Bento boxes folded from old posters or calendar pages transport picnic food in style. - Jim Craven

Bento for Britt

Like many Britt Festivals concert-goers, Cynthia Guthrie takes a picnic to the outdoor Jacksonville venue. The meal, Guthrie says, usually consists of humble foods she can snack on throughout the evening's performance.

The Ashland architect's modesty doesn't fool her mother, 81-year-old Bettie Henry.

"She does gourmet stuff like you would not believe," Henry interjects.

"I drive my husband crazy sometimes," admits Guthrie, 47. "It's always fun to do something unique for Britt."

Outfitting an outdoor spread with flair is Guthrie's forte. Packaging dishes in origami-style boxes is an approach she's sharing in a Saturday class at Ashland Food Co-op. Henry, a Co-op outreach volunteer, provided the recipes for an Asian-inspired "bento" meal suited to Britt or any summer picnic setting.

On the menu is sweet-and-sour tofu or chicken, cucumber and cabbage salad with sesame seeds and Henry's favorite "confetti" rice. But the bento boxes don't require an Asian theme, Henry says.

"You could do bruschetta — it's unlimited; you could do all kinds of fruits."

Guthrie prefers to fashion the boxes from old calendar pages or posters. Any sturdy paper with a glossy, slick surface won't absorb sauces or grease. The soiled containers then can be thrown away.

"You're recycling already," Guthrie says of the disposable boxes. "It would make a great gift-wrap idea."

The technique, adds Co-op culinary educator Mary Shaw, would be ideal for gifts of Christmas cookies, usually too greasy to wrap attractively in tissue paper. Folding the boxes with kids is a hands-on way to involve them in a special meal, Guthrie says.

"It's a great idea 'cause everybody can kind of make their own."

Participants in Saturday's class also will learn knife skills, including skinning and deboning chicken, from Henry, formerly a foods instructor at high schools and small colleges. She'll also share tips for working with tofu and give a tutorial on the different varieties of rice.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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