I’m still on the hunt for the perfect grocery store. Trader Joe’s was the perfect store for living single, eating healthy and doing it all at low, low prices – lower even than large chain grocery stores like Ralph’s – so low, that I’m ruined for other stores. In truth, after my friends (and by July, I’ll add the weather and living nearly insect-free), the thing I miss most about L.A. is Trader Joe’s. Yes, I really miss Mel’s Drive-in and The Grove but I ate Trader Joe’s food EVERY day.
It started like many great relationships. I avoided it at first – thought Trader’s was pricey and bohemian and tiny and had no selection and no Diet Coke. But, after I figured out how to shop there, how to cook from there, I’m lost without it.
I started calling Trader Joe’s a year ago in preparation for this move and begging them to open a store here. I joked that I was going to move to the food capitol of the States and starve to death. Maybe not (of course not), but I do have serious concerns. There’s a Whole Foods a few miles from my new home, but, I don’t know how anyone can afford to get all their groceries there. Rouse’s is the local version of Ralph’s or Giant Food with aisles and aisles of boxed, processed foods and a small expensive “health food” section.
It all comes down to almond butter for me. Because I’ve developed a healthy fear of cancer, I choose almond butter, which is said to retard cancer cell growth, as opposed to peanut butter, which is said to feed cancer cells. I go through a lot of almond butter and yogurt as I eat both for breakfast everyday. Trader Joe’s has a variety of almond butters to choose from and they are priced below $5. Whole foods? $6-$9 depending on the type. Rouses sells it for $8-$9.
I’ve avoided the super large buy-everything-here chain (who shall remain nameless as I fear them more than the government). I used to object to their anti-union stance and their attempts to censor musicians like Sheryl Crow by refusing to carry their CD’s unless they agree with them. But, there’s one a mile from my house – so I went. Turns out they have a pretty great produce department (drat) and, of course, everything from iPods and shoes to tires and curtains. I was delighted to find they had a “healthy” section in the snack foods. I got flax seed cookies and almond/cranberry crisps and dried cherries. Then – eureka! I found almond butter for about $5. I bought 2 jars and went home feeling I’d perhaps judged the store too harshly.
That night, I snacked on some of the cherries, but they didn’t taste right. I felt silly checking the ingredients of a bag of dried fruit, but turns out there was more than just cherries in there. They added sugar – to dried cherries! I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
The next morning, I spread the almond butter on toast and… it tasted totally wrong – all sticky and sweet. Sure enough – they added sugar (and salt and palm kernel oil – why would you add oil to almond butter? I always have to pour oil off the top).
I have hypoglycemia so I cannot start my day with a bunch of sugar, but no one should. As our nation gets heavier and more of us get diabetes, I can’t imagine why we’re adding sugar to fruit and nuts. No other store I’ve been to offers sugary versions of health food and that buy-everything-here store doesn’t offer health food without it. Damn. So, sadly, in New Orleans, I’ve yet to figure out how to afford to eat sugar-free food. I understand not finding sugar-free donuts, but how about sugar-free spaghetti sauce, sugar-free frozen lasagna? And adding sugar to dried cherries is gilding the lily. The buy-everything-here chain also didn’t offer my yogurt in fat-free.
Maybe you all already know this, but labeling laws provide that sugar is a natural food product and therefore is labeled as “all natural.” My dried cherries and almond butter are all natural but I’m here to tell you, they taste like candy, not food, and that’s because they are candy, not food. I’m open to suggestions if anyone knows where I can find my food at a price but I think we’re in trouble when our food is all dessert unless you’re rich. Save me Trader Joe! And here’s an odd factoid – apparently, Louisiana has less groceries stores per person than any other state.
All of that said – the restaurants here are outstanding, even the dives. And most everyone here knows how to cook. And every treat I have child-like cravings for is here somewhere. Remember the pink fluff they’d serve for dessert in school cafeteria lunches? Had to get a small tub of that for old times’ sake. And my favorite cookies for the last 20 years have been almond macaroons from Vaccaro’s in Baltimore.
The only problem is I’ve only been to Baltimore once in the last 18 years, so I really miss those cookies (and the cannolis). But, they have them at La Divina’s down the street from me – home of the fabulous Chocolate Azteca gelato – dark chocolate with cayenne and honey. Yum. (Oh, sugar, you tempt me so…)
It’s like a food fantasy-land here with tons of amazing dishes to choose from at hundreds of great restaurants, I just can’t afford breakfast or figure out how to make meals for one. Luckily, my predicament is forcing me to try new things. Today’s new treat was mirliton salad. My mother has talked about mirlitons for years. Who knows how it’s really pronounced as my mother leaves the “t” out of sentence, puts an “r” at the end of idea and turns hair into nearly 3 lilting syllables, but she’s always pronounced it melly-taw. I’ll admit I’ve been avoiding trying this bizarre pear-shaped veggie. It’s served, like many vegetables, both cooked and raw. The salad was raw, marinated in a tangy, salty citrus and is apparently chock full of amino acids and vitamin C. The crispy texture was somewhere between a cucumber and an under-ripe melon. And the flavor is most like jicama, blandish but fresh and willing to hold a lot of flavor. Bottom line, it was yummy and I recommend it.
As a side note, does anyone know if McDonald’s offers “authentic sweet tea” outside of the South. It’s no worse for us than Coke, I was just curious.