Monday, June 4, 2012

Ode to Trader Joe's

I have a real love/hate relationship with Trader Joe's.  I've been a TJ's customer for about 20 years now, going way back to my early college days.
Love it for:
  • Excellent prices.  Truly, they're competitive with an average supermarket, and sometimes LESS expensive for a higher-quality item (like milk).
  • Yummy things I can't get elsewhere, like their house brand Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream.
  • Samples in little cups of things I might actually LIKE, unlike Costco, where sometimes I feel like they're just trying to use up crappy products by giving them away for free.
Hate it for:
  • The clientele.  UGH.  I can handle the sandals-wearing crunchy granola earthy types.  I got used to those while going to college in Berkeley, and they're harmless enough.  They get their organic quinoa salads, and I get my cut-rate smoked salmon.  Something for everyone.  What I simply can't abide are the hideously yuppified moms and their pampered (translation: overindulged and ill-behaved) Jayden/Kayden/Kylie/Mileys.  Blech.  The kids run all over the store, and the moms are oblivious (seriously, do they not notice that their offspring are climbing the produce bins, or are they just pretending?), since they're totally preoccupied by choosing the right brand of fat-free organic no-hormone string cheese for Riley/Regan/Karly's lunchbox.
  • Overkill.  Some of their food is way too overly-flavored for my taste.  I just plain don't want a chai-chipotle-curry-double-garlic ANYTHING.
  • Lack of parking.  Most times when I go, I have to do the parking lot shark thing, staking out a portion of one aisle and feeling like a great big stalker as I try to figure out which Prius each human/cart combo is headed to.
The "love it" factor really does outweigh the unpleasant stuff, though.  And, because I know that you, dear readers, think my taste exquisite, I give you:

Atomic Auntie's Current Fave Trader Joe's Stuff

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas! (One Bite at a Time!)
Pretty simple when you get right down to it.  Sliced nanners dipped in dark chocolate and frozen.  But my oh my oh my, they are DELICIOUS.  Bonus nutritional fact: Eating this counts as a serving of fruit!  Which means eating a whole box at once counts as SEVERAL servings of fruit!  I recently saw an online recipe that used these as the base for a banana split, and I'm definitely giving that a try next time I have an ice cream jones.

Trader Joe's Wild Mushroom & Black Truffle Flatbread
This one's a must-buy on each and every trip to TJ's.  It's fancy pizza, y'all!  Instead of sauce, it has finely chopped mushrooms and olive oil, and it's topped with mozzarella and more bits o' shrooms.  To die for.

Trader Joe's Unpasteurized Orange Juice
Remember in the olden days, when Odwalla juices were brand-new on the market and tasted really really good?  And then some little kid died because a batch of the unpasteurized juice had e. coli in it, and then they had to pasteurize it, and it stopped tasting good?  Well, experience those years of living dangerously once again with TJ's Unpasteurized Orange Juice!  Seriously, this stuff tastes like someone got up early and squeezed about 15 really ripe oranges into a glass for you, only you don't have to say "thank you" when they (inevitably) act all martyred about it.  It has just the right amount of pulp, and the flavor can't be beat.  That pasteurization process really kills the taste, apparently.  But if you're not into taking a gamble with your beverage bacteria, or if you're pregnant or under the age of 4 or so, TJ's U.O.J probably isn't for you.

Trader Joe's Organic Creamy Tomato Soup
Surprisingly low in fat, but still oh so creamy.  Not condensed, so no need to add water or milk.  Comes in a very convenient re-sealable cardboard box.  Just pour some in a bowl, microwave, and top with parmesan cheese (optional, but delicious!).  Mmmmmm.  Soup.

Villa Italia Italian Blood Orange Soda
This is "fancy" soda, for when you have company.  (Okay, okay, for when I have company, because things aren't really very fancy to begin with at Casa de Auntie.)  It looks pretty in a tall clear glass, with its weird semi-crimson blood orange color (according to the label, it's colored with black carrot -- whatever the frig a black carrot is).  It has just the right amount of fizz.  It pairs nicely with a shot of vodka.  And it tastes really good, kind of like a Jungle Julep (for anyone who went to Disneyland before the 1980s, and got that elixir of the gods at Sunkist, I Presume) crossed with a Sprite.  Benissimo!

Trader Joe's Edamame in Pod
The perfect TV-watching snack.  Tastes best when you get the cooks-in-5-minutes kind, but I'm not boiling water in the heat of summer.  The precooked is almost as good.

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Mini Pretzels (Dark)
This is the Donny and Marie of snacks: A little bit salty, a little bit sweet, and it all adds up to a real good time.

Trader Joe's Asparagus Risotto
I loves me some risotto.  And I especially love that this one heats up in minutes in the microwave, without all that stirring and adding liquid and, you know, cooking.  Special tip: You can totally pass this off as homemade if you put it in a casserole dish and take it to a potluck, as long as you have a little cash in your pocket or are willing to trade special favors with TJ's-savvy partygoers who try to out you.

This list isn't by any means comprehensive, considering that I can't seem to get out of Trader Joe's for less than $75.  Doesn't matter what I buy, either -- the total will be $75.  It's uncanny.  But these are pretty much my staples, the always-gotta-buy items that I like to have on hand at all times.  So if you're in town, stop on by Casa de Auntie sometime.  We're serving fancy soda and our special-recipe homemade risotto, and you can even join us for a round of Orange Juice Roulette (stomach pump optional).  Bon appetit!

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