I had a dream about making mini-watermelons and it made sense, so I woke up and gave it a try. They work out well and are really cute. They also taste "right" because of the similar watery flavor and texture of the cucumber and the melon. Super-easy.
You'll need two baby cucumbers (often sold in wrapped trays of four or five), a piece of seedless watermelon heart (dense and without soft seed-pitting), a sharp knife and a melon baller. A scattering of roasted sesame seeds aren't necessary, but are a cute touch. If you don't care for the taste, you can brush them off before eating.
First, cut off the very tip of the cucumber to make a flat spot. Cut off the ends about two inches up; set the middle of the cucumber aside for use in salads.
Take a small melon-baller (usually it's the end with the spikes) and center it on the top of the pretend "watermelon half". Press it in and turn slightly to cut a good circle, then gently pull one scoop out of the inside of the cucumber.
If everything goes well, you'll wind up with a scoop that's a half-round on the bottom, flat on the top.
You'll want to get an identical scoop out of the watermelon heart, so that it'll make a piece that fits in like a puzzle. Scoop the watermelon the same way.
Fit the watermelon scoop into the cucumber hollow. If it's not flush, you can carefully trim the excess with a paring knife.
Wet your finger on the watermelon piece and use it to pick up the seeds, scattering them one at a time on the surface of the watermelon. And there you go!
If you don't feel these have enough flavor, try adding a drop of lime juice to each one. Also note that these, like other sliced fruits and veggies, are what I call "high-humidity" bento ingredients...if you are putting dry crackers or similar items in the same box, be sure to protect them with a lid or layer of wrap to avoid sogginess.
Here's another reason for me to appreciate Milk Products Media...this last project has really sort of helped me find footing in terms of what makes me happiest in the world of food art.
I began with bento, and I love bento, but people have a lot of bento-expectations that I don't seem to fit. I like the neat, clean frame and the challenge of a tiny scale, but in general I'm not so great with the rules. I don't mean that in a self-aggrandizing way, I just want the option to make something bigger if that's what I feel like doing at the moment.
Somewhere back in the 80s, I was transported via TV to "The Land of Dairy Queen", a place with the most fascinating topography I'd ever seen. There were chiseled chocolate mountains ringed with dry-ice fog, gloppy pineapple-sauce waterfalls and rivers that oozed thick with hot fudge. There may have been some soft-serve peaks somewhere in there, too. I think, somewhere in the murky recesses of my mind, I've been imagining things as food (and food as things) ever since. Which is great, but I can't necessarily fit it all in a 5x5" box.
By sheer necessity (ease of photography and videography, among other things), I had to work on a larger scale this time, and it was completely liberating. I'm not up to Carl Warner's immense landscapes (and I'm a lousy photographer with a small budget, so he's got no competition there), but I liked not having to fit everything into a tiny space and worry about it being appetizing to preschoolers. (Not that I don't worry about feeding preschoolers. I have one. She likes oranges, green tea and idlis.)
I'll still do bentos. But there'll be bigger stuff too.
I do food art to entertain myself. When I take a picture and put it up there on flickr, it's "hey, look at this silly thing I made out of food." That's it. I'm not trying to persuade anyone that what I've made is scrumptious, or precisely balanced nutritionally, or that it's what they should be feeding their kids. It's just a picture made out of food. I do my own thing, I make pictures out of food, that's where it begins and that's where it ends.
Now, there does exist a (large) bento community with whom I'm more-or-less loosely affiliated, in that a lot of my stuff shows up in bento boxes...I make oekakiben (picture bento). I'm not a mainstream bento-maker, though. If you're looking for nutritious ideas for an adorable lunch to send off with your preschooler, there are lots and lots of people who will have great information for you. You can browse flickr and see all kinds of appetizing combinations and great ideas for bento lunches. Do what you like. Bento is what you make it.
I eat what I make because I don't waste food. Blue rice, for all the reaction it seems to inspire in people, tastes like regular rice. It's just blue. It's tinted with natural food coloring, it's not harmful, it's just blue. The same goes for applesauce tinted blue and anything else I might have gone nuts and tinted blue at some point. Some people are fascinated with blue food. Some people find it repulsive. If you don't like it, you don't have to make it or eat it.
It's your choice. Everything is your choice...what ingredients to use, what recipes to make, what the nutritional balance should be, whether or not your rice is an orthodox color. You choose whether your sandwich looks like Hello Kitty or a monster or a good old no-frills sandwich.
Besides the me-vs-most-bento-makers comparison being a total apples-and-oranges thing, what's wrong with a little adventure? In my flickr profile (where I try to catch people on their way to announce to me what they think of blue rice), I mentioned chef Cat Cora and how fun her innovations can be. Cotton candy on soup gave her audience pause, but they swirled it in and found it delicious. This stuff can work.
Have you ever flipped through a magazine and seen one of those beef council ads, with the landscapes made of beef? There's brown sugar sand and sour cream snowcaps. Would you eat beef with brown sugar and sour cream? Probably not, but hey, it's a cool picture made of food. If it gives you a "hey, what if I..." moment, so much the better. And that's really all I'm doing.
Written communicator, food artist, bitter ex-medical student, mama of beautiful daughters both here and departed, lifelong cancer patient and probable medical-text centerfold. Rampant creator who tries to keep her feet firmly on the ground.
Don't touch; I bite.