Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ode to Trader Joe

We're lucky to live a few blocks from the Back Bay Trader Joe's, where we look forward to seeing Phil, the Stephen King lookalike, dispensing sports and food wisdom at his register. On our last trip, we met a lively French cashier, Jean-Phillippe. In his gorgeous accent, he told us that he lives in Aix-en-Provence, but his pension is in dollars and the exchange rate had driven him over here. We sympathized, remembering all the gelato we ate instead of meals on recent trips to Italy.

I hope the exchange rate improves before our next trip, next year. I want to eat! We had a few memorable meals, but not nearly as many as we wanted. When a plain, salad-plate sized pizza is $15, and a small glass of iced tea or coke (I can't drink alcohol, long story) is $6, gelato looks even more attractive. (Especially pistacchio, and cioccolato arancia, and cioccolato fondente....)

We were happier to come back to Boston knowing we could buy whatever we wanted at TJs to restock the kitchen. While food prices are rising insanely—I think my favorite LaBrea wholegrain loaf at Shaw's just increased by $2—TJs still has plenty of deals. Here are some of the things we can't live without:

1. Chocolate raspberry sticks. Satisfyingly chewy and chocolately, but low in fat. (They must be terrible for our teeth, however. I've spent the last few days editing articles dental health articles as a freelancer, and learned too much about the perils of sugar.)

2. Dairy dairy dairy. Cage-free eggs. Big tubs of low-fat plain or vanana (vanilla-banana) yogurt. Real French brie. Happy yellow New Zealand grass-fed cheddar. All still reasonably priced. To indulge: bars of luxurious President butter from France and English Stilton with apricots. We really should switch over to organic milk.

3. Trail mixes and nuts. Our favorite Sweet & Savory Trail Mix has chocolate, white chocolate, and peanut butter chips among the nuts and cranberries. Yep, it's candy, and we don't care.

4. Mushroom risotto. The price on the box went up during the rice crisis. But it went back down. At any price, it's easy to make and tasty, especially if you add shredded cheese and a porcini bouillon cube. These aren't available in the US, so just send me plane fare to Tuscany and I'll return with a porcini-scented suitcase. (I always do.)

5. Fresh pasta. One of our dinner staples, although I have a little trouble keeping those artichoke ravioli from exploding. Their bags of dried Italian pasta are great (and cheap) too.

6. Avocados. I can't have enough guacamole since I learned how to judge an avocado's ripeness—and while the tomatoes are perfect at the farmer's market. I make a lot, since TJs only sells them in bags of four. (At Shaw's they are twice the price.) If only they sold single lemons and limes instead of big bags that would go to waste around here. So I trek to Deluca's for a lime, and then we eat our guac with TJ's baked blue corn chips and their fresh, mild salsa (the one without cilantro, bane of our existence, since it tastes like soap to us).

7. Triple ginger snaps. Big tubs of extravagant, slightly chewy, ginger flavor. These replaced my craving for the extra-thin Swedish kind. But I'll still be very happy to get another big red Swedish tin at Christmas from my brother and his girlfriend.

8. Vitamins and supplements. I don't love them but I also don't like to think about how ill, bald, dry-eyed, sniffly, and rickety we'd be without them. We take flaxseed oil, omega-3s, and their powerhouse Super Crusade multivitamins.

9 Cocoa Hazelnut spread. They discontinued this a while ago, even though people raved about it. It was made with dark chocolate, tastes richer and less sweet than Nutella, and came in cute, hexagonal glass jars. (The plastic Nutella jars seem to react with the oil in the spread, which is just evil.) When a small supply of jars turned up in the warehouse recently, customers in the Brookline store were rejoicing that it was back (luckily, I was there), but alas. I stupidly bought one jar instead of 10. So I spread sparing amounts on my toast and peanut butter, and mornings are good.

There's much more to say about Trader Joe's, but I'm stopping so I'll have time to shop there later today.

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