Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Raises the Bar

The birds here in our neighborhood are absolutely ravenous for birdseed. They can clear out our moderately-sized feeder in a single day. It's mostly finches, chickadees, and sparrows—and of course, those ugly, ubiquitous grackles. The squirrels would normally be a problem, too, but the birds eat up the food so quickly that the bushy-tailed, tree-dwelling rodents often don't even get a crack at raiding the feeder before it's empty.

In light of all that, it's pretty obvious that our backyard buddies would love a shot at one of these birdseed bars. It would be gone in minutes, maybe seconds. I'm not sure how good tapioca syrup, cane sugar, and maple syrup are for birds, but I am sure they'd happily deal with the consequences for just a taste of all those yummy seeds and grains.

Channeling her inner-bird, Sonia, too, makes short work of these Raises the Bar bars. I liked them okay, but I think I've had too many other granola bar type selections from Trader Joe's that I liked the taste of better. The Fruit and Nut Trek Mix Bars come to mind—and the much more recently-reviewed Organic Chia Bars do as well.

Appearance-wise, Raises the Bar are very similar to the chia bars but are square, rather than rectangular. There are bunches of seeds and tiny ingredients all smooshed together, united by the aforementioned syrups and honey. The base is most definitely oats, and accordingly, they taste quite "oaty." They're also very mapley, with a significant sunflower component as well.

They're chock full of whole grains and are conveniently individually-wrapped. Five bars for $2.79 makes this a pretty decent value, too. If you're looking for a super simple breakfast option or even just an easy afternoon snack, these bars are worth a purchase. In the end, it all comes down to taste, and Sonia just appreciated these a bit more than I did. Four and a half stars from her. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Pinks & Whites

"Pinks & Whites" sounds like something you might read on the front door of a racist establishment. The "whites" would obviously be, you know, normal Caucasian folk. And the "pinks" would be, well...people like me. And Jim Gaffigan. And possibly Russ, too. You know, gingers. People like poor Sonia would walk up to the door and the xenophobic host would say, "Sorry, ma'am. Pinks and Whites only," gesturing to the sign on the door.

But make no mistake: these pink and white cookies are intended for all colors and ethnicities, even in these times of high racial tension. These flower-shaped snacks are all-inclusive. Well, except maybe for the gluten-intolerant. And the lactose-intolerant (yogurt coating is the number one ingredient). And those with allergies to soy, egg, peanut, or coconut. And vegans.

But other than those unlucky folks, these cookies are super-unifying and good at bringing people together. Because they flaunt a delicate shortbread taste, a milky-sweet frosting, and a generous amount of happy, colorful sprinkles that just about anyone can enjoy. They made Sonia and I feel like kids again.

Because we both had ginormous bags of pink and white cookies when we were young—except they were animal-shaped back then. No, not Barnum's Animals. They were Mother's. No, not my mother's. Ha! My mother never baked anything in her life. Mother's brand. Apparently, they're still on the market. 

A quick glance at TJ's ingredients versus Mother's ingredients reveals that Trader Joe's is once again far less deadly. Mother's infused a little vitamin B into their cookies to make them seem healthy. I mean, B1 and B2 can't hurt, but they probably won't offset the hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup they snuck in there too. Jeez.

At any rate, the Trader Joe's version tastes just as good as, if not a little better than, those old-school animal cookies. Buttery, sweet, and highly-snackable, they're everything you've ever wanted in a yogurt-coated shortbread cookie. Both Sonia and I wish these had been around when we were kids. 

Truth be told, I'm not often in the mood for such cookies these days, but since they're as good as this kind of cookie gets, I can't go lower than three and a half stars. Sonia will give them an even four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins

Nothing chocolate is safe in my house.

Oh, it's safe from the kids. As much as the girls love their "CHAAWWK-let" (as they say), we can more or less control their intake because we have longer limbs and defter hiding skills than them.

And it's safe from Sandy, too - she has the self control of a meditative master. That, coupled with this odd capacity to just hold on and on to snacks and whatnot until she is "fully ready to enjoy that snack" (whatever that means), results in her still having Easter candy from five years ago. How you gonna like that Peep now?

So, it's me. I'm the threat. Not sure what it is, but pretty much always (and in some ways in an even more acute sense over the past few months, I've wanted chocolate. It's some kinda odd man-craving. That sounds awkward. Anyways, because of this, and because we bought this right before Sandy and the kids were out for a week visiting my folks, Sandy ought to be proud of me that I didn't touch "her" Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins once  while she was gone.

Once this got opened, though? She'd be less proud then for sure.

Listen: it's not my fault. These bark thins aren't particularly fancy, but they make a pretty darn good little chocolate snack. Somehow we neglected to snap a pic of them, but if you ready the description on the front of the package, it explains exactly what they look like: odd sized and shaped shards of this 65% dark chocolate (tastes like the typical TJ dark choc variety) with some little teeny almond bits in here and there to add a little texture and crunch. By "thin", they absolutely are - no more than a few millimeters, to about the point wherre any thinner would call the structural integrity into question.

As could be reasonably expected, the dark chocolate and almonds pair well together, with the salt being a nice little touch. So nothing unexpected one way or another...except there does seem to be a little something extra. I think it's the thinness adding an extra snacky element. A regular chocolate bar would be a veritable slab requiring lots of commitment compared to a few wedges of this treat. For a quick sneaky hit of chocolate here or there, a little piece or two of this bark hits the spot, more so than a Hershey kiss to me.

It's a pretty good little pickup for the $4-ish it set us back. With a little control, the tub lasted us a few days of us both grabbing a piece here or there. Sandy only had to smack my hands away one or three times. As stated, nothing fancy or twisty or unexpected, but a smidge more snacktacular than anticipated. Matching fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons