend a party. Ole Golly and her suitor, Mr. Waldenstein takes Harriet out for dessert and a movie. When they return home, they discover that the Welsch's have returned early to an empty house. When Mrs. Welsch attempts to fire Ole Golly, Mr. Waldenstein discloses to the Welsch's that he proposed to Ole Golly that evening and she has accepted. In an astonishing about-face, Mrs. Welsch exclaims: 'you can't leave, what will we do without you?!' Ole Golly replies that she had planned to leave soon because she believes it is time because Harriet is old enough to care for herself. Harriet is crushed by the loss of her nanny, who she was very close to.
Later at school, during a game of tag, Harriet loses her notebook. Her classmates find it and are appalled at the mean things she has written about them. For instance, she compares Sport to "a little old woman" for his continual worrying about his father. The students form a "Spy Catcher Club" in which they think up ways to make Harriet's life miserable, such as stealing her lunch, passing nasty notes about her in class and spilling ink on her.
Harriet regularly spies on them through a back fence, and concocts vengeful ways to punish them. She realizes the consequences of the mean things she wrote, but though she is hurt and lonely, she still thinks up special punishments for each one. After getting into trouble for some of her plans, Harriet tries to resume her friendship with Sport and Janie as if nothing ever happened, but they both reject her. Harriet spends all her time in class writing in her notebook as a part of her plan to punish the Spy Catcher Club. As a result of never doing her schoolwork, her grades suffer. This leads Harriet's parents to confiscate her notebook. Hearing of Harriet's troubles, Ole Golly writes to her, telling her that if anyone ever reads her notebook, "you have to do two things, and you don't like either one of them. 1: You have to apologize. 2: You have to lie. If she doesn't, she going to lose her friends.
Meanwhile, dissent is rippling through the Spy Catcher Club. Marion, the teacher's pet, and her best friend Rachel are calling all the shots, and Sport and Janie are tired of being bossed around. When they quit the club most of their other classmates do the same.
Harriet's parents speak with her teacher and the headmistress, and Harriet is appointed editor of the class newspaper. The newspaper—featuring stories about the people on Harriet's spy route and the students' parents—becomes an instant success. Harriet also uses the paper to make amends by printing a retraction, and is forgiven.

Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse— Lilly loves everything about school, especially her cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. But when Lilly brings her purple plastic purse and its treasures to school and can't wait until sharing time, Mr. Slinger confiscates her prized possessions. Lilly's fury leads to revenge and then to remorse and she sets out to make amends.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day— From the moment Alexander wakes up and finds gum in his hair, everything goes wrong! His brothers both get prizes in their cereal boxes, his best friend demotes him to third-best friend, there are lima beans for dinner, and there is kissing on TV. All kids experience this type of day, and will be glad to find they are not alone!

The Book Thief— It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

The Last Slice of the Rainbow— a series of children’s tales, ones they can get lost in and have a great deal of fun. Clem chases rainbows, makes a haggard old witch happy, and guides the reader into the next tale about a troll who wants nothing more than to steal a child’s bicycle and ride away, not into the sunset but into the path of a moving car! Just turn the pages to see how Joan Aiken sets that tale up right. A child born into royalty has no choice, and the tale of the Queen with Screaming Hair is no different. Whacking off a cat’s whiskers is mischievous, but what if the consequences are dire? In this case it was. Will little Christina learn to ignore her screaming, not so nice hair, or will she become a well-disciplined queen? This tale will keep any little girl hanging onto the edge of her seat. Haven’t you ever wished to have more than a memory when it comes to your childhood home especially if it was sold, leveled, or just doesn’t belong to you anymore? What if a piece of that property misses you too, and desperately? The tale of The Tree that Loved a Girl is just that. This tree is willing to give leaves, a branch, and perhaps its life to have the child dance under its branches happily once again. But what if the child can never go back again. Maybe she can’t, but the truth is, stories like these have magic that make the impossible something rich and favorable. What if you lose your legs in another tale? How will you catch them? The Last Slice of Rainbow is simply a collection of tales that will keep children in awe, and parents grateful that their child was entertained.

What books did you love as a child?  List them here, and then find them to read again.  (If you weren’t a reader as a kid, consider exploring the amazing world of kids’ literature now…the books are simply amazing, which makes us happy.) 
– The Happy Book