Growing up in Hawaii, my mother's family always had a steaming pot of white rice on the table for dinner. The first scoop was carefully heaped into a cup-like holder and placed on the family altar, after which individual bowls were filled and passed around the table. Like many of their coffee-farming neighbors, my mom's parents immigrated from Japan and brought their religious, cultural, and food traditions with them.
When I was young, we had an altar in our living room that sat in a built-in cabinet and I remember a few rice offerings being made. The rice-to-altar ritual slowly disappeared as white rice was sometimes replaced by spaghetti, poi, and other starches. Also, dinner guests and television programs often altered the flow of our mealtime practices.
My folks moved into a retirement apartment a few years ago and the family altar moved in with my brother in New Jersey. The rice cup (pictured above) ended up in my hands, perhaps because it's always intrigued me. I want to find a new purpose for it, give it a new meaning. As a little girl, I used to wonder why real food was being offered to a little statue of a man. Now I'm concerned about hot food reacting with brass.
The cauliflower rice that I make, can't be molded into shape like a tablespoon of sticky white rice anyway.
For now, the cup sits on my kitchen island with a sweet potato plant that can't stop vining and a candle likeness of Buddha that will not burn. The arrangement will change, I'm certain, but that little rice cup may be turning into an altar through a grace of its own.