Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BEST OF: "Stick to your ribs" has new meaning

It’s a Friday afternoon. We’re tired from the long week, and we’ve shopped at the grocery stores and farmers market. We unload and put away all that food and then are too weary to fix and eat it.

It’s a familiar syndrome: “I just bought $200 worth of food, and there’s nothing to eat.”

Planning ahead on a recent Friday, we bought take-out from Linn’s barbecue booth and then ate our meal at the Cambria Community Cemetery.

It’s a peaceful, fairly private place in which to immerse ourselves in a delightfully gooey meal of glazed chicken and the sticky, saucy barbecued pork. (Get thee behind us, Satan — with a cardiologist-triggered guilty conscience, we took the leftovers home and froze them for another indulgence.)

Bless Handi Wipes.

As I mopped barbecue sauce off far-flung sections of my body (how did I get it on my ankle?), I wondered what makes sticky foods so special, so decadent.

Yum. Toffee apples and grilled cheese sandwiches, caramel-marshmallow sundaes and chocolate fondue, and yes, the barbecues of many nations. There’s even a highly celebrated breakfast roll called a sticky bun.

My teeth and hips may pay the tariff, but all that goo enriches my soul somehow. Must be a throwback to our cave-person days. Maybe fire-glazed mastodon was sticky, too.

Making gooey things at home has its hazards, as anyone who has ever fast-flipped a pan of fresh-out-of-the-oven sticky buns can attest.

While pastries, cakes and breads require some precision in measuring and following recipes, other sticky recipes often do not. Toss together a dab of this, a splash of that. If it’s not exactly as the recipe laid out, it’ll probably taste just fine anyway.

A few successes at such culinary improv can do wonders for a cook’s confidence. From there, it’s dangerously easy to jump over that fine line between capable and cocky.

The results of such self-assurance can join the ranks of other family food disasters, like Aunt Maude’s oven-forged pot roast or the too-liquid cake that boiled merrily in the oven, instead of baking.

At this stage in this report, the unkind in our family would nod knowingly and recall my infamous Chinese-style sticky ribs.

These lusciously sticky baby backs simmer in an ever-reducing sweet/salty liquid, rather than baking in an oven or being barbecued on a hot grill. The soy/sugar/chili flavor steeps into the meat during the course of a half-hour or more on the stove, eventually forming a spicy, caramel-like glaze on the outside of the ribs.

The process requires a stirring schedule that dawdles along for what seems like forever, and then accelerates from zero to 60 mph in the frenzied twist of an overworked wrist.

When the ribs are done, the glaze is thickly gooey like no other food. It’s sticky enough to fill cavities — or cause them. It’s slightly spicy, dark and richly laced with thick soy sauce, not the wimpy supermarket stuff.

For our party, I couldn’t find the recipe, but felt I remembered it well enough to wing it.

Bad move.

Everything smelled and felt right until the too-late-to-switch, critical-mass stage of the last five minutes, when the stirring regime is like Irish step dancing for the arms.

By then, all our guests were hanging around the kitchen, watching my frenzy.

I thought the rib mixture felt denser than usual, but mentally wrote it off to some weather condition rather than my own stupidity.

One of our friends grabbed a rib as soon as I took them off the stove, said “It smells wonderful!” and bit off a big bite.

His eyes widened a little, and then I noticed he wasn’t chewing. He wasn’t swallowing. He was … stuck.

“Cnnnnttttoppppppnnnnnnnmmmmtttttttttthhh,” he said, hands waving around, but teeth firmly clenched together.

In fact, firmly doesn’t begin to describe it.

Once we translated (“I can’t open my mouth”), we frantically started dreaming up remedies, none of which were workable.

Prying his jaw open wasn’t an option, as he had some pricey implants and bridgework.

Sipping hot tea through a straw sounded good, but anything hot enough to dislodge the stickum would have burned his mouth AND melted the straw.

Other ideas — like using my kitchen torch, dynamite or chisels — seemed a tad over the top.

In the end, we let time and saliva work their magic on the culinary Super Glue. The molars stayed put ... but the ribs went into the garbage.

Dinner was a little late. Thank heavens the rest of the menu was soft stuff.

I’m assuming that wasn’t the end of the incident. I can, however, only imagine what happened a night or two later, when neighborhood raccoons raided the trashcan.

This column was published March 6, 2003, in The Cambrian.

236 comments:

1 – 200 of 236   Newer›   Newest»
loa said...

Kathe Tanner is one of your finest columnists.
In these days of woe and bad news, we all need a laugh and a "bright side" view of life. Kathe provides that for us, and then some.
Go Kathe!

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