knits by sachi

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Japanese comfort food, Oden

It is getting chilly every day and in the cold weather, we think of comfort food.

comfort food
noun
food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.

Yes, that is right, it tends to be calorific, but it doesn’t have to be.

You can name a few Japanese comfort food; Miso soup, Okonomi-yaki, noodles and Onigiri rice balls. Many Japanese comfort foods are quite healthy. There are sweets as redbean soup and roasted sweet potatoes.

For me, the ultimate comfort food is this; Oden.

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Oden is a Japanese winter dish consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon raddish, potatoes, konnyaku yam cake, and fishcakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth. Ingredients vary according to region and between each household. Mustard is often used as a condiment.

Oden is often sold from food carts, and most Japanese convenience stores have simmering oden pots in winter. I often cook it at home.

The cooking method is super easy. You can cook it in advance, which is convenient for some occasions.

Ingredients serves 4
For broth

1200cc water
1-2 strips (4cm x 10cm) Kombu sheets
1tsp Dashi granules if you have
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice wine
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp Mirin sweet wine

Oden
4 hard boiled eggs
4-6 medium sized potatoes
6 fish balls
Mooli daikon raddish

I cannot get a variety of ingredients for the pot like I used to in Japan, but I manage with whatever available in supermarkets and Asian food shops. It is a bit unconventional, but sometimes I add carrot,shallots, mini sausages and meatballs. In Japan, we cook fried bean curd, yam cakes, octopus, beef tendons etc.

You can be creative and cook pretty much anything you fancy, but the crucial ingredients are Daikon raddish and konbu sheets which give the broth distinctive flavour.

Cooking method
1. Prepare broth.
2. Slice daikon into 1 inch pieces and remove the skin.
3.Remove the corners so that there are no sharp edges. This will prevent daikon from breaking into pieces. I also make cross incisions on both sides so that flavour penetrates.

If you prepare rice to serve with Oden, preserve the white water from cleaning rice. Put daikon and the white water in another pot and cook, uncovered, until a skewer goes through. It is believed that the rice water gets rid of bitterness from daikon.

4. Peel potatoes and place them in the broth. Start heating the pot.
5. Add boiled eggs, daikon raddish, fish cakes and other ingredients you are using. Cover and cook 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it for 2-3 hours.

When I don’t have fish cakes, I use crab sticks. Add them just before you serve since they get too soft and fall apart if you cook them too long.

This is our version.
I know we don’t get much selection, but daikon cooked in this way tastes utterly fantastic and the broth has deep Umami from kombu sheets. I always keep the left over broth and make vegetable soup or miso soup the following day.

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Oden can be prepared a day before so that all the ingredients absorb Oden broth. It actually tastes much better the following day.

Cover and re-heat when you are ready to serve. Oden is often served with Karashi (hot mustard).

Here is my little knitted chef. Happy cooking!
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Cooking with seaweed

One of my friends called me the other day and asked how she could cook Kombu seaweed. I often get these questions relating to Japanese food ingredients.

She said she tried boiling but it turned out like a huge sheet of rubber. She is a foodie and a health nut and knows all the health benefits from eating sea vegetables, however, she does not quite know how to cook them.

We eat seaweed or sea vegetables very often in Japan. You can get them fresh, but dried seaweed may be more popular. It keeps very long in your larder and is very convenient.

Unfortunately, you cannot get too many varieties in the UK, but you can get wakame and Kombu from local supermarkets.

Wakame may be more familiar, but Kombu is not too well known. It usually comes as a hard dried sheet and looks quite inedible. When it is rehydrated, it becomes like a rubber and again, it looks inedible, so what do we do with it?

It is often used to make stock. It is used to make a light broth for Asian soups like miso, noodle soup, and tofu soup. To make one quart of broth, fill a pot with 4 cups of water and a 20cm strip of kombu.

As I wrote in a post in the past, I use Kombu to make the broth for Oden. I also use for miso soup, Udon noodle soup. Kombu is packed with Umami, or savory taste and it gives depth to the flavour of your dish. Should you through away after you make the stock? No, of course not. You can cut them into smaller strips and cook with bit of soy sauce, mirin sweet wine until the liquid is all gone. It is called Tsukudani and often eaten with steamed rice.

I also use Kombu to make this dish: Gomoku soy beans.

It is stewed soy beans with quite often, root vegetables. Simple cooking with not a lot of ingredients, but it is nutty and delicious and nice for a snack as well. Gomoku means a few things mixed. ‘Go’ is the number five, but you can have more than five thing when you use the word.

I make quite a lot in one go since it takes some time to cook soy beans. We used to be able to buy cooked soy beans in a tin, but it has been disappeared from supermarket shelves, so, we have to start from soaking dried beans.

I recommend to use at least 1 cup or 160 g dried beans.

Recipe
Ingredients
160g dried soy beans
30g carrot, diced
5 slices of dried shiitake mushrooms if you have
Kombu sheet, 3 x 10cm, cut to about 1 x 1cm
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp rice wine or white wine

This is just a guidance. You can be quite relaxed about measuring seasoning for this recipe. Add more soy sauce or sugar if you would like. You can also add Dashi stock granules if you have some. Add green beans cut to small pieces or diced potatoes. I would choose salad potatoes in that case so that potatoes will not get too soft and mushy.

1. Soak soy beans over night.
2. Cook soy beans in lots of water for 1-2 hours until soft. Drain cooking water.
3. Add water to soy beans just to cover the top. Add all ingredients and simmer for further 20 minutes.

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Make sure your soy beans are fully cooked and soft enough before you add seasonings. If you add them too soon, beans will not get any softer no matter how much more you cook. If you find cooking liquid evaporating too fast, you can add water a bit more.
After cooking for 20 minutes, let it cool. Flavours will soak in as the dish cools down. Adjust the taste with soy sauce, salt and sugar afterwards if necessary.

This recipe works with other beans. When I don’t have time to cook dried beans, I use tinned chickpeas or kidney beans.

I found some beans in tins are a little too soft, but if you shorten the cooking time, it should be fine.

When I have ‘Hijiki’ which is another kind of seaweed, I use it instead of Kombu.

It looks like this dried.

You need to soak in water about 10 minutes before cooking. Cut them shorter if necessary. Be careful, it increases in volume by 10 times when it becomes rehydrated. 15-20g dried Hijiki is good enough to cook with soy beans.

Seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals and has no calories. Isn’t it too good to be true?

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Recent publications

While I was away in Japan, some of my patterns came out in print. Most of them feature Christmas knits. It is the time to get busy with making gifts for your loved ones (and yourself).

Simply knitting magazine UK has this one: Santa, reindeer, elf and sleigh set.

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The request was to make the Santa family with miniature toys. This pattern is in the A-5 mini booklet which comes with the magazine.

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Pattern is not at all complicated, but assembly may require a bit of patience. The sleigh has a cardboard inside for sturdiness. I have added the template and instruction drawings with a help of my son. If you think the sleigh is a little challenging, you may be able to find an alternative, for example, wooden toy sleigh.

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This project is a lot of fun and very rewarding at the finish.
It looks like this with everyone together.

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I have made many Santas. This one is easy to make and is one of my favorites.

Another project is this one: Christmas ponies in Knit Now magazine.

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The pony is knitted all in one. The pattern is surprisingly simple. The blanket has a Christmassy motif, but it can be knitted without it of course. Using multi coloured sock yarn may produce an interesting effect.

And one more.
A few days ago, I received these from America: Toy knits published by Interweave.

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I was invited to submit my work in January so that this magazine has come a long way. It is more like a book than a magazine. It has been carefully planned with lots of time and care.

It contains many many projects and beautifully produced. I can assure you that you will find something you would like to try. There are book reviews and interviews included, and I was very happy to find my book in it.

I have two patterns in this issue; Knitted zeppelin and bunny in a jumper

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Cool, yes?

This is the very first time that my work appeared in a knitting magazine in the US. I hope readers will enjoy them.

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Fantastic 100 yen shops

We went to see Mum at hospital every afternoon and spent a couple of hours chatting once she started recovering. I wondered if my son was getting with this routine, but later he told me that it was his favorite part of this trip. He grew up without seeing much of his grand parents or his cousins. He likes spending time with family.

We spent mornings browsing shopping centres and supermarkets. For my son especially, these places are as interesting as museums or theme parks.

The first stop: 100 yen shop.
100 yen shops are discount shops which sell wide range of goods for 100 yen. This corresponds roughly to one US dollar or 70 p in GBP. Market leader is ‘Daiso’ which operates over two thousand stores nationwide.

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We have pound shops in the UK, but the range of products and quality 100 yen shops offer is no comparison. They sell tableware, kitchenware,DIY tools,garden tools, stationery, household goods, sweets and snacks, dry food and some leisure goods. If you look through each isle, it takes quite a while.

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100 yen shops are able to offer an amazing range of products, many of which are their own store branded goods. Some are priced below the product’s actual value. They do this mainly by purchasing products in huge quantities direct from manufacturers.

Many visitors from all over the world come to enjoy budget shopping in Japan.

I bought dry food and utensils for my son in uni. My younger son got Japanese sweets and a new pair of chop sticks. He also got almond M&Ms for his school friend.

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You can get a sushi mat for 70 p, too!

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Some products are innovative inventions. I found these ‘chair socks’ to prevent the legs of a chair or a stool scratch wooden floor. I got two sets for our kitchen.

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And me? Yarn of course!

I found 100% wool yarn. How could I resist? It is multi-coloured and I found it quite pretty.

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I had a go at making something Christmassy with it.

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And this teddy. It is very sweet and I just had to have it.

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So, if you ever go to Japan, do visit 100 yen shop before you go shopping elsewhere!

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Challenging commission

Lovely photo.
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Many knitting magazines come with cover mount knitting kit these days.

I mentioned in the Facebook some time ago that I received a rather interesting commission.

It is to knit two pandas using six different coloured yarn, each weighing about 20g.

Six different colours! And it doesn’t have black yarn.

The kit came with wooden needles and two pairs of black beads to use for the eyes.

This is very different from what I normally do.

I have done kits for Knit Now magazines in the past, but these were quite small and not too difficult. I got to do the design first, and the editor order the kit. I had the freedom to choose the needle size, yarn weight and amount of yarn.

But this time, I had to make up the design using the kit I was given. The yarn is thicker than commercially available Double Knit yarn, giving you less yardage, and the needles much fatter than my usual 2.75mm.

And the colours! How am I supposed to make two pandas with six different colours? And they are so vivid and bright!

This is completely out of my comfort zone!

I drew a few designs and coloured them in with colour pencils. They will be very quirky, and I don’t do quirky too well. But never mind. I was determined to produce something with a bit of my own style.

Work in progress.

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And I managed producing pandas at the end.

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I could go very wild with colour combinations and knit ears in different colours from eyes and limbs, but I was afraid that the result may get too confusing. The colours were crazy enough already.

I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea. I am more comfortable knitting small toys with natural fibers in soft colours.

But I remember once that one of my followers said although she loved all my work, her arthritis hands do not allow her to make small knits. She enjoys knitting, but cannot make small toys. These pandas may work well for someone like her.

They may be good for people with visual impairment, too. My brother has colour weakness and cannot differentiate some of the subtle colours. And small children may like these exciting colours.

To be honest, I was more worried than pleased when I received this commission. But to my surprise, I found myself enjoying the challenge very much.

I hope many people will get involved making these quirky pandas.

Another kit arrived. This time, i am to make cat and mouse.

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Update on my amusement park

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Hearing what happened in Paris last weekend has put us in a great shock and sadness. We have been taking it for granted to be living in peace. This incident made us realize how fortunate we are to live in a country which provide us safety, equality and human rights.

Recently, I was talking to my son about visiting museums in Paris this winter. I wanted to see the carousel, too, which has inspired me to create the knitted carousel.

I know we will be able to do this soon.

The knitted carousel did well in the Craftsy Awards, and I also received kind messages from many people. Thank you so much!

I have added more rides for my amusement park. Tea cups and kart ride as in a previous post, and I have a few more.

Here is the latest addtion: the parachute ride.

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I have never been on one of those and I guess this is a fast falling, thrilling ride. My little friends seem very relaxed in it, so let us think this one moves very slowly.

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I guess this can be a baby mobile if you take it off from the wooden pole. I wanted to make more animals but the problem is, knitted and stuffed animals can be a little too heavy for a mobile. I didn’t want to make it over crowded either.

I have my favorite elephant, giraffe and bear with my little baby boy.

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I wish we could all live in harmony like this.

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Japanese sponge cake, Castella

My knitted bakers. I even knitted the cooker!

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I asked my son which cake he wanted for his birthday and he said, “Castella”.

Castella is a popular Japanese sponge cake made of sugar, flour, eggs. Its origins are found in Castilla (Spain).

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Now a specialty of Nagasaki, the cake was brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century. The name is derived from Portuguese Pão de Castela, meaning “bread from Castile”. Castella cake is usually sold in long boxes, with the cake inside being approximately 27 cm long.

Castella is widely available in Japan. You can buy a long cake in a box or slices almost anywhere; department stores, super markets or even at convenience stores. It is somewhat similar to Madeira cake, but it is much much lighter and very little oil is added. It does not have raising agents.

I didn’t even think of baking Castella at home when I lived in Japan. But my boys love it, so I started experimenting a few years ago.

It is a simple sponge cake. It cannot be too difficult, can it?

But I found a few obstacles. First, most recipes tell you to use many eggs, 12-13 eggs. I am not a very experienced baker and when the quantity of eggs exceed 5, I get nervous.

And where am I going to cook such a big cake mixture?

Traditionally, it is baked in a large wooden mold, but surely, I do not have one. Some suggest to make your own newspaper origami mold and line it with a tin foil, but I wasn’t convinced.

So, I tried my own version, reducing the quantity of eggs and rest of the ingredients.

You can bake in a cake tin. I recycled a cardboard box to achieve the traditional square shape.

Recipe

6 egg yolks (size L; could do with 5 yolks)
5 egg white

150g sugar

2 1/2 Tbsp honey
2 1/2 Tbsp Mirin Japanese sweet wine
2 1/2 Tbsp Hot water
1 Tbsp cooking oil

150 Strong bread flour, shifted

160 C (gas mark 4) for 30 min.

1. Beat egg white until soft peaks, add sugar little by little and beat until stiff peak forms.

2. Add egg yolk to the mixture, one at a time and beat well.

3. Mix hot water and honey and Minin sweet wine in a separate bowl to melt honey. Add it to the egg mixture. Add oil.

4. Add bread flour and mix until combined.

5. Bake at 160 C (320 F) for 30 mins.

6.Take it out of the oven. Wrap with the cling film when it is cooled. Leave it over night. (This may be the most difficult part of the recipe. We want to eat it right away!)

There are many different recipes and I have tried a lot of them, but I like this one. You could beat the eggs without separating yolks and whites, but it takes ages to make the eggs fluff that way. Some recipes say to bake at much higher temperature, but that makes the cake cook too soon and make the centre collapse after taking it out of the oven.

And here is what I made.

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It is moist and soft with touch of honey flavour. You have to try this.

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Hand crafted souvenirs

Returned home from the adventure of a lifetime.
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My son came home from Africa safe and sound on Monday.

He was much cleaner and well fed than I had expected. The trip was absolutely amazing, he said. He looked truly content.

While I was rolling sushi for dinner, my son perched on a stool and told me a lot about the trip. Surely, he had a lot to tell.

He told me that he has been well during the trip. Most of the members suffered from diarrhea, but he has been lucky. He also enjoyed the food and happily ate whatever he was offered. He said their chapatis were very very good and absolutely loved them.

“Did you eat anything unusual?” I asked and he said “a boiled banana!” Umm, interesting.

He bought each of us something for souvenir.

For me, he got these wooden bowls. I am keeping bits and bobs of craft materials in these.
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Elephants and lions are carved on the side of the bowl.
and this;
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The Kilimanjaro coffee. It smells amazing and I am certainly keeping the cotton bag after use.

For my husband, he got this. It is hand carved stone rhino.
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And these are for his brother.
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A lion necklace and
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wooden lion with his name.

For himself, a lion’s tooth necklace and the Masai blanket. He bought both directly from the Masai tribe. He had a quick lesson on how to wear the blanket.
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These will make him strong.

He very much enjoyed every minute of the experience. Helping locals to build their school was fun and rewarding. Kenyan children kept calling my son “Jackie Chan”. They had never seen an Asian person before, but how flattering to be called that!

I hope he has shown some Karate moves. My son holds a black belt after all.

A shy and quiet teenage boy returned a confident young man. I am very pleased that we sent him to Africa.

And here is what we had for dinner. Quick sushi with the filling I can make with ingredients from local supermarket. I thought he had missed Japanese food.

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Knitted animal accessories

Knit Now magazine kindly posted photos with nice comments on Tweeter and Facebook.

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In this new issue, you will see these of my design.

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These animals have button holes in the front legs and buttons in the back legs. They can be connected with one another. You can attach one on a bag or a baggy handle.

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Or on a baby’s wrist.

I have been making many many knitted toys, but I realised that haven’t designed baby toys much. I should make more.

In the past, I did try these ones.
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And these.
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You often see these baby rattles made of wood. I think I can attach bells to make them more interesting.

I thought of knitting them, because I remember my sons use to bang their heads with wooden rattles and cry. These are soft and squeezy and feel very nice.

When my first son was born, my mum gave me the rattle that I used as a baby. She also gave me the personal child record. She had them all these years. Both my children used the rattle and hopefully, it will be passed on to their children.

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I weighed 3940g (8.68 Ibs) when I was born! A big baby!

Some things are absolutely priceless.

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30 a day

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Do you practice the 5-a-day?

We all know fruit and vegetables are part of a balanced diet and can help us stay healthy. It is important that we get enough of them.

The 5 A DAY message highlights the health benefits of getting five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day. That’s five portions of fruit and veg in total.

In Japan, we have a little different approach: 30 foods per day.

You count the number of foods in your meals. For example, if you have a toast, yogurt and a banana for breakfast, that makes three. And if you have a ham and cheese sandwich and an apple for lunch, that gives you three more. You do not count the same food twice, so you do not count the bread you have for lunch. However, if the bread contains caraway seeds for example, you can count that as one.

These days, this approach is losing popularity due to the changes in our life style and diet. We have more foods which are not considered to be too healthy. We also have many processed foods that we don’t know how to count, cereal bars and smoothies for instance. Some also say that this approach encourages us to over eat.

But it is good to include a wide variety of foods. Try counting. You will find it quite a challenge to have 30 different foods a day.

I knitted this for my kitchen to remind me the importance of eating greens.

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Isn’t that nice? Do you feel healthy already?

My green grocer (9 cm tall) has a helper, a big dog to pull his kart.
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The kart and the wheels have a light weight cardboard to keep their shapes. The poles are made with wooden skewers wrapped with yarn.
The awning is just a knitted piece, sitting on top of the poles.

This project is a bit like making items for a doll house and can be enjoyed with children.

It was a lot of fun to make these little veggies. (They are about 1-2 cm,) It took me a while to fill the kart, basket and crate, but it was so rewarding to see the finished set.

Like it?

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