Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Trader Joe's Matar Paneer

This is Day Four of Indian Food Week: 

Several weeks ago, Trader Joe's introduced a trio of canned Indian sauces. My first introduction to the new products was somebody on Twitter posting a photo of all three cans, and declaring them "inedible." I was certainly sympathetic to the view that "canned Indian food" seemed like an intrinsically questionable concept. But I was willing to give them a try.

This was the first one I opened. I heated it and poured it over some rice as the centerpiece of a dinner with Nina.

I thought it was better than canned Indian food could be expected to be--but that's a pretty low bar. It was kind of boring, and, as you'd probably guess, not particularly fresh-tasting. But it's far from the "inedible" that I had first been informed--at least if you have crude, uneducated taste buds like mine.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope. Not good enough to bother with. Also, a little birdie tells me that all three of these products have been halted temporarily for reformulation. If that's really true, it's surprising--the fastest introduction/withdrawal I've ever seen for TJ's products.

Nina's View

I give this product a resounding meh.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Indian Fare--Punjab Choley

Day Three of Indian Food Week: 

The prominence of the onions in both the photo and the description of this product made me suspicious. But I had already tried and liked the sister product, Madras Lentil, despite having the same concern, so I decided to give it a try.

I'm glad I did. It's really good. I didn't like it quite as much as the Madras Lentil, but it's pretty close. Lively without being too spicy.

There's a good chance these two things are the best heat-and-serve Indian foods you can buy. Both of them are far better than the one other product in the same line that we've tried, the Jaipur Vegetables. There are--or at least at one time were; I don't know if they're all still available--seven different varieties of TJ's "Indian Fare" in pouches. (See here for the rundown.) I have liked two out of three, which gives me hope for trying the others.

Will I buy it again? 



I heard recently from a reasonably reliable source that this entire line of boxed Indian food is being discontinued. If so, it's a shame--they're tasty, cheap, and easy to prepare.

Nina's View

Surprisingly decent for something that's basically an MRE. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala

Day Two of Indian Food Week: 

I bought this on my next trip to Trader Joe's after discovering how good the Vegan Tikka Masala was.

This is very similar, and every bit as good. I think I like it a little bit better, just because the chunks of chicken breast have a better taste and texture than the vegan version. But the latter is close, and allows me to make one more reduction in my overall meat consumption, so that's going to be my default choice.

Will I buy it again? 

No--but not because it's not good. See above.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Paneer Tikka Masala

I've decided that it's time for another theme week--this time, Indian food. Here's Day One:  

I bought this after finding that I really liked Trader Joe's Vegan Tikka Masala. I confess that I didn't even know what "paneer" was when I bought it. (It's cheese!)

This was all right, but not nearly as good as the vegan. The main thing that bothered me about it was the strong taste of spinach in the spinach rice. It seemed out of place--clashing with the other flavors.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I would always choose the vegan one over this--not because it's vegan, but because it's better.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links about Trader Joe's.

12 best vegan finds at Trader Joe's

Shopping at Trader Joe's while on Whole30

8 read-to-drink cold-brew coffees compared

A close reading of the Fearless Flyer

25 Trader Joe's products we love

Favorite Trader Joe's vegan snacks

9th Circuit rules in favor of Trader Joe's over Canadian Pirate Joe's

Best tweets of the week:






And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Hey, wait just a minute! That's not a cat!

Let's try again:

Much better.

Trader Joe's Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

These cookies couldn't be easier to make. The dough comes as pre-formed lumps on a sheet of cardboard. Just plop a few of them onto a cookie sheet, bake for 12 minutes, and you have cookies.

That makes it easier to use than the tubes of cookie dough from Nestle or Pillsbury, which require spooning out (the step I always mess up; I cannot make them even). But I think the resulting cookies are not as good. Not that they're bad; I ate eight in one sitting. They're just not as tasty as other brands I've used. And they're not nearly as good as those made from the superb Gingerbread Molasses Cookie Dough--despite the fact that I generally prefer chocolate chip cookies to ginger-molasses cookies.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not.

Nina’s View

NOM. I am not a big chocolate chip cookie fan but I thought these were wonderful. They are like brownie cookies, almost. Buy and eat them and pay no mind to my beloved’s lukewarm review.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Hashbrowns

These are frozen hashbrown patties, in size and shape very much like what McDonald's includes in many of their breakfasts.

I had hoped that they might taste as good as those, in addition to physically resembling them. They don't. They border on flavorless.

What's more, even after several tries, I could not get the texture to come out right--crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside. They always ended up on the soggy-greasy side.

All in all, a big disappointment.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Liquid Laundry Detergent

Being a sedentary sort, my clothes don't get dirty enough for me to ever notice any difference in how laundry detergents remove blood, oil, or grass stains. All I want from such a product is for it to remove my body odors and not replace them with any of the irritating scents that the big manufacturers usually insist on adding.

I have to hunt on the Target or Wal-Mart shelves to find the tiny section of the scent-free versions of Tide or All or Wisk--any of which seem perfectly fine and basically interchangeable to me.

So, yeah, I kind of knew going in that I was not going to like Trader Joe's detergent because of the lavender scent added. It's not strong, however. In fact, though I smell it easily when the cap is removed, once the clothes come out of the dryer, I never notice it unless I deliberately stick my nose right in them and take a big whiff. So it's about as unobjectionable as an added scent can be.

But I still don't want it in my life.

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trader Joe's Quinoa Duo With Vegetable Melange

The "duo" in the product name apparently refers to the fact that it contains two varieties of quinoa. The "vegetable melange" is an overstatement; it's just sweet potatoes and zucchini.

I thought this was OK, but nothing great. Zucchini dominated the flavor profile, along with the mild but hard-to-identify spice blend.

I just sat there for a whole minute trying to think of something else to say about this stuff, and failed.

Will I buy it again? 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Pineapple Tidbits

The only reason to prefer either canned or frozen fruit to fresh fruit is that you can keep it around for a long time, and indulge a whim for it whenever it may hit.

Canned fruit has the great advantage over frozen that you don't have to wait an hour for it to thaw before eating. Impulse snacking for the win!

Frozen fruit should have the advantage over canned of tasting fresher. Frankly, that's the only reason to go for frozen over canned as far as I'm concerned.

So when a frozen fruit fails to taste any better than its canned counterpart, I deem it an utter failure as a grocery product. It has no reason to exist and take up space in my little freezer.

And that's exactly the issue here. This is no better a simulacrum of fresh pineapple than canned. Both canned and frozen are OK, but they're a far cry from fresh. In fact, it's possible that the difference between fresh and either canned or frozen is greater for pineapple than for any other fruit. It's enough that I basically abandoned canned as soon as I discovered that grocery store deli sections sell fresh pineapple that has already been cored out; the work involved in preparing fresh pineapple was the only thing that had previously had me settling for canned.

To repeat: This pineapple is, to me, indistinguishable from canned, while being less convenient to use. I have no use for either.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, August 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Soy Slices Cheese Alternative Cheddar Flavor

These are individually wrapped slices of a reasonably convincing fake cheese.

You'd naturally think that something that is marketed as a "cheese alternative" and made of soy would be a vegan-friendly product. You'd be wrong, at least as applied to this particular item. If you read the fine print on the back, you find that it's labeled "vegetarian" but not "vegan." The label further informs, "Contains: milk & soy." After "soy base," the next ingredient is "casein (milk protein)." There's your culprit right there.

That may explain why this is better than most of the purely vegan cheese substitutes I've tried. It does have that peculiar soy flavor, but it's muted. I notice it only if I pop a bit of the stuff in my mouth naked. Er--that is, the slice is naked, not me. Though I suppose it would taste the same whether or not I was wearing clothes. But the point is that the off-taste is easily masked. Certainly if you plop it on a burger, you're not going to think "soy" when the combination hits your tongue. Something as meek as a Ritz cracker was enough to hide the soyness for me.

But you have to wonder what the target market is for these slices. Vegans won't touch them, obviously. People who identify as vegetarian but not vegan have presumably already decided that they don't object to dairy products, so wouldn't they just buy real cheese slices?

The only niche I can think of that would be interested in this, as opposed to real cheese slices, is people who are so lactose-sensitive that they can't have even the 3/4 of an ounce of cheese that a regular slice would have. That's got to be an unsustainably narrow market.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. I originally bought it without reading the back of the package, and so assumed it was a completely non-dairy product. Nina is making serious efforts to reduce her use of milk and milk products, so I had hoped I could offer her this as a small piece of that change. But since it's derived from milk, it's hard to see that it furthers the cause. That being so, I can't think of any good reason to choose this over real cheese slices.

Nina's View

When I first started reducing my dairy intake, the disappearance of cheese was the most painful part of the process. I loooooove cheese and was accustomed to eating a lot of it. Naturally I bought and tried pretty much every cheese substitute available.

Pretty much all the ones that I thought were at all worth eating had dairy products in them. WTF?

The others are pretty much yucky.

The good news for me is that I no longer crave cheese as I once did. I still eat it from time to time in restaurants and at other people's homes, but it has become a much smaller percentage of my diet.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Lentil Soup

I liked this, though mostly for an idiosyncratic reason. Most lentil soups go heavy on onions, and this one did not. They're still in there, but in low enough numbers that I could basically ignore them. That quality alone elevates it above most brands of canned lentil soup that I have tried.

Sadly, however, the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee got all up into this product. It could really use some zesting up. (But not with onions, obviously. Onions do not zest anything up. They ruin things.)

Will I buy it again? 

Probably, though rarely.

Nina's View.


Saturday, August 20, 2016


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

11 cult favorite Trader Joe's desserts

10 Trader Joe's items nutritionists swear by

"Popcorn in a Pickle" is the best snack at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's limeade wins comparison test

Infighting within the secretive family that owns Aldi Nord, parent of Trader Joe's

Recipes using only Trader Joe's ingredients

The best Trader Joe's snacks

The man behind Trader Joe's scotch whisky

Wine of the week: Trader Joe's Reserve Petit Verdot

Best tweets of the week:





And finally, here are two cute cats with their Trader Joe's grocery bags:

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi With Butter & Sage

This sat in my freezer for several months, because every time I looked at it, I could easily think of something else I would rather eat instead. But I finally decided that I needed to plow through all the stuff that was accumulating in the freezer, so I pulled it out as part of a hodge-podge dinner for one of Nina's weekly visits.

I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I loved these little dudes. They're tasty and chewy, with next to no work of preparation. I would go so far as to say that they're my favorite way of eating sweet potatoes I've ever found.

Now, the caveat to that pronouncement is that they're less sweet-potato-y than you would probably think from the product's name and photo. That is because the sweet potato is mixed with wheat flour and regular potatoes, so it's far from a pure sweet potato product. For me, that's a feature, not a bug, because sweet potatoes are generally something I tolerate more than cherish. You might feel differently about it.

Will I buy it again? 


Friday, August 19, 2016

Darrell Lea Strawberry Liquorice

This is one of the occasional non-store-branded products that Trader Joe's sells.

I had seen a few people on Twitter say that they liked this much better than Twizzlers, the obvious point of comparison, so I decided to try them.

Had I not been eating Twizzlers since I was about 8, I would probably like these better. They're softer, thicker, and the strawberry flavor is much more natural. I can definitely see why people like them. The only disadvantage I noticed is that they stick to the teeth even more stubbornly than Twizzlers.

Will I buy it again? 

It's tough to overcome 40+ years of snacking habits. As long as they keep making Twizzlers, they'll keep calling out to me to buy them. These upstart foreign licorice pieces are lovely, but I hear no voice.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Secrets Of The Psyllium Dietary Supplement

This post is going to talk frankly about defecation--and, in particular, mine, since I can't speak authoritatively on anybody else's. If this bothers you or doesn't interest you, leave now, and come back tomorrow for something more pleasant.

This is one of the oddest TJ's products I've yet encountered. Let me count the ways.

First, the name. Is it supposed to be a play on "Secrets of the Asylum"? If so, isn't that kind of an obscure reference?

Second, the brand: It's the only "Trader Darwin" product I've ever seen. Tons of Trader Jose, Trader Ming, Trader Jacques, Trader Giotto, etc. But no Trader Darwin that I've ever seen before. And it obviously breaks the pattern. Moreover, it does so in a way and for a reason that I can't figure out. Is this stuff from Australia, maybe? But if so, why pick the city of Darwin to stand for Australia? Or maybe "Darwin" is just a vague reference to all places exotic, as in Darwin's travels on the HMS Beagle. Nothing on the package says where it's from, so I have no way to settle this strange little mystery.

EDIT: After writing this, I discovered that several other dietary supplements are from "Trader Darwin," and all except for this psyllium also carry the slogan, "For the survival of the fittest." So that kind of explains it. But it doesn't explain why they left that secondary and more-or-less explanatory phrase off of this one product in the Trader Darwin line.  

Third, the canister is festooned with faux Egyptian iconography. What the hell does that have to do with anything you could associate with psyllium, or with Darwin?

Fourth, it's clearly just not a typical Trader Joe's kind of thing.

Fifth, it's so obscure that I had walked past it probably a hundred times before I first noticed it on the shelf. (A little searching online proved to me that TJ's has been selling it for years.) I've never seen it advertised in the Fearless Flyer, never seen it promoted in the store, never seen anybody on Twitter or on any of the other TJ's blogs mention it. But I suppose they must sell enough of it to justify keeping it in their product line-up.

Now, a bit of background about me. I have irritable bowel syndrome. This is an annoying but fortunately not dangerous condition, so if you have to pick some sort of disease to have, it's probably one of your better choices--compared to, y'know, Ebola or something.

For years, I had a problem with alternating constipation and diarrhea, one of the classic hallmarks of IBS. It was irksome, but not so severe as to disrupt my life in any major way, so I just lived with it. But then when I got a hemorrhoid thrown in with it, I decided, on the advice of my colo-rectal surgeon, to start increasing my fiber intake with supplements. Large, consistent, daily doses of fiber tend to smooth out the highs and lows of bowel activity. I've been using Metamucil daily for 20+ years now. I started getting into it right around the time they were shifting their product to the more finely ground version that you see on the shelves now.

This TJ's psyllium is a throwback to the way Metamucil used to be: coarse and gritty. I find it downright unpleasant to use. With every swallow, you're acutely aware of all the undissolved chunks of rough plant material passing over the various surfaces of your mouth and throat. This is exactly the problem that Metamucil fixed by reformulating their product into a much finer powder.

The TJ's stuff also just won't suspend nicely. It rapidly all rises to the surface as soon as you stop stirring it. I found that the only way to get it down was to stir, stir, stir--quick take a chug while it was still spinning in the glass--stir, stir, stir--quick take another chug, etc.

The TJ's psyllium is unflavored. My preference is to use orange-flavored Metamucil in water. (I use a mixture of the stuff with sugar and the sugar-free, because after a lot of experimentation I found that the taste that way was better than the taste of either one alone.) However, I respect people who want to mix their fiber with something like orange juice, and thus need an unflavored product. It's just not for me.

I tried it for about three days all by itself, and then just couldn't stand it anymore, between the lack of flavor, the horrid grittiness, and the physical/mechanical difficulty of getting it down.

Instead, I found that I could add a heaping tablespoon of it to my usual Metamucil mixture without much problem. The resulting slurry was noticeably thicker and grittier than without the addition, but not prohibitively so. Then the question became, would adding more fiber make for better results?

In theory, it should. More fiber means more water retained in the colon. That's how the stuff works, after all: it's hydrophilic, and holds water in a kind of gel. This then resists the natural tendency of the water to get absorbed into the bloodstream through the wall of the intestine. More water in the stools makes them softer, more deformable, easier to pass. That's how it helps prevent constipation. And more is better, up to some very high limit.

At least that's the theory. In practice, it turned out, not so much.

One of the really annoying common features of IBS is incomplete evacuation. You go, but don't feel finished. So you sit and wait--and nothing more happens. Finally, you give up, have to use a ton of toilet paper to get clean, yet walk away sure that the job isn't done. But you have to get on with your day sooner or later. Usually within an hour or so, you get the urge again, and the rest finally comes. A big daily dose of fiber supplementation is highly effective at fixing this problem. You sit, evacuate cleanly and completely, one quick virtually spotless wipe, and it's done. Very satisfying, after living with the frustrations of incomplete evacuation.

For reasons that I cannot explain, however, adding the TJ's psyllium to my usual dose of Metamucil made this problem worse, not better. At first I couldn't believe this result; it makes no sense. Since IBS can have a hefty degree of day-to-day variation to begin with (pretty much the hallmark of the condition), I thought maybe something else was causing me to have a temporary slow-down, and the TJ's psyllium just happened to be in the mix when that was happening.

In order to find out, I set a schedule and used the TJ's addition for one or two weeks, then off (i.e., just my regular Metamucil) for one or two weeks. After six such on/off cycles, I was thoroughly convinced: Adding TJ's to my Metamucil unquestionably caused nearly daily episodes of incomplete evacuation, which almost never troubles me on my usual routine. This is a completely counterintuitive result, and I am utterly at a loss to explain it. Maybe it's some sort of idiosyncratic reaction between my bowel and this product that will not happen to anybody else. But I used up the entire canister of the stuff in this months-long experiment, and I couldn't deny the reality of what it was doing. The weeks on it were problematic. The weeks off it were not.

Adding the TJ's fiber to Metamucil also triggered an unmistakable, pronounced increase in flatulence. Because I live alone and work from home, I don't think I inflicted this side effect on anybody else. But woe be unto family members if you try this stuff and it has the same effect on you that it did on me. You might want to be sure you have a dog that you can blame it on.

To summarize: For me, this stuff added expense, gassiness, bad taste, and unpleasant grittiness, all while worsening the problems I was trying to use it to fix. IBS has a ton of person-to-person variability, so, as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. But for me, it was about a complete a failure as anything I might take for my IBS could be.

For that dubious distinction, I'm putting Secrets of the Psyllium in my Bottom Ten list. And yes, I do see the juvenile humor in that.

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Shredded Cheese Blend: Swiss & Gruyere

If you buy shredded cheese, it's because you plan to sprinkle it on top of some other food, right? So a key part of the job description is that the flavor of the cheese blend nicely with other things. And therein lies the problem with this cheese. Pop a few shreds in your mouth, and it tastes fine. Put it on other things, however, and it doesn't play so nice. The specific problem is that the distinctive flavor of the Swiss is hugely dominant over the mild Gruyere. In fact, eating this blend alone, I can't taste the Gruyere, even though it's one of my favorite kinds of cheese.

This stuff isn't bad. It's just a little off for the kinds of uses to which I think most people (including me) would want to put it.

Will I buy it again? 

Not likely.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Creamy Tomato Soup

This is excellent: creamy, flavorful, delicious. I think I like it a little bit less than the similar Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup, but it's been quite a while since I had the latter, so I think I would have to try them together to make a clear determination.

But I can tell you this: Other then the occasional use in a recipe, I'm done with Campbell's tomato soup, of which I have consumed in my life approximately enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Now I know better.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, August 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Bambino Pepperoni Pizza

Nothing complicated or mysterious here. The box contains four small pizzas. Two at a time are just the right amount for one person.

This is better-than-average frozen pepperoni pizza. The sauce is the real star: tangy, and lots of it.

I also like the fact that they're small enough to fit two inside my toaster oven, which means that I can skip the warm-up time, energy costs, and house-heating effect of using the big oven.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I like.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Mandarins

A friend emailed me a while back, encouraging me to try Trader Joe's mandarins in a bag: "One of the best things they sell.... I haven't had a dry, disappointing one yet -- unlike the little oranges you get at, say, Cub."

So I bought a bag.

It's true that none were inedible, but my sample of one bag wasn't the joy I had hoped it would be. There was quite a bit of variation in the degree of sweetness and juiciness. A few were really good, most just kind of average, none much below average. All were easy to peel, which is in itself a minor miracle. I found only two seeds in the whole bagful--both, by odd coincidence, in the very last piece of fruit.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Not so much because they were bad, but because a whole bag really pushes the limit of how many time I'll want to snack on the same kind of fruit in the amount of time I have before they go bad.

But there's a quality issue in addition to the quantity issue: TJ's "stems and leaves" California mandarins were of higher average quality and more consistent, and have the added advantage (for me) of coming in smaller numbers. Of course, these differences may just be artifacts of having had such a small sample of each, so perhaps more experience would change my perspective.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

Ten things I buy from Trader Joe's for no-cook dinners

Trader Joe's formula for business success

The lazy girl's guide to Trader Joe's best foods

New Trader Joe's items for August rated

New Trader Joe's products to try

Best tweets of the week:


And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Minestrone Soup

This is unforgivably bland, with every last bit of decent flavor thrashed out of it by that evil Trader Joe's Blandification Committee. Not worth the space it will take up on your shelf, on your table, or in your stomach.

Will I buy it again? 


Friday, August 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Creamy Unsalted Peanut Butter

This is the first peanut butter I've bought from Trader Joe's. (I reviewed the no-stir peanut butter first, because it was a brand-new product, but I was already deep into this jar when I did that.) I've heard people rave about some of TJ's peanut butters, but I couldn't remember exactly which ones they said they loved. So I kind of picked one at random.

It was an unfortunate choice.

First, this is one that you have to stir up every time you use it, because the oil separates out. That's annoying. But it wouldn't be a dealbreaker if the peanut butter were amazing. It's not.

I had never had unsalted peanut butter before--really didn't even know that there was such a thing. Closely related to that fact, I had never noticed the role that salt plays in the overall taste of peanut butter. Now I know: it's crucial.

I wouldn't call this stuff inedible. I've had it a few times, and I plan to finish the jar. But I find it unpalatable on its own. I have to put extra honey or jam on a sandwich with it to compensate for the peanut butter being less flavorful than a lifetime of experience has taught me to expect.

If I had a health condition that required me to drastically cut back on my sodium intake, I'm sure I'd be happy to have this product available. But I don't. And the absence of salt is not a minor impingement on the flavor--it's a wholesale change for the worse. I'm not ready to give it up.

Will I buy it again? 

No way. The double-whammy of having the tedium of stirring up the jar, plus the absence of salt, make this a one-time experiment I won't repeat.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Strawberries

This is the most successful of the Trader Joe's freeze-dried fruits I've tried so far. (The others were raspberries and Fuji apples.) The strawberry flavor is preserved vividly, perfectly. And the slices are not shriveled and ugly; they look like actual strawberry slices, with the natural, vibrant color. It's only when you touch them that their dryness gives them away as not fresh.

In spite of that success, I don't think I'll be back for more. I couldn't get past the strangeness of having the appearance and taste of real strawberries, but a texture like a brittle cracker that disintegrates into powder when chewed. For when fresh strawberries are out of season, I would much rather keep on hand a bag of TJ's excellent frozen strawberries. The only trouble with those is the need to wait an hour or so for a bowlful of them to thaw before eating, but that's a minor inconvenience. The frozen berries not only result in something much closer to fresh in texture, but you get a lot more of them for less money.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. But I recommend trying them once just to experience how right these are in terms of flavor and appearance, juxtaposed with how wrong they are in texture. It's kind of trippy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Lemon Kitchen Hand Soap

I think this is my favorite of the several liquid hand soaps I've tried from Trader Joe's. It foams nicely, rinses off easily, and has a very mild, pleasant scent.

But really, I don't know why I keep trying these, because I know that ultimately none of them are going to replace my standard product (SoftSoap's "Soothing Aloe Vera"), which I think is just about perfect--and cheap. Why does everything have to be scented to smell like something it's not?

Will I buy it again? 

No. However, if I had to choose one of the TJ's liquid hand soaps to become my usual product, I think it would be this one. Or possibly the "Herbal Nourish" one. Close call.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips

This is kind of a freaky snack. How do you make mango slices "crispy and crunchy"? Are they deep-fried? Freeze-dried? I DON'T KNOW! But Trader Joe's does indeed make them crispy and crunchy--more than you probably imagine that they could. The things look like crisp French fries, but they're much, much crunchier.

I actually liked them a lot. They are not sweetened; the only ingredients are mango and palm oil. The latter is what makes me suspect that they are fried at some point in the process. About 1/3 of the calories are from fat, the rest from the natural fruit sugars.

Oddly, TJ's has decided that this whole bag constitutes one serving. I got two out of it, without being stingy; I had as much as I wanted both times. Usually I find that TJ's estimates of portion size are laughably small.

You'd better not be watching a movie or listening to something important while you eat them, because the sound of crunching in your head will make hearing any outside noises impossible. You could eat these in the front row of a heavy-metal concert and never hear a single note. (Come to think of it, that might be the best way to experience such a concert.) It's seriously one of the crunchiest foods I've ever eaten, which is so not what I expect from anything made of mangoes. It's a slightly unsettling juxtaposition, because of how radically it deviates from the texture you've learned to associated with mango, which is all soft and juicy.

The strangeness and the goodness combine to make this a quintessentially Trader Joe's kind of snack. I approve.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, August 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberries (fresh)

Fresh produce is always a dicey proposition at Trader Joe's. As a general rule, it's not their strong suit. But these turned out to be pretty good. They were not cosmetically perfect--a fair number of pale spots, cuts, and bruises--but very tasty. They suffered a bit by comparison, because Nina and I had had some gigantic, flawless, exceptionally flavorful strawberries FedEx'ed from Harry & David just a couple of days before. It's going to be hard to beat those at any reasonable price. But if I could be assured that every carton of strawberries I bought from TJ's would be as good as this one was (i.e., no discovering that the ones in the middle are moldy or mushy), I would happily make it the main place I buy them.

Will I buy it again? 

I'm willing to keep trying, until they sell me some bad ones.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Trader Joe's 50% Less Salt Roasted & Salted Peanuts

I love Trader Joe's regular peanuts. I hoped that I would like these as much, or nearly as much, thereby cutting a bit of unneeded salt out of my life.

Nope. The missing half of the salt is not superfluous, but essential to the taste. Whether I eat these one at a time, a few at a time, or a handful at a time, the only thing I can think is "these need more salt."

I suppose that one could get used to the reduced salt. But the fact is that I don't want to. I'm fortunate enough not to need to do so for any health/medical reason, so I'm just not willing to make the sacrifice.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, August 6, 2016


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links about Trader Joe's.

Best things to buy at Trader Joe's

A dietitian's top 10 prepackaged food picks from Trader Joe's

Everybody's in love with a Trader Joe's employee

The plight of living in Hawaii, where there is no Trader Joe's

Best tweets of the week:



And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Organic Greek Style Nonfat Yogurt 0% Milkfat Plain

I don't eat yogurt. I bought this so that Nina could put a dollop of it on any appropriate soup that I might serve with dinner. So I got nothin' to say, and this post will be really pointless if Nina doesn't chime in with some insight.

Nina's View 

Nina's got nothin' to say either. It's yogurt, nothing special. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Lemonade

I shouldn't like this. It's mostly sugar water, with some mango puree and lemon juice added. It's fully in line with the big-jug juice "blends" that Nina and I have condemned here too many times.

But I do kinda like it. The mango and lemon are nicely balanced. The sweetness is subdued enough that if I'm not paying attention, I can believe that it's natural sugar from the fruits, even though it really isn't. It feels refreshing.

I don't want to think about it too much, or I'll analyze my way out of liking it.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. It was an interesting and pleasant change-up, but I really prefer straight lemonade.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Henry Hotspur's Hard Pressed For Cider

I'm possibly the worst person on the planet to review this trio of drinks. I almost never drink alcohol--it's literally about once a year. That's because I really hate the taste of ethanol. For me, whether an alcoholic drink is successful basically boils down to whether it can adequately mask the taste of the alcohol, which is admittedly a pretty bizarre criterion.

Nina bought and served the plain one (left in the photo). I quite liked it--good flavors of apple, cinnamon, and clove. On another occasion, she went for the Spiced version, and I liked that even better.

This prompted me to pick up a bottle of all three on my next TJ's trip, which is what resulted in the picture above. Nina and I tried the third variety, Ginger, together. I didn't like it much at all. It felt like the apple and ginger clashed.

I was then left to drink my other two bottles (plain and Spiced) on my own. For reasons that I can't clearly articulate, I did not like either one as much as I had when I first tried them, though the Spiced remained much favored over the plain. Maybe things just taste better at Nina's house, or when I'm with her. (I'm serious about that being a real possibility. Of course it would be a purely psychological phenomenon, but when we're talking about something as subjective and contingent on context as how a thing tastes, the psychology cannot be dismissed lightly.)

Will I buy it again? 

No. For a brief time, I thought somebody had finally produced an alcoholic beverage that I could actually enjoy, rather than just tolerate. But on a revisit, this impression didn't hold up.

Nina's View

I like all three of these, but the Spiced one is my least favorite. It's just got too much going on. 

I have, so far, found some variation in the flavor of the regular one—I think it's possible that there is a bit of difference from batch to batch. It's less noticeable in the flavored versions.

I think these beverages are best enjoyed quite cold either a) in front of a roaring fire or in a cozy room full of friends or b) on a nice hot, sunny day. I think the non-Spiced varieties go very well with boldly flavored food.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trader Joe's dry cat food

Trader Joe's sells three different varieties of dry cat food. Or, more precisely, Trader Joe's has sold them. I'm really not clear on whether all three are still currently available. In no particular order, these are the Whole & Natural Cat Food Formula (which I'll call "Wholesome"), the Premium Dry Cat Food With Chicken & Rice Formula ("Premium"), and the Premium Chicken Meal Formula Cat Food ("Meal").

I spent nearly a year gradually rotating my cat, Lucy, through these, along with what is generally regarded as one of the best dry cat foods on the market, the "Natural Evolutionary Diet--Chicken Recipe" from Blue Wilderness (dark blue bag).

To remind you of the surpassing beauty of the food tester for this post, here's my little girl, lying on a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

This is who we have to please. And all four products seem to do that equally well.

Lucy isn't so good with words, so my only means of judging how well she likes her food are her actions. Specifically, does she eat it all at once (good!) or eat just enough to take the edge off of her hunger, and come back later when she's hungry again (not so good)? Occasionally she has tried foods that she dislikes enough not to touch at all, but none of the ones under consideration here triggered that reaction. With all four of these products, she would sometimes eat it all at once, and sometimes do the eat-some-come-back-later thing. I could not tell any consistent pattern; it seemed pretty random which days she would do which. But the fact that no product consistently got one type of response or the other suggests to me that she deemed them all about equally fit to eat.

How do they compare nutritionally? Let's take the Blue Wilderness as the standard for comparison. Its first three ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal. It contains no poultry by-products and no grains. It is 40% protein, 18% fat.

The first ingredients in "Wholesome" are chicken meal, brown rice, and whole oats. It is 32% protein, 20% fat.

With "Premium," it's chicken meal, ground rice, and ground corn. 32% protein, 14% fat.

Finally, with "Meal," it's chicken meal, ground whole corn, and wheat flour, with 30% protein, 18% fat.

In short, all of the three TJ's products are significantly inferior to the Blue Wilderness. Of course, they're also hugely cheaper.

For more than a year now, Lucy's vet has been urging me to stop feeding her dry cat food at all. This is not based on some particular problem Lucy has; she is, I'm happy to report, perfectly healthy. But the vet explained that for a variety of reasons, dry cat food just is not good for cats. It's a lecture the vet delivers to all of her clients.

I was skeptical of this at first. After all, vets, like other professionals, can develop idiosyncratic opinions that don't necessarily line up nicely with what the science actually shows. But her urgency on this point prompted me to look into it on my own, and I have become convinced that she is correct.

Dry food is a lot cheaper than canned, and it brings with it substantial advantages in mess and convenience for the owner. But it's not better for the cat. All dry cat foods include large amounts of carbohydrates, which cats just can't process well. Their natural diet of mice, birds, and other small animals is basically protein and fat, with very little carbohydrate. Wet food also forces a certain minimum amount of water, which house cats typically drink too little of.

And so, after months of contemplation, procrastination, self-justification, and dithering, back in February I finally made the big change. Lucy had been getting dry food in the morning,  canned food at night, and I switched her from that regimen to all canned food. Specifically, it's "Fowl Ball" from Weruva, which Lucy loves. Among all canned cat food, it's comparatively high in protein, low in fat, and low in carbs. (See here for a detailed discussion of what you should look for in cat food, plus a downloadable spreadsheet comparing commercial products on those most important parameters.)

I keep some of the Blue Wilderness dry around for rare occasions, such as when I'm going to be gone for two feedings in a row; I can put out a bunch of it, so Lucy can graze on it through the day as she sees fit. That way, I don't worry that she's going hungry waiting for my late arrival. Or when I'm away for a few days and somebody else is taking care of her, the dry is easier to deal with. But her mainstay is now something that I think is just about the highest quality cat food I can provide for her, given the limitations of (1) reasonable cost and (2) her fairly picky palate.

Will I buy it again? 

No. In February, after I finally made the big switch, I took the leftovers to a local animal shelter.

I'm not trying to be prescriptive or dogmatic about what every other cat owner should do. I'm well aware that cats can be extremely willful animals, who won't necessarily agree to like or even tolerate what their humans think they should. There's also a huge variety of circumstances--financial and otherwise--in which cats are cared for, so I make no pretense to having the universal answer. However, even if you have made a thoughtful, informed decision to have part or all of your cat's diet be dry food, you can do much better than any of the Trader Joe's offerings.