Sunday, August 20, 2006

An ode: a personal journey...to TJ's

Trader Joe's wine store on 14th street in Manhattan.

I recently made a trip, a pilgrimage of sorts, that I had avoided for many months. I went to... the new Trader Joe's in New York City. Why was I so reluctant to make this trip? Well, there are issues of nostalgia, of jealousy, of control... let me explain.

Growing up in Northern California, Trader Joe's was a specialty store that my mom went to occasionally to get "treats," things that we didn't get to enjoy that often. Then, I moved to New York where I forgot about TJ's for a long time, until the late 90's, when a branch opened in Long Island, close to where I was going to college at the time. It reawakened so many memories in me, and of course, became indispensable for my student food budget. After college, I moved to New York City, where TJ's once again became a faint memory, a place I would visit every couple of months on visits to Long Island.

After a couple of years, I decided to move to Southern California to go to graduate school, a place that is pretty much awash in Trader Joe's stores. I would walk there at least a couple of times a week, all our parties would be stocked with food and wine from there, we would go there for hostess gifts, conference food, snacks, everything. Moving back to New York, to a part of the state without a TJ's in the 4-hour radius, TJ's once again became a luxury, a place I would visit on vacations and haul back a stash.

Over the holidays, I was in St. Louis, and upon my inevitable visit to TJ's a cashier told me and Daiku that a branch was opening up in... New York City. In Union Square. I took the news pretty hard. It was bad enough when Whole Foods opened, like, 8 branches in my former hometown, but TJ's?? In Union Square? As in, where I used to walk on my commute to work day after day? All these New Yorkers were getting MY store? Leading up to the grand opening, people were breathlessly discussing the impending curiosity, giving hints to the uninitiated as in this article on Slate.com. Or this one.. What would keep me unique, now that New Yorkers had all these west coast things like TJ's, Whole Foods, Jamba Juice, Forever 21... (ok, the list kind of becomes ridiculous here). I was no longer a New York City resident, I was no longer a California resident, I could just sit and sulk from my perch up north.

Or, I could swallow my pride and visit Trader Joes. In NYC. I did this on a weekend trip to the city this weekend. And I was satisfied.

If you don't live near a Trader Joe's, perhaps this fan site (yes, a supermarket that inspires a fan site) might make me seem a little less insane.

your humble blogster browsing the goods at TJ's.

I'm not the first to blog about this little mecca of unique food (and a good friend to a veggie person such as myself) and I will not be the last, but this was quite a personal journey for me.

Here are my top 10 Trader Joe's staples, in no particular order.

10. Black Truffle Oil
9. Sharon's Coconut Sorbet (so creamy, makes my vegan self weep) All of Sharon's sorbets are incredibly true to the fruit, organic, and not overly sweetened. A great combination is passion fruit and coconut, or lemon and coconut. Take it to your next potluck party and be a hero.
8. Curry powder. Daiku and I usually enjoy mixing and matching our own spices to make curry dishes, but when time is of the essence, this strikingly flavorful powder can not be beat.
7. Olive Oil. TJ's president's choice organic extra virgin olive oil is great. But the prices are so fantastic that you can try all kinds of olive oils- I have never been disappointed.
6. TJ's plain soymilk. One of my favorites.
5. Eggless egg salad. Enough said.
4. Parveggiano Reggiano. This is not vegan. However, it is Parmeggiano Reggiano made without the traditional animal rennet (it uses a plant enzyme instead) which makes it a better choice for our vegetarian friends. One of those things that makes you wonder, if this is possible, why can't the whole world just do it and leave unnecessary products like animal rennet behind?
3. Frozen vegetable gyoza. So quick, just bake, fry, or steam. With a side of broccoli rabe or spinach, it's pretty much a complete meal. Mmmmmm.
2. Refrigerated ready-to-use pizza dough. White or whole-wheat.
1. Organic Just Blueberry preserves. So full of blueberries. So low in sugar. It even qualifies as a superfood!

What's your favorite?...


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1 comment:

KathyF said...

This little post has no comments, so I'll toss one in.

I've never been to a TJ's. Which makes me a Trader Joe's virgin, I guess. One day I'll have to hunt one down on my visits to the states.