Wednesday, August 31, 2011

[Wordless Wednesday] My Morning: Delightful, Dastardly, Determined

Day 3 No Bread, But Who Misses It?

How many days can Denise go with out bread in the house? I think I could let this theme roll on for weeks. In case you are concerned I did pick up a loaf today, but not until after school.

Our school is on a five day break, so I won't be packing bentos until next week. I may have a few alternative posts up my sleeve, so stay tuned.

Organic Whole Wheat quesadilla w/vintage sharp cheddar
grapes, little love strawberry
apples w/sprinkle fresh lemon juice, raspberry panda 
Organic GMO Free corn chips, salsa in the little purple container

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Forgot The Bread... Bento

Yesterday, I picked up my daughter from school and we had a leisure lunch at the grocery store. We then decided it was the best time to do some shopping. Apparently I didn't walk down the bread aisle because it wasn't until this morning that I realized, I forgot the bread. Our grocery store has just gone under a major renovation, so I am still getting used to where everything is.

Lucky for Sj my husband made pancakes for breakfast this morning, so she's going to have a pancake peanut butter and jelly for her sandwich. Oops. Maybe breakfast for lunch will be a regular theme at Colorado Bento.

You may also notice, I have a few new bentos! The nice people at LunchBots sent me a set of three 100% stainless steel bentos (even the lids). Today I packed the Duo and Pico. I must add I felt like I had room to add more food if I needed, but they seem plenty full enough for a school age girl to me. Just in case you are wondering, the stainless steel divider on the inside is fixed in the center, it is not moveable like other stainless steel bentos I own from Japan. They do sell the Uno and Eco, which are just one open space, they have no divider and are larger in size.

Duo (left):
plum, carrot flowers, fig, broccoli, grape tomatoes

Pico (right):
PB&J pancake sandwich, pretzel sticks

Disclosure: As I mentioned I received the LunchBots for free from the company to use when packing lunches in the morning. All ideas and feedback about the LunchBots are my own. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Breakfast for Lunch Bento

This may have to go down as the laziest lunch I've ever packed. I haven't been grocery shopping yet for the week, so sometimes I have to get creative. Although this lunch is not my ideal, I think it's important to show those days when I am not feeling on top of my lunch packing A-game! I hope you agree.

I had a left over piece of french toast from breakfast yesterday, so I cut it in half and put some peanut butter on it and drizzled a bit of maple syrup inside. I decided to forgo any vegetables today because it just wasn't a vegetable friendly lunch. I thought bell peppers would just be too icky with this, so I kept it to fruits.

Go Go Squeeze organic applesauce
yogurt with a sprinkle of granola
French toast with peanut butter and maple syrup

Waste Free Lunch Packing Inspiration

We are starting our third week of school and I've been documenting my lunch packing process over at Colorado Bento! If you need some inspiration or just want to see how easy it is to pack waste free lunches, click on over.

click to enlarge

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's not digital and I absolutely love it...

Some of you already know this little tidbit about me and some of you may be surprised by what I am going to confess. It's not quite a deep dark secret, but rather a little odd. I love the digital world, the convenience of my devices, keeping up with new applications, and maintaining a connection to the constant evolution of the technologically based world we live in. Ah heck, let's just say I love the digital age.

Except for...

Well the photo gives it away, but except for my paper planner. I even have a special pen from Japan that I use exclusively with my paper planner. I write out all the things I need to do, places I need to be, appointments, schedules, classes, sports activities, make lists, doodle, and even dream, all in one make me ridiculously happy paper planner. Funny enough, on the other hand I have friends that barely text with their flip phones, but sing the praises of Google Calendar. I just can't find a digital calendar that appeals to me, like a Moleskine Planner in my hands.

Can you hold on a moment, I need to pencil that in...

Quick Bento This Morning

My daughter requested macaroni and cheese this morning, but it was taking forever for the water to boil, so I went with a whole wheat cheese quesadilla instead. I put the quesadilla in a separate bento since it's warm (or warmer than the fruit and vegetables).

This is what a bento looks like when I clearly need to go grocery shopping. I could possibly squeak out one more lunch, but I need to get some fruit. Our garden helped add the red to the mix today, thank you tomato season.

Three vegetables, one fruit...
Whole wheat tortilla, medium cheddar quesadilla
carrots, organic edamame (always buy organic to avoid GMO's)
grapes, tomatoes

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bountiful Panda Bento

One of the best finds I ever made for making lunch packing fun and easy are Japanese Floral Vegetable Cutters. I have two sets and they easily cut through vegetables like carrots. They are deeper and made of a sturdier metal than just regular cookie cutters. I love using my mini-cupcake silicone cups for panda, they were perfectly for the top layer.

Today I was successful meeting my fresh fruit and vegetable standard! 3 Vegetables, 1 fruit, 1 fruit strip (made from 100% fruit).

Whole Wheat bread, Applegate turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, cut with cookie cutter 
Vegetable straws
Cherry Tomatoes 
Carrots, green grapes, cucumbers
Mystery item in the corner? Fruit strips cut into flowers (dessert). 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Check Your Honey, URGENT Need To Buy Locally

There have been reports lately from organizations that the United States has a honey smuggling problem, in some cases it's even referred to as honey laundering. What a crazy thought, smuggling honey into the United States? The honey at the center of this debate is stemming from Asia, in particular China and India. Asian honey is banned in the European Union and we need to stay abreast with EU bans because they actually enact laws that protect citizens over corporations.

Problems With The Smuggled Honey?

Apparently the FDA is turning their backs on the majority of honey that is entering the United States. Approximately 200 million pounds of honey was imported to the US in the last 18 months, but only 50 million pounds of that was reported to be from trusted sources from Canada to South America. So where is the other 150 million pounds coming from? Asia. 

A decade ago a bacterial infection (Foulbrood Disease) swept through China's bee colonies, killing millions of their bees. It was treated with animal grade antibiotics from India, in particular one called chloramphenicol which has been directly linked to gene damage in children and is considered carcinogenic. Chloramphenicol is banned in the presence of food in the United States. 

The second major issue is the presence of heavy metals in the honey. Unable to keep up with the demand to produce honey, honey is often purchased by larger processors from smaller honey producers that use LEAD soldered drums to collect and store honey. Heavy metals being present in honey is a huge problem because they are very hard for our body to get rid of and often collect in our organs. 

There have been specific cases of honey magically appearing in large quantities by India's top honey producer during a time when they reported their production would be down 40%, leading to believe the honey is coming in from China. It's also important to note the United States has a tariff on honey  from China (to protect US Beekeepers), therefore exporting it through India allows them to bypass the tariff. 

The last problem with "honey" from Asia is the discoveries in prior shipments entering the United States of what is actually in the drums of honey is a concoction of things such as sugar waters, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, which often times are thickened or colored with chemicals. It is known that in places like Germany honey or honey like substances can be easily tested and traced back to the flower pollen of origin. Of course in the US, we have one person that does such testing and he is a forensic anthropologist. Awesome, America! 

To further prove the problems with transshipped honey entering the United States, an organization has been formed called True Source Honey, which provides resources for companies and consumers to find Ethically Sourced and safe honey. 

Americans consume 400 million pounds of honey per year. 35% of the honey is consumed in homes and the other 65% is purchased by food industries. Everyone can do their part to make sure the honey you are reaching for is locally sourced. In our grocery store right next to a "National Brand" is a local brand. One that guarantees it's source and the brand I always reach for. They even offer a few varieties in the types of honey they sell, wildflower, clover, etc.

Stop and take a moment, double check the label on your brand and seek out a local alternative if possible. Clearly the FDA has a hard time protecting us, we truly need to protect ourselves.

Lunch Packing, It's All About Color

I have a thing for fruits and vegetables, on top of that I love for a lunch to be filled with a wide range of colors. If I look in a packed lunch and see too many things of one color or lacking color (palette of brown for example) that makes me nervous. I've said it before, I always try to pack a combination of three fruits and/or vegetables. The grain or carbs are just secondary in my mind.

If I see a rainbow, I feel content.

Homemade pizza w/basil from our garden!
organic green grapes
orange bell pepper

I'd have to admit, that's close to a perfect lunch for me. Although, one more vegetable would make it perfect!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Big First Day (and my mom didn't even buy me a backpack)...

It was just a few short moments before we were headed out the door when I looked down at my daughter. She had two well manicured braids in her hair, a new striped dress complete with a name tag (which she luckily reminded me of), her Yo Gabba Gabba Vans, and socks up to the middle of her calves, when I realized she didn't have a backpack. I mean she does have a backpack, handed down from her sister, and a goofy Dora backpack that's "super babyish" now. But today was her first day of school, her last year of preschool, and I guess I spaced getting her a backpack to call her very own. I mean she takes a bottle of water and a hat to school, does she really need a backpack?

I felt a twinge of mom fail in the moment, as I wrote her name inside a small reusable grocery tote bag. She didn't care, she just wanted to make her way to school. We loaded the bag with three very important items, a ziplock of extra clothes to store at school, a hat, and her water bottle. She of course, insisted on carrying the bag all by herself, for our family walk to school.

All four of us headed out, it was particularly sunny this morning, and GL didn't want to put on her hat. She kept on reaching up with her left hand to shield the sun from directly shining into her eyes as she navigated the sidewalk. I think she preferred to carry the hat in her bag instead, so her bag looked more important with something actually inside of it. Plus, she was overly concerned her braids would get messed up. She reached up for J's hand and I walked behind them, taking it all in. In all actuality, it was the first day of my daughter's school career. Even though it's not Kindergarten, she'll be there five days a week. Gulp.

As we made small talk about the big first day, I just observed and stayed ever present in this fleeting moment. I wondered how long it will be before she no longer wants to hold our hands. I wondered how drop off would go, if she would simply turn and say goodbye or would she hold onto my leg tightly and hesitate before I gently convinced her that she'll have a great time. I of course was feeling the emotional weight of this milestone in her life, in our lives. I reflected upon how quickly this moment had arrived and how incredibly thrilled she was that she was now going to school with her big sister. For her, this was the stuff life is made of. Big girl school.

The moment was clearly hers, as she walked in through the set of doors, quickly turned around and simply said, Bye Mama, Bye Dada... I lingered just for a moment in the hall, wondering if she knew where to hang her grocery tote, where to put her water bottle, if she took off her shoes in the classroom like her old school, but had to let it all go.

I walked out of the building and into the sunshine with the realization that my baby, really isn't a baby any more.

Brief update, after pickup we enjoyed a special lunch together and then I took her to pick out her very own brand spanking new backpack...

Dads Pack Lunches, Too.

Credit due to my husband who lets me sleep in a bit longer, sometimes I wake to find lunch already packed. He doesn't cut off the crust or use cookie cutters to make cutesy shaped sandwiches. Honestly, she eats it just as well. I wouldn't send an applesauce in lunch, but I am sure Sj demanded it (they were purchased the night before). We love those applesauce pouches.

Overall well done, I'm giving him his own label (see Josh)!

Go Squeez Applesauce
Zucchini Bread
Applegate ham and cheese
Raspberries and blueberries

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Voice Against Vouchers in Douglas County Schools

Currently there is a huge debate in Douglas County over their new school voucher program. I believe they have replaced the word voucher with scholarship, to soften the blow in discussions. My biggest gripe with the word scholarship being used to replaced voucher, is that a scholarship generally comes with the assumption that money is awarded based on academic achievement or financial need that is funded privately by a foundation or trust NOT with public tax dollars. Unfortunately, as I understand it in Douglas County, their vouchers are given out simply by application from a family to a school that is "approved" from their list. School vouchers are something I don't take lightly and I definitely have an opinion on the matter. I don't typically use Eat Play Love as a platform for such issues, but I think my opinion deserves a forum because I am very passionate about education.

I'm trying desperately to stay concise in my views on school vouchers, but I do feel the need to share my background personally and professionally before I move into my stance. I am a Licensed Elementary Teacher in Colorado, I've spent time volunteering and teaching in many educational settings from Boulder Valley (the 1st Charter School in Colorado, may I add) to a Longmont Migrant Worker Housing After School Program to Title 1 schools in Denver Public Schools and Adams County Mapleton Public School District 1. If you don't know Title 1 schools refer to "disadvantaged schools" which have a large concentration of students living in poverty. I've always been drawn to teaching students that deserve an exceptional education regardless of their family's economic status, it's just a part of who I am.

Beyond a professional background, I am a mother of a school age daughter and my second is entering the public school system (in pre-school this year as well). When Sj was entering Kindergarten, we utilized the "open enrollment" lottery option for her in Boulder Valley Schools. Our neighborhood school wasn't a fit for her for a few reasons, but the top reason was schedule. Our neighborhood school operated on a strange 2 full days a week, 1/2 day on Friday system. With Sj being the youngest in her class, I was interested in a 1/2 day, 5 day a week program. We did not get accepted into any BVSD schools of our choice for Kindergarten (you can choose 4), so we opted to enroll her in a Jefferson County Public School that was 2 miles from our home.

The town we lived in for 8 years, with a population 45,000, actually does not have it's own school district, but rather is home to 4 school districts. Enrolling in a neighboring district in our City was not a big deal to us, it's a choice a large percentage families in Colorado have. Open Enrollment is not limited to school district boundaries, you can enroll in neighboring districts. There are examples of students living in Vail and enrolling in school in Denver. It's possible, just depends how far you want to drive. Just generally confirming for our area which is Boulder-Denver metro area, I couldn't find a school district that does not participate in Open Enrollment (it may have a different name, but it's the same thing). The school your child can attend is not solely based on where you live, you can apply for Charter Schools, Focus Schools, Magnet Schools, and other neighborhood schools, based on space availability. Space is only guaranteed in your neighborhood school, if you do not chose to participate in an Open Enrollment Lottery. How a district handles a lottery is at their discretion, BVSD runs a computerized lottery system.

I consider that plenty of CHOICE in education. Thank goodness the educational system of my childhood (which was exceptional actually) is a thing of the past. Your home address does not dictate where your child goes to school. Open Enrollment is a great system that allows for many options within the area surrounding you, beyond district boundaries. I love that about Colorado.

Onto vouchers...

The district under the magnifying glass is Douglas County Schools. In a quick snapshot, Douglas County is a wealthy school district. Their graduation rate is exceptional and 90% of parents are satisfied with their child's education. A miniscule 10% of students receive free and reduced lunch. A quick comparison, Denver Public Schools are at 73% free and reduced lunch, talk about stark contrast! Wow! Douglas county in 2000 had the highest median income in Colorado and in 2009 that average was just over $100,000. Here's DCSD's open enrollment policy information.

Why do those facts matter? Typically in school voucher debates, it's an issue for students living in poverty, mainly in failing inner city schools to give them a better education. Clearly Douglas County does not fit this general model, it's a hugely successful school district with above national average, wealthy families. Families may I add, that don't need tax payer's money to send their children to private school. Do I believe all families living in DougCo are wealthy, NO, but on a whole $4,500 is not going to affect the majority of families ability to fund school. Even a few hundred, if they all had the need, are not the majority in this district, they are considered the minority. I have stated if the process was different and it truly showed a needs based system for a child that could not be serviced by the Public School, I may be open to alternative types of funding kids in THOSE SPECIFIC INSTANCES. As to put a number on that specific need, I'm not quite sure. I can say with confidence, I'm sure it's less than 1% of kids attending DougCo schools. Also, I don't consider most religious based schools equipped to handle very specific special needs children, therefore religious schools should be out of the equation, if this is truly about KIDS.

My opinion in the matter of school vouchers is just addressing K-12 education. I am not blurring the lines with things such as Social Security, Head Start Funding, Pell Grants, Women's Choice, and GI Bills. Those are all based on completely different criteria. K-12 education in the United States is a open to all school aged citizens, free of income status, sex, religion, or any other discriminatory practices, so that is why it remains my focus. 

Tax Dollars:
It is assumed as a citizen of the United States that you pay taxes. If you are a homeowner you pay tax on your home, you pay tax when registering a vehicle, tax on personal purchases, tax on your income. I believe Public Schools are funded with a combination of property taxes and state revenues. Our tax dollars become the government's money which is allocated by Government Elected Officials or Officials appointed by our leaders that were voted into office.

Which means, our tax money is NOT "MY TAX MONEY", it goes into a general fun and is divvied up. We don't directly have a say in our money. If we did, I would assume people with out children or at best school age children would love a kick back of their tax dollars that fund Public Schools. I know I would. So the argument that it's my money, is not much of an argument. It's the State of Colorado's money and a tax system that protects it in such a way.

Public money funds Public Schools.

If I had my way, I would love to funnel my tax money, as I saw fit. In that case I would make sure not one dime of taxes I pay would be used to subsidize Genetically Modified Crops.

Choice In Education:
I've already addressed the choice issue above. No less than 8 school districts from Colorado Springs to Boulder offer Open Enrollment, which means you are not forced by the government to attend one school. You can choose the school that best fits your child's needs.

Problems With Public Funds Being Used For Private Schools:
There's a pretty rigorous system in place that keeps Public Schools and tax dollars in check. Beyond accreditation and hiring teachers that meet State Based Standards, which is complete with Colorado Bureau of Investigations background checks and Licensing tests to compliment a rigorous educational background. To achieve a Teaching License in Colorado, one must first receive an undergraduate degree in a select academic field in addition to two years of training in Teacher Training Program at an accredited University. Not to mention, a teaching License is not something that is handed to you when you finish school. They expire and teachers have to maintain a minimum level of course work to renew their teaching license, which promotes learning in cutting edge philosophies and strategies.

As for Private Schools? We would hope their teachers come with a great background in education, but it isn't mandatory. All private schools set the standards at where they deem fit for their school. I know first hand a Catholic K-12 School in my area, does not require a teacher to have a State of Colorado Teaching License, but rather a Bachelor's or equivalent degree. I don't take for granted my teacher training, as it was an amazing tool to prepare me for real world scenarios, which included a full semester in the classroom with a Master Teacher Mentor.

This next issue is a big one for me. Tax dollars being used to fund Religious Education. Let me allow one of our great leaders Thomas Jefferson to do a little talking for me, in 1802 he stated this,

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

If it was Jefferson's wishes to establish a right for Citizens to practice any religion they see fit and protect that right with a separation of Church and State, it is also our right to protect that separation. Those firm beliefs make America the wonderful place that is today, I have no issues with my fellow citizens practicing a religion that meets their needs.  If we fund one religion, we must fund schooling for ALL religions. Even if it's a religion that you vehemently oppose. Funding of religious based schools are a prime example of the government REGULATING and ENDORSING a religion, which is a 1st Amendment FAIL. I personally do not hold one religion in higher esteem to another, so if tax dollars are used to fund a Christian School, they absolutely should be used to fund Jewish Schools, Schools of Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, and all other established religious schools. Where do we draw the line though? Do the Ku Klux Klan Schools deserve such funding of tax dollars as well? Just a thought. The list of approved DougCo voucher schools includes 20+ Christian schools, a pending Jewish School, and no other religions were represented. Coincidence? Is DougCo "endorsing" one religion. Sure seems that way to me.

How is DougCo going to use the $1,500?
In the discussions, Douglas County is calling this a win, win situation. Allowing money that would normally be unavailable to them because a student chooses to attend a private school, they would receive approximately $1,500 of the money, $4,500 would go to families towards tuition. DougCo is anticipating a $400,000 windfall from these vouchers.

Only problem, they are now going to have to be present and regulate the 500 students that are a part of the private education system. These 500 students would still be required to complete State Issued Standardized Tests (CSAP), which would be administered by whom exactly? A DougCo official, I can guarantee. You can not tell me this doesn't mean added positions and new staff on the Administrative level for Douglas County. Bloated Central Administration is already one of the huge ills of our school system, therefore I oppose creating even more overpaid Administrators. My stance is all of that money should go to fund only teachers, or teacher support and classrooms, which isn't possible.

Private Education For All?
Private schools have an application process. They can turn down students for their native language, special needs, income restrictions, generally speaking "societal status", religious backgrounds, and a whole other host of discriminatory practices. I personally do not feel comfortable supporting schools with tax dollars that groom children in such elite manners. If they are a school that is approved by DougCo are they going to change their mission? I highly doubt it.

Public Education, may I emphasize especially DougCo Schools, does a heck of a job offering the best education possible for EVERY CHILD regardless of all of those instances of discrimination I mentioned. Also not to overlook, there are established systems in place for every Public School District to have a fair and due process if you feel your child is being discriminated against by teachers or the school as a whole. In a private school, that is not guaranteed.

Loss of Revenue:
Currently our schools are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto the funding they have left. Vouchers create a grey area that ultimately takes away money from every child. Please refer back to my Central Administration issue.

Related is the current Mill Levy system. Traditionally we have established a voting system to decide if an individual supports an increase via their property taxes to be specifically funded to Public Schools. If there is a stress on our school districts, I can predict we will see more cries for money via a Mill Levy. Right now, this is not what we need.

Conclusion! Yeah! 
As a parent and educator, I whole heartily agree with all parents that want the absolute best education for our children. There is always going to be a percentage of students that slip through the cracks, run into difficult situations, and face odds that are just down right unfair. No one wants that. If it turns out there is a private school that better suits your child, I feel it is in the best interest to seek out that school. If it's private then your family has to seek out ways to fund it.

I am very disheartened by what is happening in Douglas County Schools, as ultimately it's 500 children being caught in this awful debate and drawn out lawsuits. Those children are being hurt by this and it is DougCo's best interest to protect our children, not hurt them. I feel protecting children should be at the top of our priority list, always.

Additional Reading:
Injunction on Douglas County voucher program leaves families, schools in limbo
Mom Off Track: Dougco Voucher Disaster 

Related Links:
Los Angeles Times: Colorado District Has Wealth and Success, An Eye on Vouchers
Districts and their deadlines for Open Enrollment on the Front Range
Separation of Church and State: A First Amendment Primer
Vouchers, What's at Stake?

Posts by me on Education:
Former Posts on Our Open Enrollment Process and Dilemmas! You have to scroll through them, there's a good handful.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sandwich Alternatives: Ramen Noodle Bento

I love sending foods in my daughter's lunch that would surprise her, in a good way of course. Ramen noodles are fun and slurpy, so I decided to send them today. I didn't send much liquid, just a bit to keep them moist, as Sj rarely drinks her soup broth. The brand of ramen we buy uses organic noodles and there is no MSG or preservatives in the spice packet. We don't purchase any foods that contain MSG.

I try to always pack 3 fruits and/or vegetables in what ever combination that I have on hand.

Koyo Asian Vegetable Ramen with organic noodles
35 Degrees Crispbread (a Denver Company)
Strawberries, raspberries, red bell pepper. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lunchbox Treat: Two Bite Zucchini Bread Muffin Recipe

Star sandwiches cut with a cookie cutter. Applegate Ham, cheese, Rudi's WW bread.
Organic corn and edamame.
Zucchini Bread two bites.
Watermelon stars, champagne grapes.

I created this recipe for a lunchbox treat contest. We love it, especially with the abundance of zucchini we have right now! Enjoy.

Delightfully Spiced Zucchini Bread

3 cups Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
1 cup Organic Sugar
1 cup Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs, beaten
2 cups Grated Zucchini
1 teaspoon Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 inch piece Fresh Ginger Grated
3/4 cups Shredded Coconut
1/2 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

  • Makes 2 loaves, 24 muffins, 24 mini muffins & 1 loaf, or a combination.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pans.

  2. In a large bowl combine sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, grated zucchini, and ginger. User tip, I grate my ginger with a Microplane. Mix until combined.

  3. Sift into the wet ingredients flour, baking soda, baking powder. Add in salt and Garam Masala. Mix gently and well.

  4. Fold in shredded coconut and chocolate chips.

  5. Add to pans and bake. Cooking times should follow type of pans you are using. This recipe is flexible, my go to is a pan of 2 bite muffins (24 minis) and 1 loaf. You can do a combination of regular muffins, mini muffins, or a loaf.

  6. Bake mini muffins for 12-15 minutes, Bake regular muffins 18-20 minutes, Bake loaf pans for 55-60 minutes. Cake tester should come out clean, middle will spring back, and not be loose.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lunch Box Treat: Delightfully Spiced Zucchini Bread

I entered this recipe into a contest for a special lunchbox treat. I'm a huge fan of adding non-traditional spices to baked goods, the surprise of wonderful flavors makes my family happy.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, especially if you have zucchini coming out your ears right now!

Delightfully Spiced Zucchini Bread

3 cups Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
1 cup Organic Sugar
1 cup Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs, beaten
2 cups Grated Zucchini
1 teaspoon Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
1 inch piece Fresh Ginger Grated
3/4 cups Shredded Coconut
1/2 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • Makes 2 loaves, 24 muffins, 24 mini muffins & 1 loaf, or a combination.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pans.
  2. In a large bowl combine sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, grated zucchini, and ginger. User tip, I grate my ginger with a Microplane. Mix until combined.
  3. Sift into the wet ingredients flour, baking soda, baking powder. Add in salt and Garam Masala. Mix gently and well.
  4. Fold in shredded coconut and chocolate chips.
  5. Add to pans and bake. Cooking times should follow type of pans you are using. This recipe is flexible, my go to is a pan of 2 bite muffins (24 minis) and 1 loaf. You can do a combination of regular muffins, mini muffins, or a loaf.
  6. Bake mini muffins for 12-15 minutes, Bake regular muffins 18-20 minutes, Bake loaf pans for 55-60 minutes. Cake tester should come out clean, middle will spring back, and not be loose.

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Bento For Kids

I promised Sj last night I would pack Onigiri for her lunch today. Onigiri is very easy to make, just whip up a batch of sushi rice, cut up a sheet of nori that you would typically use for sushi rolls, fill a bowl with warm water and salt for your hands (otherwise the rice will stick to you), grab a handful of rice and form into a triangle or any shape you like. Below is a bunny from a rice mold I own. I then add the nori to the outside, if the rice is warm, it just stays in place perfectly. Traditionally Onigiri is made with filling such as salmon or tuna, but these are just plain rice.

Please excuse my pitiful bunny face, it's comical, isn't it? I've never been able to find a nori punch that creates faces to decorate Onigiri. Let's just say, it's very difficult to cut Nori into little circles. I'm learning. The leftover rice will be used tonight for a homemade sushi roll dinner.

 Sushi rice, organic nori, small container of Tamari (GF soy sauce)
organic carrots cut into small strips
organic edamame (please do NOT buy conventional soy)
organic champagne grapes
Here's how the bento looks packed up! On top of the stainless steel bento from Japan is a mini Hello Kitty Snack bento that contains a zucchini muffin, on top of that in the Hello Kitty egg is a hand wipe. The sticky rice, tends to well, stick on your hands, so a wet wipe is essential.

Packed in a simple bag that ties on top. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Another Recall, Ground Turkey Should Be A Wake Up Call

I'm going to come straight out and say some harsh things about the state of our food system. Some of you may read this and agree with me straight out, some of you may think about what I am saying and possibly gain a new perspective, and others will simply delete this post. No matter where you fall in that spectrum I do need to clarify, I have always written Tuesday Tips from a place of integrity. More times than not they are written because I care a little too much. Tuesday Tips started because I wanted to share insight into how I live my life, I'm a bit more grounded in a non-traditional lifestyle and people started asking for my advice on products I use or how I do things. I'm simply sharing a different way.

I care a lot about our food supply and spend time expanding my knowledge from a variety of sources like articles, journals, interviews, and books. I use the knowledge I gather to help me decide how to feed my family. Then on occasion it's like BELLS AND SIRENS AND BULLHORNS AND WHISTLES are blowing, but America can't hear them. We are numb to commercials and processed food, we are numb to sustainability and agriculture, we are numb to back door deals by Big Ag and the government we believe is there to protect us. In the last decade government agencies such as the USDA and FDA have proven time and time again they are not protecting us, but rather the interests of Corporations (that is a completely different long winded post).

How can it be, how can the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Services hold off on a recall that has resulted in a loss of life? How? They were more concerned with the corporations welfare than human life. It took two weeks, to gather "iron clad" evidence before making allegations against a massive scale meat producer such as Cargill. 36 Million pounds of ground turkey were a part of the recall.

Think about that, 36 Million Pounds. That fact alone makes me sick to my stomach, that a plant can produce 36 MILLION pounds of anything. That's just not natural, no pun intended.

Facts about mass produced ground meat and this particular recall:
Bones, fat, skin, and various parts of the turkey are ground into the pink slop they label, "ground turkey".

The ground turkey was contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg aka a "super bug". Super bugs are of serious concern as they are a direct result of years of mishandling of the animals that are being raised to be processed, not to mention a direct reflection of the state of the processing facility. Chemicals are used to help ward off such bacteria, but clearly this method of meat production is the problem, no matter how many solutions they are trying to put in place to avoid major wake up calls like 36 MILLION pounds of tainted meat.

A USDA official was quoted during the initial release of the recall basically stating, you can eat the tainted meat, just make sure you cook it well. REALLY? Can we cut back to multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella. Thanks USDA for having our backs.

The meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year, which is roughly 80% of the antibiotic consumption in the USA annually. Turkeys are given a low level dose to keep them "healthy" enough to get them through their short lives in cramped cages, where may I add they never see the light of day. What does that mean to us? Animals are fed antibiotics in their subpar grains and other waste filled feed, so pathogens become resistant to the antibiotics because they mutate in such awful conditions. Then we eat the meat, are you connecting the dots? Let's just conclude the simple fact, if an animal is consuming antibiotics and we consume the animal, we are consuming low levels of antibiotics daily (as well as growth hormones, they want the animals to get bigger faster).

Cheap meat has it's price on our bodies, on the environment, and on our food supply.

So What Do We Do NOW?
Give up mass produced meat. Maybe you don't buy ground turkey from Cargill, but if you buy ground turkey at a wholesale club or in a grocery store that would be considered a "national brand" of turkey, reconsider your options. We know what it looks like, it's pink and not quite identifiable as turkey, I like to refer to it as, slop.

Seek out locally produced meat, from small farms and cooperatives. I suggest Local Harvest as a resource, there is a "meat processors" link.

Purchase meat from a grocery store that grinds meat on site. What does that mean? The butcher actually takes the whole meat and processes it at the store where you are purchasing it. I shop at Whole Foods and if ground turkey breast is out of stock, they will make me a batch fresh on the spot. Whole Foods also has a 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating for the meat they sell. Yes, I pay more and those are a few reasons why.

In our family, we chose only to eat quality meat that is humanely raised. I ask the butcher questions, I know the butcher at my local grocery store, and I encourage you to get to know yours as well. Don't be afraid to engage the employee in the meat department where you shop. Ask your butcher about the meat they are selling. If they tell you, I have no idea, it's processed in a central facility and comes in on a truck, you can pretty much assume it's from a factory farm. What is a factory farm?

Check the label to see what you are buying. I purchase ground turkey breast, clearly marked in the butcher's case. It doesn't come prepackaged, it's lean, healthy meat. It smells good and I am not scared to take a closer look at any meat I purchase.

Concerned About Cost?
I do not have an unlimited food budget, which means a few things for us. We don't eat meat at every meal, I can almost guarantee we eat meatless dinners a few nights a week. We are flexible and eat balanced meals, even with out meat.

I buy meat when it's on sale and freeze extra. Most grocery stores offer discounts for when you buy in quantity, I like to take advantage of those types of discounts. We are also lucky enough to have our local wholesale club carry organic poultry, which is a few dollars less a pound on average vs. the market.

Last but not least, if you made it this far, a video from the Humane Society with a glimpse into the reality of Factory produced turkeys. It's not an easy thing to watch, but if you aren't convinced about the ills of our food system, give it a shot. (if you are reading this in reader, you'll have to click through to see video)

Cargill website information on ground turkey recall (which includes brands and stores, take a close look, and learn from that list brands and stores to AVOID)
USDA/FSIS website with the official public recall notice

Grilled Corn and Sausage With Watermelon Picnic Bento

I consistently try to encourage others to use leftovers for the lunch they pack. If you think about it, the food is ready to go and it's just an extension of the way you like your children to eat at home. In my book that's perfect and makes the morning lunch packing go so much faster.

All this bento needs is a red and white checkered tablecloth.

Watermelon Stars (small cookie cutter)
Spinach, Feta, Chicken sausage made in house, Whole Foods Meat Dept.
365 Brand golden round crackers, sharp cheddar
Grilled Corn w/butter
Joyful Lion holds organic ketchup 

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Back To School, The Anticipation of The First Day Bento...

This morning, I received a funny comment from Sj about getting out of bed to pack lunch. So did I oblige her request or did J pack her lunch? Find out over at Colorado Bento...

Details of contents on Colorado Bento

Back To School, Bento Day 1!

This morning I was half asleep in bed when I heard Sj casually say to me, "Mom wake up before Dad makes me a boring old lunch." I laughed thinking, this is the life of a soon to be eight year old, with a mom who loves packing lunch. Now, let me defend my husband, he lets me sleep in, he makes breakfast, he packs lunch, with no complaints!

But there's a little nugget of wisdom in my daughter's request this morning. I LOVE packing lunch, especially if my refrigerator is freshly stocked with plenty of options. I love fitting everything just perfectly into a bento, cutting fruit into new shapes, figuring out what vegetables and fruits would compliment the flavors in her sandwich. My husband, he gets the job done and apparently there's a noticeable difference.

If you think of lunch packing as a burden, just another thing "I HAVE TO DO", then your lunches will bear that sentiment. Many of us pack lunch five days a week, just embrace it, it's not going away.

I pack bentos because their creativity naturally lends itself to the notion of joy. It's a process filled with kind hearted pleasure for me and rather than having to write my daughter a note in her lunch, I feel like the way I pack her food conveys how I love her.

I did get out of bed in plenty of time, to pack her First Day Bento in a Laptop Lunches.

Rudi's Organic Whole Wheat Bread, Applegate Farms turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, mustard
365 Brand Veggie Straws
Picked from our garden this morning, cherry tomatoes
Organic Champagne grapes (aren't they adorable?)
Cantaloupe sliced thin

Whole Foods Market, The Cornerstone of Our Kitchens

This weekend was the Grand Re-Opening of the Boulder Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street. It is with great pleasure that I am able to share the wonderful news, that the store is finally done, and it looks amazing! From here on out when you visit the store the items will be in the exact location they were in the last time you visited (a round of applause for those of us that stuck it out during the construction). The remodel and expansion have been ongoing for the past year. The formerly 39,000 sqft store is now approximately 66,000 sqft, not including the 10,000 sqft neighboring Whole Foods Liquor store that sits on the east side of the market. Which also means, Boulder is now home to the largest Whole Foods in Colorado!

I felt compelled to at least stop by this weekend, after a sneak peek I received at a Boulder Bloggers' Dinner on Wednesday evening. A group of us were invited to tour the remodeled store and enjoy a wonderful meal cooked by the in house chefs on the new west side patio. We were able to gain first hand insight into some of the new features the store now includes, such as a completely revamped bulk department. As your standing in the produce department and you glance over to the right, the bulk department just has this amazing lure. The bins are perfectly stacked and lined up, there's beautiful deep wood, iPads are conveniently located to access recipes (that you have emailed to you with one click), organic spices, gluten free flours, heirloom beans, amazing grains, a trail mix bar, vinegars, oils, and my favorite a special Superfoods section. I've never seen anything like this new bulk department.

Truly the best part of this section of the store, is not a food, but rather an idea. Are you ready for this, the concept is called Cooking Boulder. Cooking Boulder is a place that celebrates community and home cooks. The website contains recipes, a blog,  and a place to share ideas with others within our own community, which I just adore. In addition to the website support, in almost perfect harmony Whole Foods has brought onto the staff a cooking coach,  Beth Pilar. Cooking coach? Yes, a wonderful and knowledgeable woman that will guide you through a recipe or help you plan a meal. She's an amazing resource who's incredibly fine tuned at giving you the specific help you need. You can also find stacks of cook books and so much inspiration to take your whole food ingredients and turn them into a healthy home cooked meal. Wow, Whole Foods, just wow.

At the dinner, I was fortunate enough to hear Amanda Hesser of Food 52, The New York Times, cookbook author, and I can guarantee amazing chef, speak. Of all the wonderful things Amanda said that evening about collaborating with Whole Foods to create their Cooking Boulder community, there was one thing she casually mentioned that resonated deeply within me.

"Food is inherently social, but we end up in the kitchen alone." - Amanda Hesser

While I gently applauded, I wanted to stand up and say, Yes, Yes, Yes! Thanks to Whole Foods, Cooking Boulder, and Food 52 we no longer have to feel alone. There's a piece of community just waiting for us, all we have to do is click on over. I love the notion of being a part of a food centered community.

Onto the food that evening, here's a little collage to highlight the meal. My favorite dish, which is showcased below was the Yukon Gold Gnocchi with local corn, truffle oil, basil. As plates were passed, some of the highlights were figs, proscuitto, in-house smoked pork belly, a sorbet cleanser, dry aged ribeye, and cake prepared by my local favorite bakery, Kim and Jake's Cakes.

More photo highlights from the Grand Re-Opening!

The freshest produce at Whole Foods always amazes me. Baby pineapple? Aww. 

L to R, bulk organic spices, a snap shot of the Superfoods, and flours. Quinoa, almond, barley, and buckwheat flours, just to name a few! Lovely. 

That's Sj, using the iPad to select the "Roasted Broccoli with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette" recipe, to have as a side dish this week with dinner. Allowing the girls be a part the meal planning, in addition to helping in the kitchen, are all small components to help them become passionate about food!

I feel so jazzed and energized to be a part of what Whole Foods is creating in our community. Hopefully, I'll see you there! I could write a series about all the things I adore from prepared foods to Jerry the Butcher! Stay tuned, I may just do that. 

On a side note, in case you were wondering, I featured Whole Food's lunchbox selection over at Colorado Bento with photos! I love what they are offering with one easy stop when grocery shopping.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lunch Box Alternatives at Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado

While out shopping today and enjoying the Grand RE-Opening at the Whole Foods Market on Pearl Street in Boulder, I took a moment to snap a few shots of their lunchbox selection. They have some great alternatives. I understand it's hard to make a special trip, only to find they didn't quite have what you had in mind, so hopefully you'll see exactly what you are looking below.

The great news is that Whole Foods carries a very safe line of lunch box alternatives. All boxes are BPA free and the Crocodile Creek as well as Laptop Lunch bags are Lead Free.

Lunchbots: Stainless steel bentos including stainless steel lid, lids are powdered coated in different colors which help differentiate the size. They also carry the Lunchbots stainless steel liquid food containers, they appear to seal tightly. I do not own any Lunchbots, so I don't have an opinion about them either way. If you are looking for a stainless steel bento, this is a great route to take.

Find them: on the end cap of personal care, facing the new Bulk Department.

Next up, Tiffins which originated in India. We own a large Tiffin, I use for outtings with the girls and we fit all our food in one box (I love it). These Tiffins are personal size, stainless steel, and even come with a little mini container to transport liquids, like salad dressing. They are muli-tiered, to help separate foods, have little latches to keep them closed. They carry a 2 tier and a 3 tier Tiffin.

Find them: on the wall of the bulk department, lower shelves, on the other side of bulk spices.

Lunch Boxes, water bottles, small thermoses for hot liquids, and sandwich keepers. The lunch boxes are simple zipper bags, with an insulated type material on the inside, they also have a small pocket on the front. The sandwich keepers are obviously about the size of a slice of bread and is a nice reusable alternative to using plastic baggies. All made by Crocodile Creek.

Find them: End cap facing produce department near entry to bulk area OR end cap near last aisle of dry goods grocery, close to the wall of dairy. If you hit frozen cases, you've gone too far. 

Laptop Lunches: Not sure if Whole Foods is phasing them out or just running low. You can find the insulated bags and replacement bentos with lids for the 2.0 system. The replacement "bento buddies" have one big compartment, one large box, and two smaller ones. They do not carry the large box that you store the boxes pictured below inside.

Find them: with kitchen utensils in the coffee aisle, once again, towards the frozen food cases, but closer to back wall where you will find dairy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

4 Years Later: Gratitude

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes, NYC

Four years ago today, I hit publish and this blog was born. It was probably one of the only times I was so scared and nervous, I had no idea what I was doing, nor did I know what exactly I was in for. I naively picked a whimsical name for this space, I admit I love the way it sounded and there was an available gmail account. I wonder how many blogs were born out of the availability of the corresponding gmail account. Laugh. Four years later and the three words Eat Play Love absolutely define my online identity. Realistically speaking, if I could have a do over,  I wouldn't change a thing. I embrace the beauty of those three words and how they make my life so much better.

This blog has brought so much goodness into my life in the past four years. 

I don't think it's possible to count the number of real life connections I have because of Eat Play Love. Drinks, dinners, potlucks, cupcakes, breakfast in San Francisco, fancy shindigs to casually grabbing a cup of tea, laughter over a sandwich, VIP, hot lovely bowls of Pho, meetups, events, traveling, private dinners, special opportunities. I'm not quite sure when my "online friends" became my in real life friends because really the connections are strong and it doesn't matter to me if we have yet to meet face to face. You are my friends. Some of you I see almost weekly these days. There are things like a text to encourage me to work out, a phone call to wish me a happy birthday, a Sunday morning at IKEA in Utah, or a random meeting on a street of the West Village in NYC. My mind has no delineation between in real life and online. The warmth and caring, the goodness and laughter, have no boundaries.

All because of Eat Play Love.

If you regularly read this blog (hi mom, if it's the day you check your email), thank you. My life has expanded to lengths greater than I could have ever dreamt because of you, this space, my willingness to hit publish. I hope you stay around a bit longer because there's always room in my life for more goodness.

For my blogiversary all that goodness is wrapped in a bow that simply says, Gratitude.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pantry Staples For Bento Lunch Packing

There's a fine balance between writing down every last item you are going to pack inside a bento for the week and winging it in the morning. Here's a list of items that I must keep stocked in my pantry ONLY as a back up, in case I am running low on fresh ingredients which are always my first go to.

In our home, I feel like we are always out of bread, so I make sure my backups are in stock, all the time!

Pantry List:
2-3 Cans of fruit
Any fruit in 100% juice, not corn syrup. I don't stock mandarin oranges that are sourced from Asia. I try to avoid foreign grown canned fruit.

Wasa Crackers
Serve as a great bread alternative, my girls prefer the "light rye" over other dense types.

2-3 Boxes of Annie's Organic Macaroni and Cheese
Probably the most labor intensive lunch I make, but it is faster than going to the store. You choose the lesser of two evils when you're tired on a Thursday am.

2-3 Cans of Amy's Organic ABC Soup
We don't eat any other canned soup, this is a backup, especially in winter.

Bulk Nuts
We don't have any nut restrictions on lunches in our school. Almonds are a big part of our diet.

Black and Pinto Beans
My girls will eat beans as a side in their lunches, goes great with a cheese quesadilla lightly toasted.

Dried Fruit
I try to keep this to a minimum in lunches, but I only purchase 100% fruit dried fruit. I do not buy dried fruit with added sugar (most conventional brands or say from Costco). Fruit does NOT need sugar, Mother Nature does a great job of that in the first place. The girls love banana chips, mango, raisins, and papaya.

We always have pasta on hand, I typically use left over pasta from dinner for lunch the next day. I rarely make it fresh in the morning, but like to know it's there.

La Mariposa Organic Whole Wheat Tortillas (made in Colorado)
If your tortillas don't need to be refrigerated, you are buying the wrong kind! Ingredient list from La Mariposa: Organic Whole Wheat Flour, Organic Wheat flour, Water, Organic Sunflower Oil, Salt, Citric Acid. If you buy conventional tortillas, rethink your alternatives, try to remove any hydrogenated oils from your child's diet! Amazing how I can read the label with ease and know what every ingredient is! Plus if you are buying a National brand, it's likely they are full of GMO's.

Organic Edamame 
I always keep a bag in the freezer, seeing green in a bento is good. Avoid non-organic as it is more than likely grown from Genetically Modified soy.

Frozen Waffles
Frozen waffles are a great back up for a sandwich alternative and they are a fun surprise! We buy whole grain waffles typically with flax.

That's a great place to start, I'll update pantry items in a month to reflect upon what my most go-to items are. I tend to go through phases and when I find something new that packs wonderfully in a bento, I'll be sure to share it! 

I'm Asking For The Sweetest Favor Ever... Make a Pie With Me On Friday?

At this point I am sure the saying is beyond cliche, but Twitter is my water cooler. I enjoy spending the days with my girls, but sometimes I need some adult conversation. I crave interaction and Twitter comfortably fills the void for me. I've seen circles form, bonds strengthen, and friendships flourish all within the constraints of 140 characters or less, all within the sea of millions.

Sometimes you find out you share a homemade Pizza Friday tradition with one of your friends on Twitter, sometimes you discover you both had to go on heavy meds for a severe reaction to Poison Ivy, and it wouldn't be crazy to learn you both grew up a few towns away from each other in Upstate New York. Which is just a few reasons why, Twitter is my happy place.

As with life, from time to time, unthinkable circumstances fall heavily in the laps of friends that are just on the other side of the computer screen. This week, someone I would easily call a friend (note whom I've never had the great fortune to meet, yet) and a true gem of Twitter had her world come crashing down around her. She lost her husband to a sudden heart attack, within a moment her life and the lives of her two daughters, were forever changed. I don't hesitate to mention, Jennie is a woman that clearly is special, she has a heart of gold, and truly stands out as someone that comes from a place of such beautiful intention. She shines in the kitchen and shares her love for cooking with all of us.

Now this is where I ask a favor, a favor that would lift up Jennie during a very difficult time and show her the love that is felt for her around the country and even around the world.

Jennie asked the other day if we would all make her husband Mikey's favorite pie this Friday, in celebration of his life. How can we say no, to Creamy Peanut Butter Pie? Surely we can all indulge in this special request, I certainly am.

Please let her words and recipe do the explaining, here's her post For Mikey.

If you do make a pie, could you send me a photo either on Twitter or via email, I'd love to share it!


It's not in my nature to bake something that would just feed my family's needs. So there was a Creamy Peanut Butter Pie and 12 individual pies to be hand delivered.

For Mikey, Jennifer, and their girls (I&V).

If you'd like to see the community support, click this link, #apieformikey 

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Looked Out My Window, Not In My Mirror...

As it turns out, this story has two parts. But the first part involves a pretty itchy and gnarly looking rash, so for the moment, I'm cutting straight to part two. I was put on prescription medication for the aforementioned rash and well, it turns out the side effects were endless amounts of energy! Woo-hoo, hop on board the prescription drug train... I have said this and I will happily repeat it, if the prescription I was given did not have such awful side effects for long term use, I may have been interested in seeking out alternative methods of procuring these magical white pills. I must confess, I'm not much of a Doctor or prescription person (haven't been on one since giving birth almost 5 years ago) so I decided to ride the wave while it lasted.

Where was I going with this? I know my story was much deeper than magical rash-be-gone white pills, that I'm currently tapering off of.

Ah yes, the rash, the energy, the change.

I believe the initial surge of energy played itself out wonderfully in my home. Day 1 on the pills was a trip to the grand opening of IKEA, which then lead to building furniture and rearranging my living room. It was a beautiful domino affect of calm that has swept over my home, directly related to my new purchases. Bless you, IKEA. Then from those grandiose gestures, like wow there's a table in the middle of the living room, look at that organized bookshelf, and is that a new counter top with cabinet in your kitchen, the trickle down affect was just as splendiferous to me. Level two was all the laundry was washed, dried, folded, and put away! Holy, I will admit I didn't even think that was possible, unless you had a staff like Oprah. But friends, let me tell you it is possible and it feels glorious. The first three days on the strongest dosage of the medicine I was averaging about 5 hours sleep and I didn't blink an eye when it was time to rise.

Which leads me to this cosmic personal awakening I had to compliment everything else.

A friend casually asks me to join her on a 31 mile bicycle ride (umm, confession she's a freaking triathlete). I agree nonchalantly, even with the knowledge that she doesn't exercise casually, but pretty specifically and hardcore. I think, ah it can't be that bad. I feel very comfortable in the saddle so I agreed knowing the worst that could happen is that I would have to beg her to turn around before I collapsed into a wilted hot puddle on the side of Left Hand Canyon Drive. I spend the next couple of days trying not to over think it aka change my mind. She's kind enough to convince me there are other routes we can take on our way to the starting spot, but I suck it up and tell her let's go for it.

Go for it, we did, INDEED. I'm guesstimating a 1,500-2,000 feet elevation gain from where we started given a series of hills on our way in from 36. This is the halfway point, so it's all fun and wee! down hill from here (cue extra big smile).

The important lesson learned from this very simple invitation to go for a ride? Agree to 31 miles on the bicycle and boom, you can do it. I'm way more stronger than I give myself credit for. Then the wheels start turning, no pun intended, and I wonder exactly how strong I really am? If I just piggy back on one awesome bicycle ride, with a few hikes, and maybe two more steep hill climbs in a week, I may just set myself up for some success. I can feel it.

In a random turn of events from feeling absolutely pitiful when I was a rash covered mess, to a step in a positive direction to just do it, I feel like I've had a little New Year's tidal wave of fortune. I'm loving it.

I end with this, on my way down the mountain, zooming at high speeds, still pedaling to gain even more speed, I was singing a Ben Harper song out loud. Those serious roadie cycling folks with shaved legs and matching spandex kits were probably wondering, what in the world? This quote from a Ben Harper song was stuck in my head:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Back To School Bento Guide With Photos!

If you arrived here for the first time via Eat Play Love, WELCOME! I've taken summer off, but this blog will now be updated regularly. School starts in a couple of weeks, so I will share how we are preparing for back to school and diving head on back into lunch packing.

I first put my hands on a bento box from Japan a little over 4 years ago. My husband returned from a business trip with one as a gift for our daughter, who at the time was in preschool. Within the next year, when he returned to Japan, I handed him a list of must have bento supplies for him to seek out. Luckily for most of you reading this, bentos are continuing to become much more mainstream and finding them online now is easy.

Packing bento style lunches changed our lives. My goal is simply to share what type of bento boxes I use every single day.

Laptop Lunches:
I have two styles of Laptop Lunches, one has squared containers that fit inside, the lid pops down to keep each compartment from spilling into another, not great for true liquids. The second Laptop Lunches I have has containers inside that are rounded, each container has a lid to help seal contents, which is especially great for packing liquids like yogurt or applesauce. I pack liquids maybe 2-4 times a month, so the original works perfect for us. Use coupon code "EatPlayLove" for 10% off your order, code never expires. 

Laptop Lunches come with an insulated bag, there is enough space for a place to put a flat cool pack inside. There is also silverware, a zippered exterior pocket, an interior mesh pocket, and space for a water bottle on the side. Our original LL came with a water bottle that fits inside the bag. LOVE that feature. I always include a cloth napkin in my daughter's lunch.

Laptop Lunches are the largest bentos we own. There is plenty of space and if you have a child that would require a snack and lunch at school, the LL would most easily handle that need.

Issues closing lid? 
One of the biggest questions I get from people is wondering if we have trouble closing the top on a Laptop Lunches. We do not have this issue.

In general, I highly suggest to pack a lunch for your child a few times before school starts at home or take it on a picnic. You can help them learn the best way to handle their new lunch box. That way you avoid any in school frustration. 
A few examples of Laptop Lunches packed bentos:

Original style Laptop Lunches (Squared edges, lid seals top). 
Orange, berries, cheese quesadilla, salad. Small container with lid to store salad dressing. 

Mixed style Laptop Lunches. Notice rounded containers and squared, both work fine together, but must be stored in LL that fits the LIDDED inside containers (lidded do not work in original style). 
Turkey meatballs, organic ketchup, grapes, (a rare special treat sponge cake), 
snap peas, baby carrots, and booty. 

Panda Japanese Bento:
Panda is one of my favorite bentos from Japan, it's a two tiered bento and the shape of it lends itself to packing a fair amount of food for lunch. I rely heavily on silicone cupcake cups to make my lunch packing easy and waste free! Plus, I never used them for actual cupcakes, so I feel much better repurposing them.

The way panda works, as with most two tiered bentos, is the top container closes the bottom container, then the inside top portion has a special lid to help seal the contents before putting the actual lid on. An elastic band holds the two compartments together and is perfect for little hands to open with ease. Note, this bento was purchased at a local kitchen shop in Boulder, CO and it can easily be found online.

The plain white container on the right is the one that goes on the top and has a sealable lid. 
Fruit, carrots, vegetarian dumplings.  

Sandwich alternatives:
Mac n cheese, vege booty, fruit raisins.
Leftover pasta, cheddar, pepperoni, grapes, pickles. (antipasti style, 4yo's favorite) 

Japanese dinner leftovers for lunch (for 7yo):
Dumpling, spring roll, noodles, veges, chicken. 

Flat, rectangular snap lid style Bento Box:
I have two of these from Japan and both of them have either dividers that are moveable inside or small cups that fit inside perfectly. As you will notice, I still rely on my silicone cupcake cups to help me out and don't always use the original components.

Perfect alternative:
Pick up a lock box style rectangular food storage container and have your child decorate it with stickers or with special markers/paint pens. Easy enough and very cheap! It's always great to have extras.

Sandwich, fruit kabob, veges, bbq booty, cookie.
Yes, sometimes I include a treat. Not daily. 

Sandwiches (cookie cutter cut outs), fruit, veges, animal crackers, Japanese biscuits. 

Regular Rectangle Two Tiered Bento:

Sandwich, crackers/cream cheese, fruit, booty. 
Inside top container has individual lid to help seal container before putting top on. 

These are the bentos I most frequently go to for my daughter that has a big appetite. I will feature my other bentos in an upcoming post. Yes, bento packing is endless and so are the supplies!!!

Bento Size, Is it big enough???
For the most part, bento packing needs to be looked at in a slightly different way than just throwing some food in a plastic baggie. Most of the time you want to cut fruit and vegetables down to size, you may want to cut a sandwich into 4 triangles instead of just 2 big halves. 

After a week or so, you'll get a good sense of the way things work best for the shape and size bento you have. Even the tiniest bentos we own would hold enough food for my girls' lunches. Believe it or not, it takes a bit of thinking out of the box!

Feel free to use the labels on the right side bar to see examples of Laptop Lunches, panda, or other "kid bentos". I even have a "leftovers" label. You can also catch a glimpse of my 20+ bento lunch box collection, including stainless steel and  hot liquid insulated bentos!

Please feel free to email me with any questions!

Disclaimer, I am a Laptop Lunches affiliate. I was first a satisfied customer. All information is this post is a reflection of my everyday experience.