Saturday, May 10, 2008

Got Bento?

I am not unemployed. In fact, I currently hold not one, not even just two, but three jobs. All three, however, either are substituting/on-call positions, or do not offer regular or dependable hours. (As a point of interest, when asked what I "do," I answer that I substitute teach, among other things. My professional goal is to teach upper elementary full-time.) As a result, it often feels like I am unemployed.

On days when I find myself jobless, I pursue my other professional interest, writing. I write fiction and poetry in addition to blogging here, at my other blog, and writing for Associated Content and Foodbuzz. I am trying to be, well, professional about writing. At the moment I am working my way through a first-pass revision of my National Novel Writing Month 2007 manuscript, which is exciting and challenging.

Something that I have noticed, however, is that regardless of what I am working on, I write best from about 9 or 10 in the morning through the afternoon. You can often find me holed up in a cafe with a latte, my laptop, and a notebook and pen. At lunchtime, however, I naturally get hungry. But because I don't normally pack a lunch, there's not much I can do to remedy the situation besides return home to eat. Once I've eaten, I usually feel rather sluggish and tired and it's extremely difficult for me to get back to the business of writing. Thankfully I tend to hold off eating until closer to 2 o'clock in the afternoon so I don't loose as much time as if I ate at noon, but it's still proves troublesome.

Enter the bento. A bento (or obento, if you prefer the more formal term) is a meal that's served in a box, originating in Japan. Basically, it's a small box crammed with food (healthy, nutritious food, of course!), typically in the ratio of 3 parts grains (such as rice, noodles), 2 parts vegetables, and 1 part protein (including meats and fish, eggs, and soy foods like tofu). A bento lunchbox is efficient in terms of space as well as nutrition, and is a great tool for portion control. Just Bento and Lunch in a Box are a couple of my current favorite bento resources on the net.

After ogling the tantalizing and delicious bento porn available through Flickr's many bento-themed groups, I decided to get my mits on a box and a few packing supplies. One order from Sugar Charms later, and I found myself the owner of the cutest little bento box you ever did see. I felt ready -- lunch times would now find me chopstick-ing it with the best of the bento community.

My first bento was a rather sad affair. I didn't realize quite how much space vegetables would take up in the small box, and how much more aware I needed to be regarding packing nutritious and sustaining foods. Meaning that stuffing half the box with salad does not a filling meal make. In addition to a tiny spinach salad with tomatoes and broccoli and raspberry dressing, I packed leftover chicken tortilla soup and Guiltless Gourmet blue corn chips. Tasty, but nowhere near enough food. I am going to have to look into either packing more nutrition-dense food in a more compact and space-saving manner, or investing in a larger box. Or, perhaps, both. My lunchtime adventures have only just begun, however, and I am very eager to see how both my bento skills and my writing work ethic develop.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King