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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Pumpkin Bread

Versatility. Adaptability. Flexibility. 

If nothing else, 2020 has shown us that we need to be able to change along with challenging times. Case in point: what the NHL did with the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. Two "bubble" cities, Toronto and Edmonton, hosted the eastern and western conference playoff games, respectively. All team players, coaches, support staff, and arena employees were isolated from the public at large and stayed within a "bubble" connected to the arena which included living quarters, training facilities, and of course, the hockey rinks where they played.

Two southern cities, Tampa and Dallas, made it to the finals—another sign of changing times, with the Lightning taking home the Stanley Cup this past Monday night. Along with other major sports, it's a little strange seeing very few or no fans at all in the arena's seats. Furthermore, the finals took place in September this year, whereas they almost always take place in June. So kudos to my favorite sports league for their amazing ability to adapt.

Something else that's versatile and adaptable? This bread. 

It's great as a stand-alone product. I was perfectly fine eating it with nothing but a thin glaze of butter. In fact, I think that's how I ate most of the pieces.

If you want to turn it into something desserty, just give it the cinnamon toast treatment. It's already just a little sweet and it has some cinnamon and other spices, but if you add a bit of your own cinnamon and sugar, it instantly becomes a confectionary treat. Also try pumpkin butter or pumpkin cream cheese for sweeter options.

It also works great for sandwiches. There's nothing so "pumpkin pie" about it that it would clash with any basic sandwich combos. It just adds a good bit in the texture department.

In fact, Sonia and I both think that's this bread's strongest feature—the texture. There are pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds baked right into the loaf. Also, there are "cinnamon bits." I'm not sure exactly what those are or if they're adding any detectable crunch to the mixture, but the mouthfeel of this bread is extremely unique. 

The flavor is nutty, lightly sweet from honey and sugar, and there's just a whisper of pumpkin spices—most prominently cinnamon—in the background. There's also real pumpkin puree, although I don't think it affects the flavor in any big way. The ingredients are organic and the nutrition info looks pretty solid, too.

Whereas some pumpkin products straddle the line between "pumpkin pie" and "harvest pumpkin squash" and get lost somewhere in the middle in our opinions, we found this product, at least potentially, to flaunt the best of both worlds.

$3.99 for the loaf. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Campanology Coffee Peanut Butter Cup Porter

Forgive me, my bad. While not completely unprecedented on the blog, the topic of today's review is merely available widely at Trader Joe's while not being, precisely, a TJ's branded item. 

But then again, I don't really care. 

Because of my state's wondrous Quaker heritage which prohibits car sales on Sundays and alcohol at grocery stores without a cafe, the nearest TJ's with beer and wine is a two hour drive to the Cleveland 'burbs. Which I did with my lovely bride and pack of kiddos...only to get there and realize two things: no cookie butter beer in Ohio yet because the state hasn't "approved the label" (???) thus necessitating another drive at some undetermined point in the future unless one of y'all want to somehow ship me some, and that the new buzzworthy Coffee Peanut Butter Cup Porter, despite it's very TJ-y label, has TJ's nowhere on the label. I would have been able to figure out its sourcing from Campanology Brewing in Waunakee, WI, but whatever. I'm not gonna let details like that hold me back. 

Especially when, surprisingly to me, this is actually a pretty decent beer. 

Flavored coffees and beers usually aren't my thing. I like my coffee to taste like coffee, and my beer to taste like beer. So dessert stouts and porters are usually off the menu for me. That's my usual stance and frame of reference. 

The beer itself is smooth and aromatic while being poured out. I could definitely smell the coffee and peanut butter-y notes, not so much any chocolate ones. This had me thinking it'd have overpowering taste, too cloying, too sweet, too, well, flavored much beyond beer that I'd enjoy it...and I was wrong. Instead, it's a remarkably well balanced beer with not too much of anything. There's some appropriate notes of earthy coffee, a few hints of chocolate, a couple hits of more like roasted peanut than straight up peanut butter, all based with a little milkiness from some lactose and rooted into the dark porter. All together, it only really suggests itself as a coffee and candy beer, instead of straight up smacking that idea around like a blunt force. 

All that masks something pretty well: it's 9% ABV! That'd sneak up on ya for sure. 

Admittedly, the first few sips were more enjoyable than the rest, perhaps because of flavor build-up and perhaps because some slight warming of the beer opened up the flavors more. But it never got overwhelming. I could totally see drinking one of these on a cool Halloween night, out on my porch handing candy to all the little Tiger Kings and Carole Baskinses and Baby Sharks. I'm not quite degenerate enough to suggest it as a trick-or-treat road soda, as I think I've heard the beer referred to as, but hey, this year, I judge nobody. Do what you gotta do - and that's not the worst idea I've heard. 

At $3.99 for the large pint-plus 6oz bottle, the peanut butter beer is a good value and worth a try if you can find it. Was definitely worth the trek for us. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Campanology Coffee Peanut Butter Cup Porter: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, September 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Pozole Verde

May 5, 1999, I was sitting in a now defunct Chi-Chi's restaurant in State College, PA with some friends and acquaintances after classes. We were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I didn't know a lick of Spanish back then. "I wonder what Cinco de Mayo means..." I mused in my ignorance.

"Fifth of May," replied Stacy.

"I know when it is, but I mean what does the phrase 'Cinco de Mayo' literally mean?" I asked.

"Fifth of May," she persisted. "It's like Fourth of July for Mexicans."

My head exploded. "So it's the Mexican Independence Day? Whoa. I never knew that."

Many years later, I'd learn that it was not, in fact, the Mexican Independence Day. I'd also learn that the phrase "chi-chi's" is actually a slang term for "breasts" or "nipples" in Spanish. And here I thought it was a family restaurant. I always wondered what went on in that 21+ bar area.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is September 16, just over a week ago. There was a decisive battle against the French in Mexico on May 5, 1862, but the day they declared independence from Spain was actually September 16, 1810. I guess "Dieciséis de Septiembre" doesn't quite roll off a Yankee's tongue like "Cinco de Mayo."

At any rate, Mexican Independence Day is a good excuse to eat pozole, as are other special occasions like Christmas and New Year's. Sonia grew up with it. She explained that it usually takes a while to make, so it's often reserved for holidays and celebrations, not unlike tamales or menudo. It's usually served with pork or chicken, while Sonia grew up with a version with beef.

This variety is vegetarian—vegan, in fact, and doesn't suffer from want of meat, at least not in our opinions. There's a good bit of hominy and beans to give the soup a hearty texture. It's full of green chiles and onions, too. There's a nice, even, moderate spiciness in the mixture, as well. I'd put it at a 4 or 5 on the spice-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Complaints: some of the onion slices are very long, spindly strands of onion that are a little difficult to eat. I found the plastic seal very difficult to remove and thought maybe the "onion" Sonia was finding was actually pieces of plastic that didn't stay attached to the rest of the covering. Upon further inspection, we determined that they were, in fact, pieces of onion. And I mean, we both love onions. Sonia also wanted more hominy. She's a big fan of the puffy kernels of corn. I don't know that I've had much hominy in my lifetime, but I really liked it here and wouldn't have minded a tad more of it.

The soup isn't much to look at. I think it resembles Eowyn's stew from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...minus the strand of hair. But hey, looks aren't everything.

You can put it in a pot and heat it on the stovetop or just puncture the plastic covering and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It's very easy to prepare. $3.99 for the 2.5 serving container—probably 2 servings in actual practice.

All things considered, this product gets a thumbs up from both a gringo who's never really had pozole before and a Latina who's been eating it her whole life. We're not vegan, but we're always happy when we find vegetarian and vegan products that have enough "meatiness" and flavor without the dead animals. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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