Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

Trader Joe, I love thee,
Let me count the ways.
I love thee for thy organic produce
With such lovely price tags.
I love the way thy nuts and dried fruits
Line up so nicely on the racks.
Thy cheese selection is top notch,
Especially dear asiago with Rosemary
And olive oil.

Doest thou know how well 
Thy cookies go with thy organic milk?
Joe-Joes that delight, in sandwiches 
Of gold, chocolate brown and crushed peppermint
brought out especially for the days of Christmas.

Ah, the love song in mine heart 
For thy organic moisturizing shampoo
And conditioner that tames my unruly mane of silver.
O, wondrous market of delights,    
How did I live so long without thee in my life?

Seriously, I'm not sure how I ever managed without Trader Joe's. Until we lived here in Central Ohio, I had never even heard of it. In fact, the first couple of years we lived here, I would drive past the shopping center where it is located and think "What the heck is Trader Joe's?" I figured it was one of those import shops loaded with lots of brass elephants and papa-san chairs from which nobody over forty years old can extricate themselves. Then a new acquaintance told me about the wonders within and convinced me to try it out the next time I went to the big city. 

Oh. My. Goodness. I think I spent an entire hour or maybe more inside its walls, and this store is not very large. It has only four aisles, but there is a lot of goodness packed into that small space. I studied each and every item. At first I was a little leery, because Joe carries very few brand names. Most of the food and grocery items have the many variations of Joe's name, depending on the food nationality...Trader Jose, Trader Josef, Trader get the picture. 

At that time, it was still difficult to find cookies and crackers without partially hydrogenated oils in them. At Joe's place, nothing has that artery-clogging ingredient listed on the ingredient panel. 

About half of the produce is organic and reasonably priced. The cheeses are wonderful, both domestic and imported. This evening I used a wonderful fontina in a creamy polenta. I paid $2.95 for an 8-ounce hunk, about half what you would pay in another store. 

The wine and beer selections rival larger stores when you consider that at least one-fourth of the store is dedicated space for those items. Two-buck Chuck is famously sold there. People carry it out by the box. It sells for a higher price in Ohio because of state minimum pricing regulations, so it's more like Three-eighty-nine Chuck.

The clerks are outgoing and friendly (but not pushy) and always eager to assist if you can't find something, or when they're offering you a taste of the featured items. You can't miss them, they're all over the place wearing tropical shirts. I've heard that none of them ever leaves if they get a job there. Trader Joe's has one of the best ratings for treating their employees with respect and paying them a decent wage. In 2009 they ranked second in MSN Money's "Top Ten Companies That Treat You Right" list. I would apply for a job there if I lived closer.

So, here is a baker's dozen of the things I buy at TJ's on a regular basis. I almost never get out of the store spending less than $100. And I take my own Trader Joe's bags. They reward you for that with a $25.00 gift card drawing each month. Even though I've never won, it's still nice to think I might someday.

1. Organic canned beans, especially garbanzo, kidney, and black beans. I use a lot of them.

2. The barbecue sauce is spiced just right and contains NO high fructose corn syrup. Oh, excuse me, corn sugar. That's what the corn industry is calling it now. I don't think I'm fooled.

3. I love the balsamic vinaigrette. It is the best non-homemade I've had. I use it for marinating chicken, too.

4. Savory Broth concentrates. These come in veggie, chicken, beef and, during the holidays, turkey. One single packet + one cup hot water = one cup broth. They're perfect for when you just need a cup or two of broth and they don't take up much space on the shelf. If I'm making soup I add them directly to the pan to give a boost of flavor.

5. The microwave popcorn comes in one-serving bags. I don't know about you, but if I pop one of those 2 1/2 serving bags, I eat the whole thing. I love popcorn. 

6. The dried herbs and spices actually look and smell like their fresh counterparts. They're the best ones I've ever used and they're cheap, cheap, cheap. I use the "21-Seasoning Salute" on a lot of things. It's got a little bit of everything in there.

7. Organic Superfruit Spread. This is the best jarred fruit spread I've ever eaten. It tastes like the real thing. I use it all the time on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The grandkids don't even know they aren't eating any sugar in their "jelly". 

8. The frozen organic vegetables are about $2.00 for a 16-ounce bag. Try finding that price anywhere else.

9. There are too many cookies to name, and they're all wonderful. My favorites are: almond windmills, vanilla meringues, triple ginger cookies, vanilla and chocolate Joe-Joe's (think Oreos), and the piece de resistance...dark chocolate double-dipped chocolate Joe-Joe's. I seriously cannot open a container of these while I'm alone. I did that the first time I brought them home and before I knew it, half of them were gone. And they are NOT low-cal! I won't even buy them anymore unless I know I will be having company the minute I get home.

10. The frozen convenience foods taste like you made them in your kitchen. My recent discovery is the gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce and the gnocchi in tomato sauce and mozzarella. The gnocchi tastes just like homemade. 

11. Even the pets get treats from TJ's. Lucy loves the organic assorted flavor dog treats. They smell so good that I've been tempted to try one myself. The kitties are crazy for the holistic feline treats shaped like little fishes. They get theirs when I let Lucy out for the last time in the evening. As soon as they hear me call for her, three of them come running to the pantry door to line up. I have to take Cricket's snack to her...she is the Queen, after all.

12. The dish soap is so mild I use it for hand soap in the bathroom and kitchen and it smells divine with lavender and tea tree oil. It contains nothing harmful to the environment and, like all of their cleaning products, soaps, facial and body products, has never been tested on animals and contains no animal by-products. I also use the moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. It's so user friendly that you can open your eyes while you wash your hair or your youngster's and it will never sting. I also use the body moisturizer, oatmeal and honey bar soap, laundry detergent, shave cream in a tube so it doesn't rust in the shower. Well, you can see why I always have such a long receipt.

13. I get all my coffee and some of my teas there. It's fun trying all the different types without spending a fortune. I haven't been disappointed yet.

Before you leave, I have a little surprise for my loyal readers...a Valentine giveaway made by moi. A nice shopping bag to carry home your grocery purchases from Trader Joe's or Safeway or Kroger or Meijer or Giant Eagle or Albertson's........

You may choose the color you prefer. They have reinforced seams and will hold a big load. The blue and green one has five regular cereal boxes with room at the top for a large loaf of bread. 

Just leave a comment and I'll throw your name into a hat. And while you're commenting, you can listen to Michelle Pfeiffer sing "My Funny Valentine" in "The Fabulous Baker Boys". 

It was rumored that Jeff Bridges did his own playing in the movie, but it was actually jazz great Dave Grusin, who also composed the score, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. He also arranged all the music for the movie. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it with your honey. If there isn't presently a honey, watch it anyway, it will spice up your Valentine's Day.


Tattered and Lost said...

I'm so glad TJs went national. It was our own special secret here in California for so long. Their chocolate bars are the best with so many choices to choose from and so cheap! And NO dumb junk magazines at the check-out!

Ruth said...


(I just used my quota of exclamation points for the year.)

I can't count the ways I am so thrilled with your post. But let me try.

1. LOVE the poem.

2. I've been contemplating a TJ post since my last visit a couple of weeks ago.

3. Your post expresses all the love I feel for TJ's, and much better than I would have.

4. I especially agree about how happy-friendly the staff are!

5. I haven't won $25 for taking bags yet either, but I love that they do that.

6. What is truly amazing to me is that I go there regularly (once a month, since it's an hour away) for two-buck Chuck (three bucks for us, and yes by the case: cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio), trail mixes and whatever else I need, and I have never ever tried the things you list!! I read recently that most grocery stores have around 50,000 items for purchase, and TJ's has around 4,000, and as you say mostly their own brand. Thank you for the recommendations, because now I will try them. I just laugh whenever I'm in the TJ checkout line because I invariably hear someone say "oh this is the best thing at TJs" and it's something different every time, and usually something I haven't tried! (like the chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels last time) I cannot wait to try some of these things you listed.

7. The BAGS!!!!!! They are GOR GEOUS. That lime green fabric is tremendous, and paired with the fabrics you've shown just eye-popping. I hope I win!

8. I really enjoyed the video (hot!). Can Michelle Pfeiffer be any skinnier or prettier?

Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie. Thank you abundantly for the TJ love in this post.

Wanda..... said...

Thanks so much for the post and reccomendations, Susan. I haven't visited a Trader Joe's, but Google shows there's one just 17 miles from here, straight down the highway. I will definitely have to check it out and take along a list of your favorite purchases! I love Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, Ohio and Whole Foods in Wilmington, so this will be a favorite too, I'm sure.

I would love to win and fill up that lovely "lime green bag" with dark chocolate double-dipped chocolate Joe-Joe's from Trader Joe's!

Sandy aka Doris the Great said...

The poem is great; but it just reminds me that there's yet another "man" I must do without in my life. Still, I shan't be jealous of you and your love. I shall just cross my fingers that I win your fantastic giveaway. (After all, lonely women must have something to look forward to!)

Happy Valentine's Day.

Barb said...

Great poem - I hope somebody in management at TJ's reads it! We have no TJ's in CO (Or at least I'm not aware of any). However, I've been to the one near my friend's house in AZ. She loves it there, too. Happy Valentine Day!

Oliag said...

A sweet Valentine to Trader Joes:) RI finally got its own TJ a couple of years ago and although it does not sell grocery store in RI can sell wine:( does have the most happy of staff!!

My favorite TJ items...1. The Triple Ginger Cookies...before TJ came to RI my daughter would send them to me from MA...2. their Whole dry roasted unsalted almonds..I keep a bag in my freezer at all times...3. TJ dried apricots...apricots like I had as a child, more chewy and less orange than you buy now...and more flavorful IMO...

Love those bags too!

Happy Valentine's Day Susan!!

The Bumbles said...

My brother worked at the first Trader Joe's in Boston when he was in college and hated it - but I think that's just because he hated working. He always referred to his manager as a moron. But he pretty much refers to anyone other than himself as a moron ;0)

I have a friend from Maine who always hits Trader Joe's whenever she visits us to stock up since there isn't one near her. Actually, I think she plans her visits to Trader Joe's and fits us in rather than the other way around.

Me? I've never set foot in one. But I don't often visit a grocery store in general - I leave that to Andy. I do like the sound of their shampoo and soaps though. And that blue bag is lovely *hint hint*

Dutchbaby said...

So much love in one post!

LOVE thine poem.

LOVE TJ's and the fact that their private labels never have high fructose corn syrup. (My hubby's allergic to corn.) I keep hoping they will become a public company so that I can invest in them, but I don't think those German billionaire boys will let it out of their clutches.

LOVE your list. Will try each and every one over time.

LOVE both shopping bags; would be thrilled with either.

LOVE the video clip. Michelle Pfeiffer lives a couple of freeway exits up the road from here. I bet she eats Trader Joe foods, but not a whole lot of it, judging from her diminutive size.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Natalie said...

Oh... you are singing my song. Sung to a tropical tune, it is the love song of Trader Joe's. Perhaps you have noticed I am sweet on them as well? And you have said it just as I would have said it! Right down to the cookies! We love their dye-free treats, and their delicious frozen prepared meals... amazing how much goodness can be packed in one small store.

Char said...

i want a trader joes....we have fresh market but not a tj

Susan said...

Tattered, I'm laughing, because there is no need to waylay us at the checkout with tawdry magazines and scandal sheets, when there are all those lovely healthy chocolate temptations waiting there. At least, thank goodness, they stopped leaving all those open container samples sitting around, at least in our store. That was the way they lured me into many lovely, but dangerous, treats!

I'm so glad they went national, too! Thanks for was nice to see you again. :)

Susan said...

Ruthie!! I knew you would like this post, my Trader Joe's sister. I've been wanting to do it for a while, but I'm glad I waited until V-Day.

I know what you mean about the checkout! I'm always talking to the cashier about items in my basket. They comment on their favorite items, and back and forth. I've even asked shoppers about items I've seen in their baskets and gotten great recommendations. That's how I found out about the gnocchi.

Thank you for the compliment on the bags...I've had such fun making them! I've got five more lined up and ready to go. I'm actually enjoying sewing again.

I really like Michelle Pfeiffer. That facial bone structure is gorgeous and she seems to be just as lovely a person as she is a personality. I admire the way she took a break in her red-hot career to raise her children. You don't see much of that in Hollywood.

We'll have to do a Trader Joe's visit together someday and compare our must-haves. That would be fun.

Susan said...

Oh, Wanda, plan on spending a while on your first visit! You have to look at everything! And make sure to ask questions. The staff loves helping customers, especially if you're new to the store.

I love Jungle Jim's, too! I've only been once, but it was so much fun. That's a place you could get lost in for hours. Their cheese department is tremendous. Fun place!

I hope you win, too, so you can fill the bag with lots of healthy foods and some Joe-Joe's, too. :)

Susan said...

Awww, Sandy! I'm sorry I can't share Trader Joe with you. I'm guessing that he probably won't make it to Nova Scotia, but if you make it down to the States, maybe you can find one, just to have the experience. You could visit me and we could go thrifting and then pick up some lovely snacks at TJ's to fortify us! :)

It's nice to see you! I hope you win, too!

Susan said...

Hi Barb! I can't believe there isn't a TJ's in Colorado! Not even in Denver?

Hey, maybe I should send them a link to my post. Someone in corporate might enjoy it. Thanks for the idea.

Hope you are getting some spring-like weather out there. Of course, as beautiful as winters are in CO, you probably don't mind them like I do. If we just had sunshine every once in a while, that would change my outlook tremendously.

Susan said...

Oliag, we have two of the same faves! Those triple ginger cookies are to die for...they're like potato chips...I can't eat just one. I used to buy the same almonds as you all the time, and then for some reason I started buying the raw ones. I think I'll switch back for a change. But they're always drives my FIL crazy as he is a salt fanatic! He even salts the salted ones!

I'll have to try the apricots. David loves them and I haven't bought any in years. Thanks for the recommendation. It would be fun shopping at TJ's with you! :)

Susan said...

LOL, Molly! I'm sure it's possible to have an unpleasant working experience at TJ's. Or maybe you're right...I have people in my life who are like that. :)

So you leave all the shopping to Andy, eh? That means you're at his mercy then. Is he a typical male shopper, or is he thoughtful and healthy-oriented. If it's the latter, then I say more power to him.

But, if you win, you must promise to make at least one excursion to TJ's to find out what you've been missing. Promise?

Susan said...

Dutchbaby! Another TJ's follower! Yes, the HFCS is one of the main reasons I started buying things there. Of course, now everyone is getting on the band wagon and the corn industry is fighting back. HFCS is so insidious. It's in nearly every processed food on the market because it's so cheap. Probably not so much now that corn prices are through the roof.

Oh, wow! You've probably seen Michelle on the freeway and didn't even know it! :) I'm hoping that she is just naturally thin and doesn't go to extraordinary measures to look that way. She probably eats very healthily. Her skin is so radiant.

Thank you for the compliment...and if you don't win, who knows, there may be another giveaway in the future! :)

Susan said...

Natalie, I knew that you were a lover of Trader Joe's! You've probably had them for most of your life! Gosh, we should probably get a commission from them for all the free advertising we've done!

Yes, the dye-free treats! I forgot about them. I buy them for the grandkids. I love the frozen mushroom risotto, too. Yummy creaminess with a little bite to the rice, just the way it should be.

Susan said...

Char, you would love it and probably make into a photo-op, if they allow that. I thought about asking for this post, but I haven't had time to do it lately. Maybe if you get to D.C. again, I know there's one in Alexandria or Arlington. My SIL shops there.

Tattered and Lost said...

Shopping at TJs makes it nearly impossible to go into a supermarket without feeling trapped by corporations coming at you in all directions. TJs just makes me smile and dance down the aisles to the music.

One other item is their cat litter. No smell, easy to toss since it all turns into sawdust.

Susan said...

Tattered, I've been thinking about trying the cat litter, but with 4 cats that could get pretty expensive. Do you think I could just put it into the woods? I hate putting all that in the landfill.

I do a lot of smiling and dancing when I'm at TJ's, too! :D

California Girl said...

Lucky you to have Trader Joe's now. I have missed it for the 13 years I've been up in N.H. They have just opened one in Portland, ME and my husband and I are going there in a couple of wks to shop, spend the night, have cataract surgery (that's for me) and go to Trader Joe's. Two Buck Chuck is becoming known in the East now too. Love your list Susan. I may print it for my trip.

Susan said...

Cali Girl, sounds like a fun trip, well, except for the cataract surgery. It's weird, but you're the third person in our age group that I've heard about having cataracts in the last couple of weeks. Is this something new for baby boomers, or has it always been this way?

Have fun in Portland and make sure to take a couple of coolers with you, so you can bring back perishable items. That gnocchi is scrumptious. We had it last night with the TJ's frozen grilled chicken strips, and it literally took 10 minutes from freezer to table.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my gosh. I loved this post. We had a TJ's when we lived in Maryland but we don't have one around the corner here. There is one on the way to my father's house, though. I'm going to make a list. We use beans all the time because of the fiber, and I have a great recipe for chickpea salad.

You're so funny about the "corn sugar." I'll definitely get the barbecue sauce and balsamic vinaigrette and frozen veggies, too.

Love, love, loved this post. I'm sending it to the hubs. He'll like it too.

Susan said...

Thanks, Bella! It was a fun post to write.

If you get some frozen veggies, try the roasted corn, too. I love using it in taco salads and soups. I usually saute it in a little olive oil for a few minutes before I toss it on the salad. I would like to see your chickpea salad. I use a lot of them for hummus, one of my favorite things in the world to eat. I saw a recipe for pan-roasted chickpeas that I'm going to try. It sounds really yummy.

Yeah, those "corn sugar" commercials make me laugh. I don't know who they think they're fooling...fools, I suppose.

I'm so happy you liked my post! :))))

Anonymous said...

It is a great place to shop!

Susan said...

Donna, I couldn't agree more! Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Very pretty bags!

We had Trader Joes in Arizona... EVERYWHERE, but none here in Virginia. I can't say I shopped there very often, but Sis lives in Calif. and LOVES their stores.


Susan said...

Thank you, Di! I think they have a TJ's in Alexandria or Arlington, but definitely not close enough to you in Roanoke. I would very much miss going there if we moved somewhere without one.

Nice to see you!

Jeanie said...

Popped over from Bella's! I just had the best four-star TJ customer service there last weekend in Ann Arbor -- I left a bag of groceries on the bottom of the cart (where the packer put it!) and when I got home, called them. 'just circle the items and bring the receipt next time," they said. Since I live about an hour away, I asked if there was a time limit. "No problem. Anytime." I was very impressed!

And now to dig into our blog a bit more -- Love your orangey kitty!

Susan said...

Jeanie, they really do bend over backward to make sure their customers have a positive experience in their stores. I always leave there with a smile on my face from the little conversation I just had with the cashier about our favorite items or a recipe we've tried.

That's Sassy, my little foundling...well, they all are, but she's the latest. She lives up to her name. :)

stacybuckeye said...

I love me some Trader Joe's! It is amazing what they can fit into those small stores isn't it?