Monday, February 14, 2011
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 Giuseppe...you 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.