Mochi Anyone?

This Sunday we went to our neighbor’s mochi party. “It’s my family’s tradition to make rice cakes at the end of the year,” our neighbor told us during a trip to her produce stand, where we walk to every morning to buy fresh vegetables. She hurries from her garden whenever she sees my family, giving us free daikon and turnips and referring to our ‘big family’ with a playful grin. We call her Obaasan—an affectionate name for grandmother. She excitedly explained the process of making these traditional desserts filled with sweet red-bean. “Come join us! We will begin pounding rice into mochi at 10:00.” Bright and early Sunday morning, we trudged down the mountain we live on, carefully avoiding patches of melting snow from the previous night. Bundled in thick, winter coats and bearing a gift of homemade, freshly-baked cream puffs, we arrived at Obaasan’s house to the sound of pounding. Obaasan hovered over a marble basin, kneading a ball of steaming white rice between the energetic pounds of her husband.Konnichwa!” Obaasan greeted us warmly. Eyes bright, she introduced us to her two sons, their wives, and her grandson. They quickly made room for us around a table beside the marble basin, where they rolled pounded- rice in rice flour and stacked them in large wooden boxes. They showed us how to fill the mochi with sweet red red bean paste.We laughed and talked together then took turns pounding rice. An hour later, everyone shared traditional Japanese adzuki bean soup with rice cakes. While we drank hot green tea, Obaasan taught us how to make paper gift boxes out of Japanese origami paper. We bowed and thanked everyone, wishing them a happy new year. Obaasan packaged a box of freshly-made mochi for us to take home, reminding us to visit her at her produce stand as she waved goodbye.

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