After making three Castle Crashers related bento in a row, I needed to take a break. I do adore the characters from the game, but every bento is a challenge for me. I struggle, get frustrated and learn (from big mistakes, usually) while making them. Those three bento definitely were not an easy challenge. So, again, it was time for Totoro for me.
Bento #46: Totoro with Cherry Blossoms
Created and eaten on: 4/29/2009
My boyfriend and I went to Brooklyn Botanic Garden last weekend. We know the Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival) is this weekend, but after going to the festival last year, we decided to stay away from the festival crowd as much as possible. (He did a couple comics about it last year.)
It was around 80-something degrees in NYC last Sunday. It was hot!! Some cherry blossoms had already bloomed, and there were a lot of people there, but it wasn’t too crowded so we were able to pick a spot under a fully bloomed cherry blossom tree and sat down and enjoyed the petals falling on us like snow.
In Japan, many people bring a big bento when they go see cherry blossoms. So I thought of making bento to bring it to the garden, but I didn’t have time… I really wanted to make a spring themed bento before it was too late, so I decided to make “Totoro and his friends with cherry blossoms” bento.
I’ve seen Totoro made with Inari-zushi before, and I wanted to try it. Inari-zushi is rice (sweetened or sometimes sushi rice) wrapped in fried bean curd. I LOVE it. I love it so much that I even named my cat “Inari.” When I was thinking what else to put in the bento, I thought the Nekobus (Catbus) would be perfect to be made with Inari-zushi because of its shape and color. I had meatballs from the other night, which could be Makkurokurosuke, and I could always make a quail egg to make mini-Totoro as usual. But then I realized there weren’t enough rice. So I decided to make the medium-Totoro with rice, and two small rice balls.
The night before, I stuffed rice into an Inari-zushi skin, and shifted the skin a bit so the white rice part would look like Totoro’s stomach, and wrapped it in plastic wrap.
I stuffed rice into a new skin, cut another skin into the shape of the Nekobus’ face, and wrapped them in plastic wrap so they wouldn’t dry out.
I made the body of medium-Totoro with ground black sesame seed and plain rice. (see “how to make Totoro with rice”)
I wanted to try a different recipe for renkon (lotus root), so I powdered sliced renkon with corn starch, cooked it in oil, and sprinkle it with “aonori” (dried chopped seaweed) and salt.
For the cherry blossom petals, I peeled the pink part of kamaboko (fish cake), cut out oval shapes using a cutter, and cut ” V ” on the one end to make petals. I wanted petals in a different color too, so I soaked kamaboko petals in red cabbage juice mixed with vinegar over night. (see “how to dye eggs naturally,” it uses the same method) I also sliced radish and cut out a flower shape using a cutter and put it in the cabbage juice as an experiment.
I already had almost everything made the night before, so in the morning I only had to concentrate on placing each food in the bento and putting details on each character.
The following morning, I put renkon in the bento box, put Totoro and the Nekobus first, and I put Makkurokurosuke meatballs, medium-Totoro, and mini-Totoro in. For the two small rice balls, I mixed “yukari” (shiso leaf furikake seasoning) with rice, made flower shaped rice balls using a rice mold, and placed them in the bento box. After shifting the food around for a while, finally it started to look more like bento than scattered food pieces in a box.
I didn’t want to make it messier by putting broccoli in, so I boiled snowpeas, cut the tip of them using a diamond shaped cookie cutter, sprinkled them with salt, and stuck them between the food. I was very happy with the way they looked. It was easy to make and arrange. Plus it looked cute, and served as a great edible divider. I still didn’t think there was enough green, so I wrapped string beans with bacon, pinned it with a toothpick, and cooked it. After it was cooked, I cut it in half, and put it in the bento.
Finally, I sliced and cut out fish cake and cheese for the eyes and mouth as usual. But for Totoro’s ears, nose, whiskers, Nekobus’ strips and whiskers, I used a new food. It’s konbu! Konbu is dried kelp, often boiled in water to make broth. But the one I used is sold as a snack, so it’s a lot thinner than the one used to make broth. It’s thin but very strong (almost like thin plastic sheet) and pretty durable against moisture compared to seaweed. The color isn’t as dark as seaweed, but I really liked how easy it was to cut with scissors.
After I put all the other little pieces for Totoro and Nekobus, I put black sesame seeds for the pupils (each one of them, with tweezers… I really need a smaller hole punch!), and placed petals all over the bento. Miraculously, all eyes, except one, stayed intact all the way to work.
Even though 70 % of the bento was done the night before, the fact that I didn’t finish the sketch night before cost me time while arranging food in the bento box.
I think snowpeas made a big difference in this bento. Most food doesn’t usually have sharp edges, so green spikes totally stood out. I wish I had made more cherry petals though. Maybe I’ll make a spring themed bento again before all the cherry blossoms are gone.