One of the basic premises of Trader Joe’s appeals to me. There are few, if any, national (over-priced) brands at Trader Joe's. That is cool.
Brands are what distinguish between the privileged and the plebes. You know how you have to stand in line behind the woman flashing her 6.4-because-that-0.4-counts carat diamond ring and pulling Campbell’s, Chiquita, Contadina, Cheetos and Uncle Ben’s out of her cart and doesn’t need the savings of a keychain card, and right behind her on the black rubber conveyor belt of shame and embarassment, behind the plastic customers’ grocery divider rod that feels as wide as two sets of train tracks, you, yes you with a stack of coupons and food stamps, start piling up “Condensed Soup,” “Beans,” “Cheese Puffs,” and “Rice,” but not “Tomatoes” because tomatoes are one thing for which you do have standards, and in fact, you never buy canned tomatoes anyway, and the only reason why a women sporting a real 6.4 ct diamond is doing her own grocery shopping is that her housekeeper missed the bus? You know?
At Trader Joe’s, there is none of that “brand” shame. No, at Trader Joe’s, everyone is the same. You and The Donald both buy Trader Joe’s Chimichurri Sauce. Let’s forget the fact that The Donald has a full kitchen staff that will rub that chimichurri on beef from his own 2 million acre ranch in Agentina, and you will be stirring that chimichurri into a styrofoam cup of instant ramen to make it semi-homemade gaucho sopa de noodles.
I also love that there is this feeling of “elite” and “special” by shopping at Trader Joe’s even though it is dirt cheap.
And this is a huge "however" that will get me excommunicated to the blue states for heresy.
There are lots of things about Trader Joe’s that irritate the sh*t out of me, so much so that I very rarely, if ever go there. I don’t see what the BFD about TJ’s is.
What is the big effin’ deal about TJ’s?
For one thing, Trader Joe’s is pretty far outside the radius of my life. The nearest Trader Joe’s to me is 3.2 miles away, while Ralphs Fresh Fare is 1.1 miles away, and Whole Foods is a mere 0.3 miles, or 51 seconds away (by car, obviously) from my apartment. And yes, I do realize that I have a very tight living radius. It's as wide as my apartment. Of course, oftentimes, saving money is a key factor here, but when you’re cooking for a family of oh, you know, one, there is no such thing as saving anywhere, even Costco, unless you have a sugar daddy.
Let’s say I for some odd reason, I happen to be outside my living radius, in or around the area intersected by both Pico Boulevard and 32nd Street on the easternmost edge of Santa Monica and coincidentally had to do some grocery shopping. Even if I wanted to go into the store, I couldn't because it is both logistically and almost statistically impossible to park in the Trader Joes’ parking lot because there are a total of seven spaces and each one is as wide as a Big Wheel. So, if you trundle over to Trader Joe's in a Big Wheel, you are so totally set (!) to go grocery shopping, otherwise, you will find yourself betting on what is known as the Parking Derby, in which cars circle around those seven spots until someone leaves, at which time the Parking Derby transforms into the Ultimate Fighting Championship and two opposing cars battle it out for the spot in between them.
I think to myself, why? Why is it so difficult to build a parking lot with normal-sized spaces, and why must I take part in the Parking Derby? Why, Joe, Why?!?! This is a fucking grocery store!!! It’s not like this is opening day of the Mervyn’s 72 hour-sale.
Okay, I am okay. Because I could dedicate an entire blog with about 174 posts about parking alone, I will simply leave it at that. Parking at Trader Joe's no matter which location it is, sucks.
Trader Joe’s stores are small, cramped, crowded, and it should be illegal for them to use regulation size grocery carts in those aisles that require that you have no personal space requirements whatsoever. When they start handing out free samples of grapes, you can forget about trying to maneuver you and your chuckwagon through the store because the entire customer population has Sample-dar and you will be like a very small salmon trying to swim up Niagara Falls if you go in the opposite direction.
If the free samples happen to be trail mix, it’s over.
So now you know. I am a slave to convenience and comfort when it comes to grocery shopping. Sure, I love the hustle and bustle of a farmers’ market. I love the charm of a tiny little Mom & Pop, but when it comes to everyday grocery shopping, I cannot handle the so-called "charm" of Trader Joe’s. I am all about Economics, and I have complete faith in the Hotelling Phenomenon.
I won’t even write about shrink-wrapped bell peppers at Trader Joe's. That makes me so mad I can hardly type, and if I get started, I might explode.
Here comes another "however." Smaller, though.
However, despite all the icky things about Trader Joe’s, I just might find myself going there a little more often than before. Now that I have had a taste of Trader Joe’s French Onion Soup, not just a literal tate, but a taste of how effin’ efficiently easy and convenient it is in addition to how tasterrific it is, I just might drive down Sepulveda Boulevard to National Bouevard, to go to Long’s and pick up an aloe gel for my sensitive skin, just so that I can conveniently drop into Trader Joe’s, which shares the same corner with Long’s, just for that French Onion Soup that is frozen into a solid dark brown cylinder that could knock someone out if hurled with the right velocity. I just might do that because when you place that frozen iceberg of beef broth, perfectly shaped as a cylinder, into an oven-proof bowl with frozen cheese, confetti side up, then slide it into a preheated oven for 45 minutes, then remove the burbling bowls from the oven, you will feel like Julia and Jacques maybe didn’t make that soup from scratch for you right there in your kitchen, but you will at least feel like they unwrapped the package for you.
The cheese didn’t melt completely into a smooze surface (that’s “smooth” and “ooze” for those uninitiated to The Delicious Life mashcabulary), but it did melt, and it most certainly crusted into a deep dark San Tropez crust around the edges of the uppermost layer. I should have let the soup cool to human-tolerant temperatures, but I couldn’t. Who has patience to cool when faced with melted, crusted cheese?!?! Spoon in a death grip, I sunk it straight into the cheese, which tried bending, heaving, resisting the insistence, before finally breaking to the urgency.
It is no surprise that the 350 degree beef broth burnt every internal surface of my mouth. It was a surprise, though, that there was also a tiny piece of toast in the bottom of the bowl that I had not seen in the broth-bergs’ cryo state. The toast had soaked up the soup for those 45 minutes and had rendered it into a tenuous carbohydrate cloud that would eventually disintegrate with nothing more than a gentle press againt the roof of my mouth with my tongue.
Normally, onions in French onion soup are sliced latitudinally into thin rings, but these had been sliced longitudinally. They were much easier to eat, since the onions didn’t hang in sloppy loops from the spoon, dripping broth onto the table on the way from bowl to mouth, but still, I am not sure how I feel about Trader Joe so brazenly going against tradition. Brazen! Then again, the soup was frozen to begin with, duh.
The soup was good, and if I have it in me to brave the parking lot, I’ll go get more at Trader Joe’s.
But I still can’t bring myself to buy bell peppers protected in vegetable condoms.