Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Beginnings of Bento and Accidents and Mishaps in Manhattan

Okay, I'll be covering about two weeks' of food and events in this post, as I've been so busy lately I haven't had any time to make a post until now.

First, the cheesecake I froze weeks ago: turned out great. I like to eat it frozen, like strawberry cheesecake ice cream. Sans the ice cream. I've been trying to make it last, because between buying the sour cream and the cream cheese it's a fairly expensive dessert for a college student to make. As of now, I have a quarter left.

As you might have gathered from the title, as of late I've become interested in packing myself bento, or boxed lunch, to take to class to eat during my 1-hour lunch break instead of making the 10-minute walk down to the school cafeteria or buying lunch at Valentino's Market. Plus, the idea of demolishing so-cute-it-hurts food appeals to me. I searched online for a store that sells bento boxes and supplies in Manhattan, but came up with nothing. So a few weekends ago when I had some spare time, I logged into and bought myself some bento-making supplies.

Here's my dilemma: There are all kinds of bento, from colored plastic ones with cartoon characters to traditional lacquered wooden boxes, as well as tons of adorable sauce bottles, animal-shaped plastic picks, food shapers, and how-to books, all shipped from Japan. Anyone who knows me is probably aware of my incredible weakness to cute things. It was so hard for me not to overspend and splurge on the expensive, pretty sakura-patterned bento boxes and buy too many cute accessories, but I kept reminding myself that I was a starving art student and could not afford to waste money. Here's what I wound up with:

Pink snap-closure bento box with a rubber seal ($3.50)
Pink plastic chopsticks with case ($2.80)
Reusable silicon bear-shaped separators ($2.80)
Reusable silicon food cups ($2.80)

Total: $11.90, plus $6.55 shipping.

Not bad, huh? They arrived just today, and they are ridiculously cute, just like everything else that comes out of Japan (except maybe Godzilla...). I'm excited about bringing lunch for Monday's classes (hahaha I'm such a loser). What shall I make?

A few weeks ago, as way of preparation to making my own lunch, I made onigiri for dinner. For those uninitiated, onigiri are rice balls, traditionally shaped into triangles (but you can make them into any shape you want--here's a Pikachu onigiri shaper on Jbox.) and often with some sort of filling. You can also make your onigiri plain, or spice up the rice with furikake (rice seasoning that comes in lots of different flavors--salmon is my favorite). There are lots of different ways to make onigiri, and it's pretty versatile, so you can experiment with the rice, fillings, and decorations and have fun with your food.

My favorite salmon furikake. At $4 a jar, it's a touch expensive, but it makes plain white rice so much more fun.

The most important part of the onigiri is the rice, which should be glutinous enough to stick together without being smushed into rice paste. Japanese round-grain rice is best, but I've also heard of the rice used to make risotto being a successful alternative.

The onigiri I made for Mi, E, and I were plain and unfilled, made with round-grain brown rice and flavored with onigiri seasoning from an Asian supermarket, and shaped into a triangle.

This miso soup was made by E. I love miso soup, and it was so good, I had two bowls.

Part of Parsons' Foundation Year classes is a course called "Laboratory" on Thursdays, which is essentially a getting-to-know-NYC sort of thing. In Lab, we have to do group projects, one a week. The thing is, all of us are so busy with homework from all of our other classes, that our Lab project inevitably winds up being done on Wednesday night. Two Wednesdays ago, my group consisting of Mi, E, and JSK were in the Art Room in the basement of our building working on our project at 2 in the morning, when E and I decided we could all use some food and went upstairs to cook up this:

Teriyaki Noodles with Zucchini and Carrots. We made enough to feed our whole class and brought it down to the Art Room in a huge mixing bowl.

Another new discovery we made this past week is Vanessa's Dumplings, restaurant located at 220 East 14th Street that specializes in handmade Chinese dumplings and meat or veggie-filled buns, as well as various other Chinese comfort foods. Plus, they have bubble tea, and delivery on orders $10 or more. This past Wednesday, Mi, E, JSK and I were working late (again) on our latest Lab project, and decided to order some dumplings and bubble tea.

Have I ever mentioned how I love bubble tea? Some people are weirded out by the little tapioca balls in the bottom of the drink, but I love chasing them around with the extra-wide straw. My favorite flavor is the original plain milk tea made with milk and black tea. Mi and JSK both decided to get the Taro flavor, which I took a sip of. It's sweeter than the black tea version and colored purple, and I liked it--maybe I'll try something new next time. Vanessa's $2.99 bubble teas are the cheapest of any that I've encountered in NYC thus far, which have run from $3.50-$4.50 a cup.

JSK enjoying her taro bubble tea.

I've been thinking about making dumplings or wontons for a while. Dumplings are easy to make at home (my grandma taught me when I was 3) and a nice cheap, hot meal. Vanessa's potstickers, or fried dumplings, are $1.99 each, so why not? To accompany our bubble tea, Mi and I both ordered a serving of dumplings. I got the cabbage and pork dumplings, and Mi got vegetable dumplings. I loved mine, but Mi didn't like hers too much. The idea of a dumpling with no meat seems odd to the me that has always only had pork dumplings. Maybe they weren't meant to be vegetarian.

Oh, and newsflash: Yumi gets hit by a car! As I was crossing the street, a silver sedan came hurtling out of nowhere and I walked right into it. Luckily for me the wheels needed some air, and they only ran over the tips of my toes. They're fine. The real damage is to my left arm. Both of my arms smacked into the windshield, but my left wrist took most of the blow. I was too intent on getting to class on time to even pay much attention to the brief pain of the collision (and for the record, no, the driver did not stop). The real pain set in later--a dull, crushing hurt in my wrist and forearm. All my fingers are working, so it's not broken--a visit to my university's Health Center revealed that I had managed to fracture my wrist and make mincemeat of the surrounding tissue and ligaments. Wonderful.

(Conversely, the enormous bruise blossoming on the inside of my wrist prompted my classmate JN to comment on how the bruise looked like a hickey made by a dog, which led to an ensuing misunderstanding between me and another classmate, S, who for a whole hour thought I was "like one of those fetish people who train their dogs to lick peanut butter off their genitals".)

Anyway, it should heal in a few weeks given that I'm very, extremely careful with it. I can still type, but it can't support any weight, and any attempts to twist my wrist to either side results in a stabbing pain in my arm bone. I'm at a loss at what to do for my 3D class, the only class in which I really do need full use of both my arms to work the various machinery (they have a heat gun! I can't wait to try it out).

Fire Alarm Count: 33.

Midterms are coming around, so I should be pretty busy in the next few weeks...