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You can count on it: Coffee and tea are brewing 24-7 at the Carlock Book Café. But you never know what fantastic things you may come across when you stop by! We will bring you something unique each month. So make the Carlock Cyber Book Café a place you often visit virtually, and in person.

Cream and Sugar

Cream and Sugar

Special of the Month:
Eric Kotani Interview

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Eric Kotani, is a remarkable man. Born in Japan, he has been working at NASA for 44 years! Link to the guest's Homepage

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January 2010
Flavor of the Month:

Rice Pounding-Mochi–tsuki 餅つき

Mochi (餅) is a rice cake made of steamed glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into a round shape and consumed as a New Year’s food in Japan. In preparation of the New Year’s Day in Japan, the making of Mochi (mochitsuki) is a family and cultral tradition. It is also used to make a seasonal ceremonial decoration called Kagami-mochi (鏡餅). This consists of two round mochi rice cakes, the smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange)—which is the smallest of the three—on top.

Kagami-mochi (鏡餅)
When I was a child, my mother used to call us Kagami- mochi sisters: top (old), small, and bottom (young) big. Our family had three daughters. My oldest sister was born just before the end of WWII in 1945. Due to food shortages during the war, she was born small and stayed short, under five feet. After the war more food became available. Children naturally became taller. The second sister grew to be 5’1”. I was the youngest of the three sisters, and thus became the tallest, albeit petite by the U.S. standards. The nickname of Kagami-mochi sisters thus came about.

Nowadays, we can buy mochi at Japanese grocery stores year-round. But as a child Mochi-tsuki (Mochitsuki is the traditional mochi-pounding ceremony in Japan) was a very important year-end family event, which took the entire morning, and every member of the family was involved in the endeavor. My mother used to rinse glutinous rice the night before, and soaked it in a large vat overnight. On the day of Mochi-tsuki everybody got up early and started steaming the soaked rice until it became the ideal consistency. The steaming hot rice was quickly turned over on a stone mortar called an usu. One person with a pallet pounded the hot rice, while another person tapped some water so that the mallet (kine pronounced "ki-neh") wouldn’t stick to the rice, and rotated the paste to get it pounded evenly. The rest of the family cut pounded rice into small pieces and formed them into the shape of a baseball cap. When I was very young, father took care of the pounding, and mother turned over the rice paste. As we three girls grew older, I became the pounder, and one of my sisters took care of rotating the rice paste. Being the Kagamimochi sisters, the biggest one had to take care of the job that required the hardest labor. As we grew older, we bought an electric Mochi cooker. We didn’t find time to keep the tradition. The granite usu still remains at my mother’s house, but it hasn’t been used for several decades.

On December 19, 2009, I had a chance to see a real Mochi-tsuki at the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago. When I got there a little after 8:30 a.m., the event had already started. I saw one granite mortar and three electric mochi cookers. Around the stone usu were several men with pallets pounding steaming hot rice with great coordination. These men struck the rice paddies with their pallets with all their might. Rice has to be pounded while it’s hot. The men worked in a hurry. It could be quite dangerous. It seemed that some 120 people were there. Several generations of Japanese families were present, and I was very glad to see the tradition handed down to younger generations. Five hundred pounds of glutinous rice was pounded that day between 8:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Rice paste was cut into small pieces and three-inch semi-spheres. Some batches were green with Japanese mugwort leaves, and some had sweetened red bean paste inside. I was invited to pound the rice, but I didn’t think my muscles would stand a chance to do the task properly as the strong men. So I politely declined the invitation.
More about mochi at Wikipedia.

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