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Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Farewell from Pittsburgh

With either a little more foresight, or more lax Pennsylvania liquor laws, I could have been writing all this while enjoying a glass or three of Two Buck Chuck. Alas, it wasn't meant to be that poetic. 

There's not an easy way to say this, but here goes: this is the last post that I, Russ Shelly, am writing for this wonderful blog. In a few weeks time, it'd mark 12 years since I first contacted an old college friend, Nathan Rodgers, about this "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" project I saw him trying to kick start up and asked if I could be of any help. He said sure, I wrote up five times as many words as you'd ever want to read about soy chorizo, and now, somehow, I find myself at trail's end, after so many years, reviews, and empty jars of cookie butter. Life comes fast. 

Why am I leaving, as Nathan and his lovely wife Sonia navigate the next chapter? I'll be honest. Overall, everything about this blog, and everything going into it - the searching for new product info, the hunt for it on shelves, the anticipation of giving something a try, the pleasure (or sometimes not) of trying something new, then trying to come up with ways to spin and inform and entertain - it's been a lot more fun than not, but to keep it that way, for me personally, I need to step off the ride. Quit while I'm ahead. For a while,  it just hasn't been the fun it has for me, and I feel that's begun to show in my reviews and my work here. That's not fair to you, Nathan, the overall quality of the blog, or even really to myself. It's not anger or animosity or anything negative. There's nothing wrong. It's just time. 

Looking back, there's so much to be proud of. More than anything, there's all the collaborative stuff that brings me joy. Like...the articles we created with The Daily Meal, back in our early years, that helped really launch the blog to what it is.  Making the front page of Yahoo will do that. Here's just one out of many. There's the times we tried a short-lived podcast with Marvo from The Impulsive Buy.  I LOVED the time I got to to do "Career Day" at my daughter's classroom - and instead of talking about my boring day job of medical insurance verifications and authorizations, I talked the TJ's blog and gave them cookies! There's where this post's picture is from, by the way. Within just our team, I loved making the April Fool's posts we did several years ago - I mean, c'mon now, this is still golden.  And, finally, lastly, and just me personally, though I certainly don't recall everything I've ever written, I do remember classics like the 5 Cheese Frusta or the Nduja

Most of all, I'm just proud and happy to have had a chance to share two of my passions - good food and writing - with anyone who cared to stop by for a few minutes. It's been an awesome experience, humbling at times, but nearly always enjoyable. 

There's no "next steps" in mind for me  - I'm likely to just fade more into the rhythm and routine of daily life with my lovely bride Sandy, who's been a tremendous help and a good sport over the years,. We've got our kiddos and their whims and activities and our jobs and this big ol' house we're trying to fix up. There may be another day coming when, much like back in late 2010, the inspiration or muse hits, and I'm off an running again on some sort of new writing project. If that's the case, I hope we somehow cross paths again. Maybe we'll just have to settle for bumping into each other in the local TJ's aisle - you can see what I look like up above and I'm usually looking for the bomba sauce, so that's a good clue. I'll still be there.   

In closing, thank you to everyone who's been a part of this journey, whether it be for years or days. Specials thanks, of course, to Nathan for giving me a chance, for continuing to be fair at all times and sticking with me. God bless you and Sonia, and I'll be keeping my eyes on what's coming next with this blog. We made a good team. Speaking of good teams - sincere thanks to my lovely bride Sandy, for the countless times she's delved into Instagram or gone and hunted down or prepared  "something to review" or offered her opinion only for me to poke fun at her a little on here.  Huge thanks to the many, many, many good people at the McCandless TJ's, our usual stomping grounds, for their support and interest and friendship - don't worry, we're not going anywhere! And lastly, to you, the reader, for whom we did all these things, even eating turkey muffins - it's been fun. 

If I may say one last thing it's my sincere hope that each one of us, myself included, continue to find our own mango waffles. Peace be with you all.   

Bottom line: my entire experience with What's Good at Trader Joe's?: 10/10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce

Here's an interesting one. Not feeling marinara sauce on your pasta dish tonight? Don't want Alfredo either? This product might be the alternative you've been looking for.

Or maybe not. The flavor is...interesting. It tastes sour more than anything else, but also bitter, tangy, cheesy. It's quite flavorful, the only question is: will you as an individual like this flavor? 

I could see it being quite off-putting to some and delightful to others, much like the artichoke timbales we looked at a while back, though I think I liked this product more than those oddball appetizers.

You can kind of tell from the picture this product isn't as liquidy as most tomato-based pasta sauces or even Alfredo. It's sort of a coarse, custard-like consistency—like pureed artichokes with cheeses mixed in. It doesn't look very appetizing by itself: almost reminiscent of baby food.

Of course it thins a bit when heated. We also found it works best as a very modest coating. Neither Sonia nor I wanted to pile it on too thick, since the flavor was almost too intense.

It was fine by itself on plain pasta. However, contrary to our initial assumptions, the wifey and I both liked it better when we added some sweet chicken sausage to the dish. The sweetness helped offset some of the sauce's astringency.

Sonia says she'd buy it again just to have that third pasta sauce option on hand. I don't know if I'd ever prefer this over good old-fashioned Ragu or whatever, but I feel more worldly and sophisticated having tried it. $3.49 for the jar. Three and a half stars from the missus. Three from me for Trader Joe's Organic Artichoke Pasta Sauce.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

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