Category Archives: trader joe’s

Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day! At work, we’ve been “celebrating” it all week, getting e-mails on earthy things to do and how to “green” our lives to better the planet. It seems like every year “going green” is pushed more and more, or being touted as the new thing to do. But I feel like we’ve been trying to conserve resources and live sustainably for a long time (is it just me?) So, in honor of Earth Day, I thought I’d list out some things we’ve tried to incorporate into our lives in an attempt to live green, live sustainably, or just live better.

  • A couple summers ago, I stocked up on round, plastic divider plates (they were, like, 99 cents each) and we tend to use those at our parties instead of paper plates. We still have a stock of paper (and Styrofoam) plates and bowls, though, so I also throw those on the table if they can be useful.
  • We’ve amassed enough pint glasses and other such drinking vessels that we don’t use plastic cups at our parties, either.
  • Every summer, I try to plant enough vegetables in the garden to feed us. I’m not always successful, but I think I end up doing a decent job. Last year, I canned 6 pints of tomatoes and froze many bags of Anaheim and jalapeño peppers.. I’m usually not successful with lettuce, but tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers I can do. I still buy fruit, since we don’t really have many fruit trees.
  • When waiting for the shower water to warm up, we catch the cold water in a bucket. That water is used on the citrus trees (which don’t have drip heads) or to supplement watering trees and plants during the summer when they might need a little extra. I don’t know how much we’re really saving, but it feels better to know we’re not wasting that water. I’d say over the course of a week we’ll fill up two 4-gallon buckets, give or take.
  • While I’d like to claim raising chickens is a sustainable effort, I don’t think it really is. Our chickens are for eggs first, pets second, probably never for meat. I was able to stop buying eggs once the chickens got into the swing of laying, but now that we’re down to one laying bird I’ll have to wait for the baby chicks to grow up. It was really nice not having to buy eggs and our chickens gave us some beautiful tasty eggs. Once we were done with the hard work of building their coop and securing the pen, they really weren’t much work to raise. Honestly, if you look at raising chickens on an operating cost, I think it’s pretty economical. A 50-lb bag of feed lasts at least 2 months for 2 chickens, plus whatever kitchen scraps you give them. If you assume one chicken lays 7 days a week and the other lays 6 days a week, it all works out to a little under $2 per dozen eggs. The caveat is that you have a potentially high capital cost upfront, with the feeders and coop. A lot of people are able to build a coop out of salvaged or cheap material, but I went for ease and convenience, which means I just bought a lot of stuff new.
  • I cook a lot of dinners at home. It doesn’t really fit into the “green” or “sustainable” category, but I think it’s healthier for us. It’s definitely cheaper, especially since most of our meals can be portioned out for work lunches later in the week. I think that definitely ends up healthier for me.
  • We have taken the step to replace any food storage container that might be heated up to a glass container. Dry foods still get stored in plastic containers, mainly because we already had them and I didn’t want to just throw them out. We also take our coffee to work in ceramic mugs with the silicone lids. So, trying to reduce our plastic.
  • Speaking of plastic, I’ve gotten a lot better at taking reuseable bags with me to the store. I keep them in the car, load them up, then hang them on a hook in the kitchen when I’ve unloaded the groceries. Then I just grab them on the way out the door in the morning.
  • I’ve been checking a lot of books out at the library. I can’t remember the last time I bought a book (aside from a cookbook) to read. I don’t always have the latest bestseller to read, but I’ve also found some books I might not have discovered otherwise. Some books I’ve found aren’t worth finishing, and then I don’t feel bad about having bought a book I didn’t like. I’ve also checked out cookbooks and found I wouldn’t ever use them, which prevents me from unnecessary purchases. The library system is really easy. You set up a request list online and they get placed on a hold shelf when they’re available. I get an e-mail when something new is on the hold shelf and I think you have a week to go pick it up. It usually works out that by the time I have books to return to the library, there’s something waiting for me to pick up, too.

Things we don’t do, for various reasons:

  • I tried converting Travis over to cloth napkins instead of paper, but it didn’t take. They weren’t as absorbing as paper, plus they had a tendency to pick up lint and sometimes fur going through the wash cycle. I didn’t like having to reuse napkins or having to keep a huge stock of them so we would always have clean ones. As a concession, instead of full-on paper napkins, Travis now takes half a paper towel and tears that in half again, so we’re essentially using ¼ of a paper towel as a napkin. I still use paper napkins at work, although if I was hard-core I could bring my own cloth napkin in along with my lunch.
  • All my exercise takes place indoors. We have both a treadmill and an elliptical machine. I know it’s better to be out in the fresh air instead of using electricity, but I prefer to get all sweaty in the privacy of my home. Plus, Travis doesn’t run with me anymore and I always had this fear of running by myself after work, especially since I would probably run the same route all the time. And this was before all the crazy killings that just happened.
  • I don’t buy all-organic foods. I do buy organic milk and I usually buy eggs from Trader Joe’s (which aren’t organic but do come from farms that don’t use hormones on their chickens), but that’s really it. Sometimes I’ll buy organic fruits or vegetables, but usually I just buy what’s on sale. Any meat I buy is from Costco, because they have great prices and the meat tastes good. I did buy organic (but not free-range) roasting chickens once, and they were 4 times more expensive than regular chicken and they tasted the same (at least, to us). I do buy wild salmon and not farmed salmon and the rest of our seafood comes from Trader Joe’s (who maintains sustainable seafood practices). I have not watched Food, Inc. and I probably won’t because, while I understand the current commodity meat situation, I’m not sure I’m ready to jump on that wagon. True, we really don’t eat red meat often enough that buying more it from more expensive sources would hurt my budget, but the price jump is felt all the same. I’m sure we’ll get there at some point, slowly, but not just yet.
  • I used to have a worm compost bin to “recycle” kitchen scraps but have since found the chickens to be much more effective. Chickens eat just about anything and they eat it faster than worms do.

Have you made any changes to live “green”? Are there things you’d like to try but haven’t yet?

Also, congrats to Carol (CAB Cooks) who won the movie giveaway!  I hope you find the movie is worthy of some rainy-day popcorn munching.  If not, then I hope the soundtrack at least provides some good tunes!

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Reduced Guilt Brownie

I’m a sucker for promises of guiltless, fast desserts When I saw the box of Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Fat Free Brownies, I wasn’t in the least bit interested until I saw they had directions for making one brownie. Two tablespoons of mix and one tablespoon of yogurt and you’re off! I’m also wary of microwaved baked goods, but I stuck my little dish in for 45 seconds and was rewarded with some chocolatey and vaguely satisfying.

It’s more cakey than brownie-like, but it’s not chewy like some microwaved breads can get. I wouldn’t recommend using Greek yogurt, like I did, since you’ll have to add milk to make up for the consistency and then you’ll have too much batter to cook in 45 seconds. I’m wondering if you could just use milk, since we always have that on hand, which means this really could be a last-minute dessert fix.

For me. I would never serve microwaved fat-free brownies to people, but to whip one up for just me, I think TJ did a decent job.

Popovers, already popped

this is not a potato

Popovers are not hard to make.  You whip up a batter, let it sit, pour it into hot tins, and then bake until poofy.  But, like everything, sometimes you just want something now.  Right Now.  Considering that I have a whole category of posts dedicated to things I’ve found at Trader Joe’s, you may not be surprised that when I saw a box of frozen popovers in the store I didn’t hesitate to throw them into my cart.  Actually, the purpose was to have an easy breakfast before we got started cooking and cleaning for our dinner party last month.

They come in a box of 4, each individually wrapped in plastic.  Not environmentally sound, though, considering you’ll probably go through all 4 popovers fairly quickly.  They are already baked (and puffed up), so all you have to do it heat them up in a toaster oven – 5 minutes.  So easy!  They’re a little crispier than when I make popover, but they’re buttery and good all the same.

For breakfast, I made soft boiled eggs and them plopped the eggs into the middle of the popover.  Then, for lunch, I took some crab salad, split the popover, and we had a lovely light lunch that took 2 minutes of my time.

Macarons at Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s has made me buy some pretty tasty things: panna cotta, popovers, canneles, creme brûlée, and chocolate covered Jo-Joes, among other things. But now they have macarons. Not macaroons, the chewy coconut cookies. Macarons, the fancy French cookie made of almonds and egg whites and usually filled with something good. Found in the freezer section, you get 12 for $5. That’s a better price than I’ve ever paid for one of these suckers.

Are they as good as the best I’ve found in SF or NY? No, but they’re certainly not the worst I’ve ever had. For $5, I think it would satisfy any cravings of mine.

Trader Joe’s Corn Dogs

mmm... fake meat

mmm... fake meat

By no means do I consider myself a vegetarian.  I’ll dig into a good ribeye or pork roast without hesitation.  Granted, I have been looking into meatless meals and things out of consideration for our health, but I could never give it up completely.  For one, bacon is only bacon in its pure, fatty, porky form.  For another, most meat substitutes don’t really satisfy a meat craving (which leads me to wonder, if you’re a vegetarian, why are you craving meat?)  But, there are certain things that are so removed from meat form that I think meatless substitutes might work.  Soy chorizo is one.  Apparently, these corn dogs are another.

You have to admit, the biggest reason you’re eating a corn dog is for the corn-bready batter.  But they’re so bad for you, you really can’t justify indulging in them very often.  I haven’t eaten vegetarian hot dogs, so I don’t know what they’re like, but I can tell you that if you dip it in batter and fry it up, you can’t tell the difference.  I’ve heard Morningstar Farms makes a good meatless corn dog; I’ve also heard rumors that the Trader Joe’s version is actually the same as Morningstar Farms.  Whatever.  If you bake them so they’re crispy and swirl it through ketchup and mustard, it makes a decent snack.  Two and a glass of milk could even be considered dinner, if you’re lazy (which I often am if I don’t have to cook dinner for anyone else).

Just make sure the sticks are securely buried in the trash can so curious dogs can’t pull them and nibble on the extra-crunchy batter part that sticks to it.

hanging out and waiting

T is out at Phileas Fogg’s having a beer with his buddy, so I’m taking the rare night alone to just sit and be lazy.  I watched the Tony Awards from Sunday (I was given an evil look when I turned it on in his presence and then I had the remote taken away from me!)  Then I watched a taped Pushing Daisies and got sad that there’s only one more episode left.  How will Emerson ever find his daughter?

Now that the kitchen is all put back together, I’ve been itching to do some serious baking.  But we keep going out of town so I haven’t had the chance!  So, I’ve just been cooking meals when we’re home.  Last Sunday we had soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s with potatoes and eggs.  I love chorizo but it’s so greasy when you cook it that I can’t bring myself to eat it.  I read that the soy chorizo was pretty good, especially for being non-meat, so I figured we’d give it a shot.  I’m not sure how the nutritional values compare to regular chorizo, but the texture was pretty similar.  It was a little dry, but that also meant it wasn’t swimming in grease!  It was well spiced and quite tasty, so now when we’re in the mood for chorizo, it’s definitely going to be soy.

Speaking of the kitchen, I have a beautiful new range hood that I bought from Sears.com.  And it has no grease filters.  You know, those things at the top of your hood that get all gunky and sticky and disgusting?  Yeah, I have none of those.  But I’m supposed to have four.  Four!  They weren’t in the box when the hood got installed (by Sears).  I keep getting bounced around, leaving messages, and getting ignored by the Carmel Mountain store.  Customer service tries to help, but apparently they have to go through the physical store to do anything?  So, I keep having to make phone calls.  It’s a bit of a pain.  Anyone know of a good way to actually get results?

Something else I picked up at Trader Joe’s (at the new Mira Mesa store! It’s so huge!) is a bag of their Five Seed Almond Bars.  They taste like pumpkin cookie bars, with flax seed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and… uh… two other kinds of seeds.  I thought it would be a nice grab-n-go thing in the morning, but they’re actually really good and I’ve been eating one for dessert.  They’re moist, not crunchy, just slightly sweet, and nutty from all the seeds.

And… the dogs are going crazy, so T must be home.  Time to wrap up!

I hate Splenda

There.  I’ve said it.  I hate Splenda.  Yes, I know everyone thinks Splenda is practically the same as sugar and tastes the same as sugar, but it’s not and it doesn’t.  Splenda (the brand name) is sucralose, which is a chlorinated sucrose product.  It is not natural and it most definitely has a funny taste to it.  Now, stevia is natural and is a completely different story, but I still don’t like it.

I’m not sure how it happened, but Splenda appeared and all of a sudden the little yellow packets were a godsend.  People started dumping it into iced tea and baking with it and then Splenda came out with a baking blend of Splenda and brown sugar and the food world went insane.  I think Splenda seemed more natural because the tagline used to be “Tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar” AND the proportions were more equal to sugar.  Where a pinch of NutraSweet was the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar (or something), a teaspoon of Splenda was the same as a teaspoon of sugar.  Want to know why?  Because the Splenda people added water-soluble fillers to their product.  Ta da!

Now, I’ll admit, I jumped on the bandwagon for a while.  I think it was when I had the brilliant idea to go on the South Beach diet.  So, I put Splenda in my coffee.  And I drank it, because Splenda was allowed where sugar wasn’t.  And when I gave up on the South Beach diet (because it’s a little bit crazy, although the concept in general makes sense, and because I’m lousy at diets in general), I went back to sugar and decided Splenda tastes funny.  It tastes like chemicals.  Because it’s a chemically altered product. 

There are dozens of sugar-free, diet-friendly, blah blah blah recipes out there that call for Splenda.  These recipes also tell you that people won’t know the difference because Splenda tastes like sugar.  It’s all a lie, unless you’re one of those people who exclusively uses artificial sweeteners.  In that case, you definitely won’t be able to tell any difference with Splenda-sweetened products.  You’re just used to it.

A friend of ours found out she has gestational diabetes, and one of her friends (totally not me) said she would gladly bake her desserts made with Splenda so she could satisfy her sweet tooth.  My first thought after hearing that was, really?  Feeding your body desserts made with artificial sweetener is better than fruits or honey-sweetened treats?  I mean, I know nothing about being pregnant, but I would rather forgo soda altogether than ingest the diet versions.  No one would dream of baking with Equal or NutraSweet because those have the stigma of being made of chemicals and are artificial.  I’m betting that most people don’t realize Splenda isn’t all that different.  Different chemicals, yes, but it’s not any more natural.

So, then I started wondering if there is such a thing as a healthy sugar.  I know there’s honey and maple syrup, but are they better than sugar?  Less refined?  I also remember an old co-worker praising agave syrup in her raw food desserts.  Like chocolate “pudding” made with avocados, agave syrup, and cocoa powder. 

I found agave syrup at Trader Joe’s one day.  I picked it up, not knowing much about it other than the fact that it’s used in a lot of raw food recipes (being processed at a temperature below 118F), which makes it sound healthy, and it’s derived from a plant (I guess kind of like stevia?)  It tastes like a sweet syrup, but without the underlying flavors in honey or maple syrup, which makes it nice and neutral.  It’s supposed to be good for diabetics due to its low glycemic index.  I’ve been using it in my coffee instead of sugar and I can’t really taste the difference.  I’ve also used it in place of sugar for poached pears and a fruit tart.  Aside from the fruit tart getting more liquidy than usual, it all tasted fine.  Sweet and fine and not chemically altered.

Now, I am by no means an expert on artificial sweeteners.  The things I know are from the internet, and we all know how reliable the internet can be.  But I’ve always been suspicious of Splenda, because my tongue was telling me that it didn’t taste like sugar, so reading what I’ve found makes sense.  I also suspect people have embraced Splenda because it has no calories, unlike honey and agave syrup.  If you’re dieting, “0 calories” probably means more to you than “natural sweeter”.  By all means, go for it!  Embrace the artificial sweetener in the neutral yellow packets.  Just stop trying to tell me it’s natural and tastes just like sugar. 

In the end, I just really wanted to rant a little.  To vent.  I’m not judging you for enjoying your Splenda.  Unless you’re looking at it as a health food instead of a diet aid.  In that case, I probably am judging you a tiny bit.  But only in my head.