Archive for August, 2014

Interview with a 2-Year-Old

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now. {Hooray. Cheers. Fireworks. [enter any celebratory phrase here]}

One of my most popular posts this year was Interview with a One-Year-Old.

So, for my one year blog anniversary , I decided to interview Jonathan once again, but this time, as a two-year-old.


baby, interview, 2-year-old


Me: Hi, Jonathan. It’s good to have you back here at onNeutralGround.

Jonathan: (stares longingly at the bagel with cream cheese across the kitchen that I haven’t had time to eat yet)

Me: Uh, okay. Jonathan, I’ve been wondering: What’s it like being the fourth child? Do you like being the baby in the family?

Jonathan: Nnno.

Me: Oh, ok, really? Do you have anything you’d like to add to that sentiment?

Jonathan: Noooo.

Me: I see. Let’s move on.  What’s your favorite toy? I mean, besides the dishwasher. I know, you really like that singing puppy–you know, the one that sings Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Jonathan: Nno.

Me: Gosh, I could have sworn that was your favorite toy. You always smile when I turn it on.

Jonathan: Noooo.

Me: Well, what’s your favorite food then?

Jonathan: No.

Me: That wasn’t a yes-or-no question.

Jonathan: Niihhhoooooo.

Me: Um, ok. I see this isn’t going very well. Let’s see. We went to the beach this summer. I know you didn’t like it at first, but by the end of the week, you really enjoyed the water. I’ve got pictures to prove it.

beach, kids, waves

Jonathan: Nnnnnnno.

Me: You don’t like the beach?

Jonathan: No.

Me: Well, what about the sand? It’s pretty fun to build sand castles.

Jonathan: Nooooh.

Me: Well, Jonathan, I have little else to ask you. Hmm. Maybe, are you looking forward to fall? The leaves changing and all that.

Jonathan: Nnnnooooo.

Me: {flustered} Oh, you’d say “No” to anything I asked you.

Do you want a Pop-Tart?

Jonathan: Yes.

Me: Wait, what?! Can you repeat that answer?

Jonathan: No.






A Fierce Memory

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


All seven of us squeezed in around the large table, adorned with traditional white linens and a vase of fresh flowers. We stared wide-eyed, slightly self-conscious over the abundance of food, but ready to indulge ourselves anyway. Electric ceiling fans whirred overhead, not adequate to cool the space filled with warming pans and electric griddles. The food was as thick and heavy as the air. Beads of sweat formed around our water glasses and at the napes of our necks. Patches of innocent red swelled on our cheeks. This was brunch in the South–heavy, full, and luxurious.

Eager to find a cool breeze, my oldest son scarfed down his pancakes with fresh whipped cream and escaped to the open air of the courtyard patio. The other two followed shortly, after a quick scan of their plates to confirm that there was no noodle left behind of the white cheddar macaroni and cheese.


Meanwhile, Duane and I enjoyed conversation with a good friend while we sipped coffee and savored spoonfuls of butterscotch pudding, slowly sliding spoons against the curves of glass to get every last bite.  During our conversation over empty plates, the kids’ frolics in the courtyard caught my attention.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them follow trails of brick walls on the patio, counting bricks with their feet. They stepped over cracks, whirled around wrought-iron light posts, and climbed over benches. In that moment, as if in a sleepy dream, I saw hazy pictures of myself as a little girl in my Easter dress, bouncing around under the hot Texas sun. My grandmother used to take our family to a restaurant with an open brick patio every year for Easter brunch.

After that, I couldn’t get my grandmother out of my mind.


* * * * * * * * * *

Nonny died almost ten years ago. The day I spoke at her funeral, the images of her and her house–those details that absorb into your childhood and squeeze out indelible memories–flowed out of me like poetry.


grandmother, granddaughter

^^^What a chunky monkey! ^^^

Nonny was not a typical grandmother. She weighed 108 pounds and wanted the rest of the females in her family to follow suit. She never gave us cookies or ice cream; instead she welcomed us to heaping piles of red grapes dressed up in a scalloped bowl. I remember having many conversations around that bowl of grapes on the glossy, glass-topped table, probably while dreaming of cookies.  If I ever wanted one, I had to sneak into the pantry and search for the well-hidden tin to get my fill of fat, sugar, and salt.


She had a hot pink, plush arm chair in the living room that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. It didn’t go with anything in the room, but it still fit. She had a knack for making different pieces look like they belonged together (not handed down, by the way). My dad and I played countless hours of rummy–me in the pink chair and my dad, like the gentleman that he is, across from me in a folding chair.

Nonny had the best laugh (which WAS handed down). Hers was a jovial, sophisticated chuckle, while mine is more of a vehement guffaw. She especially chuckled at me when I probed  the stretchy skin that hung on her 80-year-old arms. She never scolded me, she just looked down into my eyes and responded playfully: “Ha. Ha. Ha. You think that’s so funny.”

She was the best-smelling grandmother ever. I realize that’s an odd category, but she smelled luxurious. She kept a litany of beauty products on top of a mirrored vanity. Sometimes I’d find my way into her room and crawl on top of the beige leather ottoman to sit in front of the mirror. I indulged myself in her Lancome face powder with the over-sized powder puff. I swooned over her collection of perfume bottles that sat on top of a brass tray, each with a different ornate top, like fancy art museum sculptures. But the jackpot was the drawer full of lipsticks. I remember opening the mint green tubes and inspecting each color. Each creamy cylinder was a varied shade of pink,only slightly used and perfectly shaped. It was almost as exciting as finding the cookie tin, deep in the pantry.

Story has it that I made a big ole mess of her vanity one day and she wasn’t too pleased. I don’t blame her. It’s hard work to look and smell that good.

^^^Isn't she sassy?^^^

^^^Isn’t she sassy?^^^


Her screened-in patio was the best. An astroturf  rug (really!) covered the smooth concrete floor.  The furniture matched–green cushions with a white and yellow floral pattern. The patio overlooked  thick spirals of green ivy that covered the backyard. Since the backyard was off-limits, I played on the stone wall that divided her driveway from the next door neighbor’s.

I spent countless hours walking back and forth on that wall, counting stones with my feet, stepping over cracks, climbing over it from one side to the other. Just like my kids did that sultry, southern day at brunch, when I felt like I was in a dream.

Memory is almost as mysterious as dreams. I’m not sure what triggered the flood of images of my grandmother that day. Was it the similarity of the restaurant’s brick patio, the thick summer air, or the feeling of full you get from a decadent meal? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that some memories are painful, but I don’t have many of those from Nonny’s house. These memories are fierce, luxurious and full–like a hot summer brunch in the South.


^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^

^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^


Here’s to you, Nonny.


And Babies Don't Keep

5 Best Party Snacks

Monday, August 11th, 2014

party, snack, Trader-Joe's,

Alright, I don’t want to say it, but it’s true. The end of summer is here.

I felt it keenly at Target today, as I squeezed through small spaces crowded by grocery carts and school supply bins and little kids, like ants, carrying twice their weight in looseleaf and glue sticks.

I had a little talk with myself as I wandered the aisles of endless three-ring binders and No. 2 pencils.

It went something like this: “Don’t lose it, Julie.” (repeat 20X)

That’s not my strong suit–remaining calm in a frantic environment. (Which is why I had 4 kids.) So, the next part of my talk went like this:

“Even if you don’t get everything you need, you can come back. By yourself.”

So, that’s what I did. I left without crossing off everything on the list. It was a battle between perfectionism and sanity, and sanity won…for once.

* * * * * * * * * *

Sheesh, all that to say that the end of summer means the end of the Summer with Trader Joe’s series. I’ve enjoyed it and I hope you have, too.

Today we’re talking party snacks and here is my list of the top 5 at Trader Joe’s.

party, snacks, Trader-Joes

1. Cheese: What’s a party without a good cheese plate? My favorites at Trader Joe’s are the Double Cream Gouda (left) and the English Cheddar with Carmelized Onions (right). So, so good.
If I only had one choice, it would be the English Cheddar. Hands down.

2. Crackers: If you’re going to serve good cheese, you have to serve good crackers. Trader Joe’s Classic Original Water Crackers are hard to beat. They’re good AND they’re cheap at just $1.39 a box. Yowza.

I also really like the Brioche Toasts. Think Melba toast, but better and thicker, though still airy, with a touch of sweetness. In the picture above, I served it with the English cheddar, a sliced grape tomato, and a basil leaf.

3.  Chocolate: Everyone has their favorite  Trader Joe’s chocolate candy. I bypass all the chocolate-covered fruits and nuts and go straight for the gold: Mini Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups.  They should come with a warning: “So cute and little, you won’t actually believe you’re ingesting any calories or fat.” That’s why you should serve them at a party: to get rid of them as fast as you can.

4. Nuts: Any sort of nut mix is great to have around at a party. It’s easy to grab a handful and people usually crave something salty, especially if  the party includes cocktails. I fill small bowls with Trader Joe’s Sweet Salty and Nutty Trek Mix aka crack. It might just be my absolute favorite on the list. The mix includes natural and honey-roasted peanuts, almonds, cashews, AND chunks of peanut brittle. Divine.


trek-mix, trail-mix, trader-Joes, snack, party, nuts


5. I bet you thought I forgot. No way. Last, but certainly not least, is Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus. You know how people like their eggs cooked a certain way–sunny side up, over easy, scrambled– I like my hummus creamy and really smooth. I don’t want pasty and certainly not chunky. This hummus has a perfect texture and with a shallow pool of oil and pile of pine nuts on the top, it wins best hummus at Trader Joe’s by far.

hummus, party, snacks, Trader-Joes


So, now it’s time to throw a party.

Go celebrate something…like escaping Target without losing it.

It doesn’t have to be big and it can be simple, especially if there’s a Trader Joe’s in your town.


**There’s no link up, but I’d love to know what your favorite Trader Joe’s go-to items are for a party. Share them with me in the comments section!**

Summer with Trader Joe’s Link Up #5

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Good morning!

I’m writing from the beach this week. It’s been raining quite a bit, but thankfully, we’ve still managed to catch a few waves and take a few walks.

It’s Indian Night on Summer with Trader Joe’s. This might be blasphemy, but I think Trader Joe’s has even better side dishes for Indian food than Mexican.

My favorites are:

indian, food, trader joe's

Curried Chick Peas


spinach, cheese, indian, food

Pureed Spinach and chunks of Panner (Indian farmer’s cheese) in a curry sauce


For the main dish, I recently came across a recipe called  Indian-spiced Sweet Potato Wraps from the BBC’s GoodFood:


indian food, sweet potato, wraps, BBC

Photo Credit: BBC Good Food

So, if you noticed, not only is it Indian Night, this meal is completely vegetarian! (What do I win?)

As always, to top of any good Indian meal (and because I get cranky without carbohydrates), don’t forget the Naan so you can sop up every last drop of curry sauce.


indian, naan, bread


Voila. Summer with Trader Joe’s Indian Night DONE. Enjoy.

If you’re new to the Summer with Trader Joe’s series, start with Summer with Trader Joe’s is Here.
As always, here are the rules for the link-up. Post your Indian recipes with at least 2 Trader Joe’s ingredients. We’d love to see them!

[inlinkz_linkup id=420810 mode=1]

summer with trader joe's