The toasted pasta sandwich

So in pursuit of

I am posting


As an Englishman, I’ve got absolutely no problem with the idea that, if you’ve already got one carbohydrate, the only thing with which you need to combine it for a complete meal is an additional carbohydrate. (Beans on toast, anyone?) The fatal flaw with last night’s pasta sandwich was simply that it didn’t contain nearly enough pasta–or, alternately, that it contained far too much meatball. At any rate, it amounted to a meatball sub.

I used toast, pasta, marinara, meatball and mozzarella. It’d have been easier if I used ziti, which, in addition to their regularly making them easier to arrange on the toast, are also more substantial than farfalle. But I’d finished the open box of ziti the day before, when I made chili-covered pasta for lunch, so farfalle were what were open.

Next time, then, I’ll either have a much thicker layer of pasta, or else I’ll slice the meatballs far more thinly than into halves. Probably both.


Words yesterday: 3046
Words total: 65,456

Time spent writing: 12.30-3pm; 9pm-11pm
Reason for stopping: end of naptime; felt snoozy
Darling: “All the trees have gone because the population chopped them down for firewood, but the statues remain. Because the Berliners cannot burn them.”
Tyop: … but the status remain.
Words that boggled Word: submachine
New words today: inarticulate, downhill, searing

Everything but the tacos

Every once in a while we have what we call Taco Night for dinner.  Usually it comes when Boy starts asking for it, because he really loves it.  I’m not entirely sure why he loves it so much, since the only thing he ever wants to put in his fajitas is cheese, but whatever.

In fact, come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s called Taco Night, since it doesn’t involve tacos.  The kids roll their cheese in fajita tortillas, while Lisa and I make ourselves burritos.

What Taco Night basically boils down to is that we cook up a collection of ingredients–we cook them together, as a family–then people get to fill their own tortillas: Mexican cheese, black beans, Spanish rice, beef browned in taco powder, queso, Tostitos and sour cream.  This is all rather pedestrian, of course, and not at all out for the ordinary, but it’s turned into a family ritual, both because we make it together, and because of what comes next.

That’s the next night, when we take the leftovers and cook what we call cheesy taco pasta.  We boil the pasta with some of the queso, then toss that with the beef, black beans and a sauce that’s one part queso and three parts cheddar sauce.  Then we crumble up Tostitos as a topping.

And my God.

I mean, there aren’t many dishes I make.  I’m a pretty straightforward cook.  But the cheesy taco pasta is a frigging masterpiece.


The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 4015
Words total: 36,078

Time spent writing: 10a.m.-11a.m.; 1p.m.-4p.m.; 9p.m.-10p.m.
Reason for stopping: Football match; family time; felt like I’d put in a full day of work
Darling: From the train platform they could see the city center, across the tracks: a blasted ruin, a forest of rubble coated in a thin sheen of frost.
Tyop: I did find it pretty funny when I typed families as failies
Words that boggled Word: matter-of-factly, tsar, tsaritsa
New words used today: stationmaster, blanched, valise

It’s so quiet in here

I’m alone at home this weekend.  L took the kids last night and headed out to take them to a weekend in Myrtle Beach with some of the many dozens of Carolinians related to her.

So when I make beefy rice for lunch and dinner today, I’ll be mixing in both corn and peas, because there won’t be anyone around here with a weird hangup about how corn and peas should never be mixed (and I don’t mean either of the kids).

And I can be naked whenever I want for the next three days, which is never, because while it’s unseasonably warm for the first week of February, “unseasonably warm” is about fifty Fahrenheit, which is still too cold for short sleeves, let alone boxer shorts.  But it is warm enough to go and sit out on the balcony while I work, and I’ll get to do that undisturbed all day long.

And I can move all the chairs away from the dining room table, roll my Thomas-Jefferson-invented swivel chair up to it and take over the whole table as my desk.  Man, it’s glorious.

And most of all, of course, it means I get to spend three days pretending I’m a fulltime writer without any other responsibilities.  It’s come just at the right time, too, just when the new manuscript is picking up steam.

I’ll be over in the corner, typing.


The book whose current working title is The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 1265
Words total: 11,155

Time spent writing: 1pm-3pm, 11.30-12.30
Reason for stopping: Girl’s nap ended; tired
Darling: He thought he saw a curl of contempt briefly twist her lips, but he might have imagined it.
Tyop: hotels, departments stores and corporate officers
Words that boggled Word: doughboys, Russkies, Führer
New words today: hatband, roundel, septic

A fresh pair of eyes

My mother and sisters are staying with us this week, which is making it somewhat more difficult to make progress on the current work-in-progress–shutting myself in the master bedroom for three hours isn’t exactly the action of a good host.

But there’s one way in which their arrival has been really conducive to getting work done, and that’s on A Traitor’s Loyalty.  I got the second-pass pages on Friday.  Having probably read the manuscript seven or eight times when it was first written and when my agent took me on, I reread it for the first time in a number of years when the contract got signed in the summer.  I then reread it again last month, when I got the first-pass pages.  Rereading it again now on the second pass is my job, and I’m doing it–but I confess, there are times when my eyes start sliding right over the text a little.

So enter Claire, whom I have conned into working for freeoffered the wonderful opportunity of getting to participate in the publication of a novel by going over the second-pass pages with me.  So far we’ve found two typographical errors in the first half of the book, and by “we’ve”, I mean “she’ve”.  Wait.

Too bad it’s too late to rewrite the acknowledgements.  But I’ve promised her an acknowledgement in the next book.  Of course, I also promised my other sister an acknowledgement in the next book for giving me her Yorkshire pudding at dinner tonight.


Jelly beans

Whenever Boy asks me to share my jelly beans with him, he specifically asks for a red one.

Whenever he gets his own bag of jelly beans–wherein he picks out, for himself, every flavour it contains–he always eats all the red ones first, then refuses to eat the remainder because, “There’s no more red ones.”

So for Easter, we got him a bag of Starburst jelly beans. We got him a bag of red fruits Starburst jelly beans–all watermelon, strawberry and cherry.

This morning, when I refused to share my jelly beans with him, he got sulky. I went and got his open bag of Starburst jelly beans. “Here. Eat these. These are yours.”

“Oh, I don’t want them, Dad,” he said. “Those are just red ones.”


Fall Festival

The Boy on a hayrideWe have a few petting farms here in Prince William County. We’ve taken the Boy to Old Mine Ranch a few times in the past, but never before have we been all the way out to Cox Farms. Today, though, his preschool organised a “Fall Day” field trip, so we headed on out.

And had a blast.

The Boy loved the Halloween Hay Ride, particularly when we came upon a flying saucer in the corn rows, the Star Wars theme started blaring, and a pair of guys in alien masks emerged from the saucer and charged the hayride, waving lightsabres. He also loved the Halloween Corn Maze. (Because corn is maize, get it?)

The particular highlight for me was all the apples and cider being free and unlimited. And everyone got to pick out a pumpkin on the way out. The Boy’s answer, when asked what he plans to do with his pumpkin: “Slice it into a pumpkin pie.”



That was my tweet the other day, prompting a short flurry of conversation. The initial suggestions were bakery and deli, but I rejected these. Panera, the Atlanta Bakery and the Corner Bakery (and McAllister’s, which was shortly added to the list) might be considered a subset of delicatessens and bakeries, but they share a quality between them that other delis and bakeries don’t have. I suggested several names for this type of place–gourmet deli, hipster deli, pretentious deli–before Diane combined deli and bakery to get the title of this post.

But what is that quality that these four places have in common? Is it being gourmet? Is it being upscale? They’re definitely not actually gourmet, though I suppose they qualify as “gourmet” in the sense that marketing has taught us to use it nowadays. I guess upscale is as good a word to use as any, but I still question whether or not “upscale” has any actual meaning. How would we define upscale?

Let’s broaden our scope a little, to include other upscale places. Starbucks. Barnes and Noble. Borders. What do all these places have in common with the delkeries? They’ve all been constructed over the past twenty years to be places where the customers are encouraged to spend their free time.

There’s no reason to spend longer than twenty minutes in a sandwich shop or coffee shop–you stand in line, you place your order, then you either eat/drink and leave or take your food/drink with you. A bookshop might require slightly longer–browsing through the books, after all–but browsing should really be done standing in front of the shelves, not sitting in a cafe with a latte and a stack of books you haven’t paid for sitting on the table.

But the corporate offices want you to stay long enough that you end up spending more of your money, in bits and pieces over several hours. (Though speaking as a former Barnes & Noble employee, the staff generally don’t want you sitting around, getting underfoot, making more work for them without really spending enough to justify it.)

So they have crafted their stores with leather upholstery, non-intrusive lighting, ambient music and pretentiously-named, slightly overpriced food. And we walk in and look at what’s on offer in the bakery case and we feel refined, and cultured, and in comfort, and for a little while we feel slightly above our actual station as members of the Great American Middle Class. So we settle into our chairs with our mocha and our cranmelon scone and we chat with friends or do our homework or work our way through a stack of magazines we haven’t paid for.

I love the Corner Bakery, and I love Barnes & Noble, and while I don’t love Starbucks (because I can’t stand coffee), I was overjoyed when the Starbucks adjoining the B&N where I used to work started serving “gourmet” sausage McMuffins, because they were delicious. So I’m just as much a part of the phenomenon as everyone else–but it’s still a phenomenon I find fascinating. And something, I think, that’s really only come to be in the past two decades.


Gender confusion

Last month we went to On the Border with my mother. Over the course of the meal, Boy several times said to his mum, “I have to go potty!”, and Lisa took him to the lavatory.

Dinner ended with an order of On the Border’s incredible sopapillas, and, since they came with a honey dip, I needed to wash my hands. I stood up and announced where I was going, and Boy said, “I want to come too, Dad!”

By now he knew just where the lavatories were, so I followed him as he led me across the restaurant and through the lavatory door. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really thinking about which lavatory he’d been to before.

At least, I wasn’t, till I realised midway between the door and the sink that the person standing there washing her hands was a woman.

I think I faltered, but then walked to the counter like it was the most natural thing in the world, turned the tap on just long enough to pass my fingers under the spray of water, then turned and left the lavatory. I returned to our table and, without sitting down again, picked up my jacket from off the back of my chair and announced I’d meet everyone at the car.


Yorkshire pudding

Yorkshire puddingsSo rather than grilled chicken, Lisa eventually decided she’d rather have some sliced turkey from Boston Market for Thanksgiving. We decided we’d get the turkey and most of our sides there, then come up and prepare the stuffing (Stove Top) and Yorkshire puddings ourselves. Yorkshire pudding is one of my favourite foods, so I insist we have it at pretty much every big meal.

Last night I’d been trying to explain to Diane just what Yorkshire pudding is and had come across Alton Brown‘s and Tyler Florence‘s recipes for it on We figured we’d try out one of those, since my mother’s recipe, WHILE DELICIOUS, does lead to the oven setting off the smoke alarm each of the next five or six times it gets used.

(When I was growing up, I thought the smoke alarm going off was just Something That Happened anytime you cooked supper.)

(Mum, I love your cooking.)

Unfortunately it turned out that neither of those recipes was quite what we wanted–they were both for a single, huge Yorkshire pudding, whereas we wanted them to be more, um, individual-sized. So we went back to Mum’s recipe. Unfortunately, while we’ve made my mother’s Yorkshire puddings a good half a dozen times over the past few years, every single time we have no idea what we did with the recipe from last time, so we have to call her and get it again.

So we made the call. I think today we might even have given up on trying to record it, and simply didn’t write it down. Though, I can now think of one place to record it where we definitely won’t lose it:

One half cup of flour
One egg
Three quarters cup of milk
A pinch of salt

Mix the salt and flour, then add the egg and half the milk. Once that has homogenised, add the remainder of the milk. Take a muffin pan and coat the bottom of each space with oil; heat this at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Add the batter to each space and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Our experience is that fifteen to twenty minutes is better.)

(My mother used to make Yorkshire pudding that were large and bulbous and fluffy; then she switched to the smaller ones you see at the top of this post. I actually prefer the larger ones, but don’t know what the difference is.)

So Lisa whipped up the batter and put it in the oven. A few minutes later, she sniffed the air and said, “Yes, this smells like there’s Yorkshire pudding in the oven,” and turned the stove fan on.

“Do you want me to open the windows?” I asked.

She thought about this and nodded. “Yes.”

I got up and opened the living room window. As soon as I did so, Boy, sitting on the living room carpet, jumped to his feet and high-tailed it out of the living room as fast as his legs would carry him, screaming, “Fiiiiiiiire!”


Identity manoeuvres

When my friends talk about to people who don’t know me (which they apparently do with unsettling frequency), they usually describe me, amongst other things (I assume), as British. I describe myself to others as British.

But of course, I’m not British. Or not just British, anyway. Not even mostly British. I’m mostly American. I’ve lived in the United States since 1987. And when I go to England, I’m not really British for most purposes; I’m much more considered American. I suppose if I travelled outside the United States and the EU, I’d be some weird Anglo-American hybrid. Canadian, I guess.

That British part of me is very important to me, and it’s a part I’m at pains to preserve. It would be very easy to lose touch with it, living in northern Virginia and not really having any contact with any Britons other than my parents, so I have to make sure that I go to the effort necessary to keep those elements of Britain that are important to me or that I like a lot in my life.

For the most part, Britain and America can coexist perfectly happily in my life; so long as the British is there, I don’t worry that the American being there too is somehow going to edge it out. I love barbecue; eating barbecue doesn’t somehow stop me drinking Ribena. I’m a big fan of American football; that doesn’t stop me also loving proper football. And if I have a son who thinks the sport the Florida Gators play is called “soccer”, and who throws his hands above his head whenever Manchester United score and shouts, “Touchdown!”? Well, them’s the breaks.

Sometimes, though, I don’t get that luxury. There are times when I don’t get to have both; I have to choose. In such instances, unless I have a marked preference for the American, I’ll almost always choose the British one. The best example of this is probably the area of language. Probably most people who read this blog have noticed words like humour, theatre (when I’m talking about a place where plays are performed, of course; a place where movies are shown is a cinema), learnt, alphabetise and aluminium. I don’t use these words because I think British English is any better than American English*; I use them because it’s a way of keeping touch with where I’m from.

The irony, of course, is that nowadays my spelling is probably much more “British” than you’ll find in Britain, since the Internet age has led to the merger of a great many of the old differences in our common language.

Anyway, I’m not sure where I go from here, so I guess I’ll just sign off. Cheerio.


*You ever want to poke the bear, you should see how friggin’ annoyed I get when people claim that British English is somehow older than American English (as a way of claiming precedence for British English).

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