Sunday, September 27, 2009

This means something?

After the Thing, I decided to get back to lunches that I could ship FedEx. Here's what I came up with.
George is roast beef and turkey with brown mustard on whole wheat, sitting atop banana chips, broccoli and Cheez-Its. The banana is American and Swiss cheese on pepperoni stuck to a Ritz cracker with cream cheese. The little black dots are fish eggs; I don't think you can call something that sells for $4 a bottle "caviar." They taste like salt. The yellow hat has the same ingredients sans fish eggs. Someday I'm (or a cardiologist is) going to do a find on "cheese" in these posts. Had I been making this for myself, I would have done this scene, but I didn't want to give Primo ideas. It's already hard enough to keep him out of my ether. I tell him that it's like the dishes in the glass cabinet - for company - but you know 5-year-olds!
It ended up being another good one all the way around, though. Primo was able to identify it, ate most of it and told me he "liked that Curious George was thinking about things. Like the hat and the banana." The third Ritz was just intended as a flower design, but he interpreted it as a thought balloon, which, as I look at it, makes perfect sense.

After dinner a few nights back I dressed up some leftovers for my wife to have between work and an appointment. The owl is carved from a Bosc pear. His irises are carrot and his pupils are cheese. The branch is also pear and the pine cone and moon are radish. The leaves behind him are cucumber, there are mushrooms at the bottom and everything is on top of some rice noodles.
She was appreciative of the owl. Moreover, she's seemed to like the blog so far, which really means a lot because she's been writing for a living since college.
After the post about the mallard snack, she mentioned that she thought I would have come back to the "Sopranos" ducks in that post.
I created a physical representation of a departure metaphor in sausage and olive. Come back? I haven't even left yet.
Maybe it's a Mars/Venus thing and Teri Garr would side with my wife. "I don't know, I just thought he was going to come back to the Devil's Tower thing."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If you meet the Buddha in your lunchbox, kill him!

You may remember that I learned some lessons from the Joker episode. Well, I figured that the Thing fruit salad over here would be safe to travel when I cemented it in tapioca pudding. The Thing is cantaloupe scored to look like rocks. The "crash" and his mouth are carved apple. He's got ever-lovin' blueberry eyes and the debris is blueberries, grapes and maraschino cherries with strawberry-leather bricks. I even shook this one around a little bit to see how it held up. I didn't go nuts, but I figured it would survive a short walk. It might have, but it didn't make it through being dropped upside-down onto the car floor and stepped on on the way out of the car seat. I went ahead and surveyed the damage right there on the hood. It was, in insurance parlance, totaled.
I'm about to wax philosophical, so unless you are the sort of person who has tiny "Thinker" bookends somewhere in your house, have stopped to watch a street-mime dig a hole, are high and without access to your copy of "2001," are manually verifying a computer word-count (you know, just to be sure,) or think this might be the time I mention you by name, you might want to skip the coming lavender text. Feel free to bail in the middle, too. It will certainly be moving slowly enough.
I was reading a bento blog recently - not this one, which I think is really great and need to acknowledge - and I saw a post about not understanding how people could spend so much time on something that a kid is going to mess up in seconds. The trite response is: "you must not have kids, because that describes everything included in and including your life once you do." That doesn't really answer a valid question, though.
When I was in college, Tibetan monks visited our campus on a mandala-making tour. Over the course of several days, they painstakingly constructed this intricate work of art from sand and then, presumably, destroyed it (I wasn't there for that part, but, with sand mandalas, it's what one does.) My gut reaction was that it was a crazy way to spend time, but as I really thought about it, the zen started to seep in. If this thing was going to be gone forever in a few days, I was lucky to have seen it. Lucky to have been present at this tiny sliver of time when the fruits of these days of labor preceded by years of experience were borne. But that would make people who missed it unlucky, or me unlucky for missing something else to see the mandala. So, not so much fortunate to be at that particular place at that particular time as fortunate to appreciate it - to really be present in a moment. And sometimes it takes something dramatic to remind you that every experience is one that will soon be gone forever, to be replaced by another that will soon be gone forever. And it's worth pondering which moments to remember or anticipate at the expense of the present.
So there are these chunks of time, usually after he's asleep, where I shut other things out and my mind narrows and narrows its focus. From a scene, to a character to a detail, the extraneous falls away and what is left expands to fill my world. It's meditation. At least sometimes. And when I'm done, there's this hyper-transitory artifact that, by its very nature, can't be appreciated fully by more than one person. Anyone who isn't eating it stops short. But it can, in theory, be more fully appreciated than so many other things because it's food. It can be smelled, touched, seen, heard and tasted. It's an opportunity for what was once my complete focus to become his complete focus. But it turns out he doesn't like tapioca pudding, so this particular fruit salad cannot be his daijo.
Okay, why spend so much time on something a kid will mess up? Because I enjoy doing it, I enjoy the thought that he might enjoy it, it's for him and nobody else and he might, in fact, enjoy it. Even if what he enjoys is messing it up. Which it isn't, because as I repacked his lunchbox and told him that I was sorry that his lunch didn't look like the Thing anymore. He waited a second and said: "Daddy, maybe you should carry my lunchbox on surprise lunch days."
I will, if he wants me to. But if you're going to do your creating in sand, you can't get your saffron robes in a bunch when the tide comes in.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Go, Speed Racer, go! Yeah, just keep on going ... further ... further ... no, it's okay, I'll tell you when you've gone far enough. Sure you'll be able to hear me!

Primo is a big Wachowski fan, but since he thought my "V for Vendetta" chopped salad was Professor X talking to a clown, we went with Speed here. I'm kidding, of course. We didn't let our 5-year-old see "V for Vendetta." We learned our lesson with "Bound." The Mach 5 is turkey, pepperoni and provolone with mayo on the heel of a sourdough loaf and the wheels are dolmas. Speed Racer is a boiled egg, cheddar, turkey, nori and a thin slice of honey gelatin for the goggles. Between the crusty bread, the pepperoni, and, let’s face it, the steering wheel that looks like a nearly-slanderous mustache, the checkered flag (apple) seems more like a tablecloth in an italian restaurant. “Speed rounds the bottle of house red and - Oh no! Captain Terror has deployed a rosemary-infused oil slick! Look out, Speed!” Still, I was really pleased that a bath in lemon juice kept the apples red and white instead of red and brown.
The top slice of the sandwich was a little hard for Primo to get his mouth around, so he ate it open-faced. He seemed to really enjoy this one for both the subject material and the ingredients. When I asked him about it, he said: “At first I thought it was Mario, but I knew it was Speed Racer when I saw the 'M' on his car and hat." (We're going to refrain from untangling that little mind-bender until the spelling foundation is a bit more solid.) "The apples sort of looked like a racing flag. Maybe next time, you could cover the red parts up with black pepperoni."
To my ears, that's a kindergartener begging for an introduction to black pudding.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The mallard of jealousy

I made this for my wife. The ladybugs are pepperoni and cream cheese on Ritz crackers, the small mushrooms are radishes and the large one is a mini Babybel cheese wheel. The foreground is California roll sushi with dabs of wasabi, and the plant the ladybugs are hanging out on is cucumber and edamame in the shell. There are spicy pickled cauliflower and carrot accents.
She had mentioned getting herself a bento box if I would make lunches for her. Also a lawnmower if I would cut the grass, a rock if I would make stone soup and a sow's ear if I would sew it into a silk purse.
She's actually really appreciative, both of the effort and the outcome. And she doesn't necessarily need her subject to have a television show. Or promotional DVD(s). I'm going to put a little rant in white type after this next period, but there's a picture of something else if you scroll down. If you skipped that last link, good call - it will be easier to finish reading this while not bleeding from your eyes. Double-plus good call if you have any scientific knowledge tucked even into the dimmest recesses of your brain, because this show goes medieval on science. In the "Pulp Fiction" sense, and in the "heresy of heliocentrism" sense. It doesn't even make as much sense as a Mad Lib. It's like they're scatting using scientific terms. All of which would make me no difference if Fisher-Price didn't contend that "Kids will be having such a blast with the Planet Heroes™ action figures, they might not even realize they’re learning at the same time!" And, really, why would they? You probably didn't realize there was mercury in your tuna sandwich, but you're still just a teeny-tiny bit more poisoned than you used to be. And by the time you're aware of the Planet Heroes™, they's pretty much already done given you all the learnin' they's a-gonna. Namely that there are planets. Not that any of this will stop me from progressing through all the Planet Heroes™as the charaben-ery continues.

Mmmm ... cathartic.

Anyway, this is a little duck snack I made for my wife a few days back. His head is an olive stuffed with blue cheese and he's sitting among seasoned broccoli and mushrooms. There's Swiss cheese behind him and a little piece of garlic toast backing it all. His body is made of sausage. It's pork rather than duck. And it's that tiny flair for droll attention to detail that glares as the solitary difference between myself and Martha Stewart.

Also, we got a positive visual on Primo's friend from school at the park a few days back. We were walking back to our car when someone began screaming our son's name- something they must teach them all to do, if pick-up time is any indication. We looked and saw a small boy trying, it seemed, to climb out of the window of an SUV. When his door was opened he ran full speed to within inches our little guy, locked eyes and shouted "Hello, Primo!" "Hey!" was my son's response and then there was a brief moment of silence until the other boy's mother caught up. Then all of us, including our son, learned that "Robin's" name is Jack.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the Name of the Father

Nemo here is an open-faced roast-beef and cheddar (yellow and white) sandwich with radish garnish. He's cemented to his whole-wheat base by garlic and chive cream cheese and he's floating in a sea of snow peas, edamame and dill pickle slices. The seaweed is ... well, seaweed. Without the flash from the camera, he looked more matte and cartoonish and, strange to say when speaking of a fish, better.
Nemo was probably two-thirds eaten when he came home, but it was clumsily done. If you're only going to eat part of this little guy, you take alternating bites from top and bottom, leaving just a bit of sandwich between them so that you're left with a head and tail connected by fish bones. Teed up, right? You need to crush that one out of the park, son.
Anyway, I have to believe that Finding Nemo has supplanted the Lion King as Disney champ of the "Daddy's Got Something In His Eye" section on Netflix. Okay, so dad's not looking down on his son whenever the stars shine. Instead, dad watched his son's mom die violently while trying to protect her children, only one of whom survived. And his son has a disability. And he's sending his son off to school for the first time. And they have a big fight and his son, who is also all that's left of the woman he loved, rejects him and is then abducted. Thank God fish don't have the draft. And how is Daniel Day-Lewis not associated with this movie?
So, I'm going to presume, and ask the reader to allow, that better-founded pathos is being tapped into when I go one better further and get misty over Finding Nemo ... the Musical. And not just any musical, but the 30-minute almost-criminally-abridged musical currently on stage at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. A stage tread just prior by rollerblading monkeys. (To be fair, that was another show which, in its own way, illustrated why boys need fathers. Yes, that's a headset mic.) And not even the musical, but the soundtrack to the musical which I've included on the 8-hour mp3 cd that lives in our family car's stereo on an expired visa.
I'm not embarrassed that I enjoy the music. Even if it didn't have a modicum of credibility, I have always been unapologetic about my musical tastes. I have no regrets about 1986, Stryper! I was 12, but I had an old soul. Please note that I never said that nobody should apologize for the music I've brought into my life. It's just not going to be me. Maybe Greatest Hits: Live in Puerto Rico was their apology. It was a long time coming and they should have done it before ... April 2006? WTF? Does that mean they're still together? I wouldn't know, because I am soooo off them.
Anyway, thanks to our younger son, Secundo, "Mee-mo" has been on repeat more that its fair share. I'm sure I'll grow more and more desensitized to lyrics like "You mean so much to me, I don't know what I would do/ In this big, blue world, if something should happen to you," but, as of scant weeks ago at dusk in a supermarket parking lot, waiting for mom to run in and buy something that escapes me but was certainly not so poignant as diapers or "Sunday night sundae" ingredients or a Father's Day card, it hasn't happened yet. And, when it does, it will be time to start getting nostalgic about when our boys were young enough to love a Disney stage show unironically.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Demand a panda

There was still plenty of rice left over from the Penguin, so I decided that, two weeks in, I had waited long enough to send my boy off with the first lunch that might actually embarrass him.

The boys in the lunchroom can easily identify it as a panda. Any girls who come over for an eyeful the cuddly little guy ("OOOH!") will see that it is constructed from fish stuffed into rice and rolled in seaweed, surrounding a ball of shrimp meatloaf. ("EEEW!") That's what they call "leading with the left," son. Better to learn it here than in the ring.

And now for some mitigation.

None of the fish is raw, it is canned salmon made into a salad. Just one step afield from a tuna fish sandwich. Also, just look at the photo for a minute and appreciate ALL the foregone opportunities for heart shapes. Carrot flowers, the tomato slice on the egg, the egg itself, the panda's toes, foot pads ... eyes. Think of me what you will, I kept this all above-the-belt. Except, I guess, that putting it in his lunchbox, not telling him about it and letting him open it in front of everybody was kind of like running up and rabbit-punching him while he was climbing through the ropes. But, hey, for some it's the sport of it, for others it's the theater of it, right?

As far as I can tell, it didn't embarrass him at all. In fact, it was still semi-recognizable when it came home after school, so he hadn't scrambled it around on purpose or thrown it away. The pickled green beans, the egg and two of the sushi-limbs were gone, indicating that he hadn't simply seen the lunch and then quickly stuffed it back in his bag. I had also sent a container full of blueberries and orange slices, so he spent most of his lunchtime eating that, probably with his lunch on full display the whole time. Since the Joker, I usually ask what his lunch was to determine whether they're remaining intact until he can eat them. I asked while we were in the car. "Panda," he said, smiling as he turned to look out the window.

When my wife and I went to Europe in 2002, I made sure our international flight originated in Atlanta, because they had giant pandas on exhibit. It's surreal to think about something this way, but I wanted to go and see this living, breathing thing with my own eyes because I thought it's entire species might finally disappear during my lifetime. That I might, someday, end up explaining that to my kids. That I would have to tease apart pandas from dragons and dinosaurs when we were separating things that never lived from things that lived a long time ago from things that daddy saw once and they'd never get to see.

"Did you like it?"  I asked. "Yeah," he answered, still looking out the window, "especially the blueberries." Then, beneath eyes locked in the "thousand-yard stare," he began picking his nose. And I imagined us engaging in an eerie repetition of our conversation somewhere in ... the future:

"What was lunch today, son?"
"Did you like it?"
"Bleep, dad, it was a nightmare! An ongoing, everyday nightmare! Panda is like welfare meat! I might as well just go down and get in line myself!"
"Now, son, panda -"
"'Is the most nutrient-dense and, if I say so myself, delicious of the traditionally-grown meat products available to members of our caste.' Got it, dad. The panda farm keeps a roof over our heads, the panda farm paid for my new jet-boots, blah, blah, blah. Do you know what M'thuselah Pitt-Joile-Willis brought for lunch today? Pegacorn. A unicorn with wings. Bioengineered, nanofactured, and braised."
"Is it so important -"
"To be like other people? No, dad, it's not. But it is important to not have you constantly drawing attention to me so that they don't all see that I'm not! And work on your Mandarin! You sound like you're from New Fujian for bleep's sake!  Bleep bleeped embarrassment."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wheel of Symbolism: Penguin Edition

Boy howdy do I hate mob movies! Vampire movies, too. If When they make the first movie about the vampire mafia ... well, I'm probably just going to exaggeratedly roll my eyes and blaspheme, but I'm really really not going to be happy. I'm not going to see "Don of the Dead." I'm not going to see "The Forsaken-by-God-Father." I might see "The Undeadables," if they get Sean Connery and some appropriate vampire-defaming slurs. "Just like a sparkly, bringing a knife to a stake-fight." "They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs back to the morgue. Without their head, which you send to a separate morgue across a river. That's the Chicago way!" 
It's not just mob movies I hate, but mob stories, really. Unless Until mobsters "rub me out," I just really don't think I could care less about their exploits. Except for "The Sopranos." No, wait, even "The Sopranos." But I totally get the ducks. I used to get them on an intellectual level, but now I feel like I really get the ducks. Unless the metaphor extends to having members of your family filled with buckshot or end up hanging in a butcher shop or something else specific to mobsters. Then, if we're being completist, I don't totally get the ducks. But to the extent I can get them, having watched the pilot episode and probably bits totaling another 34 minutes of the series, I get the ducks. And one of mine is starting to lose some down.

 He's taken his first step into society, really. He's starting to deal with people on his own. I didn't even get to introduce him to his class. He's walking up to other little human beings and making first contact all by himself. I know he's going to need me less and less as time goes by. I'm sure if I really thought about it I could figure out other things he doesn't need me for anymore. Probably I'll do that tonight when I go to bed. What the heck - how about every night? This feels like the first real separation, though. From now on, more and more often, he's going to just be Primo. Not "my son Primo." Except when I'm talking to people and he's not there.

Now, before we get too far off on another subject, let's bring this back around to me. There was a review of "Public Enemies" that described John Dillinger as "handsome" before the "more" link. Leading as it did to the rest of a review of a gangster movie, the link went unclicked, but it did make me wonder why, of the adjectives that could describe a thief and murderer, "handsome" beat the jump. The biographical entry I ended up reading because of it said that "[H]is father, a hardworking grocer, raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary extremes, harsh and repressive on some occasions, but generous and permissive on others." Except for the grocer part, that could be me! And even that part is really just a matter of time! I've taken away his whole collection of "Bob the Builder" vehicles for not listening to me before! And we've provided him with a whole collection of "Bob the Builder" vehicles!
But my son is a well-adjusted, right? Why, he's just today been telling us about one of his new friends at school. He's forming connections with people. He's played with this kid every day at recess this first week of school. He sits near him at lunch.
"You have a friend at school? What's his name, honey?"
"I don't know, but he likes to be Robin!"

A week in, my son doesn't know a single name. They sit four-to-a-table four seven hours a day, he doesn't know a single name

If you don't let them in, they can't hurt you, son.

Here's another cold little sociopath you can spend lunchtime with.

This is the first onigiri for Primo. It's stuffed with smoked mussels and garnished with nori, a cucumber slice and a cracker. If it looks exotic, please bear in mind that it is ultimately a wad of white rice. My son loves some white rice. His hat is a roll, also with mussels,  that wasn't quite sealed to give a highlight. The shirt and tie are a BabyBel mini cheese wheel and the penguins are shrimp balls with nori and carrots.

And Dillinger is no Alvin Karpowicz.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Joke's on me

Making these things is a coping mechanism. I used to try to do something fun with my older son, who we call Primo, every day those other miserable bastards were in school, and something special whenever we could. The park, the zoo, the pool, the library, the children's museum - all staples. Some, like the fire station and the strawberry patch and - one more nail in the coffin of the idea of an all-loving God - the John Deere tractor and combine exhibit at the western Iowa fair, I still get props for to this day. Others are best left to manifest themselves as compulsions and phobias later in life. Lucky for me he's still eating salami 'til then, because he got two "surprise lunches," as he calls them during his first week of school, and his second was Batman's antipasto antithesis: The Joker.

Talk about your lessons learned. Let me say that these are all foods that my son eats. Let me also say that yes, those cherry tomatoes and cucumbers are fresh from our garden. Yes, his hair is chopped fresh basil, plucked from a still-living stalk in said garden. He is accented with koshering salt and fresh cracked pepper. What’s that? He has indeed been drizzled with olive oil.  Yes, good eye, as a matter of fact, his suit is cut from a homegrown, heirloom Black Krim purple tomato not really done justice by this photo. Also, a kindergartener swings and shakes his lunchbox a lot. Almost to comical excess, one might say.

This I didn't fully appreciate until I asked him how his lunch was and he replied, with uncharacteristic economy of language, "good." I asked him whether he knew who lunch was supposed to be. He told me that he didn't, but that the tomatoes were good and that they were the kind they picked one time with his aunt and that's the time when they went swimming in grandma's pool and the dog... So, as my son returned to form, I wondered whether he had been looking at the Joker upside down. After all, he couldn't read the cheddar "HAs" either way. Once we got home, though, it was obvious what had happened. At least everything had gotten a nice, even coating of dressing.
So, everything since has been packed in tight or has used natural stickiness to its advantage. As in life, really.
When my son did eventually see this lunch as it was intended, because my wife posted it on Facebook, he was impressed. His lips pursed and his eyes lit up. "Whoa! The Joker!" passed breathlessly from his mouth and left a smile there as he looked at me and at his mom and then back to the screen. And it was nice to be there for "the reveal," since I'm not there in the lunchroom. And it might have been even nicer that he just stayed there in that happy place where the picture took him, rather than moving on to disappointment that it didn't make it to school that way.

Bring me Batman's head on a platter

I’ve been a stay at home dad for just about three years. I like to think I’ve taken to it pretty well, considering. Both of my boys still have all the fingers and toes they started with, are free from scurvy and, to the best of my knowledge, don’t yet know about the wondrous pixies who live, waiting only to play with children, inside matchbooks. I’ve grown so fond of them during our time together that I will now put my name at the top of the waiting list when I give them up for adoption.

Now my oldest son is starting school, which is not the same as it was “in my day.” Kindergarten in Omaha, Nebraska, when I was young, was a half-day exercise in socialization through napping and regimentation by graham cracker. Now it is a career. My son’s school day starts 45 minutes later than my wife’s workday and ends just over an hour sooner. I’m turning my progeny over to complete strangers for well on 40 hours a week. And, if they don’t like him, there isn’t even biological imperative to fall back on. They don’t care whether his genes get passed on. They don’t teach middle school.

And he gets twenty minutes for lunch.

Which is where I can sneak back into his day.

Like this:

The first one I sent with him was a Batman bust made from a turkey and cream cheese on pumpernickel sandwich with white American cheese for the jaw and eyes, grapes and licorice bites for the night sky and hard-boiled egg with sushi nori for the Bat-Signal.

I confess I was a bit let down when I asked him how his lunch was, as his first response was that he hadn’t eaten it all. “I ate the grapes, and the candy, and the egg,” he continued, opening his lunchbox in the car and removing the sandwich box that houses his lunches. I thought to myself that maybe he didn’t like the pumpernickel, or worse, he didn’t want to eat Batman, which would really pretty much defeat the purpose of making these things. But then he took his sandwich out and said “and then we had to get up because the bell rang,” and took a big bite out of Bruce Wayne’s lantern jaw. I was relieved, happy, and not really at all surprised when he asked whether all of his lunches were going to be Batman.

No, son, they aren't all going to be Batman. But they are all probably going to violate copyright to some extent. And, when you're lucky, infringe on trademark.