Because it’s the same as another product on the shelf of Whole Foods.
Because it’s the same as another product on the shelf of Whole Foods.
I’ve decided that TJ Junkie would be better off in tweet form. Short reviews, straight and to the point. Follow me @TJ_Junkie.
While I was underwhelmed about the yellow cake mix and frosting, the chocolate cake mix was wildly successful. I made cupcakes for a Halloween party, in which we stuck Milano cookies on top as tombstones!
If there was one defining characteristic of the cupcake, it’s the moistness. Like an insta-humidifier, it made even the pumpkin muffins in the shared tupperware super-moist. It made the Milano cookies soft. The paper wrappers were almost soggy.
But complaining that a cupcake is too moist is like complaining the weather is too nice, or that sushi is too fresh. The chocolate taste was not overwhelming, nor too sweet. Just right.
I used melted butter instead of oil in the mix, and used TJ’s chocolate frosting mix. Fabulous.
You can’t really see the photo below, but if it were touchable I guarantee you your fingers would be moisturized, not to mention tasty.
Chocolate cake mix: 4.5/5 pelts
These were the shiny new things on the shiny new product shelf at TJ’s. Requiring a grand total of 3 sticks of butter, I set to work in making a cake and cupcakes.
I was initially fearful that the yellow cake mix would not taste sweet enough, and I was right. Unequivocally, my test subjects reported that the cake tasted squarely like cornbread. Sweet cornbread.
I put too much water in the frosting, but it tasted fine enough. Slathered on the cornbread, er, yellow cake, it made for an interesting contrast. I ate this cake for breakfast for three days. That’s not really relevant to anything, but seems like the sort of thing one would need to confess.
I wasn’t a huge fan of either, but they were moist, ridiculously buttery, and easy to make. They are good alternatives to the more frou frou Madagascar Vanilla and truffle brownie mixes. I would stick to my artificial Duncan Hines and funfetti frosting, but that’s just my palate.
Yellow cake mix: 3/5 pelts
Chocolate frosting mix: 3/5 pelts.
These are the most amazing things I’ve ever bought from Trader Joe’s. So amazing that I didn’t have time to take a picture and post it. This is an urgent matter of national importance. The vanilla buttercream and chocolate ganache macarons (not to be confused with the coconut American cookie) are transcendent. Delicate, complex, creamy, without being overly sweet. Very dainty little things that are probably meant to be consumed in a dainty manner with pinkies up. (You can guess that’s not the way I, a brute American, consume them.) Also, at $4.99 for 10, not super cheap, but cheaper than the $1-2 a pop you procure from the local cafe.
When they inexplicably disappeared from the freezer aisle (not that inexplicably I guess since things seem to come and go mysteriously at TJ’s), I entered into near panic. Thankfully, a (somewhat scared) employee told me they’d be back in the store between 8am-10am on Wednesday.
There are now 2 boxes residing safely in my fridge.
Get thee to a Trader Joe’s and buy some, now. Maintenant. Maintenant!
Macarons a la Parisienne: 5/5 pelts
I rarely forget how fortunate I am to have Trader Joe’s at my doorstep, but I do sometimes forget that not all Trader Joe’s are as leisurely and relatively uncrowded. Don’t get me wrong, the place can be bursting just before a holiday or a supposedly imminent snowstorm. But it’s nowhere nearly as crowded as the sole Trader Joe’s in New York.
I passed by the Union Square Trader Joe’s in New York twice this weekend. I actually didn’t frequent it all that much when I lived in NYC (maybe that’s why that year was such a struggle!) but that’s because it’s like Apocalypse Now every day in there.
The couple times I did visit, some shelves were completely empty, and a few lines were 3o-person deep. My friend used to bring her homework to do while in line. Ridiculous.*
*Tangent: I visited the Columbus Circle Whole Foods, which is only slightly less ridiculous, and they have a little chart posted on checkout counters that note their shopping hours. In addition, they helpfully note when their busiest times are. They state: “Monday night- Manageable. Saturday morning- Crazy Busy. Sunday afternoon- Absolutely Frenetic” etc. I appreciated it. Helpful especially for claustrophobes and extreme introverts. So New York.
All this is to say, I am going to count my blessings the next time I step into my current neighborhood Trader Joe’s. I sometimes just take walks up and down the aisles without buying anything (if I had a dog I’d be tempted to take it on walks there. ) I am ever more thankful that I can pick up my yogurt without getting all up in someone’s face, that I can linger in the cereal aisle without evoking looks of death.
As for NYC, why they only have one Trader Joe’s in a city of 8 million is beyond me.
A picture of the NYC ridiculousness (there are store employees whose sole job it seems is to hold line signs):
I am a person of simple pleasures. So much happiness is found in really simple things: Flower petals cascading from the trees like a spring snow shower. A goofy labrador meandering from its owner. A young’un giving up his seat for the elderly on the subway. The addictive chorus of Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. Sweet potato fries that make you want to kiss the earth from whence it came. And so forth.
All this is to say that one of the best products I’ve had from Trader Joe’s is not of the complicated, random or inventive variety. Not the chocolate dipped almonds, the quirkily packaged pita products, or newfangled soy interpretations (such as corn dogs and wannabe chicken nuggets). My favorite product is extremely simple: plain ol’ Trader Joe’s Organic Ketchup.
My apartment runs through this stuff like nobody’s business (which may or may not be attributed to one of my roommate’s steady devotion to said sweet potato fries). But I know what you’re thinking. It’s ketchup. Not truffle oil. Not garlic aioli. Not mango ginger chutney. It’s ketchup.
Do not let its pedestrian nature deceive you. I dare you to eat a fry dipped in TJ Ketchup versus one dipped in Heinz. TJ Ketchup has a bold, natural, almost A1-like taste, but the best part lies in the texture. Unlike other ketchups, which have a uniformly squeezable cohesive squirty texture not unlike that of puffy paint, fortified with high fructose corn syrup, TJ Ketchup comes out loose and almost grainy. I don’t know if I’m explaining it the best way, but you can visibly tell the difference between a generic or Heinz ketchup and TJ Ketchup. Plus TJ Ketchup doesn’t leave a lingering stickiness or smell.
The ketchup is fantastic. I will drown my soy nuggets in the stuff. I will eat it with my fried rice. I will slather my eggs with it. Alternated with my trusty Korean red pepper sauce (gochujang), this ketchup is a frequent accompaniment to my dinners.
I am not beneath licking it off a spoon, either. Love the stuff, pure and simple.
Trader Joe’s Organic Ketchup: 5/5 pelts.
Were you one of those children who liked to eat paste? If you would like to relive those fond elementary school memories, then boy, does Trader Joe’s have the product for you.
From a health standpoint, Trader Joe’s Complete Oatmeal sounds like the perfect meal. The nutritional merits are manifold: 35% of daily value of calcium, B6 and B12 vitamins, folic acid and flax, and 2 grams of soy protein. Never mind that I don’t know what good the B vitamins do, this thing sounds like a super food! Of course, there is a catch…
Normally, I eat a cup of oatmeal at my desk in the mornings. I’m not a huge fan of oatmeal, but it’s fast and filling and efficient for breakfast fuel. For awhile, I bought Trader Joe’s instant oatmeal in apple and maple/brown sugar flavors. I wondered if I could cut back on my breakfast sugar intake (if anything, to make room for more desserts at night) and boost my nutritional and vitamin intake. Enter Trader Joe’s Oatmeal Complete in original flavor, with a sparse 2g of sugar. Hearty sustenance, without the sugar guilt.
But alas, even my well-trained palate could not take it. I can delude myself into eating soy nuggets. I eat bagels, bread, sandwiches, potatoes, etc. unadorned and unslathered (if I eat them at all). I can eat steamed broccoli for dinner and soy ice cream for dessert without envy. But getting through a cup of Oatmeal Complete was a task. It was grueling.
Edible glue. Elmer’s should slap a label on this thing. Even diluted with more water than called for, even when I added slivers of almond and raw brown sugar, it still tasted like glue. I felt like maybe instead I should have just mixed in some glitter, slapped it on construction paper and called it a day.
To give it credit, it is quite filling. Also, it is a product of Canada. Oh, Canada, it’s okay. Low crime, bad oatmeal. Can’t have it all.
Oatmeal complete, original flavor: 1/5 pelts
Apologies, dear readers, for the long hiatus. I have no excuses.
To break the silence, let me recount this pleasant little episode I had recently:
I was standing in line, spacing out, when I heard the lady in front of me and the checker talk about the milk chocolate bar she was buying. She wondered out loud what the organic, fair trade dark chocolate bar on the display would taste like.
The checker took one off the shelf and tore it open, just like that. He offered a big chunk to the surprised woman, and then a piece to me. Inexplicably, I refused the piece of chocolate. Maybe it was the concept of being given something freely, or some ingrained childhood directive to not take food from strangers, but I just instinctively rejected it. I’m sure there’s some theological metaphor or psychoanalysis that can be drawn out of this but I will refrain.
A few weeks ago they were handing out free bunches of yellow daffodils to customers, for reasons unbeknownst to me. I took them merrily and they are a cheerful, regular fixture on our living room table.
Free chocolate and flowers. Give away some beer and peanuts, Trader Joe’s, or else the guys are going to think you favor the ladies!
Reason #192: Because they give out free stickers.
This past weekend, I stood in line behind a woman and her little daughter. I wasn’t paying too much attention to them until I saw the cashier hand a strip of stickers over to the little girl. They looked sort of someecards-y with ye olde time vintage illustrations, minus the scandalous text.
I had to have it.
As the cashier rung up my flour and milk, I went back and forth in my mind about asking for stickers. I’m a 26-year-old woman, dammit! That’s like 20 years older than that girl. Aren’t my Lisa Frank days over? What was I going to stick them on, my taxes binder?
Who cares? I had to have it.
“May I please have some stickers too?” I asked sheepishly. The cashier obliged, without a shred of judgment (I would think).
I walked home with a big fat smile on my face, wondering what inanimate objects I could rebrand. Maybe my reusable lunch bag. It’d bring me back to the days of my (lavender, perfect) My Little Pony lunchbox during elementary school! My roommate can testify to how excited I was when I came through the door and proudly showed off my new stickers.
Sometimes it amazes me how easily pleased I am.