The Tiffin Tin

What\’s in your lunchbox?

Archive for June 2006

Lifeboat Tea

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Some people are born tea drinkers, some people come to it later in life and have to feel their way.

I’m in the latter camp. When I was in my twenties, I lived with two wonderful people — an English woman and her husband, who’d grown up in Los Angeles, although you’d never know it because he sounds more English than she. Every morning, Jamie would bring Catherine a cup of tea. He’d make it in a plain blue tea pot. It had milk and sugar in it. (She liked her tea weak back then — “just show the bag to the water,” she’d say, which I think meant you were only supposed to keep the tea bag in the water for a moment.) This, and my first trip to England, around this time, is the origin of my love of tea.

Sometimes, in the market, I stray from my usual tea (which is Peet’s Assam Golden Tip), and buy something else. (In truth, I do this a lot. This morning, my husband, who likes to quantify things, informed me that I have thirteen boxes and tin containers of tea in our cupboard and couldn’t we please throw a few of them away? In fact, no, we can’t. But that’s another story.)

At the market yesterday, I bought the two teas you see in the picture. The Lifeboat Tea I’ve not yet tried. But somehow, somewhere, sometime the owners of the Berkeley Bowl are handing “4p” over to the charity that runs Lifeboat Tea. How that money gets to England I do not know. But I’m happy to be part of such a worthy project.

Are you wondering, when, exactly, is she going to get to the container part? Now, dear reader.

I have spent a good part of the last two years looking for a decent to-go cup for my morning tea, the tea I drink in the car on the way to the BART station. My requirements for this container took shape after several unpleasant, and all-too common experiences with to-go cups. Mainly, they all leak. They just leak differently. Some of them leak at the place where you screw the lid onto the cap. Some of them leak when you drink from the cup. And some of them leak when the cup leans just a little too far forward.

The cup in this picture does none of these things. I cannot tell you how to buy it for yourself because I couldn’t find it online when I looked. Perhaps that’s okay. Finding the right to-go cup is a holy grail kind of journey, one we should all have to go on ourselves. (In case you’re not up to that, here are a few clues: I got this container at Barnes & Noble. It cost $4.99.) It does not leak — in any way at all – thanks to the very clever way they’ve made the top, with those slits they’ve constructed on the lid. That it has pictures of famous authors on it, when I’d rather have a pattern that is plainer or at least abstract, is something I can live with.

One thing that the typical to-go cup cannot do, and probably will never be able to do, is duplicate the experience of drinking your tea from a cup that leaves no flavors of its own. All to-go cups add their own small smell to the tea. It’s the plastic and the stainless steel, I think. My solution to this is to make sure that when I really, really want to drink good to-go tea, I make tea that is a little aromatic. This is also a good solution to the kind of tea that you get in restaurants where they don’t really boil the water, but just spurt it out of the cappucino machine. Aromatic tea covers these small flaws. That’s what the organic Earl Grey is about. You’ll note it’s made in France. That doesn’t bother me one bit, and it’s actually pretty good tea, even if it’s not English.

So there you go: the perfect tea container, and some advice about how to make tea to-go that tastes pretty good. This is what makes life golden.


Written by bloglily

June 27, 2006 at 11:08 am

Brown Bag Lunch

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One of my favorite lunch containers is a vertical bento box called a Ms. Bento. Possibly its appeal lies in its utter foreignness. And the way it so perfectly houses food. One of my older sons has one of these. It’s not a Ms. Bento, but is quite like it, a bit smaller and appropriate for a kid, a nice plain stainless steel. He, like me, loves the orderliness of this kind of lunch and he likes the vertical bento box thermos.

Unlike me, he is not enamored of foreignness. At least not when other people — his peers, I mean — are looking on. (When his peers aren’t looking, and doing what kids do, namely laughing at anything different, he’s an early lover of all things different. Ethiopian food, dark hot chocolate, new flavors. Nothing throws him.)

And so, it was a huge sadness to me when he said he’d rather have his lunch in a brown bag. A plain brown bag? Something less foreign I couldn’t imagine. I was sad for exactly 24 hours.

Until I got to thinking about the charm of American lunch bags. I remember a French friend once told me how much she loved paper grocery bags. For her, they delivered exactly the same charm of foreignness that the little string bag she’d brought from France gave to me. My plan? I’m going to pretend like I’ve never seen a brown bag before, and pack it the way a Japanese mother would.

Here’s how.

  • First, let’s tackle the brown bag. There are two problems with brown paper bags. One — they are thin and tend to collapse if anything spills. When you’re ten, you spill a lot of things. Second — they don’t have a handle and they’re a pain to carry. Third — they’re never big enough. The answer to each of these is in the type of kraft paper bag you get in stores sometimes. It’s very much like a brown lunch bag except it has a handle and it’s a little sturdier. You can buy them a lot of places online. And if you want to decorate them, you can use a huge stamp, one that says _________’s Lunch. And then you can write in our kid’s name.
  • Another possibility for the lunch bag that doesn’t require recycling bags, is this canvas bag.
  • Second, you still need some kind of cooling system. Built-in is best, but in a pinch you can just thrown in an ice pack. I found something really neat when I started looking around for something to put inside the brown bag. It’s here. It’s expensive, though, so for a while I’m just going to stick with the ice pack. Now, I’ve got to go order those lunch bags.

Written by bloglily

June 25, 2006 at 10:23 am

Saturday Morning Gingerbread

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This morning, gingerbread came in the form of muffins. And when we were through eating almost all of them, I put the rest in another container that comes from Koreana Plaza (23rd & Telegraph, Oakland).

There are three things I like very much about this container. First, it’s glass. Glass doesn’t get smelly, you can see inside to the wonderful contents, and when you microwave it you’re not going to wonder if something icky will leach into your food. Second, the lid is a marvel of thoughtful engineering. It’s plastic, and it snaps over the top with four hinges, one on each side. It’s easy to do, and there’s a butterfly embossed on the hinges, purely for your pleasure. Third, it was not expensive — $7. That’s pretty good for something you’re going to use forever.

Written by bloglily

June 24, 2006 at 12:42 pm

Morning Tea

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Waiting on the Sill
My husband left this flask and tea cup on the window sill next to my bed this morning. The container is made specifically for brewing tea, with a clever little tea strainer that screws onto the top and a lid that screws on top of that.

A fine thermos and morning tea matter in our house. Turns out, it is the husband’s job to prepare it for the wife. He doesn’t drink tea, but he still makes it. This is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Written by bloglily

June 23, 2006 at 7:21 am

Posted in Breakfast, Tea, Thermos

Lunchbox Notes

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A few months ago, when I was in the cafeteria with my youngest son, I noticed a post-it note stuck to the side of a juice box in someone’s lunch. It said, “You’re sweet. Love, Mom.” My mother never did this, but it seems like a lovely thing to do, a nice way to remind your child, especially a young child, that you are still present, even when you’re not physically with them.

And so, as it often happens, an entire industry has sprung up around this simple idea. In this case, an industry dedicated to relieving parents of the burden of actually thinking of what to write on these notes. I checked them out on the web. Here’s a sample. And another.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of these notes-for-sale (and even for free) aren’t anywhere nearly as good as ones you can write yourself.

So, Ms. Smarty Pants, you ask, what would you like to find in your lunch?

When I was a kid, and even now, i like my mom’s handwriting. I’d take pretty much anything she wanted to say, as long as it wasn’t insulting. As for my own children, beyond something yummy, I’m betting what they’d most like is a joke. The dumber the better. Find a joke on the web, print it out or write it down, sign it or add a word or two of your own and stick it in the lunchbox. Same with cartoons. Or use a post-it note, like the one I saw. That seemed to be working just fine. There are other ideas on this Tiffin Tin page, which is updated regularly with examples from the lunches packed for my children.

In a pinch (actually — an emergency so dire you probably wouldn’t be packing lunch anyway), you could try one of these.

Written by bloglily

June 22, 2006 at 5:17 am

Posted in jokes, lunchbox notes

A Summer’s Day

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There are few things that give more pleasure than finding a wonderful container in which to pack your breakfast. This one is from Koreana Plaza, on Telegraph & 23rd Street in Oakland.  It’s made out of a glass that’s quite sturdy, but also clear. The lid screws on.

Besides being exactly the right size for yogurt (in this case, Straus Family Creamery yogurt), it has one other feature that may not be clear from the picture: several lines from Shakespeare are printed next to the picture of the fruit. They are:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Summer’s lease cannot be extended. And so we have to eat all the stone fruit and berries we can, while they are here. I’ll be eating them with a little yogurt drizzled on top.

And if you’re curious, here’s the rest of this sonnet:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Written by bloglily

June 21, 2006 at 5:34 pm

‘skool Mate

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I became acutely aware this morning that I will not be able to produce a site that contains a parade of jewel-like photographs of neatly packed, healthy food for my children.  In other words, this morning my husband made lunch.

He will not allow me to photograph it, I'm pretty sure.  But he did buy those capri sun sports drinks the boys love, and know are slightly off limits.

So, in lieu of a photo of the perfect lunch that did not go out of our house this morning, here's a solution to a problem.  The problem:  those soft sided lunch boxes that cannot every really become clean, not even when they're worked over by someone with a toothbrush, a toothpick and a mission.

The solution:  an igloo cooler.  You can hose it down.  It's easy to carry and pretty indestructible.

It's best for young children who like the construction worker look.  By the fifth grade, it's not that cool.  The way you know this?  For a while, they were calling the kid-sized version of this cooler the " 'skool mate."   If an adult tells you it's cool, it's pretty sure not to be.

Written by bloglily

June 20, 2006 at 8:29 am

Posted in Coolers, Igloo