carved carrot flowers

27 04 2010

after posting my “before and after” bento last night, i received several comments about the carved carrot flowers it featured.  i thought it might be helpful to post a quick tutorial on how to make those.

what you’ll need

  • about 1/3 of a fat carrot (or more, if you want more than a few flowers!)
  • a small, sharp paring knife and a cutting board
  • a flower shaped cutter (there are both plastic and metal ones available; i like the round-petal one from this set)

what to do

1. on your cutting board, carefully cut your carrot into thick (about 1/2″) rounds.

2. steam the rounds for about 3 minutes on each side (because these are thick they take a while to get soft); i salt mine before steaming but you don’t have to do so.

3. when they are done steaming, shock them in extremely cold water, to stop the cooking process and keep them brightly colored.  i find that the easiest way to do this is to set them in a small bowl in the sink, and then turn the tap on as cold as it will go, letting the water run over them for a few moments.

4. bring the cooled rounds back to your cutting board, and using the flower-shaped cutter, cut a flower from the center of each round.  (save the scraps for omurice, fried rice, tamagoyaki, or any other cooked dish!)

here’s what you should have done so far:

now let’s keep going:

5.  with your paring knife, cut a curved line around the right side of one of the petals.  you want to cut straight down, and pretty deep, but no more than half-way through the carrot round.  you essentially want to outline the right side of the petal with an incision.  here is a photo showing a drawn line (drawn on the photo, not on the carrot!) where the incision should be made:

6.  in your mind, mark a vertical line dividing the next petal (to the right of your incision) into two halves.  slide the blade of the paring knife, on an angle, starting at that imaginary line, and cutting towards the incision you already made (e.g. from right to left).  the blade should start shallow at the imaginary line, and cut deeper towards the real incision, so that you end up cutting a diagonal wedge out of the petal.  here’s another photo-drawing showing the line where you need to cut, and the actual cut taking place:

7.  on the petal from which you just cut a diagonal wedge, repeat step 5, “outlining” the right side of the petal with a deep incision.

8. on the next petal to the right, repeat step 6, cutting a diagonal wedge that gets deeper moving towards the last incision you made.

9.  repeat until you’ve carved all the petals.  that’s it!

here’s what the final flowers look like:

i hope you find these instructions clear, but if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments!

[as seen on be my bento]

washi tape food picks

20 02 2010

way back when i first started bentoing, i took note of the extremely cute leaf-like and gingham flag picks used by gifted bentoist akinoichigo-san… they always looked so homey and bright and sometimes even vintage, really adding a special touch to her already-absurdly-amazing bento creations.  (by the way, i don’t read japanese, but i think akinoichigo-san recently posted about a book she has coming out… you better believe that will be going straight in my cart!!)

anyway, i think i assumed she was buying these picks from some super-secret, cool-japanese-ladies only bento supply store, or something… but then i started seeing american craft and design blogs going crazy over washi tape.  washi tape is a pretty fabulous product — it’s made of japanese paper that comes in tons of beautiful patterns and colors, and the “sticky” side is actually not too sticky, so that it will adhere to a surface but can also be easily removed (without ripping your paper or leaving tacky residue behind).  a hot trend in crafting now is using washi tape to edge bookshelves, to decorate big wooden letters for kids’ rooms, and to spice up collages.  if you want to take a look at some good suppliers, i recommend the etsy store pretty tape, as well as the online craft store tinted mint.

another use for washi tape, as it turns out, is for making fun food picks for bento!  it’s really easy to do:

  1. buy some plain old, grocery store wooden toothpicks.  rip approx. 2″-long sections of washi tape off rolls of your choosing.
  2. in the center of each section, place the end of a toothpick on the sticky side of the tape.  neatly stick both sides of the tape together (i find it easiest to work from the toothpick outwards to the end of the tape, and i use my fingernail to “seal” the tape closest to the barrel of the pick).
  3. using small scissors (i like these manicure scissors i grabbed at an H-mart a few months ago), cut the end of the tape “flag” in a design of your choosing (i have demonstrated a “pinking shears”-type effect, a traditional pennant, and a leaf shape).
  4. voila, you’re done!  stick ’em in something small and pop ’em in a bento!

UPDATE:  maki, of the always-informative-and-interesting websites just bento and just hungry, recently posted a comment noting that washi tape is not meant to be used on or around food (it may contain chemicals and artificial, non-edible dyes), and recommending that bentoists be careful not to allow the tape part of these home-made picks to touch the food when the bento box is closed (or when the contents get shaken up in a backpack or purse).  adults can probably manage this when including in their bento lunches, but to be safe, i would probably not use this kind of pick in a child’s lunch, as a child might be more likely to put the actual pick in his/her mouth!