Thursday, July 31, 2014

So You Want to Pack Lunches: A Back-to-School Blog Hop & Giveaway

Though we are still in the full swing of summer, school is creeping up faster than we might like to think about.  With back-to-school shopping comes pondering about lunches.  I assume that you are at least thinking about packing lunches if you are visiting my blog... but who knows?  Maybe you found me by googling royal icing bees...

In honor of the Back-to-School season, I am taking part in a Bento Blogger & Friends Back to School Bento Basics Blog Hop and Giveaway, where we are taking the opportunity to give you some of our best tips for getting started in packing bento-style lunches.

For the most part, my lunches style tends to be on the less-decorative side.  My main tip is to get yourself some good bento boxes.  My absolute favorite is the EasyLunchbox.  They are my go-to box, and I love that they are dishwasher safe and amazingly sturdy.

I also like the Yumbox, especially for younger folks, and I really want to try their new Panino (with larger compartments).

For the larger appetite, the GoGreenLunchbox is one that I like.

Now that you have a box, what do you pack in it?

I love packing fruit.  The kids love eating it, and there is always a variety available.  I always look for something interesting in the produce aisle, and if it is small and adorable, that's even better.

I recently found some champagne grapes at Trader Joe's, and the kids and I are gobbling them up.  I pack vegetables, too, but I know that the kids will eat whatever fruit I put in their lunchboxes, but I will have more luck with different kinds of vegetables at other meals.  Therefore, some of my lunches might look a little fruit-heavy.  Rest assured, my kids are getting vegetables, but maybe just more under my watchful eye.

Packing leftovers - and lots of fruit!
Often, I will pack a sandwich or a wrap, but not every day.  There are times when I pack leftovers, or quessadillas made for lunches, or a hard boiled egg and some cheese... there are a lot of options.

One thing that I like to do is to make a list of available options and post it on the fridge.  I list what we have on hand in different categories - vegetables, fruits, dairy, protein, grain, and other.  The kids like to pick from different categories and let me know what they would prefer in their lunches.

Though I don't normally do a lot of decoration, it is nice to have options for doing fun lunches.  There are some very easy decorative options from Bento USA.  I have a large variety of picks on hand, and they make it simple to jazz up a lunch.

A tiger quesadilla
Another way to make a lunch more fun in an easy way is to use a sandwich cutter.  I just love the CuteZCute cutters - they are versatile and absolutely adorable.

Fun fruit - cucumelon!  And, a silicone cup. :)
A useful thing to keep on hand is some silicone baking cups.  They make good separators, and can add a pop of color.

When I have time, I like to make some homemade treats for the kids.  My most popular recipe is my rainbow pain de mie.  The kids absolutely love when I make this, and it makes even a plain sandwich more fun.
Occasional fun with food art - A Roald Dahl Fantastic Mr. Fox piece of cheese, colored with food markers 
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment!  Have fun, and your kids will be able to tell.  If you want to add more decorative elements, go for it.  Kids can tell when you pack their lunches with love, and that's what counts.

Want to see what other Bento Bloggers think about Bento Basics? Hop on over to Bebento. Before you go, don't forget your piece of the puzzle for the Bento Bloggers & Friends Back to School Giveaway. You need them all to enter and it's open worldwide! Did you know the grand prize voucher can be used towards shipping too?

And if you've collected all the pieces, you can enter right here using the Rafflecopter below! Good Luck!!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here's my code!

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cake Fun - Small Wedding Cake with Honeybees and Hydrangeas

An old friend from high school is a frequent reader of my blog.  She contacted me when she needed someone to make her (small) wedding cake and asked if I might be interested in making it for her.  How could I say no?

She said that she wanted blue hydrangeas and honey bees.

The bees took three tries to get right, but I have to say, they represent one of my prouder cake decorating moments!

I found this post with royal icing bees, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.  But - I wanted the wings to look more lifelike, so I decided to make them out of gelatin!  When we visited the Montshire museum recently, I took some inspiration pictures of honey bees, so that I would have something to work off of.
That's about the right color
For the royal icing, I used the King Arthur Flour recipe and their meringue powder.  I colored some of it an orangey-yellow to mimic the color of a honey bee's body, and I colored some of it black for the head and legs.  I used food coloring markers for the stripes on the bees.

For the wings, I made gelatin plastic.  I made a half recipe from what the tutorial used.  To one packet of unflavored gelatin, I added 3 Tbsp of water and heated, adding just a tiny bit of gold food coloring.  Once dissolved, I poured the gelatin onto a silicon sheet and allowed to harden, making sure it was spread quite thinly.  It ended up beng about the thickness of paper, which was perfect for cutting out wings.  I let it harden completely before working with it.

The first attempt was piped onto parchment directly.  I did not like the way they were flat and lifeless looking.

The second attempt was piped onto rounded plastic molds that I got for making fondant leaves once.  They looked awesome - but they were stuck on the molds and I couldn't get them off!  I was very sad.

Finally, I scraped the poor second attempt bees off the molds, lined the molds with parchment, and got to work on what would be my third and final batch of bees.  They were perfect.

To make them, I first piped ovals out of the yellow and allowed them to dry entirely.

When they were dry, I used a black food coloring marker to draw the stripes.  The bodies kind of look like Charlie Brown shirts to me.

One of these bees has no wings yet!
To the bodies, I piped little heads and legs, and then used some of the black icing to attach the wings to the bodies.  I just put a little bit of royal icing on the tips of the wings and then carefully and gently pressed them onto the bees' backs.

So now, I am really good at bees - and I want to try making butterflies and dragonflies!

For the hydrangeas, I just made a small batch of marshmallow fondant and colored it blue.  I then used a hydrangea cookie cutter to cut the flowers themselves, drew veins down the petals and poked a little hole in the center.  I used wire stamen to attach the flowers to the cake - these are not edible! (I warned the bride about that)

Now, the cake!  She wanted a layer of chocolate, a layer of vanilla, and a filling of dark chocolate ganache with crushed hazelnuts.  I also made a couple dozen cupcakes for her.

For the dark chocolate ganache, I used a Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pound Plus bar - and found out that the necessary 2:1 ratio of mass of chocolate to mass of cream works out perfectly to use one package of the Trader Joe's shelf-stable whipping cream for one bar of chocolate!  I chopped up the chocolate in the food processor after breaking it roughly, and then heated the cream until hot but not boiling, then stirred the cream into the chocolate to melt.  It made perfectly smooth and creamy ganache.  I allowed the ganache to cool to spreading consistency before filling the cake.

I made a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream to frost the cake.  This is the same frosting that I used for The Boy's birthday cake, and I think it is my favorite cake frosting.  It takes a while, but it is satisfying to make and both beautiful and delicious.

To assemble the cake, I cut a hole into the center of the cakes with an apple corer.  I made cake boards with cardboard and covered them with saran wrap and also cut holes in the center to match the holes in the cake.  For each layer, I sliced them in half with a sharp bread knife and used my cake spatula, then piped some buttercream around the edge of the layer before filling with ganache and sprinkling with hazelnuts.  I layed the second layer of the same size on top of the filling, then continued by adding the cake round and the next size layer.

At the end of construction, I filled the hole in the center with dowels, to keep the layers solid.
Crumb coat
Once construction was complete, I did a crumb coat on the entire cake and let it set for about half an hour.  I followed that with a thicker layer of the buttercream, smoothing as much as possible.

Finally, I placed the flowers and bees on the cake, an finished off by piping some little rosettes around the edges.

Voila!  One wedding cake  - plus cupcakes (filled with ganache and hazelnuts)!!  It was fun to do, and I hope that they have a fantastic wedding!

Disclaimer: Though I used Trader Joe's products, this blog is not sponsored by Trader Joe's.  All opinions are my own (or the kids')

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Lunches for an Outing: Montreal Science Center - Caves of Lascaux Exhibit!

When I saw that the Montreal Science Center was hosting a traveling exhibit of the famous Cave Paintings of Lascaux, I immediately knew that we had to go with my mother.  My mother has always been fascinated with history (and pre-history), and she and my father raised me to love them, too.

The Girl loves art and was thrilled when we told her we were going to see some of the earliest art ever discovered.

The Boy preferred the more active part of our visit
The Boy doesn't quite have the history background yet to really understand how outstanding this exhibit was, but he will remember it when he gets older.  He also enjoyed the other parts of the science center - a big science play room.

We were floored by the exhibit.  It was amazing to see how sophisticated the artistic techniques were from 20,000 years ago.

Though the rest of the center was a bit of a disappointment.  I would not have made the trip to Montreal just for the science center if the Cave exhibit had not been there.  The Montshire and the Boston Museum of Science are far superior, in our opinion.

Lunches for our day
Making the pocket sandwiches with Cute-z-cute
For the lunches, I brought some tiny champagne grapes that I finally found at Trader Joe's (their season is very short, so we're gobbling them up when we can get them!), trail mix with crystallized ginger, rolls of black forest ham, apple slices, leftover Thai curry waffles, and a tiny pocket sandwich with some sun-dried tomato hummus inside, made with CuteZCute Cuddle Palz.

We can't wait for our next adventure - this one was sure one that we will remember for years to come!

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