I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

First Time In A Trader Joe’s

I went to Trader Joe’s today for the first time ever.  I’ve heard people raving about this store for years, but the big expansions into South Florida didn’t’ take place until I was already in Germany.

It’s kind of funny that I never had a chance to try any Trader Joe’s food until now, because some Trader Joe’s food is sold in Aldi stores in Germany.  (A quick history:  Trader Joe’s started out as a California-only store under a different name in the 1950s.  It was renamed Trader Joe’s around 1967, and was American-owned until Theo Albrecht purchased the chain in 1979.  Theo Albrecht is the owner of Aldi Nord.)

I digress.  Amelie and I were trying to go to Target today, not realizing that all of the Target stores would be closed for Easter Sunday.  It’s astonishing how quickly I have forgotten about everything being closed on Sundays now that I’m back in the United States.  The Target we were trying to visit was only a mile or so from the Trader Joe’s, and it seemed like as good a time as any to have my inaugural visit.

I totally stole the next two photos from Yelp because I didn’t know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store. I totally stole this photo from Yelp because I didn't know I was going to write about this while we were in the store.

I’ve heard many people say that the Trader Joe’s aesthetic is very similar to the Aldi experience, but I think that Trader Joe’s is much closer to a Whole Foods type of store than Aldi.  Still, the pricing of all the Trader Joe branded items is much closer to Aldi levels than Whole Foods.  I was expecting Trader Joe’s to be more upscale than it was.

I liked the bag they put our stuff in.  It’s been ages since I’ve been given a paper bag at any kind of a grocer.

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We originally went to the store in search of some body wash for Amelie, and we found one that she likes in the store.  The cookie butter cookies and the power-berry juice blend were total impulse buys.

It is not for nothing that they call cookie-butter “cookie crack.”  That stuff is super-delicious.  Some of you will know it as Speculoos or Spekulatius.  It’s the same stuff.  It is delicious, delicious stuff.  The juice is also really tasty.

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We also decided that we’re going to try some not-at-a-restaurant Indian food for dinner.  We’ll probably trade rice- Amelie wants the Paneer Tikka Masala but doesn’t want the spinach basmati rice.   We both want the naan though.   I have been known to make a meal out of just naan and a mango lassi.

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I don’t really have a well rounded closing for this post, so I’ll just show you a picture of this amazing dog we saw in Boca Raton today.  He was so tiny, and he looked kind of badass with his tiny sunglasses on.

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Have you been to Trader Joe’s?  What do you think of it?

Vaping, Flavored Water, and Too Much Damn Choice

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It’s been just over five months since I moved back to the US, and the wonderful Itchy Feet comic above is spot on.  I feel like I’m mostly re-acculturated, but there are still things that take me aback.

For example, the Vaping trend is out of control here.  Before I moved back,  I had no idea what Vaping was, but it’s everywhere now.   There are stand-alone stores, and an entire industry has popped up around electronic cigarettes.  The technology has evolved to the point where people are charging their cigarettes with USB ports and changing out modules to reduce the amount of nicotine or flavor their smoke with applewood or whatever.  Some people claim they want to use this to quit smoking altogether, but this seems to me like the opposite of that.  To me, this looks like they’ve simply designed a more efficient nicotine delivery system.

That’s not the only trend that surprised me.  There has also been an exponential growth in the flavored water market.  I’m not talking about the pre-bottled flavored waters that I was used to before I left.  No, this is an entirely new market segment filled with people who simply can’t bear the taste of regular old water.  When I was a child, we had Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Light, and those brands still exist.  But there’s also all of this now:

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At least we’ve decided as a people to hydrate properly.

For the first four months I was here, I still shopped for groceries as if I were still living in Germany.  This was partly because I was living with my brother and I didn’t have a full kitchen or pantry to fill, but some of it was simply habit.  I had spent three years shopping with my own canvas bags and only buying as much as I could carry in one go because I would have to walk it back home.   Now that I have a car with a hatchback, my quantity has increased, but I’m still not shopping quite like a person who lives here.  I blame Cheerios for that.

You heard me.  I said I blame Cheerios.

When I left, there were three Cheerios flavors.    There was Honey-Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios, and plain old infants-love-’em plain flavored Cheerios.  Not so, now.  If you look closely in the picture below, you’ll see Multi-Grain with peanut butter.  You’ll see chocolate cheerios.  There’s apple-cinnamon Cheerios and Cheerios with protein added.  In one store, I counted twelve separate varieties of Cheerios.

The breakfast cereal aisle has become the Cheerio-verse.  When did this all become so complicated?

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Grocery shopping in the US has always been an exercise in overwhelming choice-  remember when I posted the picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle?  It’s gone over the top, now.  Even something as simple and ordinary as Matzos suddenly has at least a dozen possible varieties.

::sigh::

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I also still feel like I’m boiling inside my skin any time the temperatures crests above 75 degrees Fahrenheit (or 24C,) but that’s a gripe for another post.

What’s your favorite breakfast food?  Is it double-chocolate protein Cheerios?

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Short Post: Spinat!

I’ve done several posts on how the food and grocery shopping experiences here are different than what I’m used to, but I’m still constantly finding more.  For example, frozen spinach!

In the US, frozen spinach is typically in a pouch that can either be boiled or microwaved.  Here, the frozen spinach is actually in frozen cube form.  Pictured here is a sleeve with two cubes of frozen spinach.  There were four in the box.

This spinach is also microwaveable, but in this case, you just spoon five or six spoonfuls of water over the spinach cube before you microwave, and then cook it for the specified amount of time.  The end result is spinach that only requires a little bit of fork-on-greens action to change out of a cube form into something that is more recognizable as a leafy green vegetable.  Here they are in their cooked but still cubed state:

Best of all, however- this spinach was absolutely delicious, and it couldn’t possibly be easier to prepare.  I feel healthier already.

Grocery Shopping Revisited: Two more things.

I mentioned in my first grocery store post back in December that I would probably never use the shopping carts here because I can only buy what I can carry home.  That’s not always true, though-  I have friends and co-workers with cars, and I’ve had the opportunity to push one of these four wheeled chaos engines through the grocery store.  The verdict:  I have no idea how anyone can keep these things going straight.  I usually wind up pushing it vaguely sideways.

There’s much more to them than I realized at first, though.  Since I wasn’t planning on using them, I didn’t look very closely.  I did notice that there was never a stray cart in a random place in the parking lot though, and now I know why: They’re chained together.  In order to release a cart, you have to either use a one Euro coin or a plastic disk that you’ve paid for.  This is a pretty ingenious way to make sure that carts find their way back to the right place.

There will probably be a post some time in the near future about how Germans deal with waste, trash, and recycling.  The garbage sorting is pretty impressive, and I don’t think I can remember a time in my life that I have been more aware of how much (or how little) trash I produce.   One of the coolest examples of this is the bottle return system.

I also have a tremendous fascination for the bottle return.  I was not aware of this process when I did the first grocery post back in December, but many plastic drink bottles (and some glass bottles) have a pfandflasche, or bottle deposit.  When they do, you’ll see a little decal on them with a curved arrow to suggest returning the bottles.  At the Kaufland, my usual grocery stop, there’s a guy who takes the bottles.  In the Globus and Aldi locations, however, there’s a machine that will take the bottle in, spin it to see the label,  scan it, and crunch it up.  (This has led to an astounding number of “crunch crunch crunch” jokes.)  I love feeding these machines. When you’re finished, they’ll give you a receipt for the amount of credit you get back, which you then have to take to a cash register to get back.

So far, I’ve managed to lose at least two of these receipts before reaching the cash out register.

It was the butter that did me in.

It will take me a while to get used to grocery shopping here.  For one thing, you bring your own cloth grocery bag, or you pay for the bags you need.  You bag your own groceries-  there’s nobody to bag groceries for you, and the cashier doesn’t help- she’s just there to ring up your purchase.  (Mine was very helpful when I accidentally dropped my bank card and the conveyer belt took it away though.  That could have been very, very bad.)

The shopping carts are terribly amusing to me.    They here have four independently oriented wheels so it’s much easier to roll a cart completely sideways at a perpendicular to your previous motion than with carts in the US.  The first time I saw that action, I had a solid “what the heck?!” moment.  I’ll probably never use one of the shopping carts though because I have to be able to carry anything I buy home, and it’s a good ten minute walk.

Kaufland is a two level store.  The upper level is where you enter and exit, and it’s a circle that takes you past some electronics, some housewares, and some liquor and candy.  The first time I walked through, I was unimpressed because I didn’t even notice the flat escalators that went down to the lower level.

The escalators are flat to accommodate the shopping carts, as it turns out, because the lower level is amazing-  it’s where all the food is.  The lower level is layer out as a huge circle with cold storage, a big fresh produce section, and a very, very wide selection.

The selection is where I’m running into problems though, because I don’t know any of the brands.  Sure, every once in a while, I’ll see a familiar name.  So far, Palmolive, Kleenex, Calgon, and Swiffer are the names for home products that I’ve seen.  And there’s Heinz, Uncle Ben’s, and Kellogg’s on the food side of things.  (I was terribly amused at the McDonald’s brand ketchup, too.)  Beyond that, the names are all entirely different.  I can tell if I’m getting Kaufland’s house brand (Klassik, I think) easily enough, but anything else is sort of an unknown for me.

Adding to the frustration is that the language barrier is thicker in the grocery store than in a lot of other places.  I was getting dish soap this afternoon and I had to ask Robert if it said anything about cutting oil or grease because I don’t know the words for that yet.  A lot of things are easy to spot because they just are-  cheese is obviously cheese, in any language.  Ketchup is ketchup, even though you have some very interesting varieties that you just don’t see in the US.

Hot and Curry

So this was what I was doing a while ago.  I found the cheese, then I found the cream cheese.  Thinking that the butter couldn’t be far away, but still not seeing it, I fired up the translation app on my phone, flipped it around so that it would translate English to German for a change, and tapped in the word butter.  It came back with ‘butter.’

Butter slabI was incredulous.  The German word for butter is… butter?!  Naturally.   I looked around some more, and went another aisle or so down, and found… butter.  A variety of types.  (What the heck is truffle butter?!)   The shapes and sizes were unfamiliar.  Little tubs.  Slabs that just felt oddly measured.  No sticks- that’s not how it’s sold here, I guess.  There were some odd little tubes, too.

Butter tubI stood in front of that butter case, muttering to myself as I picked up various types of butter, turned them around, and put them back, for the better part of five minutes.  I’m quite sure that I was starting to worry some of the other shoppers.  I eventually chose one slab and one tub, not even thinking to check for salting-  apparently salted butter isn’t as common here, so I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy the ones I chose. Oh well, it’s a taste adventure.

My best score of the evening may well have been the lactose free, soy based chocolate puddings that I found.  Well, at least I think that’s what they are.  The word ‘dessert’ is very clear, and schokolade and laktosefrei are obvious enough.  And the designs on the package look sort of puddingish.

I’ve already gotten attuned to looking for the word “soja” on dairy types of products, because that’s German for Soy.  Soja usually means laktosefrei, which means I’m a much happier person.  I haven’t been hungry enough to try them yet- I had dinner right before I shopped because I know better than to grocery shop while hungry, even here.

I can’t wait to try my schokolade dessert.  It might even make me feel better about the butter.