New Year. New Blog.

Hey, everyone!

I’ve been absent for longer than I’d cared to be. The holidays are generally a busy time in my life, so I was a wee bit preoccupied with that as well as other family matters.

How is everyone’s new year so far? Off to a good start, I hope! I’ve decided to go into 2015 with a healthier outlook on life, and thus I’m beginning a journey into dairy-freedom. I’m starting small, however, and only cutting lactose out of my diet right now. Baby steps. 🙂 I need time to warm up to the long list of foods I will no longer be able to eat once I go dairy-free completely. There are alternatives, of course, but rather than a drastic change, I think titration is a better method. So, that said, I will gradually work my way into being dairy-free. It’s a change I’m excited about, and I want to share the adventure with you, so I’ve started a food-themed blog called Foodsmith! Check it out and follow along if you’re as much of a foodie as I am. Aside from my dietary changes, it will also be home to anything and everything food-related: recipes, foods I love, product reviews, restaurant recommendations, etc. There are so many awesome food blogs out there already, and for the longest time, I didn’t want to add to the list. But I’ve recently delved into the world of Pinterest, and on it I’ve pinned so many delicious looking recipes and things that I want to try in the kitchen, so I just couldn’t help myself any longer. 😀

I will still continue to update Wordsmith, of course. It’s not going anywhere, and I’m excited to see where blogging will take me this year!

What have you all resolved to do in 2015?

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My Top 20 Favorite Trader Joe’s Products

I’ve mentioned on a few occasions that I am gainfully employed with Trader Joe’s. If you’re a regular shopper there, you know what the company is about and you’ve probably already got a mental list of household staples that you pick up each time you go. But for those of you who are new shoppers, or potential new shoppers, or who’ve never even heard of Trader Joe’s, allow me to explain a little bit about the company.

To start, Trader Joe’s is a chain of grocery stores specializing in healthier foods. While there is a hefty amount of organic products, the store does not exclusively sell organic. Eighty percent of Trader Joe’s products are its own brand. That said, you may find other name-brand products such as tooth pastes, cereals, mints, coffees and teas, and Ricola throat lozenges, among others, in-store. No matter the brand, none of the products sold within Trader Joe’s have any preservatives, none contain GMO (genetically-modified organisms), and there are no artificial flavors or added trans fats. You can read more about product info and the company’s history here.

In any case, if you’re planning a trip to your local Trader Joe’s, you still may not know what to expect or have any idea what to pick up while you’re there. That, my friends, is why I’m here. Having been with the company for over a year now, I’ve tried quite a few products, and I’ve still got many left to try. I thought I’d help you newcomers out by suggesting things that are must-remember-to-add-to-the-list essentials every time I go grocery shopping; things I love and think you just might, too.

In no particular order:


 

1. Soft & Juicy Mango

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The section you’ll find it in: Dried fruits and nuts

Soft and juicy mango slices are absolutely delicious. They’re good cut up into smaller pieces with a bowl of cereal, or eaten whole on their own. Warning: highly addictive in the best way.

An excellent alternative to this is a package of Soft & Juicy Mandarins:

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You’ll find it in the same section. Just as addictive and delicious!


2. Lobster Ravioli

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The section you’ll find it in: Deli (refrigerated, not frozen)

I’d never even known that such a beautiful thing existed until I came on as a TJ’s employee. This is a great product to try if you’re broadening your seafood horizons. It goes excellently over pasta with the three-cheese marinara that you’ll also find at Trader Joe’s:

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This delectable sauce can be found in the grocery aisle.


3. Orange Cranberry Tea Scones

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The section you’ll find it in: Bakery

I’ve always been a fan of scones, and TJ’s is the place to go whether you’re looking for scone mixes or ready-made scones. I have to say that of all the different kinds, this is my favorite. The orange and cranberry complement each other so well, and if that’s not enough to sway you, maybe the light glaze covering each one will. I have one every morning as part of my breakfast. 🙂


4. Cookies & Creme Cookie Butter

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The section you’ll find it in: Grocery (nut butters)

Almost everyone who’s new to Trader Joe’s asks what ‘cookie butter’ is. The answer is: amazing. In all seriousness, TJ’s carries a kind of cookie called Speculoos, which looks like this:

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This cookie is then ground up into a spread, forming cookie butter. But what do you do with it? – a common question asked by customers on the cusp of buying a jar. It’s simple: it’s just like peanut butter and can be used in many of the same ways. You can spread it on bread, toast, pancakes, waffles. You can dip fruit in it. You can eat it by the spoonful (my personal favorite way of indulging). If you’ve tasted the cookies before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, I like to describe the taste of cookie butter as sort of a combination of Belgian spice and gingerbread flavors. Cookie butter currently comes in four varieties: crunchy, creamy, cocoa swirl (similar to Nutella), and cookies & creme. It is comparable to Biscoff.


5. Pomegranate & Blueberry Cereal

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The section you’ll find it in: Cereal

As soon as I saw this cereal, I knew I was going to love it. It brings two of my favorite fruits together, and thankfully, it’s not excessively sweet. The best part: it actually comes with dried blueberries, rather than simply blueberry flavored flakes and clusters. It tastes excellent under the surface of a lake of almond milk.


6. 5 Cheese Frusta

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The section you’ll find it in: Frozen (pizzas)

I’m easily swayed by consumer packaging, and this won me over instantly. I’d never seen a pizza folded any way other than into a calzone, so I was intrigued. And how could you argue with ‘5 cheese?’ That’s five different cheeses melted into a single entity. Can’t go wrong there. This personal pizza is frustatingly tasty. See what I did there? (Sidebar: At least I think it’s supposed to be a personal pizza…I certainly ate it by myself in one sitting. Stop judging me.)


7. Green Tea & Lemonade

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The section you’ll find it in: Beverage (juices, non-refrigerated)

This stuff is an interesting and refreshing take on the Half and Half (iced tea + lemonade) formula. Green tea is definitely an acquired taste, and not everybody likes it. In fact, I never used to, but I’ve come to really enjoy it, especially coupled with lemonade. You may be hesitant, but I urge you to try it. If you’re wary about buying a whole bottle, ask someone in the Demo station if you can sample it- they may already have a bottle on hand that you can try.


8. Lavender Hand & Body Lotion

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The section you’ll find it in: Health and Beauty Aids (otherwise known as HABA)

(Note: Reed diffusers not included.)

Handling paper bags all day long (TJ’s strays from using plastic) really dries out the hands. To alleviate that, at my store, there are bottles of this beautiful piece of work on every checkout lane for the cashiers and for customers as well. A fair warning- it’s a bit strong. But it smells lovely and keeps the hands soft, smooth, and moisturized.


9. Almond Milk

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The section you’ll find it in: Dairy (refrigerated)

Though it’s an extremely mild case, I have lactose intolerance. I’ve elected to begin using almond milk since it’s dairy-free, and a plus is that it tastes great. It enhances certain cereals, especially those containing almonds or almond clusters. Since I switched to almond milk, I’ve begun drinking it by the glass as well- something I never did with regular milk. Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, this is a fantastic substitute!


10. Chai Tea Latte

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The section you’ll find it in: Grocery (coffees/teas)

Chai is my favorite kind of tea, and though I don’t mind ordering it from a coffeehouse, it can be a bit pricey. For not much more than Starbucks charges for a venti-sized iced chai, you can get a half gallon of the concentrate at Trader Joe’s with which you can make iced or hot chai in the comfort of your home. It’s affordable, easy, and of course yummy.


11. Spinach, Fontina & Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausage

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The section you’ll find it in: Meat 

This makes for a great meal in the summertime- throw some on the grill and serve sizzling on a hot dog bun with some spicy Dijon mustard, and you’re golden (not unlike your sausages). The spinach-fontina-garlic combination caught my eye initially, and I was not let down in the slightest upon stuffing my face.


12. Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

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The section you’ll find it in: Bakery

These are some of the tastiest, moistest muffins I’ve ever had the pleasure of shoving into my mouth. Personally, I’m not gluten free, but I know several people who are, and I always recommend these. Even if you’re not gluten free yourself, give these muffins a try. Products free of gluten are sometimes crumbly and dry, but these are an exquisite exception. The only downside is that there are only four to a container, and they always seem to be gone too quickly once opened. 😦


13. Garlic Naan

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The section you’ll find it in: Frozen (Indian)

Naan is a must whenever I eat out at an Indian restaurant. Garlic or not, the puff of smoke that billows into the air upon ripping into some freshly prepared naan bread is so enticing. While this is frozen, you’d never know it after taking it out of the oven. I’ve been told by numerous customers that it makes for an excellent pizza dough, and though I haven’t tried that myself yet, I don’t doubt that it would turn out wonderfully. A perfect complement to any Indian meal, as well as by itself!


14. Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips

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The section you’ll find it in: Snacks (chips)

Who doesn’t love the classic tortilla chip? This is a brilliant spin on that concept, because sweet potato. These go just as well with any dip as plain tortilla chips- maybe even better. That said, they are just as good plain, but again, they are quite addictive! (Certainly there are worse things to be addicted to, no?)


15. Peanut Butter with Flax & Chia Seeds

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The section you’ll find it in: Grocery (nut butters)

This peanut butter was discontinued, once upon a time, but was resurrected due to popular demand. I’ve never been too keen on crunchy peanut butter, but I guess even if it were creamy, it would still be slightly crunchy due to the flax and chia seeds. I had to try it, regardless, and I’m glad I did. It’s an excellent source of fiber and it tastes fantastic.


16. Chile Relleno

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The section you’ll find it in: Frozen (Mexican)

Chile relleno is Spanish, meaning ‘stuffed chile’- and that’s exactly what this is: a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and topped with salsa. It’s spicy, and it’s delicious. They’re served out at some Mexican restaurants, and they quickly became one of my favorite Mexican dishes. I was thrilled to see that TJ’s carries a frozen version of it- which doesn’t taste too different from fresh. It goes well with a side of rice and beans.


17. Cranberry Chevre Goat Cheese

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The section you’ll find it in: Cheese

I really just love all kinds of goat cheese, but this one is always my go-to if there’s a toss-up. What I love the most about it is that it’s very versatile and goes well with many types of foods. Pizzas, salads, desserts, crackers… the list is endless! I’m partial to eating it sandwiched between two Triscuits or saltines.

Also, take a look at this beauty:

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Unfortunately, it’s seasonal and only surfaces around the holidays. But if you can get your hands on it, you won’t be sorry. It’s incredible! I like to crush up some crackers, chop up a log of this stuff, toss it into a bowl and drizzle caramel on top. It’s perfect for parties… or for yourself.


18. Guacamame Dip

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The section you’ll find it in: Deli (refrigerated)

You might be wondering what ‘guacamame’ is, huh? It’s a combination of guacamole and edamame. Edamame is the preparation of immature soybeans- a dish that’s popular in certain Asian countries. This kind of dip has 70% less fat than regular guacamole (not that that’s ever stopped me from indulging because I can’t be without my guac), 40% fewer calories, and is 100% delicious! (Corny, I’m aware. I have to work on my selling points.) It’s got just the right amount of spiciness to it, and goes very well with those sweet potato tortilla chips I mentioned earlier.


19. Shrimp Nuggets

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The section you’ll find it in: Frozen (seafood)

Shrimp nuggets are all the good of breaded shrimp without the pesky tails that you can’t eat. How could you ask for more? That really is everything. These go well dipped in cocktail sauce, or tartar sauce, or an odd mixture of both! (It’s actually pretty good.)


20. Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

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The section you’ll find it in: Dairy

Believe it or not, I don’t just like this item for the alliterative quality to its name. These cookies come preformed and separated already in the package- perfect for people like me who find it tedious to have to roll your own balls of dough. The best part of these cookies is that they’re soft bake, so they’re not crispy and crunchy. I prefer my cookies chewy, so this is a good thing. Even if you prefer crunchy cookies, though, I’m sure you’d still love these. It’s urged not to eat the raw cookie dough, but I did it anyway. Though maybe that’s why I grew a supernumerary digit… (I joke.)

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Mmm…


I could have easily made this list a lot longer, but I tried my best to narrow it down to my top twenty. Even that took longer than I expected, because I had to really think about the twenty products I really love above all else. That said, I haven’t tried anything that I haven’t loved, and I promise I’m not saying that with bias.

I hope you found this list helpful and informative. If you’ve tried any of the above listed items, please share with me your thoughts on them in the comments! I’d also like to hear about what else you like at Trader Joe’s- chances are you may rave about something I haven’t tried yet and that will be all the reassurance I’ll need to check it out.

Also, if you adhere to specific dietary restrictions, don’t fret; TJ’s provides lists to help you find where certain products are located, since there’s no one section dedicated to special diets. Check them out:

Gluten Free | Kosher | Vegan | VegetarianLow Sodium | Fat Free

One more thing. If you come across this symbol on any product:

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It means that product is great for a quick meal option, for those days when you simply don’t feel like slaving over a hot stove for hours. Quick meal options are ready in under 15 minutes but taste like they were prepared by a professional chef. (Pretentious proclamation, but it’s mostly true.) You can find a list of all your quick meal options here.

Happy shopping*! 🙂

*Please note that although most Trader Joe’s locations carry the same array of products, each location caters to its specific market depending on the area. That said, what you find at a Baton Rouge location may not be found in L.A. Also, wine may or may not be available at your nearest location depending on your state’s liquor laws.

 

Breaking the Silence

So that’s what the sun looks like. I’d forgotten. 🙂

I’m back, sooner than I’d anticipated, and I’m feeling so much better. I’ve begun taking Vitamin D after every meal in the morning, and I like to think it’s responsible for my improved moods. Music has regained its meaning in my life, as has writing, reading, and everything that gives me joy and pleasure. I can’t say for sure that I won’t relapse, but the sun is shining promisingly (I meant that as a metaphor, but it’s seriously 73° here today, and it’s nearly November), and I plan to relish in it.

This is merely a transition post to let you know that my hiatus is effectively over. In previous days, I’ve even come up with a few ideas for new entries, as well as missed blogging as a whole. Those of you who’ve supported me have been incredible- thank you, so much. I’d give you all a hug if I could.

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That will have to do for now.

In other news, I’d like to welcome one of my best IRL friends to the world of WordPress: Liann! You can click on her name to head on over to her blog. She works with me at Trader Joe’s and at the urging of a customer and several of her friends, she’s started a blog all about her journey into healthier living. I encourage you to pay her a visit and follow along with her if you feel so inclined. 🙂

That’s it for now. I’ll be posting again today a little bit later with some suggestions for some excellent products to pick up if ever you find yourself a first-time shopper at Trader Joe’s. That post should be up in a few hours. Until then, au revoir. And again, thank you all for your kind words- they were cracks of sunlight in a dense, brick wall.

What’s in a Label?

Where do you find labels? Hugging soup cans; hanging out on the side of boxes of food; adhering to household cleaning agents; representing recording artists, but that’s not the kind of label I’m referring to. 

What’s the purpose of a label? To explain the ingredients of what’s contained therein. This is good so that you know what you’re putting into your body, at least in the case of food. If you’re ingesting household cleaners, that’s a problem, and there’s a number you can call. But in the case of multi-purpose cleaning agents, the product labels graciously let you know what you’re using to remove stains from fabric or smudges from glass. 

But when do labels have a place otherwise? People don’t walk around with price tags on their foreheads, or calorie counts wrapped around their forearms. The answer to the question: They don’t. 

Words are everything, and when you really think about it, their sole use is a designation. It’s a natural inclination to wonder what something you’ve never encountered before is called- whether it be a concept, something existential, or something tangible, like a coat. 

But with designation also comes restriction. There’s not quite such a thing as an open-ended definition, and even if there were, it’d be unsatisfying because as humans we gravitate towards the linear. We throw descriptions into the confines of a box, and anything that won’t fit cannot be used as part of the definition. Therefore, though labels can be useful, they’re also quite restrictive. Water is called ‘water’ in English, but that’s as far as that word has that meaning. In French, it’s l’eau. In German, it’s das wasser. These kinds of designations are helpful insofar as they identify things. But what’s to be made of the intangible?

Sexuality. Race. Diet. Heredity. It’s all about perception. Labels are used to define these concepts but they’ve also been used to confine them, as well. Someone whose ideals and beliefs are in line with those of feminism is called a feminist. But that word has stirred up a considerable amount of controversy for the misconception that a feminist is a woman who detests men. And to what do we owe that controversy? The label, feminism. Why isn’t it possible for someone to adhere to those morals and not have to identify as a feminist? Without the label, the concept essentially doesn’t exist. It would simply be what somebody believes in, no holds barred. If there’s no name to the face, it’s difficult to imagine that something could be considered wrong or offensive. There’s no such concept until it’s defined. But conceptualization does little more than squeeze ideas and patterns into groups, disparage, and separate. When you separate, you segregate. When you segregate, effectively you quarantine, and quarantine zones are conducive to conflict. 

That man over there wants to marry his boyfriend of nine years, but he can’t, because gay marriage in his state is illegal. Being gay is wrong. But what if he’s not gay? What if- and I know this is a long shot, but bear with me- he’s merely human? He’s fallen in love, and that’s wonderful. Why slap a label onto that? 

And that woman over there is a devout theist. She loves God and wants to devote her life and time to Him. But she can’t do that without being called a bible thumper. Why mark her?

Because of the concept of homosexuality and the label of ‘bible thumper,’ the woman in the second situation is assumed not to be in support of the man in the first. All theists are homophobic. That’s what labeling does- it bridges the gap between individuality and generalization. Try to look at each circumstance as an onion- there are countless layers. They aren’t all the same, solid, hollow block. The same goes for theism, sexuality, vegetarianism, feminism, etc. Ironically, I’m using these designative terms to express my disinterest in them. But if these things weren’t conceptualized, the terminology wouldn’t exist, and my purpose for writing this would be moot.

I call myself this, because it is what I was taught to call this ‘thing,’ this ‘circumstance,’ this ‘condition.’ But the only necessary designation is human, because I think it is safe to say that we all can identify as that. (Unless you can identify as a turtle, in which case always be a turtle.) The rest will become obsolete once we treat people as people, and not as things, or circumstances, or conditions.