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Friday, October 12, 2018

Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal

"Now THIS is my kinda cereal!"


Now, if this would have been uttered about, say, some pretty decent hot cocoa-inspired cereal, or some special edition Lucky Charms, or heck, even a fresh box of Honey Nut Cheerios, I'd understand. Those are all great cereals with a lot less ho-hum than an average bowful of corn flakes.

But...something like Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal? Really? People can get hyped about, of all things, quinoa for breakfast? Wow.

Apparently the answer is yes. And apparently one of those people is my lovely bride, as she happened to exclaim that exact phrase with spot-on inflection that implied complete excitement as she snagged the box and happily tossed into our cart.

Well, okay. Alright. Guess I can give it a try, too.

After some debate, it seems to come down to a simple fact. There's certain grains that are much more prevalent for breakfast cereals. Corn. Rice. Wheat. Oats. As a result, there's a certain level of acclimation and acceptance that can be a little hard to wander outside of, especially when grabbing a handful for a comfort snack, as is my most usual matter of cereal consumption these days.

I think that's what my perceived issue is. These quinoa stars taste exactly what I'd expect a quinoa-based cereal to taste like. They're super earthy, a little nutty. There's a small touch of honey to try and sweeten the whole deal, which kinda works, but can't fully cover up the whole quinoa-ity of the cereal. As a result, there's also this lingering aftertaste that seems to intensify. I ate a small handful as I sat down to write this, and I can still taste it all in my gums and it seems to be spreading to the back of my throat. It's not exactly awful, but not entirely pleasant either.

There's plenty of crispy crunch, though. My wife states it holds up well in milk. There is a slight stale vibe to them - not that ours are actually stale, at least I don't think so. But after occasionally consuming verified stale cereal, there is a small similarity, and I actually don't mean it as a knock. It's just a base for comparison.

And this is perhaps a small thing...but the packaging here is a little wacky. Of course, it's just a bag inside the box...but our inner bag was a full two inches shorter than the actual box. I've never seen a cereal box with that much headspace. It's odd.

Overall, I'm not gonna hate here, as I'm not the target audience. As someone with no gluten restrictions but knowing enough people who do, anytime a half decent gluten free product at a good price ($2.99) comes to market is a event worthy of at least a little celebration. But I can barely eat more than a small handful or two, and I'd probably not enjoy a full bowl. Sandy's kinda the same way, although she enjoy it more than I do and claims she'll buy it again. We'll see, as her initial enthusiasm has certainly dulled in the past few days. "I don't hate it" is about all she'll say. That's a far cry from the parade I thought she was gonna throw for well. Two spoons from me, three from the wifey.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Turkey Bites

It's a little early to be looking at turkey and Thanksgiving stuff already, but here's a product that's hanging out on TJ's "new items" shelf that's just begging for a review. Never had organic turkey bites before? Me neither. Let's explore them together, shall we?

Any time I see a shiny, slender plastic bag partially filled with shelf-stable, processed foods like this, I think of astronaut ice cream. I used to love that stuff. So weird and unique—but in retrospect, it's not nearly as good as any decent actual ice cream. I think it was just the novelty of having A) ice cream that didn't need freezing or refrigeration of any kind and B) something that space men (and, ostensibly, extraterrestrials) actually consume. Also, the thrill of the hands-on science museum was heightened by the promise of an astronaut ice cream-induced sugar buzz after a brief visit to the gift shop at the end of the day. Good times.

Here, we have astronaut-esque turkey snack bites. I really wish they'd have called the product: Trader Joe's Astronaut Thanksgiving. I would have made sure it got a decent score if that had been the name...IF that had been the name. As is, I'm just gonna give it to you straight that this speculative concoction is a little disappointing.

When you Google the title of these bad boys, you get a little snippet from the Fearless Flyer stating "You can join in the cause of advancing snack science today by picking up a 2.5 ounce package of Trader Joe’s Organic Turkey Apple Bites for $4.99." Trader Joe's is giving it to you straight, as well: a purchase of this product is charity, plain and simple. In other words, please empower us to make weird stuff like it in the future. Or don't.

The turkey bites are soft little quadrilateral dealies about the size of a domino. You only get 12 or so in a pack. They're fairly dense, so the value isn't terrible, I suppose. I think they're going for a jerky-ish vibe, although, these are much less chewy, leathery, and dry than traditional jerky. I'm not exactly sure what I can compare the texture to—it's, like, maybe somewhere in between room-temperature meatloaf and an RxBar...? Sound appetizing? Didn't think so. Just remember, you're the guinea pig in a study advancing human knowledge of food science...or something like that.

The flavor is even more...experimental. It's not unlike that of a turkey-flavored dog treat. Nor is it a far cry from normal turkey jerky I guess, but there're also apples, raisins, and an odd assortment of garlic and other spices that would only go together with fruit in some kind of homemade Thanksgiving stuffing. Again, I guess that's what they're going for. Astronaut Thanksgiving.

I really, really want to like them. I do. And I'm sure someone out there does. Quirky, weird, protein-rich snacks made with almost entirely organic ingredients? I'm pretty sure Isaac Asimov wrote about these some 60 or 70 years ago, visionary that he was. People laughed at his parallelogram-shaped, compacted turkey and apple bites as "fanciful" and "far-fetched." Most of those critics are long dead...but if they were still around, they'd have to admit: the future is now.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Halloween Gummies

Never gave it much thought until recently, but there is a difference between "spooky" and "scary", isn't there? There probably are a few different working definitions and delineations floating around, but for our kids, we define "spooky" as something that's maybe a little scary but fun, like most of the Halloween decorations in the seasonal section at Target right now. I swear both my girls could spend hours just roaming through those aisles, looking at the skeletons and creepy ghost clocks and phones and whatever else, and laugh and giggle the whole time. That's "spooky" for us - bed sheet ghosts, Jack-o-lanterns, spiderwebs, etc. Scary is something else, like legitimately trying to watch The Lion King with them. Never saw either of my kids petrified as much as during the scene with the hyenas and stampede. They almost looked like me opening up our utility bills.

Somewhat similarly, there's a difference between fruit snacks and fruit-inspired gummy candies...I guess? Again, it's not a topic I gave much thought until we picked up Trader Joe's Halloween Gummies on a recent shopping trip.

Scary snacks? Spooky gummies? Something else?

In our household, we're most acquainted with Welch's Fruit Snacks due to the endless crate we have of them from our local Costco. It's a bottomless well. So it's them I'm comparing these TJ ghouly gummies to most directly. There's a decided difference, for sure.

Whereas the Welches are softer and more singularly fruit-flavored, the haunted house brand from TJ's are much firmer and more of a flavor blend. Gummy or gummier are not quite the right words...just firmer, with a bit more chew. That's not a bad touch, and is presumably because the first ingredient is glucose syrup (i.e., wheat) and not fruit puree. Hrrrr...I do like the sound of fruit puree better.

One thing definitely in TJ's favor: The respective coloring agents. Black carrot, apple, pumpkin, black currant and spirulina sound a lot nicer than Blue 1 and Red 40, don't ya think?

I also like the TJ's seasonal spooky shapes: Skeletons, skulls, bats, bones, and some unidentified glob. Nice. It does make them a little fun, although the different fruit shapes with Welches at least add to a perception that each fruit shape tastes a little different. The TJ's? Not so much. It's more of a general sugary fruit punch flavor more than anything else, which take a good chew or two to really get going. It tastes good but gets a bit dull after a few.

One other thing to love: the price! It's just $3.99 for a sack of 20 minibags. That's less than 20 cents each! For us, that makes them perfect for little lunches or snacks on the go (our girls love anything resembling a fruit snack), but man, you can load up for trick-or-treaters! Yes, that won't make you as cool as those rich folks who give out king size Butterfingers, but at least it ain't anything close to raisins. That ought to be illegal.

We like 'em, our kids like 'em, you're likely to like 'em too. Nothing to get spooked about here. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Halloween Gummies: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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