Mina's lunchbox is so different from anything I remember taking to school with me. No PB'n'J. No cookies. No whole apples to bite into with satisfying crunch. Apples must sliced and the peel cut to resemble rabbit ears, then dipped in lightly salted water to prevent browning. Nothing is simple here, but I try to keep Mina's bento boxes as basic as possible. Thankfully she likes to eat the same foods and sometimes complains if I get too adventurous. She prefers rice to sandwiches, so I alternate nori maki (rice pressed into cylinders and rolled in seaweed paper) and onigiri (rice pressed into a triangular shape with seaweed paper wrapped around it). Some mothers put all sorts of interesting fillings inside, various pickles, different kinds of fish, cucumber, etc., but Mina just likes furikake. Furikake is little flakes of different things like seaweed paper, sesame seeds, dried salmon bits mixed together. It reminds me of fish food. The kids love to sprinkle it onto their rice and I mix it into the rice for Mina's lunch box. They love all sorts of strange things I would never touch, but I am happy they do because it is all good for them. Then I alternate between two types of egg. Hard boiled quail eggs (readily available in any supermarket and I have even found them at the convenience store on the corner) are stuck onto picks with meatballs. Tamagoyaki is a Japanese style omelet made with sake, sugar and salt. There is a special frying pan for the sole purpose of making tamagoyaki; it is a small rectangular shaped pan. Even though I have one, I buy my tamagoyaki pre-made at the store. Thin layers of the egg mixture are cooked and then rolled onto one another to make a dense log of egg. It cuts nicely into bite size squares. I almost always include cherry tomatoes and either edamame or broccoli for some green. Sometimes she gets individually wrapped yogurt or cheese balls. Her grandfather likes to buy sausages to put into her lunch box, so she often has sausages which I cut up (because she doesn't like to eat the "noses") and spear onto cute, colorful picks. If we have shumai dumplings for dinner, I will set two aside for her lunch. Otherwise it is mini hamburgers or mini potato fritters. If there is room, some fruit. This week it was blueberries everyday since we went blueberry picking last week. After you arrange the food in the little box - Mina is proud to have a "nidan bento" this year, a double decker lunch box - you have to be sure to add cute little plastic film inserts with pictures of flowers or squirrels or vegetables with happy faces. Then put the cute box into a cute little fabric bag (that I bought at the school bazaar since I can't sew) with her cute fork in it's own cute case (that matches her lunchbox) and a damp towel for wiping her hands. She has to take her own cup to school and it has it's own little cute fabric pouch (which matches the bento box bag and her place mat, of course!) and she will be served barley tea with her lunch, not milk. Yes, I swear, this is a really simplified version of the Japanese "bento." There are women who cut intricate designs out of seaweed paper at 4 o'clock in the morning so their children's onigiri will have panda bear faces, new books are printed every school year to provide moms new recipies and design ideas, there are also entire blogs devoted to the topic of obento preparation, with daily posts and photos. I am a novice, but Mina doesn't complain and her box comes home empty everyday. She even told me the other day that maybe she needs a "sandan bento box" - a triple decker!
We checked out Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic
from the library yesterday. I was reading the poems to Mina before going to sleep last night. We came to "Rock 'N' Roll Band."If we were a rock 'n' roll band,We'd travel all over the land.We'd play and we'd sing and wear spangly things,If we were a rock 'n' roll band.
At the end of the poem, I asked Mina if that sounded like fun. She replied, "I don't know because I don't know what a rock 'n' roll band is." Oh, how I hurt when I think of the gaps in her language and cultural exposure. I am her primary source of English language input. I am failing her. Toshi
tries his best and her grandfather is always asking her to say things in English and praising her pronunciation, but these two are not going to enrich her vocabulary. I have to make more of a conscientious effort to help her become fluent and literate.
Poor Sam is even worse off than Mina. The other day we were looking at a picture book of animals. "Ooh, look, a gorilla!" I said. "Go Ri
Ra!" Sam says with impeccable Japanese intonation. Okay, how about the name of Mina's stuffed horse, "Lily?" "RU RI!" HUH?!?!?! Okay, say "Grandpa Larry." "GRANDPA BEAR!!!"
My poor children. We are spending the summer in Japan this year and I think we will be playing school a lot.