Monthly Archives: July 2015

My Favorite Trader Joe’s Items

July 29, 2015

corrected I heart TJ

I have this sort of sick obsession with grocery shopping. I say “sick” because there are literally about 100 less expensive/less wasteful hobbies that wouldn’t result in me having five different varieties of gourmet popcorn in my cupboard. But oh, my. When eleven p.m. rolls around and your husband has a fresh episode of Veep pulled up on his laptop and you have FIVE VARIETIES OF GOURMET POPCORN IN YOUR CUPBOARD? It’s kind of the greatest.

I like reading about food, cooking food, watching Food Network shows, shopping for food…but most of all I love TRADER JOE’s. It’s small, unique and has super high quality products for good prices. I love it so much I considered naming my son Joe. (Joe. Trader Joe.)

If you happen to be one of the fortunate ones with access to a Trader Joe’s, let me unveil the 14 things I absolutely will not leave the store without:

14 ITEMS corrected(Starting top left, and moving clockwise.)

TJ’s SUGAR SNAP PEAS. This is just a representative of the many, many pre washed, ready to snack on or pop in the oven/microwave vegetables that will pretty much quadruple your veggie intake. Try these with hummus!

CLASSIC SLICED DRY RUBBED BACON. This is my family most loved bacon. Every time I see someone looking at it at the store I yell BUYITBUYITNOW!

TJ’s WHOLE WHEAT PITA BREAD. Soft, healthy, perfect for an impromptu chicken salad sandwich or to stick in the diaper bag when you know your toddler isn’t going to touch a single item at the family gathering you’re going to.

TJ’s MARINARA SAUCE. You guys. This is the ultimate dinner saver. It’s the only canned marina sauce I’ve ever opened and eaten straight with a spoon. Cook up some ground beef, dump this in, then serve over pasta or vegetables. You have made dinner in 7 minutes.

TEA TREE OIL FACE WASH. I have been battling acne for over 20 years. Wish I were exaggerating on that one. I’ve used every product known to man, and when I use this stuff regularly MY SKIN CLEARS UP. Rumor has it this product is sold under another label by dermatologists for a huge amount of money. Just be careful with it. Tingly on your face? Awesome. Tingly in your retina? Less awesome.

100 CALORIE MILK CHOCOLATE BARS. I generally steer clear of anything with the phrase “100 calorie” attached to it. To me that label generally means: “You’re going to eat this and then twenty minutes later still make yourself that hot fudge sundae you wanted in the first place.” However, these chocolate bars are GOOD. Rich, creamy, satisfying, worthy of your time.

EGG PAPPARDELLE PASTA. I haven’t purchased a single other kind  of pasta since trying this about a year ago. And if you know what a pasta eater I am, you know what a big deal this is. Eat with marinara sauce. Or browned butter. Or chopped up 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars. Just kidding. Don’t do that.

SPICY ITALIAN CHICKEN SAUSAGE. Sometimes you need a good dose of protein and you simply don’t have the time to hunt a bison. Sauté this up with some of TJ’s Power Greens (crap–should have added those to the list!) or put it on skewers with bell peppers and mushrooms. LOVE.

TJ’s CREAMY ALMOND BUTTER. For years I didn’t really get what the big deal was with almond butter. And then I tried this. Creamy, drippy, gritty, rich, WHAT? Chop up some apples and dip it in this. Snack time solved.

HARVEST SALAD with GRILLED CHICKEN. I used to buy like 10 of these at a time. I can’t remember why I stopped. (Something about eating our retirement?) SO delicious. High in protein, crazy convenient and really healthy. Dump it out on a plate, drizzle with dressing, stick your whole face in it.

PORCINI MUSHROOM & TRUFFLE TRIANGOLI. You had me at truffle. These are soooo good. Like I don’t know what else to say about them. We drizzle them with olive oil and coarse pink TJ’s sea salt (crap! another thing I should have added to the list!) and cry about how much we love them.

CHEESE & GREEN CHILE TAMALES. I first met tamales about 8 years ago and it has been a strong, happy relationship ever since. I buy them everywhere, but these–THESE–are my go to. Put one in the microwave, slice up an avocado, then dump a bunch of TJ’s salsa on it (should also be on the list). Easy, crazy satisfying, several different varieties.

COOKIE BUTTER SANDWICH COOKIES. Notice that I took a picture of the display vs. an individual box? That’s because I have officially banned them from my house. Some people get religious about these, others lose their minds completely. (I was in the second camp.)

RAINBOW CARROTS. OMG. (OMG is not an official part of their name.) These are GORGEOUS. Purple, red, yellow, orange carrots. Slice them up and roast them at high heat with olive oil and salt–they’re delicious and so so pretty. I don’t know why pretty matters, but it does.

Now it’s your turn: What is my list missing??



Under the Coffee Shop Table

July 26, 2015

Artist in progress

My first attempt at writing a book kind of devastated me. I was sure that after all my reading and notebook scribbling and dreaming about being a writer, that I’d be able to hole up in a coffee shop somewhere for six months and produce something awesome.

That wasn’t the case.

Yes, I did hole up for six months, and yes I did produce something, but I wouldn’t go so far as to attach the word “awesome” to it. It had okay characters, an interesting setting, and as far as I could tell, some pretty decent writing, but there was only the barest hint of a plot and if I was totally honest with myself, the book was boring.


And I could have lived with all that if I’d just sort of been half a**ing it. But I hadn’t been. I had worked my very, very hardest. I’d sweated over it, I’d lost sleep, I’d dedicated every inch of spare time I had to that first book, and the results were so mediocre it made me want to crawl under the nearest table of that coffee shop and just give up forever.

It took me many years (and a giant push from my dad) to climb out from under the table and try again. I wish I could say I got it the next time around, but I didn’t. My second attempt was still pretty terrible. And so was my third. Only by that point I had a book deal (potential in attempt #1 combined with a very successful father was enough for Simon & Schuster to take a chance on me). And suddenly a lot of other people were echoing the things I was already thinking. Your book lacks plot. You need stronger characters. It need to be interesting.

In fact, for almost a year my edit letters said things like this:

  • Strong main characters are the meat and potatoes of YA Novels. Yours is coming across as flat.
  • Just like your main character, we feel X is too one-dimensional. He needs to be rethought.
  • Your conclusion to plot point X was disappointing.
  • We don’t think the conflict between X and Y works at all.

It was excruciating. After every round of edits I’d scuttle back under that coffee shop table and I’d have to drag myself back out all over again. When people asked me how the writing was going I never told them how I really felt: I might not be able to do this. I might be about to fall on my face. The stress was paralyzing.

Then one night I hit rock bottom. I had a huge deadline coming up. My last edit letter had pretty much reduced me to tapioca. Sam had been with a babysitter way more than I was comfortable with, David was trying to work full time and take over my role, and I hadn’t eaten anything that hadn’t come out of a vending machine in what felt like days. It was pretty clear that I was incapable of producing even a decent book, let alone a good one, and I couldn’t stand the stress and disappointment for one more second. Suddenly–and more than anything–I wanted to give up.

And that’s when my soul spoke to me. It didn’t say the thing I wanted most to hear, which was: Jenna, you’re totally going to pull this off. You’re going to write something incredible and you’re going to be a crazy famous author and everyone is going to love your book.

No. Instead it said, You were made for this moment. Even if you have a 99% chance of failing that 1% is worth trying for.

Friends, that’s when you know you’re in the right place.

I sat up, wiped my face, and (with shaky hands) threw the coffee shop table into the fireplace. I was still terrified, but over the next few weeks I wrote more than I ever imagined I could. It was the artistic equivalent of a dead sprint. And when I finally hit send at 5 PM on my deadline I pretty much collapsed in a heap. That was it. I’d given everything I’d had. And if I failed…well…at least now I knew I was wiling to accept that.

A few days later my agent called me. Ecstatic. I squeezed my eyes shut as she told me about her conversation with my editor. “They said you did it! They said you completely transformed your book! They said it’s great!”

And then a week later I got an edit letter that said things like:

  • You did a spectacular job of giving your main character a lovely personality and voice!! She’s funny, like really funny, and all kinds of adorable. CONGRATS!!
  • The interaction between X and Y was hilarious!!
  • We love it so much that we sent it straight to copyediting!

They’d never used exclamation marks before. And never ever multiple exclamation marks. I sobbed. I laughed. I turned up music and danced around the house with my 2-year-old. But most of all I was ecstatic because a few days later when I picked up my book I loved what I read. Like really loved it. And it was the first time I’d ever picked up a book by Jenna Evans Welch and thought, What a great read.

I’m not writing about this because I think I am an amazingly brave artist. In fact, I think I’m one of the least brave artists I know. I’m writing this because maybe you’re reading this from under a coffee shop table and you need someone to tell you IT ISN’T GOING TO BE EASY, BUT IF YOUR SOUL IS TELLING YOU TO DO SOMETHING THEN DO IT.

Here, grab my hand. I’ll pull you up. What were you doing under there anyway? You’ve got work to do.