Quick and Easy Ribs

Last week I posted a photo on Facebook of some stick ribs I’d made for dinner. A friend back in the UK said to me that he loved ribs but couldn’t be bothered with all the effort to make them, I said there’s not much effort in ribs really. He talked about hours of marinating and then a long slow cooking time, not to mention the problem of cleaning the burnt bits off the baking tray. I laughed and told him my ribs take about 35-40 minutes from start to finish. He suggested I write about it here and share the recipe for him to try.

So this is my version of sticky ribs and the ingredients used, however as I make it by eye there’s no exact measurements.

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First thing I do is put the ribs into a saucepan of water with 3 or 4 star anise and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 to 25 minutes while the sauce is made. The sauce is as follows: 1 teaspoon of English mustard, a good slosh of tomato ketchup, a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, a squirt of lemon, a hearty drizzle of honey. To this add black pepper, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a glug of chilli oil, (I use my own Olio Santo) if you don’t have chilli oil then dried chilli will do. I then add some ground star anise and a splash of red wine. Mix all of this together to make a loose paste.

Remove the ribs from the pan and dry them on kitchen paper then line a baking tray with baking parchment; you’ll see why later.

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Place the tray on a top shelf in a pre-heated oven, 200 degrees (180 for fan-assisted) and bake them for 15 minutes. Once the ribs are cooked remove from the oven and remove from the baking parchment. You’ll see that they come away easily and retain most of the sauce that usually sticks to the metal tray.

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Dispose of the parchment and you have a tray that needs just a quick wash: no scrubbing away welded on sauce. The only thing left to do is enjoy eating the ribs which are great with a cold beer.

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Stop this Nerk (two)

So I’ve delivered the hire car back to the young man who resembles Jeff Brazier, even down to the same accent and spent the morning mooching around the arrivals hall at Stansted airport. It’s only 11.20 a.m. and I’ve noticed that there’s quite a lot of people speaking German and that the group of Eastern European men opposite me, who are swigging neat vodka out of a bottle they’re passing around are reinforcing their own stereotype. I decide it’s time to choose what will be lunch today, and having already decided it will be something healthy, I head to Pret a Manger and select a crayfish and avocado salad and return to my original seat. Opposite me now is a small boy, just a toddler and he’s eating a ham baguette that is the same length and thickness as his arms; he looks so funny dwarfed by his giant bread-stick. All around me people have their laptops open to Facebook, I switch on my iPod and it shuffles forward and Little Boots sings Motorway, as I tuck into my salad.

Motorway

I mooch some more and as I’m getting bored decide to ask if I can enter the departure lounge, as at least there’s shops to spend time in. The woman on the Ryanair desk says it’s okay and asks me to keep an eye out for the departure gate for the Pescara flight as all the information boards have malfunctioned. I join the queue at security, take off my belt: I have never understood why we have to do this. When my turn comes, the sign above my head reading, ‘stop this nerk and check his case’ must have lit up as my case has caused the machine to bleep and it’s been diverted to another bench. I’m called over and am asked if the case contains any liquids or creams. I respond in the negative but do tell the man who’s opening it that there’s a six-month supply of prescription drugs and a metal loaf tin inside. He removes the loaf tin and takes the case back to be x-rayed. The machine bleeps again and he comes back and asks me again if there’s any liquids or creams inside, again i reply, no and he smiles. “There’s deodorant inside,” he says. Recollection crosses my face and I tell him I’d forgotten it was there.

There’s now a small crowd all wanting to see what contraband is inside my case, they watch as the security guard removes two animal themed onsies, four packets of Colman’s chilli con carne mix, a retractable washing-line, a large orange rubber hoop and what looks like bags of powder. A woman leans in to see as the bags of powder are revealed and is visibly disappointed to see the bags contain turmeric, garam masala and cumin. (I’ll admit it: I’m a culinary powder trafficker). The man then retrieves three aerosols and two roll-on deodorants, “They had a sale in Asda,” I say as if that’ll make everything all right. He then swabs the case for narcotics, I assume and takes off the deodorants to be tested, before returning them to me in a plastic bag. I re-pack my case and am skulking off in the direction of departures when he calls me back. The nosey woman stops and turns to watch as he says, “You forgot these.” and I watch as he holds up a clear plastic bag containing three tubes of water-based lubricant with the words ‘Sensual Lube’ emblazoned across them. I take them from him and then say, “They had a sale on at …” I don’t go into any further details and remove myself from the security section and melt into the duty free shopping area.

Finally it’s time to join the queue for my flight, a man with a clipboard tells me it’s gate 57 and off I go, I join the long line of people waiting and just by chance catch sight of the person in front’s boarding pass and see that it says, Seville, I have no desire to go to Spain so I ask another steward with a clip board where the Pescara flight leaves and he tells me gate 55. I’m delighted to see I’m at the front of the queue, I’m joined by several Italians and before long there’s around 150 people behind me. The operative opens the gate and I hand in my passport and boarding pass, she looks at it, shakes her head and tells me I’m in the wrong place, as this is the gate for the 16.15 flight to Kaunas, Lithuania. I explain to the handful of Italians with me that we are in the wrong place and they follow me to another man with a clip-board, he checks and tells us gate 59, and we all head off hoping it’s the correct one. It was, thankfully but in all the confusion I not only lost my place at the front of the queue but found myself standing behind the nosey woman from security, who when we come to board the plane makes sure she’s several seats away rom mine.

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Sign of the Day

It’s Just You and Me

I feel like crap. It’s 03.45 and I should be asleep. I’ve had a couple of nights of sleeplessness lately. It has nothing to do with weather or alcohol or even too much sleep the previous day, it’s just happened of its own accord. Usually I’ve lain awake looking at the blue light on the light switch; designed to show a somnolent sleepwalker where the switch is and eventually dropped off. Tonight however is different, I’m dog-tired. Normally I’d apologise for the cliché, but I’m too tired to care. I’m desperate to sleep but it evades me.

I get up and wander about in the kitchen, I open and close the fridge looking for something: What that something is I don’t know. I stand outside and look up at the stars, the sky is different here than back in the UK, there are sparkles in the darkness that I cannot name. It’s not like when I was in New Zealand, and every star in the hemisphere was new to me, occasionally I’ll see something I recognise, but tonight I see nothing.

The sounds of the night are all around me, the clacking of bugs in the grass is getting more constant as the summer progresses, back in April there was hardly a click in the dark, but with the warmth comes the volume. A late firefly flashes and I despair for him, the season has passed so his chance of finding a mate now has seriously diminished. There’s the almost silent sound of a bat as it circles Domenico’s ruin and something scurries across my bare foot. In the light cast from the kitchen door I see a scorpion on my foot, my first reaction is to shake my foot, but I’m too tired, so watch it as it crawls off me. “It’s just you and me,” i say as it waggles its pincers in the air and scuttles away for the safety of the dark spaces.

I return to the kitchen and spend a few minutes checking emails and deleting spam, there’s no new notifications on Facebook; why would there be, with the exception of a few people in Australia, all my FB friends will be tucked up in bed. Nocturnal envy is not a good thing. I try to read, but my eyes hurt and my brain cannot process the words, so there’s nothing for it but to write this blog entry. Obviously heavily edited once my faculties kick in again. Will writing help me to sleep?100_6468-crop

Not a chance, as the words spill from my fingers I start to think about a feature I need to complete, an idea for my novel pops up and some new article ideas bounce around between my ears. This writing during my insomniac moment is not a good idea, as now my brain is whirring; clicking like the bugs in the long grass, all I need is an old fashioned typewriter bell to ping every sixteen or so words. I put the laptop away and crawl back into bed where the OH makes those noises of contented slumber, Should I aim a dig to the ribs in one of those selfish, ‘if I’m awake you should be’ moments? I decide not to and lie looking at the blue light again, waiting.

06.06, and I can bear it no more so I climb out of bed and put the kettle on and open the front door, the pizza eating cat is already here waiting for the off chance some human will toss it a morsel. I give it the bones from last nights lamb chops and it noisily crunches at them as the kettle boils and the OH stumbles into the room saying, “I had such a good sleep last night.” Inside my head I’m screaming, “You did did you. Well guess what!”

The only plus to this tale of an Englishman in Italy who was unable to sleep, is the welcoming clouds the following day.

Emmerdale

Despite living with sawdust and the noise of the house restoration, six days a week I’m really enjoying being in Italy. It’s always felt right for me to be here and without sounding like some blurb on the dust jacket of a paperback, it’s always felt like my spiritual home. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not devoutly religious, or mystical: in fact it takes me half my time to recall my own name in the morning, let alone a handful of saints and multi-limbed divinities.

So here I am and last week my builder asked me if there was anything back in England I miss, obviously it goes without saying that there are family and friends, special people in my life. Thankfully we can stay connected due to the wonders of Facebook and Skype, and I know that when the five bottles of HP sauce I have brought with me run out then I’ll miss that. Or as my builder calls it, English sauce. I like a nice dollop of the brown stuff on my bacon and eggs, and maybe i could find it over here at a vastly increased price.

The more I thought about it, all I could recall was things that I wouldn’t miss. Stationary traffic at junction 10 of the M6, the neighbour who plays drum and bass at full volume, every Sunday morning from 07.00 and vomit on the pavements outside kebab shops. I shook away all my negative thoughts of England and tried again to think of the things I miss most, one thing was English television. As we have limited internet allowance it’s not practical to use it watching TV, so we’ve been watching films and television shows on DVD. (Don’t get me started on last nights offering, the film, Sliding Doors – what was that all about, okay, it was a pleasant enough story with some nice acting thrown into the mix, but if there was a message in the film, I missed it completely, as the credits rolled I just thought, Huh! But I digress.

Now the problem with DVD’s is that once you put a disc in and pour the wine before you know it you’re three episodes in of some American drama. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some really good American shows out there, but I do prefer English dramas. So It’d be fair to say that I will miss English television – that is until we get a decent broadband connection and monthly limit.

Talking of television, there is one thing that I do miss already, the Yorkshire television soap, Emmerdale. In fact so far I’ve missed so many episodes It’ll take me ages to catch up. Now people may think it’s a bit sad to say I’ll miss a TV show, but I do. Yes I know they’re all fictional characters and that the storylines are dreamt up in offices possibly overlooking the ring road in Leeds but of all the TV shows shown in the UK, it was the only one I watched religiously.

I may not know the names of all the prophets but can name you everyone who has lived at Home Farm or worked behind the bar at The Woolpack.

Piano Piano

There are many things that the Italians are good at, pizza is one, pasta obviously and football: I’m reliably informed. But there is one thing that the Italian people excel at. Waiting. Everywhere there’s a piano piano mentality, (slowly, slowly). They really do show off their waiting skills at the post office. Here bills are bi-monthly, meaning if you don’t have direct debits set up you have to endure a minimum of six visits per year. “Direct debit,” our builder says, “You might as well give your Bancomat card to a stranger and tell him your pin number,” Banking options other than cash are still relatively  new here and many of the older generation are sceptical about security.

Friends posted on Facebook that they had got engaged in Florida and I thought, I know, I’ll send them a card, so it’s there for when they get home to the UK. Now having only previously posted postcards before I remember that any guide book tells you to buy your stamps at the tobacconist. So I write out the card and drive to the local Tabacchi, I ask for francaboli, (stamps) and am told they don’t sell them. I try another three and get the same response. So there’s nothing for it but to go to the post office. I decide on the small one in Altino as the larger one in Casoli is bound to have its usual crowd spilling out into the piazza. In fact so busy is the Casoli office, they post traffic police outside in the morning so that people don’t block the road. I have experienced the Italian post office before and know that when people joke about taking a flask, book and a packed lunch they’re not being ironic but telling the truth.

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A week ago I used the Altino P.O. to pay some bills for a friend and was lucky enough to only wait for thirty minutes before I could deal with the woman behind the counter. Now what you need to know is that the office has two sportelli (glass windows/counters), one is for P.O. bank products and the other is for P.O. postal products. You can pay bills at either window, but only withdraw money at the bank window or buy stamps at the postal one. So I join the throng of people already waiting, three women are sat against the back wall chatting animatedly, the other seating contains a mixture of men and women of various ages. I squeeze in behind a display stand next to a young man who is sweating and smells ripe and a woman wearing an overpowering perfume, thankfully both fragrances cancel out the other. I count fourteen people, seven per window if all are here to pay bills. Twenty five minutes later I count thirteen people. Now maybe it’s a requirement of the job with post office workers the world over that the staff must work with the momentum of a corpse. Another twenty minutes pass, and five more people join the queue, asking who they follow. I’ve ascertained that I follow the perspiring youth. Forty minutes later, the youth has finished his transaction, but sadly he’s at the bank products window. Confusion reigns, isn’t the Englishman next. I explain that I need to wait for the postal products window, a late arrival sees a chance and nips into the vacant space at the window and a man reprimands her for not working out who is next in line. Eventually the window I want is vacant, I make my way over, the old lady is confused wasn’t she after the Englishman, but why isn’t he at the other window. Consternation ensues and a man explains to her what’s happening and that she should have used the window that’s now taken by the interloper.

So after seventy-five minutes of waiting, it’s my turn. “One stamp to England please,” I ask. The woman behind the counter takes my letter and sticks a stamp onto the envelope, removes the sum total of seventy cents from me, for the transaction then says, “Instead of waiting, next time go to the large tabacchi across the road,” (the only one I haven’t been to.) “They sell stamps.”

Have you ever tried to smile through grinding teeth, it’s difficult