I'm a bit ashamed that I hadn't attempted to make mochi before, despite my love for it, and even more so now that I know how easy it is. I think doing the mochi-pounding at the rice harvest last fall gave me an impression that it had to involve a great deal of effort and heavy utensils. That, of course, would be the traditional way - but modern ingenuity has made it a much simpler matter.
I bought a small bag of glutinous rice flour, which is very soft and fine. Though online recipes told me it's called mochiko (餅粉), in the store I only saw 餅米粉 - I think the difference is that one is "rice cake flour" and one is "rice cake rice flour"? I don't understand this language.
Whatever it is, it worked well. I followed a recipe that was simply one cup flour to one cup water, mix, and microwave for four minutes. It also called for a cup of sugar, but I just put a spoonful in. I think next time I'll try less water, because this batch turned out impossible to mold into anything.
(But isn't it pretty?)
I tried making daifuku, which are mochi dumplings filled with anko (red bean paste) or fruit. I had strawberries as well. You're supposed to coat them with cornstarch but I didn't see any in the store so I got powdered sugar instead. This turned out to be a poor substitute because it instantly dissolved and then I had sticky AND sugar mochi to handle. Regardless, I could just not get them to form a coherent shape. I tried stretching them around the filling but they'd recoil, I tried rolling them into balls but they collapsed into puddles. Finally I just gave up, put them on a plate and called it strawberry shortmochi.
I put the rest in the fridge overnight in the hopes that when it was cooler it'd be easier to handle. To no avail - it remained just as elastic. So I took my azuki (the red beans anko is made from - I was too lazy to mash them fully) and made red bean burritos, ba-dum-CHING.
I had a lot of azuki left over. The next day in the store I saw taco shells, which are usually in the expensive imported food aisle but this time were on the sale table. I was struck with craving - I haven't had tacos for over a year. I got lettuce, hamburger and some tasteless cheese (which is one of my main complaints about Japanese Grocery - there is no good cheese). But an essential ingredient of the tacos from my nostalgic family life was the refried beans, and those in all their disgusting glory were not to be found in this country. Could I, I wondered, make a decent substitute from the azuki?
Azuki is slightly sweet, it's most often in desserts, as a paste or whole on pastries. But it's also used in sekihan (赤飯), the red-beans-and-rice made for festive occasions. And it's not so sweet that it's automatically a write-off for savory dishes - our Western tongues, spoiled by chocolate, often find anko-filled things not sweet enough for a dessert. So I mashed them up, added salt and pepper, put them in my taco, and the result was, while a little different, still quite delicious.
Sweetness levels and me are on a constant see-saw. I love the not-really-sugary flavors they have here - black sesame, green tea, red bean - but on the other hand, they add small quantities of sugar to things that really shouldn't. For example, we often have "three-color donburi" at school, which is very simple rice with three side-dishes to put on top. Spinach, grated cheese, and scrambled hamburger. The spinach is good, lightly seasoned with sesame. The cheese, though neon orange, is less satisfying than chewing on a rubber chicken - enough said. The hamburger is sweet, which took me some time to get used to. I enjoy three-color donburi day, but I also sometimes crave the spicier version of hamburger that we'd eat back home.