Little victories

Whenever my friend Stas has me over for dinner— or brunch, or afternoon baking, or really any time of day to have something she’s making— I’m always in awe, not just of what she makes (though I still absolutely daydream about the stuffing waffles she made a few Thanksgivings ago) but more at how she makes things.

She does it all with an ease that I, as someone who is always reading and re-reading the recipe out loud, washing dishes as I go, cursing vegetables to be chopped, and making lots of little mistakes along the way, envy very much. She makes it look so easy. I’ve never even seen a recipe in her kitchen. It’s like she reads them in private and commits them to memory. Meanwhile, I’m freaking out over whether something’s supposed to cook for 7 minutes or 8.

IMG_9304

Shishito peppers seem simple enough, but don’t but it past me to overcomplicate anything in the kitchen.

So it was with Stas in mind that I set out last night to try something small that I’d seen at her place during a recent dinner party: shishito peppers.

I should note here that I freakin’ love shishito peppers, and I happily and routinely pay New York’s outrageous prices for them, because I love them so. It honestly never occurred to me that I could just make them at home, but that’s exactly what Stas did when she made them as a side along with anchovies on buttered bread, a lovely spatchcock chicken, and some made-from-scratch panna cotta among other things. Everything was great, but it was the shishito peppers that left an impression on me. They just looked so easy, so impossible to mess up, and in the end, as always, they were so good.

IMG_9307

I kid you not, these were delicious. And SO incredibly easy to not mess up.  

When I saw a bag at the store a couple of days ago I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to channel Stas’s cool-as-a-cucumber approach to cooking something sans recipe.

Back home, I swirled some olive oil in a frying pan, remembering Stas’s instructions. I cranked up the heat, tossed in the peppers, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, and flipped them around for a few minutes until they were slick and blistered with just a little char on the outside before transferring to a plate.

And you know what? They were just as good as some of the $8 or $9 or $10 plates of shishito peppers I’ve had out at restaurants.

Yes, I’m aware they’re not really a whole meal (and don’t you worry, they were a side to my scrambled eggs for dinner), but I’ll have you know I felt very accomplished eating these little beauties. Sometimes you have to celebrate the little victories, too, and I like to think making these without panicking or Googling or stressing was exactly that.

New (to me) kind of ramen in my old neighborhood

During the four years I lived in Williamsburg and even the year before that when I was nearby in Greenpoint, I was always aware of the small, tucked away Japanese restaurant known as Okonomi by day and YUJI Ramen by night, but I never went. It was supposed to be great, everyone told me. Tiny, with only a few seats. No reservations. Great Japanese breakfasts till 3, then a new name and awesome ramen after 6. It was even on an episode of Master of None last year which is pretty much a stamp of approval from cool people in the food world.

But every time I walked by there was a crowd outside, people reading books or scrolling through their phones, all killing time till their tables were ready. So I kept putting it off, pretty much for four straight years, until my very last week in the neighborhood. On a random night in the middle of the week, alone as I made my way back to my mostly packed up apartment after a day of work and errands in the city, I thought on a whim, to see if there might be a spot for one.

IMG_8832

It didn’t look like any ramen I’d ever had but it immediately became one of my favorites.

And whaddaya know? There was. There were two actually, right at the bar, but almost immediately after I walked in, someone came in after me and took the other one, and not long after him several others popped in to be added to the waitlist. I hadn’t even ordered yet when I heard someone quoted 40 minutes for a table.

The menu was brief, which I, as someone who suffers from chronic menu indecision, appreciated. Pretty much just a couple of appetizers, a selection of ramen and a selection of mazemen, or ramen without broth.

Now, I love ramen, especially when the weather’s cold, or grey, wet and dreary like it has been for the past week here in New York. But the night I stopped by Yuji, a few days before Labor Day weekend, it was still steamy and hot outside and the idea of a brothless ramen sounded pretty perfect.

IMG_8831

The last couple of bites of a really delicious bowl of mazemen.

The bacon and egg mazemen I ordered was a beautiful bowl of yellow, ribbon-like noodles, thick-cut hunks of bacon, onsen tamago (pretty much a Japanese poached egg), mustard greens and bonito flakes (super thin dried, cured fish shavings). Before stepping away to let me fully geek out over my meal, the server had recommended that I stir everything up before digging in. I went for the egg first, poking it with a chopstick and letting the orangey-yellow yolk ooze out, seeping into the little spaces between noodles and bacon, sliding around the greens and bonito flakes that seemed to wiggle and shimmy in the heat rising from the bowl.

In the absence of broth, the yolk kept everything from being too dry and gave the noodles a silky, almost custardy consistency. The greens, meanwhile, added a green, peppery bite and the bacon, as it always does, a rich, fatty flavor. I wanted to savor every delicious bite and never reach the bottom of the bowl, but with no one to distract me and several people waiting for the very spot I sat in, I also couldn’t help slurping down every little bit of that mazemen in what felt like entirely not enough time.

My only regret at this point is letting all those years go by without trying this whole other type of ramen or without wolfing down a few more bowls of the particular bacon and egg version I had that night. I might live in a new Brooklyn hood these days, but I can tell you right now I’ll be back for those eggy, delicious noodles.

(Check out a little clip of the mazemen swirling action on my Instagram!)