knits by sachi

Knitted St. George

The new issue of Knit Now magazine has one of my favorite work, St.George and Dragon.

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When we got the call for submissions, the brief was to make something all British. Hearing the word British, the first thing which came up to my mind was St. George, our guardian saint.

Never mind he came from Turkey.

I have had made a set in the past.
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But this time, I wanted to make baby George. We have a little George in our Royal family. This is to celebrate his birth, too.

I also changed the design of the dragon. When I made the previous set, I thought the dragon should have a bit longer tail. The wings also needed some improvement.

But I kept its friendly look. I don’t think I can ever make a scary dragon no matter how I try. I am Japanese.

In Asia, the dragon is commonly the symbol of nobility, solemnness, holiness, and good fortune. Throughout the history of China, Korea, and Japan, the dragon (or the concept of the dragon) has been a part of people’s daily lives.

I grew up watching the animation program, Nippon Mukashi Banashi (Japanese folk tales), An omnibus-format TV series consisting of anime adaptations of Japanese folk tales. In the opening song, this little boy was flying on a dragon. I always loved this image, and it may have influenced on this St. George project.

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He is lovely.
We truly love dragon in Asia. We love it so much and even included in the Zodiac animals. It is the only legendary animal in the calendar.

Do you know how the twelve animals were chosen? There are several different stories, but the one I like goes like this.

The Chinese God of Heaven told animals to come to the meeting if they wanted to be in the Calendar. First come, first served, he said. Cat asked Rat to wake him up in the morning, but Rat forgot the promise and Cat over-slept.
That is why cats cannot stand the sight of rats.

Cute story for children, no?
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I don’t think the magazine project is too complicated, but there is a little tricky bit in the dragon. You can see some step-by-step images here.

If you start now, you will have your own set before the St. George’s Day. (image shared from Knit Now FB. I love this photo)

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Winter wreath

I find the month of February quite depressing, and I am sure I am not the only one.

Exciting celebrations is long gone and is a distant memory. The days are still short, the weather is not very kind. It is cold, wet and miserable.

And we still have some weeks until the spring arrives.

May be because of all this, I am knitting flowers, lots of flowers recently. Subconsciously, I may be trying to cheer myself up.

I love all bell shaped flowers, Lily of the valley being my favorite. We have lots and lots of bluebells in early summer here in the West Sussex. I have loads in my garden, too. This time of year, we get to see snowdrops. They must be tough flowers, blooming in this cold weather. Every time I see them, I get a bit of strength from them.

They look very cute by the window.
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Wanting to have a go at a bigger project with flowers, I decided to make a wreath with winter theme.

I thought making snow effect was a little too ambitious, so that I chose subtle colours; white, pastel pink, soft green and yellow.

And for the centre, I made winter child fairy, all dressed in white.

Work in progress; I make all pieces first and arrange a little by little.
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Making these tiny pompom was tricky. I cut a forefinger with large scissors. Ouch.

Flower knitting patterns are quite simple but takes time to knit each petal and assembly. It is nice to see the work coming along nicely, and when it is done, it is utterly rewarding.

Ta-dah!

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My robin goes on the top.
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Yes, it is dark and cold and miserable outside, but if I could make this with my knees wrapped in a blanket, I am very happy.

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Fantastic Tofu

Like my Edamame babies? Harvested and dried, Edamame beans become Soy beans.

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Over here in Britain, I hear some people say Tofu is highly processed and is not good for you. Some say Tofu is very bland and boring.

But have they ever tasted the real thing?

Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food made by coagulating soy milk.
It starts with the soy beans. First, beans are soaked in water and the beans are then crushed and heated to separate the solids from the milk. The warm soy milk is then slowly hand-stirred while nigari (coagulants, a salt derivative of seawater) is added to form the curds. When the curds reaches to the right point, they are poured into a mold lined with thin cloth.

When the pressing is complete, the tofu is submerged in a bath of cold water to finish setting up.
The amount of nigari used will determine the firmness of the tofu. Fresh tofu is usually sold completely immersed in water to maintain its moisture content. It is like Mozzarella cheese. Does this sound over-processed?

Tofu makers are just like bakers. They would get up very early in the morning and make fresh Tofu to sell for the day. In old days, people used to shop with large bowl to buy Tofu in water.

Once the tofu is cooled, you can have it immediately. My son had fresh Tofu first time in Japan a few years ago and absolutely loved it. A bit of spring onion, grated ginger and a few drops of soy sauce is all you need.

There is an interesting show on channel 4 in Britain called “Jamie’s super food”. In the third episode, James Oliver is visiting Japan to see how Tofu is made. It is informative and fun to watch. You can see a clip here.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamies-super-food/videos/all/s1-ep3-tofu

How we wish we could get fresh Tofu.

Not as fresh as the one Jamie had, but we can get Tofu in water at a Asian supermarket. This is where we shop sometimes.

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Jamie was making Tofu burger inspired by his trip. I make my version of Tofu burger at home.
Unlike Jamie’s, mine has a bit of minced meat. It is easier to shape into patties if you add a bit of meat as binding ingredient. But you can still cut down on the amount of meat considerably.

Tofu Burger:serves 4
200g: firm tofu
300g: minced pork
1 small onion, minced
1 egg
2 Tbsp bread crumbs
pinch salt and pepper

Proportion of tofu and pork is up to you. You can also use minced chicken or turkey.

Basically, you mix all ingredients together and make it into patties. But one important thing is, you want to extract excess water from tofu before you add it to the mixture, otherwise your burger gets too soggy. Many tofu burger recipes do not tell you this, but I think it is essential.

Jamie was wrapping tofu in a clean cloth and squeezing water out. I guess it is one way to do it, but it is not a common practice in Japan. We either boil, microwave or wrap it with paper towel, place a weight, a tin of beans for example and leave it for 30 mins or so.

Mix.

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Shape.
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Cook.

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I wouldn’t BBQ, since patties are a little too soft to go onto a griddle.

At the last minutes of cooking, I usually pour teriyaki sauce made with soy sauce and mirin wine. We like teriyaki burgers.

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For a long time, I didn’t know Edamame and soy beans were the same beans. How embarrassing!

We call soy beans “meat of the fields”. Soy beans have been a very important part of our diet and culture. I hope many people understand the goodness of it and enjoy soy products more often.

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Happy Chinese New Year!

It is early this year, the Chinese New Year’s Day.

Since 1873, the official Japanese New Year has been celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, on January 1 of each year. So, we do not have celebration as Chinese people do, but you get to see the dragon dance in China towns. It is a exciting day for many.

I knitted this dragon dance set last year. This is my favorite piece.

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It was fun to knit this dragon and I could use up my bright Ferrari red yarn that I did not know what to do with.

This year, I have this one; Children with panda bear.

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I am quite pleased with how they came out. And the fortune cookies, they are also made with felt.

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I also made the wall sign.

This character Fú (we pronounce fuku in Japan) meaning “fortune” or “good luck”. Mounted Fú are a widespread Chinese tradition associated with Chinese New Year and can be seen on the entrances of many Chinese homes. This is often displayed upside-down on diagonal red squares. I have heard that the phrase an “upside-down Fú” sounds nearly identical to the phrase “Good luck arrives” in Chinese.

We do not have this tradition in Japan. When I first saw the Fú sign in a Chinese restaurant in London, I thought someone put it up the wrong way up by mistake. My sign here is not hang upside down. Being Japanese, I prefer this way. I do not feel too comfortable hanging the “luck” letter upside down.

But I think it is all right.

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Again, this is done with felt. I cut out the letter and sew it onto the fabric.

and the knot? I have this book, “Chinese knots for beaded jewellery” by my publisher Search Press. The instruction is very clear and I could make this pretty knot!

Happy Chinese New Year!
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Cutting down on sugar

It is OK to enjoy sweets once in a while without worrying about calories, but I am making changes.

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First it was fat, then, salt. Now it is sugar, our number 1 public enemy.

Is sugar really that bad as many people say?
It is natural and yummy and make you feel happy, but we all know taking too much of it does cause you many problems.
I guess eating anything in excess, even the most healthiest foods is unhealthy.

I take feeding my family very seriously and have been educating my boys about food and nutrition since they were young. None of us has sweet tooth and eating a relatively balanced diet.

But my boys are approaching to the end of their teenage years and leaving for university soon. They have stopped growing upwards and need to be careful not to grow side ways. There will be temptations of fast food, take-aways and alcohols everywhere. I decided to take a look at our kitchen once more.

So, the first thing is our sugar(s).

It is recommended not to exceed the maximum intake of 30g or 6 teaspoons per day. It is all right to enjoy biscuits or chocolate once in a while, fully aware of having treats, but as a mother, what I want to be careful is these hidden sugars in our daily foods. There seems to be lots of sugars we are not really aware of.

For example, breakfast cereals.

Who decided that cereals are supposed to be sweet? How come the serving size written on box is so small? Who eat just 30g of cereal?

A healthy child can eat the double of the amount easily, and I think this labeling is very deceiving. If the cereal contains 8g sugar per 30g, which is quite an average, our children are having 16g sugar the first thing in the morning and that is more than 3 teaspoon of sugar already. It is the half of the daily allowance.

I would like to go back to our traditional Japanese breakfast with rice and miso soup if we could, but cereals are amazingly convenient and perfect for six-formers who seem to attend school whenever they are pleased. I decided to choose ones with less sugar. I started to buy cereals with less sugar content little by little. If I force them to eat plain corn flakes all of a sudden, boys will take off without having any of it.

Good shopping guidance is this: 22g per 100g. All food products come with nutrition table for 100g. If it contains more than 22g of sugar, you should consider it to be a high sugar product.

This made my shopping trip so much easier.

Did my boys like the change? Surprisingly yes! We became so used to low sugar cereals now and do not want to have sugar coated, choco-chipped cereals any more. Not only that, boys became less and less interest in biscuits after school.

We can make small changes and live much more healthier.

My older son had sweet potatoes every day for breakfast when he was in Kenya last summer. He said he loved it.
It is truly nice to taste natural sweetness in our vegetables. We can change our taste buds by cutting down everyday sugar intake.

I made this “imo-mochi” (sweet potato balls) for snack the other day. It is flavoured with soy sauce and mirin sweet wine. It is a little old fashioned, something like my mum used to make for snack when I was little.

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I simply cooked sweet potatoes in microwave and mashed it up. Add corn starch or rice flour if you have, about 2 table spoons or so, and keep on mashing it up until it is fairy smooth.
Roll it into balls and cook in a frying pan.

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One sweet potato yields about this much.
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Mix about 1tbsp of each soy sauce and mirin sweet wine in a small cup and pour the mixture over the potato balls and cook until the moisture evaporates.

Done.

If you want it more savory, you can make the balls with potatoes. We sometimes have them for supper.

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Low sugar life continues.

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