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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Acaí 120

I remember it well. Circa 2004, I walked into Jamba Juice on Ventura Boulevard near my old apartment in Sherman Oaks, CA; the same Jamba Juice where I saw Natasha Henstridge, Brooke Burke (twice) and Shaquille O'Neal on seperate occasions. I perused the menu for a while, wanting to try something new. They had an item listed called the Acaí Supercharger, which, I believe, they have since discontinued. They now offer at least one other acaí-based drink. Curious, I asked about it. The enthusiastic "juice-ista" (that's a word I just invented) explained that it had about the same amount of caffeine as a can of coke (35 mg) but that the Supercharger's caffeine was all wrapped up in the completely natural acaí (ah-sigh-yee) berries, rich with fiber and antioxidants, etc. She explained that the natural caffeine would be slowly time-released as my body digested the berries, thus preventing the dreaded caffeine-crash associated with sodas, energy drinks and coffee.

I tried the Acaí Supercharger and quickly turned into a proponent of the acaí fad. Soon thereafter, every smoothie place and health food establishment in the city was offering at least one product with acaí. Those acaí-based drinks from Jamba Juice became a staple of my diet, and thanks in large part to those smoothies, I lost more than 20 pounds over the next 12 months (almost all of which I have gained back in recent years, unfortunately). At the time, I could have been the poster child for Jamba Juice—like their version of Subway's Jared, but hopefully a little less annoying. (If anyone from Jamba is reading this, please open a store in the Philly area, have me walk there every day, and I promise I'll rapidly lose weight again and you can use me as your Jared-like poster child, and I'll write my own commercial scripts as a bonus).

Now, I realize my opinion is probably part of a distinct minority, but I could write you a lengthy essay on why I believe Southeastern Pennsylvania is superior to Southern California. However, that's one thing I really miss about Los Angeles: my beloved Jamba Juice. The nearest Jamba Juice to Philly is over 2 hrs. away in NYC. Road trip, anyone?

Flavor-wise, acaí tastes a little like dark chocolate. It's a berry flavor, but it's very rich, very complex. This Trader Joe's acaí juice is no exception. The "120" represents the supposed number of berries in each bottle. At our TJ's, one tiny little bottle will run you about $2.30. You're paying almost 2¢ per berry. I suppose I can live with that, since the berries are coming all the way from Brazil—and in PA, there aren't a whole lot of other places you can buy organic acaí.

The serving size is tragically small, but it does pack more of a punch than one might think. The three gulps in the bottle are relatively filling, since they're thick and rich, and have 2 grams of fiber. It's just enough to curb a moderate appetite for a while, or to give a little boost of natural energy.

You should know that the acaí berry has taken flack recently for supposedly not being as healthy as was originally claimed, and also for allegedly being farmed and harvested unethically. I myself am still a fan of acaí for its taste and natural energy. If you've never tried any acaí stuff, I recommend you pick up just one of these bottles to taste it. And that's all these are: just a taste of acaí.

Because it does what it's supposed to, and it tastes good, I give it a 4. Sonia does too, for the same reasons. Be warned, however, that it's a lot of money for a very small amount of product. Perhaps our score is a tad high because the novelty-factor is also very high, here in our otherwise acaí-less world.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trader Joe's Mojito Salmon


I've only ever heard of a "mojito" as a drink: a Caribbean-originated rum-based citrusy thing with mint. I wikied it. Same thing. No mention of a salmon dish. Trader Joe is getting creative in the kitchen again, apparently. Maybe he dumped the remains of his cocktail on a piece of fish once and like the taste, so he whipped up a recipe and mass produced it for the frozen sections of his stores.

This is another one of those $7 a pop deals...or something pretty close to that. Like the Chicken Serenada, this stuff comes as a single serving, and heating in the microwave is allowed. Sonia decided she couldn't bear to eat salmon from the microwave, so she fired up the oven. Sonia pronounces the "l" in "salmon," as many Angelena's do. Not sure why. They just don't get the whole silent "l" thing. I guess I can't really blame them.

At any rate, we heated it in the oven. It came out firm and slightly dry, but that was just as well for me. I'm not a fan of even slightly-mushy fish.

Any time we do these reviews, it's just natural to compare what we're eating with similar products we've had recently from other places. The TJ's product has to slug it out with its competitor in a virtual arena in my head. Apparently, Russ has similar delusions when he eats Trader Joe's food, as he once wrote an entire review in the manner of a boxing match between veggie sausage patties. A few weeks back, while visiting friends in the D.C. area, Sonia and I had the privilege of trying some salmon burgers from some healthy-type store. I forget where they came from. It wasn't Trader Joe's and it wasn't Whole Foods. It might have been Wegman's. But that's all beside the point, really. The point is that there was some competition for this Mojito Salmon fresh in my memory. Those salmon burgers were tasty.

As I mentioned, this salmon was dry. It was almost too dry for me, and I kinda like my fish on the dry side. I'm sure heating it in the microwave would have yielded something a little more moist. The salmon burgers we had were just right in the moisture department. And they were softer than this Mojito Salmon. Even the parts of the salmon that were buried under that...mojito-esque topping were a little parched. The mojito-esque topping wasn't really very mojito-esque. It was kind of just like a mélange of vegetables and a touch of sauce that happened to be green.

Flavor-wise, the salmon tasted like salmon. It's not like we grilled it, so it didn't taste grilled. It didn't taste fishy (I think if salmon tastes fishy that they probably just took some trout and dyed it pink or something). It was perhaps a tad more salmony than those salmon burgers that we tried (we put a touch of mustard on those). So that was good, but at the same time, they could have done something really special in the flavor department with that mojito-looking stuff on the top, but I found it a bit disappointing and underwhelming. It added little.

Considering the price and size of the dish, it's not a whole lot of bang for your buck in my opinion. It was salmon, and as I might have mentioned before, we quite enjoy salmon. So I can't give it too low a score. How about a 3? Sonia will give it a 3.5 (my score may be lower because I'm projecting my unresolved frustration about that peculiar silent "l" onto the poor fish).

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trader Joe's Maple Leaf Cookies

I really don't know why Canada gets so much flack. Don't know what I mean? Google "Blame Canada" and that'll give you a brief lesson. It's a lovely nation, having visited it close to ten times myself. Montreal? Great city, as close as to being in Europe while still being in North America, as possible. Niagara Falls? A wee bit commercialized, but beautiful, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is pretty charming. And let's not discount what some famous Canadians have done to make our world a better place. Alexander Graham Bell? Jack Warner (founded Warner Bros.)? Bryan Adams? All Canadians. Arcade Fire is one seriously underrated band. And let's not forget my favorite Canadian contribution to society...Tim Hortons. Man oh man, Sandy and I love us some Timmy Ho's. Not that there's one in Pittsburgh (okay, a coffee stand at the Consol Energy Center), but while traversing to a neighboring state to procure some TJ goodies not available in PA (the really good, fairly good, and just plain bad), there's one or two stateside shops we can stop at for a sandwich/coffee/doughnut break. Two summers ago, before relaxing at my grandparents' cabin in Maine for a couple nights, we stopped at the Portland shop, and were incredibly irked when the lady in front of us bought every last Timbit that we were so eagerly waiting to munch on over the course of our stay, and were resigned to buying a dozen regular donuts. That just seemed so much more, I dunno, overtly gluttonous or something, and despite being so tasty and delicious, both of us were pretty aware of what we ate and how bad it was for us.

It's kinda like that with Trader Joe's Maple Leaf Cookies. I'll start with the positive: superbly delicious. Seriously, with just about anything maple-related, these were right up my alley. These are big, huge honking cookies, with two thick maple leaf-shaped shortbread cookies tinged with maple sandwiching a mega-swath of maple cream. Think Double-Stuffed Oreos on steroids except far, far tastier. The filling is rich and sweet and practically dripping with maple goodness, and I'm a sucker for a good shortbread wafer to boot. I want to eat and eat and eat these, and wash them down with a tall glass of milk poured right from the bag. On the merits of taste alone, both Sandy and I agree: pantheon contender, almost a certain shoo-in.

Except one thing...look at the second picture here. That's for one cookie. I've said it before, and will say it again, that I'm not a prude when it comes to nutritional info. Tastes good, eat it, I say, and damn the torpedoes. Usually. I'm slowly working myself out of that mindset, and this is one singular cookie we're talking about, with no inherent nutritional value nor any expectations thereof. It's like a luxury item, and for something so good it makes you want to eat more than one, well, before too long you could find yourself in some trouble that'll take more than just curling to work off. I don't there's much harm in having one, but that's not where I want to stop.

I needed something else to help justify the relatively low score these will be earning, because really, I wanted to five these babies up, but can't. I looked all over the box for something, anything, and saw that on the front, these are clearly labeled as "Maple Leaf Cookies" with "cream" filling. Well, I'm not sure if the side of the box was printed in Quebec or something, because it refers to the product as "Maple Creme Cookies" with "creme" filling. C'mon now, you couldn't expect to blow that past me like a Gretzky slapshot, could ya, Trader Joe? That's yet some more silly packaging from you. Gotta love it.

Sandy insists we've had them before, but I don't remember that at all. They really do deliver for a sweet, maple-y, sugary treat, but for Sandy and me at least, we have to begrudgingly hold ourselves to one, and that makes it harder to enjoy them, and so we may not spend our loonies and toonies on them for a bit again ($3.29 American for the box). Me forgetting about allegedly buying them before must have been a psychological defense mechanism, kinda like what kicks in whenever I hear Celine Dion and remember I saw "Titanic" three times in the theaters. Ugh. Sandy's divided between a 3 and a 3.5 for these, as am I.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons