Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Lunch - Bouquets and Bento

I had been toying with the idea of packing bento lunches (in some extra EasyLunchboxes I had been saving up for just such an occasion) for Little Z's preschool teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day. But then I saw Crystal's Rambling's post about making mini edible fruit bouquets, with some great little tips. Hmmm... what to do... what to do?
So when her drop-off preschool administrator sent out an email asking for fools volunteers to plan meals for all six teachers at the school, I got excited. The request was kind of vague, other than assigning each of 8 meals (breakfast and lunch, Monday through Thursday) to the different classes. Our class was in charge of Tuesday's lunch. Maybe I could make a bento for one of her teachers. Or both teachers! So I responded, asking for more info on how this worked. Fool! Like a cow to the slaughter!

Guess who was put in charge of organizing all six lunches? You guessed it! Plus a drink!
I wasn't sure how to ask the other parents for help, since I didn't really want to have to clean my house well enough to let strangers come over. Some friends suggested I offer the other parents the opportunity to help by pitching in for the supplies. Great idea! I expanded on that and, once I had decided on a menu, sent out a list of  the ingredients as well, so people could opt to pitch in some food items instead. Especially since I didn't need whole melons, or entire jugs of pizza sauce. If someone could spare enough for the teachers, and keep the rest, that would be less crap rotting in my already overstuffed fridge. Or they could put together one of the recipes in advance and get it to me for final assembly. In hindsight, asking for someone craftery to make a card or gift tags would have been great as well. So take notes, people! Recipe cards and an EasyLunchboxes FAQ sheet would have been a thoughtful addition as well.

Initially I had decided on Minty Green Tea Lemonade (a friend made it for her party. Sooo goood!) as the drink. And for the EasyLunchboxes, a Spinach and Berry Salad (my favorite!) in the large compartment, assorted melon flowers in the medium compartment, and Cold Pizza Pinwheels in the smallest compartment. But then I thought that some Granola Bites would be nice. Especially since I had the perfect recipe - so perfect, it got accepted into a cookbook! I would share it with you, but I don't want Kelly to sue my buns off! You'll have to wait until the book comes out (August.) Then I can share it as "advertising!" Brilliant!
But if I added Granola Bites, where would the fruit go? Aha! I could do fruit bouquets too! Hooray!

What an idiot I was...

I went to Target looking for those little tin pails for the fruit bouquets, but my store didn't have any. Party City was in the same shopping complex, but they didn't have any either. But I was able to find heavy plastic tumblers roughly the same size - and they were on clearance for only $.50 each! Party City also had long bamboo skewers and cellophane bags large enough to house the arrangements. Scoooore! 

I had a parent offer to make the Granola Bites, which was a big help. Several other parents offered groceries or funds. Also a huge help. This plan was all coming together nicely!

Well, it only took 6 hours (including smoothies to clear up space on the counter and fridge, plus dishes to clean up smoothie-making mess) but I did it! I made 6 bento lunches plus 6 individual fruit bouquets!

The Lunch
Salad Spinner: I started out assembling the salads, since they'd keep well. I ordered some disposable sauce cups in anticipation for this, since I didn't want the dressing to leak all over from one of the flimsy silicone cups I got at Dollar Tree. And I wasn't willing to part with one of my "good" cups. Much less 6 of them! Since I had them, I went ahead and put the dried blueberries and almond slivers in one too, in case they didn't want to add those. And to keep them fresher.
I piled in the spinach and cuppies, then cut up some strawberries to make flowers. I used a veggie cutter to make 6 flowers for everybody. Whew. Scraps went into a bowl for later.
Then I used my mini butterfly cutter on carrot coins from some freakishly huge orange and yellow organic carrots. (Scraps went into my carrot bucket in the fridge - a little re-sealable container with some water to keep them fresh. Then I can just toss them into my salad whenever I'm ready.)

I {Heart} Granola Bars: Since another parent made the granola bites (and cut them into hearts too! Awww!) I just put one in each box before putting them in the fridge overnight. The pizza pinwheels would get soggy if I made them in advance.

Pizza Rolls: I mixed up the sauce for the pizza pinwheels the night before, and wedged it precariously in the fridge (have I made it clear yet that my fridge didn't really have enough space?) The morning of delivery, I spread the mixture onto wheat tortillas... and splooged it around everywhere. My rolls were a hot mess. Well. Cold mess. I finally just settled for putting less sauce on. And not rolling as tightly, so the sauce stopped getting pushed out the sides. Then they didn't magically stay together, as implied by the recipe. Grr... I used some spare veggie- and fruit-design bento picks that I'm not too attached to from some packages that came with more duplicates that I could ever use. (Daiso. $1.50 /50!) I was originally going to try and fit a whole tortilla, cut into four pinwheels in each lunch. But since they were too runny to rest on their sides, and the picks took up extra space, I settled for three each. Less work for me! Z and I ate my first attempt, which was gloppy with sauce. She enjoyed her pinwheel and ate the whole thing.

I "Mint" to Make This the Night Before, But...: The Minty Green Tea Lemonade should have been made earlier, since the brewed tea needed time to cool first. Plus two more hours to chill after combined. But there was just no room in the fridge. I guess I could have just left the green tea out, but I was thinking it wouldn't be a good idea to leave the lemonade out overnight. Ah well. So I got up a little earlier and made it that morning. The mint leaves turned a little bruised-looking from the heat is all. But it's possible that they never noticed, since the only container I had big enough to hold it all was one of those ugly off-white opaque plastic pitchers from the stone ages. You know. The kind where the lid rotates to make a full opening, a slotted opening (to keep the ice in the pitcher) or to block off the opening. It looked embarrassingly filthy. But it was clean, I promise! It's just been in my family for generations, apparently. It has decades worth of grime absorbed into the plastic. I bought a new pretty pink one, with matching cups. But my sister swiped borrowed it. Indefinitely.

The Bouquets

Say It With Flowers... Made of Fruit!: I had a honeydew melon from my CSA, a small seedless watermelon, a pineapple, a star fruit, two mangoes, a bag of grapes, and half a cantaloupe. I had to Google how to prep the mangoes and pineapple.
I sliced my finger the melons, but was terrible at it, so all my slices started out thin, but then ended up being so thick the cookie cutter wouldn't go all the way through. The flowers that weren't just thick enough to cut into two thinner halves were all slanty.
I used a mini flower cutter for all the melon and mango flowers and a pointy-petalled large flower cutter for the pineapple.
I used half a melon ball on top of the pineapple flowers, and a grape underneath to keep them secure.
I used grapes under each melon flower, to secure them and to space them nicely, and half a grape on the top.
To change things up, I used a whole grape on top of the star fruit stars, but the teensiest ones I could find. I could have tried to stick them in lengthwise, but ugh. No thanks. I put a grape underneath to secure.
The strawberries went it alone, to look more like closed rosebuds.
The bags were 7.75-inches by 18-inches. Perfect size. Too bad I didn't have any ribbon. Doh! While trying to decide between some licorice string or plastic craft lacing, I saw my tub of chenille stems in our craft area. Score! Here's where gift tags would have been nice, to jazz up the presentation, but also because one of the teachers had mentioned in the Likes/Dislikes questionnaire that one of the other classes' moms had them fill out (and then thoughtfully sent to the rest of us organizing for our classes) that she didn't like honeydew. So I had made her one without. Another teacher listed pineapple as her favorite, so when I was one slice of star fruit short, I gave her the extra slice of pineapple. Yay! Crisis averted. So I ended up using some craft foam circles that had been cut out to turn foam shapes into photo frames for Z's school Valentines Day handout, with the teachers' names hastily scrawled on with a Sharpie. Don't ask me why they were still sitting on the kitchen table, three months after Valentines Day. I'm too ashamed to tell you.

Remember those mangoes? Yeah. I didn't either. Until I was working on the third bouquet. And I didn't want to mess with the ones that were done. Nor did I want anyone feeling left out and mango-less. So I skipped them. I see mango flowers in a certain little girl's future!

Here are some more tips, in addition to Crystal's tips about using a hunk of lettuce as a base to secure the skewers (be sure to read her post. It's short and sweet (unlike this one) and she had other advice on making them look pretty that I didn't bother with.)

  • Make sure your base containers are sturdy. The plastic tumblers I got were surprisingly heavy. You can also weigh them down with rocks. But then you might feel like you should wash them off or something. Too much work. Stick with finding heavier containers.
  • Bamboo skewers suck. Either plan on having your bouquet at only one length, buy several different lengths, or own some kind of monster cutting tool. I used those thick scissor-things that came with my knife block. They just scored the sticks. I still had to snap them off, which usually resulted in the fibers all separating at the end, or having to peel off loose fibers. Or splinters. In my flesh.
  • 10 skewers per bouquet were a nice size. Not too much work for me crowded, not too bare. 
  • When putting the whole strawberries on the skewers, with greens still attached, use the pointy end to start your hole first, then put the dull end in. I can't tell you how many strawberries got speared all the way through (Okay. Nine.) before I thought to do this!
  • Grapes are made of magic. They did a great job securing less sturdy fruit that wanted to slide right off the stick (I'm looking at YOU, Watermelon!) And they helped fill the sticks to add bulk to the overall look. And two melon flowers touching looked really bad. Especially since they were all kinds of weird thicknesses and slanty-ness.
  • Try not to cut yourself. It stings like a mother with all those acidic juices floating around. Plus you bleed on other people's food. Blah blah.

Waste Not, Want Not.
I had two medium-sized bowls of fruit scraps. And no more room in the fridge. So I made smoothies! Strawberry-Mango-Pineapple, and 3-Melon (with some bananas I had tossed in the freezer a while ago when they started getting overripe.) I used some plain Greek yogurt and a splash of milk. The Greek yogurt was very sour. I opted to toss in some red-leaf lettuce too. Mostly because I needed the space in the fridge. Bad choice. Red lettuce does not a good smoothie make. I added a ton of honey, but still the strawberry blend one was fairly bland. With a slight hint of dirt. Lame. I froze the extra (my food processor was filled to the top with the strawberry one!) and froze all of the melon one. It had less lettuce, so it might taste better. I may have added too much yogurt, which is why the fruit flavors didn't come out strong. But the recipes I read had 1 cup of yogurt or milk to 1-2 cups of fruit, so I figured I was good with 1-1.5 cups yogurt and a splash of milk to 4-5 cups of fruit scraps!

And a little note of pride: When we went to deliver them to the school, Z handed one of the fruit bouquets to one of her teachers. She picked the one with the correct name on the tag. When I asked her on the ride home how she had known which one to give, she said that it had the teacher's name on it. And she sounded out the name, as if she were reading it. I'm pretty certain she read, or at least recognized (which is the same thing, really) the teacher's name! That alone was worth all this hullaballoo!

      garden cutters


  1. I can't get over how hard you worked, how AMAZING these teacher treats were, AND THEN, you still had the energy to write a BOOK about it! You ROCK. You really do.

  2. Love the fruit bouquet! They look AMAZING!

  3. Wow! Very impressive. Thanks.

  4. You did soooo much for teacher appreciation! You rock!

  5. Gorgeous and too pretty to eat Teacher Appreciation Lunch, love them! The Bouquets are absolutely so pretty. They are SO lucky!!

  6. Those edible flowers are just perfect. Seriously, they look like those professional ones you order online! Thank you for sharing those great tips too! :)

  7. You really are awesome!! They look amazing!

  8. Thanks Mamas! I am just so glad it's over... until Sunday when I get to make some for the teachers at her OTHER preschool! They will NOT be getting pineapple, I can tell you THAT! :)

  9. Awesome job! Great idea :)

    Mrs. Delightful

  10. The bouquets are gorgeous! =)

  11. What lucky teachers! Everything looks so great! Thanks so much for sharing at Mom On Timeout!


Go ahead! Tell me how awesome I am. Or ask a question. Whatever.

(Please note that I had to disable Anonymous comments. Too many spam comments coming through the filters.)