Several weeks ago I was in the newsroom of The Bonner Springs Chieftain, one of the newspapers that carries this column, to visit with the editor. Before I left, one of the reporters -- a young man in his 20s, who had been sizing me up in that aloof but incisive way that brash young reporters have of sizing people up -- offered me some editorial advice.
I ought to do a column for bachelors who have no cooking experience, he said. If I published some recipes that only required the use of a fork and boiling water, he might actually read my stuff.
A meeker columnist would have withered on the spot or stomped out in a snit but, strangely, I was intrigued and even a bit charmed. Chalk it up to years of living with a teenager, teaching college students and working in newsrooms where civility was redefined in ways most people wouldn't recognize.
While the reporter's underlying message was critical, he was offering me a chance for redemption. The fact that I would have to play to the lowest common denominator in order to win his approval was beside the point. What mattered was that I was still in the game. If I accepted the challenge and made good, my column wouldn't be totally worthless. In the parlance of the day, not being totally worthless is, well, not exactly high praise, but it does represent a certain degree of value.
Mind you, this brief exchange occurred right after I had published a rather detailed recipe for a chocolate truffle tart, and I suspect that some readers were daunted by the list of ingredients and steps it entailed. The fact of the matter is that a recipe is merely a series of instructions. You follow them and you get your result. Cooking involves a certain amount of chemistry, but it's not rocket science. Risks? The worst thing that can happen is that the recipe won't turn out. We're not talking about bungee-jumping here.
Now, not having a fully-equipped kitchen is another matter. And if a person is limited to a fork and a pan for boiling water, the culinary options become narrowed in a hurry. When I suggested to this young man that the parameters he had drawn meant we were pretty much talking about recipes for ramen noodles, he perked right up.
Ramen, a Chinese noodle, is an international staple whose appeal to college students (and culinary challenged bachelors in Bonner Springs) stems, I suspect, from three things: Ramen is cheap, ramen is easy and, even though basic ramen doesn't offer anything like a balanced diet, it's just exotic enough that its consumers don't feel deprived.
Never mind that its nutritional equivalent in other era would have been hardtack. Ramen is special.
The Internet abounds with ramen Web sites, where ramen aficionados (which can be anyone and everyone) share their recipes. The bad news is that ramen's cachet as a sort of nonconformist statement is endangered. Just like everything else that has enjoyed a certain camp or anti-establishment appeal, ramen is on its way to commercialized ordinariness. Its fate was sealed when a ramen museum and historical theme park opened in Yokohama, Japan.
But there's still time. Until the mainstream really sweeps it up and ramen -- God forbid -- develops mass appeal, ramen-heads can continue to share their ramen knowledge with ramenkind. One such place for doing so is the Ramen Recipe Database at http://mattfischer.com/ramen/recipe.html. It was there that I found this luscious recipe submitted by a University of Minnesota student.
Unfortunately, the guy in Bonner Springs will have to borrow a can opener, but this comes darned close to his specifications. The author of the recipe allows for the addition of unspecified optional ingredients, which also might require the use of a kitchen knife of some kind.
1 package ramen
1 can Campbell's cream of mushroom soup
Can be cooked on a stove, in a microwave or hot pot. Boil appropriate amount of water for ramen noodles, displacing some for milk, if you have any. Add contents of soup can and egg and heat for at least 5 more minutes. (We can assume that the seasoning packet gets added in here somewhere.)
Following the boiling instructions, the author adds: "This will make your noodles super mushy and also make sure any bad eggs get cooked through. If it weren't for this protein-packed recipe, I may not be here today. Note: Any kind of ramen or water, eggs or milk or veggies work fine. You never get the same taste twice."
-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.