March 14, 2010

my new love

I'm not even sure where to begin this post, but I'll warn you, it's a long one.  There is so much swirling around in my mind lately, so many ideas and projects I want to do (and I will be sharing some of them with you soon; the ideas, not the projects themselves).  And not only scrapbooking related ones, although there are definitely some of those.  But today I want to share a little of what has been exciting me in the kitchen lately, and that is Japanese food.  From the time that I was in preschool until the 3rd grade my family lived on an Air Force base in Japan just south of Tokyo.  My parents wanted to experience the culture of that country and so we traveled frequently while we were there.  My dad also taught my mom how to use the train system and so she would often take us out for little day trips.  I was old enough that I remember our time in Japan well and I have fond memories of our lives there.  That experience has definitely had a deep and lasting effect on me and one way that this is born out is in a nostalgia surrounding Japanese foods.  For me, the tastes and smells of certain Japanese dishes take me back to my childhood and to those happy years that we lived there.  When we moved back to the states my mom brought with her all sorts of Japanese cookware and dishes along with a few recipes that she had learned.  I watched my mom cooked these dishes, but truthfully I never really learned the recipes.  I suppose that I thought that cooking Japanese food was just a little too out there and that realistically I could never prepare authentically Japanese food.  Well happily, that has changed. 

I'd like to say at this point that what started me on this journey in the first place is finding the blog of a fellow scrapbooker, crafter and stay-at-home mom Wendy Copley.  One of her layouts was featured on Ella's blog The Daily Trumpet and it was so cute that I had to check out her blog for myself.  What I found was something that I had not thought about for years, bento.  Wendy makes bento for her son's school lunch and she documents her bentos for the week on her blog.  She inspired me to try making bento for Gabe.  Even though he doesn't take a lunch to school the idea is easy enough to do for a home lunch (traditionally bento is a packed box lunch that you take somewhere like to school or the office) and the whole experience of preparing bento got me thinking more about what I serve to Gabe for lunch.  He already eats a wide variety of foods, vegetables included, but I'm happy to say that since I started making him bento at home I have introduced a few new foods into his diet.  And the more variety the better; for both of us.

I was thinking about how to take my bento making to the next level and that's what led to this new exciting obsession of mine.  At this point it's too late to make a long story short, but I can cut it down a little...  I don't know why it took me so long to do this but last week I used Google Maps and searched for a Japanese grocery.  And now my whole world has changed.  Inspired by my new finds (several Japanese grocers and the equivalent of a 100 yen store all about 15 minutes away) I ordered two new cookbooks:  Donburi Mania by Kentaro Kobayashi and Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking by Harumi Kurihara.  I already make a pretty good yakisoba and tonkatsu (okay, so I did learn something from my mom after all), but I am determined to learn and master a few more authentic Japanese dishes this year.  One dish in particular that I plan on learning is a dish that builds off of tonkatsu but is served over rice and topped with a creamy egg sauce.  It is called katsudon and it is my husband's favorite Japanese dish.  The prospect of these new culinary adventures really have me energized I have to admit.

And this started me thinking and wondering if all this happiness and excitement might be a little misplaced.  It is Lent after all.  Not that we can't be happy in Lent, but it is supposed to be a time of repentance, a time to turn our gaze and our life towards God.  And I couldn't help but think that maybe all this cooking excitement and fun was a distraction from what I should really be doing in this season.  But then it occurred to me that maybe I can be happy about this new love I've found. I have always loved cooking for my family and preparing healthy and tasty food for them, but even I get in a rut sometimes.  In the end, I am thankful that I have a renewed passion for cooking.  It is one way that I serve my family and finding joy in that cannot be a bad thing.  If anything it makes me thankful for God's blessings and it seems, in some regard, he has given me an early Easter.

So last weekend I went to the 100 yen store equivalent to buy some items for Gabe's bento.  One of the things I purchased on my trip was a bento box for my sweets.  I wanted to start preparing bento for him too.  I often pack a little container of leftovers for my husband to take with him for lunch the next day.  It always makes me so happy to do this for him since it is so much better than the alternative frozen-dinner-type lunch he takes when there are no leftovers. (As an aside, I am slowly learning to make larger amounts of food at dinnertime so that there will be leftovers for his lunch.  For so long I had been used to cooking for only two.  As Gabe has grown older he now eats pretty much what we do at dinnertime, with only a few exceptions.  It is a learning process for me, but I'm getting better.)  I think the only difference with bento versus the way I have been doing it is the packaging and also the intent (although my bentos are still very simple).  I know that I won't be able to do this every night, but I would like to be more thoughtful in what and how I pack his lunch.  Harumi Kurihara calls a bento "a little love letter that is opened when someone is away from home."  I think this is such a beautiful sentiment.  Last week I sent my sweets to work with his very first bento; ginger pork with broccoli and sticky white rice in the bottom compartment:

Later that day my sweets sent me a message thanking me for his bento and he called it "a little box of love."  Truthfully, I nearly cried when I read that (the revelation of this will come as no surprise to my husband who knows how strangely sentimental I can be about some things).  It just made me so happy to imagine him at work eating his bento, knowing that I love him, knowing that I care about him.  It is just as Harumi says.  And it was a reminder again of how the small works that we do out of love and service to our families can be little prayers that we offer to God.  So I thanked Him for this new gift and for the renewed energy to serve my family with joy and love.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, Donna! This post made me tear up a little bit. Is there anything better than when a gift is received in the exact spirit that it was given? I feel the same way about packing bento lunches for my kids most days. I want them to open it and feel like I am sitting right there next to them, giving them a little kiss and telling them they're special to me. (Some days though, I have to admit that I'm really just putting food in a box and honestly, I think that shows.)

    Anyway, I'm really excited that you have found a new way to care for your family and bring yourself joy. And thank you so much for the nice things you said about my blog!


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