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Yum-Yum Bento All Year Round by Watanabe & Ogawa (4 stars)

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know I've dabbled with bento lunches and food art. Some of my better efforts looked like this:

So when Quirk Books offered me a book by bento experts, I was excited to see what the masters could do.

This book was provided by the publisher for review. Thank you, Quirk Books!
Yum-Yum Bento All Year Round by Crystal Watanabe & Maki Ogawa
Series: n/a
Genres: Nonfiction, Cooking, Bento
Published on December 27, 2016
Published by Quirk Books
Final Rating: 4 stars
Yum-Yum Bento is back with 52 more easy seasonal-themed bento lunches.

From the depths of winter to the height of summer, a beautiful lunch can brighten any day. Japanese bento boxes are portable and pretty meals packed with healthy portions and plenty of cheer. And they re outrageously cute! With Yum-Yum Bento All Year Round, you ll fall in love with 52 tasty, in-season lunches. Spring into make-ahead action with packing tips, tutorials, side dish recipes, and more. From summer Sunshine Smiles to Christmas Gingerbread Friends, there s a bento just perfect for your lunchbox today.

The thing I love about this book, besides the super cute pictures, is that it's a great starting point for people interested in cute bento lunches AND a great seasonal/holiday activity book for those who want ideas for special occasions.

Yum-Yum Bento All Year Round is versatile. It has instructions for specific bentos, yes, but it's also full of recipes you can use for any meal and tips and resources for general bento making. It's clear the authors have a passion for Japanese cooking and for cute bentos, and they know their audience in all its varieties. They include natural methods to create colored rice and a comprehensive list of links for bento supplies and recipes if you get really into it; and the structure of the book is such that people who want to make an occasional special lunch can easily find a holiday or seasonal topic but aren't drowned in endless options.

The authors even took into account lazy bums like me. While some bentos require using the foods listed (like noodles for the baby birds' nest), the focal points of most are cute characters you can prep the night before and throw on top of whatever leftovers are in the fridge. For example, the other week I made a batch of rice and a freezer bag of broccoli, divided it between two takeout containers and added in some leftover chicken and shrimp.

Nothing fancy, but add in a ham-and-cheese polar bear or mittens and ta-da! Winter-themed bento! However, if you're not artistic and/or patient, I recommend getting a few cookie cutters to speed the process along. The link list at the back of the book is a good starting place. :)

Especially if you're new at this cute bento thing, as I am, the book provides some good guidelines. You're not bound by the bento recipes, but...well, let's just say some ingredients work better than others. I made an attempt at Yum-Yum's Rudolph bagel with some salami, Swiss cheese and regular tomatoes I had on hand. It turned out all right, but regular ham and American would have cut into shapes a lot easier, and potato antlers would be less floppy.

In conclusion, this is a great book for seasoned bento veterans and beginners alike. It's not a 365-day commitment, just a seasonal/holiday treat to make you smile at the office or make your kids laugh at school. Or, even better, a group project to do with your family or friends!

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