Sunday, July 20, 2014

It begins

You may know me from such films as--no, wait, that's Troy McClure on "The Simpsons." You may know me from my other blog, Poker Grump (which doesn't get a lot of upkeep these days), or Facebook, Twitter, or even (gasp!) from real life. Or you may not know me at all, having stumbled here via Google or whatever. However you got here, welcome. Thanks for peeking in.

Let me explain what I'm doing here, and why.

My back story 

I'm a 53-year-old guy living in Asheville, North Carolina. I've been here about 18 months. A Trader Joe's store opened about a mile from where I live, on the street where I already did most of my shopping and other errands, making it exceptionally convenient to visit frequently.

I had never even heard of the chain until I started dating my girlfriend, Nina, in 2009. When I visited her in Washington, D.C., she took me grocery shopping to her TJ's a couple of times, and I was intrigued by a whole store full of different products, virtually all of them store-branded--no national brands. She asked me to pick out a cheese to have with our dinner one night, and I thought the "Cheddar-Gruyere Melange" sounded interesting without being too exotic. I was floored by how good it was.

I was interested in exploring more TJ's items. However, I was living in Las Vegas at the time, inconveniently far from the nearest TJ's store there, so I went a couple of times and tried a few things, but didn't change my grocery buying habits much as a result.

A few years passed, Nina moved from D.C. to Asheville because of reasons, and I quickly moved here to be near her. That a TJ's was announced shortly after I moved here, with a location of terrific convenience to me, was just an added happy bonus.

Since the store's opening last September, I have tried dozens of different products. The exploration has been greatly catalyzed by the fact that Nina comes over for dinner once a week. I'm not a good cook, but I love having her here. She likes trying new food, and I enjoy finding new products that she hasn't had before.

My own experience with food has been rather limited. That is, I've eaten as much as most 53-year-olds, but probably a lot less variety than most. My diet has mainly consisted of maybe a dozen things I especially like to make for myself, repeated over and over and over again. The entrance of Nina into my life, with her zeal for trying new things, has gently, gradually nudged me that way.

A concrete example: Last week I was at TJ's for some items, and passed an aisle-end display of "Hibiscus-Cranberry Juice." I like cranberry juice, and love it blended with other juices, especially grape, raspberry, or cherry. But hibiscus? Who has ever heard of that? My reaction was, "Well, that's different. I should try it." With absolutely no doubt whatsoever, five years ago my reaction in the same situation would have been, "Well, THAT'S different. I'd better not try it. Why aren't they putting normal juices with the cranberry, the way nature intended?"

My purposes 

I have in mind some reasons for doing this blog. In no particular order:

  • It gives me an excuse to play around with my new camera, taking pictures of food. 
  • It will force me to write about a subject--food--on which I am a rank amateur. I do a lot of writing, both for public consumption and for private clients, but until now all of my writing has been on subjects on which I know a great deal. There's safety in that; I won't make a lot of embarrassing mistakes, or reveal ignorance. This is a whole different thing. I'll be writing as I learn, fully exposing how little I know, but hopefully eradicating my ignorance one little post at a time. 
  • I tend to try foods, then not remember clearly what I thought of them later. I've bought stuff I don't like a second time by accident, not remembering that I didn't like it the first time. This will be an accessible record that I can consult. 
  • I hope that readers will help educate me, disagree with me, explain where I'm wrong and why, point me to other items that I should try, share ways of preparing foods that would be better than what I have done. 
  • It will be another motivator to keep trying new things. TJ's web site says that they typically roll out 10-15 new items a week, and retire an equal number of poorly selling ones. There's no danger of running through the entire catalog and being left with nothing to write about. 


  • I'm no foodie. I have taken no courses in food preparation or evaluation. I make stupid rookie mistakes in my cooking. My palate is untrained and neither experienced nor particularly adventurous. Don't expect me to expound on the subtle flavor profile of some new cheese. If you ever catch me saying crap like, "It has a prominent hickory note, with lovely undertones of weaselwood and dahlias," you have permission to shoot me. 
  • I don't drink alcohol, so about one-quarter of the space at my local store is never going to get included in my exploration. 
  • I'm not going to take requests. 
  • If it has onions in it, I'm not going to eat it, period. Onions are foul, disgusting, noxious weeds that should be vaporized off the face of the planet. This is one of the few non-negotiable items in my life, so don't ask. 
  • I hope to write posts about twice a week, but I'm not committing to any particular schedule. I'm tentatively planning for Sundays and Wednesdays, but we'll see. 
  • Posts will probably often be very, very short. Like, "This stuff sucks. I don't ever want to taste it again, and I don't even want to write any more about it now." 
  • As will rapidly become evident, there is no commercial interest here. I.e., you'll see that I'm just as willing to bash as to praise. Nobody is paying me to do this. In the unlikely event that TJ's finds and likes this blog and decides to offer me freebies or something, I'll let you know about it. No secrets or undisclosed motives. 
  • It's likely that every post title will be just "Trader Joe's" followed by the name of the item under review. I know this will be tedious, but it's intended to help people doing searches for specific things. 
  • Comments are welcome, with word verification (to cut down on the damn spammers, who should rot in hell starting immediately) and light moderation. Basically, say whatever you want about my posts and I'll approve it, unless it's clearly spam, or libelous, or just rude/insulting without any substance. 
  • I'm aware that there are already other blogs out there covering this same territory. I haven't yet decided whether I'll ignore them, or slavishly read and link to what they have said about items I'm writing about, or something in between. But I won't ever copy or plagiarize. Every word you see here will be mine (or that of Nina, if I am successful in coaxing her into sharing her opinions here, too). So will every photograph, unless marked otherwise. 
OK, I think I've rambled enough. Time to write my first few posts (set in advance to publish on Sundays and Wednesdays, at least for now), and see what happens. 


  1. Onions are my second favorite food.

  2. I accidentally deleted Alex's comment, and I can't find any way to resurrect it. But I have a copy of it from the email notification I received, so here it is:

    I followed you over from pokergrump. A Trader Joe's opened a mile from me in Denver not too long ago and I've not been there as much as I thought I might. Perhaps I'll use some stuff here for suggestions.

  3. Onions are am essential ingredient for so many things. You're missing out and drastically need to get over this.

  4. Bob, there is a reason they make onion powder. It's for all those who can't stand the thought of onion chunks in their food. I'm fairly certain you have eaten several things I've made over the years that has onion powder in it. The boys couldn't stand the thought of onions either so that was my secret weapon.

    Right now the onions are finishing growing here and waiting to be topped/harvested. The whole town smells like Frito Lay is running a batch of sour cream and onion potato chips! Nothing like waking up in the morning to the smell of onions ready for harvest. It's wonderful!

  5. If you're wondering why that last comment sounds so personal, it's cuz it's from my sister!