News about The Just Bento Cookbook
I haven't talked a lot about my book since I started working on it last September, but here's lots of news about it. The final edits were finished up last week, and the files went to the printers...yesterday! I've only seen the PDFs, but it really looks fantastic. And, it's already available for pre-order on all the Amazons! The purchase links are near the end of this post.
This is the cover by the way - I think it looks great (as well it should...the number of reshoots we had to do on that photo...oy vay...)
The Just Bento Cookbook - the basic facts
- The title is now official: it's The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go. (Incidentally, it has a different title in Japanese, which only appears in the back of the book and on the "obi" or little paper band that is required of books in Japan. The Japanese title is ジャスト・ベントー：世界に届ける、毎日のお弁当, which means "Just Bento: Everyday bentos delivered to the world". Okay that sounds a bit weird in English, but it does make sense in Japanese!)
- It is softcover with a dust jacket, just like a Japanese bento cookbook. If you like the look and feel of Japanese cookbooks, you'll love the look and feel of The Just Bento Cookbook for sure! We decided early on (as I mentioned in my post back in September) to keep it softcover, so that it would be affordable and easy to use.
- There are 128 pages, and there is an Index and a Glossary of Japanese food ingredients. Lots of gorgeous full-color photos, especially of each complete bento, shot by the talented photographer Ms. Makiko Doi, plus many supplementary b&w photos. (The same first name is just a coincidence! I did not do my own photography by the way because I totally screwed it up in the early going...but in any case I'm quite happy with the photos in the book.)
- 85-90% of the recipes are brand new, never featured on Just Bento, Just Hungry or anywhere else. The rest are some basic "foundation" recipes and how-tos, plus a few favorites. (You can't have a bento book without things like how to cook rice, tamagoyaki, and onigiri, you know!) Some old favorites have been revised and refined too.
- 60% of the recipes are for Japanese-style bentos; the rest are for what we decided to call Not So Japanese bentos. You could call them lunchboxes, but I just like to think of them as "international" food put together with a bento aesthetic and philosophy.
- Each complete bento has a timeline, just like the complete bentos on this site. All the bentos are designed to be put together in under 20 minutes in the morning (some do require some prepping the night before or making some things in advance and stashing them in the freezer and so on...hey, just like the bentos on the site!)
- Tons of tips! The book is crammed with tips. Maybe too many tips, I don't know!
- (Edited to add) The measurements are in both U.S. and metric. In other words, I've used cups (using the U.S. cup measurement of approximately 240ml) and ounces as well as grams and milliliters. So wherever you are, you should be able to measure things properly!
Getting into some details
Mixing Japanese and Not Japanese bentos
By having a mix of Japanese and Not So Japanese recipes and bento boxes, I hope that the book will appeal both to Japanese food fans as well as people who aren't that fond of Japanese food per se, but are interested in putting together tasty and attractive bento boxes or lunch boxes or however you want to refer to them.
The Japanese section sticks to using ingredients that are widely available, or can be easily ordered online. As you probably know if you've been following this site, it's always been my philosophy to stay away from hard-to-find Japanese ingredients as much as possible. In the book, I was even more strict with myself; none of the main bento recipes use vegetables that can't be easily bought at a typical American or Western supermarket (though some of the variation or 'extra' recipes do), and the only Japanese flavorings and condiments I have used are the basics - soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin, rice vinegar and sesame oil, plus dashi. All of these can be mail-ordered from Amazon Groceries in the U.S., Japan Centre in the UK, and many other places - and these days, most supermarkets have them too (except maybe for dashi ingredients or dashi powder...but dashi is so critical to Japanese cooking I couldn't leave it out!)
Besides condiments and flavorings, the only Japanese ingredients I used were the basic seaweeds (wakame, konbu, and nori), frozen edamame, umeboshi, tofu and abura-age (fried tofu skins) - and of course, Japanese style rice. I think you can find most of these at many supermarkets these days too, except perhaps for umeboshi...but only a couple of recipes call for umeboshi so you can avoid those easily. In particular, I avoided using the convenient ready-made foods that are standbys in Japanese bentos, but are not widely available outside of Japan - things such as all the fish-paste products (kamaboko, chikuwa, fish-paste sausage), not to mention Japanese-style cuts of meat (very thinly cut or finely chopped (not minced) pork and beef). In any case, the Japanese bento recipes do taste "authentically Japanese" but should not be hard to put together for most people around the world.
I'm particuarly proud of the Not So Japanese section - it was quite a challenge to come up with a variety of bento box combinations that worked, that didn't rely on the old standards!
After a lot of discussions and back-and-fro'ing with my editor, we decided to make the book primarily for omnivores, to appeal to the widest audience possible, so most of the bentos do have some sort of fish or meat in them. However, there are tons of individual vegetarian recipes, and a couple of all-vegetarian bentos. (Maybe a vegetarian bento book as a followup...who knows? I can't even think about starting another book at the moment though...^_^;)
It's not that cute
This is not a charaben/cute bento book; it's a practical, "everyday lunch" bento book, just as the title says. There are many easy-to-do decoration ideas scattered throughout the book, and I guess at least one bento is decidedly cute, but it's almost impossible to do highly decorative bentos in under 20 minutes, especially in the morning when you are rushed anyway. I did try to make the bentos attractive to the eye though, since the way our food looks is important!
(For a cute-bento book in English, look for the just published Yum Yum Bento Box, co-authored by Pikko of Adventures in Bentomaking and Maki Ogawa of Cute Obento, as well as Hawaii's Bento Box Cookbook: 2nd Course by Susan Yuen. I haven't seen either of these books myself yet, but they are by very talented charaben artists so I'm sure they're good! Kawaii Bento Boxes, a translated-from-Japanese book that I do have a copy of, is also very good for charaben.)
I've moved this section to the top of the cookbook info section.
Some U.S. book promotional activities are tentatively scheduled for January. So far the only definite city is New York, but it's early days yet so we shall see where the publishers send me. If you want me to show up at your town, why not mention it here! I don't have final say in the schedule of course...but who knows? ^_^
(Here, I have a shameful confession to make. I had a chance to appear on a certain TV show...but they needed an audition tape ASAP. I didn't/couldn't provide one, for technical, time, my-eyes-are-puffy-with-allergies, and just scared-of-being-on-camera reasons, so I'm probably not going to be on that TV show. I suck at publicity, really. I really admire people who are good at it. I'll probably never get to be a guest judge on The Iron Chef either. Sniff.)
So...that's it for the moment! I am both excited and very calm about the book - it was a lot of very hard work indeed, but I sure hope that it will be worth it in the end!
(Due to a large number of inquiries I've decided to stop taking any more requests for review copies for the moment, at least until the book is actually out. The requests received so far have been forwarded to the publisher. Thanks so much for your interest!)
Update: Take a sneak peek inside the book, and see the Table of Contents.
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