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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Brewed Ginger Beer

Need a cool, refreshing drink for a hot summer day, and something like maple water sound a little too silly and hipstery for ya? Well, how about some ginger beer?

Note: Trader Joe's Brewed Ginger Beer is neither ginger ale nor is it alcoholic. Ginger ale, although occasionally delicious, is your basic ginger-flavored soda, of course. Ginger beer, on the other hand, is a beverage produced with via brewing and fermentation and the whole nine yards. Here's a guide on how to make your own to give you an idea of the process involved.

As for the outcome: delicious. Both Sandy and I are pretty big fans. There's very little carbonation, if any, which makes for a cool, crisp flow. Although not as harshly ginger-tinged as some other TJ's brews, there's still a good, solid ginger bite underflow adding lots of bitterness. Yet, there's plenty of tart sweetness to counteract it all, thanks mainly to the limes and sugar.

The taste isn't perfectly balanced or smoothed over, though. The first bottle we drank, it almost tasted like we were drinking two different drinks at the same time. When we looked a little closer at the bottom of the bottle, we saw some cloudy floaty stuff, which I'm guessing was some sort of combination of the lemon/lime juice and ginger that kinda settled after fermentation. Although the bottle says nothing about doing so, for the second time around both Sandy and I gave the bottle a slight shake and swirl to try and mix it all back up, and we both agreed that it tasted a little more even after that.

Still, this is one pretty delicious drink for those warm, sticky nights up ahead. Plenty of ginger bite with some citrus-y zing is never a bad combo. If you insist on some boozy additions, I have heard (but not yet personally verified) that this ginger beer is a great choice for either a Dark & Stormy or a Moscow Mule. That's definitely on my agenda, and Sandy is even more eager to try that than me. And for this ginger juice, if your mind is on your money (or your money on your mind), you can buy these either separately for a buck each or grab a four pack for $3.99 - math geniuses, them. Definitely worth the try. Matching fours from the wifey and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brewed Ginger Beer: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Maple Water

I would have taken a picture of this product out of the package for you guys, but if you want to know what it looks like, just head on over to your kitchen sink and turn the faucet on. Seriously. You can take that "water" part of the product name pretty literally. It might be ever so slightly thicker than tap water, but certainly not to the point that anyone could pick it up in a photograph. 

So apparently, this beverage is like water that just came straight out of a maple tree. It has lots of minerals and nutrients that were en route to branches and leaves and roots and stuff, but good ol' Trader Joe intercepted it and brought it right to the shelves of his stores for us to enjoy instead.

Taste-wise, it's not unlike water...but maplier. I know, I know, that's not very descriptive. But it's true. Now, if you're thinking of putting a bit of maple syrup in a glass of water to simulate this product, I don't know if that would do it. You'd need very little syrup, and I wanna say that putting any amount of maple syrup in water might result in a sweeter beverage than the one we have before us. It's barely sweet at all. In fact there's really barely any flavor at all. But I'd say there's a faint nuttiness about it. Sonia says it tastes like that Pedialyte stuff they give to kids when they're sick. She thinks the taste is very strange. And I have this crazy notion that just struck me—it kinda tastes like water with a hint of bubble solution in it. You know the slightly soapy liquid you made bubbles out of with a plastic wand with a circle at the end of it as a kid...? It tastes kinda like that—yet not quite as disgusting as that probably sounds.

This is one of those situations where we might actually have a beverage that could theoretically hydrate better than water. That's not my foodie-hack expertise talking. A doctor once told me that water has a tendency to go right through you, but other drinks "have some substance," like electrolytes. And doctors have magic pieces of paper on their walls that make everything they say more correct than the things normal dumb people say. Turns out maple trees and other plants crave electrolytes just like we humans do.

Despite the fact that drinking maple water is a practice that predates the cultivation of maple syrup, Sonia thinks this particular version of the product is nothing but a fad—a flash in the pan food trend that won't last. She prefers coconut water because there's a little more flavor...and it's less...well, watery. $3 is a lot to pay for a quart of water. As a wise person from The Impulsive Buy recently observed, "I read on the internet that maple water is going to be big in 2015. I also read on the internet that maple water is going to disappear in 2016."

Sonia gives this product 2 stars. I give it 3.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Pretzel Bagels

Personally, I'm kind of at an interesting time right now. Since late last summer, as I know I've mentioned a couple times on here, I've been following the paleo diet for the most part, and since then, between diet and running, I've dropped seventy pounds. Two weeks ago, I celebrated hitting the weight loss century mark since my known height from back in December 2012 - yes, 100 pounds, over a foot off my waistline, two shirt sizes, and lots of blood sugar/blood pressure/cholesterol points gone. Allow me this not-so-humble brag...daaang. I've always been the "fat kid" growing up, and dang it, it feels so good to not be that any more - even clinically speaking, I am at a "normal weight" now, and I continually have to shush my coworkers who claim I'm wasting away to nothing.

Of course, paleo diet means no carbs (at least not the bready kinds), but I'm going to try and shift myself into weight maintenance as opposed to weight loss mode. My clothes budget can't take it any more. So I'm going to try to reintroduce them, on a limited and controlled basis, and fall back on my caveman ways if need be if I go up a few too many clicks. Still, after avoiding and going to great pains to mostly avoid for so long, it's a difficult mindset to try and re-adapt to, that carbs (like most anything) are okay if you don't over-indulge.

With this mental banter banging around, when I first saw Trader Joe's Pretzel Bagels up on the shelf near the checkout, my first thought was "Hey that's not fair!" Pretzels are fantastic (usually) and bagels are divine, so combine the two and....but my brain wanted to tell me they weren't okay. I mentioned all this to my lovely wife, who sighed, rolled her eyes, grabbed the bag and tossed them in the cart, saying "You're gonna eat these, buster."

I wish I liked these more. I really do. They're not bad. But they don't strike me as overly pretzel-y or bagel-y, but instead are some weird doughy crossbreed trying to masquerade as both and failing. A good bagel and an acceptable soft pretzel to me are at least somewhat similar in texture to me - tough, golden outside with a dense and chewy interior, like a New York-style bagel or a Philly soft pretzel. Not these guys. I haven[t had the TJ's soft pretzel stick, but I'd imagine these are much the same, except in an O shaped form. It's so much more bread-like than either pretzel or bagel.

To really enjoy them, I have to say, you have to toast the bagels. It's a must. It's only by toasting that the exterior gets a little crispy, with the inside deflating to a chewy texture that somewhat approximates the proper experience. Indeed, when we made some ham and gouda melts for lunch on them, or some toasted breakfast sandwiches the following morning, they were pretty fantastic and added a lot to the meal. But if you were to take a bite of one right out of the package, really, it just tastes like normal bread with a super soft semi-pretzelesque exterior.

Other than that, although we enjoyed them, both Sandy and I have a few small quibbles. Sandy thought that, in line with the whole "pretzel" thing, they should have a little more salt to them. I agree that it'd be a nice touch. And also, and this just shows how petty I am, these bagels are not presliced. I hate slicing bagels, mostly because I have to decide between the perceived inconvenience of cleaning a cutting board or the risk of running a serrated blade across my palm. No, I will not buy one of those stupid bagel slicing contraptions.

Anyways, a six pack will set you back only $2.49, which is reasonable enough. Chances are good we'll get them again when we need a mix up from the normal slabs of bread. Sandy liked them a tad bit more than me, saying that all the way around, they tasted like a pretzel enough to her liking. She's going with a four. Maybe I'm just being too picky, or just wishing that one of my first forays back into regular carb-dom would be a little more satisfactory, but I'm going with just a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pretzel Bagels: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons