When The Going Gets Rough, I...Go To Trader Joe's

Monday, November 9, 2009

One of my all-time favorite shopping experiences is at Trader Joe's.
I love them because they tend to showcase locally grown, in-season products that are at their peek. I love that they go to local producers of produce and meat, but also look to incorporate already-made items made by locals as well, to give us a fancy pesto or interesting salsa combination to supplement our meal.
Being a mom, I've found it invaluable. Although I obviously care about and prefer to do my own cooking, being a mother during a busy work week with a busy husband on a lawyer's schedule, I sometimes find myself in a panic wondering "what the hell am I gonna make for dinner tonight?" My two kids are both under 3, so it's not like I can sit there and make pasta from scratch every day, or do a 3 hour meat sauce to go with it much to my chagrin. I needed to get real. Sometimes I need something fast, something healthy, something that will taste good and that won't cost me a fortune.
Enter Trader Joe's.
We live in Aliso Viejo, or as I like to call it The Bane Of Culinary Existence. Meaning, we have two options: fast food and bad fast food. That's it. When Trader Joe's finally opened locally I quite literally jumped at the chance to go check it out and I've been a much happier, less stressed out and more financially savvy mother/wife ever since. I've tweaked my weekly recipes now to incorporate some very reliable store-bought help when I need some help in the kitchen. I was resistant to the idea at first; when I think of the phrase "store-bought" I immediately think of Sandra Lee and then barf a little in my mouth. So although growing up and knowing the goodness first hand that is TJ's, I was still a little hesitant at first. But now I love it!
Trader Joe's has excellent pizza dough for example. I've found it in wheat, plain, and even garlic-herb. The toppings options are endless. I often pick up a wheat pizza dough and either make my own pesto if basil is in season or pick up Trader Joe's ready-made pesto, some marinated fresh mozzarella, some veggies and voila! Pizza for dinner in no time with no mess in my kitchen on a Tuesday night! Or pasta...they have tons of great pastas to choose from. I swear by De Cecco for pasta (I think it's still the best) but TJ's has great brands too I'm very happy with. They have some good sauces although I still prefer my own from scratch. They have a decent enough selection of fresh, in-season fruits and veggies to choose from, salads and salad kits, a good basic cheese selection where you can find the occasional Hmmm...That Sounds Interesting type of cheese like the brie-style goat cheese I bought a few days ago. But probably my favorite part is the prepared proteins section.
I. Love. This. A Mother's Best Friend.
Chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Just pop the two huge portions in the oven, roast some potatoes or do a veggie and dinner is served.
Stuffed salmon filets with cous-cous and dill. A side salad with one of their great dressings, some slivered almonds perhaps and there's a healthy Thursday night meal.
Marinated flank steak -- tacos anyone?
Pork Chops. Tri-tip roast. Pork ribs. Chipotle chicken breasts. Sausages of every kind and color and flavorings. The options are endless! The way to shop at Trader Joe's if you're a busy mom is to grab one of these "prepped" items, go match a veggie or salad to it, and your week is done!
If you live in a state that allows alcohol to be sold outside of liquor store, you might love it too. Although personally I'm too much of a snob about wine and simply can't wrap my mind around consuming a $3 bottle of red for flavor rather than using it as a vehicle to just get wasted, some people can and do and that's fine. Remember: I'm a snob. They do, however, have a pretty decent liquor section for the basics: whiskey, scotch, port, vodka, bourbon, etc. so you're sure to find something you like.
But most of all I find they are reliable...enough. The products are always good. I've never found something that's old or expired or due to expire in a day or two like I have many times at my local grocery markets. Their shelves are constantly restocked, so they are almost never out of anything. Only place it gets a little scant is around 9 pm in the bread section. Sometimes they won't have a specialty item like creme fraiche or a certain kind of squash, but I won't sweat the small things.
And who doesn't love a place that always gives out samples??? Seriously, it's the little things. I love that. My daughter Catia gets so excited to get samples and stickers too. And I like how they force their employees to be nice, smile and greet you, and ask if you need help. Honestly if I have to get an attitude from Vons or Ralph's one more time, I'm going to slap somebody. Since when did we forget the importance of customer service? God knows we pay enough in premium prices that we shouldn't get an attitude or someone who's stocking produce who doesn't know what jicama looks like (wtf?!).
They have a sense of pleasing their customers. I also love their humor. They wear horrendous faded Hawaiian shirts and ring a bell to summon an employee to open a new register instead of an obnoxious loud-speaker. They change the lables of their products sometimes to reflect the ethnicity of the food. For example, a salsa would read Trader Jose's. Chuckle.
No, Trader Joe's is reliable for products as well as an experience that at the very least won't stress you out. And for a mother of two kiddos, that's invaluable.
Bon appetite!

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