Sakura cherry blossoms

I think I can safely say that the cherry blossoms are the most popular flowers in Japan. We have lots and lots of sakura cherry trees in our country and we absolutely love them.

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I heard that they are in full bloom now. My sister in Tokyo has sent us a photo. You get to see cherry blossoms even in the middle of Tokyo.

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Many of us enjoy “hanami”, literally meaning flower viewing and is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, “flower” in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (“sakura”) . Hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. We spread out picnic blankets and enjoy eating and drinking, sometimes singing and even dancing.

I cannot stop thinking about cherry blossoms this time of year. It brings me sweet memories of my childhood.
Each cherry flower is small, delicate and pretty, but in full bloom, you can sense the strong power of the Mother Nature.

You can dye pink with cherry tree barks. What is the most fascinating about this dye is that you can achieve this pink colour only when the tree is in bloom. The power within the tree to become pink can dye fabric pink. How amazing.

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We also enjoy salted, pickled sakura cherry blossom preserve. They can be bought or made at home.
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These flowers are used mostly for decorating cookies, chiffon cake of jelly. You can use them for savory dishes, too. My favorite is just to let them float on green tea or better, Japanese rice wine, Sake.
You can buy them online:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Salt-Pickled-Sakura-Cherry-Blossoms/dp/B00A3ANO0U

We have a cherry tree in front of our house. It isn’t showing any sign of flower yet, but it blooms in late May and bears fruit in summer. I may have a go at making preserve with the flower this year.

My Miss Cherry blossom
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Easter knits!

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I thought we just had a half-term, but Easter holiday is already here. It is hard to believe four months have already gone since the New Year.

I believe Easter holiday is everyone’s favorite. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up. We have so much to look forward to. A few months ago, warm, sunny and dry weather was unthinkable, but spring always comes around.

This is what I made for this year’s Easter. I made lots of children enjoying egg hunt.

Like this.
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We all love egg hunt. Never mind your age, I would be very happy to search for chocolate eggs!

In this set, I have children in three sizes; these older ones (8cm tall),

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a little younger ones (7cm tall or so),

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and tiny one you have seen in the first photo. I added a little rabbit, too (about 3cm).
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Every Easter, I think of the egg hunt my younger son went when he was just about 5 years old. He gave the only chocolate egg he managed to find to a crying boy. He is 16 now and could be rebellious sometimes, but I know he has a kind heart. I am very proud of him.

I hope we will have fine weather for egg hunts this year.

How to make Onigiri rice ball, traditional way

Some people really do great art work with Onigiri rice ball.

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Another series of Master Chef has started and I have been enjoy watching the show very much.

What I found interesting is that many contestants cook Japanese. They pronounce Japanese cooking ingredients as Dashi, Yuzu and Tonkatsu sauce with ease. Japanese food is very healthy and I am pleased to know that it is getting popularity in the UK as well.

But most of the dish cooked on the television is restaurant food. Home style cooking is much more simple and easy.

And this is our nation’s favorite: Onigiri

Onigiri, sometimes also called Omusubi is a Japanese food made from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). Traditionally, an onigiri is filled with pickled ume (umeboshi), salted salmon, katsuobushi, kombu, tarako, or any other salty or sour ingredient as a natural preservative. Because of the popularity of onigiri in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors.

Although so simple, my boys absolutely love them. They grew up with Onigiri.

Here, my older son is having a go at making some at age 12.
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I have seen tutorials on internet and many are very unconventional. They still work well and some methods are beginner friendly, but here is the traditional, conventional way of making Onigiri. I still like this method the best.

Ingredients
Steamed short grain sushi rice

water to moist your hands
salt
filling of your choice (tuna mayonnaise, cooked salmon etc)
wrapping seaweed

1. Cook rice following the instruction given on the package.

2. Fluff the rice to separate the grain and let it stand for 10-15 minutes so that the rice will not be too hot to handle.

3. Damp your hands. Damp, not dripping wet!

4. Rub a pinch of salt on one hand.
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5. Place some rice on your hand, about the size of an egg.
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6. Make a dent in the centre and place the filling of your choice.
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7. Encase the filling and give the rice gentle squeeze.
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Make sure your hands are nicely damp.

8.Cup your hands and squeeze. Traditionally, we shape the rice into triangle. You do not need to make it rock hard. Gently squeeze and turn, squeeze and turn a few times.
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9. Wrap with seaweed sheets. We usually use soy sauce flavoured mini Nori sheets for Onigiri.
And voila.
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This is a great tutorial video.

What is crucial is to use short grain rice. Japanese sushi rice is ideal, but pudding rice and Spanish Paella rice also work.

Keep your hands always moist. Rice is very sticky. Keep a bowl of water when you work.

You can enjoy decorating them. Nori sheets is used for easy handling, but you can also roll them in sesame seeds and furikake seasoning (savory sprinkles, often with seaweed, sesame seed, salt, and dried fish)

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When I make Onigiri rice balls, feeling the warm cooked rice in my hands, I truly feel how lucky we are to have enough to eat. I never experienced the extreme poverty after the War like my parents’ generation, but I can really appreciate the gift from the Nature.

Onigiri making is fun, therapeutic and satisfying. It can be enjoyed as a Easter holiday project with children.

Maybe I should make an Onigiri bunny.

Challenging group shots

It is always so exciting to receive a draft with the photos arranged in place.

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It is still at the early stage and no art work is added by the designer. The editor has just placed the photos from the session. But the book is already looking great.

A little worry we had for the last day of the photo shoot is the group shots.

We enjoy group shots, well, usually we do. We choose a background and place items pretty much at random at first. We consider the colours and the spaces as we take a few shots and see the balance of the items in the picture. We take the photos of the entire scene and take a few close-up shots.

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The group shots for the last two books were rather easy. We could make a fun scene and all elements worked very nicely. But we realized that our photos were not working too well this time. I guess that instead of complimenting each other, the items fought against each other. When we see the Snow White next to a dinosaur, our brain start sending warning signals.

After some trials and errors, we manage to come up with a few nice shots. These photos are scattered in different parts of the book.

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I think they look lovely.

I have promised that there are lots of projects in this book.
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Now the patterns are getting checked by a professional pattern checker. We will be working on the text to make sure there will no errors. Then, the art designer will add some art work.

It is a lot of hard work, but is very very rewarding.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

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The first time I got to know about the St. Patrick’s day was when I lived in New York.

i used to have many friends with Irish family background. St.Patrick’s Day is one of the popular celebrations in the States and many cities host parades and fun events.

I like England’s St. George and the dragon, but I also like St. Patrick’s day symbols; the shamrock and that funny looking leprechaun.

The shamrock was chosen Ireland’s national emblem because of the legend that St. Patrick had used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the idea that God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

A leprechaun is an Irish fairy who looks like a small, old man about 2 feet tall. He is often dressed like a shoemaker, with a crooked hat and a leather apron. According to legend, leprechauns are aloof and unfriendly. They live alone, and pass the time making shoes. They also have a hidden pot of gold! I don’t know how this figure became one of the Irish symbols, but it is a charming tale.

For this celebration, I made little children dressed in Irish colours.

I made a little baby boy, sitting in the pot of gold.

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And his brother and sister.

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Happy St. Patrick’s day! I think we have a good excuse to head down to a pub and drink Guinness tonight.

More from the photo session

On Day 2, we did lots more style shots.

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We wanted to create a warm, homey, children’s room atmosphere for this book. Maybe a little retro or country style thrown in for some of the pages.

The studio has many props stocked in the storage room and I had brought in some objects. I had some old toys that my boys used to play with.

Here, we used my boys’ toy cars in the background.

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They are very well used and some of the paint had peeled off, but I think that make them look even better. They have sentimental value to me with my boys’ name written underneath. I am very pleased my designer decided to photograph them.

The last style shot was this one: animal finger puppets. We had a lovely volunteer from the office.

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Our star model, Lyn.

She works as a sales rep for the Search Press, but has also modeled for many of their books. She has very nice skin tone and pretty hands. She is wearing the chef’s coat so that her clothing colour will not reflect to the toys she is holding.

These finger puppets’ pattern will be in the book.
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The basic figure is quite simple and the body and head is knitted in one. You can enjoy variety by adding different ears.

We had a lot of fun in the studio again.

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Our designer, Juan, is testing the position, looking slightly embarrassed.

For Mother’s Day

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For years carnations have been a popular flower for Mother’s Day. I didn’t know why until recently.

It seems that the relationship between carnations and Mother’s Day began in the early 1900s in America. Many credit Anna Jarvis, the woman who first came up with the idea of celebrating mums, with selecting the carnation as the flower of choice for Mother’s Day.

To commemorate her mother in 1907, Jarvis delivered 500 white carnations to the church where her mother taught Sunday school for over 20 years. Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers and Jarvis requested that each mum in the congregation received one. The following year, St. Andrew’s Church repeated the tradition of celebrating mums and from then on carnation flowers were associated with Mother’s Day.

This Sunday coming is Mother’s Day in the UK.
We celebrate Mother’s Day in May in Japan as in America and still feel a bit funny having it in March, but I made a little project to celebrate the day.

Carnation flower pin

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Knitting is very simple as always. You can make it into lapel pin, too.

It is hardly a pattern, but here is how I made them.

Materials
Small amount of fine mohair of desired colour
Small amount of green DK (8-ply)

Equipment
A pair of 4.00mm (US 6) knitting needles to knit petals
A pair of 2.75mm (US 2) knitting needles to knit receptacle, stem and leaf

Petals: make two to three
With fine mohair, cast on 30 sts and knit 7 rows. Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Receptacle (base of the flower petals)
Cast on 12 sts with green DK and st/st 3 rows, starting with p row. Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly and fasten off.

Stem
Cast on 3 sts with green DK and work in i-cord for desired length. Break yarn, draw through sts, pull tightly.

Leaf
Cast on 2 sts and st/st 5 rows. K2tog on next row and fasten off.

With the fasten-off end of petal yarn, pull tightly and sew the sides. You do not need to sew all the way up, just to the half way is fine. Roll the petal and secure with a few stitches at the base. This will be the centre petal of the flower.

Wrap the centre petal with the other petals, pulling tightly the fasten-off yarn and secure the base with a few stitches. Wind yarn around the base where the green receptacle will be covering. (about 1/4 of the petal from the fasten-off end)

Sew the side seam of the receptacle and cup the base of the flower and stitch them together.

Attach the stem and leaf.

The petals are knitted loosely. Your knitting does not have to neat at all and do not worry if the stitches are uneven. Never mind large holes either.

Depends on the yarn you use, you may want to add more petals.

If you do not have fine yarn, you can use one or two strands from yarn, double knit for example. I don’t use mohair too often and I did not have the colour suitable for this project so that I dyed white mohair with chemical dye.

Should I send one to my mum? Maybe in May, I will. She gets puzzled if I send her a gift in March.