Bento: A healthy meal in a box!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Caden spends a fair bit of time in school and day care, where meals are provided at least twice a day. This is one of the reasons why we have chosen his current school as they are very particular about preparing well-balanced, healthy meals for the kids.This has also made me quite discerning with his food intake out of school. it can be pretty challenging to prepare not only healthy meals for the family, but also to ensure that they are quick to prepare without compromising on taste and quality.

Previously, when I shopped for groceries, I hardly took note of nutritional info or made a conscious effort of choosing healthier alternatives. Now that I’m a mum, I've become more discerning when choosing food items so that little Caden can get the right foods and nutrition. It also helps that my husband and I are striving for a healthier lifestyle so that we can keep up with our active 3 year old! However, it is definitely no easy feat preparing both healthy and tasty meals, given that I’m also working full-time.

So when I was approached to be one of the 5 mummy bloggers to participate in the AIA Vitality Bento-Making Challenge organised by AIA Singapore to create awareness for healthy eating, I wasn't sure I was up to the mark.

All those bento creations I’ve seen on the internet have always seemed daunting to me. They actually looked like an art piece in itself! On my first attempt, I decided to make one with a carefully shaped snowman, complete with trees and flowers made out of bread, but which only received a lacklustre response from the boy. Furthermore, it looked like nothing like those I've seen online and in books.


With the encouragement of my husband, however, I decided to give it a shot as the challenge would push me out of my comfort zone to strive towards learning how to make tasty and visually-appealing meals for my son.

Before embarking on my second attempt, I visited the AIA Vitality website for some inspiration and was pleasantly surprised to come across several expert articles on health, diet and exercise. There were also assessments that you can do to learn more about your eating habits such as the Vitality Nutrition Assessment

As an AIA Vitality member, you get to earn 750 Vitality Points for just completing it!



An article which caught my eye was on time-saving tips to make quick snacks and a healthy lunchbox, perfect for working parents like myself.


And if you are a busy parent as well, here are some tips that I took away from the article:

· You can use your leftovers from dinner such as meat and turn them into next day lunches by turning them into tortilla wraps and adding lettuce, carrots and tomatoes for a balanced meal.

· If you really can’t find the time to make lunch for your kids, remember to read the label and choose low-fat and low kilojoule foods.

· Fruit, nuts, low-fat yoghurt and vegetable sticks such as celery and carrots make for better snacks to potato chips and chocolates.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to focus on simplicity while keeping the bento wholesome. The challenging part was ensuring that the food remains tasty and will not spoil over the course of a few hours. It also cannot be too 'soupy' or have too much gravy as spillage would occur. Interestingly enough, I was surprised that after a little bit of trial and error, I found the process to be quite fun after all!

So here is what I packed for him last weekend.


As you can see, there were grapes, vegetable gyoza (because this is one of the few ways he will actually eat his vegetables), cherry tomatoes, and Oyako-don (without the bowl!) as the main. The chicken, egg and onions combination was a hit with Caden and because it was simmered in flavoured broth, the rice didn’t taste too dry.

Actually - if you're a Mum too, I think you would agree with me when I say that when your kids enjoy what you cook, it makes all the preparation and cooking all worthwhile!

For the challenge, I decided to work on the visual appeal while keeping it as flavourful and tasty as my last attempt. It was not easy given that we could only use limited amounts of seasoning to keep the bento within the 'healthy' range, but I found a way around it by concentrating on quality base ingredients, using home-made stock and herbs.

Here we are, right before the challenge. From left: Adora of The Gingerbread Mum (with Poppy, her adorable daughter!), me, Summer of A Happy Mum, Dominique of Dominique's Desk and Shermeen of Meeningfully.



We were all excited to participate, and when the challenge got under way, there was no time to even get stage fright!



Well... I did manage to squeeze in a couple of 'non-official' shots! :)


I decided to make a 'bento' which the boy would love to have on any given day, so my task on hand was to create a packed lunch which is flavourful and wholesome. It was not easy for the fact that we can only use limited seasoning to keep within the 'healthy' range, but I found a way around it by concentrating on quality base ingredients, using home-made stock and herbs.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting to win anything because the other ladies' bentos were extremely creative, so I was really taken by surprise when I bagged the 2nd prize! 


So who won the top prize for challenge, you ask? Summer from A Happy Mum did! A well-deserved win as she created a penguin and cat in her 'Korokke Bento'.

As for me, honestly speaking, I wasn't expecting to win anything because the other ladies' bentos were extremely creative, so I was really taken by surprise when I bagged home the 2nd prize! Thank you to all my family members and readers who came to show their support on that day.


So here's the simple bento I made, with Caden as my harshest critic. He did the Quality Control, and since it passed his taste test, that's good enough for me.




I made Fried Brown Basmati Rice and Lemon & Herb Poached Salmon, along with cherry tomatoes, egg omelette stars, strawberries and blueberries. Read on to see how easy it is to whip this up!

Note: All ingredients and brands mentioned are part of the HealthyFood™ range at Cold Storage)

Brown Rice Paradise

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 15 min
Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 2 Savour fresh eggs (Product ID: 55014)
  • 3 tsp Sunbeam canola oil (Product ID: 23509)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed (Product ID: 74902)
  • 1 1/2 cups Wattie's frozen mixed vegetables (Product ID: 397023)
  • 2 cups Bob's Red Mill brown basmati rice, cooked in chicken stock (Product ID: 52263)
  • 2 tbs low sodium soy sauce

Method

1. Heat wok over medium high heat, and add 1 tsp of oil. 

2. Scramble beaten eggs to desired consistency and remove from heat. Set aside.

3. Using the remaining oil, stir fry the garlic on low heat till it turns a light golden brown. Turn the heat up and add the mixed vegetables. Stir fry for about 3 minutes.

4. Add rice and mix well. Season with soy sauce. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until thoroughly heated through. Add egg and stir to combine. 

Tip: Day old rice works best for frying. Alternatively, cook rice then refrigerate at least 3 hours prior to frying.

Lemon and Herb Poached Salmon

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 10 min
Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 800 g salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces (Product ID: 20158)
  • 4 tbs lemon juice (Product ID: 35548)
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh parsley (Product ID: 81309)
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh dill (Product ID: 81304)
  • Salt to taste

Directions

1. Marinate Salmon using some olive oil, lemon juice, fresh parsley and fresh dill in a ziploc bag for at least an hour. I usually do this the night before so that all the flavours can be infused as much as possible.

2. Using a shallow saucepan or heavy bottomed pan, pour just enough water to cover the salmon and add lemon juice.

3. When the water boils, add the salmon and chopped herbs. You can use the ones in the marinade bag, or opt to use fresh ones.

4. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to simmer. Poach the salmon for 8 minutes, or until the salmon turns opaque.

5. Serve with fresh herbs and a sprinkling of salt.

***

AIA Vitality Membership Giveaway!


Thanks to the kind people at AIA Singapore, we have 2 AIA Vitality Memberships worth $108 each to giveaway! We hope that this will be the first step to encouraging you to live well and stay healthy, and there's no better time to start than now. 

All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post with an answer to a simple question: "How many AIA Vitality assessments are there which members can do to know their health better and earn points?
and follow the rest of the options.

Hint: Visit https://www.aiavitality.com.sg/memberportal/know_your_health

This giveaway is open to all AIA Singapore policy holders, and ends on Monday, 5 May 2014, at 0000hrs.


GOOD LUCK!




Website: AIAVitality.com.sg
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AIASingapore


***

Disclaimer:

This is part of a series of community awareness messages brought to you by AIA (Singapore) in collaboration with MummyMoo.

All items marked with an asterisk (*) are governed by existing Terms and Conditions as set by the respective company and / or supporting partners. Please check www.aiavitality.com.sg for further details.

All information is correct at time of print. AIA reserves all rights to discontinue or amend existing clauses without prior notice, and its sole discretion.

In no event shall I be held liable or responsible for any membership disagreements arising between AIA and any parties. Neither shall I be liable for any indirect, consequential, incidental, special or punitive damages or losses of any kind.

Prawns and Corn Fritters (and other tales)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The thing about me is the more I'm not allowed to do something, the more I'd do it. This also applies to what I feel like eating when I'm not allowed to or unable to. When I'm nursing a sore throat and coughing my lungs out - the bag of chips start to look mighty tempting to me. When I'm having a cold and ought to be cleansing my system, I opt instead for spicy curry or some chilli laden dish.

Rebel by nature? Perhaps.

So I've been home for the past 6 days recuperating from wisdom teeth surgery. I had 4 teeth taken out all at one go because they are useless, apart from giving me massive headaches from irritating toothaches for the past 4 years or so. I've been pretty lucky because there was only minor swelling for the first two days and practically no pain at all post surgery, but the husband thinks it's because my pain threshold is considerably high. I've had the corner of my lips cut and stitched up because my mouth couldn't open large enough for the dentist to get the teeth out - and I was more concerned about that than the post surgery discomfort.

Anyway, today I had my stitches removed and on the way home, I suddenly had a craving for fat, juicy crispy fritters. Now bear in mind I haven't really been able to eat properly for the past week because I was afraid of the stitches bursting. My mind (and growling tummy) went into overdrive and I made a quick stop at a supermarket.

I had to cut the fritters in small pieces, but I managed 3 at one go.


I was hungry, but these are really, really good. Don't take my word for it, though. It's simple and quick to do, so let me know if you try this and love it as much as I do!

PRAWN & CORN FRITTERS

Prep Time: 15 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Yield: 16 - 24 pieces, depending on serving size

Main Ingredients

  • 250 g prawns, de-veined and shelled.
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob
  • 2 stalks spring onions
  • 1 nos. sweet red onion (or shallots)
  • 300 ml water
  • 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

    Dry Ingredients

    • 250 gr all purpose flour
    • 1 tbs cornstarch
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • Salt, to taste
    • White pepper, to taste

    Method

    1. Peel and de-vein prawns and cut into small pieces. I prefer mine chunky so I cut each prawn into 3. Remove kernels from the cob, and slice spring onions and red onion finely.


    2. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and add water to make a thick batter.


    3. Batter should be thick but runny.


    4. Add all the main ingredients in (except for the oil), including salt and pepper to taste.



    5. Heat oil over medium high heat. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the oil, and make sure that you do not overcrowd the pan. Too many at one time will cause the oil temperature to drop and result in spongy, soggy (ewww!!) fritters.


    Fry over low to medium heat, flipping fritters when they start to brown. If serving immediately, remove fritters from pan when they turn golden brown. If you would like to pre-cook to save time prior to serving, remove from oil when they turn a light brown (a notch lower than preferred) and re-fry as and when required.

    Unused batter keeps up to 3 days in the chiller. Do not freeze.

    These are seriously addictive. You've been warned.







    So you think it's easy to be a woman?

    Monday, 14 April 2014

    Every day we are assailed with ads and images that can do wonders to wrecking the self-esteem. Most advertisements are targeted at women - for they are deemed to be more gullible, naive and easier to influence than their male counterparts.

    • You're too fat.
    • You're too skinny.
    • Your sex life is rubbish.
    • You're not supposed to enjoy having sex.
    • Your life in general is rubbish. But not as bad as hers.
    • Your children hate you.
    • Why haven't you had children?
    • You're too young to have kids.
    • You're too old to have kids.
    • You're wrinkled, and therefore used-up and no use to man nor beast.
    • You need a man.
    • You don't need a man.
    • Your hair is terrible.
    • Your skin is terrible.
    • You're beautiful just the way you are.
    • You're ugly.
    • You're not in quite enough debt. Have some more money.
    • Your breasts are too small.
    • Your breasts are too big, and they're saggy.

    I suppose in a lot of ways, that's true... it is by far easier to make a woman go out and buy stuff that she doesn't really need simply because it looks really good and comes in 'oh-so-many-pretty colours!' or it comes banded with a 'free' sample of a complementing product or the trial price is too good to be missed; amongst many other reasons.

    Basically, it's about the marketing and advertising guys playing up to a woman's insecurities, fears and hopes. It's no big secret, and most women are aware of this fact, too. Yet they are still torn apart by the power of advertising, especially one that represents the dream of a better life.

    I've been in advertising, marketing and promotions long enough, yet I am still guilty of being swayed by a powerful image or two. I have found myself on numerous ocassions having to buy a certain thing simply because of the 'promise' that it conveys. I do so fully aware that the advertising dollar is such that it will bow down to the most difficult and picky consumers - blinding them in such a clever, stealthy way that they are rendered powerless.

    I've had impulse buys, stuff that I have never worn since the day I bought it, shoes of the same design in 5 different colours, scores of nailpolish in colours that I would never dream of wearing, and tubes of lipstick in every imaginable shade.

    I am, at most times - a woman, after all.

    Share your thoughts with me, and tell me I'm not alone?


    Let Your Personality Shine!

    Friday, 11 April 2014

    I love pretty things. I think we all do, it's just what appeals to us that sets our preferences and taste apart.

    When it comes to jewellery, I like my pieces fine and simple, with details and a significance to the design or the stones used. A piece of jewellery has to 'speak' to me before I carefully choose them, and it has to bear imprints of a little bit of me.

    We can tell a lot about a person just by the clothes they wear, their choice of colours, and their accessories. That's why when I meet an artisan who watches, listens, understands, and then creates a stunning piece of jewellery based on an acute intuitive feel of a person's personality, I'm in awe.

    I first got to know Adeline when Singapore Mom Bloggers (SMB) was set up. She had a photo-blog back then, and some time later, she decided to set up her own personal blog, writing about the joys and challenges of parenting older kids. In her spare time, she crafts jewellery, and her creations have evolved from humble beginnings (when not many believed in her) to show stopping pieces - each bespoke to her clients' individual personality.


    I'm going to just let her creations do the talking from hereon. After all, the pieces will speak for themselves.




    As the pieces are individually hand made, no two items are exactly the same. Adeline has some ready made creations for sale, but I would strongly recommend that you let her know how you would like the piece to be, the colour scheme, and if you would prefer it to enhance an outfit or to take centre stage.

    Once Adeline has gotten a rough idea of what you might like, she will send a mock up of how your order will look. Trust me, it's much easier to visualize how the eventual piece will look like - and you can then let her know if you prefer bigger / smaller stones, accents or play around with colours.


    She will send you a photo of the sequence of stones or items on the piece prior to creation so that you can decide if it is what you are happy with, so that you don't end up with something which doesn't feel 'right'.


    Beautiful, aren't they?

    She doesn't only do girly, too. I asked Adeline to make a bracelet for this awesome girl I know who is quirky, fun and unconventionally chic, and this is what she came up with.


    Ultra cool rock chic!

    Recently, I was gifted with a bracelet which I am crazy about. It is so versatile and goes with about everything in my wardrobe! Simple and understated, yet it holds its own. Friends who have seen it attest to it being 'me', and this is what I find separates Adeline from the other artisans in the market.

    She has a gift. She isn't only able to create pretty things... she makes an effort to 'read' her customer and creates a design based on how she perceives the individual to be. Thus far, she has mostly been spot on.


    These bespoke creations do not cost an arm and a leg, too. In fact, they are much more affordable than what you may find in stores. Customization price range starts from S$18 for earrings, S$24 for bracelets and S$26 for necklaces, depending on the complexity of design and choice of materials.


    Now you too can own a beautiful piece of handcrafted jewelry from Adeline's Loft! 

    We have TWO sets of these alluring hand-blown glass beads filled with mystical crystals in either Azure or Coral tones to giveaway! They come with matching pearl bracelets for a perfect weekend ensemble!


    This giveaway is open worldwide and ends on Monday, 21 April 2014, at 00:00.
    Results will be announced thereafter.

    Simply follow the steps below to participate.



    Good Luck!

    UPDATE





    You are the two lucky winners picked by Adeline! Christina will receive the Azure Blue set while Evelyn will be the proud owner of the Coral Sunset set.
    We will contact you shortly via email.

    ***


    Thank you for your participation. Do look out for more wonderful giveaways on blog!


    Disclaimer: This post is made possible by Adeline's Loft. All images are owned by Adeline's Loft unless otherwise stated. All opinions are completely mine. Seriously though - the pieces are gorgeous and speak for themselves. I no bluff you!

    Changes

    Wednesday, 9 April 2014



    I've always been somewhat reluctant to face changes in my life. I've always been resistant to new things, new people, new places. It can be said that I actually take comfort in the familiar, often preferring to remain stagnant, as long as I'm happy - I am content.

    Some people hate to be stuck in a 'rut', they will always look forward to new challenges, new environments, things that they've never experienced before, just to see how it's like on the other side of the fence. I was never one of those. I'd rather remain where I'm comfortable in, do whatever is good for me, and excel in it.

    I've never been one of the ambitious ones who would grasp every opportunity to advance their careers, regardless of what they may have to sacrifice in the process. Money and prestige never motivated me, as long as I'm comfortable in a position and a job, as long as I look forward to going to work every day, and as long as I didn't have to push myself beyond the limits that I know I'm perfectly capable of, I remain sated, and comfortably content.

    That doesn't mean that I have a nonchalant attitude toward many things in life. In fact, when I'm passionate about something, I will more often than not go above and beyond what is required of me without asking, expecting or seeking for anything in return. I give without strings attached, and of course, I have been made use of, more times than I would care to remember, especially when it comes to work.

    Whenever I'm entrusted to do something, I would always do mybest. Not simply because that's what expected of me, but more just to prove to myself that I am perfectly able to do it. I will find out and explore all possibilities and open avenues, more for my own knowledge than anything else. For instance, when I was starting out in the service industry, cocktails and mixed drinks fascinated me no end. It intrigued me that so many spirits in every possible colour combination can be derived from the most ordinary things, and I was curious as to why some are able to 'float' above others.

    I didn't learn by the book. I learnt the hard way; through observation, and initiative. It came to a point when not only I knew every international cocktail and their concoction, I also knew what each spirit is derived from. I knew off the top of my head how many shots would make a bottle, and I could easily pour a single perfect shot without having to use a measuring jigger. Then, and only then, did I venture toward other aspects of F & B.

    I suppose whoever I am now, my personality, my character - have been built on the foundation of my own personal choices. Although I'm assured of a few hard knocks now and then, I wouldn't want myself any other way. Perhaps it's also because I'm too stubborn to change the course of my choice even though at times the road may look like its headed uphill all the way. Whatever it is that I choose to do, I will always have to be the best that I can be; even if I sometimes have unrealistic expectations of myself.

    Change(s) may not be that exciting, after all. If you're one of those who gets bored easily, if you're one who would flit from flower to flower seeking that elusive nectar of heavenly sweetness - perhaps, at the end of the day, you may not stay long enough in a particular bloom to appreciate its true taste, for some flavours of heaven is tasted only through persistence and hard work.

    We are who we are because of the risks that we take. Every new beginning need not be obtained from some ending. If you're happy as how you are, what you are, and where you are - everyday is a new beginning. It's how we approach life and its challenges which matter most.

    The hardest part about moving forward is not looking back...
    and perhaps, sometimes, I'm just far too nostalgic a person not to.


    SANses.com's Talkative Thursdays

    Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip and Banana 'Brake'

    Monday, 7 April 2014

    Some people call this bread, some people call it cake.

    I take the best of everything, and call it 'Brake'. Brake for Brekkie. Try saying that fast ten times while waiting for the brake to bake and cool while the whole house smells of bananas and chocolates.

    Then there's that peanut butter mixed in. Just when you thought banana and chocolate is a marriage made in heaven, the third wheel comes in and gives it that extra kick.

    That diet can wait. Every bite will be worth it, I promise.

    The Best-est Banana Bread Cake EVER!

    (since Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip and Banana Bread-cake is too much of a mouthful)
    Adapted from: Emily Wyckoff @ Rachael Ray.com

    Prep Time: 15 min
    Bake Time: app 65 min
    Yields: 9 x 5 inch loaf pan

    Dry Ingredients

    1 1/2 cups flour
    1/4 cup caster sugar
    1/4 cup dark brown sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda

    Wet Ingredients

    4 bananas, 3 mashed and 1 thinly sliced
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    2 eggs
    1/4 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup crunchy or creamy peanut butter

    2/3 cup white chocolate chips (you can also use dark chocolate chips)

    Method

    1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C | 350 deg F. 

    2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. I always use a balloon whisk for this because it make it so much easier, and you won't have flour flying all over the counter!

    3. In a medium bowl, mix all the wet ingredients until well incorporated. There is no need to use a mixer. Add in the chocolate chips.


    4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold in, using a spatula. Do not over mix. Over mixing will cause most cakes to retain a tough texture.


    5. Pour batter into a lined loaf pan (or its equivalent) and bake for 60 - 65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Check the top at the 40 min mark. If it seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil. 

    6. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, and turn out cake onto a cooling rack to cool completely.


    Sometimes decadence has a name.







     

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