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Friday, November 30, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Lebkuchen Cookies

I took three years of German in high school and one semester at Penn State to fulfill my foreign language requirement. One might think I regret choosing German over Spanish since I married into a Spanish-speaking family. I dunno. Even after 9 years of marriage, I'm still struggling to hablo some bueno EspaƱol, but all through those school years, the kids who took French, Spanish, and Latin wandered the halls, frazzled and frustrated, trying to cram for their latest vocab quiz, while the German students pranced around singing songs— "Sie liebt dich, ja, ja, ja!" —and looking forward to their next Deutsche Klasse.

There's just something about German that's intrinsically fun. In addition to the language, we learned exciting things about German culture like Oktoberfest, the speed limit-less highway known as the Autobahn, and even some pop culture tidbits via Deutsche Welle—like German music videos. For that reason, I think we retained a lot of what we learned. I don't recall specifically hearing about Lebkuchen, but as soon as I saw them at Trader Joe's, I immediately knew they were cookies—kuchen. According to Wikipedia, the "Leb" part of the equation is less clear, but I immediately assumed it came from the same root word as Leben, the German word for "life." I figured it must have been like the medieval German equivalent to that silliness that Millennials are always saying on social media: "These cookies are giving me life."

And they do indeed "give life." Their insides are vaguely reminiscent of another traditional German treat we looked at on this blog many years ago, but not quite as heavy on the spices. It's similar to gingerbread—soft and slightly chewy—almost spongy. There's a citrusy essence to them, as well, since they've got candied orange peel mixed in—it's not overbearing, though. Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts give them a nutty flavor. The chocolate coating is waxy, thin, and semi-sweet. It goes together with the bread pretty well, although the combination of the two textures is relatively foreign to both Sonia and I. The undersides of the cookies are like very thin wafers—yet a third distinct texture to add to the mix—although it's not as noticeable as the first two.

Although she was initially turned off by the sponginess of the inner-cookie, Sonia fell in love after a few bites, since the cookies paired so perfectly with coffee. She was happy to have a holiday snack that's a bit of a departure from the norm. No doubt someday our insatiable wanderlust will take us to international destinations like Deutschland, but until then, we're thankful to have snacks like these at Trader Joe's.

Double fours for these cookies.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels

Let's see...don't have the actual spreadsheet available, so this'll all be from memory:

Pringles. Baked cheese curls. Most chips. Sour Patch Kids. Most sugary cereal. Peanut butter cups. Fun sized candy bars. Reese's Pieces. Nutella. Cookie butter. Sliced pepperoni. Other things I'm sure...

And add to it Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels.

That's my "do not buy" list. Not because I don't like's quite the opposite problem. It's that I like them too much and I feel like I have no choice but to inhale them if given the chance.

My goodness. These are irresistible little buggers for sure. Pretzels are already pretty high on my list, particularly if paired with a little cheese...but these are something else altogether.

Maybe it's the crunchiness of the pretzel (solid) mixed with the crispiness of the butter toffee shell that's semi-caked on. Maybe it's the irresistible combo of butter and sugar...seriously, that glaze is full of amaze. It's rich and sugary without going too far, and when hit with a hefty dose of salt from the, it's like heaven. I love it. The inherent grainy goodness of the pretzel base ties it all together...I could eat the whole bag and have only a small dose of guilt. That'd probably be made up for with a new cavity and/or the diabeetus.

Poor Sandy. We picked up a bag last week before she ran the Philly marathon. For the record, she kicked its bunny tail, and all she wanted afterwards was a couple more of these pretzels ...except I'd already destroyed them. Negative husband points were earned that day. Even now, she got another bag, and I promised her I'd sneak only one or two before writing this review to "remind myself of the taste." I omitted the word "handfuls" though. And I promised her she could have the rest...maybe I'll just have to get my own.

Awesome little snack for sure. Absolutely addictive, so consume with care. I'm not 100% sure of the cost, but whatever, it's worth it. These toffee pretzels are good enough to be holiday tin-worthy in my opinion, provided you'd actually want to share them. Not that I'll get them, really I shouldn't....mustn't....Russell, behave....I think I've made my opinion clear. Good enough for at least a 4.5 in my book. Sandy's not as in love with the pretzels as I am, but still gives them a solid 4.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trader Joe's Sour Cranberry Ale

Just recently, the WG@TJ's team has looked at cranberry wrapped up in meatballscranberry goat cheese, and a turkey dinner with cranberry sauce. We're on a cranberry kick. 

So when selecting our beverage of choice to go with our Thanksgiving meal, we opted for this unique brew, which is certainly new to us. Not sure if it's new to Trader Joe's. 

It's still very novel for us to walk into a TJ's store and see a beer and wine section—this case, in Des Moines, Iowa. None of the Trader Joe's near us carried alcohol of any kind while we lived in the greater Philadelphia area. We're anxious to see what we've been missing out on.

This beer has a witbier base and a good bit of cranberry flavor—but make no mistake, this isn't a "girly" drink. It's an ale. That is, it's not sweet at all. It tastes like a traditional witbier, but with the sourness of cranberries. Witbiers tend to be naturally slightly sour anyway, so the cranberry gives it a double dose of mouth-puckering tartness. If you're not hoping for or expecting any sweetness, it works quite well.

Some of you might remember that Sonia and I decided to do a turkey-less Turkey Day this year... 

Unable to procure the turkey-less turkey on our last TJ's run, we simply opted for fish on Turkey-less Day, which was, to our surprise, available at Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving Day. We did take-out and ate the meal with this crantastic beverage. We still had some traditional sides like mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, and green beans. This ale paired just fine with most of those foods, providing a sourness in between all our salty, buttery bites. 

As you can see in the picture, it poured with a very large head—no doubt enhanced by the fact we drove with the beverage for a hundred miles or so before opening. It's a pretty light red color, and it smells subtly like tart cran-wheat.

Apparently, there are other flavors of these sour ales available at some TJ's, including raspberry, which I'm now eager to try. These beers originate from a well-known brewery called Petrus—masters of the sour brew, from what I've gathered. The bottle runs $7.99, which is a bit steep for any beer, if you ask me. We splurged since it was a special occasion, but wouldn't make this a regular purchase. 5% ABV. If you're really into SOUR beverages, it's worth a try.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.