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Friday, July 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Lowfat Strawberry Kefir

"Kefir" is actually pronounced "Keh-FEAR," although so many people use the popular mispronunciation "KEY-fur," that it may soon be an officially accepted pronunciation. I wanted to say "Keffer" like it rhymed with "heifer," probably because I subconsciously associated yogurt with milk and milk with cows.

"What is Kefir?" you might ask. Well, up to this point, I've always thought of it as "drinkable yogurt." Trader Joe's version, however, declares itself "cultured milk." From a marketing standpoint, I'm going to go ahead and say that "drinkable yogurt" is probably the better way to think of this stuff. Let's face it, we've all left a half-gallon of milk in the fridge a week or so too long before...and, well, wouldn't that be "cultured milk" as well? I'm no dairy scientist, but isn't rancid milk essentially just milk that's been "culturing" a little too long? I guess this particular milk has been cultured with a unique strain of helpful probiotic bacteria and not the nasty little fellows that have raucous parties in our month-old milk cartons.

When you drink this Kefir, you can feel a tingling sensation on your tongue. I picture thousands of little one-celled characters square-dancing in the bottle and subsequently in my mouth and tummy. They're all wearing red and white plaid, which appears as pink to us, since we're watching the spectacle from a distance.

I don't know how they get the strawberry flavoring in there. I guess they just add the strawberry juice after the little square-dancing buggers have had their way with the milk. I'm not sure what deal they've worked out with the microorganisms to keep them from eating the strawberry flavors. I would think that after eating so much cream, the little guys would want some fruit.

At this point in the blog post, I'm quite certain I've lost all of the microbiologists and dairy science people, as they are no doubt disgusted by my ignorance of all things miniscule and microbial. It's probably quite pretentious to assume that any educated people are reading this at all and are putting up with my nonsensical anthropomorphism and talk of square-dancing probiotic organisms. No one except perhaps a few stragglers hoping to have a laugh at my expense...and possibly one or two who are interested in whether or not I enjoyed the which case I should end this pointless tangent immediately.

I'll just go ahead and say this is very normal, average Kefir. I liked it. They didn't reinvent the wheel with this one. It's exactly what I expected. No more, no less. Smooth, creamy, strawberry-tasting. But since we know TJ's is capable of going above and beyond and doing so much more than their competition, simply meeting our expectations won't get this product anywhere close to Pantheon status. It's a 3.5 in my book. Good for digestion. A half-glass is a filling between-meal snack. No big complaints, but don't expect more than you'll get from any other brand.

Sonia gives it a 3. She thinks it's OK, and she knows it's good for her, but she's not a big fan of Kefir in general. She thinks all Kefir has a funny aftertaste, including this brand.

And, ah, word to the wise: don't read the second half of the ingredients list where they name all of the square-dancing microbial families...

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Caramel with Black Sea Salt Bar

Like any married man, I have certain habits and tendencies that really bother my wife. A lot. One of my absolute worst offenses that I regularly commit is, Sandy wants to hold on to some tasty snacky treat. I see it in the pantry for, oh, a week, or more and figure it's fair game and start helping myself. One time, I swear, she had this box of Girl Scout Tagalongs for something like three months just sitting on a shelf, not even touched. Finally one day, I get hungry, see them, and say to myself, "Self, this is a good treat for which I am hungry. This is past any statute of limitations for any claim of right of spousal exclusivity. Indulge." So I did, and man oh man did I get the stinkeye once Sandy discovered that I dared break its seal to snatch away three measly treats. Just recently, there was this bag of jellybeans that we had since Easter which she hadn't touched since Donald Trump looked like a possible presidential candidate. I took them to work one day for a snack, a couple weeks go by, and she randomly decided maybe on Sunday she wanted them. Again, the stinkeye. It's enough of a regular thing that she now freely admits that she sometimes hides a stash of treats for herself away, like candied nuts or Christmas hard candies, because unlike me, she "doesn't have to eat everything right away." Oh, that girl.

What does all that have to do with this particular (and peculiar-sounding) chocolate bar? You'll read soon enough. First, let me tell you how amazingly good this is. It's so good, one of my good buddies randomly called me one night and first thing out of his mouth, he inquired, "Have you tried the Trader Joe's sea salt/caramel/dark chocolate bar? Holy cow, it's amazing." I didn't think chocolate was something one dude usually called another dude about, no matter how tasty, but I kinda rolled with it. Last week, Sandy and I made an over-the-state-border Trader Joe's run to, uh, procure some other products I'll be reviewing in the upcoming weeks and we started our TJ's shopping after a good dinner out (where I had, among other things, a remarkably good peanut butter coffee porter). In the mood for a good dessert and after a successful crazy taste combination, I saw this on the shelf and decided, what the hay, worth a shot.

A few miles down the highway on the way back home, Sandy and I decided to bust it out. Oh man. First, the chocolate. I'm a guy who has cut his sweet tooth on many a Hershey's milk chocolate bar, so that's what I'm used to. The darker, higher percentage cacao variety has never held much appeal for me - I can appreciate some types but find others to be too bitter for my taste buds. The TJ's bar is 70% cacao so I wasn't sure what to expect. I can only say I was fairly surprised as it was some of the tastiest dark chocolate I've ever had, and any bitterness was more than covered up by the silky rich caramelaliciousness oozing out of each square. Pretty fantastic by it's own right, but amazingly enough, add in the sea salt...out of this world. I wouldn't have guessed it, but the sea salt seems to accentuate the chocolate and caramel with this smoky undertone that just heightens both tastes. In every bite there's the chocolate, caramel, and sea salt, all present yet balanced and very complimentary of each other. I have never had anything that's tasted quite like this. Between the two of us we quickly wolfed down the entire bar, which consisted of eight roughly one-square inch bites to snap apart.

So, back to my opening tangent...I have decided turnaround is fair play. That's right, wifey, it wasn't just dog food I was planning to pick up Thursday night at Trader Joe's. I have listened to you and decided this is something I want to savor again and enjoy over the space of a few days, maybe even a week or more, instead of plowing my way through it first chance I have. And since I couldn't just let you interfere with this plan, I was going to go stash it away somewhere and keep all for me. Anyways, that was my plan, but...dang local TJ's ran out. All the other kinds of chocolate bars but not a single one of these, and believe me, I looked and begged and pleaded to no avail. Obviously, somehow, you discovered what my secret plan was and collaborated with TJ's to make sure they weren't available. Or maybe...wait... you bought them all and hid them all away from me now, didn't you? Oh my gosh, yes, that's what you did. I can't believe you. It's a good thing you're cute, otherwise...dangnabbit, wifey wins again.

Sandy gives it a four and a half, the only demerit because it "gets messy." Keep in mind, this was on a warm day in a Subaru with an air conditioning system that only kinda works, so when she busted it out and started breaking up the squares, it was a little melty and left a small, tasty deposit on our fingers. If it kept cool or even in the freezer, I'd imagine this wouldn't be an issue at all. My take? I gotta give it a full-out five. Unlike other flavor combos I've tried from TJ's, this is so well executed and makes such an unexpectedly crazy good treat. Well done, TJ's, well done.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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