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BITES // bento

Inside the Box // by Kathleen M. Mitchell

photos by Kristin Brenemen

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wo black lacquer boxes—around 7 inches long, 4 inches wide and a couple inches tall—are stacked on a desk. Inside waits a ball of tender white rice, fresh greens and vegetables with an itty-bitty bottle of salad dressing, strips of meat and carrots cut into small flowers. Mouth watering, yet? Taking lunch to work each day can get stale—figuratively and literally— which is why the bento box lunch is becoming more and more popular. Originally a Japanese tradition, bento boxes have been around for centuries. Technically, any lunch packed into a box can be a bento, but most bento chefs follow a casual set of guidelines, resulting in a healthier and more diverse meal. Kristin Brenemen, art director of BOOM and the Jackson Free Press, and her husband, Jack, have been flexing their culinary creativity by packing bentos for lunch most days a week for close to three years. “We are already interested in the Japanese culture, plus we already took our lunches to work, so it became a nicer way to do that,” Kristin says. The Brenemens simplify their lunch Below: More colorful examples of the Brenemens’ daily bentos.

• bento box • sharp knife for precise cuts • small sauce bottles • the ability and desire to cook at home!

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Bento maker’s arsenal 48

assembly process Above: Sliced by typically packpan-fried ing leftovers from salmon, dinner the evening steamed before. They strive rice with rice seasoning on to include multiple top, squid salad food groups—lunch and sliced is usually half salad, oranges, green plus a protein, a vegapples and pink etable and somegrapefruit. times a carb. The most creative bento artists create “kyara-ben” or “character bentos,” which use food items to create characters, often of animals, usually kitschy or anime-inspired (think riceball panda bears). Another type of bento, even more elaborate, is the “oekakiben” or “picture bento,” which contains little edible vignettes. Locally, Sweet and Sour (834 Wilson Drive, Ridgeland, 601.206.7771) is a great place to purchase bento supplies. “They have a nice frozen variety of items, such as gyoza, Yakisoba noodles for stir frying, sauces, curries, rices, and various miso soups and soup bases,” Jack says. Sweet and Sour carries bento boxes, cooking utensils, peelers and cutting tools, and candies—plus, the staff is knowledgeable about useful items and which products are cost effective for recipes.

• dividers—try cupcake holders, either regular or reusable silicone (you can also use leaves from salad so everything is edible)

March - April 2013 // The City’s Business and Lifestyle Magazine

I cook a little extra for dinner and make lunches for the next day with leftovers. Just keep in mind things that will travel well.

Jack’s advice

Always remember to rinse your lunch container after use. This makes cleaning it that night easier. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes. I keep some recipe ingredients printed off in my wallet in case I see the main item on sale. There are also free phone apps that allow you to save recipes and ingredients.

optional: • small shape cutters • decorative toothpicks to hold things together • stamps

Before getting too artistic when making bentos, honestly think of the person you’re making this lunch for. Are they going to swing the lunch bag around, possibly spilling things around inside it? Then use silicone cupcake holders that go to the lid of the container. If you think the container will come open, use rubber bands to help seal it shut.

• tamagoyaki pan • rice seasoning (furikake)—all sorts of flavors and colors • sesame seeds are a common decorative element

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