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.