The wind comes with warmer days. It howls into our apartment’s light well (the one that lets in zero light). These days, our front window is cracked. The few plants we haven’t killed are on the fire escape, stretching.
And along comes Milkshake, the world’s worst house guest. He’s not the fattest cat I’ve ever met, but he sure is fat.
Milkshake is somebody’s cat, but whose I don’t know. There was that lady who yelled from the street up at our window once, as we pet him on the fire escape, to leave that cat alone. But who knows. (And even if we wanted to leave the cat alone, he won’t leave us alone, so there.) He always smells faintly of cigarettes, the way the Easter baskets smelled that my great aunts sometimes gave me when I was really young–that sweet, acrid smell of an old lady who smokes in close proximity to doilies. In any case, he arrives on our fire escape periodically, at all hours of the day and night, and yowls with exceptional persistence.
The dude is adorable. Then he comes in, eats our plants, attacks our feet, experiences the rapture, and generally behaves like a monster. We never learn.
The return of Milkshake woke a little ache inside me. He represents our time here in this apartment in no small way, and consequently our time in graduate school. It’s been a rocky road. A good one, though, for the most part. I learned so many things, design-related and otherwise. I also didn’t learn some things. And now, the next chapter!
At times like these, nostalgia and newness have equal place on my plate. I’ve been craving bright, tropical flavors and chewable textures. I’ve been pouring over the pages of the Pok Pok cookbook before bed, dreaming about the dinners I plan to make this summer (it’s a project-in-the-works to make my own damn Thai food really well, a resolution at which, following a peanut allergy fiasco in Berlin, I am hell-bent on succeeding). But at the same time, I’m all about the stuff I can rely on to make me feel good. And one of those things is grilled mochi, like my dad used to make me.
Comfort food, you see, is a tricky thing. We all know what is meant by that phrase, comfort food. It’s something you ate as a child, prepared for and fed to you by a grown up, and that made you feel safe and a little indulgent. But I think comfort food is fascinating because it’s actually so complicated. It’s particular to each person, for instance. I associate Japanese American food with comfort, as I wrote in my last post, and not meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and mac & cheese. On the other hand, I still long sometimes for a bean and cabbage soup that my mom always made when I grew up. It’s a soup I absolutely hated as a child, but which I instantly began to crave when I went away to college. These days, the soup still fills me with a mixture of nostalgia, loving memories of mom, and angsty memories of mom. Is it just girls who have complicated relationships with their mothers? Or is this best reserved for another post? (If my mother is reading this, HI, I love you.)
So back to the mochi. Dad made it. It was delicious. It connected me to a part of him and his family in Japan that I missed and wanted badly to be part of, but really, that is just a post-rationalizing afterthought. Grilled mochi is just bonkers good.
Grilled Mochi (Yakimochi)
Yakimochi (also called isobeyaki) uses dried mochi, heated by toaster, grill or as you’ll see today, in a cast iron pan on the stove. Dried mochi looks and feels a little like an Ivory soap bar: smooth and HARD. It can be purchased cheaply in Japanese supermarkets, such as Sunrise Mart in New York City, and may also be available by mail. Heat melts the mochi–it balloons up like a Peep in a microwave, and gets a nice toasty, shiny crust. Once soft, the mochi is removed by chopstick from the pan, coated lightly on both sides in some soy sauce, and wrapped in a small rectangle of toasted nori. You eat it as immediately as possible, while it’s still soft, but be careful. It’s molten. Also, for a delicious variation, try adding a thin slice of cheese (cheddar is standard) to the top of the mochi to gently melt it as the mochi softens, then dip and wrap as before. It might sound like an odd combo, but cheese mochi is real. Real.
- As many pieces of dried mochi as you like, cut in half short-wise
- Small dish of soy sauce
- Toasted nori cut into about double the large side of your mochi
- Optional: thinly sliced cheddar cheese
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat and add the mochi a few a time, as many fit without crowding the pan. Using long chopsticks or similar, push the mochi around to prevent their sticking, and patiently allow them to toast and puff up, flipping them over periodically (their color will become whiter, then browner). Once the mochi feel soft and are toasted, remove them from the skillet to the dish of soy sauce, giving a dip on each side before plating. The mochi will deflate, but that’s as it should be. Wrap in a sheet of nori and enjoy.