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Cute Yummy Time: Go ahead, play with your food

November 27, 2009 |  5:13 pm

Cute Ka-WHY-ee!!!!

That's how you pronounce kawaii, Japanese for "cute," and that's what you're likely to exclaim while flipping through "Cute Yummy Time," a cookbook that encourages you to play with your food.

Written by goth blogger / cool hunter La Carmina -- who specializes in spotting Japanese pop culture trends and forecasting their arrival on U.S. shores -- the cookbook is all about making bento box nibbles that look like the face of a bear, a cow, a pig, Hello Kitty or anything else the imagination can dream up.

The first demonstration in the book? "How to make a bear's face out of rye, ham and salami." A few little rounds of yellow cheese make the snout, eyes and ears, and a bow tie, for "extra added cuteness."  (If you are still wondering what the heck this is all about you can watch this video of La Carmina making whole wheat piggy bread.)

La Carmina will be signing copies of her book this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Kinokuniya Bookstore, 123 Astronaut E. Onizuka St., in downtown Los Angeles. Phone number: (213) 687-4480.

The 25-year-old said she has always been obsessed with

Japanese and Asian pop culture and cute food.

"It really started in my childhood, when my family would travel back to Asia, I just became fascinated with Japanese character design," said La Carmina, who grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but often visited family in Hong Kong, Tokyo and elsewhere in Asia. "I just always went in the direction of Japanese pop cultue and fashion."

She started her blog in late 2007 and noticed that readers went nuts over her bento box offerings. "For some reason, people liked these adorable characters, they just loved them."

It probably goes without saying that when La Carmina hosts a party, or brings a dish to a potluck, her fellow diners are expecting something grand. "It's true. . . it has to be something that gets some wows."

While "cute food" is common in Japan, American audiences are always surprised by it. It's a cultural thing, La Carmina says. U.S. children are taught "don't play with your food." But American fans quickly catch on. "I do think there is something instinctive about letting go and opening up and embracing the kitschy craziness of it all," she said.

The cookbook also has a story running through it, kind of like an Alice-In-Wonderland-esque tale that involves La Carmina and her earless cat Basil Farrow. (Actress Mia Farrow is his "grandmother," and the cat was named by La Carmina and Mia's son, Ronan. So what is the nature of La Carmina's relationship with Ronan. Friends? Something more? "It's complicated. He's my pretend husband.")

While the young, hip and too-cool-for-school are among La Carmina's hard-core group of fans, she was surprised to find that many parents have also flocked to her cookbook. Turns out, if kids play with their food, they are more likely to eat it. "I was surprised by that, when I did demos, parents would say it's a great way to encourage kids to try new food, nutritious food."

-- Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Carmen Yuen

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