Monday, September 18, 2017

Barbecue Ribs Cooked in the Oven

Using the guidelines for the information essay that my students will be writing over the next few weeks, I decided to write one of my own. My essay appears below.


Barbecue Ribs Cooked in the Oven

When my wife and I moved to Kansas City in 1990, we were introduced to Kansas City barbecue and sampled some of the many restaurants in the area. By the end of our two years in the area, we had settled on two restaurants—the Wyandot on State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas and Haywards, which, until recently, used to be on the corner of Antioch and College Boulevard in Overland Park before it was sold and moved to Lenexa. We preferred Haywards when we were eating out because of the atmosphere. It was also one of the few restaurants we found that offered both rib tips and burnt ends. The meat used to fall off the ribs that we got at the Wyandot. We preferred the Wyandot when we were eating at home. It was so easy to pick up a slab of ribs from the Wyandot on the way home to our apartment on 72nd Street in Kansas City, Kansas. 

When we returned to the Kansas City area in 1998, after spending six years in Oklahoma, we met my wife’s sister and her family at Hayward’s one Sunday afternoon. For us, it was a treat to order Kansas City barbecue after having been away. While there were not many restaurants offering barbecue where we lived in Oklahoma, the barbecue we had tried in Oklahoma tasted like wood smoke and paled in comparison. 

Once we bought a house in Leavenworth, we did not get into the city as much as we used to. Missing the barbecue that we used to eat, I started experimenting. I had already come to learn that my stomach did not take kindly to food that was cooked outside over charcoal briquettes, so I decided to try cooking barbecue ribs in the oven.

The grocery store offered several options, including country style pork ribs, beef ribs, spare ribs, and baby back ribs. I prefer baby back ribs because of the flavor and because I can pick them up by the bone. My wife prefers country style pork ribs because of the amount and density of the meat and because they are boneless.

There were also many different kinds of sauce. I have tried KC Masterpiece, Zarda, and Arthur Bryant’s. Most recently, I have been using Stubb’s Original because it is the only sauce that I have found without high fructose corn syrup. This sauce also has a good flavor, and it is not particularly hot or spicy. Because I try to use as few spices as possible when cooking, I can easily resist adding a rub to the meat. Spices, like salad dressing, tend to hide the flavor of the food. 

Through experience, I discovered that barbeque sauce baked in a Pyrex baking dish is extremely difficult to remove when washing the dish by hand. Even the dishwasher cannot complete the task. I started coating two baking dishes with tin foil, making it possible to simply remove the tinfoil before placing the baking dishes in the dishwasher once these dishes have cooled. To ensure that each dish is completely covered, it is necessary to use two sheets of tin foil, one lengthwise and one widthwise, and to fold the excess over the edges. 

At first, I used to place the ribs in a plastic cake container and cover them with barbecue sauce before letting them marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Once I was ready to cook them, I arranged them in the baking dishes that were covered with foil and poured the barbecue sauce from the cake container over the ribs before I put them in the oven. On an occasion in which I was ridding the kitchen of plastic, I got rid of all the plastic containers, having decided against marinating the ribs in plastic and against using plastic in general because of the risks associated with phthalates and Bisphenol-A. Now, I place the ribs in the baking dishes and pour a bottle of sauce over the ribs. I use the back of a spoon to make sure that the sauce is evenly distributed before I put these baking dishes in the oven and make note of the time.

I preheat the oven to 350 degrees while I am preparing the baking dishes, laying out the ribs, and covering the ribs with sauce. Many of the recipes found online recommend 300 degrees. When pressed for time, I have upped the temperature to 375, but my personal preference is 350 degrees because it allows the meat to cook thoroughly. It is also the default setting for the oven whenever I press the bake button. Once the oven is ready, I place these baking dishes on the middle rack in the oven and let the ribs cook for two and half to three hours. It is the kind of meal that requires a lot of time; it is a meal meant for a holiday, or a Sunday, or an occasion when a cold front has settled over the area.  

I have nothing else to do while the ribs cook. Leaving the house is not recommended because of the fire hazard. I usually head off to my home office to grade. After about two and half hours, the meat has pulled back from the bones, if I am cooking baby back ribs, and has turned a light brown (although as a color-blind person I can only approximate).  The smell of cooked ribs starts to waft through the house after only an hour. Our cats go a little crazy as the meat is cooking and pester us for scraps as we eat dinner.

There is no reason to add any additional sauce to the ribs when they are served. Although some people may prefer coleslaw, a baked potato, or French fries with their ribs, I think that ribs are best when served with fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, celery, red or yellow peppers, and spinach. Since my wife and I are empty nesters, we can usually get two meals out of a batch of ribs. Ribs for us are an occasional treat, something that we might eat once a month or once every six weeks. Although I have been embracing a diet of fruit and fresh vegetables and resisting eating meat before dark, I have not managed to give up meat entirely because of a meal like ribs baked in the oven.

A meal in a restaurant, while convenient, cannot usually compare to what I can find at home. Ribs purchased at the Wyandot now remind me of eating beef jerky. I cannot see myself ever entering the new Hayward’s. Although I hate to brag, the ribs that I make at home are much better than what I can get elsewhere and for much less money. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fitting Books into Minimalism

The mail person has been delivering a lot of books to my door in the last month or so. Since my summer classes ended in late July, I have bought eight secondhand books through the Amazon marketplace where it’s often possible to purchase an older cloth copy for less money than a recent paper edition. That’s why I have so many discarded books from libraries. These recent additions bring my total number of books to something like 933.

At the same time, as I moved a bookcase out of the bedroom, I discarded about twenty books, mostly old textbooks and took them to Half-Price Books, thinking that I might get something like thirty or forty dollars for all of them, when I was only offered $8.00. Some of them couldn’t be used, the clerk said, because they were instructor editions. When I tried to take back the books that they kept aside, thinking that I could donate them to the library, the clerk wouldn’t let me have them and said that the quoted offer included those books they could sell and those books that would be recycled. Although I have found a few good books at Half-Price Books over the years, my experiences have largely been disappointing when I try to sell books to them. They offer too little money, yet they charge what seems to be the standard $7.99 for books that they sell. There is a section of the store that is set aside for discounted books, many of them going for only a few dollars, but I haven’t found many things that I want in that section. I have resolved not to return. Any books that I don’t want anymore will either be donated to the local library or to the students who hold an annual book sale at the college where I teach.

I have decided not to buy any more books for the foreseeable future. Not counting the books that are stacked on top of bookshelves, I have twenty-six shelves of books in my home office. Another sixty books are stacked on one of the dressers in the bedroom. I have thought about replacing one of my smaller three-shelf bookcases with one containing six shelves but haven’t yet made the trip to Surplus Exchange, a warehouse of used office furniture in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Having so many books is one of the hazards associated with my profession—that is, working as a college professor. I used to admire the books that my professors had in their offices whenever I visited them during their office hours. The creative writing professors, I noticed, usually had fewer shelves stuffed with books.

Not all of my books relate to my academic discipline.  At one point as an undergraduate, I was torn between pursuing English or history as my academic discipline. That interest in history continues to this day, with the 19th century American West, particularly the Great Plains, as a research interest of mine. Because I also seek to introduce my students to those environmental issues that can affect their lives and their health, I pursue such things as plastic, garbage, and the problems associated with processed food in my reading. Some of my students recently have been writing about makeup, so I decided to get a copy of Not Just a Pretty Face, a book that addresses the chemicals found in makeup. Once I read that book, I plan on creating one or two research questions for an upcoming essay assignment.

Despite the number of books that I own, I still think of myself as a minimalist. I resist buying unnecessary stuff and have given away some of the clutter in my life. Each year, my wife and I declare a sizeable donation of furniture and clothing on our federal tax return. One task we haven’t yet faced this year, however, is cleaning out the garage. It is something that we hope to get to.

Beginning in July, my wife and I have pledged not to buy any more clothes and any more shoes for an entire year. We have both gone through our closets and our drawers and donated some of our excess. I will have more things to donate once I make the time to go through what I have and can face those tough decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.

One thing that I would most like to get rid of is more of our DVD’s and VHS tapes. I don’t think I need documentaries like Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Fahrenheit 9/11, or Sicko anymore, for example.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Recording a Trip North

On Monday afternoon, during the second week of my short break from classes, I drove past the vodka distillery in Atchison and past fields of GMO corn and GMO soybeans to White Cloud, the northeastern most town in Kansas, which has a population of approximately 176 people. At first, my wife and I went to the Kansas border before we retraced our steps. If we had gotten cell phone reception or if we had encountered anyone in the town, it would have been easier finding the overlook in White Cloud where it is possible to see four states—Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa. It took a bit of exploring before we found where we wanted to go. I had wanted to find this overlook for several years now and finally made the hour trip. I hope to return at some point.

As I was driving, I observed a difference in color between the darker green of GMO soybeans and the natural vegetation. All of the fields planted in corn looked lush, even without irrigation. It has been a wetter than normal summer. Signs designating the brand of seeds used in each field of corn and soybeans were visible from the road. The corn was uniform in height, which, of course, makes harvesting that much easier. Later in the afternoon, we were buzzed by a crop duster, but the pilot wasn't releasing pesticide at that point. I still made sure that the recirculate button was on in the car, thereby preventing any outside air from entering the interior.  It was rather eerie at times.

Nebraska appears on the left of the Missouri River in the above picture while Iowa appears in the distance to the right of the river.

Missouri appears to the east. A rainbow is starting to form in the above picture.

Kansas is located on the side of the river closest to the viewer. White Cloud's grain elevator appears in the distance, mostly obscured by trees.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Uncollected Poems by Derick Burleson

I am making available some of the poems that Derick Burleson shared with me prior to his move to Alaska. These poems do not appear in his books and, to my knowledge, have not been published elsewhere. I will gladly take down any of the poems that have been published elsewhere or at least properly credit the journal that first published the poem. Contact me at 

Many of the other poems that Derick shared with me were revised and published in either Ejo or Never Night. I am willing to share what I have of Derick's poems with any researcher seeking to put together a volume of collected poems.

Murder in Medford

When we, newlywed, stop for gas
the Quik-Trip folks bite off smiles
white as the fresh-painted grain elevator
where they store belief.  The lone
cop in his one-stoplight town
always parks his leather-lined cruiser

behind the silver trailerhouse just off
Highway 11 where his lover lives. You ask
for the knife to cut open the plastic sack
of sweetness we bought miles back
and I’m glad to see the sixshooter’s
still loaded in the glovebox. Only one cloud
scars all the hot Oklahoma sky. Tonight

summer frogs will bruise their tough
old song and mate in soft mud. You say
there’s bound to be a body buried far
back in the tamaracks, a way of life
ruined, a throat slit, all because some damn fool
cowboy kissed that red-haired woman in Lakeside Bar.

                                                Derick Burleson

Birdwatching at Nearman Creek Power Plant

In the dead of winter
We drove just over the bridge into Kansas where
Six bald eagles
Thirty Canada geese
One thousand mallard ducks
And a dance troupe of crows
Crowd around this water warmed by waste heat.
Everywhere but here the Missouri’s
Frozen over and who can tell
If the river runs underneath
Or not. We cruise slow, aiming
Our binoculars out the car windows
Separate breaths fogging in below-zero air
Watching the birds watch us back.
The power plant keeps right on warming
Our houses: smokestack, coal chute,
And when our Honda rounds the fly-ash pit, the mallards
Launch themselves as one body
Into the air as if some vacationing
American still in his tropical shirt had videotaped
The cliff-diver’s ten-second flight and
Then home drunk and laughing with friends
Played it backwards at high speed.

                                                   Derick Burleson

Crossing Over

I am driving eastwards into sunrise.
It seems that everyone in Kansas City
is on the way to work, Missouri
rising up across the river, silhouettes
of buildings downtown appearing
as a giant jack-o-lantern’s
wilting teeth, and executives already
inscrutable behind one-way windows.

I was half a world away in Rwanda
last October, where tomorrow
is the same word for yesterday,
and everything stays green year around.
Everyone’s family name has a meaning.
The sun rises at six, sets at six,
and spirits still stalk the night,
but each house wears its own mask
to ward them off.

All this time the traffic
still encircles Kansas City, the half
in Kansas, the half in Missouri.
My African friend studying English
before writing his dissertation
just can’t get over how beautiful
it is on campus—so many trees, the way
all the colors change this time of year.
I try to explain that winter remains
just two months away, but he only smiles
and nods. You have to say amasimbi
innocent water—to mean snow in his language.

At the stoplight on Broadway,
the woman in the next Nissan over
carefully lengthens her lashes
in the rearview mirror. This late
in the semester, the sun smashes equally
into everyone’s eyes. So sun visors down,
each commuter’s car curves down the street,
past a fountain whose watery horses may
or may not be telling some ancient story
of conquest, and as this old millennium cruises
inexorably toward closure, I turn thirty,
believing my life begins now.

                                                    Derick Burleson

Finally, Flood

Tonight like last night and the night before,
thunderstorms four nights in a row
and after three years’ drought
the morning coffeeshop talk
finally turns to flood:
September already and the fallow fields
still too wet to sow winter wheat.
The farmer senses thunder
from far across the border hills
even before clouds fill
the sky, low and clear, the overhead
voice of a prophet, light from somewhere
catching the corner of his eye, glimpses
through the windblown barndoor
open, closed, then open again
until he goes out in it for good
not sure of the same god
he prayed to for rain all spring
the same way my fiend Daniel
one early morning last summer
finally conquered his fear
of what comes next,
took one of his guns and
spread his blood over
all of us who sat and talked for hours
then remembered forever all he said
just the night before.

You and I stay inside
that café where you used to work
even though the regulars stare
and mark us down as different,
happy, they think, that their kids
took jobs and got married instead
until the thunder, louder now, drowns
their whispers with a primal growl
and we are somewhere else,
the lightning demanding
we see this world
in its light, frequent and random,
so stark blue and full of shadow
we might as well be underwater,
children just learning to swim,
light and sound becoming one voice,
the god shouting over the torn surface
of our perfect sleep, the south wind sheer
and curtains of rain through all
the windows we left open
to let the night breeze
ease this heat between us.

Tomorrow and the day after
we will slip apart and wander
again, the sun breaking through
the divided clouds by noon
and with clothes like a second skin
I’ll wade through air
so thick you could chew it
ankle-deep in the same mud
as my father on his farm,
that friend who came home
just in time to stay up all night,
stacking hope against hope.
mopping at the water
that wouldn’t quit running under his door.
Our huge passion swallows me daily.
I love the sky that slowly clears
then clouds again with all kinds of weather,
I breathe air heavy enough that with each step
we swim or drown, our bodies’ water
flowing everywhere over sodden fields,
rivers swelling already full lakes.
I love the small space my body takes
on the steamy earth, the way
everything spins drip dry, pulling
the fevered sky closer,
riding the rampant rise and
fall of this flood.

                                          Derick Burleson