knits by sachi

Penguin workshop

I have been writing for Let’s Get Crafting magazine for sometime now.

The first time when I was commissioned to make multi-coloured pandas, I was not so sure if I was doing the right thing going along with the editor. It was not at all the kind of toy making I used to do, and I was feeling a little anxious using such vivid coloured synthetic yarn. However, I enjoy the monthly challenges now. I am glad that I went out of my comfort zone.

The latest issue is this one; it has my ostriches.

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I was asked to make sitting ostriches. I tried to express ostrich’s character with meaty legs, thin neck and long eyelashes. I could not rely on the colours since the set does not contain black. I also had to be careful not to make the neck too thin so that it can support the weight of the head. I hope they look like ostriches.

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They have heart shaped feet which may go well for the Valentine’s Day.

Back in December, this patchwork teddy came out.

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This design is one of my favorites and it seems quite popular among the readers, too.

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I originally added a ribbon as in the photo above, and I was pleased with how it looked with it, but I guess it had to go because the kit did not contain the ribbon. You can make flowers into brooches as well.

I brought these issues to my local spinners’ group when I ran a workshop last Wednesday. My fellow spinners are such lovely people and they have been very supportive. I know them over fifteen years now.

I offered three projects to try: Rabbit 1 with arms and legs, Rabbit 2 with simple round shape and penguin from Safari book.

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My spinners all wanted to try the penguin! There seems to be something about that penguin.

It was a perfect project to do in two hours and everyone went home with their own little creation. We had so much fun together!

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Love these quirky penguins!

I came home with a pot of Flamingo flower, homemade apple jelly and marmalade. How thoughtful my spinners are!

I have to do this more often.

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All British Yarn

In February every year, Knit Now magazine publishes the all British issue.

It is to offer readers a chance to get to know yarn produced in the UK. Many designs are also related to something British.

Last year, I did this one: St. George and the Dragon.

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This is from the issue last February. I am very fond of this photograph. It came out very nicely.

This year, I decided to submit our Queen’s favorite corgis, which I have posted some photos previously. The pattern includes two cushions and the rug. The cushions can be used to keep your pins and sewing needles.

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I suggested some yarn to the editor, but the ones I believed British all turned out to be non-British. That told me how little I knew about British yarn! The editor’s choice was this yarn; Jamieson’s.

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I did not know this wool at all. You don’t see them in high street shops or online yarn retailers very often. However, I was so excited when I opened the link the editor sent me.

So many colours! They also sell as little as 25g. It is perfect for mini toy knitter like myself.

The yarn is 100% wool produced in Shetland.

It is not silky, baby soft wool like Merino, it is more robust. I found that it gives firmness and clean finish to knitted toys. It is lovely.

When I went to Tokyo recently, I visited the yarn shop owned and managed by Nihon Vobue-sha, one of the leading craft book publisher.

The shop is called Keito, literally meaning yarn.

And in the shop, I found these.

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And these.

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I cannot tell you how excited I was to see these displayed! So far away in Japan, the Shetland wool is loved very much.

The shop was full of beautiful coloured yarns and knitted samples. Knitters or non-knitters, you would want to pick up yarn and try to think what you can create with it.

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I am currently working on another project using Jamieson’s. I would love to run a workshop at Keito shop one day. Surrounded with all these lovely colours, that would be fantastic.

Keito shop: http://www.keito-shop.com/english/

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Mizuko statues and the Tokyo tower

My younger son is very fond of observatories. He wanted to go up on both the Skytree and the Tokyo tower. I said to him ‘Could we just do with either one? maybe the Skytree since that is much taller?’ and he said no. He wanted to take photos of the Skytree form the Tokyo Tower as well.

But this turned out to be a rather interesting journey and I am glad that we made this extra effort.

On the way to the Tokyo tower, we came across this temple, Zojo-ji. It is a Buddhist temple built in the year 1393.

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In their premises, there is a Mizuko garden. Mizuko, literally “water child”, is a Japanese term for a dead fetus or a dead baby. There are rows of stone statues of children represent unborn children, including miscarried, aborted, and stillborn children. Parents can choose a statue in the garden and decorate it with small clothing and toys. Those statues are called Jizō, the guardian of unborn children. They are to ensure that Mizuko are brought to the afterlife.

I knew there are temples which specializes Mizuko kuyo or fetus memorial services, but hadn’t seen a garden like this before. I thought these statues are very sweet.

The little statues, Jizo, are often dressed in red. It is believed that the red has the power to expel evils. What I liked the most about this temple’s Jizo was the red crocheted hats of course.

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I wonder if they are made by local volunteers.

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And we found a rather unique one among them. We found it amusing.

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It was a nice sunny day and I felt such a peace looking at these little ones with toy pinwheels by their sides.

Zojo-ji is on the way to Tokyo tower if you take a subway.

We had visited The Skytree in the same morning so that the Tokyo tower was not too impressive for its height but it is still a famous landmark of Tokyo. I also found a funny sign at the entrance.

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I didn’t know you could walk up the Tower! I understand that you shouldn’t make an attempt under the influence of alcohol, but I don’t think anyone with right mind would even think of trying it.

The first time I visited the Tower was 30 years ago. I had just been accepted by a university. I was young and so excited about the prospect of living in a big city. This time, I was standing the same spot with my two sons who were the same age as I had been then. I felt extremely lucky.

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Visit to Keito dama

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had nice holidays.

We certainly did. We spent two weeks in Japan and it was just amazing.

Apart from the recent emergency trip in November, our last visit was in 2011. My mother was still well so that we traveled Kyoto and Osaka together. It is a shame that she is in hospital now and probably, she will never get to travel with us again.

However, I was determined to enjoy this trip and had planned many things to do during the stay. First, we visited Tokyo.

My in-laws live in Tokyo but hadn’t seen us for quite some time. Father-in-law had gotten us to stay in a nice hotel with a fantastic view of the Skytree.

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One of the exciting event in Tokyo was visiting Nihon Vogue-sha, one of the leading craft book and magazine publishers in Japan. I always wanted to get in contact with Japanese publishers. I was delighted when I received a message inviting me to visit them.

The office I visited was their knitting magazine, ‘Keito-dama’ (translated yarn ball) editorials. Interestingly, the editor I met was a man who is a keen knitter himself. I know there are many male knitters out there, but never had have seen one in person.

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I had brought all my book titles and many issues of knitting magazines. I also gave him one of my little knitted work.

This little cat.

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We talked about knitting and crochet extensively and that was such a joy. Time flew by very quickly.

He gave me a couple of knitting books and the latest copy of their magazine which is full of beautiful designs.

Among many interesting articles, I found this one. It features crochet beaded handbag.

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The article is about how these bags are made with many hours of effort and are treasured by many, quite often handed down from a generation to a generation. What a coincidence! I thought, because I was just given a crochet bag from my mother a few days previously.

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This bag was made especially for my mother as a wedding gift. It means it was made fifty odd years ago!

It is beaded and crocheted. I cannot fathom how many hours are spent to create this. It is a handbag to go with a Japanese Kimono. Although my mother is very well aware that I do not own a single set of Kimono, she thought I would appreciate it since I am a creator myself. I am very honoured.

Mum thinks her life is approaching toward the end. She has given me all her precious jewelries over the last few years. I used to get upset and became teary every time she did this, but somehow, I learned to accept them with a smile.

I will certainly treasure this beaded bag.

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Super easy cream cheese biscuit

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Everyone is busy stocking up food for Christmas, but I am doing just the opposite. I am focusing on eating food in the fridge to limit spoilage and waste. We will be travelling this Christmas.

I am an eco-friendly and frugal shopper and I usually plan meals well. I heard that in the UK, we waste food worth £470 per the average household a year, rising to £700 for a family with children. This does not happen to us and I want to keep it that way.

We are doing well so far and I think we can leave an almost empty fridge behind if I don’t shop much anymore.

However, some products are not too easy to consume quickly, for example, cream cheese. It feels like a struggle to make your way through the entire cream cheese container.

Cream cheese can be an alternative to butter. It has less calorie so, it is good if you are watching your waist line. I used it to bake muffins in the past and that worked well.

I came across this biscuit recipe in Japanese Cookpad: Cream cheese biscuit.

To make 15-20

Ingredients
150g flour
50g cream cheese
50g margarine or butter
50g sugar

Method
1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C.
2. Mix cream cheese, margarine and sugar. Add flour and combine well and roll the dough into a ball.
3. Wrap the dough with cling film and chill for 30-60 min.
4. Make 15-20 small balls from the dough or roll it out and cut out with cookie cutter.

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5. Bake int he oven for 17-20 mins.

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This is the easiest biscuit recipe ever!

I had low-fat cream cheese and margarine spread, but they worked just fine.
I had a lot more cream cheese left, so I made the second batch, adding cocoa powder this time. I increased the amounts of each ingredient a little, too, but as long as you keep 1:1:1:3 ratio, it works. I think you could use butter milk or fromage frais instead of cheese. You can use alomond powder or gluten free flour. Next time, I want to add chocolate chips. It is super versatile recipe and amazingly simple.

The dough does not contain much fat so it doesn’t spread much during the baking. It is soft and chewy inside. It isn’t too sweet, maybe it is less sweet than some of the morning breakfast cereals.

My son loved it. This is certainly one of our favorites.

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In fact, it was so good that I am tempted to buy more cream cheese. Maybe after the trip.

Now, we need to start packing.

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Christmas Felt book

It is always so fun to work in the Search Press studio.

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We have just finished the photography for my next book, ‘Christmas Felt Project’ (title is provisional).

There isn’t any better time to work on this book. The timing is just so perfect. Our designer went out and bought a fur tree, baubles, tinsels and crackers for props. We got radio playing Christmas songs in the background. We were certainly in the Christmas spirit.

For the Christmas publications, the photography is often taken place in summer. You can get a fur tree all year around, but the summer trees has yellow-green tips of new leaves. You may notice branches are cut off at the ends next time you see Christmas tree in a magazine! It is great that we did not need to worry about that detail.

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This is my first sewing book. It opens with easy and quick ornament projects as angels and teddies, and then, move on to larger projects which are a little more involved. It comes with many photos showing sewing steps. I had prepared items in different stages to make the photo sessions run smoothly, but it still took quite a long time just to photograph images to go with instructions.

I find it difficult to explain sewing steps quite often. However, my editor, Sophie, has been so great. She sat by me with patience, taking lots of notes while I carry on sewing. I may be able to improve my writing skill a bit as I work on the text for this book.

The book will have beautifully styled photos as my previous books.

I like images to tell stories. We used props carefully for each photo.

This is our prop room at the back of the studio. It looks like a collection of junks, but many of these items have appeared in my books. They are all so useful.

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We experimented with lighting to create warm atmosphere of holiday season and I think we have achieved it. The photos all look amazing.

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My photographer and designer made up a cute charming story with Santa scene. I would love to show the photos, but I think I should keep it a secret until the book comes out.

Sewing felt was the first craft I really enjoyed as a child. I hope the book will inspire many people of all ages and genders.

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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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Emergency trip to Japan

Very early work of mine still sitting in the living room of my parents’ house. I made the dolls and Mum made the outfits. It is our first and the only joint effort so far.

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The week before last, I received the most dreaded e-mail from Dad. Mum was doing very poorly and her doctor wanted me to come home.
Dad said that the intravenous antibiotic didn’t seem to be working this time and her temperature wasn’t coming down. She was suffering much more than the previous time she was in hospital. She developed coughs and her X-ray showed white cloudy area.
Her doctor said there was a possibility of interstitial pneumonia. It is one of the causes related to the deaths in leukemia patients. Leukemia! Has she developed leukemia?

Dad’s e-mail continues;
To my son: Please arrange to come home with your kids and wife.
To my daughter (me): Please fly home ASAP. If you cannot bring your children, come home alone. I will pay for the flights.

Dad had added, ‘although her condition is serious, Mum is determined to get well and come home’. This was the only positive news.

The next day before I head to the airport, I wrote on the MDS-UK Facebook timeline. I have had posted Mum’s story earlier that week and members and stuff have been very supportive. I received kind messages, valuable information and advice. I thought I should share the update.

I received many many kind messages again which made me feel brave and tearful at the same time. Many wished safe journey and keep hope. I felt that I did not have to go through this all on my own. Their messages meant so much to me.

However, I wondered if I could keep hope. The doctor had said pneumonia and leukemia in the same sentence, but can I still keep hope? It seemed to be too optimistic or downright delusional.

After fifteen odd hours of travelling, I regained composure a little. I promised myself not to burst into tears the minute I see her.

She had two needles stuck in her veins and she was breathing through tubes. She weakly smiled when she saw me, but struggled to speak because it triggered her coughs. But she said her temperature was coming down, and her latest X-ray showed the white cloud shrinking. She said she would come home.

And she might do just that.

After two days from our arrival, she started doing much better. Her temperature returned to normal and the coughs went away. She could sit up and talk with us two hours on end. Her appetite started coming back and her nutritionist suggested increasing food portions. She laughed a lot and joked a lot.

She is utterly amazing.

My brother came down with his family. Mum has brought us all together.It was charming to see my son playing with his little cousin although they do not speak the same language.

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We cooked dinner together, and on the next day, we visited a temple to pray for Mum’s recovery. I am not at all religious, but I want to believe in all gods and angels at this moment.

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This temple is in a little town my dad grew up. I haven’t had visited it for well over 30 years. I took this photo with my mobile phone! Amazing blue sky!
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There are eighty eight well known temples in Shikoku island and many people pilgrimage around the island.
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This temple is number 23. My grand father used bring me here often. We saw pilgrims in white outfits.

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Not all on foot, but my parents visited all temples in Shikoku some years ago. They collected temples’ official seals which Mum wants in her coffin when she travel to the next life.

But that journey can be wait a bit, Mum.

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Sweet and sour pork/chicken

Harvest time

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For this dish, I received a full mark. My family said it was ‘outstanding’ and I don’t get that everyday.
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It comes from my own Subuta, sweet and sour pork recipe, using chicken instead of pork.
Sweet and Sour Pork is a popular Chinese recipe and is very common in Japan. I believe it is also very popular in North America.

There are many different versions of this dish and I find majority are a little too sweet. Quite often the sauce include ketchup and ingredients pineapple. My family does not tolerate fruits in savory dishes and prefer the sauce without too much sugar.

Here is our Sweet and Sour Pork recipe. You can get all ingredients very easily from a local supermarket.

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
200-250g pork or chicken, cut into roughly 1cm thick, 2x3cm pieces
a few tablespoons cornstarch
1 large onion, cut into bite sizes
1 carrot, sliced
1 large green bell pepper, sliced

You can add any vegetable of your choice, green beans, mangetout, baby corn, mushrooms, bamboo shoots etc.

Sauce Ingredients:
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar
2 Tsp soy sauce
2 Tsp rice wine
150 cc cup chicken broth or water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Place all sauce ingredients in a cup and stir. Set aside until the end.
2. Coat sliced pork or chicken with cornstarch. Shallow-fry until browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from the pan and drain excess oil.

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3. In a wok or large frying pan, heat a little oil and stir-fry the vegetables.
4. Give the cup of sauce ingredients another stir, then add it to the vegetables, continue stirring over medium heat until the sauce thickens.

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5. Add the cooked pork/chicken and stir to combine.

Some recipe tell you to add cornstarch to the sauce ingredients, but since the meat is cooked with cornstarch, I found it unnecessary.

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Sweet and sour flavour is universally popular. We all find the good balance of sweet, sour, salty and spiciness tasty. When I first arrived to the UK, I was very surprised to see people pouring generous amount of vinegar over chips. It is very English, I think. I didn’t see that in the States.

If you are in a hurry or want less calories in Subuta, you can cook the meat in the Wok, add vegetables and sauce. For this method, one tbsp of cornstarch dissolved in the same amount of water should be added at the end.

Stir fry is so easy and quick. You can include lots of vegetables without much effort. It is perfect for busy people like us.

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