Kozue Morii’s Artful Bento Box Cures Separation Anxiety

By on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

toquemag_bento box 2When Kozue Morii’s 5-year-old son, Charlie clung to her the first day of kindergarten and wouldn’t let go, she knew she had a problem. “He would not stop crying; he’d hang onto my clothes,” she recalls. “He was so used to being with me at home.” She dug deep into her Japanese roots and began to think of creative ways to “make him smile” by applying her culinary skills from her own childhood.
She decided to make him a bento box lunch, but not just any ordinary bento box. Bento box lunches are single-portion home-packed meals common in Japanese cuisine. They include rice, fish or meat, and pickled or cooked vegetables packed in a box-shaped container.
Instead, Morii whipped up some deep-fried Asian-style meatballs. Topped with mozzarella cheese pieces, a tomato smile and olive eyes, they started to look a lot like one of Charlie’s favorite creatures from PIKMIN, a Japanese Nintendo video game they play together. (Get the recipe here.)

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“When I showed him the first lunch I made for him and he saw his favorite PIKMIN character, he looked at me and said “I am so happy;” he didn’t cry at school anymore after that.”
Yellow American cheese, cut into PIKMIN body shapes with nori seaweed eyes and snow pea leaves on a tomato tulip were some other ways she used food to surprise Charlie in his lunch every day.

EatWith Makes Meal Sharing a Fun New Pastime

By on Thursday, January 19th, 2017

EatWith_meeting_interesting_people“Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else; dinner is the evening.”__Art Buchwald

Food fit for a king in Saudi Arabia, a big, fat Greek meal in Athens or recipes made from a modern day Julia Child in Columbus, Ohio may be what’s for dinner tonight, tomorrow or as many evenings as you wish–and almost wherever you wish.

Dining in unusual places with strangers is what Eatwith was created to be: a website directory of hosts who cook in their home or a venue of their choice. Users make reservations on the site and choose the venue, menu and host for a particular evening get-together.

With over 60 countries and hundreds of hosts participating, guests can dine while vacationing or traveling for work–anywhere a host has open reservations. Billing itself as “the future of dining,” EatWith has also been compared to ultra successful airbnb, but for meals instead of beds.

Home Cooking From a Box

By on Monday, March 7th, 2016


Millions of people are ordering boxed dinners and meal services to the tune of $5 billion in sales and growing. The growth and variety of these services is dizzying but basically it boils down to this: recipes, ingredients, and delivery. All you add is cooking and cleanup.

After that it gets interesting. Competitors looking for their piece of the pie offer trimmings such as menus for special diets, recipes created by celebrity chefs, weekly menus designed to cut food waste, biodegradable packaging, etc. All of them promise an easy time in the kitchen and a meal that’s much more homemade than takeout.

Diane Mina’s Curative Bloody Mary

By on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

I met Diane Mina last fall as she poured generous amounts of Bloody Marys at a 49er Tailgate party held at Levi Stadium. Let’s face it, when someone hands you a bloody Mary–the likes of which you have never tasted before–you’re going to have a spirited connection right from the start.

Diane Mina’s from-scratch, raw and magical tomato cocktail is intensely flavorful without any added sugars or salt.

I discovered that the fresh and unique combination of flavors my mouth was cheering about was hand crafted by this happily married, pretty, outgoing, smart, great wife and mom—yes, the kind we love to hate but love instantly anyway. Diane Mina, Bloody Mary enthusiast and founder of Bella Mina Gardens.

Then it struck me. Mina, as in Michael Mina, the two time Michelin Star award-winning chef, Mina? Yes, Diane Mina, wife of chef and restaurateur Michael Mina, or as she calls him “my cheffie” has scored a touchdown with her brand of a tasty tradition she and Michael began 25 years ago.

Cookies in America

By on Monday, December 23rd, 2013

(Written with Gail Hartzell)

Friends and family gather at Gail Hartzell’s home in Ohio for a taste of cookie history.

“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there’s a large kitchen, a warm stove, and a simmering pot of love.”

Cookies aren’t an American invention but you wouldn’t know it around Christmas. The tradition of baking homemade butter cookies, cut into various festive shapes and frosted green and red is as sacred as Santa. Millions of bloggers swap recipes, decorating tips, all wrapped around the lore of “the family who bakes together, stays together.”

Gail Hartzell of Uniontown, Ohio takes this time-honored pastime to new heights. She just hosted her second annual Heritage Cookie Swap to honor treasured memories of time spent with her grandmother, Mary Endlich, gathering friends and family to share stories of Christmases past, swap vintage recipes of cookies and recall family traditions.

Grandma Endlich would be 122 years old this Christmas.

Using Grandma Mary’s handmade aprons, rolling pins and antique bowls, Gail and her daughter, Katie, baked their favorite one hundred year old year recipe of Grandma’s Ginger Cookies to honor this years’ Christmas Tradition.

Honoring Grandma

The idea of the annual cookie swap was inspired by a cookbook/scrapbook that Gail crafted paying tribute to Grandma Endlich’s farm lifestyle and the love and pride that went into her cooking and baking. True to her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, Grandma Endlich was a simple, “from the earth” farm-raised cook who grew and canned most of her own fruits and vegetables. She used sight and feel for measuring ingredients–a lump of lard the size of a walnut or an egg was the exact amount for a flaky crust.

Gail’s collection of vintage recipes, post cards, photos and farm memorabilia are rich reminders of Christmases past.

The use of fruits, nuts and molasses in her recipes instead of chocolate or marshmallows was another signature technique, telling of Grandma Endlich’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots.

“When I bake ginger cookies using my Grandma Endlich’s 100+ year recipe, I’m participating in a tradition that has endured in our family for over a century.” says Gail. “With each bite I taste, I remember my most cherished childhood memories of Christmas; Grandma in her warm kitchen baking and the two of us spending time together.”
(Next page: See photos of Gail’s annual cookie swap)

NYC Chef Opens First Restaurant in Kinston NC

By on Monday, November 4th, 2013

Kinston, North Carolina.

Ever hear of it?

It sits somewhere between here and there in Eastern North Carolina, in one of the poorest congressional districts in the state.
Kinston was a tobacco town, not a culinary destination–that is, until Chef Vivian Howard showed up.

Enter Stage Right

Howard and her husband, Benjamin Knight’s love story reads like a familiar Southern classic. Howard, a Southern bred chef who describes herself as “seemingly cool and calm but panic stricken underneath” meets Knight, an “over reactor,” while working in a New York City restaurant. They fall in love and are married.

Chef Vivian Howard went home again (Kinston NC), defied the odds (opened a farm-to-table restaurant in a tiny rural community) and thrives (a new series “A Chef’s Life” on PBS).

Vivian Scarlett Howard eventually wanted to open her own restaurant and was offered the financial backing to do so by her successful, hog farming parents, John and Scarlett Leigh Howard.

There was one catch: She would have to build it in Kinston, NC where, by her own admission she would “NEVER return.”