But not the 23rd, because that day my co-workers are taking me out to lunch to celebrate my last week at work and, presumably, dispatching of my last semester of law school.
IN DESCENDING ORDER:
(1) 1/2 cup brown rice, seto fumi furikake, umeboshi
(2) Red pepper/tomato/ginger/soy/pepper baked tofu
(3) Eggplant braised in umeshu, soy sauce, and mirin.
(4) Raw spinach wall
(5) Shoyu/rice vinegar/honey pickled bamboo
The last few days have been a bit of a networking melee, and it just felt good to be in the kitchen wearing a warm sweater and socks, tending to the small details of crushing garlic, canvassing the spice rack for something interesting and unexpected, adding just bit more shoyu. It is a meditative state, a chance for me to be creative and meticulous without judgement, to know I won’t be disturbed for hours.
It strikes me that as a city-dweller, cooking is my way of connecting with nature, with things that grow and ripen. It’s a chance for me to enjoy the quality of the earth, and to take very small part in unfathomably old culinary traditions. These things are more rooted than I am, more than I’ll ever be.
A behind the scenes look at prep after the jumppppp!
Bento pic without a filter:
THE TOFU: I had marinated the tofu for a little over 24 hours but ended up adding a lot of cracked pepper before putting it in the oven. This really amped up the flavor. I’d never baked tofu before and learned some lessons, namely the importance of going slightly overboard with the marinade in terms of flavor. It should be borderline pungent. I know tofu is allegedly the bearer of all flavor burdens, but it didn’t soak up my marinade as well as I’d wanted. It ended up tasting great, but I chalk that up to the unsubtle wiles of ginger and the copious pepper-cracking that occurred right before the baking.
THE EGGPLANT: My roomie left for an NYC trip and generously offered me her eggplant. My ears perked up and I stared that purple bastard down (the veg, not the roomie) thinking, I’m gonna braise the shit out of you, eggplant.
When I lived in Beijing, one of my all-time favorite noms was braised eggplant. I found a few recipes on line for Japanese style and one called for red wine. I didn’t have any red wine about, but I did have some AMAZING UMESHU from my friend Lora–the woman brings classy, thoughtful hostess gifts; love her–that worked perfectly.
It more or less CARAMELIZED in the skillet and had an unusual fermented flavor without losing sweetness. If you want to braise something, I’d definitely recommend trying out umeshu/rice wine for an extra dose of umami.
THE BAMBOO: I figured I already had one braised veggie, so the bamboo had to undergo some transformation that didn’t involve getting pushed around a skillet. After enjoying the pickled cucumbers earlier this week, I figured I’d see if bamboo pickles as pleasantly. TURNS OUT IT TOTALLY DOES.
That’s it, all the drama behind the bento. Thanks for reading!