If you follow me on any of my various social media pages (ie Facebook, Twitter & Instagram) you may have seen me register my excitement when a very special book arrived in the post for me recently. The book is called Everyday Bento, and was written by one of my favourite bento bloggers; Wendy Copley, who blogs over at Wendolonia. As you can probably guess from the title, this book is all about bento, which is obviously right up my street!
Knowing Wendy's blog, I thought that the book would likely contain lots of lovely pictures of bento lunches, and it certainly does, but there is much more to it than that. There are 50 creative lunches in the book, and every single one has step by step instructions for each lunch, with clear photos showing each step, and a full size picture of the finished masterpiece. The lunches are all gorgeous - really creative, but simple to put together too, showing that bento really is something that absolutely anyone can turn their hand to.
What I really like about this book is that uses mostly ordinary English/American foods rather than the traditional Japanese foods that you usually find in bento lunches, making it much more accessible to the standard lunch packer here in the UK. Wendy is American, so a few of the foods she uses may not be so readily available here, but the great thing about bento is that you can just change and adapt it to suit yourself - anything goes!
I decided to try out one of the lunches from the book, taking inspiration from the recipe but adapting it to suit our tastes and using what I had to hand that day, and I was really pleased with the result. I used a 'proper' two tier Japanese bento box as Small Child had requested it for one of his lunches this week (we came across a forgotten stash of bento goodies when I was attempting to clear out a cupboard the other day and he was really excited to find this box again). I really enjoyed having direct inspiration from the book - it made it very easy for me to make a beautiful lunch without having to come up with new ideas or think too hard about it!
In the lunch Small Child had a simple pasta salad, which I made using space themed pasta (replacing the star pasta in the book), finely chopped yellow pepper and carrot (the carrot replaced the red pepper in the book) and a simple dressing, which I made by combining a splash of olive oil and white wine vinegar. I cut some tiny stars from the pepper and carrot using a mini bento cutter, and sprinkled them on top. I started filling the second tier of the box as per the book - cutting some stars from cucumber and digging out a star shaped silicone cup to use, but then I went my own way, replacing the sandwiches with some shredded ham (jazzed up with rocket picks) and a mini Babybel cheese, which I decorated by cutting a star from the wax.
I added an apple and a reusable food pouch to the lunch, and popped it all his lunch bag along with some mini bento cutlery, which fitted nicely in the top tier of the bento box. I also used a silicone band around the box to hold it shut.
Small Child was absolutely delighted with this lunch, and ate every last bit of it. He has really enjoyed looking through the book with me and was pleased to have his own version of one of the lunches from it. He wants me to make the building bricks bento next!
As well as the lunches, the book has lots of other helpful features including a food idea list, a list of foods by colour (invaluable for helping design a balanced and beautiful lunch) and several pages introducing basic techniques and tools. I think that this book is perfect for both beginners and seasoned lunch packers – I’ve been making bento style lunches myself for nearly two years but I’ve found plenty of new ideas in the book to inspire me all over again. The lunches are arranged in sections, including 'Bentos for Busy Mornings' (ideal for beginners) and 'Extra-Special Bentos' which might take a little more time to make. There is even a section for grown-ups - who says children should get all the fun!
In short, if you need to pack lunches for yourself or for your children, then this book is the perfect place to find a wealth of inspiration. It would make a lovely gift too!