The subtle art of presentation
BY SOPHIE BORDE
So long, summer holidays. It’s back-to-school time for kids and adults. And that means the inevitable, relentless, painful lunch box, and its partner in crime, the sandwich. I know just thinking about it makes you break out in a rash. But what if lunch preparation was fun and creative? What if just switching the container could inspire appetizing meals, and even more importantly, could make this daily task easier by removing some of its limitations? Out with the bland, in with a little extravagance.
It was my friend Sonia who taught me her express routine. She couldn’t stand seeing her daughter’s lunch box come back from school every day with its soggy sandwich barely bitten into, clearly shunned. But surely other kids would have wolfed down the crisp baguette, organic shredded ham, terroir cheese and baby pickles! Desperate for a different solution, it occurred to her to deconstruct the sandwich into individual ingredients. Since she taught me this trick, I’ve been doing the same. And it works!
The plastic box was replaced with a more inviting look. Imagine a rectangular lunch box made of stainless steel (a more environmentally friendly material) that includes one to five airtight compartments. Just looking at it makes you want to try combinations you might not have thought of before. Roll two slices of cold ham into one compartment, vegetable crackers into another, shavings of hard cheese in the one next to multicoloured cherry tomatoes, and finally, sesame bread slices cut into a heart or star shape – when I manage to find the cookie cutter at the bottom of the drawer. As an alternative to the sandwich, I haven’t found anything better.
Now, not only do I spend less time in the kitchen, but I can also get the kids to help with lunch prep. It’s so much fun for them to fill the compartments with their fingers – and they empty them the same way! We mix colours, we match flavours, with a focus on IMPROVISING. And you can do it too. Have you tried asparagus spears? Cubed artichoke hearts? Let me know how that works out for you! Today, for my lunch, I made a truly decadent salad with a vinaigrette I made myself. You’d be amazed at how simple and good it was.
The beauty of this type of lunch box is that it offers an infinite number of combinations. Each lunch is a fresh and delicious discovery. Mine accompanies me to work daily. Now, several of my coworkers have one of these boxes too. We share ideas and sample one another’s lunches.
The other day, my friend’s daughter was feeling under the weather. At lunchtime, she saw that her mom had packed her five favourite types of cereal for her to pick at. After school, she treated her mom to a big hug. Love is also shown through food and small gestures.
So now it’s your turn. How would you like to try my theme-based surprise boxes?
Globetrotter – As suggested by the name, this lunch box lets you discover foods from around the world. Monday: Mexico, with tortillas, vegetarian tacos, three-bean salad and guacamole. Tuesday: stuffed vine leaves, tabbouleh, moussaka, Lebanese cucumbers and hummus… and I’ll let you decide on your culinary destinations for the rest of the week.
Protein pack – Looking to add more protein to your diet? No problem! Shredded pork, one or two varieties of dried sausage (olive, pistachio, mushroom flavours), curried tofu salad, hard-boiled eggs, quinoa dessert. And there you go!
Sushi chic – Hey, tonight everyone ate their fill of maki, sashimi and hosomaki, and there are leftovers! OK, go ahead and admit it: you bought extra for the lunch boxes. It’s all good. You’ll make the whole family happy with leftover sushi.
Festive – I also call this one the all-dessert birthday special. It’s a favourite with the kids – and some adults. But, careful, this doesn’t mean filling the box with junk! Here are a few suggestions: macaron, chouquette, meringue, brownie…. Add seasonal fruit for some healthier natural sugar.
Search-and-rescue – Use anything you find in the refrigerator that can be cut, chopped, halved, grated or minced lickety-split. Don’t panic: you’re the improv pro, though you might not know it yet. Once the magic begins, you may surprise yourself.