Wednesday, July 9, 2008

the great debate


I'm going to come out with my opinion on this debate right up front so that there is no confusion: I am a TJ's girl.  I have happy memories of stopping by after church when we lived in Southern California circa 1990.  It was always a special treat, and my favorite product was the Hansen's All Natural Peach Soda.  Then, the wasteland years, when Trader Joe's was a distant memory, and the best we could do in Central Indiana was Marsh.  I went away to college on the East Coast, and one day received a call from my mom, who was so excited she could hardly get the words out: "Honey, they're putting in a Trader Joe's near your dad's office!"  I was jealous, but a few years later I got to make a phone call of my own:  "Mom, they're putting in a Trader Joe's--within walking distance of my apartment!!!"  Those were the glory days.

I know Trader Joe's has been criticized as snobby, unnecessary, even expensive.  (See here and here.)  But I'm a sucker, and a fan, and many of their products have a permanent spot in my pantry (their Breakfast Blend fair trade coffee, the roasted tomato red pepper soup, frozen tilapia and crab cakes...).  I find it fairly inexpensive compared to even your standard grocery store, although it can be frustrating if you are simply looking for basic cooking items.  And I will admit that I don't buy their produce because it tends to be subpar.

Being such a fangirl of Trader Joe's, I have always argued with the Whole Foods people, pointing out that Whole Foods can legitimately be called overpriced, and that its patrons are the real snobs.


The other day, coming out of the dentist's office, I needed pita bread and escarole, and figured I could find them both at the Whole Foods around the corner, which would be much easier than making my way to the grocery store near our house later in the day.  And I discovered that, in one area at least, Whole Foods has Trader Joe's beat.  That area is the realm of whole wheat pita bread.

I buy pita bread often, because I make hummus about once a week.  It's a quick, easy, healthy lunch.  When I manage to get to Trader Joe's (now a 10-minute drive) I often linger in front of the pita breads, knowing that the whole wheat is better for me, but also knowing that it will taste like I'm eating a paper bag.  The whole wheat pita I picked up at Whole Foods, on the other hand, was as fluffy and tasty as regular pita bread, and the pitas were bigger as well. (Same number of Weight Watchers points as the smaller Trader Joe's ones, too.)  As reluctant as I am to admit this, it's going to be tough to make myself buy Trader Joe's whole wheat pita bread from here on out.  Luckily, Whole Foods isn't close by, although at my current rate of dental visits per week, I'll be in the neighborhood often enough.

Hummus Recipe:

1 can garbanzo beans, drained, with liquid set aside
4 tablespoons tahini
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
garlic clove
pinch of salt
pinch of cumin
pinch of pepper

Blend together, using reserved liquid to facilitate the blending when necessary.
I prefer it plain, so I avoid flavored hummus, but you could easily throw in the items they use to market all kinds of varieties: roasted red peppers, eggplant, extra garlic, spinach, pine nuts, olives, feta, etc.


Lauren said...

Nicole, I must agree with you about Trader Joe's. We buy so much of our food there even though Andy used to work at "Whole Paycheck." If only the Trader Joe's in PA could sell the $3 wine...

Jamie said...

I too am convinced that Trader Joe's bread in general is actually recycled. Probably out of their leftover paper grocery bags. In fact, the bag might actually taste better.

But otherwise, I too love Trader Joe's, and their Tomato Soup also occupies a regular spot in my pantry. And their organic white cheddar macaroni. Yum.