Elementary School Lunch: 03/23 - Bittersweet Pork Beans

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Today was our very last school lunch of the year! The new school year starts up in a few weeks, but I'll be getting ready to fly back to Miami around then. Also, I mentioned in a previous post that I'd post our bentou lunches, so here's a quick look at what we had for lunch on Friday after the graduation ceremony and early dismissal:

There's a little bit of everything in there - pork, fried chicken, fish, veggies, rice, fruit, some soup, and a nice, big, chewy cookie from Costco. There's a much prettier picture on my Instagram if you're so inclined.

Today's lunch was pork beans, which is one of my favorites. It's got a tomato-based soup, and plenty of other goodies: potato, edamame, white beans, onion, carrot, and of course, bits of pork. As for the sides, we had some cocoa bread which went rather well with the bowl, and a tuna salad which comprised spinach, tuna, and cabbage with Italian dressing. Everything was tasty and perfect, as usual.

Calorie count: 635

And with that, this column is officially dormant, indefinitely. I wrote a bit about what's up with that in a recent post, so you can read about what's coming up for me there, but yeah. If you've been following along, thanks for your support/curiosity! It's been great keeping track of the school lunches like this, a real eye-opener to say the least. Thanks for reading.

Elementary School Lunch: 03/19 - Katsu and Happiness

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Since today's lunch was the very last elementary school lunch for the 6th graders who are graduating tomorrow, we went with a luck and happiness theme. Instead of regular rice, we had sekihan, which is sticky rice cooked with azuki beans. It gives the rice a red color, which signifies happiness in Japan - this rice is for celebrations. To top it, we got some black sesame seeds and coarse salt for flavor. Our main plate had some pork and lotus root katsu (breaded and deep-fried), and salad. The katsu is significant because it's a homophone with the word in Japanese for winning. One of the little fun things Japanese do say, before a big exam, is enjoy some katsudon (katsu rice bowl). We had some today to wish the 6th graders (soon to be junior high 1st graders) good luck.

The salad was a plain one: some napa cabbage, carrot, and cucumber seasoned with sesame seeds. We had some kenchin soup, which is a root veggie sort of soup in a konbu (kelp) broth. In it, we enjoyed some tofu, taro, konjac, burdock root, carrot, onion, and more cabbage. It was simple and tasty, and went really well with the rest of our meal.

Finally, dessert! We had a little strawberry frozen jelly cup with a little bit of cream on top. The dessert was お祝い (oiwai) - celebratory. Like the katsu and the rice, this was also a significant dish that was worked into our lunch in honor of our graduating students. On the cup's lid it also says "congratulations."

Very tasty meal! As a reminder, Monday is the last day of school lunches, and this column will stop being a regular thing after that. Tomorrow there is no school lunch; staff are going to eat bentous (packed lunches), so I'll show you what that looks like. I actually have no idea what they've ordered, but usually it has a little bit of everything.


Calorie count: 692

Elementary School Lunch: 03/18 - Stir-Fry Radish

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

This week, my graduating students have been spending their play times swarming the faculty room and hallways looking for the teachers they want to sign their year books. Their last day is tomorrow, and they're graduating Friday! On Friday, we're only really going to school for the ceremony, so there isn't going to be a school lunch (the kids are being sent home early). Instead, the faculty have ordered out - I'll share a bonus shot of that here.

Today's lunch was some masu salmon, served with salad, rice, and a brothy stir-fry of pork, radish, and veggies. The salad was fab, some bean sprouts, spinach, and carrot just drenched in sesame seed flavor. It's definitely one of my top five dressings ever. As for the stir-fry, besides the pork and radish it had konjac, edamame, carrot, and onion. Simple, but oh-so-tasty.

Calorie count: 648

Elementary School Lunch: 03/17 - Spring Veggies

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Today's lunch focused on spring vegetables, although they weren't too different from our usual fare with the exception of snap peas. Today's main item was some cubed fish, pan-fried with sesame seeds, a salad of bean sprouts, cucumber, carrot, and spinach, and the soup. The salad dressing had some Japanese karashi (spicy) mustard, which the kids are always kind of iffy on - they don't tend to like spicy things. As for the soup, it had miso, fried tofu, potato, cabbage, snap peas, and onion. It was pretty much greens and whites this time around, which is rare - we tend to go more colorful.

Either way, tasty and filling.

Calorie count: 659

2015 Outlook: What's in Store Now?

General UpdatesKristina PinoComment

Hi hi!

Alright, so we are nearing the end of this school year, which means it's near the end of my time in Japan. After two years in Ibaraki, I'm moving back to Miami! There are loads of adventures and new experiences and cool things and delicious foods ahead of me, so don't you worry about content and yummies dropping off on this blog.

Quick thing:

From now until probably May, Friday Things will be on hiatus. It's a fun column, but I can't keep up with it weekly while I'm tying things up here/on vacation/moving/etc., so I'm simply going to take a break.


Monday, March 23rd will be the final Elementary School Lunch update for the foreseeable future. There's a possibility I'll take the project up again some day, but at this time I don't plan on eating the school lunches at my next post. Instead, I plan to blog about several other food-related things.

First: Bentou lunches. I'm going to be preparing my own packed lunches for work, and it may not be daily, but I will strive to update this blog with some regularity with what I'm making, and refer you to recipes I use if they're documented anywhere. 

Second: I want to blog more about Miami, and South Florida in general. Not just about food, but since this is the section of this post we're on, I'll just go on and say that whenever I find some remarkable food someplace, I'll probably use Instagram more than anything else for this, but I may highlight it here as well if I've got something more to say, or if I end up talking to the chef or something.

Last: Recipes. I mentioned above I may share where I get recipes from for my packed lunches, but in some cases, they'll be recipes I've collected here over the past couple of years. The nutritionist/lunch lady at my school has been very kind and shared recipes for many of my favorite meals so I can recreate them at home. If this is a thing anyone's interested in, I'd be happy to share those now and again.


I'm trying not to over-plan, but I've got a lot on the pipeline this year, and unfortunately I can't talk about most of it just yet. Sorry about that!

As I mentioned earlier, I want to focus on the Miami area (and South Florida in general), which means I'll be hitting the water, the hiking trails, the festivals, markets, art walks, and anything else, and highlighting them here and/or my social media. When you spend a long time living in one place, you kind of lose your awe of it, and take it totally for granted. Now that I've spent some time away, I'm kind of falling in love with the lovely South Florida again, so I want to share that with the world.

Besides that, I'll be documenting my trips wherever my feet take me. Instagram and Twitter are good places to look and keep up with me in that department, and later on when I've sorted through my images, cleaned them up, registered them, they'll appear in the Travels section of my site's navigation. There may be a bit of a delay because I like to register my images in big batches, but they will be there, and nowhere else. I don't use flickr, or SmugMug, or any other photo uploading service for my images at the time of writing this post.

Books and Comics:

This is the one aspect of my site which will not change. I will continue to review or at least put my thoughts down on books and comics I read and audiobooks I listen to. I've come to rather like the Bite-Sized Book Reviews format, and will probably do more of that and fewer one-off reviews in the future, but that's about it. My comics-related content will probably go up as well.

As ever, you can also see my other book-related blogging on Book Riot and Quirk Books, and some comics-related blogging at PANELS. I love writing for those spots, and that's another aspect of my current life that won't be changing with the scenery. Oh, and I'm not dropping any of my 2015 Reading Challenges. They're just on a short break.

And I think that just about covers it. At least, for now it does. I know it seems like a lot, but if you consider the school-daily food blogging is going away, it doesn't actually amount to any more work than I'd been doing before to mix in a bit of travel/entertainment blogging with the occasional food-related thing. In the end, I'm basically going to blog when I want to, when something is really cool and I want to share it. If it isn't fun, there's no point, right?

If you have any questions, requests, feedback, notes of encouragement, etc. for me, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or somewhere else! It's always great knowing when folks keep up with my adventures here. Onwards to new ones!

Elementary School Lunch: 03/13 and 03/16 - Wheat Germ and Chocolate

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Ah man, I can't believe how near we are to the end of the school year. Next week! That's it!

Friday's lunch was a hamburg steak with grated radish on top, salad, a miso soup, and rice. A solid end to the delicious week we had. The salad was mostly bean sprouts, but it also had some carrot and spinach mixed in, and it was topped with a veggie dressing. As for the soup, it had potato, wakame, enoki mushroom, and onion - pretty simple.

Calorie count: 675

Today's lunch was the bomb diggity. Instead of regular ol' bread, we had wheat germ bread, which is like, way better for you. And some iron-fortified chocolate sauce to spread on it. The main item was a veggie croquette, linguine with parsley and onion, and a minestrone soup. The soup had bacon, cabbage, onion, celery, carrot, and spinach in a tomato-based broth.

As ever, I am in awe of how well chocolate and italian/tomato-based foods go together.

Calorie count: 697

Elementary School Lunch: 03/12 - Thursday Strawberries

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Today's lunch came with a side/dessert of luscious vine strawberries. There was an elaborate explanation as to where they came from or why they were in our lunch today, but the student who was reading off the info sheet didn't speak clearly - she was just trying to get through the thing and I couldn't understand her... Ah well.

The main item today was udon (specifically, kayaku udon), and some honey-glazed sweet potatoes with black sesame seeds. Basically, everything was perfect. The soup for the udon had fried tofu, regular cubed tofu, chicken, shiitake mushroom, enoki mushrooms, onion, carrot, spinach, and naruto.

Calorie count: 672

Elementary School Lunch: 03/11 - Mid-week Curry

Japan, FoodKristina PinoComment

I'm getting ever closer to the end of this school year. Today was my last busy day - that is, a day where I was engaged in teaching or work-related tasks all day long. If you aren't familiar - the NLT or ALT work day tends to end up being a lot of downtime depending on the sort of school situation you're in. If you're like me, and you just teach at one school, you won't be real busy all day every day, but you might be if you teach at several schools. So anyway, my schedule this year has been fixed by day, mid-week being the heaviest because that's just how things worked out. And yeah. Today was my last big day - everything from here is really just one class here, another there... bittersweet.

Today's lunch was some pork curry and rice, a "healthy" salad (this is in quotation marks because that's how it's listed in our menu), and some rice. The curry had the usual fixings in it: potato, edamame, bits of meat, onion, and carrot. As for the salad, it did comprise rather healthy ingredients: spinach, tuna, agar, cabbage, and carrot. It was all very filling and delicious.

Calorie count: 685

2015 Read Harder Challenge: Task 4 - BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

BooksKristina PinoComment

"Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become."

Though I could easily use this book as my entry for poetry in the Read Harder Challenge, this title actually fulfills the task "A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade" by virtue of having won the National Book Award for young people's literature last year (2014).  Reading more poetry is another sort of secondary goal for myself this year and I want to make sure I really give it a fair shake.

I'm slightly "behind" on the challenge (if we're looking at a reading speed of two books per month) because this is a hectic time for me with an international move less than a month away, but don't you worry - I'll be back on track by summer!

Elementary School Lunch: 03/10 - Spicy Tuesday

Food, JapanKristina PinoComment

Today's lunch was Korean cuisine, which usually means there's going to be something with at least a little bit of heat in it. In this case, our heat was a kimchi soup, which was a bit spicier than we usually get considering the kiddos don't tend to like foods with a kick. The main event was bibimbap, which is one of my favorite foods.

The bibimbap was some sauteed meat and radish, scrambled eggs, and namul of spinach and bean sprouts to toss onto our rice bentou. As for the soup, it had chunks of tok (rice cake) in it, which was super tasty, as well as shrimp, bamboo, carrot, leek, cloud ear fungus, and of course, kimchi of the napa cabbage variety. I loved everything about this meal.

Calorie count: 665