Sado Island Travel and Bento Lunch


Today I have the second in my 2017 series of travel photos and bento inspired by my trip to Japan. I am sharing photos from Sado Island and a Toki, (Japanese Crested Ibis) made from cheesy mashed potatoes.

The Toki was a natural choice for my inspired bento lunch since I was fortunate to actually see them in the wild and at a preserve on Sado Island. Scroll down to see a photo of one. My day trip to Sado island was an adventure that I will tell you about later in this post but I also had a bit of a mishap in making this bento. I carefully planned out this lunch before shopping and bought radish to use for the tuft of wings on it’s head. An alternate title for this bento could be, “My dad ate my radishes”.¬† I am still laughing about this. Especially since I had them in a special spot in the refrigerator to use for making bento. Anyway, we went to the store to get radish and then I finished making my potato bird.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Toki – Cheddar mashed potatoes cooled then shaped by hand, Eye and legs – carrot, Beak – Cheddar mashed potatoes with soy sauce painted on with a pastry brush, Tuft of wings on head – radish, edamame

Top Right: Peanuts

Bottom Right: Mandarin oranges

Toki Japanese Crested Ibis bird.jpg


I was able to see Toki in the wild. It was better viewing in person than it seems like from this photo.


Character representation of a Toki.

Sado Island near Toki park


Toki – milk cartons

Do not take toki home bag.jpg

Sado Island Rice Fields and Mountains

Rice fields and mountains on Sado Island.

Sado Island Tour Guide

My friend Akiko reserved a bus tour so I could go alone to the Toki preserve, gold mine, and see the scenic coast of Sado Island. I walked from Akiko’s home (10 minutes) to the nearby train station. I took the train to Niigata station (about 25 minutes). Then I took a bus to the port (20 minutes). At the port I took the Jetfoil (over an hour) in the Sea of Japan to Sado Island. At Sado’s port I found the tour bus with the help from a kind man at the information desk. The other people that reserved the tour canceled but they still honored my ticket! I had a whole bus, a tour guide, and bus driver to myself.

Sado Gold Mine

Sea of Japan Sado Island

Sea of Japan Sado Shore.jpg

The shore of Sado Island was very beautiful. My photos do not do it justice. I am often happy traveling alone but at that moment I wished that I had someone with me (besides my private tour guide) to share the gorgeous scene.

Sea of Japan Sado from Bridge

Sado Island Japan Mountains

Jetfoil to Sado Island.jpg

This photo was taken on my Jetfoil to Sado Island. I decided to pay the higher fare for the experience but planned on taking the cheaper ferry back. Because of rough seas which sometimes happens in the winter, the small ferry I planned to take back to the mainland was cancelled. I would have needed to wait 4 hours until the next large car ferry. But since I was the only person on my tour, my tour bus was ahead of schedule. We were due to arrive at the port 5 minutes after a car ferry was supposed to leave. My tour guide called the ferry company and pleaded with them to wait for me. She said I was a foreigner and I would have to wait 4 hours. The bus driver did his best to get us there as soon as possible. When we got to the port, the driver dropped me off at the door closest to the ferry. The tour guide ran with me until we met a ferry worker who ran with me until the ramp. (my legs were sore the next day from all the running). Another ferry worker boarded with me and closed the doors. I had to buy my ticket on board. I was very surprised when they showed me where I would ride. He said I was in second class. See the photo below. I was a little shocked that there were no seats. I had to sit on the floor with strangers for the 2 hour and 30 minutes trip.

Here is the link (scroll down to see photos inside the ships) if you want to see the seating options available on car ferries. I was not given a choice so I don’t know if anything else was available. But it was exciting to have a new experience and it gave me a good travel story.

2nd class on Ferry to Niigata

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3 Saint Patrick’s Day Lunches

Saint Patricks Day Potato Salad for lunch

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Are you looking for fun and easy food to celebrate the Irish and all things green and shamrock? Well, you came to the right place. I have 3 new ideas this year (Shamrock Potato Salad, Shamrock Salad and Shamrock Egg, and a Rainbow Quesadilla with a Potato Pot of Gold) as well as 19 lunches from other years (links are at the end of this post). Plus I have a Irish Vegetarian dinner and Irish Heritage Card.

This first lunch features a fun salad of shamrock shaped potatoes, cheese, and bell pepper. If you are interested in other themed vegetable potato salads, I also have a Fall Oak Leaf Potato Salad and a Heart Potato Salad.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Shamrock Potato Salad – peel white potatoes and cut with a shamrock cookie cutter, boil potato shapes until tender with a fork, cut green bell pepper and Cheddar cheese (not sharp because it crumbles) with a shamrock cookie cutter, use the vinaigrette of your choice (I used a mix of olive oil, Dijon mustard, and white wine vinegar).

Top Right: Shamrock kiwi (cookie cutter)

Bottom Right: Shamrock salad – romaine lettuce with mini carrot shamrocks (mini cutter)

Shamrock Lunch Saint Patricks Day

My Dad enjoys salads for lunch. I made this simple meal with the aid of cookie cutters and a plastic cupcake ring.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Shamrock – Cheddar cheese (cookie cutter), romaine lettuce, broccoli, snow peas

Top Right: Hard boiled egg with mini shamrock cut-out (mini cutter)

Bottom Right: Green grapes, cupcake ring

Rainbow with pot of gold food for lunch.jpg

Go over the quesadilla rainbow to find a delicious twice baked potato pot of golden Cheddar.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Rainbow quesadilla – flour tortilla with Cheddar cheese (coat frying pan with cooking spray or a little olive oil, saute over medium high heat on each side until cheese is melted and tortilla is lightly browned), add rainbow with food coloring pens or a paintbrush with food coloring and a little bit of water, blueberries, sour cream in star silicone cup

Top Right: Cucumber shamrocks (cookie cutter)

Bottom Right: Pot of Gold – potato bite – boil small red potatoes until tender, carefully hollow out a hole but leave enough potato so it does not fall apart, mash removed potato with a little bit of butter, Dijon mustard (to taste), salt and pepper, fill hollowed out potatoes with mashed potato mixture, add shredded Cheddar cheese on top, bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.

2016 St. Patrick’s Day Lunches – Shamrock Rice, Shamrock Sandwich, Green Shamrock Quesadillas, Shamrock Pizza, Celtic Cross Rice with Cheddar Cheese, Cream Cheese and Olive Sheep

2015 St. Patrick’s Day Lunches – Broccoli and Cheese Shamrock hand-pie, Cheese Leprechaun, Ireland Tortilla Chip Garnish, Claddagh Ring Quesdadilla, Irish Flag Vegetables, Sheep and Lamb Stencil over Quinoa

2014 St. Patrick’s Day Lunches – Shamrock Bagel, Shamrock Rice, Shamrock Pasta, Shamrock Sandwich with Cheese Harp, Broccoli Shamrock with Rice, Irish Flag Vegetables

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Niigata Travel and Bento Lunches

Niigata Swan Bento Lunch.jpg

I was on vacation in Japan from December 28, 2016 until January 24, 2017. When I returned from my last trip to Japan in 2014 I shared travel photos with themed bentos inspired by my trip. I will do the same this time. I stayed with a friend I have known since I was 19 and did home-stays with 3 language partners. My language partners are women who live in Japan. For many years now, we speak weekly via video chat on Skype for 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in Japanese. I was able to visit with 5 of my language partners during my stay in Japan. It was an experience of a lifetime to spend time with my friend, my language partners and their families. I tried to be a good house guest but it was a time of transition in my life and I was not always at my best. I was fortunate to experience many cultural experiences not normally accessible for a tourist. My friends were generous, kind, and patient. I am truly touched.

My college friend, Akiko lives in Niigata. It was my first time to travel there in the winter. It seemed like almost everywhere we went there was a swan in a rice field. We also went to a swan lake to see the swans. Swans migrate to Niigata in the winter because it is warmer than their summer home in Russia. This simple bento lunch is a reminder of the beautiful swans I was able to see in Niigata.

Container: U Konserve

Contents: Swan – Cheddar cheese (cookie cutter), rice cooked in vegetable bouillon with carrots, blueberries


We could not get as close as usual to the birds in this lake because of the Avian Flu. It was still a memorable experience.



My second bento lunch inspired by my trip to Niigata is a girl wearing a kimono. Akiko’s daughter is 20 years old. In Japan 20 year olds celebrate Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day). At 20 they are considered an adult and they dress up and gather in their city to celebrate and hear speeches. I was given the opportunity to see many 20 year olds gather before the ceremony. It was an experience of a lifetime to be near so many women wearing colorful kimono.


Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Girl wearing Kimono – Cheddar cheese mashed potatoes with cooked broccoli florets cut small, spinach details (hair, kimono dots decoration), green bell pepper, cooked carrots

Top Right: Green peas with plastic flower

Bottom Right: Mandarin oranges with flower food picks

Coming of Age Day Niigata.jpg



I was fascinated by the various beautiful hair decorations. I actually considered asking women if I could take close-up photos of their hair ornaments. But I did not want to seem too strange and provide an unusual memory for their special day. So instead I quickly snapped photos with my smart phone.

Men at Coming of Age Day Japan.jpg

In-case you are thinking that only young women attend this event, here is a photo of some 20 year old boys. The young men wore ordinary suits so I took a lot more photos of the women in their colorful kimono. (The 28 in this photo refers to the 28th year of the current emperor’s reign.)

Now I will share other photos and experiences from my time with Akiko in Niigata.

Divided Plate at Buffet Lunch.jpg

I stayed nearly 2 weeks with Akiko, her husband, 14 year old son, and the 82 year old mother-in-law. I wanted to be in Japan and with them for New Years and Akiko wanted me to be at her house for the Coming of Age Day. While planning my trip she wanted to find things for me to do while she worked. I asked for opportunities to tutor English and have language exchanges. She was very kind to arrange opportunities for me.

In exchange for tutoring a 16 year old boy in conversational English, his mother took us and Akiko to a charming buffet restaurant in the mountains. The place was very cute and I loved the divided plate and enjoyed filling my plate. Yes I know it is full of carbs but that is the life of a vegetarian at a buffet.


After lunch we went to a foot onsen. At this special onsen, people remove their socks and shoes and lift up their pants and just soak their legs and feet. I participated and my skin was very soft afterwards. The experience was very smelly -sulfur, but after awhile I became a little accustomed to it.


In Japan it is common for the family’s name to be outside their home. I discovered this one on a walk in Akiko’s neighborhood.

Neighborhood Walk.jpg

This river scene is not far from my Akiko’s home. I am glad that I took an opportunity to go for a walk.


Akiko made many beautiful meals for me. This was my meal on New Years Eve. Gorgeous! Most of it was delicious. One of the mini sushi is natto. It was my first time trying it and it did not go down well. But at least I tried it.


I went with Akiko, her husband, and son to a nearby shrine for the between the two years event. There was a fire where people could bring old things to burn (maybe mostly religious items from home shrines). Some people put dried fish on fishing poles and held them over the fire. People believe that if they eat it they will receive good luck.

Japan Buildings.jpg

I took this photo as a passenger in Akiko’s car. We were at a stoplight and I thought that these buildings looked like quintessential Japan to me.


I found these socks in a store and thought that they were cute. This was on a day that I went shopping and out to lunch with two 14 year old girls as part of a language exchange.


This bouquet of teddy bears and fabric flowers made a huge impression on me. Who can be sad if they see a bouquet such as this? I told myself that if I ever felt stressed or sad to just to think about this bouquet of teddy bears.

Near Yogurt Factory Japan.jpg

For most of my trip to the Niigata area there was very little snow. It was unusual for the time of year. But on the day we toured the Yasuda Yogurt factory there was a little bit of snow. Beautiful!



I love bakeries in Japan. This is an example of an especially pretty one.


I took this photo at the Niigata Aquarium. It was a nice aquarium to spend an afternoon.

Sea of Japan Niigata.jpg

The Sea of Japan was only a short walk from the Niigata Aquarium.


I hope that you enjoyed seeing my photos from Niigata, Japan. The next travel post will be my photos from a day trip to Sado Island and my bento depiction of the Japanese Crested Ibis.

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Hinamatsuri Food Art


This year for Hinamatsuri (Girls Day) I was inspired by this.

Emperor: Face – Cheddar Cheese with food marker details, hair – spinach, hands – Cheddar cheese, baton – orange Cheddar cheese, body – green bell pepper, crown – food pick

Empress: Face – Cheddar Cheese with food marker details, hair – spinach, hands – Cheddar cheese, fan – orange Cheddar cheese with food marker details, body – red bell pepper, crown – food pick

Background: Mashed potatoes with Cheddar cheese and cooked broccoli florets cut into small pieces, chill until firm, use your hands to shape the mashed potatoes into rounds


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March Lion or Lamb Lunches


This is my 6th consecutive year to make Lion or Lamb themed food for the beginning of March. Since I like lambs it is natural for me to make lamb / sheep themed food and crafts. These are simple meals but I think that they look cute in my new cloud boxes I bought during my last trip to Japan (in January). I made the Lion themed lunch for myself. The Lamb themed lunch was for my Mom.

Container: Cloud box from Japan (set of 3)

Larger Box: Lion – cheese tortilla (cookie cutter), snow peas, red grapes

Smaller Box: Fresh mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes, letter picks


Container: Cloud box from Japan (set of 3)

Larger Box: Lamb – shaped hard boiled egg, romaine, broccoli, snow peas

Smaller Box: Greek yogurt, blueberries, letter picks

Lion or Lamb Food (from previous years)

2016 – Sandwiches

2015 – Macaroni & Cheese

2014 – White and Sweet Potato Individual Shepherds Pies

2013 – Tortilla Roll-Ups

2012 – Rice balls with Cheese


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The Grouchy Ladybug Book Lunch


This week I met a friend and her family at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I was happy to take the opportunity to make another Eric Carle lunch. At the museum I was pleased to also see illustrations from a favorite childhood book – Thy Friend Obadiah by Brinton Turkle.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Ladybugs – grape tomatoes, black olives (attached with spaghetti), Text Signs – cheese with food coloring text, Aphids – snow peas (cookie cutter), silicone leaf, romaine, broccoli, carrots

Top Right: Stars – tortilla (cookie cutter), blueberries

Bottom Right: Crackers, ladybug picks

Above the Box: Mini Dippers with toasted pepitas and pine nuts


Other Eric Carle book themed lunches

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Alien Pasta


This is an example of how to make leftovers (spinach linguini with garlic and olive oil and a little bit of pie crust) fun. It became an Alien / Space themed lunch. With the aid of cookie cutters you can transform cheese (not extra sharp since it crumbles), carrots, and pie crust into a themed lunch.

Container: EasyLunchBoxes

Left Side: Spinach linguini tossed with garlic sauteed in olive oil, Cheddar cheese stars (cookie cutters)

Top Right: Carrot aliens (cookie cutter) with spinach leaves

Bottom Right: Pie crust alien (imprint cookie cutter), blueberries


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