For about a good five years, I would casually toss these five words out onto the end of any statement involving a goal, action or plan. Unbearably all brass and cheek it did not matter whether or not I possessed any experience in the area the phrase was directed at. With a little effort and common sense I figured that I could accomplish what needed to be done: reroute electrical wires, decorate a wedding cake with gum paste figurines, dance with swords or build a yurt complete with felted interior. After all, "how hard could it be?"
One friend thought this hubris came from ignorance, another thought it confidence. At the time I believed that most things could be achieved through “steadfast discipline”. After years of eating my words, my mantle of poise finally crumbled and the well worn phrase phased out. With pensive consideration I now attribute this once unstoppable audacity to being young, enthusiastic, and exceedingly naïve. I strongly suspect that ramen noodles had their fair share in the blame as well.
Set before deep bowls of soup from a young age, I’ve had my fill of just about every kind of boiled noodle. Between slurps, homemade noodles interloped with the instant sort under my blind and otherwise preoccupied eye. Only infectious enthusiastic welcome was displayed in our household for this rip, dump and serve meal. Sprite chewy ribbons shared intimate space with sweet scallions, wilted spinach, dusky mushrooms, tempura blossoms and the requisite yolk yellow egg nestled cozy in the center. This food purred home style comfort even when I forwent the sumptuous for the simple. Straight out of the bag with the magic of a little heat and water, I could concoct hanks of stomach warming noodle within a shimmering lustrous meat broth in less than seven minutes. This was real food so deplorably easy that a child could fix it and this is where the confusion began. I left toast with cheez-whiz behind as I set my sights higher up the culinary ladder and in no time I deftly progressed to Chili and Shrimp flavored ramen artfully adorned with diagonal cut vegetables and custard webs of egg sitting kingly upon a stoneware throne. To this obvious talent I began to wonder, “Cooking, how hard can it be?”
Ramen opened the door to an exciting world of possibility. Not to mention rapid fire consumption of this holy noodle saved me from extinction in college. It was easy and inexpensive, fast and infinitely variable which suited my fickle taste buds. And like a gentle mentor, ramen noodles built up my confidence for greater challenges epicurean and otherwise. Shameful mercurial beast that I am, I eventually left my beloved bagged and preserved companion for the excitement and lure of greater things homemade, intricate and fussy. Forgetting my humble roots I began piping choux, whipping up dacquoise, toasting and grinding spices, and foraging in ethnic markets with frenzied ambition. Ingredient lists became long, methods even longer. On some occasions I cooked myself into a corner sweating and anxious; kitchen devastated by wanton disorderly conduct with barely a crumb to eat. I slowly began to observe that mastery was rarely attained in seven minutes and furthermore I was not always able to maintain the diligence required for success of a complex mission.
Life after ramen has been good, in fact richly expansive. My education in noodle taught me that simple steps can build into something momentous even wondrous. However it neglected to teach me patience and fortitude. Experience corrected and seasoned my binary vision to eventually include all the shades of grey between easy and hard, spectacular and dreadful. While impetuous behavior still manages to rear its head causing me to leap before I look, I am a more cautious creature maybe the staid sort who truly understands her available resources and now concedes from time to time to ask, “How easy can it be?”
Over-the-Top-Ramen Noodle Pillows serves 1-2: I’d love to claim ownership over this idea, but alas the credit goes to Barbara Tropp of China Moon fame who used to serve up something similar to this. My twist is to cook up ramen noodle, cool it until it congeals into a tangled mess, and then fry it up into a crunchy soft mass. Now you can have Top Ramen both ways, the crunch of “raw” and the chewy of “cooked”. And for those that like to “do it hard”, I offer an alternative method which I will try on a day when my tank is on full.
1 bag of Top Ramen or Sapporo Ichiban instant noodle or foot-stomped noodles
A few tablespoons chopped scallion
Toasted sesame oil
Direction: Cook up your noodles until al dente, rinse under cold water and strain. Pat the noodles dry with a paper towel and mix in chopped scallions, a good sprinkle of sesame seeds. Coat with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Heat up a large reliable non-stick pan until medium high and put oil in to generously coat the bottom. When the pan is hot enough to cause a noodle to sizzle, place the noodle mass into the pan and pat down to compress. Cook until golden on one side about 5-7 minutes and then flip over to crisp the other side. When done put the pillow onto a large plate and serve it with your favorite quick stir fry of veggies on top.