The first piece of ginger I ever bought will be good for the next six months. Another acquisition illustrative of why we bother to live in a large city is shirataki, or translucent noodles, Japanese-style alimentary paste made from yam flour and packed in water.. A six-ounce tube costs $1.39. The printed instructions on the package: "For sukiyaki: use shirataki for truly good sukiyaki." Sold.

Here's the deal. Buy boned chicken (worth the extra price in saved anxiety), fresh broccoli, spinach, red pepper for looks, onions and scallions. Invest in one of those giant-size bottles of sake (later it's a vase) and make sure there's a good supply of brown rice and oil for the wok.

The sake was tricky in the beginning: I heated it in a saucepan and watched a compulsive friend pour it into a delicate sake pitcher using a chopstick to guide the thinnest possible trickle. This worked but smacked of a science experiment. Now I pour a round into a glass coffee pot, heat, and use the pour spout. Boiling, of course, turns the sake flat; and immersing the whole bottle in boiling water risks overheating and ruining the entire evening's supply.

Now and then I've made egg rolls using wrappers sold in the supermarket produce section, miscellaneous sprouts, lettuce and shrimp, fried in the wok. But it took several tries to get them to approximate a roll shape. A cold shrimp and marinated cucumber salad is safer.

TRULY GOOD SUKIYAKI (4 to 6 servings) 2 whole chicken breasts, boned 1 bunch scallions, chopped in 1-inch pieces 1 tablespoon sesame seeds Oil for wok 1 head fresh broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces 10-ounce bag spinach, cleaned and drained 1 red bell pepper, chopped 2 medium onions, chopped 3 tiny slices ginger root, chopped 6-ounce tube shirataki About 5 dashes of soy sauce

Before the guests arrive clean the chicken and dice it into 1-inch cubes, then drain the shirataki into the sink.

For cooking, two methods are possible. Either stir-fry the chicken first with scallions and sesame seeds in oil, and keep it warm in a covered dish in the oven to be served separately. Then stir-fry the vegetables and noodles for about 5 minutes (so they are cooked just short of limp), splashing them with the soy sauce midway through.

Or stir-fry everything--ginger, onion, chicken and chopped vegetables--adding the cellophane noodles and spinach last. Remember, the spinach shrinks to nothing; so cram it in. Add soy sauce or tamari midway through the process, but with restraint, since a thimble-full of tamari holds more salt than your body needs in an average lifetime.

Usually the meal's a success because sake doesn't keep once it's opened.